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Goodbye (sort of), Foodie McBody June 6, 2014

Foodie McBody

Foodie McBody

I just did a little thing that felt like such a BIG thing. I changed my Twitter handle, which has been @foodiemcbody forever. But for the last six months or a year I’ve felt like so much MORE than Foodie McBody. Many people I interact with now, in the writing world and beyond, don’t recognize or know Foodie.

It makes me feel really emotional to make this change. I first took on the name Foodie McBody as an anonymous name when I started this blog. Because I was ashamed of who I was. I was diabetic and overweight and unfit and desperate. I wanted to reach out for community and help, but I was embarrassed to be in the world as ME, Susan Ito. And that’s how Foodie came about.

When I started feeling better about myself, I shed that anonymity. For a long time I was really proud to be Foodie McBody. And I still am. But I’m more than that now. I’m a writer, a memoirist, a physical therapist, a teacher. Sometimes those selves fit with Foodie, and sometimes they don’t.

Last weekend I took a fabulous food-writing class at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. We were visited by guest speaker Virginia Miller, who blogs over at The Perfect Spot and also writes for Zagat. (!) I realized in that moment that FoodFoodBodyBody has been and is a food blog. And the writing that I did that day could live here. It was a huge sigh of happiness, the recognition that I could integrate these parts of myself.

For a long time I believed that my fitness stole my writing, and then that my writing could steal my fitness. All of it takes time, after all. Following my injury and surgery in the fall, I’ve definitely been more in the writing world. Trying to find that balance again. But I have deep love for the Foodie McBody part of myself, and deep love for my writing life. @thesusanito is an attempt to bring it all together in one self. I hope those of you who met me as Foodie will continue to be my wonderful healthy community, and those who never knew Foodie will learn about who that part of me is/was.

Did you ever feel like your identity was fragmented? What have you done to bring it all together?

 

 

Taking Time To (Re)Treat January 25, 2014

IMG_4834So many things have helped me on my path to health, but one that I have been practicing for over 25 years is the retreat. I love this word. It means to take a step back; it means to take refuge. It also means to re-treat: to treat oneself, again. I first came to Santa Sabina in the mid-eighties, when I was a budding calligrapher (little known fact). I signed up for the Friends of Calligraphy retreat,  not really knowing what I was getting into.

It took my breath away. Silence, and beauty. The scratching of pens on paper in what had been set up as the Scriptorium. Words on paper (or on walls). A great spaciousness. My mind was blown.

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Once I started coming to this place, I felt I craved it like one craves chocolate, or oxygen. Once or twice a year (especially when I had babies and small children), I would slip away for twenty-four hours, to step into the quiet corners. I could climb the steps to the straw-bale Hermitage and “be the hermit” for a brief while.

IMG_1617 IMG_1612 IMG_1611Sometimes I came on my own, or with other writer friends. Sometimes I came with groups- calligraphers or poets. I experienced several amazing poetry weekends – one focusing on the work of Rilke, others with Jane Hirshfield and Naomi Shihab Nye. There is poetry everywhere here, and art. The art basement is a generous space filled with art supplies of all kinds – a calligraphers’ nook, a collage room. It invites gentle creativity.

IMG_1633 IMG_1630Several years ago, I began offering group retreats myself at Santa Sabina. It has been one of my greatest joys. Two years ago, I led a retreat called Stories of the Body. Participants came together to share stories through collage, art, writing, movement, and to be with their own bodies’ stories in silence and reflection and silent, mindful meals. It was so moving and beautiful. I have been trying to book a date for a return visit for years, but the center has been undergoing many renovations and there have not been dates open — until now! I am thrilled to be offering Stories of the Body again at the end of March.

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There’s an early-bird discounting until January 28th, and I’m also offering a discount to YOU, blog readers. (you can take advantage of both!) For readers of this blog, just enter the code FOODFOODBODYBODY and you’ll get an additional reduction in price.  I am also offering a deposit option with extended payments for those who cannot pay all at once.

I am hoping to be able to offer a weekend scholarship for one retreat assistant to this retreat this year. The work involved would be minimal but of great help to me (registration, set-up, logistics). If you feel that you would benefit from this special time away (and into yourself), please email me with the following:

  • Why you feel this retreat would benefit you at this time
  • Your commitment to attend if chosen
  • Experience in dealing with groups (ie your “people skills”)
  • DEADLINE: February 1, 2014

Exercise and eating well have been so elemental in my health journey, but this – THIS- has been an invaluable element that I often forget. Being with myself. Taking time for the quiet. I hope you will join us.

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Back In the World (Sort of.) November 23, 2013

#throwbackthursday: sometimes I have to hold onto stuff.

#throwbackthursday: sometimes I have to hold onto stuff.

Little by little. I’m venturing out. I’m doing small things, both in and out of the house.

Everything feels huge. HUGE. The first time I drove the car last week, I felt like a sixteen year old with a new permit, gripping the wheel with white knuckles, waiting long minutes before pulling into traffic. Testing out my neck, my reflexes, my attention, my ability to focus on more than one thing at a time. (the radio, other cars, my husband’s voice) I drove about 5 miles to drop my mother off at her volunteering gig.

