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’
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Fall Sensations: Scents

Autumn is the season of sense-based mindfulness. Okay, that may just be my opinion, but I intend to argue it fanatically. Everything, five senses-wise, is improved in the Fall. It’s the perfect time of year to really take some time to stop and just enjoy the now and pay special attention to the world and it’s beauty that’s all around you.

Oh hey, that sounds like a great topic for a series of five blog posts, one for each sense!

Let’s start with our olfactory faculties. The sense of smell is most associated with memory and nostalgia. Ergo, you can walk into some random building and BAM! you’re transported back to your kindergarten cafeteria. But Autumn has the best scents associated with it. Just go to the candle section of Walmart to prove this to yourself. Mulled cider, Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake, Cranberry compote – The smells that make a dwelling smell like a cozy, loving home.

The air itself smells different. While not an all together pleasant smell, go outside and into the woods. Take a big ol’ sniff and inhale the aroma of early fall decay. It’s a unique smell, a bit tangy, but oddly welcoming. It signals sunny, but cool days.

The dried leaves themselves have a earthy smell to them. This scent gets stirred up especially when you rake or blow the leaves. (And then promptly jump into the piles you make).

I love the smell of a freshly cut jack-o-lantern.

The smell of a pumpkin as you carve it.

The scent of mulling spices and apple cider warming on the stove.

The incense of a nearby campfire or the smell of burning leaves permeating the air.

The acrid odor of dust burning the first time you turn the heat pump on.

The smell of hay, whether in bales for feed or decoration, or spread on a freshly seeded lawn, or providing cushion in a large wagon pulled by a tractor through a field of pumpkins.

And so much more.

The scents of fall are so comforting, like a warm hug for your nose hairs.

The foods of Fall give some of the best aromas of all. Chili, stew, and other warm savory flavors floating in the air…

What a great segue into the next post on taste! Stay tuned for more.

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.

Zen and the Art of Landscaping

One of the most frustrating things about my mystery illness is my weakness and fatigue. I am a relatively active person. On a normal, healthy day, I get more that 12,000 steps in and at least one type of exercise in. On weekends, I’m hiking or kayaking or doing some major project around the house. I am no couch potato.

But when the fatigue strikes, my whole routine gets thrown for a loop. During my last flair up, I laid on the couch a lot. During this flair up, I’m trying to be better. Some days are harder than others. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m physically exhausted and sprawled out on my couch, but I feel like I’ve earned some relaxation and couch time.

You see, Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, an amazing fall day, and there was some landscape work around the Loebick cabin that needed doin’. We have a nice little flower garden area in our back yard – two in fact. They’re lined by piles of rocks. Previously, we had cleared one of them out, unburying and moving every single rock, and filled it with pinestraw. For weeks, our yard was out of balance. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to help finally finish this task.

Illness be damned.

I was able to do a lot of the work sitting down. Digging the rocks out and moving them about a foot out from the border line was exhausting, but Greg did most of the heavy lifting (though some of those bigger rocks required a team-lift. That was a bit rough on the weakened system). The second flowerbed was a bit more difficult than the first, because we had a large Japanese Maple and a shrub thingy to work around. That Japanese maple is one of my most favorite features about my yard.

As a kid, I hated yard work with a passion. I didn’t understand why my mom planted flowers and vegetables. I didn’t know why she and my dad spent so much time outside building and maintaining flower beds.

But now I get it. I take a certain pride and ownership in my home, my refuge from the world. I want it to look beautiful, and I want to do that work myself. There’s a certain zen I feel while doing work. It’s difficult. Rocks are heavy and dirt gets everywhere. My hair gets icky and my feet hurt. But I can fully engulf my mind into the work at hand. At the end of the day, that hard, honest work is worth it. I can sit back (after a hot shower) and allow myself to be overwhelmed at the prideful satisfaction of a job completed and well done. Of seeing the before and after, and knowing that I’ve improved that parcel significantly.

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I am grateful that I had enough energy to accomplish this task.

I am grateful for my beautiful home in the woods.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Gratitude Rituals

Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.

So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.

I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:

  • During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
  • I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
  • During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
  • I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I am grateful that this isn’t my sock.

I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment.  So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.

I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.

In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.

There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.

So tell me, what are you grateful for today?