Sunday, July 20, 2014

That moment

It rained for about half and hour this afternoon. While nothing more than a novelty due to our ongoing severe drought, it was lovely for a little bit.

I had the urge to pull out my camera. It's even charged, which is kind of a surprise. It seems every time I go to pull it out the battery is dead.

I got some fun pictures while it was raining.

Rain drops! 
The oaks

This is *my* backyard with the towering oaks

I picked up my camera today ♥

Rain drops and jacked up toe nails

The moment I'm referencing is the decision to pick up my camera. Today is really the first honest time I've picked it up and NOT felt any grief or sadness or energy around it. I enjoyed feeling it in my hands, snapping pictures as the rain fell. I still know my camera, it's settings, and photography principles inside out, the memory hasn't left me. I even missed my Flickr account for a minute (although Yahoo has completely ruined the greatness that was Flickr a few years back, which is why I cancelled my account).

My love of gardening has returned. I sit and read my gardening books, getting ideas for my 'someday' home. I have held out hope for the past 4+ years that photography will be the same way, but it has been slow to return.

I signed up for an REI outdoor photography class in August* which just happens to be a few minutes from where I work in Auburn, and I'm really looking forward to it. Wish me luck.

Update - The class is on 8/22, link here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


I have been accused of being unsentimental. I eloped because I didn't care about having a wedding. I wanted to throw away my high school yearbooks until my Mom said she'd take them if I didn't want them, and that made me feel bad, so they sit in storage. Pomp and circumstance just doesn't run in my blood. We all die and eventually nobody remembers us, that's just the way it works.

Every night before I go to bed, I do the following after my nightly routine of brushing my teeth, etc:
I put a pair of sneakers by my bed.
I put a lightweight pullover next to the sneakers.
I put my laptop and charger in a case with my iPad.
I put that case next to my backpacking backpack, masquerading as my 72 hour kit.

If I were to need to evacuate in a moment's notice, I'd be ready with all the things I needed.

I've done this as long as I can remember in some form or another, and as you can see, there's not much sentimentality to it. Food, clothes, internet - my hierarchy of needs.

Getting ready for July 4th is always an exercise in anxiety for me. This year I had planned to take all of the things listed above and put them in my offsite storage unit for the weekend, just in case the dry "greenbelt" behind me caught fire and I had to evacuate. (It's worth noting that one of the buildings in my complex burnt down due to fireworks a couple years back). This July 4th, I added one more thing to the list above: a small box of pictures I've collected over the years.

Honestly, this kind of shocked me. I'm not sentimental so why all of a sudden am I interested in saving pictures? I had the chance to go through them with my Mom recently, as she was cleaning out her garage and found loads of pictures from me and my sister's childhood. We had a blast looking through both sets of pictures. I thought I knew myself as a child, but this was a new experience.

Like the one of me hiking in Glacier National Park when I was 12. This was the most spiritual experience of my life to date, and the first one I can really remember. I've talked about it forever, and now I have a picture of that very trip.

Or my high school graduation pictures where my eyes are the deepest blue I've ever seen because I was happy and *possibly* falling in love with someone. So much promise.

Being able to see my childhood through a new lens casts clarity on my life as an adult. And while I may not be sentimental, I now know where that box of pictures is each night when I head to bed, just in case...

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I have to admit that not having a real garden has been weighing heavy on my heart this past year. The drumming has gotten louder and louder the past few months.

g a r d e n

When I bought a peach from the grocery store and it tasted like shit and was hard as a rock, I was reminded of the peach trees I've planted at different houses where I no longer live and frankly, it pissed me off. Royally.

So why do I live in an apartment, you ask? To save money. Rent is more than I care to pay in this area. Plus it seems like a waste for me to rent a house. I can't buy a house because I am still in credit/foreclosure purgatory. Even if I could, I couldn't afford anything where I want to live on my salary alone, and location is not a sacrifice I am willing to make.

I went house shopping in Auburn with a good friend the other night and she has a budget that is slightly higher than mine would be. I wasn't impressed with what was out there, but then again I left Auburn thinking I'd probably not live there again. My friend is a single mom with two kids and a house makes perfect sense for her. A single woman who is out and about all the time - my apartment functions more like a locker with a bed. THAT is why I am here. And don't get me wrong, I really do like my apartment, I just wish I had a garden.

Speaking of garden.

My Intuition is funny. One day at work I had the urge to Google "placer county community gardens" and the first result that popped up was our local food bank. Curiously, I clicked on the link and found that they have volunteers that garden and harvest at local ranches/orchards/gardens. I couldn't believe my luck! I put in my name and heard back from them a while later saying they would be thrilled to have me as a volunteer. They gave me some options and low and behold, there was an orchard not five minutes from my apartment.