I am humbled and amused that my 90 year old mother has about 100x more stamina and energy than I do. She can spend a day stuffing envelopes, come home and walk the dog, then go out to a Golden State Warriors basketball game, cheering and stomping until 10:00pm. All of which would probably kill me at this point.

People are happy to see me out in the world. They tell me I’m looking great! The teeny tiny bandaid at the the back of my neck doesn’t really represent anything. I say, the incision is small but deep. But it’s not just the incision that cut through the tough white fascia in my spine, the muscles and the drilling into my vertebrae. It’s the six weeks of unfathomable pain, of lying in bed trying to find a position, or walking around in ballet position, of counting the minutes before I surrendered and had to just get horizontal again (15 minutes on a really good day, 2 minutes on an average day).

Meanwhile I was forever experimenting with the pharmacy that was multiplying in my bathroom, trying to test the drugs to see which would bring relief without vomiting or psychosis or some other unpleasant side effect. Meanwhile my muscles, so long the pride of my body, have thinned down into thread. I have to be careful with what I lift. Even some plates are still too heavy. I’m better with saucers, single utensils, the little mugs and glasses, not the big ones. Pots and pans are out of the question. I won’t be hauling the turkey next week.

This week I stopped in at the Weight Watchers center to check in with Julie, the fabulous leader who has been filling for me since September. I told her I didn’t think I’d be back this week. Just sitting in a chair listening to her speak tired me out. I couldn’t imagine summoning the energy to stand up in  front of the meeting room. Not yet.

Last night I went back to the Writers Grotto because my beloved office mate was having a pre-nuptial party and I wanted to celebrate with her and the writers I’ve missed for so many months. I wanted to see my little space that I’d missed.

My succulent plants were long dead.

is this a metaphor for something?

is this a metaphor for something?

After a couple of hours of merriment (during which time I mostly slouched in the corner of a sofa, kind of dazed) I felt like I was melting. Unable to speak or hold up my head. I got home around 7:30 and went directly to bed.

Parties are fun, but they take a lot of energy!

Parties are fun, but they take a lot of energy!

This is how it is now. Better, so much better, but so far from where I was. I’ve taken a few walks this week, no more than a mile at a time. I slow-walk, always with a friend, whose arm I can grab if I start to wobble, half a mile to the “It’s Nice To Be Nice” bench. Then I rest. Then walk a half mile back to the car and again, directly to bed. It wipes me.

Alexandra accompanies me on the one-mile marathon

Alexandra accompanies me on the one-mile marathon

Still, I’m managing to get some things done. I’m checking things off my to-do list. Phone calls and getting stuff done that I never had time to do before. Small things.

I’m reading. And writing. Thinking about new directions for the new year.

I’ve started reading Roxana Robinson’s stunning novel, Sparta, and reading about the Marine returning home from Iraq, and how returning from his experience is so surreal and terrifying, how his loved ones want to welcome him back just as he was before.  I know that two months of a herniated disc is not really comparable to four years of war, but it’s been like a little war in my body. It was a shocking kind of attack like I’d never experienced before. Where everything I believed and knew about myself was called into question.

I’m putting my life back together but it’s so much slower and in smaller increments than I ever could have imagined.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Improv Workouts from Beach to Forest April 13, 2013

Filed under: exercise,hiking,injury,running,walking,writing — Susan @ 4:03 pm

I’ve been traveling for the past couple of weeks. Working out has been severely curtailed, although I’ve tried to keep up with the minimum of “twenty minutes of something- anything!” as much as possible. I feel my body sort of weakening.

I got on a plane just a few days after finishing the Oakland half. My hip was already feeling pretty wonky. But then sitting on a plane for 6+ hours, then sitting in a car for another day, then a bunch of writing – and more sitting – it’s been orthopedically tough. I have only really had one run since I left California on March 28th- a shivery cold run in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Brrrrr. But pretty.

Brrrrr. But pretty.

Since then, a few hikes and many beach walks. The first beach walks on soft sand were kind of excruciatingly painful for that hip.

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I tried to get an appointment with the local physical therapist but that didn’t work out. I ended up going to a sports store, one of the few little shops open during the winter season. Near the front door, a wire basket with a sign “Used Softballs $1.” That was pretty much one of the best one-dollar investments I ever made. I brought that baby home and rolled the heck out of my hip. OWIIIIEEEE. But good owie. Necessary owie. The ball rolling has made a huge difference. After the softball sessions, the beach walks ended up being a lot less painful.

Insert under hip, and ROLL. Ow! Yay!

Insert under hip, and ROLL. Ow! Yay!

This week I’ve made a complete change of scene – back to California. I had one day at home and I was so glad to get back onto my “home” trail a few blocks from my house. Ahhhh.

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Then on Thursday, I relocated to a friend’s remote cabin/barn/cathedral in the woods. Kind of amazing. We are miles from anywhere. The forest here is stunningly peaceful, beautiful. Yesterday I took a hike and explored around. Today I took another one. I was feeling like, this is nice, but it’s just not ENOUGH. I found a little clearing and did a bunch of 100-set invisible jumpropes on the soft pine needle floor. It was really cushy and comfortable. I worked up a tiny little sweat. I hike along a deserted logging road. Did I mention there is nobody around here for miles and miles? I took off my shirt. Because of that. The sun felt so nice.

