Footloose and Fitness Tracker-Free

In June 2014, I bought a fitness tracker. I got myself a Fitbit One to wear on my hip rather than a wristband tracker because I really liked wearing my watch.

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Snazzy watch, much nicer than any fitness tracker.

I wore the tracker all day and all night, every day and every night. In 2016, hoping to shake things up by increasing the intensity of my exercise (coincidentally, this was also the upshot of Fitbit’s advertising at the time), I added a Charge HR to the mix. I wore the new tracker for daytime activities and the One for sleep tracking and felt confident that positive results would follow.

If you believe the reports, many people only wear their fitness trackers for a few months, but not me. I wore one fitness tracker or the other twenty-four hours every day for three years, even under my dress at my brother’s wedding. Gotta get credit for the Chicken Dance! (N.B., There was no Chicken Dance at my brother’s wedding.)

And then today, I deleted my Fitbit account. Read More

Dealing with Stress

Due to some discord in my community, I’ve been feeling a great deal of emotional stress lately. It kind of sucks, but it’s also provided me a chance to recognize some of the ways in which I manage stress. These are my instructions to myself, and I thought some of you might find them helpful, too.

1. Keep breathing.

I tend to hold my breath or breathe just at the very top of my lungs when I’m stressed. Taking a moment or two to breathe slowly and deeply seems to help. If I remember, I also add in a couple of metta phrases because—well, it couldn’t hurt.

2. Eat well.

My inclination is to drown my sorrows in a bag of potato chips, a bar of chocolate, and a dry martini, but those foods just accentuate my anxiety symptoms. It’s not as satisfying in the short term, but sticking with fruits, veggies, and other whole and healthy foods leaves me feeling better.

3. Take an e-mail break.

This might not work with every stressful situation, but this particular conflict is playing out largely in a frenzy of e-mail reply-alls, which means I get a phenomenal headache and my left eye twitches every time I look at my inbox. Checking e-mail only during two or three set times each day and logging off the rest of the time has been helping. I do worry that I’ll miss something important that’s unrelated to the stressful stuff, though, so if this lasts much longer, I’ll set up a filter and funnel all of the unpleasant e-mails to a folder I can look at when I feel ready for it.

4. Go outside.

Spring arrived in New England not a moment too soon. I take several walks a day, both with my kids and on my own, and while the sunshine and birdsong and peeping frogs don’t cure my headaches, they sure make them easier to bear.

5. Exercise.

Rather than curl up under a quilt, which is what I want to do, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 every morning and doing an hour of Fitness Blender workouts. Admittedly, I do not enjoy these workouts while I’m doing them, and I curse Daniel and Kelly with every jumping lunge or flutter-kick squat, but I feel deliciously exhausted afterward and ready for a shower and the rest of my day.

6. Keep an open heart.

As much as I want to close up and run away or lose myself in fantasies of moving to Asheville (North Carolina) or Brisbane (Australia), I’m doing my best to keep myself here both physically and emotionally. “Cut and run” is practically my motto, but I suspect sticking around offers me a great chance for spiritual growth and learning.

7. Connect with my senses.

On my walks, I look for rabbits and newly-opened flowers. I take my camera and look for new angles on the same old sights. I tune into my kids, especially when they’re playing harmoniously together. I smell the herbs and spices as I measure them into the soup, and I taste the grapefruit on my tongue. These things ground me.

8. Do something for someone else.

Taking meals to a friend or looking up fun, new dessert recipes to delight my family or surprising my spouse by doing the dinner dishes while he’s reading to the kids at bedtime help me take the focus off of my own stress and anger, fear and self-pity. Hugging people also helps.

9. Sleep.

When I’m stressed, I don’t sleep as well, which means I need to stay in bed longer to get enough rest to function well. I’ve been trying to prioritize an early bedtime over other important but less time-sensitive tasks (like my own pleasure reading). I definitely feel the difference when I’ve gotten a solid eight hours (or more).

10. Keep my family and friends close.

Maybe it’s the oxytocin release of being with loved ones, but it’s been helping to make time in my schedule just to be with my spouse, my kids, and my friends. All of them are precious to me and remind me that I’m precious to them, too, and that helps neutralize some of the negative effects of working through this conflict (even though—or perhaps because?—I rarely talk with them about it directly).

These are the things that have helped me during this most recent stressful time. They don’t erase the stress completely (and I certainly don’t do all of these things perfectly all the time), but every little bit helps.

What do you do to manage stress in your life?

