Monday, February 27, 2017

In the Middle Years

There have been several times in the nearly six(!) years I've been writing this blog where I've considered changing the name. Maybe something like 'I Brunch These Towns' or 'I Have Crohn's and Sometimes Run These Towns'. My love for running and cities has not waned even a little, but I've been sidelined by some life distractions that have made traveling and running more challenging. I feel like I haven't explored a new city in months (because I haven't.) I'm definitely in need of my urban explorer fix. And I am definitely ready to get back into a running training schedule. 

At the beginning of the year I was super excited to do less traveling for a few months and get more rest. I was looking forward to slowing down. Here we are knocking on the door of March, and I've been gone for one weekend this entire year to visit my family in Virginia. It turns out one weekend isn't enough. I'm losing my mind.

We're remedying that this weekend with a quick trip to New Orleans. I'm heading to Austin the first weekend in April to celebrate a good friend's birthday. We're going to Richmond, Virginia (one of my favs) in June for our cousin's wedding. Currently those are the only trips solidly on the calendar, and it makes me antsy.  

I have two races on the calendar: a 10k and a 5k in March. I want to do a half marathon in April, but I want to give myself a few more weeks to heal before making a decision to register for anything. The level of restlessness I feel by not having tangible running and travel goals is palpable.

At the age of 38 I am firmly ensconced in what my therapist calls "the middle years". In your twenties there are so many firsts to look forward to: graduating from college, first jobs, falling in grown up love, getting married, buying a house, getting a dog, having children. The firsts pile up, and there are so many things to anticipate. Then in your late 30s and early 40s life hits you. The firsts are gone, and life can be hard. Honestly sometimes life can be boring. I hate saying that because I love my life, but it's true. I've discovered after several months of weekends stretched out looking for things to do that sometimes it's boring. Toddlers are hard work, and sometimes days feel interminable. Occupying a small human becomes its own task.

Love this photo of my toddler wishing he was an old man.
I love being busy, and a trip to Target after nap is only good for one or two weekends before I'm losing my mind. We've had great dinners with friends and I feel entirely caught up on house projects and shows on our DVR. Life is wonderful, but I feel antsy. One of the reasons we travel so often and I run so much is to break up the monotony of grocery shopping, laundry and work.

I make a conscious effort to appreciate all of the joy in my life, and I feel guilty admitting that sometimes the day to day is monotonous. I love snuggling with my son on the couch while we watch a movie. I love sharing cocktails with my husband after our son goes to bed while we talk about our days. I love having dinner with our friends or meeting a girlfriend for coffee. I love (usually) slugging out a run on the Lansing River Trail. These every day tasks are filled with joy, but sometimes I need a little change of scenery. Sometimes I need a little public transit, a new park to explore, different restaurants and a museum if I'm lucky. Sometimes I need to lace up my running shoes and check out an entirely unfamiliar city with fresh eyes.

Even if one appreciates them the middle years can be tough. I'm raising a little cityphile who loves traveling. He's obsessed with any mode of transportation, so it's easy to get him psyched about airplanes, buses and trains. I'm looking forward to exploring NOLA with my little dude while his dad is at a conference. In the middle years I remind myself that days may be long, but years are short. We get this small amount of time where we're young, healthy(ish in my case), and have the joy of a young child. I will take the potential (and real) monotony of the middle years and turn it on its head. Here's to the middle years!

A virtual toast with my girlfriends. When did I get crow's feet?!?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Only the Lonely

I'm an extrovert who enjoys having people around. Sure I need alone time to recharge, but I like being social and busy. My husband and I fill our calendar with friends, travel and fun events, and we love it that way. But there is one secret about living with a chronic illness I'd like to share with you: at times I feel completely alone. It doesn't matter how many text messages I receive, visitors at the hospital, flowers, cards or notes. I feel utterly alone in a sea full of people I love and well wishers.

Back in October I wrote a blog proclaiming that women don't have the luxury of being sick. I stand by that premise. After my last hospitalization I'd even go a step further and say the chronically ill don't have the luxury of being sick. I don't have a disease where I look sick. When you look at me you see healthy, and that's what I want you to see. Even on my sickest days I can still pull it off like I feel well. Should I stop pretending? Is that the answer? I don't think so because I also don't want to be seen as a sick person. But is there a middle ground, some sort of modicum of understanding where people can look at me and think, "Damn she looks amazing but I know she's not 100 percent". That's what I want. Is that too much to ask?

