Grackle & Sun

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

5.29 = 39

I work in a lovely little tea room.  On it’s wall is a lovely, little old wooden calendar with knobs on the side for changing the days and months.  Every morning, as I go through my tasks getting the cafe ready for opening, I turn the calendar to the next date.  Today, I got to turn it to my birthday.  That was fun.  :D

Here is to a wonderful year for all.   May it be full of good health,  good company, many, many good adventures, and Every Good Thing!  There’s a lot stirring at ye ole Grackle & Sun house.  Ideas forming and incubating.  Plans being sussed out.  So, here also is to finding that place inside one’s self where creativity and security, function and passion meet.  And most of all, here is to honouring our true selves, our deepest inner spirit.  Many happy returns!

Paleo: 365

This past Sunday marked the 1 year point for my paleo experiment.  I would say “Woot!”, but since I see this as my new norm and plan on eating this way forever, it would be a little silly.  Like giving a cheer after brushing your teeth or making your bed.  Well, if I ever made my bed, I might actually give a cheer, so that’s a bad example.  Lol.  My mother would weep if she read that.  She did teach me better, but I rebel.  And digress.

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Clearly I like this Paleo thing a whole lot.  It’s pretty amazing and has been instrumental in turning my health around.  Today I just want to hit on the key points I’ve learned while eating Paleo this last year:

1.  The cleaner your diet, the stronger your body’s reactions when you stray.   It seems a little counter-intuitive.  You’d think that by giving your body a break from highly processed, sugar-laden, additive-filled, inflammation causing, gut destroying foods, you would help strengthen your system so that it could better tolerate the occasional powdered donut or bag of peanut M & Ms.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Turns out your body likes feeling good, and when you put bad fuel into the tank, it is more than happy to let you know you done wrong.  And punish you for it.  With joint pain, edema, bloating, headaches, breakouts, hives, sinus congestion, wheezing, diarrhea, constipation, and all manner of gassiness.  The body is fantastically creative with the myriad ways it can hate a bagel.   If you’re going to stray from the path, better make sure it’s for the best meal of your life.  Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

2.  Sugar.  If this year taught me anything, it is to pay attention to one’s sugar intake.  It effects everything from energy levels to immune functioning to gut flora.  It seems so innocent, but sugar really, really, really is completely and utterly responsible for so very much of ALL THE BAD happening in your body.  Did you see how many unnecessary modifiers I used to emphasize this?  Here’s the thing:  I have a monster sweet tooth.  This sweet tooth, unlike what many Paleo gurus promised, has not gone away in my year of very strict Paleo eating.  So learning to live with this whole sugar issue is important to me (and to the happiness of everyone around me).  I have to find a balance.  What I’ve learned through many much reading is that fructose in particular is the form that is harmful.  And although sugar intake should be moderated no matter what kind you’re ingesting, some forms are better than others.  But always, always in moderation.  If you read point #1 above, you’ve probably guessed already that the cleaner you’re diet, the more moderate your body’s idea of moderation.  So, what was a moderate amount of sugar intake in the first few months of my Paleo diet is now too much, and I’m wrestling with tapering off my sweet binges even more.  Wish me luck.

3.  Legumes.  They really do mess with the gut.  Lectin.  Who knew?  When I started Paleo, this was the one category that I had a hard time believing was actually causing any problems.   I was skeptical.  I grew up eating rice and beans like most people in the States grow up eating mac n’ cheese.   But I was good, and I cut out legumes completely for the first 6 months.  Then I reintroduced peanuts back into my diet.  And then chickpeas (in the form of hummus).  I had my mom’s rice and beans once as a treat, and I ate some Korean gochujang (soy based) a handful of times in the last month or so.  And you know what?  Although legumes are delicious, they are hell on my system.  I never would have suspected any of this if I hadn’t tested it on myself.  And so we refer back to point #1 yet again.  I’m not saying I’ll never eat them again, but it will be a rare treat for sure.

4.  Macronutrient needs are changeable.  Fat especially was incredibly important in helping maintain my body temperature in cold weather—-and as a person with hypothyroidism, this can be so hard to do.   In recent years, I’ve worn long johns under my clothes from October to May.  But this year, I was really happy to have made it through winter with more cold tolerance than I’ve had in years.  I stayed warm, which is really saying a lot.  And I learned at the 6 month mark that unlike the rest of the dairy food group, butter causes no problems for me whatsoever.  That is reason for a WOOT! if ever there was one.   I have a good understanding now that protein is the core food for giving the body long-lasting, stable energy.  It’s common knowledge, I know.  But it’s one thing to read it and another thing entirely to experience it.  But what was most interesting to me was finding the right balance of carb intake.  No matter what anybody says, Paleo is not meant to be another low-carb Atkins diet.  Carbs are important.   Sweet potatoes are great for boosting carb intake—just be careful not to base your diet entirely on carbs rather than greens, veg, and protein.  Your waistline will tell you quickly if you’re overdoing it.  Lol.