On Not Seeing Doctors

When I was a kid, I liked going to the doctor. I didn’t like the tongue depressor (quick gag reflex and a near-phobia of vomiting) nor did I care for shots (for my booster shot at age five, four grown men had to hold me down so the nurse could give me one shot), but the waiting rooms were fun, and the medicines tasted good, and I got to be the center of attention for a few minutes.

Then I turned eighteen and decided to go on birth control, and had my first pelvic exam.

I’ll not mince words: I hate PAP and pelvic exams. And when I say I hate them, I mean I’m terrified of them. I find them utterly dehumanizing. I had two okay exams, one with a certified nurse midwife in private practice and one with a male OB at a Planned Parenthood. But aside from those two okay ones, I’ve had doctors leave me splay-legged and half-naked for minutes at a time because they forgot something across the room or out in the hall or somewhere. And then there’s the thing where the nurse sets everything up and I don’t even see the doctor doing the exam until my feet are up in the stirrups. And the awesomest: Three times I’ve had doctors surprise me with a rectal exam. Even if you like people to jump out from behind furniture and throw confetti—which I don’t—this isn’t generally a fun kind of surprise. (Surprise!)

But even though I hated pelvic exams, I got them like a good girl, every year from the time I turned eighteen, because they can detect cancer and keep me from dying.

And then I found out that maybe they don’t. From the NY Times, June 30, 2014:

“The reviewers said that they could not even locate studies that had assessed whether routine pelvic exams of asymptomatic women could reduce death or disease from ovarian and other cancers, or benefit women with common benign conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids or warts.”

Nope, American doctors have been putting me through a yearly humiliating exam for two decades and there’s not even any evidence supporting the practice. I have to wonder: What else are my doctors doing that’s not supported by actual evidence?

Oh! I know of another one! When I was in labor with my daughter, I had my nether regions probed by literally a dozen people, most of whom didn’t even bother to introduce themselves first, much less offer me any scientific explanation for what they were doing.

My husband could have diseases that need humiliating examinations to detect, but no one’s hounding him to bare his bottom to a stranger once a year. I wonder why that is? (That’s sarcasm. I know why that is. It’s because he’s a man and he gets to maintain his bodily integrity when there’s no reason not to.)

I’ve recently read a blog post about how doctors are bullied by their patients. I don’t doubt that this happens, but I have trouble feeling sympathy. In the doctor/patient relationship, who has the power? Nine out of ten times, I’m betting it’s the person who’s fully clothed. When I fight past the embarrassment of saying out loud that I’m having excruciating menstrual pain every month and my doctor says, “For just one or two days? I have patients who are in pain for one or two weeks around their periods,” and then he changes the subject, who’s being bullied?

So I’ve decided to opt out. Twenty years of paying someone to treat me like I’m not there is enough. If I didn’t need my thyroid prescription refilled, I wouldn’t go to the doctor at all. The least I can do is keep my pants on when I go.

Is it a hickey…or just eczema?

Although I’m pretty much just tired of thinking about and dealing with eczema, I’m still getting a lot of hits on my Execrable Eczema post from May 2012, so I thought I’d post an update. After this I’ll go back to my regular schedule of photo challenge posts, homeschooling posts, and posts about how I avoided fights in junior high.

First off, all of this is just what I’m doing to treat myself. It’s not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m suggesting for anyone else. I just thought I’d post about it because I thought people might be interested.

So, the eyelid eczema I wrote about in May 2012 lasted from September 2011 through April 2013, and it was joined in 2012 by a patch of eczema on my neck. I looked like I was a 36-year-old with a large, perpetual hickey. And I assure you, even though hickeys are associated with teenagers, a hickey look-alike does not lend an air of youthfulness any more than adult acne does.

All of the eczema went away in April after I made some changes to my diet and my habits, but the patches on my eyelids started trying to come back again in September. It isn’t too bad right now, though, and I think I’ve narrowed down a few things that help keep it at bay.

First, I’m pretty sure I’ve identified some triggers:

1) Dairy. This is what set off my flare in 2011, and the flare before that happened in 2009 when I did a dairy challenge. I normally avoid dairy, but sometimes I get it accidentally, so now I’m more vigilant.

2) Sugar. Sugar bothers me anyway, so I usually avoid it, but sometimes I just want to have a little something sweet. The current mild flare I’m having started after I ate a bunch of salt-water taffies a friend brought for my kids this fall (and then Halloween happened, and it took me a while to get away from the sugar again).

3) Whatever was in my old facial care products. I’ve gotten migraines from artificial fragrances since I was in junior high, so I always avoid those, but when I switched to using only unscented castille soap and extra virgin coconut oil on my face and body, my eczema improved dramatically.

