cygnoir.net

Not mine anymore.

not_mine_anymore

Face-down on the operating table, I’m not yet numb. This part had escaped my meticulous mental preparation – not so meticulous after all – and when I realize that the numbing portion of the day’s festivities will involve injections of lidocaine, the familiar effervescence of panic travels across the backs of my arms and into my scalp.

I lose track after the twelfth injection. And you know how I love to count things. I have experienced lidocaine injections before, for dental work, and once for a cut on my finger that required stitches, but nothing compares to the precise, bee-sting pain of multiple injections. My breathing exercises work to a point, but it takes a lot more than breathing exercises for me to sit still while someone hurts me. I wish I had something as cool as Sherlock’s mind-palace. There isn’t even a tropical beach with swaying palm trees waiting for me in my mind. Visual imagination is not a strength of mine, so where I go in my head is a facsimile of a rundown, cramped office of the psychiatric resident I saw twice a week while I lived in Alabama.

I take a deep breath. The nurse says, “You’re doing so well!” and she sounds surprised. “Most people really hate this part.”

I really hate this part, I think as I exhale. But I am also my parents’ daughter, and I know how to put on a brave face when I think my discomfort might put someone else out.

When all of the numbing has taken effect, the part I still can’t fathom happens. It is a routine procedure and yet a piece of my skin is being removed, and my brain hamster-wheels as it tries to square these two things. I feel tugged at in a way that I did not expect; maybe I expected it to be more like opening a handbag, pulling out a glasses-case, and snapping me shut again. My eyes have been closed most of the time but they pop open as the surgeon calls softly to the nurse, and I see him pass a piece of my flesh over to her, settling it gently in a jar of clear liquid. Suddenly I picture a long line of glowing specimens in jars at the Museum of Science and Industry.

“O,” I say, louder than I mean to do.

“Everything okay?” the surgeon asks. He is at least ten years younger than I am.

“Yes,” I say, and it is, and it isn’t. The panic has receded, replaced by boring old nausea.

“We send this off to the lab for tests. To make sure,” the surgeon says. He does not need to finish the sentence.

Pain peels back my manners enough that I ask for more lidocaine during the sutures. It takes so much longer to sew me up that I feel like a sock that is too worn through to be darned, every stitch opening a bigger hole. Eventually the surgeon places a waterproof bandage over the site. My arms and legs are starting to shake when I slowly sit up.

“It’s the lidocaine,” the nurse explains. I’m wound up like a mechanical toy, limbs paddling air, waiting to be let go. She has a piece of me in a jar in a plastic bag. It seems rude to leave it behind but it’s not mine anymore.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Cave” by Future Islands. The surgery described above happened two months ago; I’m already healed and everything was benign. Still processing it, apparently.

Beyond step counts with Exist

I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.

I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:

  • Sleep (hours and quality)
  • Vitals (weight and heart rate)
  • Food (calories and nutrients)
  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Media (books read, music listened to, films watched, etc.)

But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?

Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.

I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered – like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange – but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.

On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!

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Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.

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Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.

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I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.

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The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.

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Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.

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These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):

  • Jawbone UP: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Fitbit: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Misfit: steps, sleep, workouts
  • Moves: steps, location
  • Apple Health: steps, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food, water
  • Google Fit: steps, workouts, weight
  • Withings: steps, sleep, weight
  • Runkeeper: steps, weight, workouts
  • Strava: workouts
  • Mood: mood rating and note (this is built-in to Exist, not an external service—you can use our daily email service or our mobile apps to rate your mood each day)
  • RescueTime: time spent productively, neutral time, distracting time
  • Todoist: tasks completed
  • GitHub: commits
  • Google, iCloud, iCal Calendars: events, time spent in events
  • Dark Sky: weather conditions (requires Swarm, Moves, or Exist for Android to get location)
  • Swarm: check-ins, location
  • Instagram: posts, comments, likes
  • last.fm: tracks played
  • Twitter: tweets, mentions
  • Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, and more: via last.fm

That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.

Day 239 of Project 365: Drink lots of fluids.

I accidentally ingested gluten today from a restaurant that FunkyPlaid and I really like that has items marked “gluten-free” on their menu. When this happens I am always torn between never eating at a restaurant again and wanting to be a normal human being.

Stupid disease.

