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?

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Aging is not for the faint at heart

You know what’s worse than waking up several times a night from hot flashes? Waking up from wrenching pains in your lower abdomen, too. This happened to me about three weeks ago, started a flurry of doctor visits, and ended in the ER.

Since I arrived here in December I’ve had lots of settling in to do. I had yet to get around to securing a primary care doctor because my most immediate issues (I thought) were gynecological. Turns out that my lower abdominal/pelvic area pains that started that night had nothing to do with my reproductive system, but were instead caused by another bout of diverticulitis.

I don’t feel like writing down a summary of all the doctor visits I’ve had in the past month and I doubt anyone wants to read that much detail anyway. The only way to definitively diagnose what was going on was to do an abdominal CT scan, so after a week of progressive pain increase and the eventual onset of fever I went to the ER and walked out a few hours later with two prescriptions for some heavy-duty antibiotics.

The worrisome issue for me is that I had diverticulitis two years ago, too, and according to both the new primary care doctor here and the gastroenterologist back in Chicago it’s likely I’ll need surgery to remove a troublesome section of my colon in the next two years. I’ve been doing everything the medical establishment tells you to do to minimize the risk of a recurrence — drinking a lot of water, consuming high fiber, and exercising — but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Apparently I’m one of those people who just has a tendency for recurrent infections in that area of my body.

The pelvic ultrasound ordered by the gynecologist showed all was fine with the exception of a small ovarian cyst that should go away over time. The hot flashes are manageable for now, so I’ll just continue with my new sleep habits — layers of bedding to toss off/pull on as needed, a remote-controlled fan, and an early bedtime — to deal with the hormonal fluctuations. And hopefully the waves of fatigue that have showed up recently are more related to my body fighting off a major infection.

Honestly, with the exception of that tiredness that sometimes overtakes me in the afternoon I’m feeling better than I have in a few months. I’m more clear-headed and I have more energy and enthusiasm for work. These are all good things!

Now I just need to get myself slowly back on track with a normal diet. When the hospital released me I was sent home with some information on low-residue diets. Until my gut is healed, I need to cut out all high fiber foods. The day after release I saw my primary care doctor for follow-up and he amended the diet guidelines even more. He wanted me to eat only a liquid diet until I was pain-free. Then I was to gradually add the low-residue foods, and finally get back into my normal high fiber diet.

Since I had no food in my house that was suitable to consume following these guidelines I’ve had to make several trips to the market for stuff I never buy: fruit juice (and no puree, pulp, or pineapple juice in the mix), regular noodles or pasta, white bread, baking potatoes, and rice pudding. I was only on the liquids for about two days (that’s all I could stand before the headaches and icky feeling from consuming nothing but broth and juice got to me), and have slowly worked my way up through the hierarchy of allowable foods. Just yesterday I started adding some low residue vegetables: a piece of lettuce on my white bread and ham sandwich, and some thoroughly cooked green beans with my baked potato (no skin allowed!) dinner last night.

I haven’t been walking very much or hiking at all during this entire ordeal. I took Hannah dog out to a park yesterday for a lesson with the dog trainer and had to pause at the top of every hill we walked up. I think next week I’ll try to join one of the hiking groups that has members with a variety of fitness levels and hang out with the folks near the back of the pack because I miss the social connections and not just the exercise.

One good thing about this mess: I lost about 4-5 pounds and am fitting into some shorts I had saved from a few years ago. So at least I won’t have to pick up new shorts.

Actually, that’s not the only good thing that came out of this experience. When I returned home from the ER, I laid down in the hammock outside for a few minutes, stared at the brilliant blue sky, and felt immensely thankful that I’m here now. There’s nothing like a health scare to make me realize how important it is to build a happy life for myself. I’m very glad I moved to California, and that I made the opportunity to do it at this point in my life while I still have enough health to enjoy all the benefits it brings to my life. My fledgling support network of kind neighbors and friends is building, and if and when I have another need to be in the hospital for any length of time I’m putting in place safeguards to ensure that Hannah dog is well cared for during my absence.