5.  Water.  I’m going to state the bleeding obvious now:  The body doesn’t work right when it’s not properly hydrated.  What is not bleeding obvious is exactly how much water intake is necessary to be properly hydrated and just how quickly the body gives signals that it needs water when intake has been inadequate.  Signals that have nothing to do with thirst.  You have to pay attention.  Again, as mentioned in point #1, the ways that this translates in the body are many and varied.  The subtle symptoms of low-level dehydration are much more noticeable after you’ve started to feel better in general.   After all, when you ache all the time, what’s one more discomfort?  But when you feel good, it’s much easier to pinpoint the cause of dis-ease.  There was a time when I would have considered being so sensitive to everything as a weakness, but now I see it as a really amazing, fine-tuned diagnostic skill.  It’s very cool to be that in tune with your own body.  It is useful—but only if you listen to it.

6.  Exercise.  Bring the ass, and the mind will follow.  My mantra.  Moving around is crucial to health and well-being—both physical and mental.  It is absolutely one of the most fundamental aspects of the Paleo template.  You can eat the cleanest diet ever, but if you don’t use your body—-if you don’t move it and lift heavy things and run and play—-you will never achieve true wellness.  I also learned that if you don’t maintain regular exercise, the body reverts back to it’s old ways very, very quickly.  If you take a week off, prepare to hurt a little when you get back to it.  If you do like I did, and get all anxious and depressed and don’t exercise for, oh, 4 months, prepare to basically start over from scratch.  Especially if you are on the far end of your 30’s.  Ahem.

7.  Greens.  You need ’em.  By the bale.  Paleo diets can vary a lot—some people eat tons of meat, some only eat fish, some are near vegetarian.  But the one thing that needs to be a dietary focus no matter how you eat Paleo is the intake of a wide variety of dark, leafy greens.  Greens are nutritionally dense and supply vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you’re just not going to get with any other foods.   I crave them.  I daydream about grazing on kale.  It’s a little (or a lot) weird, but I think it’s my body’s way of making sure I get all my micronutrients.  Clever brain.  Which brings us to…

8.  The gut is the second brain.  If it doesn’t work right, not much else in your body will work at it’s best either.  And it absolutely effects mood and thought patterns.  So, if you want to be healthy and happy, you gotta have a healthy gut.  Everything I’ve been reading points to the fact that excess sugar in the diet feeds harmful bacteria in the gut.  This negative balance of intestinal flora not only messes with basic digestive habits, but it often leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining, and therefore an inability to properly absorb nutrients and to uptake serotonin.  It can also lead to leaky gut syndrome which is a big deal if you have any autoimmune issues like I do, because it causes further negative autoimmune responses and inflammation in the body.  I think the importance of this point cannot be stressed enough.  The gut is the key.

9.  Keeping it simple.   The further I go on this journey, the simpler I want my food.  Fresh ingredients prepared with as little fuss as possible.  That’s what I crave.  I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or a physical thing or both.  But it has been a persistent theme this year.  With the exception of the occasional paleo brownies, I’m not interested in recreating “normal” food with Paleo versions.  First of all, I don’t like cooking that much.  Second of all, a lot of those recipes (much like in the raw food diet) are really nut-heavy, and it’s just not very good for you to eat that many nuts.   I do think, in part, that it’s helpful to eat simply when having to weed out food intolerances—not only from a practical standpoint, but also because it is tiring to spend so much time thinking about what you can or can’t eat.  Keeping things simple in the kitchen allow you to get on with your life outside of your food allergy/intolerance issues.   It feels really good to just get on with it.

10.  Fine tuning.  Your body’s needs change frequently, and it’s important to listen and respond accordingly to those needs.  What works in the winter probably won’t be good in the summer.   You might find yourself craving foods as they naturally come into season, but not want them otherwise.  That was me with apples this fall.  Normally, they make me feel sick, but this fall I couldn’t get enough of them.  I figure it might have had more than a little to do with the fact that they were in season locally.   As long as you listen to your body and respond accordingly, it all balances out.  Most importantly, let your body—not a dietary dogma—be your guide.

Future plans?  I still hope to experiment with some raw, cultured dairy.   I miss yogurt.   Strangely enough, I also miss oats.  A lot.  I’ve been reading about raw, sprouted oats, and I wonder how I’d respond…  Worth an experiment, yes?  Aside from these two things, I’m pretty happy.  I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all.  My main goal now is to lower my sugar (by which I mean honey) intake, eat simpler, more nutrient dense foods, make my own fermented/probiotic foods, drink more water, and buy a kettlebell.   A good plan.