This morning I got up early and made sure to eat breakfast since I knew I'd be working off those calories in no time (eating enough is my Achilles heel), and hightailed it over to the orchard, following their directions on where to meet the volunteer coordinator. I came around the corner (there were LARGE piles of compost and horse manure) to this:

It was if I died and went to heaven.

I met the coordinator who is a lovely woman from the local Rotary club who oversees the garden. It was about a quarter acre (half maybe?) of vegetables, tucked into the back of a 45-acre orchard. She told me that the farm is 100% organic, and has cut its water use 60% during the drought, watering his trees only once a week, with no ill effect due to his organic practices.The farmer has said that he plans on using far less water even after the drought ends because of how well he's able to dial things in with less of it.

Today I picked beans and weeded. It was about 70F with a light breeze. Everything lined up just right - one of those perfect will-always-remember moments in my life, and I was able to thank my Intuition for leading me here. It was a wonderful day to be in the garden. I was pretty spent after a couple hours of stooping to pick beans off bushes, so I was glad it was short. I have noticed my knees are older than my age (another fun side effect of my illness) and squatting/standing up repeatedly messes with my blood pressure, so I was grateful to rake up the weeds I pulled in a standing position.

They also have volunteers on Wednesday evenings, and if I'm feeling saucy I might participate then too. But now I know what I'm doing on Saturday mornings going forward! I asked if this is a year round gig, and if the water situation gets better they will be doing a winter garden. Pinch me, seriously.

I'm glad to have found one more thing to help me get out of my own head and try new things this year. I took up golf, have found a place to volunteer (and thanks to the Placer Food Bank for being super organized!), and am breaking down lots of old ideas in my life, trying new things all the time. Creating the life of my dreams has been an experience beyond my wildest imagination.

More soon.

Friday, June 27, 2014


People who don't know me or what I've been through only see the outside.

I look healthy.
I take care of my body and am in good shape.
I have good skin.
My hair is boss and I keep it tight (haha!).

I try to keep up with other people and do fun things but sometimes it's hard for me to acknowledge my limitations. And because I look healthy, other people don't believe me when I tell them I need to rest and take care of myself. They may think my radical self-care is selfish and bizarre given that I am single and childless. They have no idea what I've been through, and it's hard to get people to understand that just because I look like a healthy, normal adult doesn't mean it isn't a full time struggle job to maintain my health.

  • What you don't see is the 2-4 medical appointments I go to a month (I was in 2 separate medical professional's offices today, plus a lab for bloodwork).
  • How I meticulously watch what I eat and monitor my intake of certain nutrients/foods (sodium, vitamins B,C,D, iron).
  • You might not know that I had to learn how to walk again, using a wheelchair and a walker.
  • Or that I lean my hips against sinks/counters to stabilize myself.
  • You've probably never noticed that I lift my legs manually when I'm sitting, crossing and uncrossing them with my hands.
  • Or that I have to lift my legs when I get into my truck sometimes, especially if I'm tired.
  • You might not know that the reason I have short hair is because it all fell out, or that I keep it that way is because my head is crazy hot at all times and I get migraines if my hair is long.
  • You can't see the stage 3B kidney disease, hearing loss, memory loss/troubles or how I manage these on a day-to-day basis.
  • You don't see the nerve damage throughout my body but especially how it affects my fingers and feet. Or how my skin feels itchy or like things are crawling on it all the time.
  • You may not know that I am no longer able to metabolize certain foods and have to avoid all dairy, tomatoes, peppers, mushroom, and cauliflower (this list is growing).

It is a lot of work to keep up with my health. I hide it well and people who didn't walk through Hell with me (like my parents and best friend) don't understand where I was and what I've been through. They can't look at my healthy-looking body today and even begin to imagine that I was in a coma, hooked up to multiple IV trees, had a machine breathing for me, swelled to 2x my normal body size (200+ lbs) had to learn to walk again, or any of that stuff. Because I mostly did that work alone with medical help and the aforementioned family and best friend.

Just because someone looks healthy doesn't mean you have ANY idea what they deal with.

I am part of an elite club of 833 people in the US who had meningococcal disease (bacterial meningitis) in 2010. 79 of them died. I was lucky enough to live, but my presence and this body is a constant reminder of my brush with death. You may not see my trach scar across my neck but I see it every time I look in the mirror. I have grown to see it and all of my other physical scars as symbols of triumph, determination, and sheer stubborn will. Tenacity. This is me. This is my life. This is me surviving and kicking ass.

I often feel like this story gets old because some folks who read my blog have been around a while and watched me almost lose my life and recover from it. I shy away from telling this story because it can get redundant or obnoxious to hear it over and over. But as the time passes and more people filter into my life and have no idea what I survived, the need to tell it again comes up. People ask why I'm struggling weeks after a backpacking trip and this is why. On the outside I look healthy, on the inside my health is incredibly vulnerable. I do everything I can to protect it.

