Trying Again

Starting new things are hard.

Building a routine of new things is harder. :/

I suck at building routine, largely because I don’t like having my time scheduled. It makes me feel trapped and unhappy. Sometimes I think that was why I didn’t do my homework in high school – my day was so regimented (as school requires) that when I got home, I just needed time to be free.

My physical therapist really, really, REALLY wants me to build a routine. It’s easier to exercise, after all, if it’s simply a part of the routine. We won’t know if my hip can handle regular life if I don’t get routine movement in to test it. And exercise IS the one thing I tend to be able to routinize. But how do I do that when I don’t even have a “normal” day’s schedule?

So, I’m trying again with my 2-weeker. Starting over, since I didn’t manage more than a day of the last set.

5/13 – 5/26

Starting tomorrow, this is my goal set:

  1. Get up at 9. Do absolute best to pull back bedtime to match. (The difficulty with changing my bedtime is largely because of anxiety – it peaks about the time I *should* be going to bed, which keeps me awake.)
  2. Go to the gym at 1:30 every day.

That’s it. Simple. Easy. One to think about in the afternoon, one to think about at night. Everything else is frosting.

(I’ve also added PT for my neck in the hopes of dispelling these awful headaches that have plagued me for three weeks recently, and five weeks at the beginning of the year. I will be rolling those stretches in with my hip stretches. Hopefully the stretching before and strength training after will simply fall into place once I get solid on the gym…)

Diagnosed

For years, I’ve had all these symptoms, things that make life harder than it should be. They started in my mid-twenties and then got steadily worse after having a baby. Hair thinning (and growing places it shouldn’t, like my chin). Heat intolerance. Random weight gain. Really hard time getting rid of fat once it’s here. Mood swings. Weird reactions to not eating or eating the wrong thing, seemingly without pattern. I was told at one point that I was heading down the road to metabolic syndrome, a collection of cholesterol problems that lead to heart trouble, only to have the symptoms clear up with no help from anyone (even me).

When I discovered my thyroid was enlarged six months post-partum, I thought for sure that had to be the answer. I had a host of symptoms, both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. Except my numbers kept coming back normal. I had a functional medicine doctor suggest I wasn’t converting thyroid hormones quite well enough, but it wasn’t a big deal. “Just take a few supplements to support your thyroid and it should improve.” Except I didn’t have the money for expensive supplements.

Three years later, my symptoms are still here and my numbers are still normal. My thyroid is broken, but apparently functions normally. And yet I still can’t lose weight via exercise. (I did manage to lose 11 pounds in three weeks last month, thanks to not being able to eat more than oatmeal and rice, but that’s…you know…extreme. Definitely not sustainable.) I had some success last fall with dietary changes, but the second I stopped restricting my calories it piled back on.

Today, I was diagnosed with PCOS – PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. My ovaries don’t work quite right. They produce too much testosterone, leading to a rollercoaster of hormone pcos symptomsimbalances, chin hair, and thinning hair on my head. In bad months, it also hurts a lot. It makes my cycle screwy, painful, heavy, and full of PMS issues. It likely contributed to my difficulties delivering my son as well as getting preeclampsia. It’s linked to insulin resistance, so my body probably doesn’t use sugar right. It’s also linked to metabolic syndrome, which explains the wonky cholesterol levels over the last ten years. 80% of women with PCOS are not just overweight, but obese. Like me. That insulin issue really does a number on how the body deals with food. It’s linked somehow to vitamin D, which I’ve also had trouble with. It puts me at risk of diabetes later in life as well as heart disease.

And I am THRILLED. Existing as a woman who works her ass off without her ass ever shrinking was doing horrible things to my sense of hope, self, femininity, and just my general life outlook. But now I have an answer. I have new understanding of my body and its needs. New things to try. And, best of all, I’m not crazy. Or lazy. I legitimately have a physical limitation. That is HUGE.

Unfortunately, the best thing for treating PCOS is weight loss. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, is stupidly hard. They can treat the testosterone and the hormone imbalance and the insulin issue, but they can’t actually treat the problem. They can only mitigate the fallout with medication.

Not great.

