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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Feeding the body: Pokemon Go

Whether for or against, people tend to have strong opinions about Pokémon Go. For those who have not somehow heard about it yet, Pokémon Go is a new game developed to be played on smartphones. It was made by Nintendo, and designed by Niantic, Inc, and has sparked a new Pokémon craze (although the franchise never fully lost its following between its 1995 beginning and now.)

Each player creates an in-game avatar, which captures Pokémon (fictional friendly and hostile monsters), which can be trained and battled at in-game gyms. One of the feature which makes the game so controversial is the method of play—through Google and the phone’s GPS, the map that the avatars explore matches up with the player’s current surroundings. The player physically walking is a vital part of gameplay, as gyms and Pokéstops (in-game checkpoints where players can gather supplies) correspond with real-life landmarks. There are certain functions that can’t be completed without movement—and the game will not register when the GPS tracks the player’s speed as being that of a car, plane, etc.

This game has had some great effects. Because the game needs you to physically move, more and more people are getting out into their communities, and getting more and more walking and biking time in. And duh, walking = better all-around physical and mental health. Health care professionals and mental illness patients are also reporting vast improvements with depression, anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, and autism among others. Ever since meeting and getting involved with DF, autism especially has been a subject close to my heart. It’s wonderful how many parents are reporting direct connections between Pokémon Go and increases in their children’s social skills and mental flexibility. Here and here are a few of the articles I’ve seen

However, with every good thing comes people who will find ways to cheat, or take it to unhealthy extremes (wouldn’t that make a great t-shirt slogan??) People are finding ways to get around the walking requirement by using pets and moving toys. Since the game can be so addictive while potentially causing players to lose track of what is happening around them, people have been documented as being injured or killed by falling off cliffs and into rivers. Players have also been robbed, had car accidents, and suffered illness resulting from sun overexposure. There are too many cases to individually list–it seems like every day brings up a fresh crop in the media outlets from Buzzfeed to the TV news–but here is a good article, from The Atlantic, that I used while writing this post.

Now, all that being said, I do have pretty mixed feelings…

When my brother and I were pre-teens, there was a pretty major Pokémon craze among our peers. I was never a rabid Pokémon fan. My brother and I watched the TV show, and half-heartedly collected pogs when they were given out in Dorito bags. As an adult, I tend to look on Pokémon affectionately while remembering the good old days. So when I recently downloaded Pokémon Go, it was mainly just to get a sense of what exactly everyone is talking about for myself, not to fervently catch them all.

I’ve had it since Saturday, I think. Some players reported that the game was requesting FULL access to their Gmail accounts (including email and history). To be safe, I created a new Gmail account specifically for the purpose. The day or two after I got it I had some trouble signing in—it wasn’t wanting to recognize my GPS or load. Whatever the reason, it’s been working fine the last few days and I’ve been finding that it’s pretty fun!

I usually struggle with getting enough exercise. While it may just be because the game’s still new and novel to me, I’ve gotten out of the house and been on several walks in the last two days. I live close to a parky type area which has many stops and gyms. It’s been fun discovering what different features, and discovering what the developers/Googlemaps deemed significant enough to qualify as a Pokéstop.

Since I don’t want to end up like one of those people who walks into traffic or anything while on my phone, I took (and take) precautions. I make absolute sure to look up from my phone for a decent amount of time every few seconds. I look at things I am passing. I take note of cicadas, and the sound of running water. When I was walking through the park area, I would regularly sit down and visually enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, even turning the game off for a few minutes.

I also turned off the option to connect my phone’s camera to the game. This means that instead of seeing a cute little critter perched in that big oak tree down the road, they appear against a cartoony background. I suspect this makes it easier to dissociate myself from the virtual reality. Reminding myself that every second I’m playing, I’m also burning through data helps too.

Playing Pokémon Go gives me a kick to get off the couch and do something different. Getting outside changes my surroundings, and temporarily distracts me from my worries, anxieties and apathy. Although catching pretend monsters is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it is a gentle and immediate thing to care about. It’s been cool to realize how many of the creature names I remember from childhood—I also remember the lyrics and tune to the original theme song! I’m also a bit less scornful of the people who get SO into the game they barely look up from their phones.

That actually sounds like a good closing point actually. Pokémon Go can be great, but don’t let it take over your life. Keep at least trying to find other things to get you up in the morning, to catch and keep your interest. Evolve, train, and battle your Pokémon, but don’t forget that it is also important to evolve and train your body, soul, and interests as a valuable, individual, and unique person! Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here!

You are worth it.

Much love.

Dissatisfaction

Really not feeling good about myself right now. I just tried a 50-minute yoga video, and had to really push myself to get 31 minutes through. I feel so fat and lazy. It feels like have my fitness routine these days is catching up, getting back in the swing after over eating or needing to take  break for some reason. Why can my body not do this? Why do I feel the need to keep falling into disordered eating habits? I’ll do ok for a week or so, and then slip into bad habits without even noticing or knowing.  I have been wanting to lose weight and tone up for so long, but it feels out of my grasp.

To top things off, my skin is breaking out too. For a long time I had really dry skin. At some point, again without me noticing my forehead got bumpy and shiny, and my cheeks are now showing a few spots of their own. I know I’m bad at self-maintenance, but shouldn’t the fact that I’m trying count for something?? I don’t have money to see a dermatologist, OR buy a bunch of new products, so I feel like I’m screwed no matter what I do.

It all comes down to money. I am sick and tired of my retail job. Other than working at McDonalds the first year of my career so far, I have been in retail for almost a decade. I’m sick of it! But when I think of changing fields, I feel so very, very tired. I don’t have experience, but the only way to get experience is to enter the field. With whose energy? With whose stamina? With whose hope? The spurts I get every now and then aren’t enough. Working with kids is one area where it’s especially important to provide dependability.

I wish I knew what my end goal was, what I want to do with my life. I’m in an Educational Assistant program, but I don’t even know if that is exactly the career I want. It’s the field I want for sure, but my classmates seem so much surer in their occupational goals.

It sucks not to be able to sit down and plan for my future without having panic and a fresh, black, wave of depression.

I wish I could end in some hopeful way, but that’s all I’ve got right now.

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

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.

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.