When I ran into Paul Millsap for the first time this season, the former Jazz player looked at me, flashed a grin and asked, “What are you trying to do?”
Four months later, it remains a valid question.
Before expounding on that, I admit that this is a weird sports column. Instead of writing about something, I’m going to write about why I’m not going to be writing about something.
Let me explain.
Beginning Monday, I’m taking some personal time off. I plan to return to my sports-writing duties in a month — just in time for the Jazz’s playoff run. (OK, they're playing great, but let’s not get crazy here).
I wish I was going on a four-week cruise or headed to a beach to dip my toes in warm water.
Instead, I’ll mostly be at home. Spending quality time with my family. Spending quality time with myself.
While the sports world keeps spinning, I’ll be on the inactive list. There are a variety of reasons why, but none more important than me trying to improve my rapidly declining health and general well-being. Right now, that's more important than writing about sports.
Part of me feared this column would come across as overly dramatic and maybe make people wonder if I’ve been diagnosed with some freaky disease or concerned that my life is in peril.
As far as I know, I’m not on my deathbed yet.
I feel fortunate.
With poor eating, restless sleep, an embarrassingly inactive lifestyle and a social-media addiction that keeps me constantly tied to screens — not to overlook a soul-zapping bout of mid-life depression — I’m playing a risky game of Russian roulette with my physical and mental health.
If you’ve seen me in person, on Twitter, doing a TV spot or at a Jazz game you’ve probably noticed two things about my appearance.
For one thing, I’m really hairy. Grizzly Adams, "Duck Dynasty" hairy. My beard was already out of control in November when Millsap teased me in Atlanta, and I haven’t trimmed it since. Jeff Hornacek called me a mountain man. Mehmet Okur advised me to shave.
For another thing, I’m really round. Again. At my all-time high, I weighed 371 pounds. I lost a bunch of weight and mostly bounced around the 200s for about a decade, but my weight is rising again, and frighteningly quick. I gained 50 pounds in the past 10 months and 120 pounds overall since somehow completing an Ironman triathlon in 2011.
Packing about 350 pounds on my 5-foot-7-inch frame has taken a toll.
Almost everything I do is difficult, painful or uncomfortable.
I breathe heavily after putting on my shoes.
A flight of stairs ignites my sweat glands.
Every room in the house — maybe TMI, but from the bathroom to the bedroom to the closet — presents a different challenge.
Traveling to cover the Jazz has been one of my biggest difficulties. Seatbelts don’t fit. Armrests hurt my sides and hips. I’m horrified to occasionally invade seat neighbors’ space. I’ve gotten pretty sick multiple times and have dealt with excruciating diet-caused gout on the road.
Even in my misery, which includes me becoming reclusive from some social situations I normally enjoy, I haven’t found the strength to pull myself out of this rut.
My boss/friend, Deseret News sports editor Kent Condon, knows I’ve been struggling. Prompted by a cranky email I wrote the other day, he decided to offer help. I was already scheduled to take this week off, and he thoughtfully suggested an extended excused absence (thank heaven for vacation hours), even knowing it’d be a chore for him to find writers to report on the Jazz in my absence.
We decided a month would be a good amount of time for a solid reboot. I feel bad for people who count on me to be informed or entertained, but I hope they/you will understand. Hopefully, this time off will allow me to reposition myself on a healthier and happier life course. I'm going to focus on eating better; moving more; spending less time writing, tweeting and stressing out; and being a better husband and dad.
Kent agreed to let me write this column so Deseret News readers (Hi, Mom!) would know why my byline was missing.
Now, about my hairy situation.
I get asked all of the time, including by some NBA players, why I’m growing a wild beard and letting my hair flow like a caveman. I’m asked even more often when I’m going to shave. That’s TBD.
So, why the beard and how does it fit in with this?
I joked at my 8-year-old daughter’s baptism that I wanted to look like John the Baptist. It’s become kind of a humorous prop for me the past few months as I’ve done some comedy videos on Vine. It’s an entertaining topic of conversation.
I’ll be the first to admit the unkempt mane on my face is rough and ragged. It’s not doing my looks any favors.
I won’t even start to explain about how much my wife disdains what’s happening around my thick skull. She’s not exactly thrilled about my bristly whiskers (especially when they go up her nostrils). In other words, she’d rather give me a high-five than a kiss.
But, still, I let it grow.
I didn’t set out to allow my beard to blossom. I just didn’t shave at the end of last summer. As my facial hair grew, and my body got bulkier, I noticed that my shoddy appearance reflected the inner turmoil I was experiencing.
"How do you feel, Jody?"
"About as good as I look," I'd joke back.
Another reason? I've thought a furry face will make a good "Before" picture.
Although I kind of get a kick out of the beard — mostly because of jokes I can make and for fun interactions — I’ve also considered the possibility that I’m actually letting it sprout as a punishment for allowing myself to gain weight and become this morbidly obese. Yet again.
(Yes, I plan to reach out to a therapist during my absence, no joke.)
It's taken a while, but I think I finally have an answer for Paul Millsap.
What am I trying to do?
Simply put: Get better.