Meningococcal disease isn't just an acute illness, it's a life sentence.
And as hard as it is sometimes, I wouldn't trade my life for anything.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Speaking of tired

I put OJ away in the cupboard two days ago and just found it when I went to get a cup.

Heaven help me.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Going Caffeine Free

This winter I couldn't shake the sense of anxiety that was plaguing me. I had daily panic attacks, felt awful, and wasn't sleeping well. I'm usually fairly adept at figuring out what's going on, but this eluded me for a few months. I just assumed it was my normal winter blues.

In late March a coworker with whom I shared a coffee pot came over to my desk and asked if I had gone to Starbucks that morning. I looked at the grande Americano on my desk and said yes. He held up the coffee pot we normally share from after him and another coworker had their coffee, still 2/3 full and said, "This is how much coffee you drink everyday!"

That's the moment I realized why I wasn't feeling well.

Caffeine History

I started drinking coffee in college and usually only had a cup a day for years, plus a soda or tea with lunch. My caffeine didn't really spiral out of control until I moved to Auburn and started drinking coffee without cream. The blacker, the richer the coffee, the better. A couple years later I moved to Roseville and my coffee consumption stayed the same.

After my illness, I discovered I had some issues with my adrenal system. I took a buyout from my previous job to take time off, moved to Auburn, and spent a year sleeping and not doing much else. It was all I could do to get up, shower, and get dressed on a daily basis. It was a nutritionist who finally told me that she thought I was suffering from adrenal fatigue. I started taking vitamin D and B12 and within a couple weeks felt like a new woman. Slowly, I began feeling human again. I started eating better after struggling for years with not eating enough. I was well aware of how adrenal issues plague me, or so I thought.

After my coworker pointed out how much coffee I drank, I Googled "too much caffeine" and the results surprised me. Caffeine affects cortisol production which takes place in your adrenal system. Having come out of my adrenal fatigue fog, I knew this was an important issue I needed to handle. I wondered if my kidneys would get better if I stopped drinking caffeine? My last blood test from this winter results showed my kidney function had gone down after three consecutive years of going up. Combined with the stress and anxiety I was experiencing, I decided to give my kidneys a break.

I stopped drinking coffee for good on March 27, 2014.

How I Did It

I switched from coffee to tea the very next day. Within a few days my body was on to my trickery and I had a minor headache that lasted for a about a week. The headache is the reason I decided to wean off caffeine instead of going cold turkey. I have had caffeine withdrawal headaches so bad in the past that I actually puked. No thank you.

For about six weeks I limited myself to one cup of black tea (no sugar) a day, brewed the same way every time so I was getting consistently the same caffeine. After six weeks, I started replacing my regular tea with decaf very slowly. I started with a tiny bit of decaf in my regular tea, and within a few weeks was drinking only decaf. Once I was down to decaf only, I drank less and less until one day I only took a couple sips of it. It was time.

The next day, June 3, 2014 was my first day sans caffeine. I'm only two and a half weeks out, but I have already noticed some changes:

The Bad? 
  • I am beyond tired. In reading other people's journeys to caffeine freedom, this is really common and can last up to two months. I've gone to bed at 6:30pm, 7:30pm, and 8:30pm in the last couple weeks. I'm waking up exhausted and it takes me a while to get going in the morning. If I can just get through this, I hear it gets much easier.
The Good! 
  • I am drinking a lot more water and find myself thirsty more often. I used to never feel thirsty and was chronically dehydrated. It's refreshing to feel my body sending cues and being able to react to them.
  • My skin looks AMAZING. I've been lucky to have pretty good skin as an adult, but it just glows these days. This is also probably a result of being more hydrated.
  • My libido is back. While this may be more info than you care to know, I always had a sense that something wasn't right. I used to never have any problems, but it was a MAJOR deal in my last relationship. All of a sudden, I feel...better...again. Random, but hey...
  • I have always had to work hard to maintain a specific weight/body fat percentage, but since quitting caffeine my body is having an easier time staying at its baseline. I'm sure this has to do with the cortisol response brought on by caffeine, and how your body holds on to fat. I'm not a doctor or a scientist, so I am only guessing, but it's a lovely surprise. Especially since I've been too tired to hit the gym as much as I normally do.
The Unexpected...
  • Quitting caffeine was harder than quitting alcohol. I stopped drinking alcohol in 2011, and that was a cake walk compared to this. (Maybe I'm just lucky). Also, I apparently like to quit things. 

This is what has worked for me. I know lots of people who aren't plagued by issues and can enjoy their caffeine with impunity. Alas, I am not one of them. I do feel better without it and I know that if I went back it would only be a slide into being right back where I was - having panic attacks and major anxiety all the time. It's just not worth it. A coworker of mine said about coffee, "Meh. It smells better than it tastes if you really think about it." So I'll enjoy the aroma when they make it in the morning and know I'm making the best decision for myself.

I'll report back if I notice any other changes.