05 April 2015

And now for something completely different

I've been vegetarian for half of my life, and it's a really important part of who I am. I never thought I'd stop being vegetarian. But, I also have multiple sclerosis. For about 10 years it was pretty dormant but recently it's gotten worse. Not like "wheelchair" worse, but "messing with my life and getting hard to ignore" worse. I realize this sounds like a stupid complaint from someone with MS, but I'm also a runner, and I can't run more than about 4 miles these days. At this point, if someone told me that I could cure my disease by getting a giant "I love Ronald Reagan" tattoo on my forehead, I probably would.

A few months ago, I started reading a book called Healing Multiple Sclerosis. The author cured herself with a very restrictive diet with the goal of healing her gut. Apparently all autoimmune disease is either caused by or related to gut problems. I'd seen the book before and dismissed it as crazy. After all, MS is incurable. Who did this lady think she was, promoting a cure that was as simple as changing what you ate? Who wants to change what they eat anyway? Not this Pop Tart lover. Dumb.

But when my symptoms started getting worse, I bought the book and read it. I wasn't convinced this diet was going to cure me, but while reading the book, something unexpected and amazing happened. I started thinking that maybe my disease could be cured. It was a huge shift for someone who often joked about her "incurable degenerative brain disease" like it was the funniest thing ever.

On March 1, I started following the diet. I immediately felt better, despite the sugar and bread cravings. But after a couple of weeks on the very restrictive diet (my only source of protein was nuts and seeds), I started to feel weak and hungry all the time. I decided to eat some chicken. It was temporary, I rationalized. After a few months on the diet, you could add legumes, and if I could eat lentils and beans, I figured I could cut out chicken.

But something was bothering me about the Healing MS diet. The author prescribed certain foods and prohibited others, but didn't really explain why. This gnawed at me. Around this time I discovered two more books that promised, if not to cure MS, to at least reverse some of the symptoms and stop the progression of autoimmune disease in general. I inhaled The Wahls Protocol and The Paleo Approach.

As a vegetarian, I'd always thought this paleo stuff was crap, designed to make cross fit freaks feel better about their high cholesterol. But when I started hearing that paleo could have a major impact on autoimmune disease, I perked up. Maybe chicken was my gateway drug or something. But the cool thing about these two books - especially The Paleo Approach - was that the authors explained exactly why they were suggesting the foods in their diets. And it made sense. So I am trying it.

So what does my diet look like? I eat meat, fish, and vegetables. That's pretty much it. I eat lots of fat. I don't eat my beloved potatoes. No rice, no bread, no sugar. No packaged or processed foods. I eat some berries every day, and sometimes I have an apple. It tastes like candy to me now.

There have been some ugly moments since I've started making this transition. I've had some major energy crashes while my body tries to figure out how to fuel itself without the massive amount of carbs I used to eat. Sean has become a full time chef, which is pretty hard since he gets up for work at 4:30. I've sobbed like a stupid baby while choking down meat or fish that I never expected to eat again. I try to convince myself it tastes good and that it's good for me, but it's not quite working.

Do I feel better? I'm not sure yet. It hasn't been very long so I'm withholding judgment for now. I don't feel worse.

Vegetarianism is my religion. I feel strongly about not consuming animals, about not wasting the earth's precious resources to grow animal foods in the stupid ways we typically do (i.e., factory farms). I always thought it was healthier to eat vegetarian, and if I had never gotten this disease, I'm sure I would still feel that way. I acknowledge that this whole experiment might fail, and maybe I'll get worse instead of better. It wouldn't be all bad though, cause then I'd get to go back to eating the way I want to!

Not all the changes I've made are food related. I'm also running a lot less, which I like about as much as the bone broth that's currently simmering away on my stove. I hope the running diet is temporary, but it seems like the right thing to do right now. Healing requires that you take it a bit easy. You should still move, but you probably shouldn't train hard, because it will likely take energy away from the healing that your body needs to do. I've often said my health is my highest priority, but then I put running first, crossing my fingers and rationalizing that running is good for my health. But that hasn't been working so well.