When this happens the best thing I can do is drink lots of fluids. Normally I dislike ice in my water, but we’re experiencing another heatwave …

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Writing from: the future! Yep, catch-up time again. Listening to: the crackle of ice cubes melting.

Day 227 of Project 365: Step goals.

I’ll say one thing for a long transit commute and a mildly strenuous job: I hit my daily step goal about four or five days a week without even trying.

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A few months ago, my Misfit Shine fitness tracker stopped working for a while. I tried to go back to my old fitness tracker, and even flirted with the idea of giving up on fitness trackers entirely. But in the end I strapped my Misfit back on and kept counting steps. I’m still skeptical about this “quantified self” concept but the blinking lights do encourage me to move more.

My Misfit also tracks sleep, but I am not doing very well with that. I didn’t hit my sleep goal at all last week, and I won’t again tonight because I am up too late writing this post.

Writing from: my study. Listening to: FunkyPlaid watching NFL preseason.

Day 220 of Project 365: Gluten-free treats.

I’m feeling a bit ill tonight after a run of generally good health days. I sometimes forget how precarious that health can be, so tonight’s photo is of two gluten-free treats that make me happy. The guide was a gift from Courtney, and I’m looking forward to visiting all of the gluten-free restaurants and bakeries listed in it. The cookies are a fairly tasty find from Fred Meyer that are not only gluten-free but vegan too. It’s tough to do both well.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: my stomach grumble.

Day 134 of Project 365: Four-list method. 

Time to refocus on my health, now that the parental visit is over and I managed to catch a cold.

I don’t do diets. Not being able to eat gluten is enough of a restriction for me, and I think that non-medically-mandated diets can encourage problematic relationships with food. I do, however, fully support reasonable guidelines for healthy eating. I first discovered Alton Brown’s four-list method about a year ago, and since then I have used Evernote to track my own progress with it. Today I decided to switch to a page in my Bullet Journal. I’m still fiddling with the layout but nothing beats pretty ink on nice paper.

Maybe the orange ink will encourage me to eat more carrots. I can’t believe I haven’t eaten a single carrot all week!

  • Ink: Noodler's Apache Sunset
  • Pen: Conklin All-American, tortoiseshell, 1.1mm italic nib
  • Paper: Midori Traveler's Notebook, regular size, with Tomoe River Paper Booklet (Taroko Design) from Red Pen Travelers

Writing from: my study. Listening to: snippets of recorded voices in FunkyPlaid’s study. I heard the word “libraries” …

Vegan pre-race dinner.

Mushrooms, quinoa, kale.

My second 5K race is tomorrow. I am not as rested or as prepared as I’d like to be, but I’ll give it a go anyway. The forecast for tomorrow morning is clear and 10º C, so I am not at all concerned about the running conditions. My health is another story. To soothe some of my symptoms, I opted for a vegan meal tonight: slow-cooker teriyaki portobello mushrooms on a bed of quinoa and baked kale chips. So far, my stomach is calm, and I am grateful.

Avoid, embrace meal planning: success!

I am sold on this meal-planning gig. Not only did I successfully make three meals last week – counting last night in last week because one of the meals was postponed – but I brought snacks to work every single day.

I did not, however, manage to get my tea-making system set up at work yet. I plan to this week.

The verdict on the recipes: the meatloaf was great, as usual. The Indonesian peanut butter chicken did not have enough flavor but I think that is because I used regular-sized drumsticks instead of drumettes. Note to self and to you if you are also making this recipe: drumettes are key. The Indian curry was pretty good but, again, did not have enough flavor. I felt like it should be sweeter. FunkyPlaid suggested raisins and I think he’s onto something.

Quinoa was the real winner this week. It is significantly easier to cook than rice, and I prefer the taste.

The big loser this week? Hard-boiled eggs. I ate just two of the seven I cooked. Day three those eggs looked at me and I looked at those eggs and there was just no way. I guess I don’t like them as much as I thought I did.

My next big hurdle is eating leftovers without a microwave to reheat them. It is a weird thing to be lazy about, I know, but I really, really miss my microwave. It was perfect for reheating small portions. And thawing things sans microwave is a real pain in the ass, so freezing leftovers is the equivalent of a death sentence in our house. I have perfectly good homemade spaghetti sauce in the freezer right now. (Thanks, StillTasty, for confirming its untouchable goodness.)

