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.

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Therapeutic mac and cheese, fiber, and recipes!

Cooking is soo therapeutic, and I can’t remind myself of the fact too often. Today, after another night of not enough sleep, I was still feeling groggy and bloated from my cousin’s wedding on Sunday. All I wanted to do was be lazy and re-watch Full House on Netflix. Days like this spell danger with a capital D for my eating habits, since the temptation to just grab a bowl of cereal or a plate of carbs is soo very…tempting. I might have given in if it weren’t for laziness—and actor, author, and Youtuber, and comedian Grace Helbig. I was I was binge watching her videos and found one where she made lemon angel hair pasta with shrimp. Pass on the shrimp…yaass on the pasta!

I ended up removing my butt from the recliner, and making a yummy, creamy version of macaroni and cheese. About 6 months to a year after surgery, one of the things I did to take back control of my life was research ways I could get vegetables into my diet, while reducing the amount in insoluble fiber I consumed. It is counterintuitive to what we are usually told by doctors, magazines, and the internet. But to a person whose gut still healing from major surgery—ok, I’ll back up a bit.

Basically, there are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which you get from oatmeal, peeled fruit and veggies, and various other sources, thickens stool (poop). It grabs on to water, and therefore slows down everything that happens in the intestines. This is especially important to people who have had bowel resections. I had about a foot and a half of small intestine removed, including the ileum—which a part which usually plays a big role in digestion. Since there was less intestine in which digestion could happen, slowing the process down made it easier for my remaining intestine to absorb whatever nutrients they possibly could. That’s what soluble fiber does.

Insoluble fiber (found in fruit and veggie peels, whole grains, and such)…well, it very much has the opposite effect. The s***s I got for at least a year post-surgery while I healed and figured out my new diet were some power s***s. If I hadn’t temporarily removed as much as possible from my diet, I can’t imagine how much less energy I would have had.

All that to say, I had to get pretty creative with how I got my veggies. Cooking vegetables breaks down a lot of the molecular bonds that make them hard to digest, as does pureeing them. One of my top tricks was to buy up bell peppers from my local farmer’s market when they were in season I’d roast them, freeze them between layers of wax paper, and then use them whenever I needed them on pizza, thrown into pasta, on sandwiches…

I’m also pretty picky regarding the texture of cooked veggies, so I did a lot of food dupes, like you do when you don’t want picky toddlers to know what they’re eating (what can I say? I’m working on it!) One of my absolute favorites was the Super Mac & Cheese recipe from simplebites.net. Since the recipe was from a post geared towards babies and toddlers, it didn’t use a lot of spices, and sat very gently with my gut. Although I usually east pasta with peas, if I only felt up to making the mac, I still got a boost from the pumpkin in the sauce! Another healthier mac and cheese recipe I love is from pinchofyum.com.

Another great trick that my sneaky mom used from the time my brother and I were little was adding ground veggies to tomato sauce. Carrots and those priceless roasted bell peppers work especially well.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, today’s lazy recipe was Karen from kitchentreaty.com’s delicious take on macaroni and cheese. Now, although the original recipe was vegan, the way I made it definitely was not. I didn’t have the vegetable broth the recipe called for so I used chicken instead. Also…I added lactose-free cheese. BUT I did taste the sauce before I added it, and it was delicious that way too!

Now…I may not have got as much done today as I “should have” done to qualify for the mature, functional, adult awards but at least I made one good choice. Getting into the kitchen felt incredible. While washing, peeling, and chopping the veggies I felt the satisfying feeling of crunching through them with my favorite chopping knife. I looked through the window, and saw a grumpy-looking bird sitting on the lawn. I felt the steam from the boiling water. Most of all, I was proud of myself for each nourishing ingredient that went into cooking that dish.

When I cook, I am showing myself that I matter instead of just telling myself. When I buy ingredients for a new recipe, I nurture curiosity and interest. When I tweak ingredients mid-recipe, I am showing myself that it is ok to take risks, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

I nurture. I thrive. I grow.

Much love.

 

Stay in the swing, stay in the swing…

One of my cousins got married last night. It was fun, and a lovely, small event, but we had to drive about an hour and a half each way to get there, and we ended up getting home at around 1 last night. Waaay past this girl’s bedtime! I had to wake up earlyish for a doctor’s appointment today so the amount of  sleep I got left something to be desired. Reeeally not feeling like posting right now, but I know I’m going to regret it if I don’t–so easy for non-posting inertia to take over. Plus, there are a few things to note…

Had an appointment with Dr. Gutimov, my GI, today to discuss the results of some bloodwork and an ultrasound I had done a month or so ago…all clear! The ultrasound was to test for fatty liver, which apparently can be one of the common complications of IBD. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, two of the symptoms of liver disease can be low energy and fatigue, so I suppose it’s good to know that my liver’s in good shape.

