Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Breaking the silence about pain

I have many family members and friends, but the truth is that there is just a fairly small circle of people that I started letting in on my secret a few months ago. Unless of course you have seen me often in person, in which case you know what has been happening at least a little bit. You and I both knew that something wasn't right.

It started back around 2011 actually, when I think back. I had over the years started being able to do a little less energy-wise even back at my graphic design job in 2006. It just seemed like I was always warn out at the end, especially considered increasing stress from a supervisor that was steering me away from what I was good at into taking care of all of the departmental leftovers that nobody wanted. So when I quit that job and went back to school I experienced a certain amount of upswing. By 2011, I was finishing my thesis to wrap up grad school, had that deadline followed by having to help clear out my grandmother's house to sell it, and two weeks later move ourselves.

By the end of 2011 my health crashed. I spent a few months fighting off illness. But even throughout 2012 and well into 2013, I couldn't possibly think of getting gainful full-time employment. I had a friend who gave me some work, but even the part-time work was exhausting me.

I started progressively dragging. I had gained much more weight than I had liked over time. I was increasingly sluggish and my attempts to increase my physical activity seemed to always end in disaster after a couple of weeks. I would have shoulder pain, knee pain, and/or ankle pain. The benefits a person should see from increased physical activity would never fully materialize.

At the same time we were facing a possible move to another part of the state, so I couldn't get a job full-time and juggle house hunting. So, in the mind of my family, I was sort of employed by them as personal house hunter.  That took several trips, multiple rounds of disappointment, but ultimately it turned out for the best. We didn't need to move up north after all, which was good because we were having a hell of a time trying to find a place that was both affordable and worth moving that far.

By the time 2014 rolled around, something changed. I started trying more fervently to lose some weight and possibly get my health back so that I could start trying to work at least part-time.  Instead, while eating better made me feel psychologically better and was benefiting other members of my family, the improved food life was not changing the fact that I had started developing swollen finger joints, and all of the roving pain I experienced when trying to exercise was just getting worse. And I started feeling tired. And more tired. And even more fatigued. And then I had a cold that thoroughly kicked me, we moved to another house, and my pain was so bad that I could hardly move. I had a gorgeous upstairs bedroom that I had to creep slowly up the stairs to every night. I would wake up every couple of hours, and have an incredibly hard time just making it to my bathroom. I finally needed a cane just to get there because both knees hurt, but my right knee was really bad. Hobbling there was the only option.

Again, I tried changing my diet, finding that there were some foods that certainly made my situation worse. I had gotten acupuncture which helped my knees get more functionality back.  But nothing solved my fatigue, my swollen joints. my incredibly pain-filled hands, or the way that I could just never find a normal. Never find a day without pain anymore.

So I finally went to the doctor. Being out of work meant that I really didn't have financial means unless I put even more financial burden on my family. But after a verbal consultation with my family doctor, he recommended I go ahead and file paperwork and get on state funded healthcare. So I did.

So after all these months and a full blood panel I now have medication and answers. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hypothyroidism. While I am now about the same as I have been for weeks, I am not doing any worse. I am on medications that should start helping in a few weeks.

Everyone in my family knows now what my official diagnosis is. My illness has a name. I can admit now that I need more assistance opening everything, have someone else cut things for me because I can't operate a knife without hurting my hands. I can get special tools to assist me because I know this isn't some transient moment, but something I'm likely going to be dealing with for the rest of my life. I don't have to feel guilty because I can't hang out with friends because my pain is too bad, or I'm too tired and need a nap.

I don't even have any objections from my family because I want to cut my hair really short and make it easier to actually wash and dry, and not have to have my shoulder, wrist, and hand scream at me while I try to get my hair dry and styled. Everyone really understands that I have to do these things for me whether anyone else thinks a short hair style will actually be flattering on me. I have to do what's best. To adapt. To learn how to tackle these new issues.

