I spent the first part of this week feeling pretty sorry for myself about my lack of progress on the Engine 2 Diet.
I also thought I had bed bugs having recently returned from Ohio which [we have since learned] lists four cities in the Top Ten for bedbug infestation in the nation. We came home and washed everything -- some things more than once -- and then both went into a black hole of despair about our future. I was covered with red bumps that looked like bed bug bites. Did we bring the bugs home? Would we ever get rid of them? Would our friends distance themselves from us? Why was *I* getting bit but not J.?
And then my arm started to swell up. It was the arm I had outside the hotel blanket when I was watching The Office on my iPod while J. slept. How could I not feel them crawling on me? Were they living in my hair?! I decided to bite the bullet, spend the $200 bucks and go to the doctor. Where I learned that...basically, I have a really bad case of poison ivy which I picked up weeding my own yard. And when J. finished the job a few days later, he also got it. Which we learned when his rash appeared a few days after mine.
So, that's just a long, overly-dramatic way to tell you the story about how I wound up on Prednisone. My immune system (not just my feelings!) power-react to everything and the swelling on my arm wasn't making any visible sign of slowing down. And once I wound up on Prednisone, I knew I was fucked. I've had to do steroids before and I know the drill. No chance I was going to show any real loss on the scale this week. ONCE AGAIN, I was going to have to measure my progress in some other way.
But this time I was bitter about it. I'd put in lots of effort this month and after the first week of smooth sailing, it wasn't easy. I wanted more - I wanted to lose a WHOLE pound. Maybe even FIVE like the other gals on the Jonnyogoesvegan.com wagon. I jumped right back into the black whole [sic] and wallowed in the confirming evidence that no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to change what has happened to my body over the last five years.
And I admit, underneath all of that is the feeling that someone else is to blame. That I don't deserve this. That I was never sick or fat before I met him and that this is some unwanted legacy of that marriage I have to take with me. Or that I should be able to control how I look, and feel, and that my health situation would change if only I could be better, stronger, faster at whatever it is I need to do more of to make it work.
But even with all that going on in my mind? You know, I've always felt awesome on steroids. Even Lupron. I was doing 90 minutes of cardio on Lupron before my last surgery. It's nice to get a window into what it would be like not to have excess estrogen. But I digress. Once the steroids kicked in and the rash got a little less painful, I went back to the gym and had tons of energy. That is the point about the steroids....they got me out of the black whole and back to the gym.
So there I am, on the Stairmill, huffing and puffing about my various disappointments (like being denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions) when I caught a woman out of the corner of my eye using one of those "bikes" you pedal with your hands. What kind of person does that for a workout? I looked, pretending like I was checking the clock, and saw that she was a paraplegic. (My gym is part of the hospital and has an integrated rehabilitation program.) Her wheelchair sitting empty next to the hand-bike, and she was doing her thing while I was moaning, on both my legs, on a Stairmill (which is a tough workout, people), about how pathetic my body was.
Tssssss! [finger sizzling the air.] That's one for God, who took a moment to burn some sense into me.
I went home and read a post on a cooking blog called In Jennie's Kitchen about peanut butter pie, a woman who had lost her young husband very suddenly the week before, and how he was the light of her life and that light had, without warning, been snuffed out. And so I resolved to be the partner that J. deserved, every day.
And then I went back to my Jim Loehr book and read more about Old vs. New Stories and I resolved that I would take Loehr's advice; that I would no longer hand my power to someone else and allow them to decide how I feel about myself. I'm responsible. I can't control everything about my health, but I can control how I respond in mind and in my everyday actions. My very first specialist told me this, five years ago. He said, "You've got to be that crazy lady who gets up every day at 5:00 in the morning, every day of the week and pounds it out at the gym. In other words, you've got to be Lou Schmelber*.
I took his online quiz and saw my answers - that I was working hard, but I was NOT pushing myself to my absolute max in my workouts. I was telling myself I wasn't well enough to be an athlete; that I was scared to try running again post-tendon rupture; and that I was trying hard enough as it is. All bullshit.
And I know this because while I was doing my core workout, I looked down from the balcony into the therapy pool and saw a woman doing *her* workout. She was a quadraplegic. Her head was held out of the water by a special floation device. She had two therapists - one to move her legs and one to hover close by her head to make her feel secure and give any additional support that might be needed to keep her safe. What a gift for her and for both of them to be able to help.
Can she change? She is always trapped inside *her* body. Then I took in how beautiful she looked. How toned her muscles were; how healthy her skin was. I was struck by how much was required to make sure this woman could spend an hour in the pool; and how often that had to happen to preserve her flexibility and keep the muscles from atrophy. Yes. She changed. Broken by a trauma to her body. And then slowly she got better. And she keeps changing and getting better, though it may not be as visible or as rapid a change as someone else's.
And it hit me. Things are different. If I look at it that way, I have moved my needle.I have moved it in some very significant ways. I realized that I was scared, angry, and resentful about my health but when I watched that woman in the pool I knew it was time to let it go.
In the past 28 days my taste buds have changed, I've gone from someone who couldn't stand the food she was "supposed to" eat for breakfast to a person who looks forward to breakfast every day; Rip's Big Bowl with unsweetened almond milk. I ran out of kale and spinach and I was unhappy about it. Never thought I'd say that about kale, but it's true.