While I never was one to get many headaches growing up, I’ve gotten some really bad one over the last year. You know, the kind where your brain feels like it’s sloshing around when you move, and you can’t sleep because your pillow feels like a rock. Those headaches usually went away after a day and a half or so, but last week I developed one that was lasting over 4 days. I went to my regular family doctor and she diagnosed…a migraine! I’d actually researched migraines after having suspicions with some of  the previous headaches, but ruled it out because I did not really see floaties, or have sensitivity to light. According to my doctor, not everyone has those though. I need to make another appointment though, because she said she expected the pain to go away by its self within another day or so, and although the grand majority has, I still have some head pressure and slight nausea.

I’ve got a few posts on migraines in the works, which I am going to try posting this week. I started freewriting them longhand while I was avoiding computer screens while my head was raging last week, and they need serious editing, but goals.

So, although this post is not a great work of literature either, but at least it’s a thing I got done during my lack-of-sleep-haze! Yay!

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

The recent weeks

“Come in, Cat, or stay out,” I thought this afternoon as I opened the glass doors in response to his meow. Often during ‘bad’ weather (which includes rain, snow, extreme cold, wind, and chilly Autumn days) the cat will look behind him before deciding to step over the threshold. It’s as if he wants to make sure that things have not improved to his standards before he deigns to come in.

People say things like “your struggles make you who you are”, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and other things to the effect of “people are the sum of their experiences”, and the more good character you build, the more personal victories you have, the better the person you are. This may be true, but if there was a one-two, all-purpose, guaranteed-to-be-safe way to rid my body of my diseases, I certainly would not look back to make sure they didn’t regress to a lower level I could somehow better manage, and go on character building. It doesn’t look like I’ll be offered a magic solution any time soon.

Sorry for the lack in posts the past weeks. I have been in a very low depression, so strong that I pretty much woke up, sat at the computer until it was time to go to work, then went right back on the computer after work. I have been irritated with DB, the world, and my parents, and have been avoiding contact with friends because of the level of effort communication takes. This depression has been partly triggered by my grandpa’s recent death from Parkinson’s, and partly by a recent appointment with my GI.

Dr. Gutimov said that the results of the colonoscopy I wrote about a while ago showed some not-unusual redness around the surgery site, and some other tiny areas of redness as well. He did biopsies of those areas, and thankfully did not find the presence of anything nasty. The worst part of the appointment was when he said he wants me to have another MRI done.

An MRI is a medical test where the patient lies on a platform in a dimly lit room, told to lie very still, and then slid into a giant metal doughnut. The doughnut uses radiation to take pictures of the inside of the body part that is being examined. It’s kind of like x-rays. Actually, I’m not sure what the difference is, except they use different kinds of radiation, and you don’t need to wear the lead vest to get an MRI. It is not painful, and not the most unpleasant thing I have had done to me. However, I am tired of having things done TO me. Useful or not. When I was in the hospital last time, to make sure the images were clear, they gave me two bottles of water to which an invisible dye was added. I had to drink one by the time so much time had passes, and the other after I finished the first. I think I had to drink them both in the space of an hour. I couldn’t exactly taste the dye, but if they hadn’t told me I think I would have been able to tell that something was off. Again, it could have been worse, but as I mentioned in the colonoscopy post, I hate having to force myself to consume weird things!

I don’t know. Aside from that, this test could potentially reveal the return of the disease in the part of the small intestines which is unreachable by the scope. If it finds disease, I will probably need to take “maintenance therapy” as he put it. In other words, nasty medications with severe side effects. He said that he was definitely not telling me to get married and have kids right away, but he usually tells Crohn’s patients to be done having kids before they take these medications. That was very comforting of course…it was just one more ridiculous thing to make me feel like my life is a failure. I don’t want to completely get into it again now–I can already feel myself getting more depressed when I was having such a good day today. But yeah, that has been what’s going on.

I’ve gotten some laundry done today, repotted some aloe plants, and cut out some pieces with which to make a cushion for my grandma. I need to be able to feel good about today without raising it to the level of myth–unattainable on the regular the future. If I can get the laundry put away and take another walk at some point, I’ll say I’m satisfied.

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.

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