Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Late Night Catharsis

It's one of those nights where I am laying awake in bed, going over and over the day in my head, phrases and scenes crossing like a busy intersection, and I'm waiting for the green light that doesn't come.
The events of my day were what some would consider fairly ordinary, but some powerful things were going on behind the scenes.
Since I've come down with Shingles, I've been thinking more about my definition of health. It isn't the same for everyone. My husband, for instance, is on the extreme side of nutrition, reaching the point where every macro-nutrient is accounted for. He kills himself in the gym and has a fantastic physique to show for it. But his joints bother him. And he's only 33. I don't personally know anyone else who takes nutrition and training to the level my husband does. I know there are body builders and world athletes that have such a strong vision of their dream that they will not rest until it comes to fruition, or they completely destroy themselves in the pursuit. Their drive is admirable, but to my (albeit, untrained) eye, when you get to that level, you actually compromise some of your health. Some of the things athletes have to do to be competitive at a certain level are not healthy. I'm not just referring to performance-enhancing drugs, but more so to the destructive mentality behind the drive. The inability to take a day off from training, even when you have pneumonia and can't catch your breath (my husband). It turns into a dangerous obsession for some. I'm not advocating eating junk and being lazy, and I don't have answers for anyone else, but I think as I look toward turning 40 next month, I am trying to define what healthy is to me. This bout of Shingles showed me how disastrous stress is to my body, and it has made me realize that simply reading inspirational weight loss quotes and getting to the gym isn't addressing the part of my health I have overlooked for far too long, my mental health. I have made more of an effort to recognize my stress and try to make on-the-spot judgments about whether or not a situation really needs to be stressed over. I amazed at how much more relaxed I am. It goes back to not sweating the small stuff, something I thought was a cool idea when I first heard about it, but gave little thought to thereafter. Life is full of small stuff. There are bound to be disappointments but so little of it we have control over, and stress never fixes the problem. The Prednisone I am taking for my virus has had quite an effect on my energy and mood, but my intentional focus on my stress level is making me feel like I can handle whatever life throws at me. One task at a time, then on to the next. I have felt a lot more organized, grateful, content and even joyful. So two things I have identified with my ideal of health; less stress and more joy. I have been trying some new recipes and doing more stretching. It feels good to not be stressed about my weight or my body image, I'm healing the inside a little bit for now. And I'm staying on track easily.
So that brings me to today. It started like normal, getting myself and my kids ready, and rushing off to the bus stop. It was only twelve bone-chilling degrees and the bus was 15 minutes late, which threatened to make me late to work. My kids were complaining about how miserable they were standing in the cold for so long. My thoughts turned to California, and I smiled in anticipation of the day I never have to stand on iced-over ground and watch my sons' complaints come at me through chattering teeth. When they boarded the bus, I headed to work. Here is where I would normally stress out about the likelihood of being late. But today, I thought to myself, I am either going to be on time or I'm not. No need to stress about it, there's little I an do to change the outcome at this point. And I punched in 2 seconds before I would have been late. The patients I worked with were all pleasant today, no one complaining that their glasses don't work for them, so I considered myself lucky. Then the wife of Donald Driver came in to pick up her glasses. She had to be very discreet so as not to draw a crowd. In Green Bay, if you are lucky enough to encounter a Packer player or their family, it is a story you tell the rest of your life. People take it that seriously over here. And Packer fans are overly emotional. I found myself feeling a little sorry for her in that aspect, but she got on just fine without anyone recognizing or bothering her. To me, she was just a lovely woman in to pick up glasses. Had she not told me who she was (in near whispers) I wouldn't have known.