Eventually I will remember to take photos of food while I make it!

Avoid, embrace meal planning.

As mentioned in my previous post, I am attempting to exhaustion-proof my kitchen by planning meals out in advance and stocking up on healthy snacks and lunches. I have been resistant to meal-planning because I avoid creating additional structure around my diet so I can act like I still have a little freedom despite the gluten-free stuff. This makes the topic a good candidate for my next “Avoid, Embrace”. So here we go …

There are two main issues to address. The first is that while I often want to cook dinner I am also often rushed and/or exhausted. That also impacts my lunchtime and snacking habits; if I am pressed for time and have nothing on hand, I’ll either not eat (and then gobble too much for dinner later) or eat something unhealthy that I can find on the go.

Yesterday I created a meal plan for the week in Evernote so I can access it on my iPhone while I am at the store. I wrote down the evenings we will be at home together around dinnertime – only three this week – and then paged through some cookbooks for inspiration. I decided on:

I chose Monday’s and Saturday’s meals because I hadn’t tried the recipes before and I adore my slow-cooker. Also, on Saturday night we need something quick to eat before we head out to our friend’s party, so this will be all ready to go when FunkyPlaid gets home from work. Friday’s meal is an old stand-by, my mom’s recipe for meatloaf that is an occasional indulgence of ours.

After adding the ingredients for the week’s meals to my grocery list, I then added some items for my healthy snacks and lunches this week: carrots, grapes, bananas, almonds, eggs (to hard-boil), hummus, yogurt, Pamela’s gluten-free bread mix, and curry kale chips. This last snack blew my mind a little bit. I had eaten kale chips before, but not ones that made me want to make my own.

Last night, I hard-boiled some eggs and made a loaf of bread. I also packed my lunch before going to bed, a trick I had known since I was old enough to pack a lunch, but had somehow forgotten along the way, causing every morning to be a sad little rumble around the kitchen, opening and shutting cupboards ineffectually, leaving with a protein bar in my hand that is somehow magically supposed to turn into two meals.

Some progress has been made. The next step is to kill my Starbucks habit, because I have been pretending that a green tea latte counts as breakfast. Tomorrow I will bring my tea set to work!

Celiac Awareness Month

In March 2008, I stopped eating gluten for medical reasons, and (with a few transgressions) haven’t looked back. OK, I’ve looked back in anger – like the play, not the Oasis song – but for the most part, I am very grateful to have had such a straightforward and relatively easy way to address my myriad health problems.

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so here are some related links. I won’t proselytize, I promise. If I didn’t have to give up gluten, I wouldn’t have, believe me. I miss croissants and wake up from intricate croissant-eating dreams. Often.

I meant to post this a week ago, but then classes began again, and Lord of Ultima happened, and the month is already two weeks over. Oops. Also another thing that happened is potential accidental glutenation, which isn’t really a word but describes well enough that you know what I mean. Takeout food is tough for me now. I like to pretend it isn’t because it is fast and requires no effort on my part and also it tastes good. But there are so many places for gluten to hide, and my (few) efforts communicating over the phone with restaurants before ordering haven’t inspired much confidence.

So what I really need to do is exhaustion-proof my kitchen. I sense another Avoid, Embrace coming on …

Resetting my health goals and tracking.

Good afternoon, readers. It has been a long time since my last self-portrait. I have been so thoroughly brain-focused lately as I finish up the semester that I just needed a little bit of something tangible, a note to myself that non-brain parts of me exist.

As soon as I started thinking about that, I started thinking about how much I miss enjoying the non-brain parts of me, like the sweet moment where my body stops fighting the exertion process. I miss that space right before the endorphins hit, where everything and nothing feels, just feels, all at once.

Then I realized how long it had been since I felt that all-at-once space.

I got distracted, very distracted, by toys on my quest for better health. No surprise there. I like toys and I like data and I like tracking data with toys. But between Fitbit, HealthMonth, SparkPeople, DailyMile, and RunKeeper … I’ve lost the motivation to Do amidst all the Record.

self-portrait, april 2011 So I’ve reset. I’m using two tools now: SparkPeople for physical metrics and The Ice Plant’s Five-Year Diary for everything else.

