Today, Herschel Supply Company sent me an email inviting me to reflect on the past year. Though I imagine they wanted me to reflect on their lookbooks of wistful models strolling moody beaches and buy another satchel, it instead reminded me that I wanted to post something here on the blog.
So, to close out the year, I would like to express some awe that I survived it. I would also like to offer some gratitude for those who helped, and a few health lessons I learned along the way.
2015 was my first year of being gluten-free. It was also my first year of full-time grad school and teaching and my first year of conference presentations (three of them—all equally harrowing for this introvert). I’m not sure which of these was most stressful, and although I’d guess it was the presentations, I’ve had anxiety dreams about accidentally eating dinner rolls almost once a week for the whole year. So perhaps celiac takes the cake. (Ha.)
The idea of dedicating oneself to a healthy lifestyle scares people, and rightly so. There is no “get in shape and be done with it.” It’s practically a full-time job. Forever. Few people have the “luxury” of devoting sufficient time and energy to our health. Those who do seem conspicuously privileged.
Pam Peeke, one of my favorite health experts, says health is a triad: it comes down to mouth, muscle and mind. Not only must we figure out what to eat and how to exercise, but we must figure out the mental thing. That is the hardest, the constant fight, isn’t it? Breaking unhealthy routines. Sticking with healthy ones. I go through the same motivation ups and downs every year. What changes: the ups get longer and the downs get shorter. I take this as a sign of progress.
On balance, I’ve gotten healthier, year over year, for the past decade.
Except, of course, for spending most of 2014 mysteriously unwell. I was sometimes in debilitating pain, other times in demotivating discomfort. I lost weight. The muscle I’d gained from bouldering disappeared and my clothes sagged and draped like hospital gowns. To make matters worse, I stopped climbing because I was afraid that if my body wasn’t getting the nourishment it needed, rigorous exercise would only further deprive it. Without much muscle or fat to pad a fall, I was also afraid of breaking bones. So I got even scrawnier.
People commented about my weight. They expressed concern that I wasn’t eating well. I didn’t know what to say. When someone said to me “and you’re supposed to be the health expert,” I broke down and cried.
So I would like to offer a small note of gratitude to Missy, the nurse practitioner who met with me one year ago and for a full 45 minutes listened while I read off (yes, I had an actual list) my symptoms and the things I had tried to do to fix them. At one point I started to cry (yes, again). Missy gave me a hug. She also gave me a thorough battery of tests, and one was a blood test for celiac.
I was utterly grateful for the celiac diagnosis one week later, after having been turned away time and again by doctors who didn’t listen. Their answer, always: just try “X” and come back if it doesn’t work. The advice—stop drinking coffee, stop drinking alcohol, start taking antacids—cost me hundreds of dollars out of pocket. And it didn’t work.
I understand that it’s good to try ruling things out with natural remedies, but I didn’t have time for the trial and error—I literally felt like I was dying. With undiagnosed celiac, I kind of was. If the doctors had listened to me, as Missy did, I think the celiac test would have occurred to them.
So, lesson #1: Go to nurse practitioners instead of doctors. Or find someone you trust who will listen.
Lesson #2: Be prepared to communicate and to stand up for yourself, even as someone’s writing you a prescription you didn’t ask for and shooing you out of their office.
Lesson #3: Be persistent and trust yourself. Don’t ignore your own intuition. It doesn’t matter if you are a “nuisance” or a “hypochondriac.” We are the ones who’d have to live with an error, and we know our bodies better than anyone else.
This past year—2015—was a good health year for me. I had fun being back in school and traveling for conferences (and tango festivals). I started doing Craig Ballantyne’s Bodyweight 100 regimen at the school gym between classes. I gained some of the weight and muscle back, though it’s still a work in progress. My family even made gluten-free cakes for family parties.
Being a private person, it feels a little strange to put some of this on the blog. I usually stick to snarky assessments of marketing tactics or making fun of NdGT’s science as religion. But if it might provide some tidbit of solace to someone, it will be worth it. I think we’re all dealing with something. Or many things… those perpetual mysteries and challenges to staying alive.
I’ve heard that the secret to longevity is rolling with the punches. Getting older and creakier is a fact of life. We may as well settle in for a long game of whack-a-mole and do the best we can with our health.
I’ll never forget reading an article about Margarete Hicken, a Utah centenarian, before she passed away at the ripe age of 107. Interviewed by one of my fellow writers for Community Magazine, Hicken credited her long life to, among other things, dancing every day.
I’ve heard about the health and stress benefits of dancing many times. Tango surely kept me sane in 2015. Though I’m probably too neurotic and introverted to live to 100, I’ll give it my best shot.
See you on the dance floor in the New Year?