Tonight in my social work class, I had to give a presentation. It am quite a mess speaking in front of people, and especially a room of college kids half my age, but I had really strong information to give. I think I've blogged about the interview I conducted in preparation for the presentation, and that it was what made me realize what I want to do with my degree, work with special needs children and adults. So I waited to go last, because I dread public speaking that much. Someone else had done my same agency (the cerebral palsy center) as well, but she was horribly unprepared, with no visuals and a handful of misinformation. I wasn't prepared for the flood of feelings that washes over me as I gave my presentation. Nerves took me first, and my voice began to quiver as I presented slides that portrayed the work this wonderful agency does. I shared how much it means to me to see the services they have for autistic children, because of my own sons, and when I rounded the finish line, my last slide was about my reaction to the organization. The slide started out with a quote that is painted on the wall upon entry," you can't light the way for others without brightening your heart." I immediately felt a rush of tears spring to me, and had to pause to regain my composure, barely finishing without a scene. I told them that the reason I was so moved and impressed by the center is because they help without discounting the person. As I quickly started away from the podium, my instructor said that it sounds as though it had really touched my heart and I was choking back tears as I headed back to my seat, feeling foolish. But it did touch my heart, and more. It had a profound effect on me, but until I tonight I couldn't quite put my finger in what it was. When I interviewed the agency rep, she asked my reasons for wanting to get into the human services field, and I told her about my sons and our many challenges with autism. And I talked about my bestie, who's been with me through thick and thin, she has Cerebral Palsy, and had always been more resilient, brave and tough than I will ever be, what a positive role model! Then I right about the CP center and how they accept all abilities. The idea of everyone being accepted has so much impact on me, not just because of the struggles of what my kids deal with, or my bestie has had to deal with, but because so many times in my life I have felt not accepted/ not welcomed. And I realized that, standing in front of the classroom, my fear of speaking was stemming from being judged negatively. And everyone else was nervous too, I'm sure for the same reason. One young man confessed to having battled anorexia, and one girl cried about a family friend, a little boy fighting for his life from a rare skin disease. It was a heavy, heavy night, and I think even more good will come of it after we've all had time to process it all.
I started talking about my ideas of what health is to me, and I'm certain it will be a perpetually-changing list. For now, I think I've had just enough catharsis to get some much- needed sleep. Tomorrow is another day, filled with menial tasks and a heap of Statistics homework/class. Which might very well bring about a different sort of weeping altogether.
Hope you are all well. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Painful Lesson

Last weekend I was really looking forward to getting back in the gym and starting my Maintain, Don't Gain challenge.  In preparation for cleaning up my lifestyle, I also spent several hours doing some heavy cleaning around the house.  Along with the regular duties of shopping, cooking, and tending to my kids' every whim, I ended up spending about 13 hours on my feet with very few breaks.  At that point, I had the energy and figured I wasn't going to let it go to waste.  Plus, cleaning is an acceptable excuse to procrastinate on doing statistics homework.  By the time I went to bed last Sunday evening, my back and hip was bothering me so much that I started scolding myself for my lack of discipline where my health is concerned, but knowing I was going to get things turned around helped me sleep soundly.  I naturally assumed the pain in my lower back and hip would hang around for a day or two and then everything would just go back to normal.
Monday morning I got up and hit the gym.  Oh, it took me longer than it should have to get out of bed at 4:30 am, but I did it, and once I hit the treadmill and had my songs pumping in my ears, I felt so good.  My joints were all so irritated, my knees, hips, even my ankles seemed to be protesting.  I told myself it was just my lack of rest lately, and the weather creeping ever slowly toward winter.  As Monday progressed, my back pain got nearly intolerable, and I tried several different stretches throughout the day to try to help it.  Beside the sore muscle feel, and the stiffness, I started to get a shooting pain up my spine, starting from way down in the tailbone.  I figured I either had a pinched nerve or an issue with my disc.  Then my hip got really swollen.  Later that night, a small rash appeared on my right thigh, just above the knee, and my skin on the entire leg became very sensitive to touch, even to my clothes or wind brushing against the skin felt like someone was shocking me or shooting needles into my skin, and there was an underlying bruised feeling.  I assumed it was from all the dust from cleaning, but noted that it was on the same side of my body as my now severely swollen hip.  By Tuesday, shooting back pains got a little heightened, but the hip was back to normal.  I was starting to get migraine headaches, the kind you get when you are coming down with the flu and you feel so much pressure that your eyes hurt to move.  The back pain was tremendous.  I still hit the treadmill that morning, but my body was protesting it by amping up the joint pain.  I was taking a continuous flow of Tylenol and ibuprofen just to make it through work.  I knew by Tuesday night, that there was no way I could go to the gym on Wednesday.  Then the massive outbreak began, a full-blown rash on my leg, blistering, itching and burning, complete with shooting nerve pain.  I went to the Urgent Care on Thursday and was diagnosed with Shingles.  I was prescribed a corticosteriod and an antiviral and sent about my way.  I spent Thanksgiving Thursday on the couch, my back pain nearly bringing me to tears.  Whenever I moved my leg, it felt as if the skin were made of paper, and that it was about to rip wide open.  The itching at night is one I can only compare to having hives, incessant, deeply distracting itching that makes you want to tear your skin off.  I tried every household thing I could think of for itch, and there was hardly anything that could touch it.  There has been very little sleep for me.  Finally, last night I took an antihistamine last night and slathered my leg with baking soda and I got some broken but good sleep.  My back pain, is completely gone.  The steroids are giving me back some energy, and making me realize just how low my energy has been for the last few weeks.