It's been a week since I got out of the hospital. I'm feeling relatively normal. I've made it through two days without a nap, but I'm falling asleep by 9 pm. The swelling in my stomach has pretty much gone away, and my decreased food intake has led to losing ten pounds in a week (the upside of Crohn's!) But it's not a strong ten pound weight loss. I feel weak. I feel exhausted. I went back to work on Monday, four days after I was released from the hospital, because that's what I'm supposed to do. I left my house at 6:15 am to make an 8 am breakfast meeting. The two attorneys with whom I was meeting did not know about my hospital stay. The one gentlemen, who I haven't seen in a few years, hugged me and said, "You look great. You look so successful." I beamed with pride because that's how I want to look. He didn't know that my new pants that I love and last week fit like a glove were hanging off because of my rapid weight loss. I can dress my body like a champ despite weigh gain or loss. It's one of my Crohn's super powers.

Three days out of the hospital. Visiting the zoo on a beautiful day. Like you do.
But a few hours later when someone who knew about my hospitalization also said I looked great and then we discussed a giant list of things for me to work on this week, it felt different. I felt like I don't have the luxury of being sick. It's well established that I'll push myself way beyond my limits, but maybe, just maybe I'd like to have a little slack. 

This morning as I was rushing around to get ready for a morning meeting my husband said, "Please slow down." I looked at him and earnestly said, "You know I don't get that option". For the first time he nodded and said, "I know", and I didn't feel as alone. As much as people in the professional world want to and pretend to understand, they will only tolerate chronic illness to a certain point. I've encountered this my entire career, and I doubt it will change. To my face I get "please relax and get better" immediately followed by "but also do this, this and this". And I want to do these tasks. I've worked the entire time during every hospital stay I've had in the last three years. I've let nothing slip through the cracks. But I constantly have to overcome the perception that I'm sick. 

My husband is the most amazing, understanding and supportive human in the world. I cannot even find the words to describe how incredible he is. He's constantly on me to relax, and he will take everything he can off my plate. But we have a two-year-old son who wants Mommy. We had a toddler who has been insanely needy ever since I got home from the hospital, and I don't want him to feel like I'm not around and present. Even with my husband carrying the entire load of our family on his back while I'm out, I still feel pressure. It's not pressure from him but pressure to still be healthy. I don't want to be a sick mom or sick wife. 

My husband took this photo four days after I got out of the hospital. I look exhausted.
All this pressure and pushing, both personally and professionally, makes me feel lonely. It makes me feel like there's nobody in the world who gets how I'm feeling. When people ask how I'm feeling I don't want to say, "I'm f*cking exhausted and it hurts to digest food." I want to say, "I'm great" and mean it. But trying to walk that line of being honest without being whiny or negative is a hard one. 

My bowel obstruction has made me entirely rethink my diet and caffeine drinking habits. I'm actually feeling more positive and energized than I have in a while. Dodging the surgery bullet has me feeling hopeful and like I was given a second chance. I am so grateful for my family and friends and colleagues. While recovery can be a frustrating and lonely process, I know that I have an incredible amount of support. Bear with me while I'm feeling crabby and figuring it out. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When Good Snacks go Bad

As a Crohn's patient without a colon a diet for me that is "healthy" is different than the average person's healthy diet. Most Crohn's nutritionists suggest avoiding multi-grain or wheat bread or brown rice, and I imagine most healthy eaters don't eat white bread or rice. 

I can't really eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. Things that are healthy for most people - strawberries, broccoli, carrots, blueberries, apples, nuts, leafy greens - are all things that make me sick. Don't get me wrong: I'm often seen eating those things and think screw it because they're delicious, and I really want some broccoli! Apples are one of the hardest to avoid. I really love apples, and eating them is pretty much like eating tiny knives. It's not the best plan. 

When people tell me they're giving up carbs I realize that would be impossible for me. Giving up meat would also be very challenging because of my intolerance for beans or other proteins in large quantities. In the last decade or so I've gotten very complacent and pretty much eat whatever I want. I know a yogurt parfait with blueberries and granola will make me sick, but I'll chance it because it sounds delicious. I should not eat broccoli with Chinese food and yet often do because broccoli is amazing. I love chili but eating a lot of beans rarely goes well. Despite knowing all of these things I've largely ignored the discomfort over the history of my disease. Sometimes I'll cut back and eat less of things that make me sick, but other than seeds (the devil) I don't outwardly avoid anything. My Crohn's has not been concentrated in my small intestine, so the stomach upset is often minor. I've justified eating these things quite well.

My husband and I have oddly not been traveling this winter, so we've been able to spend lots of quality time with friends and time at home simply being together. On Thursday last week we had two of our best friends over. We ordered in barbeque and had drinks and lots of laughs. When they left I was thinking of how lucky we are to have such great friends.

The next evening I threw a three-bean chili in the crockpot and had another friend over. We sipped from our fanciest bourbons and ate too much chili (which was, if I do say so myself, delicious). We had another great evening with a good friend, and I was marveling at how nice it is to stay home and catch up with our friends.

