Around, and around, and around

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Do you ever feel like you fluctuate between two opposite extremes? One day you want fuzzy slippers and leggings, the next some killer shoes and a sharp blazer that Stacy, Clinton, and Tim Gunn would swoon over. Or maybe one day you’re all about salads and lean protein, and then next it’s chips and guac, mac & cheese, and a bucket of ice cream.

Right now, I’m caught on this particular roller coaster, constantly swinging from side to side, with a few moments of contentment somewhere in the middle. One day I want a lovely back yard and garden (which are truly lovely, and I still love them) and the next I want to sell everything and spend my life wandering. Or I want a nice, stable, dependable job with state benefits and a reserved parking spot…but then I want to spend 3 years in a creative commune and, I don’t know, go hunting for berry pigments to turn into dye, or paint, or pie (I’m not entirely sure what happens at a creative artist commune, clearly.).

When I get knocked off kilter, it sometimes takes me a while of flailing around to find my center again. I feel like I can see where that center path is, but I keep missing it, criss-crossing it haphazardly, but slowing the pendulum swing…eventually I’ll find my feet confidently walking where I want them to be, and until then, I’m just trying to survive the ride.

It occurred to me in the last few days that I probably need to be on medication. Again. I have always dabbled around the edges of depression and for the last few years have also been fighting anxiety attacks and overwhelming moments of panic stemming from everyday situations. I’ve tried therapy and meds, and more meds and different therapy. And those things have all helped to some extent; but depending on how extreme and powerful the forces in my life…well…I think it’s time to up my meds.

 

 

I know that part of my issues of late have nothing to do with my brain chemistry, they would be shitty for anyone in my shoes. I also know that my particular brain chemistry sometimes needs a little boost to stay even. So, while I know my doc–who is well acquainted with my brain–wouldn’t hesitate to re-write me a prescription for something to help me manage my day-to-day; part of me wonders if that’s a cop out. Wonders if it’s my brain, or if it’s just the situation. I don’t want to be broken, but I also sometimes wonder if I’m gas-lighting myself. And then I remind myself for the umpteenth time that regardless of why, it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to take meds, or go to therapy, or do whatever it is that works in order to get back to a place of feeling okay again. And when I, myself, try and convince myself otherwise…well, that’s not a very healthy behavior, now is it.

Oh, the hamsters in my brain, if you could only see and appreciate how they work, and how they work me over. It’s exhausting.

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Late Stage Adulting: Exercise, Nutrition, and Health

I have a number of health issues–ribs and back problems, a MULTITUDE of problems with my lady parts that range from “irritating” to “so painful I’d rather be unconscious.” I have been battling various degrees of anxiety and panic attacks following a brain injury a few years ago which, finally, seem to be mostly under control (thanks, Science). I have had cancer chopped out of my skin and will undoubtedly have to deal with that again. Up until a few months ago I adhered to mostly healthy eating habits (but, you know, with cheese and brownies on the regular) but was still 45 pounds overweight. However, for the most part, I consider myself quite healthy. I don’t know if that’s wishful thinking or denial, but it’s the truth.

Now, with the exception of my weight, an annual physical would confirm that my blood pressure is good, my cholesterol lower than average, and my heart and lungs are clear and doing just fine. Hey, I even grew an inch this year!

However. As my weight continued to creep higher and higher, as my life became more and more sedentary, and my psyche more stressed…I knew I was deliberately ignoring my health. In a larger sense of health I was doing fine–no smoking or drugs, diligent sunscreen application, regular dental check-ups, and take care of my mental health, as well as working with my doctor for years to try and figure out and treat my lady-part issues. But in my day-to-day activities, I was not a recognizable “healthy” person. A few months ago I stepped on the scale and audibly gasped. 198 pounds! On my 5’7″ 5’8″ frame that puts me in a size 14. I’d been buying 12-14 pants/leggings and XL skirts for months, but seeing that 198 pounds on the scale, that was the catalyst. I finally decided to make a permanent change, and promised myself I’d stick with it.