Shingles are brought on by periods of extreme stress and/or some sort of trauma.  Either or both could have been the cause, my stress has been severely cranked up lately with my car repair issues and my son's behavior issues at school, and the trauma of spending more time on my feet and making my hip swell could have also been the culprit.  But I am slowly feeling better.
I believe that there is something positive to be learned from every situation, and their are several positives I take away from this, are the fact that these could have been anywhere on my body, mouth, eyes, back, scalp, face...the leg is probably the most sufferable place to get this virus.  Also, it has made me very aware that I do not EVER want to have back issues, and I will concentrate more on training my core to help protect my back, something I haven't given much thought to in the past.  Another thing I learned from this, is that I keep talking about finding better ways to relieve my stress, but I never actually carry through with the research.  Now I can't keep ignoring it, I need to have a better handle on my stress levels.  And maybe the most important lesson I've learned from this, is you need to sit down sometimes, or life will have a way of MAKING you sit down.
There!  My sob story is all done.  I really want to get  back to the gym this week, but I'm thinking that will be a bad idea, as the only way for the rash to clear is to let the blisters open and dry out, which means I have to keep the leg cool and dry.  I may need to take a little time off, but I am keeping my diet clean, and supplementing with L-Lysine (an amino acid) and apple cider vinegar to help balance out my natural acidity and heal from the inside.  Right now, the best way I can care for myself is to take things a little easier, but keep my mind on the future.  I plan on wiping out this nasty little virus and getting back to business shortly.    I can't stress out about time lost, I can only focus on how great I will feel once I am back to normal.
Right now, I am grateful to have my energy and focus back.  The rest will come in due time.
We had our first snow overnight, and woke to an inch on the ground.  My kids were so adorable as they marveled at the wonder of the stuff as though they'd never seen it before.  I think part of my stress-reduction plan will be trying to see things as innocently as my kids.
Hope those of you who celebrate, had a great Thanksgiving, and I hope all of you are well!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Healthy Thought for the Day

Today was my first day back in the gym in quite a while, and as I finished my cardio session and hit the bright orange locker room I thought to myself, missed opportunities and regrets feel way worse than getting out of bed early. I almost didn't. I'm really glad I did, and that's not something I often say about sleeping in and being lazy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Watching the Wheels

In starting this blogpost, I feel a parallel to how I begin most of my correspondence to family and friends: "Sorry it's been so long, things have been absolutely crazy around here!" But whose life is drama- free?
It could be the extra cup(s) of coffee I had this morning, or the winding down of the hormonal disaster, or maybe the fact that some of my stressful triggers have an end-point in sight, I am in a great mood and mindset right now.
