If you want your brain to work well, you’ve gotta be good to the rest of your body too.
I tend to blog more when I’m upset, but I don’t want y’all to think that everything is always doom and gloom and panic and chaos, because it’s not. It’s just that when I feel well, I’m usually out living life, not writing about it.
Awhile back I started a gratitude journal, which is helping me keep a more balanced perspective on life. And there’s so much more to be thankful for than I could ever blog about. Really. So for the sake of balance (ha!) today I’m going to write about a few of the amazing and wonderful things that have been going on around me, despite the hormonal hurricane that just never seems to let up.
I’ve lost 60 pounds! I’m back to the size I was 5 years ago, and it’s marvelous. I still have a ways to go, but I can finally see my collarbones again, have only one chin, and actually recognize myself in the mirror. A size 12 is a real triumph after a size 20, and 32G is cause for champagne after 32J. I’m totally winning the love-my-body game! Well, aside from the evil ovaries.
I also have a really cute haircut. Instead of beating myself up about being utterly nonfunctional after a total hot mess meltdown on one of those wretched dysphoric days, I wiped my tears and went for a trim. Sure, I was trying to re-exert control. So what? I hated the haircut I had, so it was totally legit. I took in a picture of Ginnifer Goodwin’s adorable pixie cut, and the girl went utterly whackadoodle, leaving my hair about a third of the expected length. But I love it!
We went to the zoo this weekend, taking advantage of truly glorious spring weather, and I pished a bored kookaburra into responding! Pishing is a dying art in the age of mobile apps loaded with recorded bird calls, and in my opinion, less unethical than making a bird believe its territory is being invaded by a rival. Or in any case, less unkind than horrible little children screeching at the poor critters while their parents egregiously misinform them (read the signs, people – kookaburras are from Australia.)
But last weekend, I did sort of help harass some birds, all in the name of science and conservation, when I visited a bird banding station on Lake Ontario. Before anyone gets all PETA on me, it doesn’t hurt them and most birds are totally like whatever about it. Banding a small fraction of the migratory bird population gives us very important insights into biology and ecology; federally-licensed banders record the birds’ sex, age, weight, wing and tarsus measurements, and their fat stores – crucial for migration – are checked by gently blowing on their breast feathers.
Best of all, I got to hold a wild chickadee to release after banding! The spunky little chickadees are more aggressive than most larger birds, and she tried to bite my fingers. I listened to her tiny heart beating at an unbelievable pace that would spell instant death for humans: 550 beats per minute at rest! But that hyperactive heart is exactly right for the 12g of pure attitude that was my little “chubby” chickadee. Nature is amazing!
The field trip was part of an awesome class I’m taking. One of North America’s leading bird conservation institutions is in Central NY, and every spring they offer a field ornithology class. I waffled over spending the time and money, but Mr. Chickadee said I should do it because I’d regret passing up the opportunity. He was so right. I have to drive quite a distance and spend overnights nearby to minimize sleep deprivation (it really is a substantial commitment) but it’s been great. It has also encouraged
forced me to unplug for 18-24 hours every weekend, which is good medicine.
So there you go. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s all sunshine and lollipops, but there have definitely been bluebirds singing this spring. Eastern bluebirds, as a matter of fact. 🙂
Although my emotional health has been a bit variable lately, things have been improving in terms of physical health.
I’ve been working on losing weight for what seems like forever, and only started making real progress in April when I finished my PhD. I’ve made quite a bit of progress, I’m proud to say. Much of that has been the result of better regulation of symptoms that led to overeating, but the most recent drug made me so nauseated I could barely eat for a week.
I lost about 5 pounds. The crotch on my favorite fleece lounge pants (once skin-tight) has dropped about 4 inches. The next-size-down bras fit perfectly, including a blessedly underwire-free sports bra, for the first time in years. I had to buy some new jeans.
And I finally crossed The Line.
I’m no longer obese! My BMI is below 30. I literally jumped for joy. It made my
day week, boosted my mood, and almost made up for the nausea. Almost.
About 15 months ago, I decided I really needed to do something about my weight. Well into the “obese” range, my body was really weighing me down, in more ways than one. So I decided, this needs to change.
