Friday, July 17, 2015

Good morning and all that

Kids are so accommodating.

I love being up early in the morning. I don't necessarily like the act of getting up early, but once I'm up, the early morning hours are just so peaceful and promising and perfect somehow. The silence and darkness and anticipation of the coming day. My best friend from high school, who long ago lived out in the country and got up very, very early to come into town for work, once said being up that early felt like being in on a secret, a secret the sleeping masses knew nothing about. I always loved that analogy, as I also used to get up very early for work, and it absolutely felt like being in on something special--especially that certain time of year when Venus shown gorgeously bright near the horizon as I headed east for the last little leg of my commute.

But I remember always wondering why the hell I never got up that early just for myself, to have an entire day propelled by that invigorating early morning energy to do whatever it is I wanted. I clearly never made it a priority, a decision made even more bizarre by the fact that I essentially turn into a pumpkin by 10:30pm. I am in no way a night owl. I thrive in the early hours of the day. But we depressive types tend toward oversleeping, or, at least, I do, so when I have an opportunity, I sleep, man. Sleep is my happy place. It has been since I was a young girl. Whenever I got upset over something, I would just go to bed, cry (or fume) myself to sleep, wake up a while later, and all would be rightish with the world. My family doesn't call me "Bear" for nothing. (Actually, the etymology of the nickname has nothing to do with my hibernating habits, it's just a bonus aspect.)

A week or two ago, I had gone to bed quite early the night before and woke up around 4:30am feeling really well-rested and fresh, so I decided to just get up. I put on my slippers and a sweater against the early morning chill (although it's summertime and it gets quite warm in our neck of the woods, it's a dry heat and we have enough coastal influence that it still gets fairly cool at night--and we are total fresh-air freaks and leave the house open all night to take advantage of that coolness for the coming heat of the day), made a cup of coffee, and parked my ass at the dining room table to write. I got a couple of hours of writing in before the rest of the house stirred and it was GLORIOUS. And I surprisingly felt less tired than usual for the remainder of the day. Once the wee folk started "sleeping through the night" (wink, wink) after we weaned last spring, I have certainly made up for my previous years-long sleep deficit, especially while we were all still napping together in the afternoons. But I have been just exhausted the past few weeks, akin to how exhausted I was when they were tiny. I suspect ye ol' depression has something to do with it. It's annoying like that.

But ANYWAY. Since I felt so fabulous after that early morning start, I decided I would do it again soon and perhaps even make it a regular thing. Even though I tend towards more sleep, I actually think I do better in general on less sleep than my norm, so getting up at 4:30 every day isn't an entirely outlandish idea for me. I've even set out clothes the night before in anticipation of starting my morning off with a walk before I settled in at the computer (another goal of mine), yet I haven't managed to actually make it happen again. But last night I decided this morning would be the morning. I was going to get up in the early morning darkness and do my thing, whatever I decided that thing should be upon waking. I had a pretty awesome day to myself yesterday while the wee folk were at preschool followed by Nana Banana's, but since they've given up napping entirely, the last hour or so preceding bedtime, as well as bedtime itself, is usually just a fucking disastrous nightmare, and I totally lost my zen soon after arriving at my mom's to pick them up yesterday evening. I was anxious to reclaim that bit of zen and felt finally making it a priority to start my day early again today would help.

And that's where my accommodating children come in, the toadish one, to be more specific. He clearly knew in his heart of hearts that I wanted, nay needed, to be up early this morning, so he, in his sweet, thoughtful, generous toad way, woke up at 4am, and no amount of encouragement would get him back to sleep.

So, alas. I achieved my goal of getting up early today. Not quite in the way I might have hoped, of course, but mamas can't be...

Fuck. It's too damn early to finish that stolen proverb.

Who gets up at 4am anyway?   

Saturday, July 11, 2015

My bowels hate me

Seriously. They do.

And fair warning--if discussions of all things bowel-related isn't your thing, please feel free to skip this one because I will undoubtedly use the word diarrhea once or twice or a dozen times, and I totally get if hearing about someone else's poop doesn't do it for you. But in my family, we regularly talk about things like poop. We even think it's a good, healthy thing to do. And since you are all like family to me, I want to share stories of my poop and fussy bowels with you, mostly because it's, unfortunately, a significant contributing factor in my subpar health and well-being at the moment, but also because seeing as bowel issues are on the rise these days, perhaps some of you can commiserate. But truly, I'll be sure to write about cute cats or hilarious toddlers or husbands with selective hearing next time, things I'm sure we can all relate to, right? Right.

