KARMA: Or, The Universe Hates Shameless Self-Congratulation

Note to Self: Do not humble-brag on the Internet about your running milestones. The Universe will hear you and get a good giggle out of splintering your heel bone just for funsies.

Vanity and Pride y’all, they weren’t kidding when they named them Deadly Sins. #Proof

I wrote my previous entry on Monday and posted it Tuesday morning. Entitled “In which I shamelessly self-congratulate my running progress,” the post was all about how super duper happy running makes me, from the Zen-like quiet it creates in my mind to how I have finally vindicated my gym-class avoiding elementary school self as I now run a 12-minute mile.

Blog posted, I headed out for my run. My ankle felt a little twinge-y and I figured I hadn’t stretched enough. By the time I was running, I barely felt it and knocked out my 2.5 miles in no time. On my return up the driveway though, the twinge-iness returned. I went inside and took off my shoe.

You know how when you twist-pop the can of Pillsbury crescent rolls, this happens?

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Yeah, that’s what happened to my lower ankle area when I took off my shoe.

I did not trip, step on anything, or run differently than I have this whole summer.

I guess my number was just up.

A week of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and nearly half the bottle of ibuprofen later, the swelling continued.

In a purely coincidental chance of events, my mom has been seeing an orthopedist for an injury she sustained to her ankle/foot in July. They very kindly added me as a +1 to her appointment on Friday, where my newest doctor declared this:

“Well, I’m not saying your running career is over, like, forever, but you definitely need to hang up your shoes and cancel your gym membership because the only thing you should be doing for the next 6 to 8 weeks is to walk from Point A to Point B.”

I apparently have stress fractures of my calcaneus, a.k.a. my heel bone. It’s a repetitive motion injury caused when a bone can’t handle the force acted out on it, common in runners.

So wait, even my injury validates my status as an actual runner?

All I could do was laugh.

Hysteria does strange things to people.

So now, instead of watermelon-colored running shoes, I am confined to a rather cumbersome, rather boring, black boot-cast.

It just so happens that my mom has one too, and so I have joined her club (membership tally: 2) of left-foot boot-cast rockers. If one must wear a boot-cast, one must do their best to be fabulous while doing so. *SIGH*

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Thankfully, we have a fabulous sense of humor to match, because as we hobble to and fro, it is impossible not to giggle- whether it is us laughing at ourselves, or laughing along with the multitudes who have decided to giggle in our general direction. (We heard you, Orthopedic nurses! Turning a corner does not make sound vanish.)

So, yeah. This is where I am now.

Not exactly where I want to be/thought I’d be/would have ever considered being, but I am here, boot-cast and all. I guess now I can focus on the upper-body strength training I was neglecting in favor of using all available energy for running. Or I can choreography my own Zumba routines from a seated position.

Or I could just given in and eat my feelings…

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I’ve got to get myself a gluten-free one of these STAT.

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In which I shamelessly self-congratulate my running progress.

I ran a 12-minute mile today.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My elementary school, PE class-avoiding self has been vindicated!

When I decided to start my run-walk journey many, many moons ago (October 2014), my first mile took me 24 minutes to get through. I mostly walked, hoofing it on my treadmill, cursing my cardiovascular system and wondering why on earth I thought this was a good idea. My heart rate hovered in the 160-170 range and afterwards I lay down on the floor while my dog, Suki, licked my face and I tried not to cry because Jeez, that pretty much sucked.

Fast Forward to Today.

(Nic Note: Oh my gosh, don’t you wish you had a Life Fast Forward button? Like to skip the 11 months it takes before run/walking doesn’t feel like death any more?)

Today, I woke up at 6 a.m. as per usual (because this is my life now, no biggie, HA!) so that I could beat my hardworking sister to the bathroom (#OldHabits #DieHard). I ate my gluten-free toast slathered in sunflower butter (#AllergicGirl), suited up (#BackOffSunlight), and set out.

Yep, that’s right.

Outside.

My treadmill has been collecting dust all summer as I’ve given it up in favor of some free vitamin D, which I may or may not actually be absorbing as I think only about 6 inches of me remain uncovered when I run (See What’s POTS? in the side bar, regarding PMLE).

My current neighborhood has an abysmal lack of safe running areas, so I run up and down the same stretch of scarce sidewalk over and over for 30 minutes.

Let’s do some math, shall we?

If I run a 12 minute mile and I run for 30 minutes, how many miles am I running?

2.5 ladies and gents, 2.5.

Go ahead and giggle at my paltry mileage, stinkface non-Chronic runner people who ended up on this page by mistake. I have my headphones on and can’t hear you anyway.

I, however, feel like a rockstar.

It is my greatest hope that no one gets the wrong idea here, and thinks that because I make it sound so super fun and awesome that run/walking with a Chronic illness is not a big deal. It is a HUGE DEAL. It is SO HARD.

I have mast cell issues. Mast cells do not like a number of things, but their least favorite things are adrenaline and exertion. Guess what running is? An exertion factory farm whose main product is adrenaline. Every time I run, my face turns bright red and swells up a tiny bit. I look like a tomato.