I smile every morning when I wake up because I feel free of egg whites and chicken breasts. I don't have to eat birds. I don't have to eat what I don't enjoy. Vegan or no. If I don't like it, I'm not going to make myself eat it. There are too many other good, healthy vegan choices out there. I'm not going to cut soy shreds out of a plastic bag; I'm not going to eat seitan.
In the past 28 days, I've figured out my new kitchen, where to buy healthy foods in my new town, and gotten in the habit of treating my food preparation as a priority. I've gotten in the habit of packing a cooler for lunch and bringing it along on car trips so we have healthy snacks. I've gotten in the habit of freezing extra portions, combining leftovers into beautiful soups and making very simple, delicious meals on a pretty reasonable budget.
In the past 28 days, I have noticed that my blood pressure is dropping. From 120/80 to 102/78. I may be able to do without the diuretic, I'm not sure yet. Zero aspartame or Splenda in my system means a lot less water retention; it means that my hands don't hurt as much. I think the better foods that make me happy mean *I* don't hurt as much.
In the past 28 days, I have learned that my new/old love is a more supportive partner than I ever imagined, and I already thought he was awesome. He never once complained about the vegan thing, he only did what he could to help. On our trip last week, he let me choose all the restaurants. He sniffed my kale salad and asked if he could have some. He ate at home for 30 days (probably a record for him) and never brought a sweet inside this house. He loves having the fruit around and couldn't name a single vegetable he doesn't like. He booked a hotel room with a kitchen and packed all my vegan food into the car. I tell him I've joined a hiking group and he thinks that's awesome and encourages me by saying I will enjoy it. He doesn't do it all because someone was watching and he wanted to look like a great guy, he just IS a great guy. And I know that more than ever, now.
And over the past 28 days, I've realized that it will take me longer than a month to move the needle again, but even if I can't see it, it IS moving. If I throw it out a little wider, I see:
That in the past six months, my health is trending in a positive direction. I'm down 50 percent on one medicine, possibly ready to dump another; I've lost six pounds and not gained it back.I belly laugh every day. I know that someone really, really loves me and wants the best for me. I used to never be able to imagine the future; now I am making plans, with excitement for the smallest things, like snuggling under a blanket when our old, poorly insulated Civil War-era house turns cold in the fall.
I know that even though I had to leave my family in Montana and Oregon, and that leaving hurt us all so much, I can still have a great relationship with all my grandkids, T, T, M, L, and D and their parents too. We can decide how WE want to be, and we've decided to be good to each other. That means a great deal to my health and happiness.
As I finished up my run today, I realized that I was running faster and longer than I was before my tendon injury 18 months ago. I'm doing Jeff Galloway's program, via the iPod app. (Love that app. Best $2.99 I've ever spent.) Music is great, his voice is soothing, and in week 2, I'm running faster than I ever have. My foot doesn't hurt at all. I started out thinking I couldn't run but I wind up doing it without looking at the stopwatch, going faster and faster, and I feel awesome when I'm done. Like.
And a shout out to my Bend-based trainer Mary who made my core super strong during the 18 months since my injury. Mary also really helped me recover from multiple abdominal surgeries and did so with unfailing encouragement and support. Even when I told her about the dog thing and then went back to him and stayed for ten more months, even though I probably shouldn't have. She protected me in her way, and I still keep her card on my fridge, as a kind of holy shrine of protection.
Three years ago, when I was 37, they induced a chemical menopause with Lupron and then gave me a double oophrectomy and full hysterectomy. Five months after my surgery, I hiked 18 miles at 7800 feet; the scariest hike I've ever done.
Three and a half years ago, aged 36, my ovaries started to fail. I dreamed of starting a "Vagina Hotline" where women could call in and just complain to someone who gave a shit. I hiked 10 miles to Iceberg Lake with the family.
Four years ago, I had a tumor removed from my right breast. My body was still making too much estrogen. The surgery didn't work. That summer, I hiked 21 miles in one day.
That's me in the cowboy hat.
Four and a half years ago, I had my ovaries "drilled" --don't watch that if surgery grosses you out --- and took 12 advil a day to cope with chronic pain from endometriosis being fed by all that excess estrogen my ovaries were making. The only place I felt comfortable was in my bed. I couldn't wear high heels, or exercise, or even take many walks, because it caused too much pain in my abdomen. I bled 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for two years.
So, when I zoom out on the needle a little bit, I can see there was always pain, but there was always strength and a measure of recovery. Often hard won, and done alone, but recovery just the same.
I can see the needle has moved this time for good - I'm better, stronger, faster. I don't have all the answers, maybe I didn't lose any weight this month, but that's o.k., eventually, I will. In the meantime, I think I'm floating.
And that's what I've learned during the 28 Day Challenge on the Engine 2 Diet**.
Thanks to all of you, my friends, for being so awesome through all this stuff.
And a special thank you to fundraiser Sue K., though she will probably never read this, for giving the Vagina Hotline at least a half a second thought for our local [Montana] hospital's women's wing.
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of said exercise fanatic.
**I'll totally weigh and measure when I'm done with the steroids next week. I swear.