That’s all well and good, as long as you actually change your behaviors. I’m a great one for deciding to do something and then somehow believing that it will therefore happen without further ado (for the record, it usually doesn’t work out.)
Anyway, back to the point: I hit my round-number weight goal last week! Hurray! Of course, this is just the first (and most overly ambitious) such milestone, because I still have a long way to go. Even though the next week or two will pop up a few pounds back over the line, the general trend is still downward.
I wish I could say it was just a matter of effort, but piety alone won’t get you into heaven. I have always eaten healthy foods, but now I am in more control of what, when, and how much I eat. The switch to Wellbutrin proper has done wonders for managing my appetite. More stable blood levels of medicine means I don’t get depressive symptoms in the evening, and therefore don’t binge right before bed.
Magically, somehow, I can now tell when I’ve had enough to eat, before I’m even full, and can actually stop eating! It’s simply amazing. If you’ve always been 100% in control of your eating, there’s no way I can explain this to you, but it’s an incredibly empowering feeling. I am in control, not my belligerent gut! Yes, there are times when I feel extremely hungry and I just ignore it and down a glass of water, but when my stomach growls and my head starts complaining, then it’s time for a snack.
Feeling fully justified in celebratory spending for hitting my weight goal, I bought a few wardrobe necessities – lightweight longsleeve shirts in the correct size for layering, a belt to keep my ever-loosening pants from showing crack, and cute shoes, just because I deserved them and they were on an awesome sale. I’ve been swapping clothes in and out of storage for awhile; today I took all the remaining “too small” items back to my closet because they won’t be too small for much longer – if I can keep up the pace, that is.
This feels SO good. I feel like I’m suddenly in a new leaner body, though the actual change is small and gradual. It accumulates – I’ve gone down two cup sizes (32H, woohoo!), lost two underpants sizes, dropped two jeans sizes, and instead of 1X, I’m sporting tops in a standard size large! I might not be the epitome of healthy, sexy, mid-30’s womanhood just now, but I sure look and feel a hell of a lot better than I did this time last year. Besides, the confidence gained from feeling better about my health and appearance is a magnifier of all that’s attractive.
Just that little bit of positive feedback was all I needed. Success begets success. I am confident that I’ll lose the next 5 pounds and limbo myself right into the “overweight” category. As I lose more, it shows more – I’m starting to see the shape of my face change, bringing an overwhelming sense of relief. As if I’m becoming me again. Or perhaps a better version of me.
The concrete changes are minimal: I take more walks and I eat less. Very practical, right? I’ve been tracking my exercise against mood scores and coping for some time, and when I get more exercise, I cope better. I really do have to make exercise part of my daily routine, like it or not (usually not), so I’ve added a daily to-do list reminder to make it harder to ignore. I can already walk up the hills faster and breathe easier while I do it. That alone is a meaningful accomplishment for me, but it can vanish in just a few days of sloth.
I’m not counting calories because I’m neurotic enough about tracking and details already. I don’t snack much in the evenings anymore, and I try to stick to things like frosted shredded wheats rather than cookies. I cook whole-food veggie-laden dishes using my trained-from-toddlerhood healthy cooking skills as often as I have the energy and ingredients. I eat much lighter, but more often, which also keeps my blood sugar more stable.
It’s more work keeping on top of tracking my physical activity, reminding myself to get outside and move around, and preparing healthy meals. I just have to care enough about myself to put a priority on doing these simple things that so dramatically improve my quality of living.
Last week I had a transvaginal ultrasound to take pictures of my internal lady parts to ascertain whether polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is really an issue. I won’t regale you with the details, but it’s an easy procedure.
The results? My ovaries are polycystic. They are covered in cysts, some of them large enough to require ongoing monitoring. If they don’t change in 4 months (it’s normal for them to go away after a few weeks), I’ll probably have to get a biopsy to rule out ovarian cancer. But the odds of that are slim and I’m not worried about it right now.
The gynecologist reviewed the sonograms and my endocrine lab results with me. Notably, it’s possible to have polycystic ovaries but not PCOS. However, she pointed out that my DHEA levels are abnormally high, which does suggest PCOS. High DHEA causes hyperandrogenism and contributes to insulin resistance, and can be caused by stress, depression, and PCOS. The GYN had some additional blood drawn to check some other details, among them insulin and cancer antigen (CA 125) levels. I’ve had low blood sugar problems since my teens, and hypoglycemia can be caused by insulin resistance (aka metabolic syndrome).
