Wellness Wednesday – To Figure Out What’s Wrong

Before I begin this post, let me put up fair warning: This will be long and meandering, tying together many threads in order to try to get a clear picture. It will discuss medical details, including surgery photos, and will repeat things that I’ve talked about in the past. Feel free to skip by altogether. Now that that’s out of the way, here goes.

Something is wrong with me, and I don’t know what it is.

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Monday Coffee – Joyous Tidings

I am writing this a day late after coming home from a weekend away for a special occasion. But more on that in a moment, because there are lots of joyous tidings in this post and I should start chronologically.

Our happy weekend began early. Jason took Friday off of work, not for Valentine’s – though that was a great bonus – but for a special signing at a title company. We are now officially owners of only a single house again, hurrah! Due to our own clumsy scheduling, we did have one month of two-mortgages-to-pay, but the proceeds on the house paid the debts accrued by this. We have yet to create a new budget for ourselves – I’m a stickler for waiting until the deed is actually DONE to do this kind of thing – but our situation is vastly improved by this change we began in the fall.

And since Jason had the rest of Valentine’s Day off, we decided to do a little celebrating until our kids got off from school. (Go figure that it would be an early release day, yeah?) So after our closing, we went down the street to Eisenhower Park and took a 3.2-mile hike. Hiking is an activity we both enjoy – very rare for us with regards to physical activity – so it made for a nice morning. Afterwards, we went down to my favorite restaurant in San Antonio, India Oven, for a buffet lunch.

So that’s how we spent Valentine’s Day. Jason is still suffering under that whole root-canal thing – the procedure isn’t scheduled until the 21st – so after all that, he was ready to nap the afternoon away. I got the boys from school and we had a lazy rest-of-Valentine’s before prepping for our awesome, love-filled weekend. Here’s where the best of the joyous tidings begin:

My cousin Jen got married yesterday! She and her new husband, Robert, have known each other for years, but began to date back in the fall of 2015 when Jen and I threw a joint Autumn Party for our friends. In the years since then, Jen and Robert have been wonderful for each other, and I was so happy to hear of their engagement back in early autumn. They decided to have a small ceremony at the coast, and Jen asked me to read an excerpt from Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith during the wedding. Jason, the boys, and I drove down to Port A on Saturday morning with plenty of time to check into the hotel and walk down the beach to the ceremony spot.

I won’t hash over all the details from the wedding itself. I’ll just say that it was a beautiful ceremony, with perfect weather, and a small group of friends and family gathered. Of course, I got lots of photos, and can’t wait to see the ones the professional photographer took. After the ceremony, we all went to eat at a nearby seafood-and-pasta restaurant (delicious!), and the next morning, we had breakfast tacos over at the newlywed’s beach rental. Jen and Robert organized everything so well. Their rental was was right next to the group hotel, and only half a mile from both the restaurant and the wedding location. Jason, the boys, and I walked everywhere instead of needing to drive, which just made the whole weekend that much more perfect.

After Sunday breakfast, we made the LONG drive home. (By the way, did you know that driving on an island in the middle of major fog is stressful??) And as a perfect end to a lovely weekend, my friend Stephanie and I joined our hiking group for a beautiful 2.7-mile walk around Woodlawn Lake.

Today is a school holiday, so my boys are home with me, and the plan is to try to get our weekend chores done and otherwise be lazy. Maybe some yoga for me, because I’ve walked/hiked roughly ten miles in the last three days and some loosening of muscles and joints and tendons will do my body good! I hope y’all all had as beautiful a weekend as my family did!

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A Beginning at the End, by Mike Chen

Six years after the End of the World – a virulent strain of flu wiping out most of the world’s population – the world is in shambles. There are tentative pockets of humanity clustered together with the loosest attempts at government, technology, regulation, protection, and news. Nearly everyone suffers from some form of trauma disorder after losing homes, friends, family, and life the way it was Before. Rob is trying to keep his daughter with him. Moira is trying to escape her past identity. Krista is determined to act as if the threat of flu isn’t real. These three are thrown together by circumstance, with the choice to sink back into their own individual isolation or work cooperatively to create something new, and better.

