Extreme introverting

Yeah, I’m still alive. I just haven’t felt up to writing. I keep shying away from it again and again.

This winter has brought lots of rain, which is good and bad. The drought is officially over in Northern California, and we’ve been experiencing flooding instead. It seems that in the Bay Area, the North Bay in particular has been getting hit with more rain and our infrastructure is suffering. With every storm I get alerts about road closures due to flooding or landslides.

I took a brief break to visit with friends in Portland, Oregon around the New Year. We spent a few days near Mt. Hood and I did some snowshoeing for the first time. Trying to return home became an ordeal due to the weather. The first of a series of ice/snow storms hit Portland, closing the airport and the public transit system down. After enduring two cancelled flights, I decided that the only way to get home was via rail and spent 21 hours on the Amtrak (bracketed by Lyft rides) so I could get to Oakland Airport and retrieve my car. Yes, it was a real Planes ,Trains, & Automobiles experience for me.

It turns out I timed my escape from Portland perfectly, as I managed to slip out just after the first storm hit, but before the second one could cripple the transportation in and around that city, and through the Northern California corridors even further. My train journey was delayed only three hours due to the flooding in Northern CA; it could have been much worse.

Other than that I’ve been mostly holed up at home, working and entertaining myself with ebooks, DVDs from the library, and Netflix. I’m getting lots of knitting done, too, and am working on a baby blanket for a friend and a pair of socks for my sister. Both projects will take me through February and into March, I’m sure.

I took a small break from my extreme introverting to attend a resistance march last Friday night (in the pouring rain, no less) and the Women’s March here in Napa. There were an impressive number of people out and about on a day that kept threatening rain (and eventually delivered while the speakers were still going strong). I met a couple of friends from knitting group and we marched together, wearing our pussy hats proudly. I had picked up the yarn for my hat while in Hood River, OR at a small yarn shop. I was delighted that the bright pink colorway was called Liberally Bleeding Heart. It only took about two days to knit up my hat and have it ready for the march. I’m still wearing it as my go-to hat and probably will for the next four years.

I’m sure some of the reason I’m so low energy is due to the political events. It’s draining to me to see the progress made in the past eight years dismantled, and to experience the gaslighting and crazy talk of the new administration. (Enough said there. I just…can’t.)

Health-wise, I’m also trying hard to focus on the fundamentals: eat nutritious food (yet not too much), get the right amount of exercise, and get enough sleep. I’m doing pretty good with the food part, but the exercise and sleep parts are challenges. It seems that even one night of less than perfect sleep can mess me up for many days, and trying to make exercise challenging enough without overdoing it and causing physical discomfort has been hard. I thought I had been doing pretty well with my exercise level at the end of November/beginning of December, but then started having unusual pains in my lower abdomen near the surgery site. That made me back off completely for a while. Now I’m trying to figure out how to avoid that, while still getting myself back into shape.

I see this extreme introverting (as I’m calling it) continuing through the rest of the winter, at least. Maybe spring will bring some renewed mental and physical resilience.

How has your winter been?

Getting back in shape

Two years ago when I first arrived in Napa I was in pretty good shape. I had been following an eating and exercise plan and was within 10 lbs of a reasonable goal weight. (Which is about 10 lbs heavier than my absolute lowest weight; I’m nearly 50 and realize it’s unlikely I will be as thin as I was in my 20s.) I had been keeping my activity levels up by going on strenuous hikes about twice a week and using DVD or streaming video exercise courses at home.

Then my health challenges really kicked in. Five months after my arrival, I had my first diverticulitis attack in over a year. Three months later I had another. About three months after that my eye disease emerged. Then just a couple of months later I was hospitalized with my third diverticulitis diagnosis, and they discovered that I needed surgery to remove an ovarian cyst that had gone rogue.

My ability to stick to an eating plan that helped me keep weight off — lots of vegetables and protein, smaller amounts of fruit, and very small amounts of starchy carbs — was unsustainable while I was dealing with diverticulitis. The diet I had to follow during and for at least a couple of weeks after each attack required me to eat mostly starchy, bland food like white rice, white breads, and regular pasta. As much as I love all those foods they are terrible for my weight control.

Regular, vigorous exercise had become a nearly insurmountable challenge, too. Every time I had diverticulitis I was laid low due to the pain and side effects from the strong antibiotics and painkillers I was taking. Still, I had been able to keep in decent shape up until my hospitalization in December 2015, but it was all downhill from there. Abdominal surgery at the end of the year severely curtailed my activity for months, and once I suffered yet another case of diverticulitis a few months after surgery (my fourth case in a year!) I was done for.