I started going to the gym several times a week. I hated it.

I started buying and then eating more vegetables than any other food, and I stopped buying or baking sweets. I sometimes still devoured just-purchased pastries in my car, in secret, feeling guilty and sick to my stomach.

I made a goal to drink more water and less Diet Dr. Pepper (this is my most difficult health goal, to date).

I kept going to the gym, running a little faster, moving a little bit longer.

I kept buying vegetables, I planned entire meals around zucchini or cauliflower. I instigated scheduled treats, for legit celebrations. I stopped feeling guilty or ashamed about a slice of cake for a birthday.

I added speed intervals to my time on the treadmill, running a little faster and a little longer every week. I figured out it takes 75 minutes of an elevated heart rate for my “runner’s high” to kick in.

I started tracking calories and made sure to burn several hundred more a day than I consumed. I loved knowing the numbers for my inputs and outputs, it turned into a little game.

Slowly, my fluffy parts got a little less fluffy. I stopped craving chocolate and Kraft mac and cheese.

In the last couple of months I have lost 25 pounds, and kept it off. I can run a 5k in less than 35 minutes without wanting to die. I can do this by running a consistent 11-minute mile, and I can ALSO do it by running speed intervals as well. I eat veggies and lean protein almost every meal, limit fruit to a few times a week, and for the most part skip bread and sugar completely.

I am 33 years old and working towards a regular day-to-day health that I have never once possessed. And most surprising to me? I actually like it. I am stubborn bossy particular about how I frame this new version of my health.

I refuse to give up cheese or dairy.

I don’t like dancing in front of anyone, so Zumba is out-out-out and nothing you can say will change that.

I don’t eat chia seeds, or oatmeal, or green smoothies because I cannot stand the taste or texture and would rather just eat a salad instead of ruining pineapple or a banana with liquid spinach juice.

Without 90 minutes at the gym, my work-from-home routine will net me about 700 steps throughout the day. So, I go to the gym for 90 minutes to hit my 10,000 steps (thanks, Fitbit, you creeper). It is sometimes inconvenient and makes me disgustingly sweaty, but I do it anyway.

And here is the continuously most surprising thing: I have started to like this new routine. I like the veggie-heavy menu; I like spending 90 minutes at the gym (with an audiobook, I am not a robot). I do not miss cupcakes or sandwiches or nightly Netflix marathons. In fact, if I skip the treadmill for a few days I get antsy and irritable. Who am I?

I’m just me, but….healthier?

I am not sleeping better. My skin is not clearer or my hair shinier. To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure that I feel better on a daily basis. But, I know that my  heart and lungs are healthier, my brain hamsters are running themselves to exhaustion on a treadmill instead of round and around my head. And my guts certainly appreciate my mostly-whole foods menu.

I still have 20 pounds to go, and I imagine they will be harder to lose than this first 25, but I am hoping to be back to my “fighting weight” sometime this fall. What will I do at that point? Honestly, I don’t really know. I’ve thought of running a half marathon as a way to help me stay focused those last few pounds. But even if I don’t do that, I want to maintain this input (food) and output (burning calories) routine. And not because of my new pants size, and the section of “once upon a time” clothes in my closet I will be able to wear again. But mostly, because this daily change has brought about some more recognizable long-term health benefits that I have started to actually value.

I’ve been adulting for YEARS and am finally figuring out how to take care of myself. Hey, who knows what I’ll do next!

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If you give me an inch…

For the last 15 years I have measured just shy of five feet seven inches, just a touch taller than average, yet still the shrimp in my family, but still, 5’7″ is nothing to snuff your nose at, it’s respectable, dignified, me. Last week at my annual physical I clocked in at five feet eight inches. I told them they were wrong, I’m not quite that tall. They measured again, and then a third time, and double checked my medical records in their computer. Everyone–myself included–was baffled that at age 30-something I had grown an inch and a quarter. Baffled. When I got home I measured myself again because it seems so completely insane that I somehow managed to grow a full inch at this point in my life.

