eat, move, think, feel

Year of Pain, Year of Humble November 13, 2014

IMG_7202Last week, after I spoke on a panel on reproductive stigma and justice, an audience member came up to me and said, “I know you.” I looked at her. I didn’t recognize her at all – a warm smile, brown skin, dimples. I squinted and said, “Really!” She said, “You’re Foodie McBody. I follow your blog!”

I was overwhelmed by a storm of thoughts and emotion. What blog? Hahaha. I haven’t posted a thing in months. And who? Foodie McWho? That person was a person who had receded so far away from me. I’d changed my Twitter handle and Instagram name, and nobody called me that anymore.

Foodie McBody was a person who, once upon a time, took her health by the reins and galloped into a transformation. There were years of glory. The first 5k! The Weight Watchers Lifetime key! The 10ks, the half marathons. Four of them. The two triathlons and more 5ks than I could count. I loved my health and loved my active body and I was just proud and glad, even through the struggles. I had little bouts here and there – a sprained ankle, a wrist flareup. But they all resolved within a month or two, and then I was back in the saddle again.

But then 2013 happened. I call it my year of pain. When my hip gave up after the Oakland half marathon, my last, and told me I might need to get it replaced. And then the fateful bounce on the trampoline that ruptured my cervical discs and brought me to a halt. When I could do nothing more than move, agonizingly, from one horizontal position to the next. Surgery, recovery and rehab in small, tentative steps.

2014 was supposed to be my comeback year. But it has not been that. After a brief triumphant walking 5k at the start of the year, I have been plagued by a thyroid condition that stalled my metabolism, and a foot ailment that won’t let up. Plantar fasciitis turned to posterior tibialis tendinitis leading to some sort of Achilles problem. My Achilles heel, indeed. Every morning I hobble out of bed like a 90 year old. Actually, I hobble out of bed more painfully and slowly than my own 92 year old mother, which is humbling, to say the least.

my Achilles heel

my Achilles heel

Do I want some cheese with my whine? Well, why not.

2014 has been the year of humble. But if I’m honest I also have to admit that it’s been a year of fear. Recently our family re-watched Spirited Away, one of those hallucinogenic Miyazaki films. One of the most disgusting images is this creature, the Hungry Ghost, that eats everything in sight – frogs, bicycles, humans, and keeps wanting more. It grows into a mountainous blob of sludge, its arms outstretched, and stinkily consumes everything in sight. When our young heroine refuses to be intimidated by the ghost, and doesn’t run away from it, it starts expelling the contents of its innards. Finally it shrinks to a fraction of its enormous size, and silently boards an underwater train, presumably bound for freedom.

That image has haunted me. And I think that that creature is like my fear. It reminds me of the Before version of Foodie McBody. Before I charged into healthy living in 2009, I was afraid of everything. Afraid to move. Even when it felt good.

For much of the time these days, I am paralyzed by fear. Only recently I’ve been able to venture into small, almost laughable activities. I join a weekly AquaFIt class at our pool, where most of the participants are ten, twenty or even thirty years my senior. For an hour we splash around the pool with foam weights and noodles. It feels like play, but when I climb out of the pool, I have to admit it’s kicked my butt.

I walk silently in the redwood forest near my house. Today I did a silent walk and in the quiet green I thought about my fear. The sky was white, a little blue, like the inside of an ice cube. The air I moved through was chilly and perfect, and the sun blinked uncertainly through the clouds every now and then. What am I afraid of? I am afraid of pain. My left heel sent out little jolts. So what, I said. So what. It’s not killing you. I notice. What do I notice. It’s like electricity. It’s like heat. It’s like a twangy little song reminding me that I’m alive. I liked the feeling of my legs. I still have muscles there. They’re still strong. I pushed up the gentle incline and I didn’t wheeze. I didn’t die from shortness of breath. I was doing it. It was just a walk. Calm down, I told myself. You’re okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.


Worse than the pain, though, is the shame. The pain of shame. Of knowing where I was three years ago, that relentless athlete that swam in the icy, salty bay. The one who looked fear in the face and climbed on the bicycle, up hills, up so many hills, near whizzing cars and dogs. I ran and ran and ran. Three or four days a week, tweeting about my six pain free miles, my happy eight miles. These days I would consider it a victory to walk a 5k, to make it around Lake Merritt without sitting down, without limping. This is the greatest pain. To look in my closet and push aside the majority of the clothes, because nothing fits.

