Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Operation Healing: The Float Test

So, I've been healing since I last wrote.  I went to New York City and communed with my yoga tribe and my Guru Sri Dharma Mittra, and came home just...profoundly changed and cracked wide open and feeling like all kinds of healing was happening--physically and spiritually and in every other way.

And then, I was in a car wreck, two days later, on May 22nd, and my back was pretty messed up.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept teaching my classes, kept doing my thing. I added in a chiropractor into the mix.  I'd never gone to a chiropractor and was pretty skeptical --but as often happens in my blessed life, I found the exact right person with the exact right technique--something called Active Release Therapy which went a long way to healing my neck, even though my lower back was still talking to me. Sternly.

And then I fell down in my driveway.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept... doing... my thing,

Until, you know, the Universe decided that since I hadn't received the message I was supposed to receive when it was bouncing me off of things, it was going to up the ante.

Something gave way in my lower back last week.

I could not teach my classes.  I could not do my thing.

But get this: I am not letting it faze me!

Recently, as part of my ongoing research into all things nutritional, I read this article. In it, it said,

Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ 

I started thinking about that.

[Also, as an aside, can we not stop animal testing? If you want to recreate "behavioral despair," I can think of a zillion ways to create it using humans.  Have subjects stand in the endless line at Torchy's Tacos after many unsuccessful attempts to call in a to-go order. Exactly how long will a person with low blood-sugar stand in line behind the couple who define PDA before throwing up his/her hands and leaving? That happened to me recently and seriously, the guy in front of me was rubbing his girlfriend's ear like she was a Labrador --and that was just the start of their antics. BUT I DIGRESS. (Poor mice.)]

For me, ever since the Pain Years, whenever I've had some sort of physical setback --usually injury, although sometimes the FULF flares up --I have gone directly into PANIC MODE. It's a weird kind of PTSD --the one that says if I stop moving forward, I will lose the ability to do so. Like there's some finite amount of pain-free days I have and if I stop to heal or rest, I will be back on the couch again.  See you in three years.

So, what I think happens is that I swim and swim harder, and eventually, I find a way to climb out of the cylinder or I get lifted out.  I never do reach "behavioral despair."  Because I've  been there --heck, I LIVED there for a long time.  And nothing is as bad as that.

So, that's the good news.

The bad news is the panicking part --the EXISTENTIAL Despair. I go there after about, oh, five minutes.

Except for this time.  This time, I just decided not to do that. Even though I can't do the physical practice of yoga right now, I can focus on the other seven limbs. And I received instruction from Sri Dharma Mittra himself to concentrate on my meditation and pranayama --because stress is a bigger killer than low back pain.

So.

I'm focusing on that for the next while until my back is healed.  I'm working on the whole practice, including eating an anti-inflammatory diet. And I'm trusting the Universe to handle all of the other fears that I have about losing my practice or my business.

This is all new ground for me, and is perhaps a much better test than the "Float Test." I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Seeking Balance and Health

I am really struggling right now. Yesterday was momentous --but I'm not sure if it's good or bad.

For some time (the better part of a year,) I've been fighting some undiagnosed malady. I had this really debilitating, crushing fatigue coupled with periods of intense joint and muscle pain. My mental acuity seemed compromised --I felt like I was in a weird brain fog. My food intolerances have increased --I'm kind of down to certain vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Granted, I've been under a lot of stress for reasons I can't detail here, and that's probably been a factor. I thought maybe I had some sort of adrenal fatigue or leaky gut or, my biggest fear, some kind of rheumatoid arthritis or Fibromyalgia. (I limited my visits to Dr. Google.)

But I was still battling something. I went to a lot of doctors and eventually, after a lot of research and dietary experimentation (some of which was really helpful and improved my condition,) I found a Functional Medicine doctor, who is simply amazing and brilliant and who ordered a bazillion tests trying to figure out what was going on with me. I met with her yesterday and got the results of some of those tests.

As most of you know I am vegan--I don't partake of any animal products. I try not to say too much about that, because I am as weary of the sanctimonious attitude on both sides of the vegan/non-vegan issue as you are. This is a very sensitive thing for me to talk about because every time I talk about it, somebody is offended thinking I'm judging them for eating meat. OR I get attacked by the vegans for not being vegan ENOUGH. (I eat honey. I have leather shoes.)

I'm vegan mostly because I don't want to eat anything I can't kill myself. (This leaves me with an animal protein diet of mosquitoes--haven't learned how to catch and release THOSE yet.) I'm also vegan because my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that it is the first tenet of yoga --that our compassion for animals must extend beyond our pets.

But please hear me: this isn't have anything to do with anyone else but me and my choices and my path. I'm not sitting in judgment of anyone else. One of the two people I made inside my body is a total carnivore and I don't think less of her.  I LOVE her--as she is. I ate meat at various times in my life, too. I'm no longer really cooking meat for her, and she accepts that and is understanding. There will come a time when my house is meat-free --but I'm not pushing her out the door to get there.

Unfortunately, what I learned yesterday is that my body is breaking down. Some people thrive on a vegan diet. I am not one of them.

My cell membranes and mitochondria are severely compromised. I have epically low levels of Omega 3s, of Coenzyme Q10, weirdly high levels of calcium (which is not what you want --high levels of calcium in your cells means your cell membranes are weak,) super low B-12 levels. Given my growing list of food intolerances, I cannot get enough of the things I need to regain my health through my current diet.  My doctor is urging me to find an animal protein that I can eat, and to at least begin taking fish oil.

So, I'm really struggling with what to do. I am not vegan for health reasons, but if my health continues to decline, I will be of little service to humankind and I think (pray) that I have something to add to the collective good in the world. On the other hand, I do not think that I can continue to follow my Guru while knowingly ingesting animals and animal products. He is very clear on this subject. "You cannot make progress on the path to enlightenment if you are eating your animal brothers and sisters."

It's not only Sri Dharma's teachings. I don't want to eat anything that I can't kill myself and I am morally opposed to killing any sentient being. I think it would be hypocritical for me to eat animals killed by someone else. I know a lot of people who think you can honor the animal you are eating and be grateful for its nourishment of your body. I know farmers and ranchers who raise animals for slaughter and do it in the most humane way possible. I read one woman's account of her farm and in it she said, "We give them wonderful lives with lots of space and good food and then they have one very bad day." I just don't think I can do it and live with myself.

So, I guess that's the choice before me.  Either I am true to my ethical and spiritual beliefs, or I concentrate on regaining my health. I'm in a lot of pain over what to do.

Now that I've slept on the issue, and processed some of my fear and feelings, I've decided that I have to give it one more big effort to find health without eating animals. I'm going to get really scientific about my diet --learn as much as I possible can about the nutrition involved in what I'm putting in my mouth and seek as much counsel as I can to find the highest nutritional density supplements and food. I'm probably going to add fish oil as part of my diet, since the vegan version wasn't having much effect on my low Omega 3s. I know that's hypocritical --I'm trying to think of it as a compromise.  Next week, I am going to the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC for my annual immersion back into my spiritual home.  I will talk to my mentors there and seek their wisdom.

I'll keep you posted.  Please be kind in your comments, I am really struggling.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finish Messy, but Finish.

I'm finishing up my third successful round of the Blood Sugar Solution's Ten-Day Detox.  I've attempted this probably twice as many times as I've successfully finished it, mostly because I know how great I'm going to feel when I get over the hump of detoxing, but I'm not always stubborn enough to stick to it.

I've decided that's the key, really: Stubbornness.

And also?  I have to set aside the perfectionism that eats away at me when I slip off the wagon, even the tiniest bit.  The last time I attempted the detox, on Day 3, I accidentally ate some sweet potato soup, which is not on the plan. And I just. Couldn't. Go. On.

So I made myself a cup of coffee and had a piece of chocolate.

Game over.

These days, I am trying to repeat a new mantra: Finish messy if you have to, but finish.

Convincing myself of this has been a life's work, but I'm starting to think it's the secret of life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The house is gonna be so quiet..."*

On Wednesday, we had to say goodbye to The World's Worst Dog Ever.

We're sadder than any of us would have predicted.

It's been a week, and the house is so quiet, it's almost eerie. It turns out that after almost 11 years, when people walk in the front door, I expect to hear some barking. Even if it's at me after stepping out to throw some water on a plant.

His decline was swift, and as most things Scout-related, really expensive. He began vomiting after meals at the beginning of March.  We took him to the vet, had an ultrasound that revealed two large masses on or near his liver, one of which was creating a mechanical blockage to his stomach. We tried surgery, which removed the tumors and his spleen, but he just... couldn't recover.  He just couldn't catch a break, you know?

On the day he got his stitches out, he fell out of the car hard and tore a tendon in his back right knee. Then he developed a tumor on his tail (which grew so fast it split the skin and was the single grossest thing I've ever seen,) and an eye infection and some kind of fungus on his nose and then...he stopped eating.  All of this between March 3 and Wednesday. Poor old dog.

And then, after about 8 BILLION trips to the vet, and almost as many dollars, on Wednesday, it was just really, really clear that he was suffering, and he wasn't getting better.

So, we decided to let him go, and we prayed for peaceful passage.

As has been detailed many times in this blog, Scout was incredibly car sick, and not the best patient at the vet's office anyway, so we decided it would be the most loving thing for him if he could be at home. Our good vet gave us the name of a mobile vet who would come to the house. The only time she could come on Wednesday (and she rearranged her schedule to do it, which is just so kind) was at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Which meant the girls would be home.

When Sydney died, they were much younger and I didn't see what could be gained by them watching her die, but with Scout, I felt like it should be their decision.  Both girls took the news harder than I would have thought. Ziggy elected to be present the whole time.  Jane poured her heart into a letter to her boy, and then decided she just couldn't bear to be there while he died.  (She came back for the simple ceremony we held a bit later.)

The vet gave him a fast-acting sedative and, although he couldn't bring himself to lie down because of that leg, eventually he fell into Coop's arms, and the vet administered the next drug.  We put our hands on him, and when his heart stopped, we felt him leave.

It was very peaceful, and it was the merciful thing to do, and we're all just a little bereft without him now. It's just really strange how much of a presence he was in our crazy family.

Rest in peace, Scoutie.  You were a terrible, terrible dog, and we miss you something awful.




*Ziggy, on hearing the news.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I'm Breaking Up With Traditional Medicine

Dear Traditional Western Medicine,

Our relationship is no longer working for me. I think it's time we see other people. We have evolved in different directions, and I find that our relationship is becoming unhealthy for everyone.

And honestly?  I think it's you, not me.

I know that I have to thank you for the many things you brought into my life. I've been on thyroid replacement for more than 30 years now, and that's allowed me to function.  The fact that you never explored why I might be hypothyroid when it doesn't run in my family and I was only 19 years old registered, but since we were managing the symptom, I never thought much about it. I am grateful for the two c-sections I had which allowed me to produce these spectacular and stubborn teenagers of mine instead of, you know, dying during childbirth. I appreciate the fact that you're so good with broken bones. If my appendix ruptured, I'd be knocking on your door.

But remember the reconstructive foot surgery in 2007? I'm pretty sure this is about the time we started to go off track, although it might have been in my 20's when I had hammer-toe surgery and the doctor never noticed the abnormalities in the REST of my foot. Or it might have been the exercise physiologist I went to in my mid-30's when I couldn't run anymore who never even x-rayed my foot before pronouncing that I had something called "lateral impingement." The treatment for that did nothing to actually restore my ability to run, but the orthotics meant I could walk pretty fast and I did that instead.

Then, at the age of 42, I couldn't even walk. My deformed foot was not your fault and I honestly think you did everything you could to try to help me, reconstructing the bones that had eroded, and attempting to fuse them. But something went wrong during that surgery, something you couldn't explain through your Western Tradition.

The chronic daily pain I was in was so excruciating, it deserves its own paragraph. I was in that pain for three years.

Three years is a long time when you are living fifteen minutes at a time. I kept trying to find answers. I had a wonderful podiatrist who was really trying to help me. I had second opinions. I worked with an internist. I saw another doctor, who prescribed anti-depressants that had an effect not unlike a lobotomy. When I tried to describe how disconnected I felt and how my life was unraveling due to the effects on my body of the constant stress of pain and that drug, he brushed me off, discounting my symptoms. (I did note the proclamation posted on his door that he received money from the Big Pharmaceutical company who made the drug.)

But see, that's my whole issue with Cartesian medicine--with YOU: why is it that if you can't figure out what is wrong with me and how to treat it, then you assume that I must not actually have those symptoms?

Maybe I could have forgiven all that. Because I know you're only taught so much in medical school. But what is unforgivable is that you never once suggested I look outside of your tiny paradigm for true healing. You were treating some of my symptoms, barely, but you never made the leap to suggestions that might lead to actual healing.

Dude, didn't you take an oath about that?

So I blundered my way into yoga and acupuncture and I found miraculous healing. And as I began to make other changes in my lifestyle, I found radiant health.


And now, I have to admit, I met someone else.

Someone named Functional Medicine. As I began to do more and more research into the effects of diet on the body, I kept coming across Dr. Mark Hyman, whose work really resonated with me. Dr. Hyman is a pioneer in the world of Functional Medicine and wow, it's just sexy as all heck. It just makes so much sense that we start to look at our bodies as entire systems, not disparate parts! Granted, I haven't actually MET Functional Medicine yet. I have a blind date--er -- appointment on March 11 with a local FM doctor. We'll see how it goes.

But this isn't really about the new guy, anyway. This is about the way you're not meeting my needs, nor the needs of the people I love. You can't seem to hear me, Traditional Western Medicine, and you you sure as heck can't seem to SEE me.


I believe it's our birthright, every one of us, to find radiant health.  And unfortunately, as long as I am in an exclusive relationship with you, I'm pretty sure that can't happen.


I hope we can still be friends,

Barb

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ushering In a New Half Century

So, I turned 50 on February 19th.

That's a pretty big birthday, and I celebrated in a pretty big way.
Vegan carrot cake--my favorite.  (I didn't have a "5 "candle, so that's 48 plus 2!)

I'd been thinking for a long time that I wanted to thank people for sticking by me during what I think of in my mind as the Great Transformation. After the pain years, as I made my way back into the world, I found a new way of being in it that is more closely aligned with my fundamental self. The (probably) alcoholic Party Barb has given way to a teetotaling, vegan yogi who would rather talk to you about things spiritual than go to happy hour. Who would rather talk about composting than go shoe shopping. (Well, okay, that's not new.) Who isn't going to sit down and eat wings and watch football --not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just not for me. I'm just different now.

Change is hard, not only for the person working to change, but for the people who have to find a way to adjust to the changes. I really wanted a way to say thank you to those people who understood that this was less of a choice and more of a calling, and who showed up so big in supporting me.  Part of the cognitive dissonance of moving back to Austin was coming back to our old life as a different person. It's had its moments of discomfort and loss, and it's had moments of discovering new, meaningful friendships with familiar faces. I am just so grateful for the willingness of most of the people in my life to see this new me and accept me with wide, open hearts. I am really blessed.

So, we had a big party at the house on February 19th, the actual day. It's hard to describe how much it meant to me. It was...

I just...

I will live for a long time on the joy of that night.

I wanted a way to honor some people and entities who played a role in my journey. We collected donations for the Capital Area Food Bank, which was the first place I worked in the non-profit world after college, which I think was a precursor to living a life of service, although I didn't know it then. And we had Whole Foods do the catering because Whole Foods has been instrumental in the enormous dietary changes I've made. I'm not sure how you can be a gluten-free, sugar free, caffeine-free vegan if you lived in a town without a Whole Foods. (Well, I know it can be done. Maybe I would have risen to the occasion and actually, you know, COOKED SOMETHING or something really outlandish like that.)
Photo by Ian Nadas

We were lucky enough to have Darden Smith play a house concert. If you don't know Darden's work, he is an amazingly talented singer/songwriter, and a fantastic storyteller. Also, a genuinely nice guy. He created a program called "Songwriting With Soldiers" that speaks right to my heart, as you might assume given the story of my dad. Anyway, having Darden play seemed like a great idea to this introvert because I could get a lot of the people I like best in one room, but not actually have to figure out what to say to anyone! Win/Win.

Darden himself has been instrumental on my path because about four months after we moved back to Austin, we were lucky enough to see him at a house concert (which is where I got the idea) and he said something that I've carried with me ever since. He was talking about how at some point he realized that the life he was living didn't look anything like the life he THOUGHT he'd be living, but that it was exactly the life he was SUPPOSED to be living.

Um.

WOW.

I could relate.

So I saved the yoga money and was able to have him come play. His concert and the whole evening were everything I could have imagined and more. It was just magical. I wish you all could have been there.

And then, my lovely Ziggy (the artist formerly known as Ana and then Katherine) worked up The Adventure Song on guitar as my present. Years ago, the girls and I dubbed the Indigo Girls' song "Get Out the Map" our Adventure Song. We played it for every single trip that could have remotely been considered a possible adventure--from going to the grocery store to driving across the country. I have heard this song, conservatively, about 64 million times and each time, when it gets to the line about, "I'm going to love you good and strong while our love is good and young," I smile. Every. Single. Time. Because my loves are good and young.

Here's the moment as Coop caught it on video.  A little messy, a little raw (for a song I've heard that many times, you'd think I would know the words,) but a moment that will be forever etched right into my heart.