Failure, victory, and confusion

While I was on my walk this morning, I realized that I’ve been posting a lot on my good days–the hopeful ones when I feel that baby steps aren’t so bad after all. That isn’t bad, but it doesn’t give the whole side of the story. I started this blog in part to be a form of therapy for me, and in part to provide reassurance to other young people like me, who feel that no-one in the world under the age of 50 shares their kind of health problems. When I am in no mood to write, when deciding what to have for lunch leaves me circling the kitchen for over 15 minutes, and when I lie on the couch staring at the back–these are the times when I just want to hear someone else say “I know,” and know that they mean it.

I am not a person who likes failing. When I was around 7, my father started to help me learn to ride a bike. After I wobbled around for a while, I got so frustrated and embarrassed at my incompetence that I ended the learning session. Later I spent an afternoon or two on a long stretch of street where I could pedal a few times, then put a foot down when I needed balance. Then I’d adjust the pedals so one was facing up, and do the same thing again, gradually getting the feel for what successfully riding a bike felt like.

I feel like I’m doing the same thing now. Although as an adult I try not to shut down around my family, just because of the way the days work out they tend to only see me when I am pedalling smoothly. The same with people at church. Of course, I don’t know for sure, but the impression I get is that, as a result,  people think I am doing much better than I am. In the months immediately post- surgery, the top of our piano was crowded with cards from people who I know genuinely care about me and my well-being.  I know that volume of mail cannot continue for ever, but it would be nice to feel that some people can see through my charade, can call me on my health  bluffs–especially people from the young adults potluck group I was a part of. When I give my usual “I’m doing ok, still working at getting better etc. etc.” answer, if only people could say “Ok. So how are you REALLY doing?”

How would I answer that, though? Very few friends know the depth of my struggle. DB (Dear Boyfriend) of course, my long-distance-friend Josh, and to some extent, my sister-in-law, Addie know how my depression rages at me.  I do feel badly about constantly responding with something about my depression or fatigue, because it puts them in an awkward position–what are THEY supposed to say in response? Ah, well…I can’t run an entire conversation by myself. I kind of caught myself on the edge, there, because one thing my OCD does is get me stuck running over endless “what ifs”. Haha, It’s still just 11:00, and I can still have a great day. Not a blissful day like I had last week or whenever it was, but there is still a great day.

Things I’ve already accomplished?

1. Went for a walk

2. Had an ok breakfast

3. Cleaned the cat box

4. Set myself a Minecraft time limit and stuck to it

5. Brushed my teeth and hair

6. Took medication #1

May seem like minutiae, but as I read somewhere (I forget where), there are no small victories with depression. Any healthy decision I make helps dissipate this blue mood before it becomes even stronger.

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Food, Glorious Food

One of the best health decisions I’ve made was to start roasting bell peppers. When I’m feeling all-around crappy and have no desire to cook, it is easy for me to go a day or two consuming very little to no fruits and vegetables. Obviously, this does not do good things for my energy and mental health. So I try to make it as easy as possible to get SOME amount of easy-to-digest veggies inside me, even if it is only a bite or two at a time.

This is an interesting and fun goal. I was a childhood picky eater and I carried my aversion to many vegetables into adulthood. When I lived on my own for a year I was kind of forced to try new things and experiment with recipes. Some of my discoveries?

1. Roasting bell peppers in the oven and freezing them. Since bell peppers tend to be pretty expensive, this lets me stockpile them when I find them on sale. Frozen bell peppers can be cut into skinny strips and and tossed with olive oil, parmesan, and pasta (veggie, healthy fats, protein); a wider slice can be added to a simple cheese sandwich (carbs, protein, and veggie!); strips can be added to soup for great flavor and another veggie serving…limitless possibilities with only one messy cooking job covering many meals.

2. Comfort food with sneaky veggies. A Google search for healthy mac and cheese turns up tons of recipes, most of which use some kind of pureed squash in the sauce. My favorite so far uses canned pumpkin, and the result is orange and creamy like KD, and does NOT taste of pumpkin! 😀 A crap-ton of vegetables can also be pureed and added to a plain tomato sauce to eat with spaghetti. Probably the simplest discovery I’ve made is to add a smashed clove of garlic to the water when I cook pasta.

3. Using my juicer. I  got a gently used one from a wonderful cousin, and while I don’t think it’s a good idea to regularly substitute meals for juice–even fresh juice you make yourself–it is a good way to get extra vitamins without a lot of insoluble fiber (the kind that leads to diarrhea). Vegetables that are slightly too far gone to enjoyably eat as they are are great in juice. Yesterday I used a few peaches and pears, a handful of grapes, some unroasted bell pepper, and two carrots for a great result to drink with my iron pills

Whenever I get a day off work, I love taking the morning or afternoon to try new things I have bookmarked online. It seems to help  view it as less of a chore when I come at cooking leisurely.

Back again, with good life choices!