So. Here we are. You, me, and my bowels. Some of you may remember that about a year and a half ago, I had my first diverticulitis flareup and it was one of the absolute most tragic experiences of my life, as not only was I in excruciating pain, I was put on nuclear strength antibiotics (two of them, in fact) on which I could no longer nurse my still-nursing toddlers, and was forced to wean them cold boobie. It fucking sucked all around, and not in the way the wee folk would have liked.

Since then I have dealt with several more intense episodes requiring antibiotics, plus countless other minor ones that I've had to deal with by immediately cutting all fiber and roughage from my diet for extended periods of time in order to calm my bowels and avoid a full-blown infection. Which means I have spent much of the past 18 months eating a diet heavy in things I generally eat far less of and devoid of the things that generally make up a large portion of my diet. You know, like salad. Have I mentioned how much I love salad? It probably deserves its own post, so I won't go into it too much here, but suffice to say I LOVE SALAD. So not being able to eat salad, as well as whole grains and other fibrous vegetables and fruits, makes me very, very, very fussy. And you wouldn't like me when I'm fussy. Just ask The Barbarian.

But after my last major episode at the beginning of this year, things have been a little different. I've still been regularly bloated and uncomfortable, but it's been localized in a different spot--my upper abdomen, as opposed to the classic lower left quadrant pain associated with diverticulitis of the sigmoid colon. Even before the pain would start, I could tell my system was in revolt because the area centered just below my ribcage, essentially where my stomach is located, would become a hard, distended ball of unhappiness. So, thinking it was always the beginnings of a diverticulitis flareup, my only real frame of reference for abdominal bloating and pain, I would return to my now fairly normal diet of flour tortillas, white rice, eggs, cheese, bananas, etc. But it wouldn't really help like it used to. Or if it did, the pain and bloating returned almost immediately.

The past few months especially have been so epically horrendous on this front, it has greatly contributed to my depression. Chronic pain will do that, I suppose. And because there just isn't much if anything to do for diverticulitis, I was receiving almost zero help from my gastroenterologist. Not that he's not an awesome specialist. I quite like him, in fact. But he's very evidence-based, which is where it's at for me, and there is currently a very large question mark when it comes to the causes of diverticulitis, and, therefore, an even larger question mark when it comes to how to prevent and treat it. Some people seem to be able to identify food triggers, but I've never been able to. Something would seem to cause issues one day but not the following, one week but not the next. It seemed completely random and I literally became afraid to eat. I would constantly open the fridge or pantry (we have one of those now!) and just stare blankly and despondently for a minute before closing the door and walking out of the kitchen, still hungry. And I'm not sure if you know this, but I fucking LOVE TO EAT. So an issue like this is a really damn big deal for me.

One day a month or so ago, I was perusing my long and comprehensive list of test results from my gastro's office online to see if I could glean anymore info on what might be going on and how I might go about dealing with it. I suppose I'm a problem-solver by nature and definitely subscribe to the idea that, surround yourself with as many wonderful doctors as you like, your health is still ultimately your own responsibility. So I was looking at my current diagnoses and it struck me that I rarely if ever ruminate on the fact that I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, for the uninitiated). I actually began seeing my gastroenterologist several years ago, before getting pregnant with our adorable progeny, because my chronic diarrhea seemed to be getting worse and my poop in general was just weird--light-coloured and very thin--and my usual 2-3 BMs a day was becoming more like 5-6 a day (see? You want to know this stuff, I know you do). And because I was young and otherwise healthy, my gastroenterologist ran a plethora of tests, both blood and stool (yaaaaaayyyyy), and finally scheduled me for a colonoscopy, the results of which all showed nothing out of the norm. So I basically have fussy bowels, akin to my fussy uterus, and just like my infertility, there was no explanation to be found. So a diagnosis of IBS was stuck on my chart as a sort of catchall, it seemed, even though I never had any of the pain or bloating or excess gas normally associated with the condition. I'm just the Queen of Loose Stools apparently. I have only ever been constipated as a side-effect of certain medications, didn't even deal with the constipation so common for pregnant women, and have certainly never had minor stress-related constipation as some of my family members experience while traveling, camping, or in public. When I need to poop, I poop. Even if it's in the middle of nowhere in a hole I dug myself. (Seriously, it's a skill everyone should have. If you haven't pooped in a hole of your own digging while listening to birds chirp and feeling the breeze through your're missing out.)

