Hiking the A.T.

The mountains of Northeast Georgia provide an amazing array of hiking choices for those who are outdoorsy-inclined. Hiking is one of my favorite weekend activities, especially during the cooler weather. After almost a full week of feeling almost like a normal human being, I wanted to take a real hike this weekend and not just a jaunt through the woods at Unicoi State Park.

So early on Sunday morning, Greg and I packed up our gear and our snacks and headed up the mountain on the Richard Russell Scenic Parkway nearby. This highway gets closed quite often during the winter months because certain parts never see direct sunlight and ice sticks around like crazy. We drove up to the top of the mountain, to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road at Hog Pen Gap. From that particular trail head, we headed north for 2 miles and then returned.

GPS map of the hike

A nice, relatively flat 4-mile hike was exactly what I needed for both my body and my spirits. The morning was absolutely invigorating, albeit a bit chilly at first. The trail follows a ridge, and we were hiking in fog for a good portion of the morning, watching it slowly evaporate as the sun rose over the mountains and peeked through the trees.

I feel a unique sort of peace while hiking, and there’s an added bonus of accomplishment when you’re done.

Oddly enough, this is the first time we’ve done this portion of the A.T. I’d like to return eventually and go a littler further than 2 miles in.

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Warring Emotions

For the past two days, I’ve felt better. My mystery illness has given me a reprieve from both the fatigue and the abdominal-wrenching pain that was occurring randomly after eating. I’ve been able to get full walks in during lunch. I’ve gotten decent workouts in on my recumbent bike. I’ve been less fearful of eating.

I should be ecstatic. So, why does this frustrate the bejeezus outta me?

Because next week, I have a series of appointments. On Monday, I’m meeting with a cardiologist; on Tuesday, I’m getting a hepatobiliary scan (gallbladder and bile duct stuff); and then on Thursday, I’m visiting a gastroenterologist. If all my symptoms are gone again, then these visits may very well be for naught. I don’t want them to be a waste of time. I want to find out what the hell is going on inside my body.

Last year, I experienced symptoms for a solid three months. I had good days even then, and then would have days where I was couch-ridden and unable to even lift up the tv remote without pain. This time, I’ve been down for 6 weeks, again with dramatic variation in my energy and pain levels from day to day.

But I’ve been feeling almost normal. I’m afraid to get excited, because tomorrow could bring another bout of awful. But if I do start feeling symptoms again, then I may have something that can be discovered by any of the appointments I have scheduled next week, and I can find answers as to the cause of my woes.

See why my emotions are in turmoil?

I want to be better. I will get better. But I don’t want to be left in the dark any more. My body and my spirit are at odds with each other and until I figure out what is going on, then I’ll always have that fear of it returning at any time, even if it goes right now.

So for now, I focus on the present. I’m feeling good today, and that is a good thing. I’ll keep meditating, being mindful, and doing my gratitude rituals. I am thankful for today because I got to enjoy a full walk at lunch without needing to break or nap.

Me and the pup, just chillin’

My New Toy

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

I am a spreadsheet person. I love graphs, analytics, and reporting. I love being able to track progress with hard data.

So on my wellness journey, I like seeing numbers because they motivate me. I wear a Fitbit everyday to keep track of my steps. I log my calories intake and burn into MyFitnessPal. I can hit my step goals, and I can keep to my calorie goals (well… most of the time). Plotting these numbers helps me be mindful of my health.

But what’s been difficult to put into numbers has been my overall bodily fitness. Weight is a poor measurement of health, and weight loss isn’t a good thing when you’re trying to build lean muscle. Muscle weighs more than an equal volume of fat. Clothing size is also unacceptable. As I gain more bulk in my arms and legs, I actually have to go up in clothing size to keep the circulation flowing to my extremities (skinny jeans are the devil to girls with thick calves). Keeping progress photos is great! You can actually see differences and that can totally be motivating, but it’s certainly a less concrete method, especially for a numbers-oriented person like myself (That’s a weird statement coming from a person with an English degree).