SparkPeople was the first health-tracking website I joined a few years ago. Initially I was pretty turned off by the design, which seemed cluttered and ridden with things I didn’t need like homepages and message boards. I still think it could stand a redesign, but I like that it is a one-stop shop for tracking exercise, food/water consumption, and overall health goals. I also like the book and the iPhone app. Everything about SparkPeople seems focused on being positive about being healthy, which I appreciate immensely.

So far as the other type of health, I have always kept a diary, but my diary goals have simplified over the years. I used to want to archive it all, but there are many dull moments that I do not need to preserve for posterity. (Insert self-deprecating aside about my tweets.) I do, however, see a bit of value in comparing snapshots of my mental state over a few years. If nothing else, I hope to discern cognitive patterns more easily this way.

Here comes the five-year diary, making that stylish and easy for me. And I get to use my pens. The paper isn’t the best for fountain pen ink, but it is better than average. I like – theoretically, at least, for a few years – the ability to see little moments from my past right there on the same page.

So that’s where I am right now. And you? How do you track your health goals?

Sleep is more important than food

I am definitely feeling this one right now, especially with that HealthMonth sleep rule kicking my butt. (via MLx)

birthday gift

After most of a year of debating the exact method in which I would get in shape I was no closer to choosing one, let alone sticking with it. I had sampled a few different options and discarded most of them as impractical, prohibitively expensive, or both. All I could decide on was the fact that I hate the popular usage of “regime” for “regimen”.

Last summer, after a friend mentioned Jillian Michaels’ “30-Day Shred” workout DVD, I read some reviews, mostly favorable, and decided to buy it. I managed to stumble my way through the first level a few times, following the modified exercises for beginners, and thought it wasn’t bad. Then my illness interrupted my routine, as was the case for much of 2009, and the DVD and hand-weights went untouched for the rest of the year.

While I skipped the jumping-jacks, time marched on. I felt lumpier and weaker than ever. During our Portland vacation, I went on a 5-mile hike with moderate elevation and thought I was going to die. A friend and I talked about running, but I did not see myself as a runner. My trainers were ancient, purchased long ago on deep discount during another fit of athleticism while I still had my bicycle. I tried a few times to go running but winded myself almost immediately and, dejected, walked around the block a few times before returning home.

I could not tell you why Monday the 28th was any different. Perhaps I was finally fed up with hearing myself make excuses and then feel sorry for myself. Perhaps I was simply too tired of spending so much time thinking about it. Whatever the case, I got home from work, ate a banana, read email for a few minutes, and then I went into the living room and flailed awkwardly for a while. Calories were burned. Epithets were hurled. Push-ups, even “modified for beginners”, were barely pushed up.

Heady with my sweat-soaked achievement, I decided that the next day I would go running. The Couch to 5k program had intrigued me when I first heard about it, so much so that I promised myself I would do it if I ever got back in shape. But I was tired of waiting for that, and the program is for beginning runners. So I downloaded the nifty C25k iPhone app and set my alarm for 6:00 the next morning.

Surprising myself, I didn’t hit snooze. I staggered out of bed, ate a bowl of cereal, and stared at RSS feeds for about twenty minutes. Then I donned my sad old trainers and what passes for “exercise clothing” in my closet and went running. Well, heavy walking with brief flurries of jogging. And I have done so six times now. The second week was less painful, thanks to new trainers, but was far from easy. Good thing I am stubborn, and also newly addicted to endorphins.

For someone who doesn’t see herself as a runner, it is strange to be excited about running. I am far less excited about flailing with Jillian Michaels, but I am doing that on the off-days for lower-impact cardio and strength training. And I still can’t do more than a few push-ups, but changing that is my next fitness goal.

The last week of C25k begins on my birthday. All I want is to wake up on my birthday and run 5k. Wish me luck!

the state of the gut

Since I am currently struggling with a stomach bug, and quickly approaching my first gluten-free anniversary, a “state of the gut” address seemed appropriate. On 23 March 2008, I began a gluten-free diet to alleviate gluten intolerance, possibly Celiac Disease. (I say “possibly” because I have not yet been able to go back on gluten so I can be formally tested.  Ingesting gluten for a month would certainly mean more sick days than I can take right now.)