Those are all the reasons I packed on the pounds again: activity and dietary restrictions and challenges over the course of an entire year. I’m up to the heaviest I can ever recall being and I’ve had enough of that. My wardrobe is down to the very few items (mostly stretchy clothes and a couple bras) I kept from the last time I was nearly this heavy. I refuse to buy more clothes since I have an entire closet and two medium storage bins full of clothing that would work for me if I just lost some of this weight.

The surgeon who did my most recent surgery has cleared me for all activities and exercises, so I’m getting back into regular workouts again. I’m being careful about it, though. I’m not only trying to claw my way back to decent fitness and cardio health, I’m also trying to avoid further injury (I’m still recovering from a bad ankle sprain).

Aquatic exercise is often recommended for people who need to be gentle on their joints, and I’ve enjoyed the few classes I’ve taken over the years so I decided to find a place offering aqua fitness classes. The week before I started back to work I visited three different gyms in town that have pools and offer classes. One of those gyms had a very high ($200!) fee just to join, and another was run down and grungy.

Luckily there is a new fitness club that is well-maintained, has two pools, and is only about a 5 minute drive away. The price is on par with the other two clubs with pools, and my employer’s fitness subsidy will cover almost half of the annual cost to maintain my membership. I secured a free weekly pass and tried a class before I decided to join.

 

My routine has been to go to the aquatic exercise classes three times a week. I’ve also taken some yoga classes, and will be giving the treadmills a try now that I’ve just received a new pair of shoes.

I know it will seem to take much longer to get the weight off than it did to put it on, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to fit into the next size down by the end of January at the latest. I just need to be able to manage my energy better. There are days I come home from an exercise class and feel so tired that I just have to lay down for a few hours. That’s not very conducive to working and won’t be sustainable once the slow days around the holiday are over.

Time’s up

Today is my last day of medical leave. I’ve been off for six weeks and three days and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to get back to my job.

What a disappointing week, to say the least. I should have been back to work last Wednesday, November 9, but I asked for a couple extra days when I last saw the surgeon. I knew I’d be up late watching the election returns and I wanted to be able to sleep in. Turns out it was a smart move in more ways than one.

Being in the Pacific Time zone, I didn’t have to stay up in the wee hours to see the general direction things were going. Election Night was also a knitting group night, and since we all wanted to watch the returns I invited people to my house. We started out happily enough at about 6:30 PM. As we watched the sea of red grow on the election map on PBS we got more subdued. When the results for Pennsylvania were posted we knew it was over.

I went to bed that night with 90% certainty that HRC lost the election, but I still had some hope. The next morning all doubts were resolved.

Since then I’ve been laying low. Partly because I’m depressed and distressed by the results, and partly because I’m relishing my copious free time while it is still available.

My recuperation from surgery has been pretty smooth, but despite spending so much downtime around the house I’ve managed to injure myself. Within a single week I whacked the baby toe on my left foot hard enough that I’m sure I broke it, and then misstepped in my driveway and sprained my left ankle badly.

(My left foot and ankle have sustained more injuries than any other part of my body. I first sprained that ankle when I was 10 and have lost count of how many times I’ve done so. The last time I injured that ankle was a fibula fracture two years ago. I got a ride to the local hospital for an x-ray just to make sure I didn’t fracture it again, and was happy to find out it was just another sprain.)

Since my mobility was restricted, I’ve been rather sedentary during the past six weeks. I watched a lot of streaming media. Read a few books. Completed the knitting, blocking, and sewing up of two sweaters. Made good progress on a third sweater, and restarted knitting on a little shawl that keeps confounding me when I check the stitch count.

I’m not sure if I’m mentally ready to resume work now or not, but that doesn’t matter at this point. I think I’ll go set the alarm now so I don’t forget.

Health updates

I’m three weeks post-op and feeling pretty good! I still get tired more easily and require extra sleep, but being off work means I can take naps whenever I feel the need.

I have three weeks left on my short term disability leave and am trying not to think about work. Mostly my thinking is about how to find more satisfaction with my work and not about actual projects or business relationships. For now I let the thoughts float by, but don’t try to turn them into anything.

At my two-week check in with the surgeon advised that I could start slowly adding higher fiber foods into my diet. So far I’ve been careful not to add anything with small seeds, nuts, and cabbage-y foods. But eating whole apples and whole grain products (a little whole grain pasta and some whole grain bread) is so satisfying!

