Archive for November, 2009

Unsung Heroes

We hear the phrase “unsung hero” a lot, but I don’t know that we spend a lot of time thinking about what that means, exactly.  It doesn’t always mean someone who carried a child out of aburning building or rescued a stranger from rising floodwaters, though it certainly could.  But then again, those kinds of heroes generally are “sung”, and quite rightly so.  We all recognize this sort of heroics, and we assign the appropriate value to it, most of the time.

So what kind of hero would be unsung?   What sort of heroism goes unnoticed or, at least, unacknowledged?  I think we all see this on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not.   The key is in your definition of “hero”.

To me, a hero is someone who makes your decaf coffee for you every morning after you start working on their floor, even though you are the only one who drinks it and they really don’t know you all that well, and there’s absolutely no reward in it for them.  It’s someone who you’ve never met and don’t know, but who still leaves you a Facebook message calling you “my sweet friend” and hoping that whatever sorrow you’re experiencing will be less tomorrow.  It’s someone you haven’t seen in twenty years and haven’t spoken with much in that time, but who still cares about you and your life and lets you know that.

It’s someone who makes dinner for you without being asked, just because.  It’s someone who washes the dishes and cleans up the kitchen and bathroom without being told.  It’s someone who lets you go first at a four-way stop, though it’s clearly their turn.  It’s someone who reaches for the last gallon of milk at the grocery store at the same time you do, then laughs and says “no, you take it, it’s fine.”

Someone who always listens to your problems, though they have their own that may be more serious and they know there’s nothing they can do to help – but they know you have to talk.  Someone who doesn’t feel well and is having a really bad day, but who brings you a candy bar for absolutely no reason and without expecting anything in return, just because they know you like that particular candy bar.  Someone who remembers that dishes can mysteriously disappear sometimes after being washed in the office dishwasher, and always brings yours to you so that doesn’t happen.

Someone who does an evaluation and report for your firm and doesn’t bill, yet still has it to you before you actually needed it, making your life infinitely easier.  Someone who is assigned a project and always does it immediately, and to the best of their ability.  Someone who sees that you have tabs in a document you gave them to copy, and duplicates those tabs in the copy without being asked to do so.  Someone who goes above and beyond, not because they will be rewarded, but because that’s who they are.

Someone who slips their hand into yours and says, “I love you, Mommy,” not fifteen minutes after you grounded them for not cleaning their room.  Someone who defends you no matter what, because they love you, though they may well turn to you when everyone else is gone and say, “Wow, I can’t believe you said/did that, that’s nuts.”

Someone who writes a blog entry that reaches inside you and grabs your heart and twists it, turns it inside out, shakes out all the repressed emotion, then puts it back and pats it gently – even though that person doesn’t know you, or that you’ll be reading.

Someone who spends decades of his life writing novels that change your life, and in the last years, when he knows he’s dying, pours enormous amounts of his flagging energy into making sure that someone, at some point, will be able to finish the series.

Someone who walks down the hall singing at the top of her voice, maybe even does a little dance, making you smile and even laugh when you thought all you had in you that day were frowns and growls.

Someone who understands that you’re hurting and things are hard, but who nevertheless gently and lovingly expects you to get up and do what you have to, because they have faith in you and expect nothing less than greatness from you – and by having that faith in you, inspires and encourages you to be more than you thought you could be.

Someone who will tell you the things that are hard to hear, in a way that takes the hurt and makes it a demonstration of their love – love you never earned and don’t deserve, but they give it to you anyway.  Someone who trusts you to tell them the truth and respects and values your advice, because they respect and value you.

Someone who spends months planning ways in which they can use the month of December to give time and energy to their community, because they want this season to be about giving to other people in ways that count.

I could probably go on all day, because there are thousands if not millions of ways in which people touch our lives every day.  Small ways, ways that are so quick and fleeting that we could easily miss them if we weren’t paying attention – and we all too often do.  Most of these things don’t really get acknowledged – we might say thanks, but we don’t say, “Thanks, you have truly enriched my life and made my world a better place.”  We might think it, or we might not, because these things seem so small.

