Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Scare, Detailed

One of the major hiccups that delayed me in getting back to blogging has been the health crisis I mentioned in my last entry. It was such a traumatic, scary experience, and it was so all-consuming for so long, I felt like I needed to write about what happened before I could write about anything else. Although I’m feeling much more secure now than I was immediately following the scare, it’s still an important part of my story and will certainly impact my wellness moving forward—so it deserves to be told.

In August or September of last year, I scheduled an appointment with an optometrist. I had been getting a lot of migraines and figured that I probably needed new prescription lenses… and anyway, I was really ready for a new pair of glasses! The day of my original appointment, the optometrist’s secretary called me to reschedule because the doctor was out ill for the day. I rescheduled out another month, but wound up calling back a couple weeks later to see if I could be seen sooner via a different doctor.

I would have been fine with waiting, but my eyes had started to do strange things. Suddenly, I was seeing floaters—lots of them. I was having flashes of light so bright that I could see nothing but whiteness. My eyes couldn’t seem to focus on certain things, like the computer monitor at work. Worse, my headaches were getting significantly more severe.

The eye exam started off normally. I had all of the standard tests done with a nurse, then had the opportunity to browse the frames before I met with the optometrist himself. As soon as he started peering into my eyes, however, I knew that there was something wrong. I remember my palms sweating, and I remember saying something about how my eyes must have gotten so much worse… especially my right eye. As he placed the dilating drops in my eyes, he said that my prescription had scarcely changed, and that interestingly enough, my right eye was the stronger of the two.

Sitting in the waiting room for 15 minutes while my eyes dilated was torture. As the drops took over, my vision became so blurred that I could hardly see. I was anxious to begin with, but worrying about going blind and musing over the doctor’s puzzling comments made me downright panic. Finally, the doctor called me back into his office. The rest is a blur—he told me that my right optic nerve was significantly swollen, which indicates pressure from behind. A tumor? A blood clot? I had to go to the Emergency Room immediately to get an MRI done.

I remember calling my mom in tears, and her coming to pick me up from the clinic to drive me to the ER. I remember the endless waiting and finally being called for the MRI, dreading it all the way because the last one I had (elbow, nerve tumor, 2009) had been miserable. This one wasn’t as bad; the nurses were wonderful. Despite all of the worry, testing, and waiting, results from this night of hell were inconclusive. No tumor and no blood clot meant that I wasn’t in immediate danger of dying, so they sent me home with directions to follow up with a neuro-optometrist the next morning.

The initial appointment with the neuro-optometrist was another joy. I was badly shaken, exhausted from the night before, and terrified of what I would learn. I was there for over 5 hours, taking tests, having pictures taken of my eyes and optic nerves, trying to read wall charts and failing miserably. The neuro-optometrist was polite but professional and fairly short (in words and stature). She found both optic nerves to be swollen, although the right was much worse than the left. I had lost a significant amount of vision in my right eye, which she said may be temporary or permanent.

Her diagnosis was intracranial hypertension, made worse by my age, weight, and prescription Lithium. (Let me tell you, there's nothing so shaming as the "You-should-really-lose-weight-but-I'm-being-nice-about-it" speech, delivered by an ultra-skinny doc!) Anyway, she made a referral for me to have a lumbar puncture (“spinal tap”) within the next 1-2 weeks.

I didn’t understand what was happening, what was wrong with me, or what to expect. I was miserable, knowing that there was TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON MY BRAIN OMG! but none of the doctors seemed too concerned. In fact, the clinic lost my referral, so I was to wait a full 2 weeks for the procedure. Meanwhile, my headaches continued raging, I lost all sight in my right eye for several terrifying moments TWICE, and I lived with the knowledge and fear that my brain was under some serious stress.

The weekend following my initial ER visit was horrible. I spent all weekend in bed, trying to escape the headache that pounded incessantly in my ears. Finally, my mom talked me into calling urgent care to see if they could give me anything for my headache, and after reviewing my case and noting my worsening symptoms, I was referred (again!) to the ER so that the lumbar puncture could be done on an emergency basis.

The spinal tap itself was torturous. Although I was given a local anesthetic, I felt every jab of the needle, felt it inside my spine, felt the grinding in my teeth. Because I’m overweight, it was harder for them to get a successful draw (again
the gently-phrased but still hurtful to my sensitive soulcomments from the doctors... "Sorry, it's more challenging when it's harder to make out the individual discs...") When they were finally able to get the needle in place, they were amazed. The spinal fluid released with such force that it literally started spraying out into the collection tube—they had never seen that before.