How to find compassion? That is what I want for 2015. The year of compassion. To say, it’s all right. You’re okay, whether you never complete another triathlon again. Whether those 15 pounds stick around like old friends. You’re okay. You’re okay.

These days do not look like 2010 or 2011. These days look like walking in the beautiful trees, like greeting my gray haired companions in the shallow end of the pool. Of meditating every morning, first in silence and then listening to the calm, warm voice of my teacher, leading me through the compassion meditation. Open to the possibility of being kind to yourself, he says. Open to the possibility of appreciating your life.

I’m open.

my walking meditation path

my walking meditation path


Another Chronic Disease, O Boy June 17, 2014

Five years into being diagnosed with type II diabetes, I finally felt like I had come to some sort of peaceful relationship with it. I felt like I was managing the best I could, and was really pleased late last year when my endocrinologist decided to discontinue my oral medications. I hadn’t even been considering that as a goal, so when she suggested it, I was both surprised and happy.  She said I was doing great. YAY ME!

I was interviewed (and photographed) by Diabetes Health Monitor magazine (a staple in endocrinologist offices everywhere!) and feeling pretty darned good about it all.

Then, a couple of months ago, things started changing. My blood sugars started bumping up. Then they bumped some more. They went higher than I’d ever seen before. I panicked. I called my endocrinologist and begged her to let me resume the medications.  She said okay, and resumed my lowest dose. Sigh.

Then my weight started inching up at a steady rate, despite my doing basically nothing different than I had in the past five years. Now, I’ve been doing Weight Watchers for a long time. And I’ve learned that when I see a surprise gain at the scale, there’s always been a reason. An indulgent weekend. A sedentary retreat. Any of those things. But I’ve always easily been able to right the ship, and come back on course within a very short time.

This time, not so much. I mean, not at all. That in spite of all my best efforts, the ship was not righting. Every few days I’d step on the scale, and every time, it was higher than the time before.

I was starting to freak out. I was starting to dread my WW meetings (which I LOVE) for fear of being called out as fraudulent, bogus, the works.  I was getting frantic that my clothes were getting to be terribly ill-fitting (or non-fitting). My torso was starting to resemble that of a 2nd trimester pregnancy. And I wanted to sleep, like, ALL THE TIME.

What the hell!

For a while, I was in silent paralysis. I couldn’t discuss it or deal with it at all, I was so freaked out. But then I called my doctor(s) who recommended thyroid testing. (and: lo and behold, thyroid problems can cause out of control blood glucose!) An ultrasound revealed an enlarged thyroid. Next step: blood tests. I had the tests last week and this week, while on vacation with my family, I received emails from both doctors. Normal TSH levels are .5-5, and mine is 9. Bingo.

Diagnosis:  hypothyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s disease. Then I nodded. I had about 90% of the symptoms. Weight gain. Puffy face. Fatigue. Brittle hair and nails. Memory issues. Joint pain. Weakness. Vision problems.



Well, damn.

I’m trying not to be all WHY ME? about this, but damn. Come ON. Okay. So what do I do. I start taking thyroid supplements. I start figuring out how to manage THIS chronic disease.

Part of me is really, really pissed off. But part of me is relieved. That it’s not worse. (it can always be worse, right?) And that this condition has a treatment. For which I am very grateful. I can’t wait for it to start WORKING! (this could take weeks–>months)

As I did when I first started this blog, and basically with every time I’ve every struggled, I know that reaching out with the struggle is better than struggling alone.  I know that finding community and support is better than flailing around alone.

Even thinking about writing this post has made me feel better.


(Getting To The) Moment of Truth November 11, 2013

Photo credit: Steve Richey/Unsplash

Photo credit: Steve Richey/Unsplash

This weekend was such a mixed bag.  Yesterday I had that great walk in the park. Last night some good longtime friends came over and brought us a beautiful dinner. It felt so good to hang out and laugh, to eat good food and visit with friends we’ve known for decades.


This morning I woke up feeling pretty optimistic and confident. I decided, it’s probably time I start really cutting back on the prescription painkillers I’ve been taking. Narcotics. Way less than I was at the start, but still way more than I want to be taking. I tried taking some over the counter Tylenol in hopes that I could maintain my level of comfort. We planned to go out for another little walk in the park, but it felt really different than yesterday. By the time we had driven up from our house to the parking lot (about 1/4 mile), the familiar stabbing near my shoulder blade had started up.