However, there are lots of doable things in the naturopathic community to try. New ways to eat, foods to incorporate, lifestyle alterations I haven’t tried before. Most of it focuses on low-sugar, unprocessed foods (like most naturopathic diets…). Some say no meat. Some say paleo. The midwife I saw suggested a plan called Fit 21, the nutritional plan that goes with BeachBody. While she was talking about it, I was like, “Hey, that sounds just like Blogilates, except with portion-controlling containers.” And lo and behold, when I started researching I discovered that muscle mass is important in insulin regulation, too. They suggest HIIT workouts, specifically. You know what else has HIIT? Cassey Ho’s PIIT program. You know what else was telling me that strength training was the way to go? My intuition over the last couple of days.

I also happened to move up a level at physical therapy today, before the appointment that diagnosed me. She put together a program for me to use at the gym, since my hip flexors and adductors are feeling much better. It’s got cardio, flexibility, and strength training (the latter two just for my specific issue, but still). We are now on once-every-two-weeks PT schedule.

Synchronicity. It’s a beautiful thing.

So. I’m changing up my two-weeker. Starting tomorrow, this is my plan:

  1. Build a daily routine around my gym/exercise time (1-2:30pm).
  2. Start getting my head back in the clean eating game.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Two things to handle: Going to the gym, thinking about food.

There are guidelines to shoot for within those two things (the headlines are still the most important parts, though):

  1. Hit the gym 3-4 times a week, starting slow.
    1. 15 minutes on the treadmill with a 5-minute elliptical bout, and building stamina from there (also careful to make sure it’s not aggravating my hip).
    2. In the floor work area, I will follow up with my lower-body stretching PT (side-to-side hip rocking stretch, half-kneeling flexor stretch, and bridges) and some basic stretches for the rest of me.
    3. Then I will hit my PT training (resistance clam shells, squats, and resistance side steps).
  2. On days I don’t go to the gym, I will pull out my mat and do some Pop Pilates that works my upper body and core. That will be followed up with stretching.
  3. 1 day a week, I will take an “off” day that is singularly devoted to flexibility.
  4. Start cleaning up my food.
    1. It doesn’t have to be perfect for the first two weeks. I can take my time to set up a meal plan, guidelines, etc., and to research specific PCOS/hormone-balancing foods.
    2. Definitely will start with cutting out cheese and bread, two things that I know are hard for me to digest properly (and which, with my continued tummy troubles, generally make me feel really yucky).
    3. Experiment with flavorful alternatives to Sprite. I really only drink water and Sprite anymore, and artificial sweeteners are murder on my intestines while tea tends to trigger my GERD. So…somewhere out there, I know there has to be a low-calorie alternative that doesn’t cost much of anything. This first two weeks will be used to find it without sweating still drinking pop.

My main goal – and my PT’s main goal for me – is to get a routine underway. Routine is tremendously difficult for me. I don’t really know why; just haven’t ever been good at it. The one thing I *can* do – and happily – to a routine is go to the gym. So I know I can get that down pretty easily. Set aside a specific chunk of time every day that says, “This is my exercise time,” and keep it sacred. I’m hoping that helps me build outward to include the rest of everything I need to get done every day that I generally tend to blow off.

Stress reduction is also going to be a huge part of the plan…eventually. It also impacts insulin and hormone balance, and I generally only have a couple of months every year when I’m not hugely stressed (usually summer). So learning how to cope better and calm my body are important. However, I proved yet again that throwing too much into my 2-weekers pretty much guarantees I’ll forget. For this first bout, I’m sticking with my two things.

I’m dragging the spousal unit with me, too, at least until he has other things to do with his time.

Hooray for knowing what’s wrong so we can move toward solutions! ❤ ❤

Back to Baseline

After almost two months of health issues, concerns, monumental levels of anxiety, and sitting in bed, I’m finally ready to get back up and move! Fight! Be the me I want to be!

Unfortunately, those seven weeks with all their bloodwork and doctor visits and lounging around for sanity’s sake left me all weak and limp. I’ve been going to physical therapy through it, and my PT tells me that I’ve maintained my muscle and flexibility in the hip/thigh area, so there’s that. (Yay for small wins!) But I have practically NO stamina. Worse, there have been a few times where exercise made me feel like I was going to pass out. I don’t know if it was actually the exercise, or if it was an unexpected and unnoticed panic attack, or if it had to do with my stomach and antibiotics. Which pretty much means I’m afraid to leave the house. But I make myself do it anyway!

Still, I obviously need to work back up to my baseline. Stamina, strength, balance. To that end, I’m going to start my 2-weekers again. Basically, I separate my time into two-week-long challenges that are small, simple, and straight-forward.