It might have been because I was shivering and crying and trying not to vomit, but the draw itself seemed to take forever. The fluid kept coming and coming, and the doctors had to use a second and then third collection tube because so much fluid was trapped within. Once I was bandaged, drugged (aaah), and receiving IV fluids, the doctors put the severity of the situation into perspective for me…

A normal, healthy lumbar pressure is around 10-15, although certain factors (such as age, weight, etc.) may influence an individual’s pressure. My lumbar pressure clocked in at 45. 45! I vaguely remember feeling proud of myself, like this was an accomplishment of sorts. The doctors then told me that, at that level of hypertension, my brain should have been hemorrhaging. I should have had a stroke. I could have had permanent brain damage, or worse—the condition could have been fatal.

The aftermath has been a challenge, also. For the first several days following the puncture, my lower back and hips hurt so badly that I could hardly get out of bed to pee. When I did start trying to move around, the Diamox I had started taking to keep the fluid level down made me feel faint. It was a low point for me—especially because I had been yanked from the comfort of my Lithium and plunged into a depressive episode.

Recovery continued (and continues) to be an ongoing process. By now, most of the major issues—mood, memory loss, cognition problems, soreness—seem to be resolved. I had my first follow-up with the neuro-optometrist in November, and although my optic nerves are still swollen (she reports that this may take “months” to go down), the vision in my right eye is already improved.

I have my next follow-up on Monday, and I’m hoping (and expecting!) improvements. Surgery and other invasive therapies may be necessary depending on how well my body has been able to heal on its own, and at this point, I’m just rolling with what comes. I’ll do whatever is necessary to stay healthy. After a brush with my own mortality, every day feels like a blessing.

★ jenna

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On Starting Over

I have mixed feelings about resolutions. I’ve never had good luck with them—the ambition sputters and is gone within a few weeks, and I’m left feeling worse than before… (a) because I still have the “problem behavior,” and (b) because I failed at another resolution.

Most resolutions focus on improving one’s life in some way. Every year that I can remember making resolutions, the list reads exactly the same: eat well, drink more water, find ways to better manage stress, be good to myself, etc. I’m trying to get myself away from my usual thinking that I have to wait for a specified date to fly or fall. This sucks me into the all-or-nothing pattern that I am so prone to.

Instead, I’m trying to picture my “resolutions” as an ongoing journey. The goal of overall wellness never fades—the empty promises I make to myself do. Since I started this blog in August, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve made a lot of progress, too. I don’t want to undermine how far I’ve come… I want to celebrate my success and keep the momentum going!

So call it what you will, one “resolution” that I’ve had for some time now is to begin writing in this blog on a regular basis. I’ve always found journaling to be very therapeutic, and I realize now how much I’d come to rely on this little piece of cyber space to keep me grounded, focused, disciplined, and motivated. Because I am so hard on myself (and then use my “failure” as an excuse to quit altogether), I need to celebrate my little victories. Likewise, I need to process when I mess up so that I can move on.

As 2013 rolls in, I find myself in an exciting place. I am nearly to the 20 pounds lost mark, which is farther than I have ever made it in a weight loss venture before! I’m also so close to being able to say “I lost 10% of my body weight!” that I can almost taste it. These looming milestones are propelling me forward.

I also have concerns to face, mostly stemming from the health crisis I had in October (long story—that deserves its own entry). I may be looking at surgery, ongoing medications, and other therapies to fully recover and to prevent relapse. Diamox, the major medication that I’m on in relation to this condition, suppresses my appetite… which certainly helps with weight loss, but leaves me worried about my nutrient intake.

Following the health scare, which left me bedridden for a week and my body in shock for weeks as it attempted to heal itself, I have gotten sorely out of the work out groove. I can truly say I miss it—especially the burn afterwards, when the tenderness in your body reminds you that you’ve worked hard. I was lucky enough to receive an iPod Nano for Christmas this year, and I’m looking forward to loading it with good tunes and getting moving again. I can’t wait for warmer weather to arrive again, so that I can resume my outdoor walk/runs. Those twilight hours were magical.

Okay, 2013… ready or not, here I come!

★ jenna

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where is my Motivation?

Let me tell you how it's been.

Well, basically, it hasn't.