Saturday started as a great day. It's been really warm for Michigan in February (thanks climate change!), so we went for a family walk (our dog really needs some help in the waistline department). Afterward I went for a steady three mile run that felt great. I then decided to eat some baby carrots because 1) carrots are delicious and 2) they're a healthy snack. I didn't eat much for lunch - just some chips and salsa. Lunch of champions!

As the day wore on I was having some stomach discomfort, but that happens sometimes when I eat raw veggies. We went to the grocery store and did things around the house, and I began feeling progressively worse. We had dinner plans at 6:15, and canceling them was never an option. Around 5 pm I told my husband I needed to lie down for a few minutes because my stomach was really hurting. I pushed myself to get dressed and go to dinner where I ate a lot of my food because food is delicious. By the time dinner was over I recognized my pain from having it twice before: bowel obstruction.

We stopped by the store and bought Milk of Magnesia on the way home. I thought maybe that would be a catalyst to move things along. I took it at 9 pm. Nothing happened. By midnight I was in so much pain and was so nauseous I knew it wouldn't get better. I got dressed, woke my husband and told him I was going to the ER (about a mile and a half from our house). He wanted to come with me but there was no way we were waking our toddler to go to the ER in the middle of the night. I walked into my son's room and sobbed while I watched his precious face sleeping. I don't want him to have a sick mom. I don't want this to be a recurring situation. 

As soon as I checked into the ER I began vomiting and didn't stop until my IV was inserted and they gave me anti-nausea mediation. A CT scan showed a small bowel obstruction. The challenge with patients who've had as many surgeries as I have is that every time they do surgery they create more scar tissue and more possibilities of an obstruction. It's got to be the last resort.

They decided to insert a nasogastric (NG) tube into my nose. This tube goes through your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. The idea is that it will suck out whatever isn't moving and hopefully clear the obstruction that way. I've woken up from four of my surgeries with a NG tube, and they're not comfortable. Do you want to know what's worse? Having one inserted when you're awake. It's awful. 

NG tube insertion = the worst
With NG tube inserted and morphine and Zofran (anti-nausea) on rotation they admitted me to the hospital Sunday morning to wait. I threw up twice on Sunday with the NG tube in, something that's not supposed to happen. And I was throwing up those f*cking baby carrots so I knew the culprit. Sunday was a rough day, and I was convinced I was heading toward surgery.

In the bowel obstruction world pooping is huge, so every time anyone walked in that's the question they asked. Finally on Monday I had some movement, and on Tuesday they advanced me to clear liquids and then a soft food diet.

Today we see how I tolerate soft foods. Nobody has said the word "home" even once, so I have no idea when that might happen. I do know they want to be extra cautious and make sure the obstruction is entirely cleared before sending me out of here.

Celebrating Valentine's Day with my fam at the hospital. My little dude is used to room service, so he liked eating his dinner on my hospital tray.
Now I wait. I've been sleeping an insane amount and just being still. I never do that, so it's nice to have a quiet room with no distractions. Fingers crossed that I'm avoiding surgery, but I won't believe it until the doctor says it for certain. And from now on all of my snacks will be fattening ones full of carbs. Doctor's orders. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Don't Call it a Comeback

The last week feels like a week of comebacks: personally (running, focusing on family and friends) and professionally. I've had rough go since October with frustrating health issues that have threatened to overtake every other aspect of my life, but in the last week I feel like I've regained previously elusive control. 

Four months may not seem like that long to not run a race, but it's felt like forever. Maybe it's simply the magnitude of how crummy I've felt, but it seems like I haven't raced in ages. While I love running alone, nothing beats joining a group of fellow runners to push ourselves on race day. Whether it's 3.1 miles or 26.2, the excitement never gets old. 

My friend Nikki and I registered to run a 10k together back in October, and my surprise surgery threw a wrench in it. We haven't been running together lately (mostly because I haven't been running at all), so this race was fulfilling both my running and friendship needs. I had a rough Crohn's day on Saturday, and my husband was not amused that I was still planning to run on Sunday morning. But I felt better when I woke up, and my soul needed it even more than my body. 

The last two years I've won my age group at the Super Bowl 5k, but I knew that wouldn't be the case this year. This year I'm focusing on feeling strong; not the number of miles I'm running or speed. I pushed myself hard during the race, and Nikki graciously stayed with me even though she can run much faster. I ran a respectable 25:15, and I felt like myself again. 

I made myself smile. I did not feel like it. 
Afterward we spent an hour catching up over coffee: talking about work, our boys, our husbands. We worked together for eight years, and our chats happened daily (although not usually so long). Now I relish these times when we get together and dish about anything and everything. My heart is happy.