I eventually remembered that during a conversation, my gastro mentioned that it's really hard to identify actual diverticulitis symptoms, as they can mimic those of IBS and other digestive issues, a key piece I hadn't really internalized as perhaps relating to my issues, as aside from my norm of chronic diarrhea, I don't have any other classic IBS symptoms. Or so I thought. When I finally contacted my PCP in desperation around this time to ask her advice on any sort of dietary recommendations she could offer that might help, she asked me to clarify whether the symptoms were from diverticulitis or IBS, as her suggestions would be different for each one. I said I assumed it was all from the diverticulitis, but that conversation with my gastro was still in my head, so I admitted I wasn't really sure anymore. Her recommendation for IBS symptoms was a diet I had seen referenced in several places over the past year or two, mostly in relation to a possible explanation for those suffering from what's come to be known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition most medical professionals and researchers still don't believe even exists, as aside from emphatic anecdotes, the evidence is seriously lacking (the current gluten-free fad fascinates and frustrates me, so I read up on this kind of shit for fun). And even though the very idea of restricting certain foods from my diet in any way, shape, or form makes me cringe, I was getting nowhere with simply not eating most of the day, so I looked into it.

The diet? One very low in FODMAPs, which are a group of highly fermentable sugars and starches (including those found in gluten-containing products, hence the previous references I had come across) that aren't digested or absorbed well when eaten in excess by people dealing with intestinal issues like IBS. There they remain, pulling water into the intestines and becoming excess food for gut microbes, causing colonies to grow out of hand, producing the classic gas, bloating, pain and other symptoms of IBS. My doctor said the diet was terrible in that it's very restrictive (you can get a sense for just how restrictive here), but that most people see results within a week, and when I asked my gastro about it, he agreed it was worth a shot. But the real kicker was that, digging further into the possible causes and symptoms of both diverticulitis and IBS and where they may overlap or be related somehow (because I am a nerdy researching fool like that), I found that doctors are increasingly noting patients experiencing either an appearance or worsening of IBS symptoms post diverticulitis attack. Fuck me. So even though the diet is essentially gluten-free, very restrictive of dairy, forbids garlic AND onions (seriously, that's so mean), as well as things like stone fruits, which are TOTALLY IN SEASON RIGHT NOW, I gritted my teeth and jumped in.

The results? Dramatic. STUPID DRAMATIC. Like night and day within a week dramatic. Like normal people poops dramatic. LIKE I DON'T EVEN HAVE TO WIPE SOMETIMES DRAMATIC. I mean, I still do, just to be sure, of course, but damn. Cohesive shits? Is this how other people live? And three weeks later, I've lost almost 10 pounds without trying, and minus the severe bloating, my stomach is as flat as, well, as an overweight twin mama's can be, okay?

But full disclosure time: I totally got impatient (so out of character for me, right?) and tried to add back some of the possible offenders this past week to horrific results. You're supposed to wait 6-8 weeks and then do one group of FODMAPs and just a little at a time to see how it affects you before upping the serving and then moving on to other foods. Not all FODMAPs affect everyone the same, and the more I read up on it, the more I realize the serving size has a lot to do with what and how much your system can handle. Undertaking this diet and quest to find your triggers, you may find you do totally fine with lactose (dairy), but have huge issues with galactans (legumes). Or you can have small amounts of polyols (found in artificial sweeteners and stone fruits) but eat too many cherries at once and you're fucked. Really, it's THAT obnoxious and particular to your body. Oh, joy.

So, because it really has made such a ginormous difference for me, I am back on the elimination phase and will probably remain here for a few more weeks before attempting to reintroduce anything. It sucks and I fucking HATE IT, especially because I'm still the family slave cook and refuse to drag everyone else down with me in this, so I'm preparing foods I can't but so desperately want to eat all damn day long. Luckily I can still have my beloved peanut butter and strawberry jam, but I enjoy them on brown rice cakes now, and you know what? It's fucking delicious. And while most alcohols are out, I can still have coffee, so things aren't nearly as dire as they could be. I have to enjoy it with half and half instead of my preferred whole milk, but at least I can enjoy it. Because, yeah, ummmmmm, this mama without coffee would be, well... Let's not even think about it, shall we?