Here’s to health, healing, and having the guts to heal your guts.  :D    It is so worth it.


May 1st.  A day to be brave.  

This is a post for my Self.

It is also a heartfelt hug for the tens of millions of people, adults and children, who live with anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD.   I am sending a huge good-energy filled squeeze to my big sister who knows all about what I’m talking about, and also to Claire at The Ascent Blog for lending a big dose of bravery mojo.  I’d had this in the drafts folder for weeks when I read her post.  A little push in the right direction… let’s begin.

I was born into this world with my hardwiring all jacked up, and I have suffered from anxiety, panic attacks, and OCD since I was a very small child.  Back in the early 70’s and 80’s, this kind of thing wasn’t really acknowledged yet, certainly not in children.  I was just a “worrier”… and a fair share of weird.  Although my childhood was full of love and laughter, looking back on it now, I know that this child-me still desperately needed understanding and help, and I sometimes allow myself to wonder how I would be different if I’d had help.  Hindsight and all that.

It’s funny.  All through my childhood, I knew that my worrying made me different, that not everybody fixated on problems like I did.  That it was something to hide.  But I had no idea that my other behaviors were of any concern, so seamlessly did I meld them with my intrinsic creative and imaginary world.  It was not until my 20’s, that I learned that what I thought was “normal” was not, and I will always be thankful to the remarkably observant person who very matter-of-factly, and yet very gently, told me that what I was doing without even thinking about it (counting, rechecking, ordering, turning circles, making things ‘even’, etc) was more than just a “quirk”, and that no, not everybody did that.  It was a much needed signpost, one that would help me as my anxiety escalated into my late 20’s.

Just before I turned 30, after a crazy-long, majorly bad episode which resulted in me finally seeking professional help for the first time, I learned that all of this—and I—in fact had a very real diagnosis for a very real problem.   Most alarmingly, I was also told that what I considered my baseline level of anxiety, what I lived with on a day-to-day basis, was ridiculously high.  Worryingly high.  (See what I did there?)  That provided much needed perspective re: what one should feel capable of tolerating.  I thought suffering through my anxiety made me strong.  It did in some ways.  It also broke me down.  Everyone needs relief at some point.  Admitting that need is not a sign of weakness.  It is the first step to getting better.

My brass-knuckles rumble with and eventual reprieve from anxiety/OCD is a long story for another time.  Suffice it to say, therapy and I did not make good dance partners, and I was far too anxious about the possible consequences of taking medications to even consider trying.  I chose instead, for better or worse, to stumble down a different path.   All that need be said now is that I thought that I’d left that fight behind—a year ago, I found some profound answers, used them to heal, and lived this last year completely and utterly anxiety free.

For the first time in my life.

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The human brain is a beautiful thing, and when it functions well, it is a marvel to behold.  This last year, I experienced the brilliance and lightness of engaging the world with clarity:   without the heavy tread of irrational, dark, or harmful thoughts wearing ruts through my mind; without the overwhelming mental fatigue from trying to maintain a facade of control and normalcy, just trying to get through the next day, the next hour, the next minute, holding my shit together; without the sheer physical exhaustion of repeated panic attacks and the embarrassment of the controlling OCD behaviors that inevitably accompany the whole mess. It was like being born again, only this time not broken.

But you know, just when you get comfortable, just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, the Cosmos likes to come kick the shit out of you and remind you that there are lessons still to be learned. And in January, I got my ass handed to me with knobs on.

I haven’t yet been at a place where I could examine too closely what happened.  All I know is that one moment I was fine, and the next, I wasn’t.  The timing was horrible—the panic attacks started halfway into the first day of my new job.  Out of the blue.  After over a year of not having any anxiety at all.   And yet, the anxiety had nothing to do with the new job.  It started before the job.  It was just there.  There are no words for how stunned I was, for how low this laid me.  I am still struggling, and though I hate to admit it, have been doing a terrible job of dealing with depression because of it.  I mean, I thought I’d figured out my anxiety thing.  I thought I was healed.  It was like coming out of remission.  It was devastating. But there was no time to even catch my breath—I had a new job to do.

I’ve had years of practice perfecting the art of functioning through anxiety.  It sucks, but it is doable.  When my kids were born, I learned really fast that life and responsibility do not stop for anxiety.   Change a diaper while feeling like you’re having a heart attack?  Yes, you can.  Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while your brain is wreck over your latest irrational fear?  You bet.  And because I never wanted my children (or anyone else) to know what I was going through, I put a lot of energy into hiding my anxiety.  Ignore the racing heart, breathe through the shakes, tension, and nausea, tamp down the alternating hot and cold flashes.  Focus on being in control.  Focus on calming down.  Breathe.  Smile.  Keep it all inside.