I don’t think any of these is the root cause of my eczema because avoiding them doesn’t get rid of my eczema entirely, but they do seem to trigger it and/or make it worse.

When my eczema finally went away (for a while) this past April, it coincided with starting an immune-balancing regimen and quitting raw kale. Now, kale is a very healthy, nutrient-dense food, but I’d been eating a LOT of raw kale, and it might have been too much of a good thing. I was consuming 1/2 to 1 bunch of raw kale a day, in addition to 1/2 head of romaine lettuce and 1/2 bunch of cooked kale, collards, or other leafy green. I already have thyroid issues, and I think this was just too much for me.

In April I quit the raw kale—and my eczema went away. Hooray! (I also lost 7 pounds, which would support the idea that it was messing with my thyroid.)

But this fall when the eyelid eczema started coming back, I decided to tweak things again. I decided that I would focus on what I think are the two main causes of my eczema: inflammation and auto-immune reactions. I’ve not been able to get much help with this from my doctor (or, doctors, since I’ve been doctor shopping again), so I’ve been cobbling something together on my own. We’ll see how it works.

In addition to avoiding my triggers, here’s what I’m doing:

-Diet: I’m eating vegan, but with no raw crucifers. (Well, I’m vegan except for special occasions because I’m just not ready to trade turkey for lentil loaf.) I’ve been gluten-free since 2006, and now I’m avoiding all grains (not eliminating them, just eating much less of them). I’m also avoiding refined sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol.

I went back to eating vegan because it’s the way of eating that most sources agree is the most anti-inflammatory. Personal, possibly TMI, anecdotal evidence of this: I have really painful menstrual cramps when I’m on an omnivorous diet. Like, wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cramps. Like, “I gave birth to a nine-pound baby in a tub in my dining room and this is painful” cramps. I’ve been vegan again for a month, and it’s already better. Maybe it’s the anti-inflammatory effect? Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

-Supplements: I’m not super keen on dietary supplements, but there are a few I’m taking to help balance my immune system. I take an herbal immune balancing formula (Chinese mushrooms, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, probiotics), cod liver oil, time-release vitamin C, extra vitamin D, and a probiotic blend.

-Exercise: I take a brisk 30-minute walk and do 15-20 minutes of yoga every morning. I try to do other exercise, too, but this is the guaranteed, must-do, rain-or-ice exercise I do every day.

Things I want to add in, but I’m not quite there yet:

-Meditation: I do meditate, but it’s really hit-or-miss. My goal is to meditate for five minutes before lunch and then for 30 minutes in the evening. My sub-goal is to be able to meditate for 30 minutes in the evening without nodding off and then jerking myself awake when I start to teeter on my cushion.

-Essential oils: One immune-balancing protocol I’ve read prescribes specific essential oils at different times of day. I’m doing the morning one (rosemary or lemon, which I put in my morning shower and in the oil I use as a moisturizer), but the lavender at lunchtime and the eucalyptus in the evening aren’t happening regularly just yet.

-Sleep: 8-9 hours a night would be nice. My spouse attended a scientific conference last month where he heard a presentation about circadian rhythms and artificial light. Apparently, artificial light really screws up our circadian rhythms, and LED lights screw them up worst of all. Since the 1950’s, we’ve lost an average of 1.5 hours of sleep per night. While we sleep, our lymph system dilates and works to flush out toxins, like the metabolic byproducts of running our big brains, and if we don’t get adequate sleep, this process is incomplete. I’d like to give my lymphatic system ample time to clean out the junk, but I’m not quite ready to give up my evening quiet time or to read by candlelight, so this one’s going on the back burner.

For now, my eczema is in a holding pattern. My eyelids are itchy and varying shades of red, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was before. So, either what I’m doing is working, or it’s all just a big coincidence and I could actually be eating steaks and cupcakes and wearing eye makeup and it wouldn’t make any difference at all.

Because I like to have an illusion of control, I’m going with the former.

Once again, this is not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m recommending for other people. It’s just what’s working (or at least what I hope is working) for me, and I’m sharing it because I think some folks might be interested. Please don’t take it as advice because that’s not at all what I intend.

Sleep Survey, Revised

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It has been brought to my attention that my original sleep survey is quite long. I like writing (and I seem especially to like writing about myself), so I didn’t really notice this, but now that I think of it, it is a little long. And kind of like the questions you might get at a first visit to a naturopath.

So, here’s a shorter version. We’ll see if I get more responses to this one. If not, I’ll just assume y’all don’t like talking about sleep, and I’ll renew my focus on finishing the books I’m reading and posting a couple of book reviews.