The setting of this book is very, very dark. Out of darkness, though, can come light, if you let it, and this is ultimately a story not of survival, but of connection. At one point, Rob states to a survivor therapy group that it seems as if everyone is hiding behind something, usually fear, and that he wants the world to be more than fear again. But to most people, it’s as if this isn’t a possibility. The fear is all-encompassing – which makes sense given that this flu keeps mutating and spreading further – and society is on hold. Society as a whole has a freeze trauma response, unable to move forward until the danger is gone…which will be never. That makes the situation feel very hopeless as you read.

Each of the main characters – Rob, Moira, and Krista – must overcome the thing that holds them back, the thing they’re hiding behind, in order to connect to the world and to others again. Of the three of them, it was Rob’s journey in particular that I connected to. Because of Rob’s situation – the threat of his child being taken from him – he must take steps forward. They may be forced steps and not something he would do normally if not for his situation, but they’re still steps forward. And in emerging from his own pocket of isolation, Rob discovers that there’s still a world outside of his little bubble of space. He wants that world back. Rob’s story is one of a world that has grown so small that he’s surprised that anything exists beyond it, like opening blackout curtains and discovering that it’s no longer night time and that the sun is quite bright outside. It’s a metaphor for the kinds of mental health problems that involve withdrawing from the world, whether that’s depression or agoraphobia or PTSD, and the discovery that waits when you’re able to reemerge. It reminds me of a line from Keane’s “Spiraling:”

The map of my world gets smaller as I sit here pulling on the loose threads.

This book was just beautiful. I liked Chen’s Here and Now and Then, though I had some issues with it. This one was much better in my opinion. Better written, better paced, hard decisions for the characters, and a beautiful exploration both of mental health and the beauty that lies in connecting to other human beings.

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Wellness Wednesday – Resting Metabolic Rate

I mentioned on Sunday that my Lumen arrived, and that when I originally bought it, it was supposed to tell me my daily resting/basil metabolic rate through breath analysis. There are lab-level machines that can do this in doctor’s offices and such, and the original promise of Lumen was to be able to do this daily from the comfort of your home, rather than trying to get insurance to approve and/or paying exorbitant amounts for said test. This has not turned out to be the case in the final Lumen product, but it’s obvious that RMR/BMR has been on my mind quite a bit lately. This was compounded on Saturday while out with my hiking group.

At one point during our hiking, a few of the women in the group began to talk about their tested RMRs. These women were mostly older, 50s and 60s, and had been through many types of procedures in their lives. They’d also been chronic dieters on programs such as weight watchers, that encourage women to eat these very low calorie levels. (The current modern-day standard for weight loss programs for women is 1200, but the first time I tried WW in 2001, my calories were adding up to a range of 900-1150, and who knows what other levels it’s asked women to eat at over time! Even 1200 is NOT GOOD for most bodies.) These women began comparing their RMRs as tested by their doctors through various methods including breath-analysis and different kinds of body composition analysis. The results they gave ranged between 900 and 1100.

I was astonished to hear those numbers. To give some context, your RMR is the number of calories you burn at rest, if you did nothing but sleep for 24 hours. No one actually burns as few as their RMR, but it’s essentially how much your muscles, organs, and tissues burn at rest. The rest of your metabolism is built on that number. I’ve had body composition analysis done six times between 2012 and 2019, five of which gave me an estimated RMR. My weight on those tests ranged from 159 to 230. I kept the results of four of those tests, and from lowest weight to highest, on two electronic and two water-weigh tests, my RMR measures at 1636 (water, 159 lbs), 1447 (electronic, 164 lbs), 1552 (electronic, 204 lbs), and 1722 (water, 230 lbs). [Note: water weigh tests are more accurate than electronic ones.] My body’s burn range has been from 1447 to 1722 at 100% rest. Actual calorie burn measures roughly 500-700 calories higher, PLUS exercise on top of that. And frankly, I thought some of my RMR levels were pretty poor/low. I can’t even imagine the whole 900-1100 at rest range…

I don’t know how much of that is due to age and muscle loss, or chronic dieting causing muscle loss rather than fat loss, or some other factor. All I know is that I see the difference between my 40-year-old metabolism and the metabolisms of the 50s/60s women in my hiking group, and it makes me want to work especially hard to build and keep muscle mass as I get older. Regardless of any weight loss or change over time, I want to keep both my bone mass and my muscle mass strong and healthy. Other than yoga, I haven’t paid as much attention to strength-building as I should. I hope to slowly build that into my routine going forward. I want to be one of those 80-year-old women who still have the muscles of a 30-year-old!