For the rest of April, my 2-week challenge is this:

  1. Walk a little every day with the spouse, just in case the pass-out feeling returns.
  2. Keep up my PT homework.
  3. Meditate each night.

The first two weeks in May will likely look like this:

  1. Walk at the gym for 30 minutes 3-4 times each week.
  2. Keep up PT and add a short Blogilates video 3-4 days each week.
  3. Meditate each night.

I’ll probably up my time to 45 minutes and add the Pop Pilates beginner calendar after that, but it depends on how I’m feeling.

For now, my motto is going to be: Gentle return, calm spirit.

Revised Goals

You know all those goals I posted before?

Forget them.

I just read a wonderful health journey post by a man who used a more Eastern approach to lose 100 pounds and get healthy. Immediately, my heart responded with, “Yes, this, REMEMBER??”

The scientist in me likes data I can track. Quantifiable numbers. Trends. Patterns. They’re important. But I am not, by nature, a by-the-book sort of girl. I am intuitive in my body use and my habits. I track patterns by observation of non-quantifiable data as easily as I do with numbers. The difference is that the “professional” weight loss/health improvement plans are seductive. They make promises, like “do this and you will feel better!” And “don’t eat this, and you can be happier!” And, the one most likely to knock me out of my groove, “You will have company and social support if you just do what we do!” The intuitive track is by nature a solitary one, and I get so excited about not being alone with all my efforts that I hop on band wagons even though deep down, I know better.

Hope is a powerful thing.

But none of those hopeful promises ever pan out. I’m not someone who’s always been fat, or anti-exercise; someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing. I’m not someone who loves food so much she finds it hard to give it up. I’m not your “average” American go-getter. Rewards don’t work for me. Streaks do nothing for me.

What does work for me? Me. Mindfulness. Paying attention to my body and doing what I can do. For me. Without tracking it. Without comparing it to some arbitrary plan. No calendars, no systems, no “this is what you should do.” Just me,  doing what feels “right.”

So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going back to my 2-weekers. I will try something new for two weeks, keep to it, and then if I don’t like it or it doesn’t feel right, I’ll try something else. If it does work, I’ll keep it and integrate a new thing for 2 weeks.

My central goal for the short-term: Stress release.
Gentle movements. Stretching. Breathing exercises. Meditation. Anything that will promote the release of all this stress I’ve built up is what I’m going to do. No competition. No challenges. Just experimenting with ways to make my body feel softer, looser, and more movement-friendly.

My medium-term goal: Lower my blood pressure.
I won’t be able to trust myself to do work with weights or any up-and-down movement until I stop having such significant BP spikes. This will come about through my short-term changes.

Long-term goal: Be ME in MY body again.
Healthy, limber, strong, agile, and able to enjoy my own self!

Starting Goals!

Ultimately, my goal is of course to feel good, be healthy, and be the best version of myself I can be.

That’s not exactly quantifiable, though, so I’m going to be setting goals that allow me to feel successful as I make this journey to a well me. This first set is made up of somewhat random targets, both long-term and short-term, until I can figure out how well I can do right now.

  1. Blood Pressure: 120/80
    I’m going to make that my primary target for now. I don’t know that I will ever be able to control it, but I can decrease it. Exercise helps a lot. Diet will do better. Clean it up, cut it out, and make healthy choices! 120/80 is the clinical “normal,” and climbing 25 points from there, while not exactly good for my veins (or brain), is at least not in the “Am I going to die from this pressure in my head?” region.
  2. Stamina: 30 minutes on a treadmill at 20-minute/mile
    I might already be able to do this – I haven’t tried lately. I can’t go much faster than that because of my hip flexor/pelvis issues. But sustaining it is doable.
  3. Leg Strength: Move up to 80 lbs on ab/adduction machines
    Short-term, as I’m already at 60 lbs.
  4. Arm Strength: Pick a program and stick with it for two weeks
    I really like working my arms. But I don’t want to use the weights at the gym for fear of straining too hard and increasing my BP too much. I have a hard time working out at home because my MIL is always in the main room, and I’m too self-conscious to get a good workout. So I need to find something I feel comfortable doing in all ways.
  5. Cardio: 45 minutes at sweaty speed on the elliptical
    I could do this before the holidays, back when my BP had gone down. I stopped using the elliptical in November because of my hip trouble, so I want to move back into that (hip permitting – I start PT soon).
  6. Weight: Finish shedding initial 10%, to 235
    I started at 261 last year. Chucked 5 pounds in two months through exercise. Plateaued. Chucked 6 in dietary changes in November. Gained back 4 or 5 of those over the holidays. 235 is my post-pregnancy stasis point as well as the 10% weight loss that is recommended as a bare minimum for health improvement.

