Two of the best music styles: jazz + classical:
This last line says it all:
. . . what is more important and more difficult is to observe resemblances or correlations between things that on the surface appear quite unrelated.
‘It could be worse’ is was I told myself; however, in retrospect, ‘it’ was pretty bad.
I began getting sick about 3 years ago. At first, I disregarded the warning signs – figured I was just insanely overworked (double major/double minor, working/volunteering/school clubs/activities/interning 70+ hrs/week) and needed to pull back the reins. Mid 2009 was when I began realizing that ‘pulling back the reins’ wasn’t cutting it, and perhaps there was more than met the eye. Despite this realization, I continued to brush everything off for another year or so. Looking back, it was a bad decision, I know. But when you’re in college, insanely busy, and invincible (ha), thoughts like this don’t necessarily cross your mind.
Until about six months ago, I’d feel better one day and horribly worse the next. One month I’d feel great, followed by 3-4 days of feeling like garbage. Such as in that one time last year when I got horribly sick at a hotel in the middle of nowhere Michigan. It took an insane amount of effort to walk down the hall for ice chips and open my laptop to Google the nearest urgent care. You know, just in case.
What does ‘feeling sick’ entail? I have a hard time describing the feeling, but here’s my best shot: It felt like: A. I had been punched in the stomach 947 times & B. My body couldn’t regulate temperature, fluctuating between intense chills and feeling hot/clammy. Sometimes this happened after eating/drinking, other times out of the blue.
When I finally went to the doctor, she pressed/poked my abdomen without finding anything glaring, so she ran a blood test to rule out ‘anything else’. When the blood tests came back clear, she recommended I see a gastroenterologist.
The gastro. recommended an ultrasound as well as a HIDA scan – an imaging procedure that tracks the production & flow of bile from the liver > intestine. You lay on a table as a tracer (a radioactive chemical) is injected. Over the next hour, a gamma camera takes pictures of the abdomen as the tracer passes through the body. From a medicinal/science perspective – it’s a very cool test. From a human perspective – well, it wasn’t painful in the moment, but it did leave me feeling sick for the rest of the day and into the next.
Neither the ultrasound nor the HIDA scan produced abnormal findings, so the gastro. took a stab in the dark, suggesting gallbladder removal, ‘to see if it would help’. I was actually pretty shocked by this, as we had not come anywhere near determining the cause(s) of the issue(s), yet she was suggesting I have an internal organ removed…? I felt like she was treating me like a number/science experiment, which I obviously was not cool with. I questioned the recommendation and her response was: ‘Well then, try eating really well, take care of yourself for a month and see how you feel. Either way, let’s just go ahead and set up an appointment with a surgeon.’
‘Oh, haaiiiil no.’ is what I thought. There was little to no logic behind her recommendation and I already did eat really well *thanks for asking*.
This is more or less what I wanted to tell her:
Instead of the surgeon, I opted to get a 3rd, 4th, 19th, and 437th opinion a la other doctors, specialists, and nutritionists. They all had a variety of interesting theories/diagnosis: Sounds like a peptic ulcer. You were just in Argentina? Maybe you picked up H. Pylori. Celiac. Gallstones. Liver Failure? Leaky gut syndrome. *hot* Ovarian Cyst. Gastric Lymphoma. Gastritis! Hyperthyroidism! Kidney stones! Cholecystitis!
As interesting as the theories were, various tests proved them all wrong.
At this point, let me just say this. Years of phantom sickness is, ummm, not fun. I’ll admit, it was hard going to a new doctor every 2 weeks. It was hard having doctor after doctor completely stumped. It was hard not knowing what was going on or how long it would last. It was hard to feel helpless. It was hard to think about a potential life of chronic pain, of not understanding it, and not being able to manage it. It was hard to be “healthy” on paper, but be dealing with this mystery ailment.
Here’s one thing that helped keep me in check – a quote. Thank you, Haruki Murakami:
‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.’