Last week was also a fantastic one professionally. On the second day of my new job last fall I ran into a respected municipal attorney with whom I'd worked for years at a large event for local government officials. He congratulated me on the new position. As we clinked glasses he said, "Welcome to the outside; to the vendor world." Then he quipped that working for a membership association (which I'd done for 8.5 years) makes staff feel like they're on the inside, but in reality cities are paying dues. He opined that really I'd been a vendor all along and didn't know it.

I have to admit I felt hurt by it. I had poured my entire heart and soul into representing Michigan's communities. These were my people. Of course I was on the inside. But that comment has stuck with me. As I attended the Michigan Municipal Executives conference last week (comprised of city, village, township and county managers), I wondered how they'd perceive me. Would they see me as an insider, as an outsider in a vendor role or had I really been on the outside all along?

The week shattered any and all notions of my being an outsider. From the very first reception I was greeted with hugs and jokes, and it was as if I'd never left. I had come home. I had the best week, and I realized that my feeling like part of the team has nothing to do with where I work. It is tied to my passion for making communities better. It is rooted in the relationships I've spent years building. That conference is one of my favorites, and as I have for years I left feeling inspired by the work these men and women are doing. One manager told me the conference felt "normal" again with me there. Another said I was doing a great job mentoring young female managers, and they were taking in everything I said and did. It was so gratifying to be with my people again.

Hanging out with a few of my favs in Kalamazoo
Crohn's can wreak havoc on your body and your mind. But in the last week I feel like myself again for the first time since my major issues in October. I feel like a runner, like a good friend, and like an advocate for strong communities. I was always those things, but it's good to be reminded of it. Don't call it a comeback; I've been here for years. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Will I Ever Sleep Again?

I've come up with the perfect illicit relationship. I've been joking about it for a long time, but I think I need to pull the trigger. Here it is: I want to get a hotel room near my house (I am thinking the Radisson in Downtown Lansing less than a mile away). I want to go there during the day and have my secret affair...with sleep. Sweet, glorious sleep. 

One might ask why I can't nap (or sleep) at home. I can, and I occasionally do. But do you know what the Radisson has that my home doesn't? Silence. And no distractions. There's no laundry to be done, no dishes to put away, no play room to tidy. I know this from traveling for work - a hotel room is the only place where it's truly silent and I can relax. I never turn on the television in a hotel room, and it's blissfully quiet.

I expected to be exhausted when we had a baby. I prepared for it mentally knowing that I'd never really know that sleep deprivation is like until it was thrust upon me. Honestly those first few months when I was getting the least amount of sleep weren't that bad. Sure I was barely sleeping and exhausted, and I felt like I had sand in my eyes. But I was supposed to be that tired. I was caring for a small, helpless human who was sleeping like small, helpless humans do, in two hour increments. 

This photo was taken at 2 months old, after his first hotel stay where he did not sleep at all. I remember that but I remember the snuggles more. 
I'd waited so long to be a mom that I promised myself I'd never complain. I remember being awake in the middle of the night and looking down at this little wonder and feeling so grateful. Even now in my exhausted state I still feel eternally grateful and wouldn't change a minute. But I would like more sleep. 

Will has always been an awesome sleeper, and I cannot complain. He has always gone down easily without rocking or multiple attempts. He slept through the night relatively quickly. He's always been an early riser, and if he sleeps until 6 am I consider us lucky. I've gotten up at 6 am for years, so how is this different?

Despite his being a relatively good sleeper, when my son turned about 18 months old, the exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden those months of sleeping less, waking early, and less quality sleep smacked me in the face and I felt completely spent. Add to that my Crohn's issues and anemia (I've had six iron infusions since my son was born including four this year since August) and I'm tired. I'm really, really drained.

I've noticed I've started to look tired too. I have bags under my eyes that are harder to conceal. I feel slower. I feel less motivated. This job - being a mom - is the most phenomenal job in the world. And I'm worn out.

How I look most days at home: headband, no makeup, bags under eyes..
Writing this blog, under eye concealer doing its work. 

Last night I was lying awake in the middle of the night composing this blog in my head. My husband's snoring woke me up, and I went to the guest room at 3 am. My cat was chasing my other cat. My dog chose 2:30 am to eat the treats in her Kong. My son was the only thing not keeping me awake, but when he started yelling "Mommy!" at 6 am I felt like I had gotten 15 minutes of sleep. 

I'm not sure if or when I will begin sleeping well again. Maybe this is my new normal, and if so that's okay. It's worth it to be able to be this great little dude's mom. I'm slowly getting my Crohn's Disease under control again, and that'll help too. In the meantime if you see me in the Radisson please look the other way. Pretend you don't see me as I sneak to my napatorium.