I took a deep breath. This is not going to get the best of me, I said. We walked maybe a total of ten minutes and at that point all I could think of was coming home and getting horizontal.

Discouraging. I gulped down my pill and lay on my back. Again.

Tomorrow the surgeon comes back. I was still hoping to get to Minneapolis on Thursday. But I think some kind of reality hit me today. When I realized that even though I am so much better than I was a month ago, I am still so far from normal.

Here is the hard truth. I still can’t:

  • work (any of my three jobs: physical therapy, writing or leading Weight Watchers meetings)
  • get through a day (0r night) without prescription pain meds
  • exercise in any meaningful way (including: Nia dance class, work out with my trainer, run, swim or ride a bicycle, lift weights or do any of the workout videos in my house)
  • carry a purse or a backpack
  • drive my car, or independently get myself anyplace outside my house
  • pick up anything heavier than a coffee cup
  • prepare meals for my family that involve more than a microwave
  • go shopping or run any errands
  • do anything that involves being upright for longer than an hour maximum

People, these are a LOT of big things on the “can’t” list. Yes, I am super happy for the progress I have made. But this has been going on too damn long. Too long. An entire season has passed by while I have been down.

The surgeon comes back tomorrow. I expect we will probably have a conversation sometime in the late afternoon or evening.

I’m ready to be done with this.


Side Effects October 27, 2013

Filed under: challenge,hospital,injury,pain,struggle,surgery — Susan @ 3:05 pm

IMG_1252Three times now since this all began, I’ve had wild hopes for various medications that initially feel awesome, and then after 12 or 24 hours, suddenly turn on me with mad ferocity.  The first one was a patch that gave incredible blessed relief for a day or so. It knocked me out and I was able to sleep comfortably for the first time in weeks. I was so grateful. But the next day, I was overcome with vomiting which began a bad spiral of dehydration and misery. Stopped that.

The second one, I was thrilled at first. It seemed to give complete pain control AND I was alert (maybe even a little buzzed/hyper). I thought, wow, I can actually FUNCTION on this one!  Maybe I could even get some stuff done! But by the second day, it had bizarro psychological symptoms that made me feel like a bona fide insane person. I was hysterical, paranoid, fearful and just living some kind of nightmare (and having bad nightmares when I slept, on top of it). That one went into the trash.

This past week, I tried a new medication that came highly recommended from a physician friend for whom it has worked wonders. My neurosurgeon also recommended and wrote me a prescription on Thursday. I tried it out and felt AWESOME on Friday. I was up and about for much longer than my normal tolerance (normal = I can be upright for about 5 minutes before the red hot poker stabbing thing begins, and on Friday I was able to have an entire meal sitting up). I felt great. GREAT. I was so excited.

But then 2am on Saturday morning, the side-effect hell began. Splitting headache. I felt like my eyeballs were going to explode. Nausea. More vomiting. And uncontrollable, out of control weeping. I was, as they say, a hot mess. Despair.

It took all day Saturday and Saturday evening to detox and let that stuff leave my system. Finally today, I am back to baseline. Tired, pain when I get up, but as long as I remain horizontal, I am relatively okay. I took a little field trip to the hospital this morning to get my pre-op testing done (blood, urine, EKG). It wiped me out. But now I am back in my cozy bed, able to eat a little of my favorite toast and yogurt.

I am so ready for this surgery. It’s definitely a go. 3:00pm Wednesday.  If you’re interested in the details: a posterior cervical laminotomy at C5-6 and C6-7. It’s going to be done arthroscopically, which I am uber excited about. A small incision. Just done through a little tube, with microscopic tools. I have utter confidence in the neurosurgeon and I feel like it is the very best option I could have hoped for.

I’m estimating that I have lost about 15-20 lbs of muscle mass since this began. I absolutely CANNOT WAIT to begin my rehab, to start gaining my strength back, to be back in the world. I am hoping that by next week at this time, I will be well started on my way back. I couldn’t be more ready.


Dehydration is the Devil! October 22, 2013

Filed under: diabetes,health,hospital,injury,lessons learned,pain,struggle — Susan @ 6:30 pm

free-terrible-devil-wallpaper-wallpaper_422_86164That’s a direct quote from Junior. Both of us have had a lot of miserable experience with dehydration. This used to happen with me quite a bit with longer races and it was BRUTAL. Like HERE. But somehow, I did not put all the pieces together this last week and realize that it was the same exact devil. Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, sudden weight loss (I was pretty much losing a pound a day and was about 10 lbs down from 2 weeks ago), weakness, just FEELING LIKE DEATH. But since I was already feeling pretty deathish due to the bedrest and neck pain, it was hard to separate it out. It all felt like a version of the same thing. I thought I was feeling bad from various painkillers. I didn’t know which end was up.

