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The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38º F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

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The Good Hurt After The Bad

Last summer, when I was having abdominal issues that are now thought to be related to a hernia from torn surgical scar tissue, I figured rigorous abdominal exercise was off the table for a long time. I was right. Activities such as pilates, carrying heavy items, running, and even walking too far were painful and exhausting.

In the fall and winter, I started taking my dogs for long walks out of necessity when we’d moved and had no enclosed yard. I had a little weariness in my joints and muscles toward the end, but I was also taking them for hour-long walks in 23F/-5C temperatures several times a week and not eating enough.

At the beginning of this year, I bought a house that had an enclosed pen, and ever since then, I’ve taken the dogs on zero planned walks (does chasing down a dog in the rain at 11 on a Sunday night really count as a walk? I can’t find that activity anywhere on MapMyRun) and took myself on one long walk before the weather started going all wonky. Seriously, snow during the first week of April? As a Kentuckian, I have only seen such things before while playing Oregon Trail.

A cartoon parody of an Oregon Trail screenshot.

Congratulations, weather. I have died of ridiculousness.

I took several months off from physical activity of any kind at the beginning of this calendar year when I was working 65-plus hour weeks. My  job has slowed down quite a bit, but I haven’t ramped up my activity. One-and-a-half pilates workouts in a week’s time do not a ramping make. But if I can make it several sessions a week, I’ll count that as a re-engagement in physical activity.

A chirpy host was leading a pilates workout I stumbled across on one of my long mornings last week, and I figured I might as well make the most of this easily accessible workout, since I’m paying out the wazoo for satellite service anyway and had nowhere to be for an hour and a half. I’m old hat at this stuff, so it should have been easy. But I sometimes forget that when you haven’t worked out in a while, your body’s not as flexible or as strong as it once was.

Roll-ups were once so easy; surprise crunches, now saturated with disappointment and with an odor of failure, were all I could manage. I regretted the side kick series toward the end of the first leg’s workout.

And let’s not bring up the modifications I had to do. With wrists that require braces and special keyboards, a knee that has worn a brace during most workouts over the last 8 years, ankles I bought hiking boots to support, and a shoulder that sent me to physical therapy, there were some exercises I just could not do. Thread the Needle was off the table. Anything related to planks and push-ups had to be done with bent knees and a small towel supporting my weak left knee. Sometimes, it feels useless to even pretend to try those exercises, for the net good they would do my body. In fact, several years ago, I made .mp3 files out of my favorite pilates routine so I could listen to them on my phone and exercise anywhere, and while making the files, I specifically edited out any exercises that were beyond my physical limitations.

Everything that I could physically do, I did, or at least tried. I remembered to bring in my weightlifting gloves for my next session to make working out a little easier on my wrists. And I have the little towel on standby, ready to cushion my long-suffering knee when I have to put any weight on it.

As I was driving home from work the day of my second workout, I felt a little abdominal pain. But it was a good pain. It was the sting of aching muscles complaining that they haven’t been used in a while. It felt very different from the sharp stab and lingering nausea that indicate something is physically wrong, and that you should probably skip eating for the next month. I was happy to be able to hurt that way again.

Cool Rural America

So I moved across the country and left my little fitness blog untended for a long time. Apologies!

My life and lifestyle have both changed quite a bit. I moved from a state of hot, intemperate summers to a state with four distinct seasons, most of which are conducive to being outside whenever you want. I went from the south end of the Great Plains to the foothills of Appalachia. The move took me from the tail end of a hot, static summer right into the beginning of autumn and a month and a half of gorgeous changing colors and comfortable temperatures.

I mean, yeah, sometimes it’s chilly and wet, and you just want to be wrapped in blankets with a beloved pet sleeping in the crook of your arm as you work on the crossword puzzle. But as long as you’ve got proper clothes and gear, you’ll be ok going outside to be active.

Unfortunately, when the weather first got chilly, I didn’t have the proper wardrobe to endure the climate. Like, at all. And when I had to go out in it no matter what my t-shirt collection was guarding me against, I knew I was in for a bad time.

Since there’s not a yard for the dogs to run around in at the new place, my boyfriend and I walk the dogs several times a day. We make a loop around the neighborhood, taking the gravel road that runs behind the house out to the main drag and back up a gentle hill. It’s a little less than a half mile circuit, and I take it at least twice a day, sometimes more. It’s great to be getting so much exercise, as it helps me maintain my weight, boosts my cardiovascular fitness, and helps me bond with the dogs. It also allows me to keep an eye on all the different kinds of disgusting things the dogs sniff out and try to eat.

