Second chances and Feeding the body

Today was a day I decided to give myself a second chance. To give a little backstory: it’s been resting at about 30° C in my area, vacillating by about 5° either way. Yesterday, since I don’t drive, I did WAY more walking and sweating in that heat than I should have, and as such had a mini-migraine by the evening.

Back to today: when I woke up, thank goodness the migraine was gone. However, it was also about 5:40am. Although I was sleepy, I failed to get back to Slumberland so I got up and started my day. A few hours later I lay down on the couch and had an hours-long nap during which I drifted in and out of consciousness. Normally when I nap I wake up groggy, disoriented, and lazy; today, I said “f*** it, I am going to try and make what I can out of this day anyway.”

I fully admit that most of the afternoon was spent binge watching Colleen Ballinger Evans’ Youtube channel*, but with much effort I was able to get myself to journal (got a new idea for a short story!), go outside for a Pokémon Go walk**, and have lunch.

What I really want to talk about is my yoga practice for today. It consisted of two and a half Yoga with Adriene videos: Alternate Nostril Breathing (supposed to be good for anxiety), A Little Goes a Long Way,  and the second half of Greet the Day Yoga .

I started Greet the Day yesterday, and halfway through got so frustrated and discouraged that I had to stop. The asana (pose) that triggered the “toxic thought world” (as Adriene says) was about halfway through the video: three-legged dog. I’m really trying not to say that I HATE things quite so often, but at best I only tolerate this asana. I see so many yogis posting pictures of themselves practically doing a full split while they do this posture, looking so peaceful, and it makes me feel so weak with my shaky, sweaty attempts to get and hold my leg as high as I can (not very far.) Yesterday I had posted about my frustration in my online yoga community. A few of the other members gave me some advice, and I decided to give Greet the Day another try while keeping said advice in mind. I didn’t feel happy and floaty when the video was over, but I still chose to do it and got the satisfaction out of revisiting and finishing the video.

Today had the potential to be a very crappy, frustrating, and depressing day and at least I have so far managed to keep myself out of a downward spiral. I don’t know exactly what the deeper message of this post is—I didn’t have any big, obvious insights or successes, but it’s good that I tried. It’s good that I got two forms of physical activity in, and it’s good that I didn’t spend the whole afternoon watching videos. I was dealing with several factors that each could have caused my depression to tank, but whenever I felt like being healthy was worthless or useless, I told myself that even if I didn’t see the point, I needed to give it a try anyway.

It’s good.

Much love.

*She’s the woman that does Miranda Sings, who knew??

**Since I was kind of grumpy, I wasn’t fully able to fully appreciate the things I saw on my walk, but there was a nice breeze for part of the time. At one point I also passed a neighbor who was walking two large chocolate labs.

Feeding the mind, and book reviews

A while ago I bought The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way is a self-help book that is worthy of an entire post to its self, but put simply it is a book and corresponding series of exercises that take more of a spiritual approach to reclaiming and nurturing creativity. I never finished it (although it’s on my list), but I’d like to paraphrase one principle in particular which has always stuck with me: in order to maintain artistic motivation and momentum, it is important to keep one’s bank of inspiration full, so to speak. Cameron suggests doing this by taking one’s self on weekly “artist dates”, to do something that one is truly interested in. As she explains artist dates on her website:

[They] fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.

This means that even if an artist date doesn’t involve an overtly artistic activity, it still stimulates extremely important qualities: lightheartedness, curiosity, pleasure, and, indirectly, a sense of self worth. I struggle with ALL of these things quite often, especially when I am going through a low. I feel guilty about allowing myself to do pleasurable things if they are not directly and explicitly tied to work or improving my physical health or my home situation.

One way I’ve been taking artist dates recently is by getting back into reading fiction. I was on a non-fiction kick for a while, but as great as the genre can be, it’s been leaving me unsatisfied lately. I’ve been craving more creativity, more stories. It’s been great so far. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and allowing myself to devour books if I feel like it or read things that can’t exactly be defined as fine literature has felt freeing.  It’s one way I can take back some of the power that I feel mental illness has taken from me—the ability to follow my interests without discounting them.