Oh, I have stress, don't get me wrong, but right now I feel like I can focus on my future and things look positive there. It would have been another story if I'd been posting this last Tuesday. On that day, my kids were already on their third combined trip to the principal's office for inappropriate behavior, my older son seemingly shifting into cocky teenager mode a few years too early, and I was missing class to sit in an auto repair shop and wait for the bad news to be dropped on me. And boy did it drop! No sooner did I spend a small fortune on new tires last weekend, to find a few days later, that I have to have my wheel bearing replaced, which will cost as much as $1,000! And, of course, it is quite unsafe to be driving around with this issue, so it's something that requires immediate attention. This vehicle is turning into a money pit! Anyway, my stress had been building, and as I drove to work yesterday, I noticed that my steering felt sloppy, looser. So I decided not to go to statistics lab and lecture. At first, it bothered me to skip, I've missed a few lectures already but I've never missed a lab. But I sent my homework via email and my professor is allowing me to do the lab work at home. For once, I had the chance to use my lunch beak for what it was designed, to get out of my office. I got some exam prep done and am feeling good about my stats test tomorrow. Tonight I will have my vehicle looked at for a second opinion, and chose a mechanic to do the work. I'll feel much better when my car is fixed. I already have enough anxiety around driving, knowing that my wheel could seize or fall off, or make my brakes fail is completely nerve-racking!
But today, I feel good. Friday is almost here, I have new tires, there's no snow on the ground yet, my kids didn't have to go to the principal's office all day yesterday, I don't have class to worry about today, I am all set up and registered for my online classes next semester, and I just feel good.
My switch to a meatless diet the past two weeks has been all positive. I actually like what I'm eating and find that I'm eating on time and not really even thinking about other foods. That is more a product of breaking the sugar addiction, not necessarily from going meatless. I am not vegetarian, but I'm not a meat- lover by any means. This week I made my egg wrap with a little coconut oil instead of the light mayonnaise I would normally use. It's much healthier and tastes awesome. And this morning I got creative with breakfast, because I'm getting sick of oatmeal with protein powder, so I threw together a multiple grain tortilla topped with apples, natural peanut butter, cinnamon and Splenda. That was surely a treat, and the change was welcome. I have been getting in the mindset of getting back to the gym, and I think I will certainly do that as soon as my car gets fixed. I'm hoping it can be fixed this weekend, but that might be wishful thinking.
The health clinic I work for rewards it's employees for doing healthy things like exercising and getting medical check ups, etc. For each healthy thing you do, you earn points, and once you earn a certain amount of points, you get cash. Pretty nice incentive to do healthy things, right? The current event we can participate in is a contest they call "Maintain, don't Gain". I tried to do this last year and failed miserably. The rules are that you weigh in before the holidays, participate in a weekly goal like limiting tv time or a set amount of cardio, etc, and if you gain no more than 2 pounds between now and the first week in January, you earn a considerable amount of points toward that monitory reward. I was getting emails about the program and immediately deleted them, racked with stress and feeling out of control, but I am feeling so good today that I decided to weigh in and give it a go. 170.4 is what the official health clinic scale read. I was prepared for that. I know where I'm at and I know where I want to be. The goals are easy enough, next week is 150 minutes of cardio during the week. Easy. And, it will be a nice way for me to get back in the habit of working out. My body needs it, and not because of the way it looks, but because of how it feels.
So that's where I'm at, in a nutshell. A couple weeks ago, I came across a poetry journal my older son made at school last year, and I wasn't in a good place then, but now I'm ready to post it. Of course it's the last line that rules! It's interesting to see yourself through the honest and unfiltered eyes of your child.
Have a great end to the week and a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thinking About Thinking

I took a day off yesterday, a break from all the daily chaos and "noise" that usually floods my life. And the day went really fast, but at several points I realized how relaxed I was and it felt great.
I have been neglecting this blog! I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I my inappropriate use of the company computer was addressed, and I was told I need to keep busy doing "optically-related things". To be fair, I got busted on Facebook, the mother of all workplace evils. But to my credit, I was on an optical page. It just happened to be for my former employer and all I did was say that the optical cartoon they had posted was funny. But my proverbial wrist-slapping led to me feeling like I am being constantly monitored, so blogging at work is likely going to be a thing of the past, even though I can go hours and hours without a customer. Sigh. And I can type posts from my iPhone, but they don't always transmit and I'm not always aware that they didn't until I go back a couple weeks later and discover it.