I have also learned that opening up about your needs can garner new friends and allies. People who you didn't know where also suffering in silence can relate to your problems.

Maybe all of us need to open up a little more often and tell the truth about our pain. Not for pity, or to garner attention to ourselves, or to ask for crazy home remedies, but to bolster each other. To understand that many of us are suffering with chronic illness in silence unnecessarily.

Sometimes we just need to know that others understand without judgment or pity.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Rejoicing in the gradual victories

I'm not sure where on the happiness scale losing weight falls, but for me it's one of the great joys.

This week marked two fantastic milestones.

Number One: I was able to button and zip an old pair of jeans. Since at least 2011 and possibly a while before that, I had been unable to comfortably fit into the majority of my jeans. So I had bought other knit pants, and loose fitting items to "get me by" until I could lose a couple pounds or buy new pants. And so, because I obviously had been unable to lose the weight, I had gone ahead and continued to restock my wardrobe. I muddled through with mostly knit and elastic waist items, finally breaking down last year and getting a hold of a couple of pairs of inexpensive jeans two sizes up from those jeans collecting dust in the back of my closet.

So when it was time last week to give up on wearing my long-sleeved sweaters anymore and to truck out my shorts and sleeveless tops for our early summer weather, I decided on a whim to throw on a pair of jeans.  They were never my favorite during an extended period of fashion when there was nothing but low-waisted and really low-waisted jeans. But these jeans did the job. They were good jeans. But I was too overweight to wear them.

Now I slipped them on. Thinking I would do my usual deep breath and have the button and zipper not come anywhere meeting. Luckily I was wrong.

No more snug than any pair of freshly washed jeans, I buttoned and zipped and sat down in them and did a small jig around my bedroom. I am able to fit in to some jeans TWO SIZES SMALLER than I was in January.

This was worthy of enough rejoicing. Yet even more would come today.

Number 2: I have lost 19 lbs. I am starting to see numbers on my scale I have not seen in 3 or 4 years at least.  I'm thinking closer to four.

Seeing the scale reading this morning almost made me cry with joy.  And this is only the beginning.

I have a long road yet ahead of me, but to have already made such good progress gives me joy and hope.

And if eighty percent of success is showing up, I'm going to continue to show up. And knock down the walls. And work my way methodically to a better version of me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Fat Fatwa: Recognizing What's Really Important

I knew that last week was going to be a bad week for weight loss. I didn't lose a single pound.

Why? I was traveling.

People who are living a fit and active lifestyle take advantage of things like on-site fitness centers while they travel. However, I had not done any really intense exercise in a while and knew that while on vacation was NOT the time to start. While maybe someday I can be one of those people who makes sure they hit a treadmill before leaving for the day, right now I am not that person. Right now I am that person who hasn't quite gotten past periods of being tired and ill and injuring too easily. Right now, I have to focus on the larger goal of getting healthier as my first priority.

So what do we do? We sort of toss the dieting aside for a few days when we're down. Really what matters most in such times is getting ones health back before we start trying to toss some pounds aside.

However, this doesn't mean we totally give up. We don't continue to shrug off recording our food, our exercise, and watching what we eat. But there is an inevitability isn't there? We cannot be sticking to our programs rigidly every moment. Sometimes we have to let it go just for a time to get through.

But that doesn't mean we abandon our project altogether. Our lives are too short, too wonderful, and too precious to give up on our goal of self-improvement.

Why am I saying this? Because I had lost a few pounds, gained some back and then stayed there between this week and last. And this is mostly because I was traveling and then sick.

I also say that we must press on, because this week I found out my big loss was of a long ago friend whom I had lost touch with, who succumbed to cancer. He was a year older than me. He was always a vibrant individual, but to know he suffered and died is tragic.

For the living it reminds us of why we are losing weight. Why we are fighting this fight. Why we must not give up.