A pair of fine days

I’ve been going through my share of physical challenges lately, but the past day-and-a-half have been really good ones. I started an increased dosage of my Armour yesterday and was feeling well enough to tackle some outdoor chores before the heat built up.

Clean chicken coops? Check. Pick up dog waste in the yard? Check. Mow the lawn? Check. I was so happy that I could get through all of that and still have time to sit on the porch and enjoy the relatively cooler weather, too.

B came over about mid-afternoon and seemed disappointed that the lawn was already mowed. He offered to do it when we talked Friday night and I had gratefully accepted the offer. But it kept looking like it may rain throughout the morning and I was feeling so good that I just went ahead and did it myself.

Today I slept in quite late (well, technically I was up early for chores, but then went back to bed), had a light breakfast and then decided to do some cooking. I defrosted two small ducks, put them in the slow cooker and started a loaf of bread in the bread machine before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner with B. (Real deli flood at The Bagel in Skokie…mmmm!)

When I got home, I cleaned out the entire refrigerator, washing all of the shelves and drawers and tidying up things a bit.

Such productivity makes me really happy. Let’s face it: I hate being idle. Even when “resting” I feel the need to be reading something, knitting something, or…well, just plain doing something. During comfortable summer days on the weekends, I love to sit on my back porch, sipping a cool beverage and enjoying the fresh air. But I find that I can only sit still for a short period of time. I need to get up very 20 or 30 minutes to pull some weeds, prune something, or mess around in the compost.

Ah, well. At least no one can call me lazy.

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Betty the hen has been very productive lately, too. I was worried about her last month. Neither she or Selma were eating much and I was getting no eggs at all for at least 3 weeks. Betty is quite thin under all her feathers, although Selma seems well fleshed out. Selma very rarely lays an egg,  while Betty was one of the heavier layers. I think that is why Betty is so much thinner.

Laying eggs takes a lot of energy and doing so very frequently seems to make the hen thinner fleshed and finer boned. So when Betty seemed to be eating very little, I got worried. She wasn’t interested in her normal feed nor was she interested in the weeds and greens I offer them from the yard. Frankly I was concerned that I’d have to be burying another hen soon.

During that time we were also having a lot of heat and humidity, but the hens have lived through a few hot and humid summers without their eating slowing down so much. Eventually I started trying to feed them a few different things. In the freezer I found a loaf of stale “health” bread one of my neighbors had left for the hens to eat. (I had put it in the freezer as there were too many other breads to feed them at the time, and it’s not good to give them a lot of bread anyway.) I defrosted the stuff and found that it was one of those heavy, dense, brick-like “health” breads.

I broke off a chunk and offered it to the hens, but it was so dense they couldn’t peck much from it. So, I crumbled up a portion in a dish with some water and let it sit to get soft. I also mixed in some oyster shell and some food grade diotomaceous earth (DE), which is supposed to be good for helping to eliminate intestinal parasites when ingested. I offered the hens this “mush” and they eagerly ate it down. They got a serving of this “mush” over the course of several days and always dug right in.

Next, I found some dried soybeans in my pantry that I’d had sitting around for several years. I soaked them overnight and then cooked them plain the next day. I offered these beans to the hens and they gobbled them down, too. After that they started back on their regular feed quite eagerly and Betty resumed laying again. I’m not sure if it was the DE, the oyster shell, or just the temporary change in diet, but it seemed to work. Betty has laid an egg every day for the past 6 days, and she’s eager to eat up any of the weeds I offer her. There’s been quite a bit of wild amaranth popping up here and there and that seems to be one of her favorites.

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Having a 2 good days under my belt is very good, but I know better than to start pushing myself too hard too soon. If I can have another 2 or 3 days like this, then I’ll try going back to the gym and doing a short work out. Until then, I have work to do for my job and odds and ends to do here at home that will keep me productive and occupied.