I kept as much as I could on the DL to the general public, mainly because nothing made sense and there were no answers. There were, however, instances when I did need to offer a bit more detail and well, these moments were the woooorsttt. Why? Because there was almost always a suggestion/
You probably have a gluten allergy. One time I had a friend in college who was allergic to sulfates – maybe you are too. Maybe you’re allergic to wheat. It sounds like you have an ulcer. Awwww *sad frowny face* I hope you feel better soon! You should try meditating. Have you gone to the doctor? What about acupuncture? Maybe you should pray about it. This drink is easy on the stomach – just try a sip! I know of a great body cleanse – want the recipe? I’ve heard acai berries do wonders. How about a multivitamin? Tums!
At first, I always responded with: That’s a good idea, but I’ve already tried – doesn’t work. Nope, not that either. Yeah, I’ve been to a nutritionist and she was stumped. No, I don’t have a stomach ulcer. You’re right, it IS so weird! No, gluten is not the problem; I eat pasta like it’s my job. Yes, I’ve already had a blood test. Etc. Etc. Blah. Blah. Blah…
After a few months, I changed my default response to these magic 4.5 words:
Thanks, I’ll try that.
And you know what? It worked. At the end of the day, all people want to do is help. Of course it’s appreciated; however, the conversations got exhausting. The topic was exhausting, the situation was exhausting, and attempting to explain something that made no sense was exhausting. Those 4.5 words allowed the person to ‘help’, allowed me to show gratitude, and allowed us both to move on.
Solving the mystery.
The doctors weren’t finding anything and I wasn’t interested in medicating symptoms (not causes) long-term, so, I began scouring every last nook and cranny of the internet, searching for anything that could lead me to a clue. My research led me to believe that food allergies could be the culprit; however, because my insurance would not cover food allergy testing (although they would cover an unnecessary gallbladder removal surgery, figure that one out), I opted for the old fashioned elimination method. One by one, I eliminated the common food allergy sources: Lactose, wheat, eggs, soy, dairy, sugar, gluten, etc.
Unfortunately, none of these were the cause.
Plan B: Food journal. Let me say this: tracking every last ingredient of every last food/drink is one of the most time-consuming tasks. EVER. But I did it. During this time, I read anything and everything I could about the gut, digestive system, autoimmune disorders, and honestly all things gastro-related. I scoured article after article after article after article about all things nutrition – the slow food movement, GM food effect on the gut, etc.
What I learned through this research was CRAY.
To spare the details, I’ll simply say this: Once one learns how food is made and the affects of processed food on the body, it’s nearly impossible to stomach (so punny) 99% of the garbage that’s out there. Processed food is full of insane/horribly destructive chemicals that, over time, damage/ruin the gut lining/your entire body. Needless to say, I immediately eliminated anything and everything that was genetically modified. I made Whole Foods my second home and stuck to meals primarily consisting of veggies, fruits, beans & meat. Oh yeah, and the occasional hamburger, ice cream, and/or pasta. Sorry, just couldn’t give that up. (: (…all organic/all natural though, so it’s ok, right?)
Anyway, after a month or so, I analyzed the journal. The difficulty was that my adverse reactions were not consistent; however, I did find 3 trends: alcohol (ALL types, unless the enthanol was cooked out), Mexican food, and synthetic vitamins. So, I eliminated all alcohol, almost completely elimited Mexican food (minus bland stuff – i.e. rice, beans & veggies – just no sauces/spices), and replaced the synthetic vitamins with the vegan/vegetarian versions.
6 months has passed since these changes and you know what? I feel better now than I’ve ever felt.
While yes, I did revamp my diet to fix the problems, I must say that after learning all that I have about food/nutrition, my entire relationship with food has changed. After understanding the affects of genetically modified grossness, it was almost impossible not to. The majority of what I eat now is all-natural, organic, crunchy granola goodness. I’m hyper aware of everything I put into my body, won’t purchase anything if I can’t read an ingredient listed on the label, and cook as much as I can from scratch.
In case you were curious, my opinion of/relationship with conventional Western medicine has also been completely altered by this experience. I’ll let you take a stab at what this entails. Here’s a hint.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
The long and short of it is this: food allergies can take a long time to surface and cause a lot of damage along the way. Basically, food allergies can & do f-up the entire body for a long time.