Because life is too short to waste any precious moments.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Thanks to a delightful blog I follow by Dallas Dyson, known as The Crazy Train to Tinky Town, I found out late yesterday that there was an opportunity for a blog hop. Ever since my attempt at NaNoWriMo for the first time this past year, I have had the pleasure of bonding over Twitter and Facebook with an incredible array of writers and people in the publishing industry to glean wisdom and insight from.  In the spirit of bonding and passing along positive spirit and sharing the  joy and pain of a writer's life, I couldn't help but participate. Without further ado, here are my answers to the fantastic blog hop questions, four in total: 

What are you working on?
Currently I have a few irons in the fire outside of this blog, which I have been writing about what interested me in the moment. Now I'm realizing with The Fat Fatwa series that my blogs about weight loss are really bonding and encouraging for my friends, so who knows where that will lead. I am also trying to figure out how to do all of this in such a way as to bring in income soon. Luckily I have a very supportive family but I could use some bacon on the table.
But outside of that I am working on the following:
1) I am working on a memoir/creative non-fiction book about my grandmother whose life we have unearthed mostly through her belongings.  She was one of those people who was so secretive that there were huge aspects of her life that we just simply have had no clue about until she started suffering from dementia and we had to start putting her in care facilities. She turned out to be a secret hoarder, with things jammed away in closets and attics that had value and history and have given us glimpses of her real life that she never ever told us. As we have gone through her things, I also realized that not only did we not only not know her well, but that my research of her life would yield good material for her eulogy when she passes away. And I know that I am the best one to do that eulogy. I'm about 40 pages in, and it's a slow process, but it's a story I'm telling because I believe it is a rather fascinating story. 
2) I have a back burner project about writing a Master's Thesis. After the myriad of books I read trying to muddle through the process of getting my Master of Arts in English Literature, I discovered a dearth of materials pertaining to the subject.  There were many books on writing a Doctorate, but I know many more people who have been going on for the mid-range Master's who don't really have any guidance. While I got some, I found no one really told the real story of what you go through as a writer during that process.
3) I have research to do on two different WWII stories that no one has told yet. And I aim to research and detail both of them. I shall refrain from talking about them however, because I don't want anyone stealing my thunder.  I have trust issues as a writer. 
How does your work differ from others in the genre?
1) The memoir/creative-nonfiction piece is different from many in that it's less purely my memoir, and more of a memoir and biographical piece. None of the guide books that I have read yet have really touched on the kind of book I'm writing, and I believe this may be a very good thing.
2) The MA book I feel will be broad and lighthearted.  The few books that I read were very very narrow how-to books that didn't apply to hardly anyone.  I am definitely not one who believes that writing should be that strictly regimented, and couldn't possibly work that way. So I felt like writing a book that made more general sense and offers different approaches and ways to not beat yourself up for not knowing what you are doing.  Because really no one who is completing their thesis knows what they are doing. I discovered that everyone is winging it.
3) I have found two aspects of WWII that are virtually untouched in books or cinema, and these true stories are begging, clawing, and scrapping their way to the surface. I feel that if I can tell these stories they will blow people away.  
Why do you write what you write?
I used to think that what I should be writing is novels. I have a very creative extended family including writers yet to be discovered, and thought that I would just be following in their footsteps.  However, as time goes on, I realized that my wheelhouse and my passion is for telling true stories.  The ones of real lives that otherwise would be lost to time and buried somewhere as generations are lost and people don't pass things down to the next generation telling family legends and stories the way they did in prior generations.  This is a tragic loss, and I want to do my best salvage some of these pieces of history before it's too late.
How does your writing process work?
You know how some people methodically plan out every aspect of their work in an outline and the meticulously work at the same hour from 6-8 a.m. every morning, always write in a journal, and follow all of the rules writing instruction has been dishing for decades? 
I'm not one of those people. And I struggled for years fighting against the extreme doubt as to my own ability to write simply because I couldn't follow it to the letter the way all of the experts told me I had to in order to be a success.
Successfully finishing my thesis actually helped me realize that my writing process didn't have to have the iron structure laid out for me. That, in fact, I could be as crazy, haphazard, and unstructured as I wanted to be.  The most important part was to write.  To get it all out of me, on paper, and thought out.  The writing process became another version of my thought process and allowing myself that freedom was a huge revelation to me. 
Now I work in a way that works for me.  I recently acquired Scrivener which admittedly I don't totally have the hang of yet.  But what I like about it as a program, is that it very much parallels the kind of writing-in-chunks process that I do in a word processing program.  And it makes it really easy to move whole sections around and see your writing in blocks.  Also, it's fairly easy to export into MSWord when I'm done with each draft, so it's really a winning program.
Honestly, when I get really stuck, I often return to writing segments with a good stack of college-ruled notebook paper, and a soft-rolling, fine point, ballpoint pen.
Obviously the editing process isn't skipping merrily through tulips, but is actually considerably better than when I was trying to confine myself to the straight-jacket of regimented writing.