I'm doing a lot of things that feel wrong in the short term, with the hope that they will help my health in the long term. Taken together, these are the some of the hardest things I've done in my life. I don't know if it's courageous and awesome or just a desperate pipe dream (or totally irrelevant!), but I'm doing it anyway.

I want to be healthy again. I want to run long distances again.

I'll keep you posted.

Edited: All the diets that I researched over the past few months are pretty similar. The main points are to eliminate refined sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, and legumes, which will help heal your gut and therefore (hopefully) reverse or stop your autoimmune disease. The Paleo Approach, or Autoimmune Protocol (a.k.a. "AIP," which is what I ended up deciding to do) is the most restrictive of them all, additionally disallowing nuts, grains, seeds and seed oils, eggs, and nightshades. But it does allow fruit, which the Healing MS diet does not. I'm using this cookbook heavily, and the food is actually great, despite all the limitations. Anyone who eats meat would love these recipes.

25 January 2015

The January Report

This year has started off (wait for it...) with a bang. We went hiking! Maple is getting her craft on with sewing classes! Sean started his 50-miler training in earnest and his platypus feet are holding up nicely.

As for me, I am eating well and reading Hamlet. I'm running just a little; about 15 miles a week.

As of this morning, I still hadn't made any running goals for this year, mostly because my running gait has gotten a little worse, so it's hard to think about training. I can go out and run a few miles, but I haven't been able to run fast or long. This might be because I willingly took a break at the end of last year, and slowing my running momentum always brings on fatigue. It might also be because I've had an incurable degenerative brain disease for almost 11 years. Well whatever, I've been hoping that eating well and taking better care of myself would help. And maybe it is helping; my past two runs have been better.

On this morning's run, with the sun blasting through the northwest winter cloud cover (giving my face that ridiculous half-tan with the jagged line running down my cheek), I realized what my 2015 running goal should be. It may be a stupid goal because I probably don't have any control over it, but fuck it, I'm the CEO of me and I get to decide what my goals are! I want to run 10 miles without encountering "lazy feet." To do this I have to focus on getting healthier and not just running faster. I have no idea if it's possible, but it seems like a really worthy goal. And by the way, I actually believe I have some control over this. Some luck would help too.

To accomplish this goal, I think I need to do these things:
  • Eat well (but maybe not as well as I did in January; that was annoying).
  • Consider meds (blah, but probably a smart idea).
  • Increase my long run length, s-l-o-w-l-y. Don't overdo it.
  • Bathe in Vitamin D!
  • Engage in more New Age. More on this below.

This month, I've been under more stress than usual, which definitely doesn't help things in the old brain department. I decided to become a manager at work, which is fun! I am now responsible for the professional well-being of other people. (!!) But since I am a new manager and don't know what the fuck I'm doing, it's a little stressful. But fun. Stressful fun. Is that a thing?

Related: The most rewarding thing that I've done in January so far is meditate every day. I didn't realize how freaked out and anxious I get about everything until I had to sit down with myself and not move or do anything for 15 minutes. Whoa. New Age Alert: I sit with my fear and anxiety and just breathe. When I get up from the mat, I am sort of inwardly holding hands with all the "negative" emotions and they don't really seem so bad. Sounds corny but that shit is a game-changer. You should try it.

Here are some of my best moments so far in January:
  • One of my patent applications was issued! I played a tiny (microscopic) part in this work back at MathWorks, but I am still really proud of it.
  • Maple made some cool shit in her sewing class and she absolutely loves it. We need to start saving for Parsons. 
  • Sean ran 30 miles last weekend, and Sean and Bailey ran 30 miles this weekend. They are a crazy pair.
  • I woke up and realized (again! fuck!) that I am addicted to being negative. I'm trying again to turn shit around and it seems to be working. Since I believe in the whole mind-body connection crapshoot, I think being less negative (see what I did there?) will help my brain too.

Until next time!