This morning I woke up around 7:15 with strong gas. I went to the bathroom, then came back and snuggled back into my bed with a book. Not too much later, the gas was back again, so I made another bathroom trip. I decided my body was telling me it was time to be up, so I decided to go upstairs and start my day. Good life choice #1. I still live in my parents’ house, in the basement room my brother occupied when he was still at home. (Side note: although I moved back home before my abdominal troubles started, things worked out excellently. My parents tend to spend most of their time upstairs, so unless someone’s doing laundry the downstairs tends to be pretty quiet. I have a bathroom only steps away from my bedroom door, so if I feel like it, I can pretend I still live in an apartment and seek out my parents’ company as it suits me.)

I am feeling pretty good today. While I was not tap dancing and singing show tunes when I came upstairs, I was in a good enough mood to take the 1:00 total it takes to scramble myself an egg in the microwave instead of reaching for my usual cereal and plain yogurt. I ate my egg on a slice of white bread with a piece of Muenster cheese hacked off the loaf my dad brought back from the States. It was delicious. I also peeled myself two peaches. GLC #2.

As if the wonders  would never cease, after letting stuff digest a bit I did a gentle Pilates workout I found on Youtube, and supplemented it with some more advanced Pilates moves I knew already. After that, I went for a brisk walk down a few blocks and back. GLC #3! It was the best kind of workout I can do for myself. Before my troubles (I say that a lot…shorten itmaybe to B.C? Before Crohn’s?) I did do Pilates, but also loved doing heavy workouts–Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, her kettlebell one, and other 20-minute cardio and dumbbell  workouts I had on DVD and found online.

My incision has long since healed, and my doctors have given me clearance to do whatever exercise I feel up for. For the most part, that has not included long workouts like that. To clarify, for the most part I have simply not wanted to. I work a challenging retail job, with a LOT of standing, walking, and crouching. On the days when I work, I usually count that as my exercise. Often, I am so mentally and/or physically tired and uncomfortable that it feels like work takes the kind of effort I used to put into my old workouts, without the endorphin rush. I am not fully happy with this choice, but to quote one of my co-workers, “It is what it is.” Most often, since varying levels of depression have become my norm, on days I DON’T work I tell myself that I need to rest, and save my energy for work. Whether or not this is true or just a trick mental illness plays on me, I’m also unhappy with this choice–but it is one I am making steps to change.

I think that part of the reason exercise seems so daunting is that I am on some level stuck in the same mindset in which I approached exercise B.C. That mindset might work for and inspire some people, but it is not healthy for me any more. The all-or-nothing, go-go-go, type of inspiration now feels like bullying my body instead of listening to what it desperately needs to tell me. My goal is to do SOME kind of physical activity on the non-work days, even if it is only a 10-minute walk. Yes, ideally the human body should get more than that, but for me it is an achievable, non-scary baseline when brushing my teeth and hair twice a day feels like a prize-worthy achievement.

Gentle, yet effective forms of exercise I have found are:

1. Solo walking. Indoors to a video or outdoors. Sometimes I will break it into chunks, doing 10 minutes or however long in the morning, and again in the evening or whenever

2. Pilates. Pilates can be extremely demanding, but it is a type of exercise that is based on quality of movement rather than quantity. So, doing only a few repetitions of a movement with proper breath can be extremely effective AND feel really good! When I am exercising pretty regularly, I like Pilates For Dummies. When I am feeling less in shape, there are tons of gentle Youtube workouts that are designed for pregnancy, or bodies that have other challenges. Do not feel ashamed of searching these out!

3. Walking with friends. I put this in a separate category than solo walking, since it takes more effort to co-ordinate schedules. DB (Dear Boyfriend) is a fantastic partner for me since he is encouraging of however long or hard I want to walk. I’ve also walked and hiked with my parents, DB’s mom, his brothers and sister-in-law, and my own brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a fantastic support network, but you can also often find walking buddies through fitness stores, gyms, and the Y.

4. Squats, belly dancing moves, leg lifts, and the like while brushing my teeth and hair, fixing food, washing dishes…if anything else feels like more than I can handle, this is a fantastic outlet! It probably looks pretty funny, but screw anyone watching, it’s good for you! You can get a decent amount of total movement a day just by doing this. When my depression is strong, my days can get pretty sedentary. Movement keeps me fit, and helps prevent blood clots by keeping my blood flowing.

To sum up: I feel good today. It is almost 11:00 AM, and I have already made several healthy choices! Blogging was #4 for anyone keeping track 🙂 Any one can feel big on its own, but when I help myself wake up well, one small good choice tends to prepare the ground for another.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow”

–Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

 

Finding the Inconspicuous Awesome

As I was walking back from the bus stop I cut through the grounds of a public school that actually looks pretty cool–it’s got greenhouses and cool gardens for students to work with. Anyway, As I came up to a parking lot, I thought I saw a guy walking a bunch of labs or other medium-sized dogs. As I started to get closer, I realized that they were actually goats!! In the middle of the city! The man was making sure they stayed around a little picket-fenced garden surrounded on 3 sides by grass. I don’t know if they belong to the school, or if the guy rents the space, or what…but how cool! The goats were obviously pretty contented, eating grass and rubbing their horns on a little tree. As I passed by one raised its head to watch me intently, but on the whole they responded well to their keeper when he called them over.

I haven’t been around goats for SO long, and the whole thing cheered me up a little bit!