But it sure feels great to be perky again. 🙂

Hooray!

When it comes to my health and fitness, I’ve made a lot of changes over the past several months, and I’m pleased to see them finally paying off. I reached a big milestone late last week: I was able to wear a suit that I couldn’t put on for about a year. Woot!!

I started getting dressed that morning by putting on the pants to a suit that bought just last July in a concession to the fact that I just *had to* have at least one decent suit to wear to work when the occasion called for it. I put the pants to the suit on, and then realized they were very baggy on me. So, I decided to take the plunge and try on the pants to one of my suits that I’ve been forced to just look at for many, many months. They fit. And I mean it wasn’t just that I could squeeze into them, I mean they really fit the way they are supposed to. Woot!!

When I got home that night, inspired by the success of working a full day wearing smaller pants that hadn’t once seemed too binding or uncomfortable, I put on a pair of jeans that had seemed a bit too tight a couple months ago, and was happy that they fit comfortably. The nice work pants I typically wear are looser on me, too. And just in time as I often have to wear another layer under my pants now due to the onset of winter. A pair cotton or wool tights do add a little extra bulk, you now.

I’ve made so many changes that it’s hard to point to just one that has made the difference. So maybe it’s the combination of them all. What have I been doing?

Taking my 1/2 grain of Armour thyroid every day. I had my thyroid levels checked just a few weeks ago and my TSH is now down to .8. That would seem to be on the low end, but it’s working for me. Interestingly, my free T3 and free T4 have hardly changed.

Exercising more. I had been working with the trainer 2 days a week only. About a month ago, I started adding another day to my gym schedule just to do cardio on my own. I work out one hour on either the elliptical, treadmill, or recumbant bike. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been working with the trainer only one day, and then following a program he gives me on my own later in the week. So, I’m working out 3 times a week with cardio and strength training. I’d like to add another day of just cardio or yoga, but I have to figure out how to work this into my schedule first.

Taking my supplements every day. I’m not certain if this is contributing to the weight loss or not, but I’m sticking to it. The doctor ordered me to take 2000 units of Vitamin D a day, but I’m taking more like 3000 units when I add up what is in all of my daily supplements: Vitamin D (2000 units), multi-vitamin/mineral tablet (400 units vit D), cod liver oil capsule (10o+ units vit D, plus omega-3s), calcium (plus 400 units vit D), B complex. And, I’m continuing my weekly 1000 units of B-12 via IM ingection.

Eating differently, including eating less. This one is complex to explain. First, I stopped eating cow dairy as recommended by the doctor based on the food sensitivity tests. Over the past 2 months, I only “fell off the wagon” once when I had some dessert on Thanksgiving day that was made with milk and cream. [Days 3 and 4 after that I suffered from extreme fatigue….hmmm…think this is a cause and effect situation?] So, to ensure that I do not consume ANY cow dairy inadvertantly (remember that casein and whey, both cow dairy by-products, are potential ingredients in processed or restaurant food) I have been eating food made by my own hands 90% of the time. I have eaten out about a once a week, but I ask about/review ingredients very carefully.

I’ve cut down on portion sizes, too. Whereas I would eat the full meal in a restaurant in the past, I typically eat about half of it now and take the rest home for later.

Snacking happens much less frequently, too. I do have  a snack occasionally, but I’m careful to keep it small and controlled in size.

That’s it.

Yes, there is hard work involved here. I have to schedule in time at the gym and sweat through the workouts (ewwww! I hate to sweat!), as well as schedule in time for meal prep. But I’m feeling and looking so much better now.

And I’m going to keep this up because there are still more lovely suits in my closet that are even smaller sized that I’d like to wear. As well as more jeans, dresses, blouses, and etc. (Thank goodness there is *lots* of closet space in this house!)

Hooray, hooray, hooray!