(Shirley Webb, age 78, deadlifting 245 lbs)

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Sunday Coffee – Medical Chaos

Oy, what a week! Jason and I are definitely showing our 40s by having our bodies crumbling bit by bit, heh. Here’s how the last week has gone in our house:

1 – Jason slips and falls down a few stairs at work, landing heavily on his thigh and putting him out of commission for a bit.

2 – Jason comes home from work early because of a really bad toothache under one of his crowns. He sees a dentist, who says he has an abscess and needs the crown removed and a root canal performed. Only an endodontist can do this, so they refer him to one. But she turns out not to be covered by our insurance (a complete shame, because I can testify from personal experience that she’s the very best in town), so he had to call out to the only endodontist that IS covered. Unfortunately, they don’t have any appointments open for a week, and that’s just for the consult. In the meantime, Jason has been working from home, living on ibuprofen, with half his face swollen cartoonishly and in immense pain. Sigh. (Notably, the good endodontist could have seen him THAT SAME DAY, rather than making him wait a week.)

3 – I got the results of my autoimmune and inflammation blood panel done last week. My inflammation markers are off the charts high as usual, and I’m testing positive for autoimmune antibodies on multiple tests. On specific disorder tests, though, I test negative. My non-medical interpretation of this data is, “Why yes, you’re right, you DO have some kind of autoimmune disorder though we have no idea what it might be at present.” Then my doctor wrote and said that it could be a false positive, or a result of chronic inflammation (cause unknown), or something viral, or maybe an indicator of an autoimmune disorder developing in the future. Nothing to do now but wait and test again in the future, she said. But that feels a lot less pro-active than I like. And frankly, it’s not like we tested for every specific autoimmune disorder – we just ruled out the main ones. Not sure what my next steps are supposed to be. Might be time to graduate to a specialist.

4 – The day after I got those results, I went in to see my PCP about this ganglion cyst on my left wrist. It started as a pea-sized lump that felt as hard as bone, popping up suddenly on January 14th. I’ve never had one before, I’d had no trauma on that wrist, and I hadn’t even exercised on it that day. There was no real reason it should appear. At first, it didn’t hurt or anything, but each day it grew. I had to stop doing any yoga poses that are on hands and knees, like cat-cow, because bending my wrist back at 90 degrees was painful. Then I had to stop doing poses like downward dog because bending my wrist back at any angle was painful. Now, it hurts to do regular activities like turning doorknobs or driving my car, and even bending my hand forward pulls on the cyst painfully. I knew exactly what it was, but had to see my PCP for a referral. He took one look at it and said, yep, that’s a ganglion cyst, and referred me out to an ortho specialist. I’m waiting for a call to schedule that consult next, so they can figure out if this now-marble-sized cyst can be removed with local anesthesia or if it extends back toward my elbow where I can’t see it and I need full-on surgery. Either way, yoga is currently out of the picture and I’m babying my wrist. At least it’s my left hand…

5 – My sister and I trade health updates regarding insomnia, because we both have the same kind and it started for both of us when we were exactly 32 years 6 months old. We figure that if one of us finds a working solution, the other might benefit. She recently had a second sleep study (the first one told her nothing), and I asked her about her results. Turns out the study was a waste of her time. The doctor claimed that her results showed no wake-ups at all. She told him that she absolutely did wake up. He claimed that sometimes our perceptions can be different (aka she can’t tell the difference between shallow sleep and actually being awake). She explained that at one point during the night, her phone alarm went off. She had to yell to the tech that she’d forgotten to turn off the alarm, then get out of bed, walk over to the dresser, and turn off the phone. Clearly, she was awake. The doctor’s response was, “Oh.” He did some digging and found that there were things missing from her results. And then he diagnosed her insomnia as idiopathic (meaning “we can’t determine a reason for this”). Neither of us has any faith in sleep studies anymore.

(As a side story, my mom also had a sleep study done once. The terrified tech ran in several times in the night and woke her, because his monitors kept saying her heart stopped and she’d lost all brain function. While she was clearly breathing and alive. Makes you feel even more confident about sleep studies, yeah?)

In better medical news, I FINALLY received my Lumen this week! I ordered this little lady back in November 2018. It was supposed to come last May…then last July…then late last summer…then sometime in the fall…etc. Anyway, it finally arrived. I set it up and did my calibration day (pic), and have been doing fasting morning tests as well as pre/post exercise tests every day. I’m a little disappointed in one thing – originally the Lumen was supposed to give you your actual basil metabolic rate each day, as well as if your metabolism was burning primarily carbs or primarily fat. Now, it’s just doing the latter. I really wanted a look at my BMR and wouldn’t have purchased this otherwise. But we’ll see how it ends up affecting my health over time. Once I’ve been using it for a month or so, I’ll do a full review.

