Walking saved my life, in the sense that it helped make my life worth living back in the days when my undiagnosed medical conditions created corresponding mental problems. Fortunately, my health has improved as I’ve grown older. This may be opposite to the natural order of things, but I love it because it makes me optimistic about the future. Just think how healthy I’ll be when I’m 150.
I have had health problems for much of my life, but over the years most of them have been resolved. The ear infections that plagued me throughout my youth stopped when I was in college. However, I still had a multitude of symptoms, ranging from dizziness to digestive upsets, insomnia to apparent heart abnormalities, depression to bad temper. The underlying causes of these problems remained undiagnosed for many years. Until my wife, Bonny, and I figured out that most of my symptoms were caused by sensitivities to foods I ate, I needed something to keep me going, to help me forget my troubles and to give me a more positive outlook on life.
When I was young my escape was sports. I didn’t feel complete unless I had a ball in my hand. Football, baseball, basketball, tennis, I participated in all of them, even before I was big enough, strong enough or coordinated enough to be any good. And even though my medical problems prevented me from being as good as I perhaps might have been with better health.
I also went hiking. My father took my brothers and me hiking in the mountains of New York and New England from the time we were young. I felt better, mentally and physically, when I was outside, breathing fresh air and sweating up a storm.
In college, I walked a lot because I had to. And because it was a way to escape my mental devils. At night I would walk along the residential streets and look at the windows of the brightly lit houses. I would wonder if the occupants were happy. I would wonder if I could ever live a conventional life, as a husband and father. I thought of myself as being different. Of course, many young people see themselves as being different. But if we all think that we are different, that makes us the same, doesn’t it?
After I graduated from college I continued walking and hiking. At the beginning of my working career it was a necessity. During my first three months in Los Angeles, with a brand new job, I didn’t own a car, which is practically illegal in LA. I walked a mile to get to the streetcar line, in order to commute to work. I also went on hikes with the Sierra Club, but I had to walk half the night just to get to a place where I could hitch a ride to the starting point with another hiker. Even so, the exhilaration I received from it was worth the effort.
When I returned to LA after six months of active duty in the Army Reserve, I had a new car, but the same old medical problems, which made me prone to depression. I tried to walk myself out of it. When President Kennedy touted fifty-mile hikes I attempted one while wearing the wrong shoes. My roommate at the time had to come and rescue me when my feet gave out after I had walked 27 miles.
Getting married to my wife, Bonny, greatly enhanced my mental outlook, even while my physical problems persisted. One time she called the paramedics because I had a panic attack related to my heart. However, I continued walking and hiking, with her and alone. During the first years of our marriage we owned a cabin in Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. We drove there on weekends and I would hike up Tahquitz Peak, a ten-mile roundtrip, even when my resting pulse rate was a wild 95, a direct result of my unknown food sensitivities.
Soon after we moved to the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula we attended a series of talks by one of those inspirational speakers who get you all jazzed up about life. One of the things he said was, “Let the world love you.” I remember wondering how the world could love me when I didn’t love myself. I was still having black moods. I started walking the hills of Palos Verdes, something I am still doing thirty-some years later, and it relieved a lot of stress and dark thoughts.
The “eureka” moment came one Christmas (I often felt worse around the Christmas holidays, without knowing why) when I had an attack of multiple physical symptoms. Since tests of my heart had always come back negative (it is only in recent years that I have been diagnosed with a slight heart murmur) Bonny and I scratched our heads, trying one more time to come up with a cause for problems that doctors had never found.
I had drunk several cups of eggnog at a holiday party. We wondered about this concentrated intake of dairy products, much higher than was usual for me. I eliminated all dairy products from my diet and almost immediately felt much better. That was the beginning of the beginning. Over the next few years we found other foods that caused me problems, including preservatives. I have eliminated sugar from my diet since it exacerbates what we suspect is a yeast problem.
As we became more knowledgeable about food problems, we found out that Bonny has some, too. She can’t eat almonds, and corn gives her hemorrhoids, which she suffered with for years. She also has been diagnosed with acid reflux, which means she has to take a daily pill and watch her diet. We suspect that many people have undiagnosed dietary problems.
As I felt better, I stepped up my walking. I started walking the coast of California and from Los Angeles to Denver, both multi-year efforts with Bonny supporting me by car. This conditioning paid off when I had my operation. One day when I was in my fifties, I went to my doctor with abdominal pain. I had suffered the same pain a number of times before, starting about age eleven, and doctors had not been positive about the cause. It had always gone away. This time, the doctor told me to drive to the nearby hospital and check myself into the emergency room.
My ruptured appendix was removed the next morning. After the operation I told the surgeon about my previous symptoms and he said, “They don’t teach you this in medical school, but I believe that an appendix can rupture and then heal itself.” Could a case of chronic appendicitis have contributed to my problems?
Four days after the operation I was released from the hospital. The next morning I walked to the corner, rested on a bench and then returned home. The following day I walked to the second corner and returned home. The third day I walked my normal four-mile route, including over 500 feet of altitude gain. On the tenth day after my operation I walked a ten-mile roundtrip to the beach, including the climb back to our house, which is at the 700-foot level.
I tell this because it was another benefit of walking every day. It kept me in good enough shape so that I had a speedy recovery from a serious operation. The surgeon had even contemplated taking out a piece of my intestine because of the infection from my appendix.
I continue to walk every day. Believe it or not, in some respects my health is still improving. Bonny and I appear to have found a solution to most of my medical problems. And by keeping myself in good shape I hope to prevent any new ones from occurring.