I don't know exactly what triggered my derailing (I'm fighting the urge to add "this time"), but I think it was a culmination of factors that brought me here.

My baby girl started kindergarten on September 4th, and while I don't blame that explicitly for my lack of motivation, I do know that it has been a stressor.  Watching your child grow up and venture into the world is beautiful and--for me, anyway-- incredibly emotional and stressful.

The first day of school was overwhelming for Phoenix and I both.  I even burst into tears at the grocery store!  When the cashier asked if I was alright, I blubbered "MY-BABY-STARTED-KINDERGARTEN" by way of explanation.

Since then, I haven't necessarily been off-track... but I certainly haven't been on-track, either.  I haven't been eating terribly, but I haven't made myself proud by any means.  I've scarcely been tracking at all.  Water consumption has been passable (around 48 ounces per day), but I've noticed more headaches as my water levels have dropped off.  Exercise?  None.

I have so many excuses... I've been sick, I've been sore, I've been crampy... so many ways to justify my laziness to myself.

I've gained some weight back, but I'm not stressing over it.  I want to get back on track, but more importantly, I want to examine why I get off track in the first place and brainstorm ways to prevent getting lost again.

Something tells me I'll feel a whole lot better once I get in a good work out.  Enough thinking... now it's time to JUST DO IT.

★ jenna

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


So I was all set to blog about my lack of focus after being sick Saturday, splurging on Sunday, and being completely and utterly exhausted yesterday...

And then something clicked.  I don't know exactly what/when/why, but suddenly trying to talk myself into being back on track turned into actually being on track.  Doesn't hurt that I hit a new low weight today, and I'm only a pound-and-a-half away from being down 10 pounds (already)!

I've been pushing the water all day and got in a great workout this evening, which also helps.  One of these days, I'll start a basic strength-training program, but my focus for now has been jump-starting the cardio and starting to build up some endurance.  It's disheartening to see how out of shape I am as compared to I was six months ago even, but I'm confident that I'll continue to bounce back quickly.

Here's a recap of my week:

  • Got in 145 fitness minutes and burned almost 700 calories!
  • Averaged 80-100 ounces of water 5 out of 7 days!
  • Made overall healthy food choices 5 out of 7 days!
  • Stayed in my calorie range on 5 out of 7 days!
  • Practiced mindful eating every day!
  • Got plenty of sleep on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Averaged only 6.5 hours of sleep on week nights.
Not bad, considering.  My goals for this week are generally the same, although I'm going to amp up the challenge a bit.  I think I'm ready.

1 -- Perform 150+ minutes of exercise/physical activity.
2 -- Drink 64+ ounces of water every day.
3 -- Stay in my calorie range on at least 5 days.
4 -- Work on getting more sleep, particularly on week nights.
5 -- Continue to journal and self-reflect.

All in all, I'm really starting to feel like a new person.  I would love to elaborate, but if I write much more, I'm going to jeopardize my good night's sleep.  More tomorrow.

★ jenna

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What a Day!

Having Bipolar II Disorder, I'm no stranger to cycling moods... but that doesn't make them any easier to cope with.  Treatment has helped, but it's to be expected that the therapy will need some "tweaking."  Until then, I'm sometimes left to the mercy of my body and my Lithium.

And I'll be honest, I'm feeling down this evening.  I can't identify any concrete trigger except for the general stress of my situation, but this spell is threatening everything I've fought so hard to accomplish these past few weeks.

I've been beating myself up all night.  I'm fat, I can't do anything right, I'm a failure, I'm destined to be alone, and on and on.  I'm worlds away from the patient, forgiving self I was less than 12 hours ago.  For the first night in over a week, I moped around on the couch, watched crap T.V., and ate munchies right from the bag--I didn't even think about portion size.

I recognize the toxicity of these thought patterns.  I know I fall victim to them every time, except this time, I'm fighting back.  I'm holding on to the small victories I've won so far; trying to envision my life as evolving, unfurling like a flower into a blissful being.

Desperate, I Googled "fitness inspiration."  After a bit of surfing, I stumbled upon this image:

I cried.  Whether it was the image, or the message, or the music, or the day... I burst into tears.

Today IS a good day to be alive, and tomorrow will be, too.  I will allow myself to feel the depths and ranges of my moods, but I will NOT tolerate self-abuse any longer.  I need to love myself unconditionally--celebrate my accomplishments, learn from my mistakes, and move on.

One bite at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time.  And they're all beautiful.

★ jenna