I know I was striking in the early mornings walking the dogs in my pajamas, sneakers, and fleece bathrobe, but sometimes, you’ve got to get a little more intentional and a little less accidental in what you wear when the weather’s really rough or you’re not acclimated to temperatures below 80F.

A diptych of a woman holding two dogs on leashes, two different outfits

Out for walkies. Left, before winter clothes shopping. Right, after winter clothes shopping. Both depict attitude at being dragged outside by the dogs at 6:45am on a morning when I don’t have to work.

To guard my extremities and not-so-extremities from the chill, I went clothes shopping and picked out a bunch of thermal sweaters, some comfy workout pants, several new hats (I LOVE HATS), and a couple of pairs of gloves. My boyfriend also got some flashlights to make walking the dogs in the dark a little safer (the gravel road is traveled by cars fairly regularly and not lit by streetlights).

I feel much better prepared, physically speaking, to take the dogs out to do their business in the cold now that I can dress the part. I think I’ve got a long winter ahead of me, but if I can just keep adding to my wardrobe and bracing myself for wind and rain, I’ll more than enjoy being outdoors this winter. And I know next summer is going to be a lot more awesome. If I ever get too cold, I can just think about the summer in Texas when we didn’t have air conditioning for two months.

A Stranger’s Clothes

I went clothes shopping again, and I’m still not used to this newish size. My weight has stabilized at around 165 pounds, but clothes shopping for my current body is still something I’m learning how to do; a couple of months at being at this weight have yet to displace 10-plus years of knowing by sight what will fit a U.S. size 16-18 butt.

Oh, my sweaters. I’m 35ish pounds down, and most of the sweaters I bought when I weighed 200 pounds now look clownishly outsized. TJ Maxx yielded three long-sleeved shirts. I shopped in their size Large racks for the first time ever. I’ve never been down to a size Large since I was employed enough to have disposable income.

A red, black, and gray color-block sweater

A commanding sweater, suitable for warding off the frost of deep space. TJ Maxx, if this hadn’t been fifty American dollars, I would be wearing this right now. I don’t care if it’s still 90 degrees in Texas… it would be my number one.

I found some adorable, inexpensive t-shirts at Target while swimsuit shopping, so I bought a properly-fitting top that isn’t a solid color v-neck (this is progress). I was at Target to buy an end of season swimsuit, since the only suit I have is – surprise – condemned to the box with the rest of the charity clothes, guilty of the crime of looking like a deflated grape on my person.

A cartoon of an unhappy woman in a baggy one-piece swimsuit

My grape-colored swimsuit has seen better days and better fit. Let’s not talk about it any more than we have to.

My purchases got thrown into the washer and dryer with a small load of other stuff, and as I was folding some of the pants I hemmed a few weeks ago and adjusting a shirt on the drying rack, I found myself wondering, “Jeez. These go through the hot water wash by accident? Did these jeans shrink? What about this t-shirt? They don’t look big enough to fit me.” I brought the folded pile of clothing to my closet to put them away, then wound up trying a couple of items on just to check. Yeah, they’re fine. These aren’t a stranger’s clothes – this is just a stranger’s body I’m living in and shopping for.

I saw a photo progression linked from Reddit’s Loseit community: a woman’s photographic journey down 160 pounds. One of her quotes from the article struck me: “I remember the devastation of not recognizing the person reflected back to me in the mirror.” I see my unrecognizable reflection in the clothes I pick out to try on even now. I am still alarmed at how small they seem to my eyes, and I have yet to trust anything I’ve learned from my limited clothes shopping efforts since February.

Of the 5 items I brought into the dressing room at Target, I only held onto one of them – a pair of shorts that I could fit into, but that I wasn’t sure I’d still be able to wear next summer; a swimsuit top, which was a size 16 and underwired, but still too small for my boobs and in need of strap alteration before I can wear it in public; swimsuit bottoms that fit perfectly; and two t-shirts that I got in a size too large. I almost bought the tees, but they were just too big. I’ve got a policy of not buying clothes unless I love how they make me look, and they just didn’t cut it. I could only find the next size down in one of the t-shirt designs. I can order the other shirt online if I’m desperate.

I’m surprised at myself that I picked up the larger t-shirt sizes first, but when I saw them on display, looked at the cut of the smaller garments and compared them against the shirt I was wearing, I thought, “There’s no way in hell.” Especially after a week of ok eating except for the going-away-party cake and cupcakes I ate so much of during one of my last days at my old job.