So anyone else that wants to follow along this blog hop, feel free to comment here with a link to yours, and if you want to, leave a link over at the Crazy Train... to get all sorts of hopping going.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Fat Fatwa: Reasons I Hate Exercise

Image from Smartfamilyfitness.com

The modern consensus is that if you want to be happier and healthier one must exercise. But what I would like to lay out here is the fact that I hate it.  

The cultural push, especially in looks-conscious California, is that if you are going to be anybody you have to be fit and pretty. That's it. If you're not fit, you're not pretty. And fitness requires you to spend hours upon hours in a gym, drink crazy green wheatgrass concoctions, and obsess about your body. You have to get in a certain amount of cardio or one day you will just drop dead.

If you are losing weight, you are supposed to be crazy happy about exercising, and it's supposed to feel like a million kinds of awesome. Instead, I finish and I never feel great. I can sometimes during, but never as awesome as some of my more athletic and able-bodied friends report.

The problem is that as I lose weight, I am increasingly saggy. Before I start to look like a flying squirrel with skin flaps under my arms, I must set about doing something about it. But I also know that I hate exercise. Why?

  • I am and always have been injury prone. Back in Jr. High, I managed to sprain my ankle 8 times in two years. Every time it was due to P.E. class and their instance upon warming up by jogging in a field riddled with gopher holes. This apparently made me a special case, and eventually they assigned me to an Adaptive P.E. class for students with special physical needs because apparently the rest of the population was just fine running on horribly uneven grass.  It was at this time that I discovered that between the horribly flat feet I had suffered from since childhood, and my beefy Irish and German made-for-lugging-hay-bales bone structure being held up by dancer's ligaments, I was always going to have issues. I can injure myself thinking about exercise.
  • I have never been good at sports. Not only did I have these flat-footed issues to deal with, but I also rarely had anyone who would even attempt to teach me sports. My mother was never athletic, and my father was more so, but never available to really teach me anything. I had no older siblings, so school was where I got the majority of my sports training, which meant that if I didn't pick things up super fast I was out of luck. So I spent most of my time in softball's outfield not playing at all, last to be picked for every team, and chasing my soccer ball or basketball up and down the court.
  • It's boring. I have never understood the insistence that being an adult means we must have things as tedious as possible.When we're little, we have recess.  But as we get older, it is methodically replaced with more tedious items. We measure our activities in repetitions and minutes. If only exercise was giant, adult-scale size swing sets and jungle gyms I might be more enthused.  Instead we have repetitions on equipment, or running on a treadmill. Or walking the same route in the same neighborhood or on a track. I find that when I listen to something interesting like a podcast or audiobook while I walk, I lose pace. But without it, if I do just music I can often be bored out of my skull.
  • The things I do enjoy are inconvenient. The two most enjoyable things for me are dancing and water aerobics if we're talking about a really good cardio workout. With dancing, I have to again be super careful. The last time I was doing one of the most effective cardio dance workouts, a few days later I had a pinched sciatic nerve and one of the worst pain incidents of my life. Many years ago I had some success going to regular water aerobics classes at the gym. Now I'm not really in a place financially to afford a gym, and it's always pretty difficult to find one conveniently located with a water aerobics class that is well-timed. So I'm always plagued by issues with these choices as well.
This leaves me in a position of having to do things that maybe aren't as cardio heavy.  I like yoga a great deal for the stress-relieving benefits. I also enjoy the games on Wii Fit that get me a little bit of benefit.  And sometimes I enjoy just randomly light dancing around my room for an allotted period of time to just try to do something semi-amusing, somewhat active, that doesn't make me feel bored and, in the end, icky.