As usual, I have been doing a lot of soul searching and thinking about my journey. Was it really a year ago that I was celebrating a year of trying??! There hasn't been much productive output in the past year. College has really interfered with my life so much, and I don't really give it all the effort that I should. In fact, I think I got to a point with the stress of it overwhelming me so much that I had no choice but to go the opposite direction, and now have become a little too lax in some ways. For instance, right now I am not caught up with my reading in statistics, and I have always been at least half a chapter ahead. And for my other class, Intro to Social Work, I haven't read several chapters because the instructor gives us a study guide of what we need to know before the exams, and she even made our last test a take-home test. I know I should be putting more effort into this class, but I know I'll get an A with very little effort, so my energy will be used elsewhere. So as I was contemplating the past two years this morning, I realized the pattern of jumping into things with both feet when I feel strong, then feeling completely overwhelmed and out of control once the change of routine hits me. It is constantly a balancing act. My house has not been satisfactorily cleaned since the end of August. When I get free time I have way too many things vying for my time, my husband, my kids, my poor house, my homework, outside of class projects like conducting surveys and agency interviews/preparing presentations, and planning for an eventual move. This semester has been extra complicated because of all the extra driving back and forth to school during my work day, and trying to research and implement the switch to online schooling. I have done my research and have decided to switch to an online degree through the same university, now the tough part is getting the person who coordinates the program to stop playing phone tag with me and tell me what to do next. I am really welcoming the idea of not having to do all that extra driving when the roads are bad.
I haven't been to the gym in nearly two weeks, and I don't have any good excuse other than its cold and dark out there at that time of morning. But the snow will be here before I know it, and my own anxiety of driving in it will be a huge enough obstacle for me. I'm grateful that my gym is only a few miles from home, but the city doesn't keep up with overnight snowfall as nicely as I wish it would. But even as I think ahead to cleaning off my car at 4:45 am and slipping off to the gym full of determination and persistence, it feels good to know that I can make it work, I can make ANYTHING work, if I believe I can, and don't react too irrationally or emotionally. Last week when it looked like we were going to get some slippery rain/snow/freezing rain mess, I started reacting to it by complaining and being dramatically grumpy, but it turned out to be nothing, and once again reminded me that some things don't need to be stressed over until there's a reason to stress. I will trying to remember that this winter, but I have also started researching affordable places to live in California. Turns out there are many, and it has me dreaming about a spring 2014 move to a palm tree-laden, sunny and snowless paradise!
My diet has been really on-track this week, even though I've had several opportunities to "cheat". Last night my kids begged me to stop and get them something from McDonalds and I did, it crossed my mind that I could eat something and hide the evidence. But when it came down to it, the only thing that sounded good to me was a Diet Coke, and that's what I got. It helped tremendously that I'd eaten some cottage cheese shortly before that and it tasted awesome to me. Sometimes it is so effortless to eat clean, and other times I struggle with every bite I take. My major change right now is that I've cut out meat this week. I was finding that part of my problem is that I make turkey or chicken based meals for at work, but I'm so certain they'll taste aweful or have mysteriously hard to chew bits that I opt for a protein bar as I dash off to class. Sure, it could be worse, but I've been using protein bars as meal replacements simply because in disgusted at the thought of eating what I'd prepared. So this week for lunch I'm eating egg salad wraps and I have no problem eating that, even look forward to lunch. Dinner this week has been cottage cheese. Not going to break any nutrition records but healthier than what I've been eating since school started. After not having any McDonalds last night I was in a fantastic mood. I hadn't made a serious effort to "start over", that seems oh so very dramatic, but right now I have one thing in order, and it feels good to feel in control again. Perhaps it is stemming from the vacation from stress I get when I research a move to California, a long-time dream of mine. Maybe it's due to my being fed up with how I feel, so old and tired and constantly stressed out. Maybe I'm realizing the shift in priorities is absolutely paramount to sustaining any kind of worthwhile life. I don't want to always be broken, brow always wrinkled with stress, always ALWAYS worried about the multitude of obligations, real or imagined. All of those things will be meaningless if I am too feeble or handicapped to address them. And being obese does handicap me, mentally and physically. I'm not ready to make some grand, dramatic statement about starting over or jumping in with my dukes up. Just thinking about longevity and the pathway to being happier. Less stress, less junk, less noise. The silence of that mental image is really inviting. The figuring out how to achieve it is not unobtainable. I know good things are in store for me and that, in my opinion, is the best way to start moving forward.
Happiest of Thursdays to any of my dear readers who are still with me!