A yellow and black Batman logo cake. Written on cake, "Good luck with your poisonints."

Holy baking pans, Batman! This misspelled cake could be a clue from the Riddler! Who cares, Robin, this thing is DELICIOUS.

But here I am, kind of rocking the new stripey t-shirt, ready to wear it to training for my new job. Added bonus: my old button-up shirts are no longer “wear over a tank top and don’t button” shirts, but “you can totally button* this!” shirts.

*still have to use a safety pin to avoid gapping, because that’s how life is.

Side by side photos of a woman modeling shirts

These are my super serious fashion blogger poses I whip out only for special occasions, like weeknights.

I’m not the perfect size, but I don’t think there is such a thing. I’m not my best me yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve got to get to know this new body’s sizing quickly, though, as I move toward a start date at my new job, where I’ll be required to dress like an adult in nice, well-fitting clothes. At least the selection will be larger and more flattering than the shapeless horrors of plus size business casual, but that’s a rant for another day.

Take The Stairs

My abdomen is mending, so I’m going to start taking the stairs again. You should, too!

I work on the second floor of a building equipped with elevators. The elevators are right off the lobby, so it’s so easy to walk in, say hello to the security guard, and glide into an elevator. You have to walk halfway through the building to get to either set of stairs. Out of sight, out of mind. Even though the elevators are prone to malfunction, and my coworkers and I are pretty sure they’re going to eat us one day, force of habit over many years led me to take them all the time, whether my knee hurt or not.

A cartoon of a woman standing before an evil, toothed elevator

The elevators are frequently taken out of service for maintenance. I wonder why that is? Could it be… could it be all the bones?

Back when I was 40 pounds heavier, walking up stairs sucked, because my knee was under more pressure and more prone to hurting. I’m so glad that my doctor’s food lifestyle change has worked out for me as well as it has, because I kind of missed stairs, which sounds weird, I KNOW. My grandma’s house, where I grew up, had stairs that went straight up, then wound back in a semicircle, and when I was a kid, I’d take them two at a time once my legs were long enough, playing counting games and trying not to touch the floor 13 times on my way up. What can I say, we didn’t always have a Nintendo.

I started taking the stairs for a challenge on the Slimkicker app a couple of months ago. Good for points, and good for my body, and once I got into the habit, it was so easy. I only walked up a flight of stairs a couple of times a day, but since I do such little cardio otherwise, I got a lot of benefit from it. Plus, the back exit of the building leads to a decorative tree area where I can walk out into a bit of nature to defrost from the frozen tundra that is my office during the warm months.

Photo of glass double exit doors for an office building

Exit near the stairs – portal to a few minutes of lunch respite, or to the end of my work day.

Since I stopped taking the stairs, I’ve not replaced it with any other form of exercise, and I have begun snoring again. I can’t help but think the two are related.

When your knee is borked, do you want to take the stairs? Understandably, no. When your abdomen is healing from surgery or from torn scar tissue, do you want to take the stairs? No, no, no. Ack. Related question: do you want to just never move again and never test your body’s healing process, just opting out of using body parts as they break down, and get less and less fit? Um… no? I guess not?

I remember doing my favorite pilates workout for the first time several months after my 2010 gallbladder surgery. I don’t know if my discomfort was more physical, stretching muscles that had healed but hadn’t really been worked very hard, or mental, thinking about what could go wrong, imagining worst-case scenarios, as I’m apt to do. I got through it, though, with the thought that hell, I did a fundraiser walk two months after going under the knife, why am I afraid of twisting around on a mat on the floor?

Your body heals and rebuilds itself if you feed it properly and if everything is working correctly on a chemical level. The hardest aspect of restarting a workout routine after you’ve had a surgery or an injury is mental, and there are two sides of the same coin: overdoing it too quickly because you think you can do more than your body is capable of handling, and you wind up reinjuring yourself, or you are so afraid of experiencing that pain again, of aggravating the soreness of a sore spot, that you avoid exerting it at all. There’s a middle ground to be found through both listening to your body and having the courage to try, no matter what you’ve been through.

With that in mind, I think it’s a bit too soon to get out my mat and throw on my favorite pilates DVD. My healing abdomen needs another few weeks, occasional twinges of pain reminding me that I’m still knitting back together. In the meantime, I have vowed to take the stairs – slowly and carefully – as often as possible, unless my body tells me to take the elevator and ice down my abdomen.

So: being more cardiovascularly active, potentially improving my snoring, strengthening my leg muscles for walking or running endeavors, and using those abdominal muscles – benefits of the free mini-workout my office makes available every morning, if I’d just make myself get back into that habit. Better than trusting my body to the man-eating elevators.