So I finally invested in a bathroom scale that accurately (relatively accurately, anyway) measures several body weight factors, including body fat percentage, body water percentage, muscle mass, and more. It also has a nice handy app that automatically syncs to the scale, keeps up with trends (graphic!), and then syncs to my other fitness apps. (See the scale here: https://www.amazon.com/RENPHO-Bluetooth-Body-Fat-Scale/dp/B01N1UX8RW)

I’ve had it for about 10 days now, and I’m excited. I can finally track my fitness levels by using a better measurement – body fat percentage. Right now, I’m at about 25-26% body fat – which is healthy, but I want to hit a higher level of fitness and get to about 21-23%. This gives me a solid goal to strive for.

For the first couple of weeks, I’ll be measuring myself every other day or so soon after waking up. That way, I can get a truthful baseline measurement. After that, it’ll probably be every 5-7 days.

A Jaunt Through the Woods

The North Georgia Mountains typically experiences one weekend of perfect Autumn weather a year. This weekend was that weekend. It’s that weekend where, no matter how bad or weak I’m feeling, you can bet I’m going to be outside in one form or fashion. Yesterday, I spent most of the day helping Greg to landscape work where I could (more on that tomorrow), but today we partook in some much needed hiking therapy.

Our reasons were multiple. Both Greg and I wanted to get out and enjoy the day. We also took all three dogs to the vet on Friday for their checkups and vaccines. Twinkie, Scotch, and Beans had all gained a significant amount of weight, and while that’s good news for Beans, the growing puppy, it wasn’t so much for Twinkie and Scotch. Especially Twinkie, who had gained almost 15 pounds since her last vet visit. I knew she had put on some matronly weight in her old age, but I never realized how much!

It was eye-opening to say the least.

So we’ve made a promise to ourselves to give the older pups more activity, so that hopefully they can slim back down to a healthier corgi weight.

So we harnessed up all three pups, which is an epic task within itself, and schlepped them over to Unicoi State Park where we walked the lake trail. It’s the perfect trail for the old fart corgis who don’t do well on long or hilly hikes, and for Beans’s first ever hike. It’s also great for me, who has a finite amount of energy to spend while experiencing a flair up of the mystery illness (I’ll post an update on that later this week).

Half of the fun is constantly untangling the leashes of this bunch

It was actually a bit misty when we first started, but quickly cleared up. I think the short, 2-mile hike did everyone some good. The pups were super happy to be out, and even Twinkie, who is quite lazy, kept pace and seemed to enjoy it. Greg and I got to actively participate in the one perfect autumn weekend, for which I am most grateful.

So now we sit back and wait for winter to arrive next weekend. Autumn in the mountains is an elusive and fickle thing.

My (Current) Mantra

Mantras are statements that you say to yourself to focus and empower yourself. Mantras can be simple “I am…” statements (I am important, I am valued, I am strong, etc), or can be multiple sentences — whatever you need, personally, to fill empowered.

I’ve posted my current mantra on here before, in my Fighting an Unknown Enemy post.

I am strong.

I am wise.

I know my body.

I will overcome.

I will persevere.

And I will be better for it.

I repeat this to myself several times while I’m meditating. I breath in deep and then say each short piece on the out breath. I also write these words down every morning into my journal when I first get to work.

And I mentally repeat it as I sit in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.

This is not a mantra that applies to my life as a whole. Right now, it’s something that I find strength and focus in while I’m struggling with this mystery illness. It’s what I need right now. When my body is well again, I will change my mantra to something more appropriate.

In fact, one of my mantras that I constantly find myself reverting back to in times of health and happiness is:

Think Lean. I am fit and productive.

I repeat this one to myself all the time, especially at work. It’s a constant reminder to stay on task and to avoid the snack stand. Cut the fluff, cut the fat. And for goodness’ sake, stay off Facebook.

 

 

 

Compassion for Corgis

I guess I’m kinda a hipster when it comes to my dogs. I liked and owned corgis before they were cool, but my affinity for animals – especially dogs – started long before my first corgi.

Growing up, the two dogs that I had for most of my childhood were Peanut the Cocker Spaniel and Oreo the Shih tzu (my affinity for naming dogs after food started early, too). Peanut always felt like she was covered in baby powder and she audibly farted a lot, but she was loyal, sweet, and un-freaking-breakable. This dog got ran over twice, had a tree fall on her, got hit in the head with a huge rock, and fell through the ice into the middle of a pond. Oreo was the first pet that was “mine.” I always wanted a Shih tzu, so my parents finally gave in and got me one. I named her Oreo because my dad was dieting and I was a smartass kid who knew naming a dog after something he wasn’t supposed to eat would taunt him. Oreo was a smelly pup, but she was a super cuddler when you needed her to be.