But I remember how it used to be after races. I would be literally feeling like death, and then all I needed was fluid, electrolytes, salt. Chicken soup could do wonders and it was like a miracle had occurred. Like putting a dried out old sponge into water, and soak soak soak — voila.

That’s how I feel today. It’s a miracle! I’m ALIVE!

I’m back to my “baseline” which is: fairly OK lying down, more pain when I get up, but overall alert and feeling a lot, lot, lot better. A LOT BETTER! I actually WANTED and ATE a panini sandwich that Junior made for me and it was the most delicious thing ever. I’m on the way back.

It’s amazing what 12 hours of sleep, three liters of IV fluid and some antibiotics (for my urinary tract infection) can do.


Another Week Down October 18, 2013

Filed under: emotions,health,injury,lessons learned,struggle,surgery,writing — Susan @ 10:47 pm
change of scene (guest room bed)

change of scene (guest room bed)

Here I (still) am. It’s getting surreal, isn’t it?

This is what happened this week.

  • I had an epidural injection, hoping that it would cut down on the inflammation and give me some pain relief. I was nervous about it. But the procedure itself was not traumatic. The bad news is that it really didn’t give me any relief, either immediately or in subsequent days. So that was disappointing. To say the least.
  • I escalated the pain medications to even higher intensities. The result was about 4-5 hours of total pain relief, and about 2-3 days of complete CRAZY. I mean, I lost my mind. It really did a number on me. Like out of control crying, and a kind of paranoid panic and fear. I felt like I was disappearing. Dissolving. Maybe dying. I was an extremely unhappy little camper.
  • I stopped taking the heavy-duty pain meds.
  • The pain is worse. But I don’t care. I have my mind back.
  • I went for a neurosurgery consult. Because of the size and location of the ruptured disc, surgery is recommended to remove it, rather than waiting the 6 months for the disc material to re-absorb into my body. Mostly because of the profound weakness I am having in my arm. Nerve damage, if left too long, can be difficult or impossible to reverse, and this is my dominant arm/hand.
  • I’m going for another appointment next Thursday and hopefully will then be put on a schedule for surgery.
  • I am ready for this.

This has been an incredible experience, really. It is teaching me so much about patience. About understanding who I am aside from what I DO. It has taught me what it really means to conserve energy. The smallest things take so much energy; even lying on the back porch talking to friends wiped me out. I’m still learning.


gift from a friend

I’m taking it as a gift to be able to read, to meditate, to sleep a lot. (a LOT) I love it when my friends come and lie down next to me and we just look at the ceiling and talk. It’s very comforting. But I can only take about one visit a day and it has to be very… low key.

When my mind is working, I can still write.

I have had pretty much no appetite. I think because I am burning about zero calories per day.  I’ve lost weight. My muscles are thin and noodley. I think my muscle mass has pretty much left the building. I try to be my own home care physical therapist and take myself through the exercises I do with people who are in bed all day. I’m not sure if it’s helping or not.

Those goals I had — tomorrow night is the Grotto Litcrawl reading. It’s still up in the air. I’m going to wait until the last minute to decide. But there’s a BART strike. These events are notoriously crowded and intense. Energy wise, it just might be too much.

Sadly, the trip to Mexico is off. It’s disappointing. What can I say? There will be other chances out there. I’m tripping around my own private Mexico these days, wandering around inside my head.

I know beyond a doubt that this experience is changing me. It’s one of the most challenging things that has ever happened to me, but it is not the worst one by far.  I’m learning a lot. In this small space, I am growing.


Still life: bedside table







Answers, Waiting, and the New Normal October 14, 2013

So I finally got some answers to this vexing pain last week. I went to see a spine specialist (orthopedist) who looked at my MRI and pointed out quite clearly that I have a ruptured cervical disc. The disc material is pressing quite intensely on my 7th cervical nerve, causing this crazy pain AND some weakness in my arm. It was upsetting to see this but also unmistakeable, and also a relief to see in black and white how much absolute sense it makes (all that PT training came flooding back). He has recommended an epidural injection tomorrow to try and bring down the inflammation and swelling. He said it will most likely result in dramatic pain relief (OH BOY! I can’t wait!) and then it will remain to be seen if there is continued weakness from any nerve damage. Then I will have to have a surgical consult, and I don’t like the sound of that, but I am just taking one day at a time, which is about all I can do.