But small things add up.  Small things matter.  On an especially bad day, it can often be that small thing that takes the wind out of depression’s sails and helps you get your feet back on the path to sanity.  So today, I think I’ll take the time and trouble to notice these things, and to sing about them.  Every hero deserves a song.



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A Bad Day

I think I’m officially having a “bad day” where the arthritis is concerned.  It has caught me a bit by surprise, as I have been doing so well lately.  I didn’t sleep well, though, and I do remember shifting position a lot because I would start to ache and get uncomfortable.  Still, I felt okay when I first got up.  It’s gotten progressively worse, though, and I am deeply regretting the decision to go ahead and wear heels today.  Definitely should have gone with the flats, because my back, hips and knees feel like they’re made of broken glass.  I started having problems with my shoulder last night too, which made me very cranky.  I despise random pain – I want to be able to point to some good, productive exercise that I did that resulted in soreness, or at least be able to say, “Oh, I overdid it, I may have pulled something,” or something of that nature.  But the shoulder, at least, is just random pain without benefit, which I find very irksome.

I did 30 minutes on the treadmill last night during the Biggest Loser, and I think I can put some of the pain down to that.  I increased the speed in increments, and didn’t notice any pain until I hit 3.5, but that was well into the workout so I’m not sure if it was the speed or just how long I’d been doing it.  I’m inclined to say it was the speed, because I was feeling really good at 3.2 and then at 3.5 there was a sudden and marked change.  This is really frustrating me, because frankly even 3.5 is pathetic for someone who was regularly running at 6.0 not too long ago.  I know that I’m going to have to accept some limitations, but I’m really not willing to accept this much, this soon.  I can’t really wrap my head around the concept that I could have declined so much so quickly.

A big part of what I’m having trouble with today is realizing that while I will have good days and bad days, I will probably never again have perfect days.  I probably cannot expect to ever have another day that is completely pain-free.  I’ve been doing great lately, I really have, and have been quite pleased with my condition – but I haven’t been pain-free.  I think those days are behind me, and that’s sort of a stark realization, that every single day of my life from now on I will be in pain to some degree.  It might not be too bad, but it will always be there.  That’s depressing as hell when you first really own up to it.  I know I’ll be okay once I process through that, but right now it’s upsetting.

Another problem I have is that there’s really not much I can do about the pain.  The medication helps, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it…and God, how I hate to take medication.  Lying down isn’t really helpful because immobility stiffens the joints and makes the pain worse, but moving hurts too, so at some point you just have to find the best combination and realize that it’s only going to improve things, not actually get rid of the pain.  That’s frustrating.  I’m a control freak.  I’ve never been great at accepting problems that I can’t at least try to solve.  So that’s causing me some angst today as well.

It’s just annoying to be hampered in my efforts to take control of my health and do the right things.  I know, intellectually, that this is going to be a serious learning process and there will be a lot of trial-and-error before I find the mix that works for me.  The problem, I think, is that while I understand what my condition is, I still haven’t quite gotten to acceptance.  Acceptance still feels like giving in, and I hate – hate – the idea of giving in.

I have an autoimmune condition that comes with arthritis.  I know that.  I understand that, and I get that nothing is going to change it.  No matter how well I eat, how active I am, how intelligently I manage my condition, it’s still going to be there.  I do understand that.  But the fact remains that I am 37 years old and I refuse to spend the rest of my life just waiting to die.  I intend to live it, and I intend to do so with as much health and energy and strength and determination and joy as I can.  I just have to figure out how best to do that, and right now that’s giving me some difficulty.

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Lately I’ve caught myself reverting to a lot of old, bad habits – poor diet and almost no exercise are among them, but are actually the least concerning, surprisingly.  I’m a lot more concerned about the mental and emotional habits, actually.  I’ve found myself thinking, feeling and behaving in ways I haven’t in years, and was hoping I never would again.