But I want to embrace all of this. I'm tired of the pressure to feel as pumped up and awesome about exercise as others are. I want to yell out, "WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME!!"  

So why do we have to feel the same about fitness?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Fat Fatwa: Five Things I've Learned About Weight Loss

 First let me get this out of the way. I have news.

I have lost 14.4 pounds so far!

Ladies and gents, this is amazing. The last time I was on Weight Watchers I believe that it took longer to get to this point, and I had a gym membership then. This is weight loss despite realizing early on that I needed to lose some weight *first* before attempting to rapidly ramp up exercise.

Since I started this mission back in January, I didn't know how far I would come and how fast. I just figured it would take as long as it took this time and I told myself I would press on and continue even if it didn't seem like it was working sometimes, and even if I felt miserable sometimes it had to be better than the state of health I was in at the start.

This means I reached my first default weight loss goal set by the Weight Watchers software. Woohoo!!

So what have I learned so far?

  1. Don't fall off the bandwagon when things got tough. I seem to recall other times when I was trying to do this without the benefit of Weight Watchers, that I would spiral out of control. I ate more than I intended, and would kind of go "Oh, my diet's shot for the day anyway" and just pile on. And want to quit soon after.Not so, now. Have I had a couple of unexpected setbacks on certain days? Yes. But that didn't mean throwing in the towel. And I didn't quit when personal problems and depression and all sorts of things happened to shake my emotions and my psyche. I nursed myself back, but I didn't stop doing the Weight Watchers program. I did have some comforting things, but tried to treat my body as part of the whole unit undergoing stress and feed it nourishing things not just comforting things. And I am constantly in the process of learning to not be so hard on myself if I struggle one day.  It's just one day. The great thing about life is being afforded a new start every 24 hours.
  2. This is YOUR journey.  It is very helpful to start to get into the mindset of this being YOUR journey and so therefore it doesn't have to be at a rate or pace of anyone else. I believe that when you own it, and realize that it is going to be super difficult and don't let any weight loss program or any advertising convince you that it's not. You may not even have some grand epiphany like they do in the commercials. And your friends and family may have swifter weight loss success than you do. That's okay.  They are not you. Your body is yours and your relationship is very individual. Embrace being you. I have heard many weight loss experts extol the virtues of buddying up for exercise and weight loss. But I don't believe this is for everyone. If you are the type of person that wants to compete with someone else toward goals, I applaud you for your efforts. But that isn't for everyone. The friends I have that have been most supportive have been the ones that have been saying, "I have these struggles too." Where we share articles and talk about things together. For me, a support group of people that I know that have known me for years is much more therapeutic than a meetup say at a Weight Watchers meeting with total strangers. And I don't have to pay a weekly fee to have a total stranger judge my weight loss success or failure.
  3. Listen to your body. I had been listening to my body complain in other ways before the weight loss started. Now, instead of just the usual joint aches, back aches, fatigue, and ill health, I have days where my body tells me "I'm hungry" all day long. Why? Sometimes it's as simple as having too carb-heavy a breakfast, and sometimes I think it's just a matter of my metabolism taking another shift and burning more fuel. Or a whole combination of issues. Whereas in times past I may have drunk a glass of water and told myself the hunger was only in my mind, and "no pain, no gain," this time around I have learned it's better to satisfy hunger, just do so sensibly. I will feel like crap all day or all night if I don't take care of it. I have a wide array of healthful snacks and snack bars that provide me more balanced energy. I will have a very fitful night's sleep if I don't take care of the hunger, so if that means I go over and deep into my WW weekly bonus points allotment, then so be it. I am much more likely to be on track and feeling better the next day if I don't go to bed feeling like I am ready to eat my pillow.
  4. Try something new. I have realized that the key to giving up some things that are less good for you and moderating your diet requires trying some new things.  On my periodic pilgrimage to Trader Joe's I like to pick something out that I haven't tried before. So far I have managed to put into my repertoire a delicious rice medley, a Proven├žale cod dish with Ratatouille Rice, and Kiwi Berries (also known as baby kiwis). I also tried kumquats and discovered they are disgusting.  But the point is to add some things that really spice up your life. 
  5. Learn how to celebrate. I think we all celebrate in the language of food. I don't think that's entirely a bad thing, depending on the food. But I also know how to celebrate victories with non-food or food items. So celebrating with a whipped cream topped drink may be out, but a yogurt or a square of chocolate is fine. Or treating ones self to a new book.  Or a manicure. Or a nap. But celebrating the small victories is crucial. Realize even .2 of a pound is still a victory.
Know, my dear reader, we are in this together. And I thank you to those of you who continue to encourage me along the way, and who share conversations and articles that can help each other and your contributions to my life are such a blessing!