When I struggle with allowing myself to feel strong emotion, I return to light-hearted, familiar books and series. A particular favorite is the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke. These books comprise a murder mystery series that is fun without being gory or gritty. They follow Hannah, owner of a small-town Minnesota cookie store who always manages to stumble across murder victims. Each book always contains some of the recipes mentioned within the story. These books are formulaic but addictive. Perfect for when I want something to distract me from my life, but not heighten my anxiety or depression.

Over this past long weekend, I spent some time at a friend’s cottage with another friend of ours from college. We spent the cozy evenings coloring and reading. I whizzed through the first book in the Butternut Lake series, Up at Butternut Lake, and another book in the SouledOut Sisters series, Come to the Table (I told you I was a voracious reader!) Both of these titles also fall under the lighthearted fiction umbrella.

Up at Butternut Lake was written by Mary McNear. It is about a woman (Allie) who, along with her 5-year-old son, moves to her childhood cottage following her husband’s death. The plot follows Allie re-establishing herself in the Butternut community and (duh) falling in love with her workaholic neighbor; the middle-aged waitress at the only diner in town; and Allie’s friend Jax, who has a big secret. Also pretty predictable, but I really don’t consider that to be a bad thing. In this case, it was exactly what I needed. Perfect summer reading, with relatable and interesting characters.

Come to the Table was written by Neta Jackson. It is part of the SouledOut Sisters series, which is a spinoff from the Yada Yada Prayer group series, which I also love. Both series are Christian fiction. Come to the Table also follows multiple POVs. It is about a group of friends and roommates as they interact with their church community and work with needy Chicago populations. One of the things I liked about it is that the young adult protagonists do not have their shit together—they struggle to find their lives’ callings, just like I am. Although I do not really connect with the style of worship depicted in the book, I am Christian (Mennonite, for anyone who cares), and enjoyed finding a series that is not fairy-taleish, mystical, or preachy. I liked how it showed God working in the characters’ lives in a real-world, down-to-Earth kind of way.

Lastly, I just finished Queen Sugar. Written by Natalie Baszile, it follows the story of Charley, a black Californian woman who inherits a Louisianan sugar farm. Readers are thrown into the struggles and new pleasures she and her daughter Micah experience as they move to Louisiana, and reconnect with Charley’s family. I am still processing this one. It’s definitely not a light-hearted read, and I see myself re-reading it when I am in the same state of mind as when I re-read The Help, actually.

A couple of closing notes: Click on any of the book titles to check out its Goodreads review. Also, check out the Buzzfeed listicle entitled “31 Books You Need to Bring to the Beach this Summer.” It’s where I first learned about Queen Sugar, as has a TON of other great-looking titles, spanning a bunch of genres!

Lastly, I know that of course not everyone shares my tastes and religious beliefs, and that’s just fine. I just ask that if you feel compelled to leave a comment on any of the books I mentioned, please keep it respectful and constructive. Thanks!

 

 

Cameron, J. (n.d.). Artist Dates | Julia Cameron Live. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/artists-dates/

Thompson, L. (2016, June 29). 31 Books You Need To Bring To The Beach This Summer. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX&sub=4286341_8993172#.eu3x1nDmB

Climbing/belaying

I did it. I had my belay lesson this past Wednesday, and it wasn’t horrible. For those who may not know, belaying is one of the security measures that go along with top rope rock climbing. You know how you sometimes see people climbing rock walls while attached to a safety rope? In top rope climbing, that rope goes through a pulley thing and is clipped to the climbing harness of a belayer, who stands on the ground, making sure that the climbing rope is not too slack or taut, locking it in then the climber needs a break, and slowly lowering the climber when they are ready.

I first started considering this a few weeks ago, when I tried my first ever public yoga class, held at DF’s rock climbing gym. DF decided to go with me, and we both ended up feeling great afterward. We had tried doing at-home yoga videos together, but the experience never quite clicked for me. For some reason, doing the public class together felt different, and we both came out happy, and high off of endorphins. It must have been those that made me feel generous enough to entertain the idea that maybe, even though I hated climbing in the past, trying again could be a good bonding experience for us too.

