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!

Hard questions

Bad gut day 😦 Spent some time on the can twice–I think it was twice–before noon, with my tummy feeling crampy. What did I eat yesterday? Was it the stress of getting ready to go to a friend’s cottage this weekend? I did have some broccoli and cheddar flavored Uncle Ben’s last night, but fake cheese like that doesn’t tend to bother me. …is that wishful thinking and I’ve been in denial this whole time? See, it’s so much fun to have OCD/anxiety disorders on top of others, because it means you get to play the second-guessing game with yourself when making decisions. I do the exact same thing when deciding whether or not to spend money, what the next step in improving my financial situation is, and how heavy of a courseload to take each year. I think over all possible sides of a decision, then get paralyzed by the options and end up doing nothing. It’s terrifying.

I know this isn’t a cheery or encouraging post to read, but in my dark days I’ve often wished I knew of any other young adults whose lives felt stalled because of invisible medical diagnoses. To anyone who is in the same boat, know that you’re not more of a screw-up than everyone else. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. You’re not alone–I’m here too.

 

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!

 

 

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.

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

 

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