That’s about it for the week. Kind of a smashing way to begin February, no? At least this week has some really awesome events scheduled!

***PS: We also got some worrisome news from Morrigan late in the week, which is not helping stress levels. Please keep him and us in your thoughts if you will.

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Wellness Wednesday – An Ode to My Favorite Park

Back in early 2006, my family moved into a part of San Antonio that I’d never been to before. It was close to Jason’s work and had decent schools, which were my only two requirements beyond affordability in housing. One of the first things we did was visit the local library, only 1.5 miles away from our house at the time and only open for several months at that point. The library was attached to a playground and a city park built around an old Comanche fort. A month after we moved to the area, I walked the park for the first time with a few women at the church I attended at the time.

Note: I really dislike this picture but I’m glad that I have it. I’m still friends with the woman in pink on the left, yay!

That first walk/hike had me confused and turned around. There are so many different trails and loops at that park. I did my best to remember our route when I took Jason and the boys out there the next month. They were 5, 3, and 2 years old.

Over the years, I kept going back. In the 2007-2008 years, I walked a specific 2.2-mile route with my friends Christina and Paula several times a week. That’s when I got to really know the park well. I took the boys often as well, before or after trips to the playground or library. Around 2009-2010, fitness equipment was added around the Library Loop portion of the park. In 2011, I taught myself to run there, and ran my first full non-treadmill 5K there in 2012. In 2014-2015, I walked with friends when I needed emotional support, and visited the park on vacation when I was living away from San Antonio. The park became my family’s go-to area for Pokemon Go and later Harry Potter Wizards Unite.

Hundreds of visits. Hundreds upon hundreds. This park is my very favorite outdoor space in San Antonio. I go there now not just to exercise, but to feel at home. I see deer and birds and snakes and rabbits and squirrels along the paths. I know each surface and each path. I know all the regulars – the elderly man and his giant dog; the extremely thin man who wears shorts, parka, and beanie no matter the weather; the petite Asian woman with giant hats and the tiny dogs; the brother and sister who always walk at least six feet apart as if they aren’t hiking together. I feel safe there. I feel like I’m home.

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Favorite Photos of January

At the beginning of the year, I put up a post of my favorite dozen photos of 2019. I love photos. I have thousands of them. (Literally. I just ran a count and the estimated number by my computer is over 8000 – and that’s down a TON from the 15k+ I had when I KonMari-ed my digital photos in 2015.) And over the last few years, I’ve been a bit lax when it comes to taking photos. Partly this is because I have so many and feel like adding more would be excessive, partly because my personal situation has been very insular and monotonous during this time. When 2020 began, I decided to start taking a lot more photos again, daily, collecting them together in a photo app as a way to look back over significant moments of each month. I don’t keep all those pictures, but I’ve kept quite a few from January, and I’d like to document my favorites of the month.

From left to right: Morrigan hugs Ash on the day we were told that he probably had cancer and might not recover; my favorite park after rains flooded through it; me after falling during a balancing yoga pose – the photo was meant to be silly but I touched the button before I was ready and ended up with this photo, which I just love.

Top left: Jason took this photo of me right after I finished the first day of C25K successfully. Top right: a fellow hiker conquering the trail. Bottom: my running park flooded over after major rains.

From left to right: my cousin’s baby Ben, who I swear looks exactly like his father; a trail marker at an intersection where someone had chalked the word BURST; one of Ambrose’s senior photos, the only one he didn’t pose for, that I took before he knew I was snapping pics

Top left: Jojo’s “friend.” This little guy was living in our rotted out old French doors and Jojo would squeak and paw at him every day until we had a chance to replace the doors. Top right: Jason’s parents got him a 3D printer for his birthday, and this lucky cat was the first thing he printed. Bottom: a silly photo of my hiking group on the trail (photo credit to the woman conquering the trail in the second collage of this post)

As you can see, I’m not the best photographer and I don’t have the best camera – just an old iPhone 8 – but I still love taking photos so much and reliving all these little memories and fun stories when I see them afterwards.

What were your best captured moments of January?

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