1) On average, do you feel like you get enough sleep to be at the top of your game?

1a) If so, what tips do you have for getting enough sleep?

1b) And if not, what tips do you have for getting sub-optimal sleep?

I’m asking these questions on my blog because I’m looking for real-world experiences from real-life people, not suggestions from professional experts who frequently give great-sounding advice that’s completely impractical (or incomplete to the point that it’s useless, like the tip I read recently that getting adequate sleep increases your willpower with no suggestions for how to get more sleep if it’s lack of willpower that’s keeping you from getting to bed at a decent hour). I know all of the great reasons for getting enough sleep, but that somehow doesn’t translate to actually getting enough sleep. So, I’m soliciting help from my readers to try to find a way to bridge that gap.

Sleep Survey

I’m trying a new approach to my ongoing problems getting a reasonable amount of sleep: comparing myself to others.

I’m hoping that with feedback from many people about how much sleep works (or doesn’t work) for them, I might be able to convince myself that going to bed earlier is a good thing to prioritize. Alternatively, perhaps I will discover some new strategies to cope with chronic sleep deprivation so I don’t have to increase the number of hours I sleep.

Please answer the following questions in the comments:

  1. When are your usual go-to-bed and wake-up times? (If you don’t have usual bedtime and wake-up times, what is your usual range/how many hours do you usually get?)
  2. Do you sleep straight through, or do you wake up in the night?
  3. Do you feel rested when you wake up?
  4. Do you feel like you get the right amount of sleep for you, or would you rather get more or less sleep?
  5. How can you tell when you’re getting enough vs not enough sleep? How do you feel physically/mentally?

If you’re comfortable doing so, include any details about your sleep that you think are pertinent (like if you have a newborn at home or if you work third shift or if you use no electric lights or something like that).

To kick things off, here are my answers:

  1. My go-to-bed and wake-up times vary pretty dramatically (well, my wake-up time usually stays the same (+/- 30 minutes), but my bedtime could be anywhere from ~7pm to ~2am). My kids have regular, early-ish bedtimes (the little guy between 7 and 7:30 and my daughter between 8:30 and 9:00), so I can’t blame them for my getting to bed late. I’m trying to figure out a way to blame my spouse, but so far nothing’s stuck. Lately I’m in bed by about 1:30am and get up around 6:30 or 7:00am.
  2. I wake up two to three times in the night that I notice. Sometimes it’s because of a cat or a kid, but even if everyone else is sleeping soundly, I seem to wake up at least once.
  3. No, I do not feel rested. Or sometimes I feel rested when I wake up, but that fades by the time I get to the kitchen to make breakfast.
  4. I think I could use more sleep, but I don’t want to sleep any more hours. Instead, I would like my body (and brain) to run well on the amount of sleep I get.
  5. Not enough sleep: I feel run down, have more aches and pains (esp neck and back), more anxiety, more negative self criticism, more cravings for sweets; I yell at my kids more. Enough sleep: This happens rarely, but when it does I feel energetic and optimistic; pretty much the opposite of “not enough sleep.” I’m also more likely to exercise when I’ve had enough sleep (it doesn’t seem to work the other way, though, unless I’m just not exercising enough.)

Execrable Eczema

<Begin Rant>

I give up.

Eczema on my EYELIDS since September.

See the swollen, scaly, red portion up near my eyebrow? (It’s maddeningly itchy, too, but you probably can’t see that.) See the cream that got trapped in the creases of my eyelid? See that I really need to have my eyebrows done?

I thought it was triggered by some dairy I accidentally ate and that it was finally going away after I assiduously followed a high-meditation, high-green-vegetable, low-sugar, low-grain, darned-near-vegan diet for months, but it’s BACK with a vengeance.

This despite the assurance of multiple (well, two) doctors that it would go away when the weather warmed up and got more humid, even though I TOLD them I never had this in the 7+ years I lived in the desert (it doesn’t get much less humid than Utah, folks).

Actually, I had it a couple of times in the desert but only when I ate dairy and it always went away within three weeks of going back off the dairy. But they just ignored this piece of information. And this from the so-called “holistic-minded” physicians I saw. Use more lotion, they said. And I say I want my co-pay back.

I would cry, but it would just make the cream I put on my eyelids run into my eyes.

<End Rant>

Balancing Act

Lately, I’ve noticed three brown-headed cowbird pairs pecking at the fallen seed under our feeders.