Keep on my fellow soldiers! Keep on!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Fat Fatwa: New Jeans and Toxins

Let's get the bad news out of the way: losing weight hurts.  Well at least for me it does, and I imagine for many others it does as well.

A few weeks in and I still have days of depression, and I have had many, many days of pain so far. I have had a tendency to get inflamed joints as it is, particularly in places like my shoulders, ankles, knees, and hands.  The shoulder pain is usually the worst but this time it has also been hand pain.

And I could not for the life of me figure out why, when I'm doing something positive, I was having so much inflammation.

After some research I discovered one word: toxins. Every chemical and pesticide and pretty much every nasty toxic thing can be stored in fat cells. So when you start burning those fat cells, guess what? Those babies empty into your system, travel the length of your body, and inflame various parts of your body. Isn't that delightful?

So the price you pay is fatigue and feeling like crap, and in my case, you have sore joints. And who really wants to exercise with inflamed joints? I can't do it. I always end up making that situation worse not better. So I break out the antioxidants and flood my body with things that will help flush this stuff out. But if the past few weeks are any indicator, this is going to be the norm for me. And I have the distinct feeling that this is the case for many who struggle to lose weight.

So while I watch spokespeople for various programs tout their wares on national television, talking about how wonderful they feel, I would like everyone to know that you can also be doing it right AND STILL FEEL LIKE CRAP.  Don't let the bouncy, perky, people make you feel bad about feeling bad. It's all par for your course.

But it isn't all bad news for me.

While I haven't yet reached my first goal weight milestone on Weight Watchers, I have continued being a loser.

This has meant two monumental things happened:

1) I have now lost a total of 6.6 lbs.  Considering how much I have to lose it may not seem like much, but it's just enough to be losing at just the right pace.

And the happy part is the continuing to lose even tenths of a pound.

2) My jeans were so loose, I had to buy new ones.  It was so satisfying to already have to go down one pants size.  Not that every pair of jeans in that size fit me, but these do. Losing a size already is amazing. And replacing my former jeans was completely necessary. I had already invested in a fun little implement called a "hip hugger" that clips on your jeans and helps them stay up.  And even with that, it worked for a few days and then I continued to have the same issue progressing.

Now these jeans are snug. And that makes me happy, knowing that in the next few weeks, I will likely have these become looser too. But they aren't uncomfortable now. It's a win-win.

So to all of my fellow losers out there, keep on my soldiers. It's a rough battle, but battle on!