Little trees growing in the road

Little trees growing in the road

I am not normally someone who walks around in a sports bra. Yeah, you can do that if you are young and buff and such, but not if you are an over-50 somewhat mushy, haven’t-done-weights-in-too-long kinda gal. I poked at my upper arms as I walked. This did not make me happy. I picked up some thick branches that were almost logs. Maybe 5-10 lbs or so. I lifted and pressed as I walked. That felt good. I put it down and did some more invisible jumpropes. I did some hill repeats, carrying the log thing. I was having fun jumping and hauling logs around in the woods in my sports bra. Hahaha.

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I got back to the cabin (after getting just semi-lost and bushwacking my way back) and felt better about my level of activity today. It was fun, improvising it up out there in the forest.

I’m looking forward to getting back home next week. To doing some night swimming at the pool with my buddy Lily. To getting back to seeing my trainer now and and again.  To having some fun at a Nia class.To working my way back up to another half marathon in June.

Traveling is good. It brings you out of yourself and the dailiness of it all, to seeing things in a new way. I’m grateful for my forest workout today, for feeling free under the trees and the sun.

 

Book Review: Craving April 4, 2013

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As I read Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, by physician Omar Manejwala, MD, I found myself nodding like a bobble head doll, and also reaching for my pen to underline something on pretty much every page. This is a topic I can relate to. It opens with the question, “What explains the mysterious urge to do something that has caused so much damage in the past?” In other words, haven’t I learned YET?

I read this book to see if I could learn something new for my blog readers, my Weight Watchers members, friends and family that I care about, and of course myself. And while much of the content of the book wasn’t NEW, it was certainly reaffirming and validating of many of the steps I’ve taken that have helped me (and explained how and why I’ve had setbacks).

The book opens with a definition of what craving is: a strong desire that, if unfulfilled, produces a powerful physical and mental suffering. They can range from a passing urge to an all-out, consuming addiction.  The author mentions something called “apparently irrelevant decisions” that can lead to a relapse. Then he explores why cravings matter: because they are uncomfortable, because they cause us stress, and because people who experience cravings are more likely to relapse into behavior that isn’t good for them or aligned with their goals. (nod, nod, underline, underline)

It deals with all different sorts of cravings – from alcohol to food to gambling, smoking and sex. He addresses ways in which these are universal issues, no matter what the substance or behavior.

There’s a big chunk in the book on brain science – the neurobiology of cravings, why they happen and how our brains lie to us to make us do things that we know don’t benefit us. I happen to be a total geek for brain science, especially when it relates to this topic. I find it both reassuring and encouraging – it takes it out of the realm of “I suck because I can’t get a handle on this” and sheds a light on exactly WHY it can be so hard sometimes. The studies that are cited are fascinating.

The good news about our brains leading us around, is that we can actually re-draw the map and get our brains to work in ways that are more beneficial to us. Again, this isn’t new news, but for me, obviously, it is something that I need to learn and read over and over again, and this book does so in a way that is so straightforward and nonjudgmental.

The other good news is that a lot of things that I am already doing, are the things that are proven to work. Group support is key. KEY! (yay Weight Watchers, yay online blogging community, yay friends) Writing things down (i.e. tracking, food journaling etc) is KEY. Forgiveness is key. (One of my favorite, and most startling lines in the book: “Only love can neutralize shame.”)

What can I say? It’s a good book. It’s SOLID. It’s filled with good science, which I find both illuminating and reassuring. It’s filled with concrete, positive suggestions for addressing the issues of craving. It’s also compassionate at its core. It’s like, Give yourself a break. There are reasons you do this stuff, and it’s not your fault, but it’s not helping you, so here are some good tools that can give you a way out.

It so happened that I finished reading this book while alone on my writing retreat. I’m away from home, and out of my normal routine. A little excited (vacation mode), a little anxious, a little lonely here and there. Perfect breeding ground for cravings! I could feel myself veering into potentially dangerous territory. Reading this book was like a little life jacket being thrown my way. It was a voice saying, “You know how to do this. Remember?”

Some of my favorite underlinings:

  • Cravings… are deeply personal. Comparing your cravings with what other people experience is a losing game and can only serve to undermine your success.
  • There is no such thing as a permanent craving; all cravings eventually go away, whether or not we act or act out on them.
  • The ideal time to address your cravings is when you are not actively craving.
  • Another important brain function is to lie to you.
  • Health, happiness and even longevity benefits come from being helpful to others.

It’s good stuff. Check it out! You can pre-order here.

Disclosure:

I was fortunate enough to recently receive a copy of this book for review. For the record, I often get offers to review a product for this blog. My policy (and I am up front about this) is that I will accept things to review, but unless I really like it, I probably won’t take the time to write a review. I don’t really have time for negative reviews. Unless I really, really really DON’T like something. ;-)

 

 
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