That was my doctor’s suggestion today, too. Unless the cardiologist finds an underlying cause for my orthostatic hypertension, the best I can do is lose weight and control my salt intake. So here we go!

A New Beginning

I spent several hours in the ER last night. It wasn’t anything super major – I was mostly worried I was anemic or dehydrated enough to pass out, and it seemed a better option to go to the ER than to pass out at home and require an ambulance. They hooked me up to all kinds of machines, gave me some IV fluids, drew some blood, x-rayed my chest. All to tell me that there wasn’t anything diagnosably (is that a word? Hm…) wrong with me.

This happens to me a lot. For a long time, I believed, as they (and my mom) always implied, that it was all in my head. I know better now. You know, now that lots of things have gone wrong with me. (Like the thyroid condition that finally grew large enough that hands could feel it, even though I had been complaining about it for six years with “nothing wrong.”)

Last night was one of my better experiences. Best of all, it finally gave a hint at something I’ve been experiencing since 2009. I have orthostatic hypertension. Basically, my blood pressure is fine and dandy…until I change positions. Then – for some unknown reason – it surges to levels that are uncomfortable. Lying down last night, it sat at its usual 136/82. Sitting up, it jumped to 145/83. Standing, 164/90. A normal body increases slightly as blood vessels constrict to raise the blood to the head. My body apparently freaks out and throws all its blood upward at a hard, throbbing pace. At its worst when I was pregnant, it gave me tunnel vision on standing. (Unfortunately, I didn’t know that was a thing back then, and I didn’t report it to my doctor because she had a nasty habit of telling me that my problems were just “because you’re pregnant.” I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia instead, and to this day I don’t know if I actually had it, or if my blood pressure issue was just getting worse.)

So far this year, I’ve had one week wherein my head didn’t ache all day, every day. I don’t know if that’s my blood pressure, my diet, my neck (it hasn’t been right since I hit my head last May), or what. We finally have state-covered insurance (bless you, taxpayers; you are going to make my life livable again!), so I intend to get to the bottom of it. The headaches, and everything else.

As far as I have read, there’s nothing to do for orthostatic hypertension, at least until they find an underlying cause (and there might not be one). However, it’s still hypertension. My resting BP – 136/82 – isn’t a great number to start with. That, I can do something about.

To be completely honest, my stress level is ridiculous. (Living with in-laws, trying to figure out how to redefine my life, get divorced, deal with past emotional problems and current anxiety, and my husband lost his job on Monday.) My diet was great back in November. Now…now it’s mostly sugar and salt. All the things I was doing right to manage my anxiety went poof as if they hadn’t been at all.

I’m not taking care of me.

This blog is my official declaration to the world that I am changing that, starting right now (as I take my allergy meds).

Starting tomorrow, I’m ditching the excess sugar (goodbye, Sprite!). I don’t care how much my in-laws bring into the house, I will not eat it. I may not be able to better control my food until our tax return shows up so we can buy our own food again, but I can do that much.

I am exchanging my daily outdoor walk (now that the pollen is too explosive, which for some reason exacerbates my BP issues) for Vitamin D capsules. I’m not sure yet what I will pick up to give me quiet, reflective, freedom-of-the-outdoors time, but I’ll find something.

I am seeing the doctor tomorrow morning, which I hope will be the first of many appointments that will lead to answers. If she is not cooperative enough, I’ll find a new doctor – social phobia issues can take a hike. I will get referrals for GI, orthopedics, PT, and ENT, and actually go to them. I will also actually contact my old doctors and consolidate all my records. I’ve been really worried about that.

I will think outside expectation, and figure out a way to do my work without killing my body. Whatever works, works. No more excuses!

But I will also be nurturing to my body. Not only what I put in it, but how I use it. A lot of my reticence in doing things like yoga and pilates comes from my orthostatic issues – any change in position can be massively uncomfortable, bordering on scary (my head throbs, my ears pound, my eyes hurt – it all feels like it’s going to explode when at its worst). I don’t want to push through it (no strokes for me, thanks), but I don’t want to do nothing, either. So I will be finding activities and experimenting with things that worry me. Because if I don’t try it, I won’t know if it’s a problem or not! And about half the time, I end up doing nothing instead.

Next up: Goals!