While yes, discovering & eliminating the main causes of my sickness was a huge contributor to me getting better, it was only part of the whole. A few additional changes I’ve made: regular exercise, sleeping at least 7 hours a night, and not biting off more than I can chew. Might not seem like much, but for me, the collective changes have made a huge difference.
While it took 3 years to sort everything out, I’m finally back on track *knock on wood*. This type of thing doesn’t happen overnight…it’s an arduous process, to say the least. It took many years, many doctors, and (sadly for my wallet) many dollars, to figure out what was up; however, figuring out/fixing the root cause has been nothing short of a Christmas miracle and worth every last penny.
I’m thankful for everything these past 3 years have taught me, and hope be onward and upward from this point forward!
There was a month when I had limited access to the internet about 5 years back. At first this seemed unimaginable (#millennial), but soon after, I felt so refreshed. Without the distractions of the internet, I began filling my time with other activities. Such as reading books. I read so many books during this month. At the end of the four weeks, I felt inspired/rejuvenated and made a pact with myself to keep the reading up, internet or not. Not digital books, not my Google Reader, but real tangible books.
I’d admit, I haven’t been completely consistent with this pact over the past 5 years; however, the past 6 months have been fairly successful. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Paulo Coelho. Be still, my heart.
It’s not too difficult to get caught up in the intricacies of Coelho’s plots and storylines. Thought-provoking is the best way I can describe his style. As a bonus, I checked out the Spanish version, entonces, podria practicar mi español.
While the stories he tells are not all that unique, it’s the way Sedaris tells these stories that make him such a wildly popular/successful author.
Greek school! I’m determined to learn. It’s actually amazing how much knowing Spanish has helped me with Greek. The number of times I’ve embarrassed myself in class by answering a question in Spanish thinking I was answering in Greek, is slightly less amazing.
If you’re a fan of Seducing the Boys Club, you’ll probably like this read. The truth is, the content seems pretty old-timey; however, if you can look beyond the “ring by spring” vibe, there are all sorts of interesting insights into the communication styles of men and women. Whether the relationship is romantic, platonic, professional, whatever, understanding how others work/think/feel/react/communicate is huge.
After Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, I was hooked. Klosterman’s wonderfully dry/witty/analytical writing style hits the spot:
Here’s a new development: I’m an introvert! Actually, I’d better classify myself as an ambivert with far more introverted qualities than I previous had thought. Reading Cain’s book made me realize that I (along with many others) had (have) a skewed concept of introversion. After completing Cain’s book and conducting a subsequent self-psychoanalysis, I saw the following introvert qualities in myself:
- Listening more than talking. Thinking before speaking.
- Caring less about status & focusing on what really matters.
- Enjoying a quiet glass of wine with a close friend than a loud, raucous party full of strangers.
- Careful, contemplative thinking; persistence; sees value in reflection.
- Energized by time alone.
- Not socially inclined.
- Enjoys solitude.
This past weekend I rode the Austin steam train. We rode the Hill Country Flier, which begins in Cedar Park and travels to Burnet. Here’s a picture of the train as we’re waiting to board!
As we were seated, one of the volunteers offered everyone snacks & drinks. The train is run by volunteers – they were all so kind and hospitable, I must add.
Somewhere between Cedar Park & Burnet:
We passed a handful of old Texas towns, such as this one. Only 30ish minutes north, but so very different from Austin.
And P.S. check out the sky. Fall is such a beautiful time of year in Texas. Yes, the summers are insanely hot here; however, when fall arrives and we have 70 degrees temps with sunny blue skies in November…
Al fin, we arrived in Burnet! We had a few hours here to eat, explore, etc.
We had lunch at Tea-licious. I ate a burger. Surprise, surprise. (:
After lunch, we walked around the downtown Burnet square. Again, enjoying the absolutely beautiful Texas fall weather. Each little store had so much character, such as exhibit A:
And, exhibit B:
And exhibit C:
About 30 minutes before we headed back to Cedar Park, they had a little performance/staged gun fight with the Burnet Gunfighters. It was a cute show that had me laughing fairly consistently throughout. (:
After the show, it was time to head home!