Due to the pre-op prep and post-op dietary restrictions I was off all alcohol for more than two weeks. Once I started adding alcohol back in — a drink with dinner most nights — I observed issues with my sleep patterns. The nights where I’ve had beer seem to go OK, but white wine, red wine, and hard liquor lead to me waking up and having trouble going back to sleep. Considering I live in wine country, it’s kind of disappointing that my tolerance for that beverage is not that good. I think I need to just stick to drinking herbal tea most evenings and enjoying a beer maybe once or twice a week.

In two weeks I get to visit the dentist and have two small cavities filled. To me this is a *big deal* since I haven’t had a cavity in more than 40 years. Yes, I have had no cavities since my adult teeth emerged! These two little cavities are in my molars, and the dentist said they likely happened due to me clenching and grinding my teeth at night.

At around 30 I had to start using a mouth guard every night due to pain in my jaws caused by clenching/grinding. I stopped using the mouth guard when I had orthodontia a few years ago and was just using my retainers at night. Since I had no jaw pain I thought perhaps my issues were cleared up. Apparently not. I’ve caused small cracks through a molar on each side of my lower jaw, and that’s where these little cavities have formed. Now I’m back to wearing a mouth guard and will have to deal with fillings for the first time in a very, very long time. Ugh.

At least my bad eye seems to be doing OK lately. My pressure has been stable for months, which means I can keep putting surgery off. I’m also getting used to relying more on my left eye for reading and fine work. Adjusting to not using my right eye for those things was really tough and caused a lot of discomfort and fatigue. I think I move my head a lot when reading now, but maybe that’s just me being self-conscious.

I’ll have a field of vision test next week to check whether I’ve had any more loss of peripheral vision in that eye, and I’m not due to see the glaucoma specialist again until April unless there are problems. I saw the local ophthalmologist last week and he confirmed that there are more visible changes to the eye. I’ve noticed this dark spot in my iris and I didn’t recall it being there before. The doc said that it is caused by the coloration from my iris being “rubbed away” and the eye muscle showing underneath it. I’ve noticed that I’m more sensitive to light changes in that eye, too, and he explained to me why. (I love this local ophthalmologist. He is so great at explaining stuff.) At least my pupil isn’t as distorted as it used to be; it was looking pretty creepy back when my pressure was higher.

How is your health?

Do over

I need a fresh start, a do-over. I had high hopes for landing here in the Bay Area and building a new life. I wanted a life that was based on positivity and taking good care of my body and mind. I wanted to let go of the bad attitudes and habits that had made me feel so down about my life in Chicago.

Shortly after settling in here, I felt like I was on the right track. I was involving myself in active social events like hiking and making friends. I was finding joy in life every day and loving my new town.

Then negative stuff started to intrude. I had a series of health setbacks (diverticulitis #1#2, #3, and #4; hormonal imbalances; a rare eye disease; and, a renegade ovarian cyst). My work changed and I had a whole new team/boss with a different culture to learn. I tried dating, and while I had some good experiences in the early days, after spending more time with each person I realized there were issues that made a relationship unworkable. I let all of this stuff drag me down again and my mood switched from mostly positive to negative.

So I’m declaring a fresh start now. I put myself through two surgeries in the past year because they were necessary to me regaining my health. They are done and I’ve got another month to rest and recover. In that time frame I will also start building better habits for myself. I will get back into meditating and studying mindfulness. I’ll allow myself to dream and free associate about my work and professional life. I may look for a local therapist. I’ll look for more ways to continue building my social network. Dating will not be something I actively seek to do, and I’m not sure what I’d do if I met someone socially that interested me. I guess I’ll deal with it if/when I need to.

Recovery

I’ve been home for a week and am recovering well. Thanks to all my friends far and near, IRL and on the internet who sent positive thoughts and prayers my way!

Surgery went as planned with no complications. The surgeon made only four small incisions to perform to a laparoscopic low anterior resection. The largest incision goes through my belly button and is just over an inch long. Through this vertical incision he was able to remove my sigmoid colon and a portion of the rectum: 10 inches in all. He also removed my appendix, which was a surprise to me since there were no issues with my healthy appendix. The surgeon explained that it was a prudent precaution since I had already had two abdominal surgeries and it would best for me not to have another anytime soon.

I was helped up to walk around the nurse’s station the evening of the surgery, and was encouraged to get up and walk with every daytime shift change. I only needed help the first couple times until all the anesthetic had worn off and I was steadier on my feet.

My pain from the surgery was not as bad as I expected. I was surprised that my abdominal muscles weren’t as sore as they were after my laparoscopic hysterectomy, and getting in and out of bed wasn’t as difficult as I remembered. It just felt like I had some average menstrual cramps. I did make use of the Dilaudid pain pump a few times that first day and evening, but discontinued it by the next day.