In the past, what has worked well for me has been to sit down and methodically compare notes about the times in my life when I’ve behaved this way before – what is going on now that was going on then?  What is the same, and what is different?  Then – and perhaps this is even the more important step – I’ve taken the times in my life when I’ve overcome those habits, and compared notes in the same way.  What was different then?  What was I doing differently that made it possible for me to be more the person I want to be, and less the person I used to be?

Right now, I’ll skip the first step – I’ve done it, but I won’t relate it, because I don’t think anyone would take much away from it and it’s pretty personal.  Also, dwelling on the negative is only helpful for information-gathering purposes; beyond that point, it just causes me to spiral downward.  So I’ll focus instead on the times in my life when I was happiest, most emotionally healthy and stable, and most positive.  What was I doing then, that I’m not doing now?  What was I not doing then, that I am now?

  • Exercise – during the past few years when I was at my highest point of health and happiness, I was most definitely exercising regularly.  Regularly means five nights a week, if not six.  Exercising means spending a significant period of time – no less than 30 minutes, and usually more, in a vigorous, organized activity for the sole purpose of being active.  Walking and/or running on the treadmill at a vigorous pace for at least 30 minutes, either while listening to music or watching TV (I will say the best emotional results seem to come from music, rather than TV.  Watching TV while on the treadmill doesn’t energize me the way music does; in fact, for me, it makes it harder to stay on, as I’d much rather be curled up on the couch watching TV); using my WiiFit and doing a full strength/cardio/yoga routine; using a DVD like the Biggest Loser workout or my 30-Day Shred; or doing a Jillian Michaels.com circuit.   Why I haven’t been doing this: The reasons are actually several, and most of them boil down to excuse-making.  I’ve been tired – while this is true, I know that if I summon up th energy to get started and force myself through the first few sessions, my fatigue will decrease and my energy levels will come up.  I’ve been physically unable to do as much – very true, and I am going to have to make some modifications to protect my joints and allow for my condition, but they’re minor modifications and do not in any way preclude regular, vigorous exercise.  In fact, exercise will actually benefit me enormously in terms of decreased pain and increased mobility.  I don’t have time – I’ll address this one later in detail, but at my best, I made time, I didn’t wait to have it.  The time is there, I’m just spending it doing other things, and this one is definitely under my control.  I feel guilty for working out alone, to my schedule, instead of finding ways to include my workout buddy – this one is hard for me to get around, because my tendency to try to make everyone happy comes into play and this person is very important to me.  But I also know that she would in no way want me to compromise my goals by doing this, and this is the height of excuse-making.  I’ve been doing nothing at all unless I can do it with her, and our schedules are very different.  I’m using her as an excuse to fail, and that’s a huge disservice to her, and not something she would ever in a million years tolerate if she knew I was doing it.