Red, white, and blue

It’s the end of a wonderful long holiday weekend. I loved having this four day weekend (my employer gave us Thursday off, too!). I got to enjoy some more of my yummy garden produce…

Broccoli from my garden

And I got lots of rest. On Independence Day, Laura, Matt (her boyfriend) and I grabbed some buckets and headed next door to my neighbor’s sour cherry tree. The result of an afternoon of picking was astounding.

Lots and lots of sour cherries.

And this is not even *all* of the cherries on this one tree. There were several branches that were just too high for us, and also many cherries that were not yet ripe. Laura took some home right away to bake with and the rest are now sitting in my basement refrigerator (otherwise known as “the kegerator” and typically filled with yarn…which had to be temporarily moved) until we process them tomorrow. Some will be frozen and some will be canned.

I also went to see the doctor again on Thursday. I brought with me about 20 days of documentation of my basal body temperature (averaging 97 degrees) and lots of questions and comments. I have to say, I sort of melted down, too. I have had it with being tired, achy, and foggy-brained and sat there crying quite a bit. Most of my labs came back “normal” (whatever that means), although I am too low in vitamin D this time and need to take uber supplements for several months. The vitamin B-12 is elevated, although a level of 736 seems paltry considering that I was getting 1000 mcg injections twice a week for 5 weeks. Nonetheless, that level is in the OK range and will do for now.

Since my body temps are low and my clinical presentation is consistent with hypothyroidism, I’ve started on a low dose of Armour Thyroid. And I’ve had some blood drawn to test for food sensitivities, too. Since I seem to be having issues effectively processing all the vitamins out of foods, it may be that I’m sensitive to something and need to change what I eat. (The antibodies that could effect my processing of B-12 came back normal, too, so no pernicious anemia it seems.)

Between the visit with the doctor and the long holiday rest I’m feeling better already. Having an action plan makes such a difference to me, and the nights of 9 and 10 hours of sleep have been lovely.

Tomorrow I start back to work and back to working out. I don’t expect much out of myself yet, but I am hoping that I’ll get through the day OK and feel like I’m back on the path of what is normal for me. I’d love to be able to resume my busy lifestyle again and stop being such a bummer to be around. That’s my idea of independence right now.

Waiting Game

I feel like I’m in limbo, and it’s really weighing on me. Fair warning: I try not to bitch and moan too much here, ’cause we all hear plenty of that elsewhere. I’m making an exception today since I’m so miserable.

Last week, I saw a new internist. The appointment went well, and I left feeling very positive about working with this doctor as a partner. I had prepped for this appointment by spending some time writing down major milestones in my medical history, like surgeries, onset of any sort of physical symptoms, etc. We used this during our conversation and it ended up being very helpful as we looked for patterns and put together a game plan for how to get me feeling better. However, I still had to get some blood tests, and this is why I am in a state of suspended animation now; until we get the labs and diagnostic tests over with, we’re sort of not sure what to be doing right now.

The B-12 situation is one thing that needs to be followed. I had lab orders from the allergist to get those tests run about 5 days after my last B-12 injection. So, I had that blood draw done last Friday. And I’m still waiting for the results.

The internist wants to dig a little deeper around the B-12 situation. She wrote orders for antibody tests for intrinsic factor (yep, that’s what it’s really called) and antiparietal cell antibodies. If I have either of these antibodies present, I have pernicious anemia and will have to take sublingual or injection B-12 regularly.

The other course of action we are taking is testing for thyroid antibodies, to see if my body is trying to destroy my own thyroid: in other words, if I have an autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s disease). I have many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism — unexplained weight gain, joint pain and stiffness, fatigue, moodiness, trouble concentrating — and the previous thyroid function tests were either borderline hypothyroid, or on the low end of functioning. With the exception of the weight gain and join pain, the symptoms above could also be due to the B-12 deficiency, however there’s no reason why I can’t have both going on at the same time.