The main reason why I stopped using the Dilaudid was because I started having bad headaches and nausea. At first the nurses suggested that was caused by the anesthesia clearing by body, but as the headache and nausea persisted I started being told it may be side effects from the Dilaudid. Whatever the cause, I was regularly asking for the anti-nausea drugs and anything at all they could give me for the terrible headache. By Thursday night, I was sick a couple times and feeling my worst.

While it’s possible that the nurses were correct about the cause of my headache and nausea, I also suspect that my lack of any solid food contributed to my problems. I had been on clear liquids only the day before surgery. The day of surgery I was instructed to drink a small, clear Ensure at 3:30 AM, but was otherwise NPO (nothing by mouth); I wasn’t even allowed ice chips that evening.  On Thursday my meals were all clear liquids. Is it any wonder I was feeling so awful by that time? On Thursday night I dreamed about food: big, green salads, and toast with peanut butter. Nom!

Luckily they brought me solid food on my Friday breakfast tray. I was so happy to eat cream of wheat, scrambled eggs, and toast! Once I got real food, it seemed my recovery accelerated. I was walking the floor several times a day, my vitals were great, and my pain-killer use was orally administered Hydrocodone just a couple of times a day. The doctor even suggested that if I wanted to go home late Friday instead of waiting for Saturday that I could do so, but I declined. My arrangements for getting picked up had been made for Saturday and I just couldn’t switch them. I enjoyed a shower Friday afternoon and was packed up and ready to go Saturday morning.

My sister drove my car to pick me up late Saturday morning and I was back home by noon. Sister has been my care taker for the past week, and that deserves a whole different post.

The only bad experience I had in hospital was with a roommate who was brought in very early Thursday morning. I’m not sure why my room was chosen as the one to get a new admit sent up from the ER, but it was a bad decision for a couple of reasons. That was my first night post-op, and it was a decidedly unfun experience to be woken up at 1 AM as they readied the other bed.

The other patient was an elderly woman who had fallen and broken her hip. She was in a lot of pain and also very distressed, so she was quite vocal. I tried hard to remind myself to be compassionate, but I also regretted forgetting to bring my sleep mask. At least I could drown out most of her moaning and loud talk with my headphones. My doctor wasn’t happy to find out that I had such a loud roommate when he visited me on Thursday. I didn’t even have to say anything specific, just respond that I hadn’t slept well when he asked. He picked up immediately on the problem.

On Thursday afternoon they took the woman away to surgery and put her in the room next door when she was returned to the floor. I felt very bad for her discomfort and situation, but was glad I wasn’t going to have to deal with her or racist husband anymore. (The husband made pretty loud comments about the apparent race of the nurses and assistants more than once. Ugh!)

Countdown

Tomorrow I’m being picked up at 4 AM and heading to the hospital for surgery. Today has been all about prep: cleaning the house, doing laundry, consuming nothing but clear liquids, and taking precautionary antibiotics. Oh, and there was that other type of prep, too. (Yeah. Eww. TMI.)

Over the past month I’ve asked myself if this is really necessary. Do I really need to have a bowel resection for the repeated bouts of diverticulitis or do I have other choices? Although it’s scary to think about having my abdomen opened up (again!) and dealing with the recovery, I still think it’s my best option.

I’ve been doing everything I’m advised to do to avoid yet another bout of diverticulitis, but it keeps happening over and over (and over and over) again. Surgery may seem like a drastic measure, but so is bombing my body multiple times a year with strong antibiotics. And repeatedly missing work at unpredictable intervals due to the pain and fatigue. And not knowing if I’ll be fit to travel for a scheduled business or pleasure trip. And not being able to eat wholesome food and stick to an exercise regime due to getting ill over and over (and over and over) again.

There are no guarantees that surgical intervention will work, but I’ve talked with a few other people who had this surgery and they are doing just fine years later.

Pretty soon I’ll be taking my first shower with the special cleansing wash, putting on freshly laundered PJs, and slipping into bed on freshly laundered sheets. I have one more round of preventative antibiotic tablets to take, as well as a single dose of gabapentin. (Why I need gapapentin, I’m not sure, but it’s prescribed for me, so I’m taking it.)

My alarm is set for 3 AM tomorrow, and I’ll get up and take another shower with the cleansing wash, put on freshly laundered, loose clothing, and head out the door. I expect to be back home on Saturday if all goes well. Wish me luck?