  • Eating regularly, cleanly, and healthfully – when I was at my best, I was eating six small meals a day, and they were as healthy as I could make them.  I’ve learned a lot since then and continue to learn every day about really eating cleanly, and I know that it wasn’t actually anything approaching clean, but I was eating things I believed to be the best things I could feed my body, and I was dedicated and religious about it.  This is as much about a mindset as it is about actual nutrition, for me.  I was devoting real attention and energy to caring for myself lovingly.  I was preparing meals in advance, spending the necessary time and energy to prepare myself for a day of healthy eating, every day.  I was planning and executing consistently, because I knew I was worth it, and I was avoiding the unhealthy things I used to eat, because I knew they would damage me in the long run.  Why I haven’t been doing this:  this really boils down to falling into old patterns of thinking.  In some areas, I have made huge strides – I’ve been educating myself about the effect that different substances have on the body, the metabolism, and the hormonal balances, and I’ve started buying all-natural and organic whenever possible.  Every month (I shop monthly, so that’s how I gauge progress) I do a little more toward making sure the things I bring into my home are clean.  This is critically important when you have an autoimmune disorder, as I do, but it’s just as important if you have a genetic predisposition toward autoimmune disorders, as my children do.  So I’m doing this as much for them as for me, though I do have to fight them every step of the way.  I’m trying to find ways to make sure they can have the things they love, so they don’t feel deprived, but still make them as healthy as possible.  [Quick product plug – Annie’s line of organic foods is amazing.  They produce an amazing number of products that are similar to what you’re already eating – the Cheddar Bunnies and pocket sandwiches are two of my favorites – but they’re all-natural, generally organic, and additive-free.  It’s still processed food, but they’ve eliminated nearly all of the processed-food demons and make it a little easier to be clean and still have some level of convenience.]  However – and it’s a big however – I’ve also fallen back into some habits like fast food when I have errands to run (or just when I feel like it), unhealthy snacks like potato chips and candy, and the biggest demon of all, emotional eating.  If I’m tired, hurting, unhappy, stressed, or just about anything at all, I give in to those old habits – hit the drive thru or the convenience store – because it will make me feel better.  And just like old times, it does – for a little bit.  And then I feel worse, and the cycle continues.  The red flag here is when I make the decision to do it because, as I literally say to myself, “I just don’t care”.  And that’s absolutely indicative of the problem.  I don’t care, but it’s not the consequences I don’t care about, it’s myself.  I don’t care enough about myself to be strong and intelligent about my choices.  That’s the mental and emotional pattern I have fallen into.
  • Meditation or other quiet, alone time – at my very best, I was actively planning and taking a certain amount of time, every day, to be by myself, to focus on being healthy and joyful and appreciating the positive things in my life.  This is a broad category and includes blogging – which I have nearly ceased doing – actual meditation, escaping for a half-hour or so to the state forest to absorb the peace and beauty there, and a dozen other things I do that just make me feel alive, aware of the world around me, and peaceful.  I was consciously placing myself in a mental state that allowed me to understand and appreciate my own emotions and thoughts, and that confers a huge degree of control over those thoughts and feelings.  Why I haven’t been doing this – this is more complicated, and more difficult to decipher.  The best I can come up with is just a general downward spiral of negativity.  I can’t exactly pinpoint where or why it started, but once it started I stopped feeling like it was worth the time and energy to keep myself focused and in that “zone”, and once that happened I stopped trying, which of course caused my whole mental state to deteriorate further, and so on.  Part of this is physiological and chemical, I recognize – I am flirting with perimenopause, which is playing merry hell with my hormones and neurotransmitters – but I also know that giving in to it has fed that cycle and made things worse.