So while this post was mostly written just to complain about my current restrictive diet and talk about poop, I suppose it's also meant to encourage others dealing with somewhat mysterious health issues and coming up empty when looking for answers from their healthcare professionals to remember that your health is still YOUR responsibility. That isn't to say that the medical profession is full of pompous assholes who don't hold your health and well-being as priorities, and the University of Google and "alternative" medicine are your friends. They do--and they're not. (I suppose we'll need a post on effective researching and evaluating sources in this age of information overload one day, eh?) But the answers your doctors give (or don't give) you are not the end of the road. Ask different questions. Research the answers (in/on reputable sources) for yourself. You know your body. Listen to it and advocate for it. Because it's the only one you've got.

I mean, with our current tech, that is. I don't know about you, but I could seriously go for some bionic bits right about now...

But alas. Fussy bowels it is.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


So, yeah. We'll just continue on from where we left off an embarrassing number of weeks ago after I, like so many times before, promised you more writing. I always deliver, friends, yet as my cousin likes to put it, I'm always late...but? Totally worth the wait, bitches. And if you enjoy consuming the many and varied things that come out of my brain, but waiting disappoints you, well. You must get used to disappointment.

Seriously, life lessons from The Princess Bride, for the win, right? Right.

It is, admittedly, only slightly unnerving to put oneself out there to the "world," (i.e. the two dozen people who read my blog) when it comes to something you haven't even wanted to share with those closest to you (e.g. my downward spiral into the throes of ofttimes paralyzing depression and anxiety). Contrast that with the ultimate awesomeness of being able to use "i.e." and "e.g." correctly and effectively in one sentence, and you start to get a real sense of what I've been going through for the past few weeks. I mean, right? Finally, after decades of writing (I mean, not decades of writing, of course, just decades of regular boring ol' writing), I made the effort to etch the difference between the two into my brain recently and am so thrilled, I couldn't wait to have an opportunity to show off my mad grammar skillz. So don't ruin it by quizzing me on what they actually stand for in Latin, okay? Just don't.

So, you know, I was all, yeah, be honest with the world! It'll be so awesome and cathartic! I'll do that! Then I was all, oh, holy fuck, what have I done?! Now I've confirmed for everyone what they've probably suspected all along! Shit! NOW THEY'LL THINK I'M ME! 


So I hid a bit. And then, while I was hiding, King Toad Agooga contracted some sort of horrendous stomach/intestinal bug, so there were lots of emergency baths and carpet-cleaning sessions (did I mention we have carpet in half the house now? Yeah...) interspersed with my hiding. And then The Goblin Queen decided to flex her storytelling muscles by leading us to believe she had swallowed a nail, so she had her second ER visit in the less than two months we've been in our new house, and third visit overall in her short but clearly exciting little life. To KTA's zero, of course. Girls, right? Anyway, and then some other stuff also happened while I was hiding, and more stress was dumped into our lives, and so I hid some more. 

But never fear! I'm actually still here! And through it all, I've been seeing my therapist weekly and that has absolutely been one of the best decisions I have made in recent memory. Why? 


I realize plenty of people still scoff at the idea of therapy or, more tragically, those who seek it, but therapy should be the default for everyone. Seriously. Instead of so often not discussing the fact that some of us are in (and hopefully benefitting from) therapy, why are we not collectively wondering why everyone isn't in therapy? "Wait, what? He doesn't go to therapy?? Who doesn't go to THERAPY?!" 

Because, seriously, who the hell doesn't want to sit on a comfy couch and talk about themselves and their problems and have an experienced individual toss out little inspirational gems every once in a while? I mean, yes, I get that lots of people probably don't want to do that, but you guys are missing out. Big time. And I rarely use that phrase (for various reasons), so you now know how emphatically I mean that. BIG. TIME. 

I fully admit that the individual therapist clearly has an enormous impact on the productivity of said therapy, and I got super lucky to be matched with a therapist who seems to be exactly what I need right now. You know how I know that? Because I always leave his office feeling FABULOUS. He's an older gentleman who reminds me of maybe what grandfathers can and should be, which is in stark contrast to both of my now-deceased grandfathers who were pretty much dicks. I mean, they had their moments, and were fairly good people in some respects, but they were in absolutely no way the kind, caring, involved grandfathers some people are blessed with. So while I've always had female therapists in the past and generally prefer female doctors as well, I'm finding I really, really appreciate my current therapist's energy and insight. And because he's so neato, I fear going forward you will hear the phrase, "My therapist said..." far more than anyone probably wants to. And for that, I'm extremely sorrynotsorry.