Am I Eating Enough, Grocery Psych-Out Edition

At my recent doctor’s appointment, he asked me whether I was eating enough. This was a comment on my lethargy and my abdominal issues, of course, because I was there for my mystery discomfort and loss of appetite that he was not completely able to diagnose. But his question has given me pause over the last week and a half. I’ve been reflecting on the change in my eating habits as well as the way I select groceries, and I’ve decided I need to lighten up a little bit and get more creative rather than give in to exasperation and despair.

Toward the end of every work day for the last week, I took one of the muscle relaxers the ER prescribed to me for discomfort. Friday was tougher, for some reason, the discomfort blossoming into pain. I went home from work at my regular time, opted out of dinner, and got into bed at 7:30, where I remained for much of the following 12 hours. The next morning, I was not hungry. Again. I was weak, though, and I knew I had to eat something, so I made myself a breakfast scramble of eggs, ham, and cheese.

Breakfast didn’t cut it, and I had some steamed vegetables for lunch. To my surprise, I was still hungry a couple of hours later. Not at all to my surprise, though, I didn’t want anything we had in the house. I have hardly gone grocery shopping for the last 3 weeks, and the pantry and fridge were bare of my staples – carrots, snap peas, macadamia nuts, other things that were easily snacky for me. All the eggs went into breakfast, too.

So I went to the grocery, moving more slowly than usual and pausing in the aisles to catch my breath at times, looking over my grocery list on my smartphone while eyeing the goods in search of something new or special for myself. Many foods I rejected on the basis that they were grain-based or contained vegetable oil, since they’re not on my current diet. I remember being disheartened by the soup aisle, with so few lower-carb options and nothing that fits in with my doctor’s current guidelines.

A cartoon of a woman pushing an empty grocery cart, scorning groceries

The story of my life will be released in serial.

My eyes alit on chicken stock – which my brain translates as “chicken juice;” thanks a lot, brain – and I picked up a couple of cans of that. Maybe I will throw it into a pot with some frozen vegetables and make a soup, add in some cauliflower that’s been “riced” (shredded with a fork to resemble rice), add spices. That seemed more appealing than further disappointment from reading labels.

As I perused the endless canisters of peanuts and cashews, I found a cranberry-almond trail mix with pepitas and raisins. I looked at the sugar content and almost didn’t put the bag in my basket.

But then, I thought about the fact that almost no food is appealing these days. Chicken is always appealing. Vegetables will be eaten automatically, and I love the crisp fullness of cold plants with their little vacuoles full of water. Mmm, crunchy science. Everything else on my plate is begrudgingly eaten. Most cheeses are mentally rejected before I even prepare my to-go lunch in the morning. Even my favorite dessert of frozen berries isn’t working for me; I ate a third of the portion I gave myself after dinner last night and put the rest back in the freezer, where I fear I’ll have to confront it again tonight.

Back to that trail mix: I used to have a cranberry problem. I’d buy bags of them a week, which would be eaten within a matter of days. They’re delicious, but they’re naturally sugary, and depending on the brand, they have sugar and oils added to them that aren’t good for your diet. The trail mix I picked up was low on additives, even if it did have a little bit of sugar from the fruit. “And even if it isn’t perfect,” I thought to myself, “what else am I really eating right now? Eggs? Chicken? Vegetables with virtually no calories? Anything else at all?”

I realized that I was walking a fine line. I both shut down foods that I don’t want to eat because they’re not in line with my diet and eliminate foods I don’t feel like eating… and that leaves me with fewer and fewer options, to the point where I need to get creative to make lunch sound appealing again so that I don’t get yet another fast food salad (so easy to do), so I do get enough calories in a day. I need to start counting my calories again and, if I’m not eating enough, hold myself accountable for a number that’s at least over 1,000.

For breakfast this morning, I had an energy bar, apple juice, and hard-boiled eggs. My lunch is raw blueberries, raw carrots, button mushrooms, a tiny hunk of Baybel cheese, and a marinated chicken breast. And I have two ounces of the cranberry trail mix in a baggie to serve as a snack. I’m consuming more sugar today than I do usually, especially with the juice (though I read the label and saw there was no added sugar), but it’s coming from better sources than corn syrup, and I believe that I need the energy. On days I’ve felt particularly weak, I’ve done 2oz-4oz shots of fruit juice in the morning.

A plate of chicken covered in hot sauce, a hunk of cheese, and a container of button mushrooms

Lunch: fire chicken, a Pokeball of cheese, and button mushrooms to soak up all that hot sauce. Now this is an interesting lunch.