There’s a lot more I could say – hell, I’m sort of know for saying more on any subject than ten people would say or want to hear – but it all sort of follows the same pattern.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring about myself or thinking I was worth taking time to care for.  The thing is, there’s a lot going on in my life that has caused stress and imbalance, but those aren’t the things that have changed.  There was stress and imbalance even when I was at my best.  Some of that stress was much, much worse than what I’m currently experiencing – and much of what I am currently experiencing has been fed by my own disaffection.  So while I have been blaming my malaise on stress and uncertainty and ill-health and a million other things, the Seeker in me knows that it’s really the other way around.  Somewhere along the way, I lost the thread of self-care and putting myself first, and it has paid off in unhappiness and fatigue and illness and strained relationships.

But there’s an up side.  I know better.  I am more educated, and more self-aware, than this.  I am not the person I have been allowing myself to be.  I need to regain mental clarity, emotional balance, and physical well-being, but that’s okay, because I know how to do that.  I know that it’s not a matter of sitting down and making a plan and setting goals and defining steps and stages.  The O-C, anxiety-disorder-prone part of me wants it to be, and tries to convince the rest of me, but the Seeker knows better.  What it really is, is a matter of taking that first step – every day.  Of caring for myself, of doing the little things that seem pointless or ineffectual but are actually the grains of sand that add up to the mountain that is happiness and stability.  A guest poster on MizFit’s blog related that she began by simply flossing her teeth every day – and it really is that simple.  Never saying, “Oh, it’s just too much bother” to do that one little thing that is good for me.  Never making that choice to be angry and resentful of the demands others make, so that I can use that as an excuse to not do what I should.  Instead, exercising Flylady’s “do it now” principle and just doing it.  Flossing my teeth – or shaping my eyebrows, or hanging up the suit instead of tossing it on the quilt rack, or curling the hair even though I don’t feel like standing there with the curling iron, or putting together the salad instead of saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” when I know I won’t.  Little things.  Every day.  And just putting one foot in front of the other, again and again.

So if there’s a plan, this is it, I guess.  I’m going to start thinking about each choice I make and not letting the bone-deep fatigue influence it, because the fatigue will ebb when I start making the good choices.  I know this, whether my heart can believe it or not, and I am strong enough to do it.  I know I am, I’ve seen me do it…I guess I just forget sometimes.  But in meditation, it is said that even if you spend the entire session doing nothing but bringing your attention back to your breathing over and over again, you have been successful.  Life’s the same way, I think.  It’s not failure because you keep straying, it’s success because you keep coming back.

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Odds and Ends

I’m still trying to get back into the habit of blogging regularly, or at least semi-regularly.  It’s harder than I thought it would be, mainly because right now there is just so much stuff to cram into a day’s time.

I’m writing again, for one thing.  I’m still wrapping up the novel that I’m recreating from the ashes of Thumb-Drive Hell, but I’m also working on another one, because it has taken up lodging very firmly in my psyche and won’t be ignored.  It always amazes me how powerfully it flows when it does flow, and how alive I feel when I’m in that zone.  Some day, I swear, I will be able to do this full-time.  Some day.

For now, though, I’m juggling the writing addiction, work, and home – and home can be a juggling act all by itself.  ED is graduating this year, with all that entails, and YD…seems to be nearing puberty.  That’s all I’ll say about that, but if you know a pubescent girl (or were one)  you know how that can go.

DH is still talking with firms out of state, but nothing’s developed yet on that front.  It still looks as though we’ll probably be moving at the end of the school year.  I’m ambivalent about that.  I am devastated at the idea of leaving my home, the best friend I’ve ever had, and the little niche I’ve made for myself over the past 12 years.  At the same time, it’s looking as though we could be moving back to the area where I grew up, which could be amazing.  I’d be near Mom, we’d be close to where ED wants to go to college…and I wouldn’t be terribly sad to leave my current job.  I’d probably also be able to work part-time, which would give me a lot more time with YD and more time to write.  So…it would be a good thing.  Also, DH would be much happier in his career, which is a very good thing.  It will still be a wrench, though, and the prospect of the whole transition is stressing me out.

I’m also focusing a lot on nutrition and exercise.  There are fewer and fewer items in my kitchen without the word “Organic” on the label.  I’m still struggling with that, though, because I’m really fatigued a lot of the time.  Some of that is the PA, of course, but most of it isn’t.  Most of it is residual fatigue from medications or just cortisol overload, and I am fully cognizant that if I get into a good, regular exercise routine, some of that will go away.  I just need the jump start.

I believe I may go to the cabin this weekend, just to get away from everything for a couple of days.  If I do, I can possibly catch up on some sleep and spend the rest of the time writing.  DH has encouraged me to do this, which I find somewhat marvelous, I have to say.  He’s a good man.

Right now, I’m going to go put together tomorrow’s meals.  Organic* steel-cut oats for breakfast; salad with all-natural free-range chicken breast for lunch; organic* cheddar cheese, raw pecans and organic* grapes for afternoon snack.  And lots of water.   For dinner, I think I’ll put some kind of bean soup in the crock-pot.  And tomorrow night is Flash Forward, so I’ll plan to spend at least half of that time on the treadmill, and the other half doing strength.  It’s a start.