After thinking about it for a day or two, I emailed my physical therapist, the one who has worked so much magic on my ribs and back the last year. And ya know what, she isn’t surprised at my middle-age growth spurt. She is convinced that a had at least a full inch of compressed and twisted spine that has finally straightened out and–most importantly–stayed straight. I still have ribs out here and there, but for the most part I am nowhere near the extreme and overbearing pain I had 6 months ago (and a year ago, and 5 years ago).

You guys! I’ve grown an inch! In my spine! My pants are not shorter, my skirts are not suddenly skimpier, although now that I think about it, I feel like perhaps my shirts are a touch shorter than they were, but I would have blamed that on an overly zealous dryer before I thought “oh, hey, it’s because I’m taller now.” The biggest change, though, is that I feel really great most days, like, almost normal and/or…athletic?…but I would have never guessed that I am, literally, standing taller than I ever have in my whole life.

This is huge. A whole inch! In my thirties! Because my spine is finally in the right place, my vertebrae are lined up and spaced out in ways that they never have been before, MY SPINE IS FINALLY SPACED OUT LIKE A NORMAL HOMO SAPIEN!

I am taller. I can run a 5k in 35 minutes. I can do a back handsprings and back and front flips at the indoor trampoline place by our house without dying. I can lift weights and do leg presses…and I don’t hate doing those things because it does not cause massive pain and skeletal torture. I have a whole extra inch of space to move around in and my bones are no longer crunching around on each other when I walk or shower or brush my teeth. Five. Eight.

It’s been a week and I still can hardly believe my new found height. Five foot eight, ya’ll. I’m 5″8″.

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Living with a pet volcano named Anxiety

Do you want to know what is the worst part of anxiety? It’s not the crippling sense of indecision, or cowering in the face of basic tasks, or cycling through all the horrible things everyone around you is thinking about you…nope, it’s feeling like any minute the other shoe will drop and what is currently leaving you a sobbing mess on the floor will suddenly become even worse. The fear of living: THAT is the worst part of anxiety.

Do I have anxiety? Yes. Do I have panic attacks? Also, yes. I take the meds and do the mental exercises and all the things I’m supposed to to minimize the effect of both anxiety and fear on my life. But I still have panic attacks, sudden bursts of heart-stopping fear that seem to come from nowhere, and also the long burning and deeply held suspicion that the worst to come is just around the corner. (Sometimes, fairly infrequently, I will have a panic attack and I know exactly what triggered the episode. Those kind of seem like blessings, really. Being able to name and identify the fear is a HUGE step in combatting it.)

I often feel trapped and claustrophobic in my own skin. I feel like this scary Thing is getting closer, circling around me like a monster hunting it’s prey. And sometimes I don’t know how to open a window, or turn on the light, and banish that fear to the back of my mind. I wish I knew how to do that. And I wish that when everything is The Worst I was able to remember the steps to bring back the light.

The last little while my panic and anxiety has been building, and some of it is coming from places I can identify, but in compounding itself the mountain of fear has become something so enormous I can hardly see it, I skirt around this Thing, careful not to poke it or irritate it, because I know if it wakes up it could destroy me. And I need it to NOT wake up right now. The damn giant needs to stay sleeping, gurgling and boiling just under it’s surface, but generally quiet, for just a little while longer. I am doing everything I know how to do to keep that scary mountain asleep, but I know that sometime soon it will explode like a volcano. I know it. I can’t control that part, I can MAYBE control when the explosion happens to a degree, but not if it explodes. The scary monster volcano mountain will always be there, it will always grow, and it will always–eventually–erupt into a fireball of ash and smoke and carnage. Anxiety volcanoes are never truly dead, just temporarily dormant.

Sigh. Living with anxiety is exhausting.