On the way home, we were entertained by one of the kindest, friendliest, good-spirited train volunteers. He began with making all of the kids (and many of the adults) various balloon animals, hats, flowers, and swords. He finished with performing a birthday rap for one of the passengers in our car. So cute. Check it out:
Particularly during the final weeks leading up to the big day, I spent time reflecting on what it would have been like to vote before the age of social media? I’ve never experienced it.
Although SM was present during the last election; it’s of course nowhere near what it is today. Perhaps partly due to hesitancy of “sharing too much”, perhaps because the functionality of SM was fairly basic, perhaps because social integrated wasn’t developed into every website, perhaps because at that point, most people did not have a smart phone, and/or perhaps because the presidential candidates did not have Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Have I mentioned that I have an old soul?
Monitoring my Facebook feed during these weeks was a pretty epic ethnographic experience. So many slanderous posts. Petty arguments unfolded via comment threads. I’m not sure if I was more blown away by the insensitivity of the posts, the accusations driven purely by fallacies, or the blatantly incorrect (or at very best, severely twisted) “facts”. It was actually pretty incredible. It was incredible to watch the power people felt when they are able to hide behind a computer screen.
Thanks to this app, I’ve been able to avoid most of the insanity, and instead saw images such as these:
As for IRL political conversations – I avoided these as much as possible. Because I don’t care or because I’m apathetic? No, of course not.
In the political conversations I have found myself in, there was a trend: I asked a ton of questions in order to understand the other person’s perspective. Why do you feel that way? What specifically do you dislike about the other candidate. Can you site your source for that “fact”? How do you think _____ will affect ______. You know, that sort of thing. Most of the times, these questions couldn’t be answered. Another problem I found: 9 times out of 10, the questions about my beliefs and ideas weren’t reciprocated.
What kind of conversation is that?
Here’s how I classify a quality and productive conversation:
- Questions are asked by both people.
- Must be educated on the topics. If you’re throwing out numbers/”facts”, site your source. (No, your Twitter feed and watching the news doesn’t cut it.)
- Must be thoughtful and open-minded about why someone else might think differently. (No, this does not mean you need to agree)
- Must have the maturity to understand the other’s position in the context of their life, their experiences, their beliefs, and their priorities.
As for the debates – no, I did not watch these. I take that back – I did watch the SNL election skits and got a kick out of those. Why didn’t I watch the debates? Well, I make decisions based on research. And on history. And on facts. I don’t make decisions based on who has the best speech writer or who is a more charismatic orator. It really is as simple as that.
At the end of the day, I feel grateful to live in a country where we are able to vote. Where women are able to vote. Where we don’t have to worry about blatant voter fraud.
What do I wish for the future? Educated voters. I think back to my grandparents who immigrated to the U.S. Who had to study and study and study in order to take and pass a U.S. knowledge test to gain citizenship. What if we had the same requirement for voting? What if we required voters to be educated with facts and history before earning the privilege to vote?
I also have dreams of a strong 3rd party.
As for the grand finale, I’ll share two of the most “liked” political updates on my FB feed. I drew some opinions based on these…
I fly in planes. Alot. And although I frequently feel like I am in the air more than on the ground, I still can’t help but love the takeoffs and landings. Why? I love examining city layouts from above. Some cities, such as Phoenix, are one epic grid, while other places, like Austin, have no rhyme or reason to, well, anything.
On a related topic, there’s another something that never ceases to amaze me: the amount of uninhabited land. How/why is it that in some parts of the country we are literally living on top of one another, when just a few hundred miles away is completely baren?
Here’s a picture from our descent into Chicago. From this picture, you wouldn’t know that a massive city is just a few minutes away:
Absolutely gorgeous…fell in love the first time I heard this song. I now have the sheet music and am working on the piece. Could listen to this one for hours…
Another year, another 2 back to back weeks in Kansas. Last year I visited Lawrence & Manhattan, this year I found myself in Lawrence & Topeka.
We flew into Kansas City, MO and ate dinner before making the drive. Chelsea introduced me to one of the most incredible meals I’ve experienced on the road. Who knew brussel sprouts were so mind-blowing?
Downtown Kansas City has character. And cute shops with so much to look at/leaf through/explore.
Lots of driving. Lots & lots of driving. While I generally hate driving, it’s actually not 1/2 bad when driving through unfamiliar territory. So much to take in.