(I’m watching a LOT more TV lately, too.  Flash Forward, V, The Biggest Loser (of course!), and Ghost Hunters.  Thank God for the DVR, that’s all I can say.)


*I’ll tell you what:  from now on, let’s assume everything’s organic unless I state otherwise, shall we?  It’ll save some typing.  🙂

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The Verdict

I finally saw the rheumatologist today and got a diagnosis.  Not rheumatoid arthritis, but psoriatic arthritis.  The two are so similar that it’s very difficult to diagnose one versus the other, absent certain signs.  My rheumatoid factor test and my CCP test were both negative; also, some of my joint pain is not symmetrical – in other words, some joints are affected on one side and not the other – and I’m having more pain with larger joints, versus smaller.  All of those signs point more toward PA than RA, so that’s the tentative diagnosis.  We’re repeating the blood tests – these are a few months old – and doing some x-rays to determine how much damage is present, but the verdict is pretty much in.

It’s not a bad verdict, really.  The doctor doesn’t see much indication of damage – pending the x-rays – which is good news.  My range of motion is still excellent in nearly all cases, which is also good.  Right now, he’s told me we don’t need to start methotrexate or even go to prescription NSAIDS; I can continue to treat with OTC anti-inflammatory agents, unless and until we start seeing damage and/or the OTC meds aren’t controlling the pain well enough.  So for now at least, no real changes to my lifestyle beyond those I’ve already made – i.e., cleaning up my diet and trying to settle into a moderate exercise program that gives me all the benefits without putting too much strain on my joints. (That’s a work in progress, but I’m learning – for instance, squats?  Great.  Lunges?  Hell, no.  It’s a learning process.)

It’s funny, though.  When you start looking at a serious change to your physical condition – one over which you really don’t have complete control – I think it makes you pay a little more attention to what you’re doing with your life.  It’s not quite like a diagnosis of a terminal illness – this isn’t going to kill me – but it’s along the same lines, I guess.  If I have a limited amount of time to be able to do whatever I want, it becomes more important to figure out exactly what I do want.  I don’t want to waste my years of being able to type easily, typing legal pleadings and letters that really mean nothing much to me.  I want to spend them writing, making every word count, making every phrase mean something more to me than the mere sum of the words.  If I am not always going to be able to run, then I want to spend my “running years” running around the yard with my kids, not running on the treadmill.    Et cetera…ad infinitum.

It also puts other things in perspective, I’ve noticed.  The number on the scale has ceased to have much meaning for me at all.  I know that I need to take some more weight off, but my reasons have definitely changed.  Now, it’s got very little to do with how I look or what size clothes I wear, and more with the fact that fat cells produce cytokines, so the more I have, the greater my risk of inflammation.  Losing weight and shedding some of that fat could positively impact my condition.  Gaining weight, on the other hand, would definitely negatively impact it.  So weight is an issue, still, but for very different reasons.   And I’m more concerned with how I’m eating in terms of what I’m putting into my body other than food; in other words, “clean” has become much, much more important to me than it ever was.  In a way, this has helped me progress toward the real goal I always had – being able to see food as fuel and a building block for my body, rather than having some emotional connection or attachment to it.  I’m not completely there, but I’m definitely closer than I ever was before.

It’s been sort of a wake-up call.  Much of the frivolous nonsense on which I fixate daily has ablated, and I’m left with some serious contemplation of my inner geography, both in a physical sense and in a metaphysical sense.  I need to figure out what’s important to me in life, so I can make the most of it while I’m still fully functional.  That way, if at some point in the hopefully-distant future I am left with nothing but sitting in a wheelchair and contemplating my navel, I’ll have some amazing memories and a sense of real accomplishment and fulfillment to contemplate, rather than resentment and bitterness and a feeling of being cheated.

Whatever I decide to do, I want to be able to do it with all of me, with my heart and soul and every ounce of joy and enthusiasm in me.  That is the rule I want to live by.    And starting now, I’m going to try.

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