I’m also recording my early morning body temp. First thing in the morning, before I even really rouse or get up, I stick the electronic thermometer in my mouth to take my temp. The internist wants me to do this for an entire month to see if my my body temp averages below 98 degrees. I told her that would be no problem, as even when I am up and about and active my body temp is never as high as 98. So far, the highest my morning temp has been is 97.7. Today it was 97.0 and a couple days ago it was 96.4.

So, all of this busy work to find out exactly what is wrong is good. But I’m still miserable. The past week has been a bad one. I ache a lot. I am tired, tired, tired; I have barely enough energy to get through the day and my home time is spent mainly laying down with a book (’cause that’s all I have the energy for) or sleeping.

I did go to the gym twice this week to work out with the trainer, and have been wiped out in the process. Yesterday I barely made it through the workout; I was getting dizzy and light-headed just doing squats with no weights. Afterward, I spent most of the day in a fog and went to bed at 8:30 (and this was after having taken a nap from 5:30 to 7 PM).

I just want to cry half the time because I am so frustrated and miserable. I end up spending most of my precious energy on work (and not even work that I feel is done well), leaving me with none for my personal life. The weather this week has been perfect for outdoor activities (low humidity, pleasant temps), but I barely get to enjoy it. I struggled this morning just to get up and water the veggie garden, which desperately needed it. I want to be out in the yard every day after work tending to my garden: weeding, pruning, dead-heading, etc. I love doing this stuff. But I just don’t have the energy right now. Nor do I even have the energy to sit up and knit in the evenings.

I’m going to get through this and find a way to make it better. I know I will. In the meantime, though…well, it’s rough…that’s all I can say.

Health and the alphabet

We’ve all heard how important vitamins are to our health. Well, I found out last week that part of the reason I have been feeling like such a tired, crabby, idiot is that my vitamin B 12 level has dropped much too low. When I found this out, I had my typical reaction: “Well, that explains a lot!”

Yep, some of symptoms of B 12 deficiency are “…tiredness or a decreased mental work capacity, decreased concentration and decreased memory, irritability and depression.” (No, I don’t get all my info from Wikipedia; the Mayo Clinic site also has similar information.) The treatment is twice weekly injections of B 12 for several weeks, then a re-test of my levels and possibly continuing oral supplements.

As for why my B 12 level is so low, that’s still a mystery to me. I eat all the foods that are good sources of B 12 (all meats, eggs, and dairy), but for whatever reason it’s not enough right now. I’ll definitely look into this some more after I get the symptoms addressed.

I had my first B 12 injection today and I’m really hoping to feel some sort of improvement in a week or so. To me, improvement would be:

  • Not uncontrollably yawning during exercise. No, I’m not bored by my trainer, I’m just oxygen-deprived!
  • Feeling mentally alert and awake most days. I really do feel more “foggy” and just plain stupid lately. In the past couple months, I’ve even had a few days where I have trouble getting out of bed. I don’t mean having the will or volition to get out of bed, I mean having the energy to pull myself out of sleep and upright; it’s like trying to escape quicksand. And I thought those were just “really bad allergy days.”
  • Increased concentration. It’s hard to work when it’s hard to concentrate. There are evenings when I just can’t think about knitting, and forget about blogging! Too much concentration and energy required!

I try very hard to not use this blog for whining and moaning, but I just can’t help but feel pretty miffed that it took a trip to the allergist to figure this out. Why didn’t my own internist test my B 12 level when I presented with these symptoms last year? She offered me a script for an SSRI for my “moodiness” and one for Nasonex for my “allergies” instead. When it came to the SSRI, I said “no thanks!,” but after a year I finally took the initiative and decided to see an allergist to find out just what the heck I’m “allergic” to.

So far, the only allergies I seem to have are to those typical things that are pretty much a fact of life: mold, dust, and dust mites. My reactions weren’t that strong, though, so it shouldn’t be difficult to deal with them. I’m still undergoing tests for possibly food allergies, and have a few more visits until I finish getting tested for everything.

I’m now looking for a new internist or general practitioner, too.