After much consideration and flip-flopping, I found myself strapped into a climbing harness, learning how to tie a figure-eight knot. This class was the first time I remember really being able to climb more than my height or so off the ground. All the pre-climbing advice DF gave me must have stuck, because I was able to shift from my usual habit of trying to pull myself up with my arms, and put most of the work into my legs. It was embarrassing to only get a short way before needing to take a break, but it also felt incredible to get as far as I did. And DF couldn’t have been sweeter or more patient with me.

Long story short, I rate the experience a win. Even though I like to do things perfectly, I was able to appreciate just how well I did do and enjoy the bonding time with DF. My body felt great, and not TOO sore, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to trying it again

Hello Again

If only my mind was linked up with this blog…I would long ago have posted several essays’ worth of catch-up posts, each beautifully updating you up on the latest in my gut, mind, and body. However, the Depression Monster and his sidekick, Anxietron struck again. Each time I thought of some things I wanted to say, Depression Monster convinced me it wasn’t worth posting, I had more important and elusive things I should do first. Anxietron agreed, and added that I wouldn’t be able to articulate exactly what I wanted to say anyway.

Bullshit. I am taking the step to post anyway. This entry won’t win a Pulitzer, but it will sock the Depression Monster in the gut. There have been a lot of changes in my life since my last post, and I want to get them out there.

Picking up from 2 years ago…

  1. I did NOT start maintenance therapy. The thought of the type of medications Dr. Gutimov talked about at our appointments terrified me, and I was extremely loath to start with them and their side effects, when I already was not satisfied with my mood and energy level. The decision was a gamble, but SO FAR (please, God, please…), according to the results of the MRI I mentioned in the last post, and self-reporting, active Crohn’s doesn’t seem to have some back. Yay!
  2. I’ve raised the dosage of my anti-depressant a few times, and have rode the birth-control train to the point where I am FINALLY at the point where I am mostly happy with the one I am on. Not having monster cramps and period bowels (you know what I mean, sisters!) every month really tends to improve my mood somewhat!
  3.  I think the aloe plants I talked about repotting next time were the ones I ended up giving to DB’s mom and stepdad for Christmas (all the transplants took root well, and are thriving, for anyone who cares 😉 ). And OH!…
  4. DB is now…DF! There is a beautiful sapphire ring on my left ring finger! We have a tradition of him writing me little love notes on pages he tears out of a little spiral notebook I got him…and the day before last Easter, we were playing with the cats at one of my cat-sitting houses. I thought he was down on one knee to give Kitty some love, but instead he handed me a note asking me to marry him! We don’t have a date set, but we know it’ll be at least another few years, after I’m done college.
  5. I still struggle with getting myself to get enough exercise. Most recently I’ve been loving yoga. For a year or two I’ve been practicing at home with the free videos on Yoga with Adriene. Adriene has a ton of free videos on youtube, and she leads you through them with very real, conversational language. She emphasizes that yoga can be for everyone, and stresses that modifying or switching asanas to make them easier or harder is not cheating…anything to make sure they feels good for your body!

I just signed up for a belay lesson at DF’s rock-climbing gym.He loves climbing, and though I don’t (lol, really don’t), I’ve been wondering if it could be time to try again. I have made some progress with my positive self-image and motivation, and I’m actually looking forward to the potential bonding time with him ❤ We tried taking a few yoga classes the gym also offers and loved them even though he’s not really a yogi, so I also figure it’s only fair I give his main exercise a try!

6. I finished most of the first year at an educational assistant program offered at a nearby college. It was tough, but it also brought some of the greatest life satisfaction I’ve found post-surgery. My main professor is amazing, and very supportive of her students’ efforts. I adore her! I also met a new little group of friends, and their presence has been…warm and fuzzy, supportive, and fun. We helped each other through the stressors of college, and I’ve done my best to see them whenever we’ve been able to swing it this summer

That probably covers most of the main pillars of my life right now…depression is still a thing, anxiety is still a thing, I’m still struggling to get to church and talk to people, but I’m trying. I’m still alive, and I’m still growing. I’m going to try and become more regular with this blog again. Here’s to second chances!

 

 

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!