One of the things he's helping me to realize is how much of the behaviour I really despise in myself is actually a direct result of my mental health issues, those same mental health issues I almost never give myself credit for, even though I've clearly dealt with them the vast majority of my life. One of those behaviours, of course, is having an extraordinarily difficult time finishing or maintaining things, whether big things like a degree, or smaller things like, oh, I don't posts. You wanna know how many posts I've begun but never finished in the past few weeks? Lots. (I don't know the exact number because I've deleted most of those neglected beginnings, but I'm pretty sure it's more than four and less than eight, and whatever that mystery number is qualifies as "lots" for the purposes of this example, so you'll just have to deal with it.) 

Because damn, am I good at starting stuff. Throughout my 87 or so years of college, I started way more classes than the number of ones I actually finished. Like, I should probably have at least six degrees by now with the number of potential credits I threw away over the years. Okay, maybe not six, but at least one, man. Projects around the house? I love to start those! Our old house was chock full of started projects and exactly none of them were ever really finished to completion. Friendships? In general, I make new friends easily. But at some point along the way, I either slowly--or sometimes very abruptly--disappear from relationships, and it often has very little if anything to do with the other person. I'm quite literally the worst when it comes to friendships. My social anxiety kicks in and I start stressing over things I said or did that the other person probably didn't even notice or attach any sort of negative meaning to if they did happen to be paying attention. I stop returning calls and texts and emails for no other reason than that interacting with people drains my energy like nothing else. The Barbarian became amazed early on in our relationship at how much of a phenomenally gregarious, highly likable, endlessly entertaining person I can be, with a penchant for making people feel really good about themselves. I can and will fearlessly chat up anyone and everyone, regardless of gender or social standing, in any type of gathering or situation, and generally leave everyone I interact with with a super neato impression of me. As someone who has worked in sales for many, many years, The Barbarian knows what a beneficial and desirable trait that is, and owns said trait in spades himself. But his amazement really came from the fact that that trait is operated by a switch I control, and I can and do go from 0-60 and back again near instantaneously. And for every hour I spend "on," I swear I need likes three days in the "off" position to recenter myself, and that can obviously be an enormous hurdle when it comes to maintaining relationships. 

One particularly fascinating thing my therapist said the other day that I have been pondering ever since is that it's possible to have an attachment to un-attachment. We were discussing my habit of extreme purging, wherein I ruthlessly get rid of so much stuff on a regular basis, I find myself occasionally regretting my decisions on what goes. But then, of course, my consumerist self eventually accumulates more crap to be sorted and purged at a later date. It finally struck me that this concept applies to other areas of my life as well, such as relationships and all the other things I enjoy starting but at some point decide I can't or don't want to finish or maintain. And it's dawning on me that much of it comes down to expectations placed on or directed at me from other people and situations. I become nearly paralyzed in the face of expectations. Whether it's an expectation from a professor that I'll do the requisite work to finish a class, or an expectation from a friend that I'll return a text in a timely manner (or ever), or an expectation from my neighbours that I'll keep my lawn mowed, or a general expectation from my family and others that I'll actually do something awesome and productive with my life. And for someone as intelligent, capable, personable, insightful, and creative as I am, that is essentially the most absurd thing EVER. 

But you know what? That's chronic depression and anxiety for you. They're insidious assholes who eventually take over your entire life and person so thoroughly and completely, you sometimes forget they're even there. You forget that you're not just lazy or rude or forgetful or non-commital. You forget that you're simply not well. That your brain doesn't function like other brains function. You forget that you are still YOU. That somewhere buried deep in there is the control you seem to have lost over your own life without even realizing it was happening.

And so here we are. With the help of my therapist, I'm finally remembering that I'm broken, but also that the steering wheel of this lovely broken vessel I find myself in is still located in MY lap and that I actually DO have the power and authority to revoke licenses. 

Because let me tell you--depression and anxiety are fucking shitty-ass drivers.

Even worse than Prius drivers. 

And that's really saying something. 

PS... I have good friends who are Prius drivers and I'm sure not ALL Prius drivers suck, but seriously, for the love of all that's efficient yet plays nicely with others, GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE.