Things women deal with (NaBloPoMo day 5)

Tonight I’m once again so exhausted that I don’t know how I’m going to write my daily post. It’s nearly 9 PM, I’ve been working on a few different posts for hours, and still I have nothing ready to publish. My brain is pretty much fried. I had an unusually busy morning and my energy level never recovered after I got home at 2 PM. I thought I would have plenty of time to rest and recuperate before heading to the gym at 8 PM, but the downtime didn’t have the desired effect. I’ll get back to boot camp tomorrow night. Funny enough, sitting here typing on my laptop seems just as difficult as the weight training I missed. I don’t want to rehash my post from two days ago, but I do want to be transparent about how much more challenging NaBloPoMo is for me now than it has been in years past. I’m still going to see if I can complete it!

In order to make this post slightly more interesting I’ll tell you about an incident that happened to me last night. I was in my car on my way from boot camp to the grocery store because I had a craving for cereal. Not the best thing to eat after a workout, but probably not the worst either. I was waiting at a red light in one of two left turn lanes and digging around for something in my purse. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the car in the other left turn lane inching forward so that their passenger side window was aligned with my driver side window. I had a gut feeling that whoever was in the car was being a weirdo so I deliberately didn’t look in the other car’s direction. I wanted no part in any shenanigans. Under normal circumstances both cars would have gone on their way without any interaction when the light turned green, but unfortunately for the state of our society these days that’s not how this story ends. Suddenly the person in the car next to me honked their horn. I finally glanced in that direction to see what the ruckus was all about, and I saw a male driver smiling broadly at me. He leaned as far as he could towards my driver’s side window and shouted, “Smile!” He also pointed at the corners of his lips, which were still upturned in a Joker-like grin, in case I wasn’t familiar with the facial expression he was demanding from me. Yes, you read that right. Some man decided to use his car horn (generally employed to indicate automotive distress) to inform a random woman in a separate car that she needed to look happy for his benefit. In what universe is that acceptable? And yet, this is a situation that women face on a daily basis. It’s absolutely ridiculous. In that moment, tired and sweaty, I had never been less inclined to comply with a man’s request. All this dude got was an exasperated eye roll and my middle finger extended in his direction before the light turned green and our brief encounter was over. I wish I could have given him a piece of my mind along with flipping the bird, but I didn’t get the opportunity. So if you’re of the male persuasion and happen to be reading this post, please think about how you interact with women to make sure you fall into the same category as this jerk!

Dino Dash 5K (NaBloPoMo day 4)

Yesterday morning I desperately wanted to ignore my alarm when it went off at 5 AM, even though I had taken full advantage of the extra hour of sleep afforded us by the end of Daylight Savings Time. I even went to bed relatively early on Saturday night because I had the Dino Dash 5K Sunday morning in Irvine. It’s a much larger race than the School Ghoul 5K last weekend so I had to factor in about 25 minutes of drive time and some parking difficulties when I arrived. After turning off my alarm I seriously debated going back to sleep, but I registered for this race for a reason. I know that I need motivation if I want to run more. With my low energy levels there’s no way I’m going to lace up my running shoes on a random weeknight, so races are necessary to get my rear in gear. Plus, my endurance is in the tank these days so running even a few miles is painful. A race at least offers the accomplishment of crossing the finish line, and usually a medal too. I need these proverbial carrots to get me moving in the right direction (rather than back to the fridge for a some leftover pizza). It’s demoralizing to look back and remember how much easier running used to be for me, but the only way I’m going to get better is if I put in these painful miles first. So I reluctantly turned on my bedside lamp at 5 AM, threw off my covers, and started getting ready for the Dino Dash 5K.

The race itself was really fun. I didn’t appreciate the uphill portions of the freeway overpasses, but their downhill counterparts were great. My finish time for the 5K wasn’t anything near what I would call impressive – maybe not even respectable – but I ran 3.1 miles more than I would have otherwise. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t miserable either. Progress! I hope that this is the beginning of my journey back to half marathons, and perhaps marathons (Disney World 2021), because I sincerely miss them. Not only do I love challenging myself, but there’s also the social aspect of running with friends and strangers who are meeting the same challenge. The medals are great too! I know that getting back into this hobby/habit will be extremely beneficial to my body as well. I’m not in terrible shape thanks to my gym membership, but my cardiovascular health could definitely use some improvement. (And don’t even get my started on other aspects of my body that are less than optimal right now.) I’m headed to boot camp tonight at 8 PM so that will help not only boost my physical well-bring, but also my mental well-being. That’s the number one reason I need to run more often. I have more races in a couple of weeks and I really need to break in a new pair of running shoes by then. I’d better get started!

First challenge (NaBloPoMo day 3)

It’s only the 3rd day of November I’ve already hit my first hurdle of this blogging challenge. It’s only 5:30 PM so I theoretically have plenty of time to write and publish a post before I go to bed, but I’m completely exhausted. And I’m not just talking about a little sleepiness. I feel like I have a weight inside my head that’s pressing down on my brain. That’s the best way I can describe my fatigue. This weight makes my eyelids heavy and my thoughts sluggish. If not for my stupid restless legs I could very easily lie down and pass out at a moment’s notice. (Trust me, I tried to nap this afternoon since I had been awake since 5 AM, but my legs were not having it. I’m running on many, many ounces of Coke Zero right now.) None of this is exactly conducive to producing blog posts that I’m inclined to publish. In fact, it’s taken me multiple hours to finalize even this single paragraph. I’m just so weary. But for now I will attempt to soldier on. Maybe tomorrow will provide more suitable circumstances for writing something of substance!

Halloween 2019 (NaBloPoMo day 2)

I had a busy Halloween considering how low my energy levels are these days. The only thing I’ve been able to do consistently while on medical leave from work is exercise. I have managed to attend boot camp classes three to five times a week for the last few months and it really makes me happy. (My runs have been few and far between, however, but I’ll write about that in another post.) I still have a long way to go in my fitness journey, but I definitely feel stronger after three months of weight training, even if my dress size hasn’t gotten any smaller. Although I don’t like the number on the scale right now I am trying to have a positive attitude towards my body in its current form. It’s not easy! Getting back to the story, I was determined to get to the gym on Halloween, but I had to go at 9 AM since my usual evening class was cancelled for the holiday. As you can see in the above photo, my gym buddy and I had matching floral skeleton outfits from INKnBURN. She even brought flower crowns so that we could enhance the effect. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays so celebrating it this way was really fun. The workout itself was pretty difficult, but at least I started the day by doing something healthy.

I had plans to meet my BFF and goddaughter for trick-or-treating at 5 PM. After an egg sandwich for breakfast and a post-gym shower I attempted to take a little nap to replenish my energy stores, but my stupid restless legs had other ideas. I may have dozed for half an hour or so, but my twitchy legs did not allow any more than that. (I know it’s my brain causing the muscle spasms, but sometimes I daydream about a leg transplant that will fix my PLMD.) I knew that the long drive to/from my BFF’s house, as well as several hours of Halloween celebration, were going to be hard on me, so I took half a dose of my stimulant medication to ensure that I wasn’t dead tired before even arriving. (I use the stimulant very sparingly to get me through events that demand a lot of energy, but it’s a band-aid rather than a long-term solution to my constant fatigue.) Trick-or-treating with my goddaughter’s Girl Scout troop was a lot of fun. Safely guiding about ten girls from house to house to gather their candy while trying to avoid anyone getting left behind was quite the balancing act. I’m really glad I got to share the holiday with my goddaughter, though. It was the most human interaction I’ve had in months (unless you count Disneyland), but it was very draining. By the time I got home I was fading fast. My nighttime medication generally requires about two hours to take effect, but I somehow managed to pass out in about half that time. You know I’m exhausted when even leg spasms can’t keep me awake! The next morning my gym buddy and I were planing to go to the 9 AM boot camp class again, but neither of us was up for it when our alarms went off. I ended up sleeping very late to recuperate from all of the Halloween festivities. Still a fantastic holiday!

Happy November!

Ah, good ol’ November 1st. Historically the day I kickoff my contribution to (the now defunct) National Blog Posting Month. November is traditionally National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the weblog community started their own version in 2006 (NaBloPoMo) where bloggers endeavor to post new content to their sites every day of the month. I accepted the challenge several times during my more prolific blogging days – some years being more successful than others – but extenuating circumstances have kept me from flexing my writing muscle too much recently. Of all my hobbies that have fallen by the wayside since my health began to decline I miss running the most, but writing is a close second. I love the creative outlet blogging provides, but it demands energy that my mind and body don’t always have to spare. Like I’ve said before, fatigue affects every area of my life, and writing is no different. Also, no one has ever said there are too many hours in the day, so finding time to consciously devote to blogging (rather than aimlessly browsing the interwebz) isn’t easy. I have been reading a few books lately that I hope will help me get back in the habit of writing everyday, but I haven’t put any of the ideas into practice yet. No promises, but I’m going to try to use NaBloPoMo to kick-start my blogging habit again. We’ll see if it works.

P.S. November 1st is also the Day of the Dead – better known as the day after Halloween when kids are sleep deprived because they stayed up way past their bedtime trick-or-treating. I figured on this 11/1 post it was appropriate to include a photo of me with my BFF and her daughter from last night. Aren’t we adorable?

What I learned today

This morning my alarm went off at 5:30 AM. This would be ridiculous for most Sundays these days, but today I was trying my darndest to make it to the School Ghoul 5K in Los Alamitos. I have missed so many races in the last couple of years due to my poor health, and every time it happens I feel a little bit worse. My near constant fatigue has gotten in the way of just about everything in my life, no matter how hard I struggle against it, so I try to gain ground whenever and however I can. Fortunately this morning was a win. I successfully got out of bed at 5:30 AM and got ready to leave for the 5K. It helped that this race is small and local (Los Alamitos is not far from my house) so I wasn’t facing a long drive or difficulties with parking or crowds. Also, it was the only Halloween race I had any real chance of participating in this year, and I had a whole outfit planned for the occasion. If at all possible I was not going to miss this 5K.

I arrived at the race start line plenty early, picked up my shirt and bib, and walked back to my car to put on sunscreen. I had 50 minutes to spare. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t brought my GPS watch with me. Or my headphones. In fact, I had forgotten all of my running electronics at home. Is it obvious that I haven’t run a race in almost two months? At first I remembered that I have a spare set of earbuds in my glove compartment for just such an emergency, but then it hit me that my phone hasn’t had a headphone jack since 2017. So no help there. Facing the prospect of running 3.1 miles without my usual playlist was so daunting that I decided to rush home and grab the items I needed. If you thought getting home and then back to the race would be the most difficult part of the morning you’d be wrong. That part was pretty smooth! I got back to the race start with a full 25 minutes before I had to run, so I thought I was in great shape. Then I tried to set up all of my electronics.

Fortunately my interval timer is stand-alone so all I had to do was clip it onto my pocket. The watch and headphones proved to be more of a problem. Last month when the iPhone 11s came out I went to the Apple Store and took advantage of the newly lowered prices on older models to buy an iPhone 8. My iPhone 7 was slowly dying and it was time for an upgrade, but I didn’t go crazy and buy anything too fancy. Unfortunately, I haven’t run a race since before my phone swap so my Bluetooth electronics had never been paired with the iPhone 8. After a couple of attempts I gave up trying to get the Garmin app to recognize my watch since that connection wasn’t essential for the race, but I really needed the headphones to cooperate. The best part about wireless earphones is the wireless part, but it is also the most breakable link in the chain. No phone pairing = no music. I tried everything I could think of up until the moment the race started, but it was no use. My iPhone 8 and my Bluetooth headphones were just not going to play nicely together. I was resigned to run the race with no soundtrack, the useless headphones tagging along as ballast.

Plenty of folks have told me how much they enjoy “unplugged” running with only the ambient noise of nature and their inner thoughts to entertain them. Today I learned that I am not one of those people. There are two reasons I absolutely need my favorite playlist in order to make plodding along on the pavement tolerable. 1) Running by itself is boring! Without a the distraction of music I lose interest in this particular form of exercise very quickly. It’s monotonous and every mile seems to drag on forever unless I have songs to listen to or friends to talk to. Ideally both. 2) I have difficulty regulating my breathing without the aid of a tempo. I learned this a long time ago I got my first iPod and it completely changed my workouts. While running the 5K today I had to sing to myself the whole time (silently, of course) in order to keep from breathing erratically. It was rough. I was completely exhausted, mentally and physically, when I crossed the finish line. As happy as I was to run the 5K, it was a miserable experience without my playlist. I will definitely make sure all of my electronics are working before my next race!

Carrot soup revisited

I first shared this recipe back in January 2012 because, in spite of my lack of love for carrots, I absolutely adored this carrot soup. I initially tried this recipe due to an abundance of leftover carrots in my fridge and I am so glad I did! It’s easy, doesn’t take long to complete (the prep might be the longest part), and tastes like heaven in a bowl. Plus, my ex-husband really liked it so it was a healthy dinner that was guaranteed to make him happy.

A few weeks ago a couple of close friends and I decided to do a soup swap. We would each make a few different soups and give them to each other for easy lunches or dinners to accommodate our busy (and sometimes medically difficult) lives. One of the requests was for vegetarian and vegan options, which isn’t my usual fare, but I was willing to adapt. In order to maximize my chance of success I decided to simply adjust my current favorite soup recipes to be either vegetarian or vegan rather than trying anything completely new. I wasn’t 100% successful making the final products vegan, but I definitely made some big strides in that direction.

For the carrot soup I substituted vegetable broth for the chicken stock, and replaced the heavy cream with canned coconut milk. I figured because curry was involved in this recipe coconut milk was appropriate, but I really wasn’t sure how it was going to taste. One thing I didn’t swap out was the butter, so this recipe is vegetarian, but not vegan. However, I see no reason you couldn’t simply use all olive oil for sautéing the onions and carrots rather than a combination of butter and oil. I’m sure it would turn out just as good. Also, I quantified the amount of salt and pepper rather than leaving it open ended. I’ve never liked when recipes do that so I made sure to note how much I used this time. Once I finished making a batch of this carrot soup last week I tried a spoonful to make sure it wasn’t terrible. The verdict? It was incredible! Surprisingly so, even. I recommend this vegetarian version of carrot soup even more than the original recipe!

INGREDIENTS:
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 c diced yellow onion (about 1/2 large onion)
3 c (1 lb bag) sliced baby carrots
3 c vegetable broth
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 c coconut milk (canned)

DIRECTIONS:
In a stock pot, melt the butter and heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and saute until transparent, about 5 minutes. Don’t let them brown. Add the carrots and stir well to coat with the butter and oil mixture, adding more oil if needed. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to avoid browning, until the carrots are soft, 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle curry powder, salt, and pepper over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, until spices are very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are completely soft, 20-25 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and, using an immersion blender, carefully puree the mixture until smooth. Stir in the coconut milk (use a whisk if it’s clumpy) and return to the stove over low heat just until the soup is warm. Enjoy!

NOTES: Makes 4 servings (1 c each), but can be easily doubled!

Based on Senegalese Curried Carrot Soup from Serious Eats.

Health recap

“I know this is a temporary state and I that I am strong enough to get through it. Life isn’t always easy, but I’m hoping that it won’t be long before I see the light at the end of this particular tunnel.”
06/08/18 webpage post

I’m on medical leave from work now, which is both a blessing and a curse. For one thing, it has given me way too much time to argue with people on the internet, as you can tell by my previous post. Responding to jerks on Facebook was not the topic I intended to cover upon my return to blogging after a long hiatus! Instead, I wanted to start writing about the reason for said hiatus in more detail. It’s been a long road so far, and I still have quite a ways to go.

I started documenting my health issues in May 2018 after my first sleep study, but the first onset of symptoms was about two years before that. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been suffering in one form or another for over three years now. It’s exhausting in more ways than one. At first I thought I simply had mildly irritating Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) brought on by a sharp increase in the number of miles I ran every week, but it escalated from there. The “twinges” and “shivering” I felt in my legs when I went to bed at night became full-blown cyclic muscle spasms and involuntary leg movements that completely prevented me from falling asleep. It took me hours to get to sleep every night so I was either late to work the next day or severely sleep deprived. When I finally sought medical help the first GP I went to ran some blood work and told me I was anemic and needed to take iron supplements. Even after I told her that I am a carrier for a blood disorder that contradicted her diagnosis she offered no additional options. Fortunately the next GP I consulted was much more helpful. She initially gave me Xanax (which made me feel sick) and then Ambien as a sleep aid. The Ambien put me to sleep very quickly, but I still woke up exhausted the next morning. That’s when the first sleep study was conducted and my case of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) was verified. What a relief that was. After ramping up on a medication for RLS/Parkinson’s Disease I got a much-needed reprieve from my limbs flailing about all night long.

However, my daytime fatigue persisted. As I wrote back in August 2018, “I can sleep all day, and it doesn’t feel like a choice I’m making. I just wake up in the afternoon/evening and feel depressed that I’ve lost yet another day to my poor health.” This wacky schedule was not at all conducive to being a functional member of society. I started seeing a neurologist shortly after establishing my PLMD to determine the right cocktail of medications to help me live a normal life again. Adding a couple of other nighttime anti-seizure drugs to my treatment (Gabapentin and Klonopin) didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but I faithfully took them anyway. Eventually I broke down and took a 3-month leave of absence from work in order to rest and hopefully recuperate. My third and current GP, who is seriously amazing, ordered more blood work during this timeframe to check for autoimmune markers, but none of the numbers were glaringly out of range. So I went back to the neurologist, but after another (Maybe my 3rd? I’ve lost count.) sleep study in January 2019 ruled out narcolepsy he was stumped. Not a good sign. His last ditch effort to restore my energy was to give me a prescription for a stimulant to help me stay awake during the day. And for a while I thought it worked! Every morning I would pop one of these “pep pills,” as I called them, and I felt like a normal human being again. I was elated! Just before the end of my leave of absence I was confident that although I didn’t have a definitive diagnosis, I was ready to go back to work full-time. I was wrong.

Even with daytime and nighttime medications that were supposed to alleviate my symptoms, adding 40-hour work weeks back to my routine practically put me back where I started. My body just couldn’t sustain 8 or 9 hours of work per day, plus regular exercise, and all of the other stressors of daily life. Even increasing the dosage of my stimulant by 50% wasn’t enough. I was struggling to do the things I absolutely had to do, and I was missing out on just about all enjoyable activities due to my extreme fatigue. Basically, I was miserable. It was hard to explain to my friends and co-workers without sounding seriously depressed, but I felt like a useless human being. I love my job, but I wasn’t pulling my weight there and it killed me. Then outside of work I wasn’t adequately taking care of myself or my home environment due to lack of energy. All I wanted to do was sleep for days, and even then I didn’t feel any better! It was so hard not to beat myself up for these failings, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. If I had a choice I would certainly not choose to feel this way! Eventually I reached my breaking point again and took another leave of absence from work, and that brings us up to the present.

The bottom line is that something is wrong with me and I have to figure out what it is. I am suffering from some sort of difficult to diagnose chronic illness (or illnesses) and someone, somewhere will be able to help me treat it. I just need to find that particular doctor or facility. So far I’ve been out of work for two weeks. While it’s been such a relief to be able to sleep when I need to and as many hours as I need to, I am starting to feel disconnected with the world. I am lacking a purpose. I’ve been working on finding some comprehensive medical care while I’m on leave from work, but I don’t have anything definitive set up yet. It’s hard to get much done when fatigue is your constant companion. It’s a struggle, but I know I’ll find answers eventually. Being positive isn’t easy, especially on the days where I can barely drag myself out of bed, but imagining a future where I feel normal again and can be the engineer, runner, and friend that I used to be is what keeps me going.

Haters gonna hate

Much to my dismay I’ve found someone in the running for my second least favorite person on the internet. It’s another author/blogger/social media presence whose publicly-shared beliefs are in direct opposition to my own. To minimize the length of this post I won’t go into too much detail on this person today, but instead I’ll outline an encounter I had with one of her followers. Unfortunately this author attracts men who don’t have much of an opinion of women. At least not ones who refuse to conform to their own personal standards of how our gender should behave. I think you’ll see what I mean shortly.

I’m going to share, word for word, a comment that one particular man made a few days ago. I can’t remember all of the context that lead up to it, but it had something to do with women having minds of their own. The horror! This guy objected to my questions and decided to go with a personal attack rather than attempting to use his brain and engage in an actual conversation. That’s when you know someone can’t back up their statements. I’ve been called all sorts of names in online discussions, but this dude found my blog, read it for a substantial amount of time, and then crafted a Facebook comment in an attempt to shame me for my views.

I’ll address each of his allegations individually:

  • 40 something feminist (divorced) –> True! I happily embrace all of those labels.
  • Typical post-wall ‘Strong independent woman’ –> Partially true. I had to look this one up, but “post-wall” means past my fertility window. Since I’m not actively trying to get pregnant I have no way to verify this one. As for “strong independent woman,” hell yes this is true! Putting this phrase in quotes is meant to make it demeaning, but I am the living embodiment of all three of those words.
  • Free tax dollar funded college degree –> False! While I did go to college on someone else’s dime, I earned my tuition from the Bright Futures Scholarship, which is funded by the Florida Lottery. Not tax dollars. And how is paying nothing to earn an engineering degree from a highly respected state university in any way shameful?
  • Attacks other women that don’t agree with her twisted views –> False! I simply write blog posts responding to online content that I object to. Isn’t that what everyone on the interwebz is doing in one way or another? My “twisted” views, as this dude calls them, aren’t any less valid because he doesn’t agree with them.
  • Regularly see’s [sic] a neurologist for “brain” problems –> True! It’s no secret that I have I have health issues, and a neurologist does in fact treat brain conditions. Moving on.
  • Pushes ‘equality’ –> True! But with another bizarre use of quotations (the third so far). As if equality is a bad thing. Someone once told me that if you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression. To any men who feel “oppressed” because women are being given equal rights and opportunities, get used to it. We aren’t going away.
  • Gloats about her female privilege on her hate blog –> Maybe? I’m not sure what “female privilege” is, exactly, since women have so many well-documented disadvantages in this world, but there is a possibility that while writing about my life I have unwittingly described some benefit of being female. However, I do object to the “hate” descriptor being applied to my blog.
  • Has self esteem issues / emotional train wreck –> Partially true. Everyone is a mess sometimes and I have written about some of my lowest instances openly and honestly. It helped me work through the trauma of those deep valleys, and hopefully it also helped someone who is going through a period like that of their own.
  • Takes a cocktail of SSRI drugs –> False! One SSRI does not a “cocktail” make, but thanks for playing. I’m pretty sure Lexapro saved my life when I hit my emotional rock bottom a couple of years ago. I felt utterly helpless not knowing the extent of my health issues. I was crying on my couch while texting my best friend, and that’s when I knew I needed medical help. I would shout it from the rooftops that I take Lexapro if it would help normalize mental health issues.
  • Does “retail therapy” for depression –> True! As long I spend responsibly I’m not ashamed of this coping mechanism.
  • Can’t sleep –> Partially true. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping due to my Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), and other times I sleep 20+ hours at a time due to unexplained fatigue. Again, how is this something I would ever be ashamed of?
  • Totally loyal and obedient to her Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex masters, but can’t obey a man –> This one is really reaching and I don’t have the energy to unpack all of its baggage. As far as “can’t obey a man” goes, my former marriage obviously can’t be explained in a few sentences, but I’ll try. My ex-husband wanted me to do everything his way and never complain. I tried. I really did. I wanted my marriage to work so I poured every ounce of myself into making him happy. But it was never enough. He was always dissatisfied. Eventually I realized that I didn’t have to live that way and I divorced him. And out of all of the things in this insipid list, the one that I am least ashamed of is my divorce. Women don’t exist purely to satisfy the whims of men, and no one should be forced to stay with a person who believes that.

So if by some chance this dude manages to find his way back to my blog to do some more “research,” at least he’ll know exactly what I think of him. Nothing.