This picture scares me. But if it's gonna take away the pain....

This picture scares me. But if it’s gonna take away the pain….

It was a pretty rough weekend. Mr. McBody was away at a conference all weekend, and I had a lot of time and space to wallow around in a hazy painful cloud. It got a little surreal at times.  I learned by Sunday that it is a good thing to try and keep a schedule. To try and be as functional as possible. I had some company come visit on Sunday and it made a HUGE difference to shower, get dressed and see friends for just a little while. I have learned that I have about a two-minute window from lying down to sitting or standing up, and after that time passes, it just hurts like the devil. However, assuming the “ballerina” position does take some pressure off. When I was at the doctor, he said that this is a classic diagnostic tool and he sees it all the time.

I was really upset when I went to the doctor on Friday, and they told me I had missed my 9:30 appointment. What! It turns out, in my narcotic haze, I had heard “October 11th” and I just kept focusing on the “11” part of it, and showed up at 11:00. But the doctor saw me in the waiting room, looking desperate with my arm over my head, and he squeezed me in. I think he pretty much diagnosed me from across the room, even before seeing the MRI.


It’s amazing how life can just shift from one version of reality to another. In the span of a few weeks, I have gone from being one of the world’s busiest people, to someone who needs to gather every bit of endurance and energy just to take a shower or get through a five-minute meal at the table.

It’s been a real opportunity for reflection. To really consider my priorities, my identity and what is important. It means a lot to me to be able to continue to write and read. I’ve been snarfing down books. I spent all day Friday reading Alice Munro. So excited about her Nobel Prize. I’ve also been able to spend some real time working on my own writing and editing, when I’m not knocked out by painkillers. I have been able to enjoy some pretty alert hours every day.

My literary hero.


I started reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle, yesterday, and I’m almost done. It’s pretty mesmerizing, especially under the circumstances. Right now I feel like I would go mad without social media to keep me connected to the world. But there’s a balance. There’s nothing like human contact, face to face. There’s also nothing like snail mail. I got this awesome get-well gift from one of my writer friends which made me laugh out loud.


Font joke! hahahaha

It is amazing to me how quickly a body can degenerate. Today I stepped on the scale just for curiosity and I am down more than five pounds. I am sure this is 100% muscle wasting. It takes all my strength to pick up a wet towel. I get shaky standing up even for a few minutes. I feel like I am just dissolving. But I also know that  once this pain is managed, it also does not take too long to regain what has been lost. I’m not totally distraught over it, it’s just kind of remarkable.

I’m eating well, under the circumstances, even though I’ve had about zero appetite (I’m burning about zero calories, too). Before this all began, I had hired a Task Rabbit as kind of a “sneaky caregiver” for my mom. She often is lonely and bored in the afternoons, while we’re all (normally) rushing around working. I thought it might be a good idea to have someone help out with cooking a couple of times a week, with her involvement, so she has some company, AND so that we have some decent food to eat rather than some takeout on the fly. As it turns out, this person has been an absolute godsend. Whereas she was first helping out because I was too busy, now she’s helping because I”m just incapable. THAT part has been like a dream come true. I scroll through Foodgawker and send her links to things that look good, and voila- a few hours later there it is on the kitchen table. AND, my mom really likes her. It’s a win-win.


Thai Chicken Zucchini Meatballs – MMMMM.

The last few days have just felt like interminable WAITING. Waiting for an answer – and now waiting for a treatment. I really, really hope that this injection will do the trick so that I can get back to my life. But it will be “going back” in a different way. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my priorities. I don’t want to just be rushing around madly from one thing to another, just because I can. I want to slowly re-integrate the things that really matter.

I’m also zoning out a fair amount. I watched the entire first episode of Scandal, which I’m finding addictive, ludicrous and entertaining. Probably just the medicine. And I’m getting to be all long distance doting-grandma to Juniorette’s new baby. Everyone, meet Junie. Isn’t she adorable?

Junie the Hedgehog

Junie the Hedgehog

So, tomorrow morning I’ll be going to the Surgery Center and facing the needle. I’m ready. SO ready to turn some kind of corner.



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