For the time being, my focus should be more on solving the mystery of my health and less on sticking to the eating lifestyle that’s let me lose weight, and my food choices will reflect that from here on out. Not to say I’m going to start in on fried chicken and biscuits, but I will find ways to work around my current tastes to get enough calories and nutrients to keep my body going.

Full Basket, Hollow Victory…and Hand-sewn Hems

A mystery malady has taken me down for several days this week. I had ice cream last Friday night, then was sick as a dog all day Saturday. I had chicken alfredo pasta every night Sunday through Wednesday for dinner (thanks, huge crock pot, for all those servings!) and have been ill enough to go home from work early two days out of five. I’ve totally lost my appetite. It’s either a food thing I haven’t tracked down, a virus, or aliens. The only common food I can think of is carbs, but even that doesn’t explain everything, as the ingredients for the ice cream were vastly different from those in the chicken alfredo pasta. Whatever the cause, it has given me more than a little misery and nausea.

When you don’t feel like eating, you reach your weight goals more quickly. But this victory felt quite hollow, as it came at the expense of my health.

Two feet standing on a scale that reads 163 pounds.

Goal achieved, but it’s not very meaningful if I only got there because I’m sick.

I had a moment of, “Oh. Well, there it is. Um…where do I go from here?” But this isn’t a finish line. It’s just a number on a scale that could be inaccurate, a number deflated by illness and lack of appetite. While it’s an indicator that my long-term efforts to improve my health by losing body fat are paying off, this scale reading doesn’t tell me that I’m only here because the thought of putting anything else in my body that wasn’t ginger ale sounded like the worst idea ever at the time of photography.

I spent Saturday afternoon convalescing on the couch. I watched black-and-white movies, I got mobbed by the animals, and I managed to put almost-real hems on three of my new smaller pairs of jeans. I don’t have a sewing machine, so I did it by hand. I did a complete bastardization of the “original hem” method and measured 29 inch inseams, folded the hem back up the inside of the leg, pinned everything into place, and baste stitched in about 16 places around each pant leg. If I hold onto these jeans for more than a few months, I’ll take them to be professionally tailored, but this works just fine.

The hand-sewn hems of a pair of women's jeans.

Hemming at home with hand-sewn basting stitches – a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, according to 19th century homemakers.

(You had no idea you were going to see so much of my poorly painted toenails. For your trouble, and for the pain felt by the entire professions of pedicurists, I apologize.)

Side note: I felt as though I was imitating my maternal grandmother with my lazy afternoon of patching clothing, drinking a diet cola, watching movies from the 40s, and removing one of the dogs from a tangle of denim in order to adjust a seam. I would be honored to be considered as industrious and handy as she was.

So! While putting away my jeans post-hemming, I decided to go through my closet and drawers and take out some of the things that were too large for me. This turned into me trying on a lot of shirts that I’ve held onto since I weighed 203 pounds. I was surprised at how cute a few of them still looked 40 pounds later, but for the most part, I was swimming in cloth.

I plonked most of the too-big clothes into the “for charity” basket – a skirt never worn, shirts that never fit quite right, beloved former favorites – and put a few of the shirts back into my closet as plausible candidates for further wear. I sported one of those shirts on Monday. I was cute, sure, but the shirt was huge on me, and I was conscious of it all day. As a tiny, fashion-forward fourth grader, I tried to wear my mother’s yellow-and-white striped tunic to school as a dress; like my 9-year-old self, my Monday self was trying to wear an item of clothing that was clearly inappropriate for my size.

A drawing of a young girl wearing an oversized t-shirt as a dress

Fourth grade fashion disaster: wearing my mom’s shirt as a dress. Hem depicted longer than it probably was in real life. My only excuses are that a.) I was nine and b.) It was the eighties, come onnnnn.

So that shirt, as well as the others I’d set aside, are going in with the rest of the contents of this laundry basket to be entrusted to the next clothing donation center I can find (hoping that the clothes I donate actually do some good, though my hope dwindles upon reading reviews and coverage of the book Overdressed.)

A laundry basket full of clothing

Basket of cast-offs from my closet and chest of drawers. I was surprised I had this much clothing to begin with, much less enough clothing to discard.

I hope to be well enough soon to begin working out in earnest besides stretching and performing push-ups to continue strengthening my bum shoulder. Pilates is on my plate. I love it, but I think I need a new workout. I’ve memorized my old one, and I find the pace a little laggy. Time to do some research.