Fast forward to 2004, less than a year into marriage and Greg and I were just settling into life at Fort Campbell, KY. I’m pretty sure we were in our “permanent” housing for less than a week before we made the decision to get me a dog as a companion to prepare for Greg’s inevitable deployment. So we did what you did back in 2004 and you wanted a puppy – we picked up a local newspaper and hit the classifieds! Low and behold, right there in black and white was the perfect pup, exactly what I was looking or – a Shih tzu! And below that, an ad for some corgis. I saw the ad for the corgis and went, “oh, that could be fun,” but I wanted that shih tzu. So we called the number and were met with disappointment. The shih tzu had been sold.

Well, balls.

But hey, corgis were cute, with their giant ears and stubby legs. And they were a novelty for sure. So we thought, why the hell not? and called up the number. We met the breeder at his place out somewhere in the country near Clarksville, TN and soon brought home Waffles – A Red Brindle Cardigan Welsh Corgi – and the beginning of my corgi collection.

Waffles as a puppy and later in life

Waffles was my puppy to spoil. She was incredibly smart and equally stubborn.

A few years later and a couple states south, we added Twinkie to the family. A few years after that, Scotch joined and completed the Loebick corgi trifecta.

Twinkie

Each corgi had their own separate and distinct personalities. Waffles was the old fart who kept the other two in line. Twinkie was the anxious one who loved attention and cuddles. And Scotch was the boy – rambunctious and care-free.

Scotch

 

 

When I meditate on compassion, my pups come to mind. They are the embodiment of unconditional love. They crack me up when they play. They cuddle with me when I’m feeling down. And they help remind me of the simple joys in life – eating, playing, and relaxing. I swear, Corgis have healing powers. Or maybe it’s just the happy cuddletime oxytocin that gets released. Anyhoo, they definitely make me feel better, at least emotionally. Waffles, though not a lap dog for sure, always knew when I was feeling down and she would come lay beside me while I was sick.

A rare photo of three of the original Cabin Corgis together

Last night, I had a bittersweet dream. You see, Waffles died on July 6 of this year. She had an almost four year battle against degenerative myelopathy, a disease that slowly weakened and paralyzed her. I don’t remember much of my dream, but I do remember the part where I began lucid dreaming, because she was there. I knew I was dreaming the instant I saw her because I understood that she was actually dead, but I embraced the dream and snuggled with her, savoring the time because I knew it was only temporary. I remember feeling joyous that I had that extra time with her.

Today has not been a great day for me healthwise. I went grocery shopping this morning and have been near couch-ridden the rest of the day. Twinkie, Scotch, and the newest member of the Cabin Corgis, Beans, have taken up the torch. They’ve been with me all day, helping me with their mystical healing powers and keeping me company while I watched way too many episodes of Psych as I recover my energy. I even had both Twinkie and Beans napping on top of me as I completed a meditation while lying down. Their combined snoring was actually relaxing and gave me something to center my intentions on.

 

Cuddling with Beans
Beans, Scotch, and Twinkie posing for me.

I love my pups.

Fighting an Unknown Enemy

Sneaky, awkward selfie while sitting in the waiting room.

I’m currently sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. It’s a familiar site for me. This is my fifth visit here over the past month, in addition to a sojourn to the emergency room for heart palpitations.

There’s some off in my body.

Now I sit here, waiting to be called back for an ultrasound sound on my gallbladder, and I know how strange it may sound, but I sincerely hope they find something.

The pains, the fatigue, the shortness of breath, the foggy mind–I thought I had beaten this last year–The illness that threw me for a loop for three months. Three months where I, a decently active individual, had my life disrupted. I stopped working out, I stopped hiking, I stopped eating right (frozen meals take less energy to make).

When my symptoms finally disappeared, it was a still struggle to get back on the wellness horse,  but I did it.

Now here, 15 months later, I’m smacked down with similar symptoms once again, but this time  I have a renewed resilience. I’m attacking with vigor, trying to find the truth of what’s going on inside my body.

And if it is my gallbladder then finally I can put a face to my enemy, so to speak. I can fight to take my body back,  and restore my best life. I can plan, I can treat, and I can cure myself.

I am strong.

I am wise.

I know my body.

I will overcome.

I will persevere.

And I will be better for it.