Focus on appearing ok.   Focus on appearing ok.  Focus on appearing ok.

It is an endless cycle of fear, control, relief, fear… and the anxious thoughts loop over and over in your mind like a record skipping. Over and over and over.  It. Just. Won’t. Stop.  With enough practice, however, you can eventually become somewhat detached from the anxiety and the panic.  You can observe it as a foreign thing, set it to the side, and do what needs to be done—whether that’s making the kids lunch, running errands, or trying to succeed at your new corporate job.   I’d done it for years, and I thought I could do it again.  So, I panicked the whole drive to the office.  I panicked during the ride up the elevator.  And then when I walked through the door, I put my solar plexus on lock-down, pasted on a smile, and didn’t panic.  I did my job.  At the end of the day, I had a brief moment of relief as I walked out the door…  and then the panic attacks started right back where they left off.   I even woke up with attacks during my sleep.  It was fun times, let me tell you.

The thing about coping strategies is that they do only that—they help you get through something—but they don’t fix the problem.  They don’t even really make anything better, and you can only go for so long just coping before you burn out altogether.  Ask me how I know.

The new job was surprisingly stressful in it’s own right, and though I was doing well, it was not a good fit for a few key reasons. Otherwise though, it was a pretty damn good gig—super nice co-workers, good hours, great pay.  But I wanted so hard to believe that it was the source of my panic attacks, because then I would have an answer—and relief.  So. Even though I knew in my heart of hearts that my new job was not to blame for my sudden resurgence of anxiety, I gave my notice anyway.  It was the right thing to do because of the “not a good fit” thing, but still.  I wish it had been different.  I did experience a day or so of relief.  A day or so.  That’s the insidious part about anxiety—you can think that you take away all the triggers, but it will find new ones.  It is like the body becomes habituated to the roller coaster-like ups and downs of the crazyass neurochemical cocktails that accompany both the anxious phase and the relief phase of a cycle.  And even when you are able to get a grip, break through the fear, and think rationally about what is happening, it is often not enough to stop the physical response to the episode.  You just have to ride it out.

I’ve been riding this out since January.  And I’m ready for it to stop.  For realz.

Luckily, I finally realized that there were probably some very real physiological reasons why the anxiety might be occurring.  A)  I stopped working out regularly during the holidays.  Lack of physical activity has been a co-trigger before.   Also, B)  my prescription for Vitamin D ran out.  During the winter.  Duh.  Without it, my levels are off-the-charts low.  As soon as I realized that, I started taking it again, and have slowly seen improvement.  It’s amazing how much a low Vit. D level will affect.  And then there are two major dietary things:  1) I’ve been cheating on my paleo diet with peanuts.  A lot of peanuts.  Because peanut butter is freaking delicious all of a sudden, now that I can’t have it.  Lol.  And 2)  I had a month or so where I didn’t eat much kale, which, as you know, is full of EVERY GOOD THING.  And lots of vitamins.  Could that have effected me?  Maybe.  I know that it effected my digestive health—and a ton of serotonin receptors are in the gut.  So, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.  Aside from that, your guess is as good as mine.

It’s interesting to me that the anxiety that I’ve been experiencing only compares to what was once my “normal panic attack” level, but since it’s been a year since I’ve had any, it has felt a lot worse than that.  Harder to handle.  I think part of that is because I really thought I’d never have to “handle” it again.  Now I know.  One of the hardest parts of dealing with this is my disappointment in how I’m dealing with this.  I just kind of shut off.  I haven’t wanted to do anything other than get through the day and go to sleep.  It’s been rough, and I’m trying to dig my way out.  Luckily, I have amazing support at home.  I’m very thankful for my wonderful, brilliant husband who has been so understanding during all of this.  As hard as it is to live with anxiety, I think it must be at least as hard living with someone who has it.  It is not something that is easy for others to understand.  There is no switching it on or off.  It takes an amazing amount of understanding and compassion to deal with the irrationality and lack of control with kindness and support.  I am blessed to have this support now.

So, I’m working on this.  Sometimes we get knocked for a loop, and it’s takes us a minute to shake it off and get going again.  That’s ok, right?  That’s part of life.   We joke that it’s one step forward and two steps back, but I try really hard to see that as a sexy dance.  The merengue of life.  Who wants to walk in a straight line anyway?   When the ocd kicks in, sometimes I do.  Lol.  Just joking.

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