P.S. I still want to break 24:00 in a 5k. I just have to get healthy enough to train for it.

31 December 2014

2014 Recap and 2015 Plans

2014 Recap

  • I ran 12 5ks! 
  • I didn't run sub-24 except for one race that was way short.
  • After 10 years with MS, it started affecting my ability to run.
  • I started working with a coach and I love her!
  • I focused a lot on running, but didn't spend enough time doing fun things with Maple.
  • I got a new job. I love it!

2015 Plans

I find it overwhelming to plan for a whole year so I'm just making goals for January. The theme for this month is "Be Healthy," which for me means eating way better, helping my family eat better, and going to see various health professionals that I've been avoiding. Here are the (boring) details:
  • 50/50 (half of every meal should be produce)
  • No refined sugar or processed/packaged foods (except Larabars and Go Macro bars which I eat all the time)
  • Drink only water (I did this for a while last year and it was awesome)
  • Meditate every day (probably the hardest thing on this list)
  • Bake with new (to me) healthy ingredients, like coconut sugar. It's in my pantry but I haven't used it. Lame. 
  • No eating out for dinner (will also save money!)
  • Cook simple healthy food that doesn't take too long to make
  • Help Maple pack healthier lunches
  • Protein every night (beans/lentils/tofu)
  • Go to the doctor / neurologist 
  • Start PT for glute issue (my ass is broken)
This might seem like an ambitious list, but I think it's mostly doable, at least for a month. After January, I still want to eat healthy but I'll make some exceptions for pizza.

Here are some other themes I'm toying with for 2015:

Get inspired

Do you ever go to a museum or read a good book and feel amazing and inspired and realize with a sinking feeling that you've kind of lost yourself in the drudgery of everyday life? Recently I started to think maybe I could manufacture that feeling. I want to focus on that for some of the year.

Have adventures (in Seattle or elsewhere)

After the first year of living in a new city, I tend to settle in to my patterns and neighborhoods and don't really venture out of them unless I have to. But I love Seattle and I want to see more of it. Also we have two trips planned in the first part of the year so we get to have adventures outside Seattle too.

Spend more time with Maple

Maple still likes to hang out with me, and I want to enjoy that while I can. We are going to brainstorm a list of things to do together.

Use up (or give away) all my yarn

I've been lugging a box of yarn around since I went on a yarn-buying binge a few years ago, and I haven't used much of it. I want to use what I have and start fresh in 2016.

Read Shakespeare

For someone with a name like Portia, I've read very little Shakespeare. I have started Hamlet about 50 times and never finished it. File under helpful: I live with a redneck Shakespeare scholar.

Be interesting

Have you ever felt like you are getting boring? This year I felt like that. I have no idea how one becomes more interesting but it seems like it will be fun to try.

Be graceful

I'm not talking about physical grace here, but I've been told that I'm not exactly graceful about accepting things, especially the bad stuff. This is going to be hard, but it seems like a really worthwhile goal. I have no idea where to start.

Be a designer

I am already a designer, at least my job title says so. But I still feel more like an engineer. I've never had any formal design education. I have some ideas about how to be more "designery" and it will be fun to work on this.

Be crafty

This is related to the theme about spending more time with Maple. She wants to be more crafty and I am basically phobic about glue and markers getting the house dirty. I need to get over my mild OCD and let my kid have some fun.

Deal with your anger

Sometimes I am really angry for no apparent reason. What's up with that?

Do nothing

I am completely unable to do nothing. Even when I am relaxing, I'm being productive by knitting or reading or writing or what-have-you. On the rare occasion that I just sit around watching TV (which is still doing something in a way), I feel like such a jerk. Doesn't seem healthy!

Strangely, there is nothing on this list about running. I'm still thinking about my running goals for 2015, but I want to break 24 in the 5k. Yup, a carryover goal! I tried hard this year but it just didn't happen... yet! I also want to have more balance in my life, which probably means a little less running. More on this later.

What about you? What are you going to do differently (or keep doing) in 2015?