There are clearly a few more details to evaluate and I appreciate the thoroughness, but I’m glad I pushed for the ultrasound. I gained new respect for the GYN when she said that diagnostic criteria come in books and we shouldn’t fit the patients to the books, but rather the books to the patients. Rock on, holistic Indian gynecologist!
I said that I’m willing to try hormonal birth control, so I have several sample packs of a very low estrogen pill. I waited to consult with the psych nurse before starting them because The Pill interacts with Lamictal, so I wanted to make sure that was not going to cause problems..
Hormonal birth control might help reduce the cysts and reduce the excruciating cramps. It could make acne worse (or better) and cause weight gain (or not.) It might also worsen mood swings – or make them better. Last time I took Ortho-Tricyclen, I gained 30 lbs in 2 months and had extreme mood swings. The pill I’m trying this time, Lo Loestrin Fe, has only about a quarter as much estrogen as what I took back in the mid-90’s, so perhaps it won’t cause problems. There’s no way to know until I try it. So today the experiment begins – wish me luck.
By the book, I have polycystic ovaries and symptoms of both hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance. So despite having normal periods, the evidence is mounting in favor of a PCOS diagnosis. Lovely, eh?
As Mr. Chickadee asked, what does this mean? It remains to be seen; the bottom line is, I have no idea what to expect, except further experimentation with meds. Regardless, I feel like I’m on a course that will get me some more answers. One way or another, I’ll learn more about how my body is functioning, and that empowers me to improve my lot.
I’m losing it.
Not mentally – I’m already certifiable. But I’m fed up with being fat, so I’m doing something about it – and finally losing weight after years of gaining.
I use a Withings scale for a daily weigh-in, which wirelessly uploads to a website and then automagically populates my weight log on Fitbit. Recently Fitbit gave me two congratulatory badges – one for 25 lbs all-time weight loss (since a miserable lifetime high in August of 2011), and one for 15 lbs lost since I set a goal in October 2011. I’m back to where I was in March 2011, so I’ve basically lost the dissertation weight. Hurray! Now I “just” have the rest of the grad school pounds to eliminate…
My current weight goal is 200 lbs, just above the line between “overweight” and “obese.” It was too ambitious a goal when I set it, but I couldn’t make myself compromise either. Current predictions suggest that could happen by September, which would be beyond awesome. I’ll set more moderate and achievable goals after that.
So, how am I doing it? The only sustainable way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume, and that can be done by consuming less and/or burning more. It’s a long-term persistence-based outcome, which is hard to sustain, but the immediate jump-start of losing 5 lbs in 5 days (from hiking 50 miles with a 50 lb pack) helped fuel my determination.
I always try to be reasonably active, so the main change is dietary. I’m just plain cutting back on the calories. During June I logged everything I ate, which helped me maintain a 500-750 calorie daily deficit. Tough as it was to be hungry all the time, I just gritted my teeth and kept at it.
Then along came sertraline (Zoloft). While all 4 of my daily meds have the potential side effect of reduced appetite, sertraline was the tipping point. Suddenly, I know when I need to stop eating. I actually feel full and want to stop eating, regardless of how delicious the dish, which is something I haven’t experienced since childhood. I’m satisfied with much less than I had previously consumed as well – for the first time in our 12 years together, I’m eating less than Mr. Chickadee on a regular basis.
It’s amazingly liberating to be freed from a distorted appetite.
The jeans I’ve been living in since my birthday are now out of circulation – they’re too big. Even my new hiking pants have noticeably loosened around the middle in the last month, and several pairs of jeans and slacks that I haven’t worn in a year now fit comfortably. According to my measurements, I’ve lost 0.5″ off the hips and 1.5″ off the thighs – no wonder my pants fit differently! Best of all, my bra cups no longer runneth over; the underwires rest comfortably on my sternum, where they ought to be, and I’ve gone down a cup size.
I’m finally losing it, and I’m thrilled.