Due to my diet, I have rediscovered my love of cooking, though grocery shopping – while less confusing and overwhelming – is still frustrating. I have lost the taste for cookies and cakes, but still yearn for dishes like biscuits and gravy from Boogaloo’s and focaccia from Arizmendi. Despite how much I disliked Whole Foods before this whole thing started, it has been a place of gluten-free miracles.  Trader Joe’s has been excellent as well; tonight, FunkyPlaid stopped by one on his way home and brought me all sorts of gluten-free goodies.

While in Scotland last autumn, I feasted on Sainsbury’s “Freefrom” line of breads, and am baffled that no American grocery stores carry a line of gluten-free baguettes, naan, and English muffins. Bob’s Red Mill has a tasty line of bread mixes, however, many of which I have baked and enjoyed. Amy’s Kitchen has some tasty gluten-free frozen pizzas, and Mariposa Baking makes the best biscotti I have ever eaten.  Nothing comes close to Freefrom, though.

Dining out is still enjoyable, but not the experience it once was. Everything on each menu must be scrutinized, and at first I was fairly embarrassed about being That Kind of diner, asking all sorts of questions about what I used to regard as magicians’ secrets.  No longer can I glimpse an ingredient or a sauce and order solely on whim.  Brunch is a particular wheat-laden obstacle I avoid whenever possible.

Now to the good news: with the exception of a compromised immune system, I am physically and emotionally healthier than I have been in years.  While I still have headaches from time to time, I no longer have migraines.  My moods swing normally … or as normal as I get, anyway.  Insomnia is the exception instead of the rule.  The gluten-free diet is not the only source of my newfound health: each day, I take a multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and an iron tonic called Floravital recommended to me by my friend Kirsten that has done wonders.  Just today I started taking PhytoPharmica’s Probiotic Pearls in order to boost the useful bacteria in my gut. I feel great when I exercise, but struggle to keep a routine when I fall ill.

I have a ways to go with this new life, but as I write this I realize how far I have come.  Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive partner, family, friends, and coworkers, so I know I am not doing this all alone. The Internet has been a great resource for me over the past year, not only to educate myself on medical issues but also to learn from people living with Celiac Disease. I owe a great deal to Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and Kelly of The Spunky Coconut, whose positivity and innovation inspire me to rise above the day-to-day setbacks.  I aspire to gain grace and peace about this part of my life.

grateful for health

This morning, I succumbed to the summer cold that’s traipsing around, so it might seem strange to write about being grateful for my health. The fact remains that my health is better than it has been in years, and all because I traced the source of most of my nagging problems to ingesting gluten.  (This is why, for those of you who are starting to read my journal now, I am on a gluten-free diet; it is not a fad diet, but a diet required by an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine called Celiac Disease. Read up on this before lecturing me about how diets are bad for me.)

Despite making such a huge breakthrough recently, I have much more work to go on my health. I need to find a daily exercise regimen that I will stick to, unlike going to the gym or jogging.  I might return to tai chi chuan, as that had the double benefit of improving my fitness as well as my state of mind.

(This entry is part of one month of gratitude.)

symptomatic

The last thing I want to write about is the first thing on my mind these days. For the past couple of years, I have suffered from a ghost illness I self-diagnosed as “stress-related”, with symptoms that include gastrointestinal distress, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, and inexplicable mood-swings. Though my two major sources of stress (my last relationship, and my last job) are no more, my symptoms have recently intensified, sometimes to the point of incapacitation.

A researcher by heart, I started reading up on my symptoms, which were compounded a few months ago by a troublesome rash not unlike chicken pox. “Celiac Disease” kept coming up, so I read more and spoke with two friends who have it. With their information, and with my beloved’s encouragement and support, I decided to go on an elimination diet, attempting to avoid all wheat, barley, and rye.

I immediately felt better. Immediately. I’ve been living with these symptoms for so long that I forgot what it was like not to feel sick after eating, to be my usual cheerful self, to be able to stay awake after work, and to go 48 hours without an eyeball-searing headache. Not everything has been perfect – eating at restaurants is particularly tricky – but the past two weeks have been amazing. So the next step has been taken: I have an appointment with an allergist next week.

Today is a not-so-good day, because I ate something at a restaurant last night that I should have guessed was thickened with wheat flour. It is also a not-so-good day because I am new at this, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the reality of a lifetime change in diet. But since the cloud is lifting, and since I have loving and supportive people all around me, I know I can do this. For the first time in a long time, I have hope for my health.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.