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Avoiding cancer by the hair of my skinny-skin-skin

I was nineteen years old the first time I was diagnosed with skin cancer, my dermatologist called me on Christmas Eve to give me the news and the day after Christmas I had two chunks of my forehead taken out, the larger leaving a small, round scar on my hairline. Since then I’ve had cancery spots cut out two more times, one biggish one from my armpit, the other from the ball of my foot. Every dermatologist I’ve seen has told me that the combination of my fair complexion and genetic make-up means I will most likely get melanoma again before I turn 40. If I’m careful we may find it early on, before it’s even a “stage,” and can treat it by biopsy without having to resort to major chemo or radiation.

Thirty years ago a large research hospital did a longitudinal study to try and determine if there was a genetic marker for melanoma, both sides of my family were involved in that study, both with really high incidents of skin cancer diagnoses. For example: my oldest brother had melanoma cut out of his back when he was 13, my first spots came off when I was 19, my other brother was in his mid-twenties when he had pieces cut off his face. My grandfather died from melanoma, so did an aunt, and countless cousins have had questionable or even cancerous spots cut out. My dermatologist will re-measure and photograph every single mole during my visit, and then compare to last year’s size, color, and location. If anything has changed or looks at all iffy, he pulls out the scalpel and slices that stuff right off. At least I am aware of my inheritance and can take preventative measures.

Okay, so I am genetically predisposed to melanoma. Now what?

Casper the ghost_getting all tan

Well, for starters I make damn sure I don’t double down on an already shitty hand of genetic of cards. I haven’t had a real sunburn since I was in my teens, I haven’t had a tan line in more than a decade; not from a swimming suit, not a gradient on my arms, nothing. I am ridiculously careful with sunscreen application, but mostly, I just stay out of the sun. This does not make me a very popular candidate for a beachy vacation or a pool party, I won’t waltz around in tiny swimming suits, I won’t play beach volleyball, I won’t lounge pool side with giant sunglasses trying to perfect my tan. Instead I stay in the shade, I cower by the umbrellas, I cover up from neck to toes because that is easier than slathering on sunscreen every 2 hours. I keep track of the moles I can see and if anything changes I call my doc for a consult.

At this point I have a love-hate relationship with my skin. I mean, I am thirty-three and my super careful behavior is finally starting to have some visible benefits (besides, you know, the “no cancer this year” thing). I have really great skin, my wrinkles are almost nonexistent and I am routinely mistaken to be in my early twenties, sometimes, even a teenager. (I’m not sure if that is still a compliment, or at what age it no longer is a compliment, but I’ll take it.) I will probably always look younger than my actual age due to my vampire-like actions throughout my teens and twenties, and that’s kind of awesome. (My love of unicorns and Grumpy Cat and baby elephants does not in any way contribute to an adolescent persona. Promise. Ahem.) However, my skin is also really, really sensitive to the sun, I can’t walk (6 houses down the street) to the mailbox in the afternoon without sleeves or sunscreen because my skin literally starts to sting and itch. It’s like I’ve developed an actual allergy to the sun, it is uncomfortable for me to be exposed for more than two or three minutes. I’m sure my pal Darwin would have some Serious Evolutionary Thoughts about this, but for me it is just fascinating, and also a little annoying. I’m on my way to becoming one of those cave fish with bulgy white eyes and translucent skin. But hey, at least Harriet McCaveFish will look like a 22 year-old cave fish, not a 39 year-old one. Small victories, people. Small. Victories.

I’m a little fuzzy on how, exactly, I will be able to survive an Arizona summer, which stretches for eight or nine months of over-90-degree temperatures and nary a cloudy day in sight. (And, like, four months of 100+ degree temps…please kill me now, please!?) I guess I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done, stay inside during the day, stay in the shade if I absolutely must go outside, and spend a hefty percentage of my paycheck on sunscreen and linen pants. I’m such a barrel of fun, you guys. I mean, seriously. Come visit me! You can hang out by the pool, alone, while I work on my Cave Fish eyes. It’ll be grrreeaaaattt!!

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