There is a beauty to them, especially the males, with their sleek black body feathers and their deep brown heads. They look like they’re made of velvet. But knowing that there are other birds’ nests that are playing host to cowbird young poised to shove out the smaller, legitimate nestlings, I feel conflicted about the cowbirds’ presence. I want to feed the birds, but by doing so, I’m also feeding this parasitic species. But if I stop putting out food, I eliminate the food source not just for the cowbirds but for all of the other non-parasitic passerines.

This conundrum echoes a struggle in which I’ve been engaged for weeks now.

I’m currently part of two monthly book clubs, a weekly webinar entitled “Immigration as a Moral Issue,” a bi-weekly discussion group called “Finding Your Spiritual Path,” and our church Social Action Committee. In addition to this, I homeschool my kids (including the hour or more each day my daughter and I practice flute together) and my husband and I are trying to make an effort to connect with other people in our community by initiating and accepting dinner invitations.

Each of these things has value, but I’m wiped out. I’m inclined to drop my evening activities and focus instead on reading and going to bed early and meditating in the mornings, which are all things that I know feed my spirit. Trouble is, my evening activities are the only social things I do for myself. If I cut them out, will the loss of that social interaction hurt me more than help me? Will I be shutting myself off from deepening friendships? But if I keep them, will I just be perpetuating this feeling of being spread thin?

How do I know when it serves my needs better to cut out activities than to add activities?

Where is the balance?

My Craziest Idea Yet: Sleeping

Where I should be spending 1/3 of my life.

The idea goes that I spend so many hours with my kids, I need time to myself to function properly, even if this means giving up adequate sleep to get said alone time.

I recently realized that this is an entirely untested hypothesis.

What if I actually function better if I get adequate sleep but sacrifice some of my precious Me time?

I really have never tried this for more than two nights in a row. I just can’t seem to give up the reading or blogging or blog-reading that fills the hours between the kids’ bedtime at 8:30 and 12 or 1 when I finally go to bed myself. What’s really awesome is when I go back and spend an hour reading my old blog posts. Yes, that is a very good use of my time. Or when I start some movie or tv show on Netflix and then lose interest or get bogged down by how weird it is for real people to be acting out stories in front of a camera so that I can sit in my pjs in front of my laptop and watch them pretending to be someone else. (Apparently, this is what happens when I get away from television for long enough: the entire concept seems weird to me. Which in itself is a profound shift because I used to totally rock the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game and now I can hardly recognize the names of the current stars. Or even the current movies.)

But I don’t go to bed feeling fulfilled. I feel tired and irritable and greedy for more time to waste. In the morning I’m all of those things plus resentful of my children for taking me away from my alone time. I’ve been snapping at the kids and just in general not being a very engaged and pleasant mommy.

This evidence suggests that my current “it’s worth being tired if I get to do nothing much for several hours every night” hypothesis isn’t working out very well.

My new hypothesis is this: If I get adequate sleep, I’ll be able to feel happier with my children during the day and make better use of the time I have to myself because I have less of it and won’t be so tempted to squander it.

To test this hypothesis, I will be going to bed at 9:30 every night for a month. Okay, well, maybe for a week. And if that works out alright, I’ll try it for two weeks. Then for a third, and with any luck, make it to a full month.

During this one- to four-week period, I will go to bed at 9:30 even if that means I don’t get to finish a blog post every evening. I’ll go to bed on time even if it means it takes me a full week to read a novel. (In this way, I suppose it will be in line with my focus on simplicity, too.)

I know that this will be a challenge. But I’m hopeful that once I’m more well-rested I’ll be better able to maintain routines during the day, which will benefit my children’s moods and my own. I hope that I will lose some of this brain fog and fatigue-related…you know, that thing where you can’t remember things? Not insomnia… Not magnesia…

At any rate, maybe I’ll be able to think more clearly and be more effective when I go to try to do something with my brain.

And maybe I’ll even be able to get some reading or blogging in during the day while the kids are up because they’ll be happy to spend some time playing quietly on their own after spending high-quality time with their new and improved non-zombie Mommy!

But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

What I’m really hoping is that I can actually follow my experimental design. Even during that year when my daughter was up at 4:30 every morning I couldn’t bring myself to go to bed at a decent hour. But I’m nothing if not inconsistently persistent.

So, here goes nothing! I’ll let you know how I do.

Tolstoy on Acts of Kindness

“As our self-interest diminishes, our anxieties disappear, and then comes quiet and firm joy, which always diffuses us with a good spiritual disposition and a clear conscience. Every good deed helps to kindle this feeling of joy within us.”

 Tolstoy

(from Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project, Moment of Happiness” on Tuesday. Visit Gretchen Rubin’s site, The Happiness Project, to sign up for a daily “Moment of Happiness” in your own e-mail inbox.)