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Let me tell you about my run! Why are you looking at me like that? Do I have something wrong with my face?

It goes back to normal once I take a really cold shower immediately following a run, as for some weird reason Cold appears to be the only antidote to Mast Cell Face that I have been able to come up with. In the meantime, it kind of feels like my face might burn off. I wore a t-shirt the other day instead of my long-sleeve get-up because it was hot and cloudy and I thought I could get away with it. By the time I came home, my arms were also on fire and weirdly puffy.

Let’s not get me started on the rebellion of my Chronic heart. Let’s just say it makes me very aware of its Thoughts on Running (they are of the #WTF variety).

Also, if I’ve run today, there is a 90% chance I will randomly fall asleep at some later point in the day, usually when it is not convenient to do so.

So why, oh why do I keep doing this?

Quiet.

Um…what?

Sure, my heart screams a bit, but my feet pounding the pavement is louder. In fact, the simple sound of my fancy watermelon-colored running shoes connecting with the pavement over and over and over again is louder than most things.

It is louder than the voices inside my head that say I can’t. (Because, spoiler alert, I can.)

It is louder than the voices outside my head (as in #haters) who say I can’t. (See above spoiler alert.)

It is louder than the hamster wheel of thoughts that tell me I should be worried about employment, moving, being more 26-year-old single white female than I think I am right now.

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The sound of my running shoes is so loud that from approximately minute 5 to minute 25, it is the only wonderful sound I can hear. Even the Demi Lovato pop songs my earbuds are pumping into my ear canals fade into a sort of white noise.

Minutes 1-5 are awful. That hasn’t stopped. Once minutes 25-30 hit, things get loud again and I head home.

I wish my body would cooperate more so I could run forever and live in that blissed out quiet space for all eternity.

In the meantime, I am super duper grateful for what I’ve got going right now. It’s blowing my mind that I have sliced my mile time in half. I’m not judging myself against anyone else, because that will get me nowhere. But judging me against the me I was this time last year? Let me tell you, I am a flipping unicorn compared to that girl. (Not to be putting you down or anything #PastLifeNic, but I’ve come a loooooong way.)

It feels amazing!

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I know that running is not for everyone, Chronic or not, but I am sure there is something you are doing Chronic friends that is blowing your own mind right now. Have you recently done something you didn’t think you could do? Think about where you were this time last year- What is different? What’s better? It can be hard to see yourself as improving when marching the long walk of chronic illness, but I feel like everyone has something! Tell me about your something- I’d love to know what it is, either here in the comments or over on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell

 

Load up on Electrolytes

Let’s talk salt shall we?

POTSie people are told to increase their salt intake, as a high sodium level in the body causes water retention. Water retention increases blood pressure. Most POTSies have a lowered ability to retain fluids AND low blood pressure, so saltiness is akin to manna from heaven for us. #Supposedly.

Luckily, I like salt. Give me a crate of fries over sugary candy any day, I am all for that. But as much as we (over) salt our food, we still need to supplement.

Enter electrolyte beverages, stage left.

There are so many electrolyte beverages on the market right now. It would be impossible to review them all. Personally, I cannot tolerate artificial sweeteners (sucralose, sorbitol, et al.), which narrows the field quite a bit. I am also gluten free, and weirdly, some manufacturers use gluten in the form of modified food starches to thicken some formulas, so watch out!

Keep in mind that the average POTSie is to increase their salt intake to anywhere from 4 to 10 grams (that’s right, grams) of saltiness a day depending on symptom severity (always check with your doctors, kids- really, I mean it!). Most food labels use milligrams, so to be clear with the below breakdowns, POTSies need 4,000 to 10,000 mg a day of saltiness. Here are some of my favorite salt-suppling beverages:

Gatorade

Classic choice. This beverage was created in 1965 by research scientists in Florida in the hopes of boosting the university football team’s recovery while playing in the humidity and heat. It aids the Gators– get it? Flash forward to now, and Gatorade is the ubiquitous sports drink, and has way more products than its original Lemon-Lime concoction.

My go to flavor is Gatorade Frost Glacier Cherry. A 20-ounce bottle contains:

Calories: 130

Sugars: 34 g

Sodium: 270 mg

Potassium: 75 mg

For ease of comparison, 1 ounce contains 13.5 mg sodium and 3.75 mg potassium (another important electrolyte).

Pretty standard. I’m not a fan of how sugary it is (1.7 g per ounce) because I’m not big on sugar. It can cause upset stomach if you drink a lot at once. It helps to water it down.

Available: Almost everywhere beverages are sold.

Vitalyte

I stumbled upon this stuff when looking for a Gatorade alternative. I like the Lemon flavor. It’s light and not overpowering. This is sold as a powder that you add to liquid- you can make an 8-ounce glass at a time or quarts or gallons depending on your needs.

An 8-ounce glass contains:

Calories: 40

Sugars: 10 g

Sodium: 68 mg

Potassium: 92 mg

So, 1 ounce has 8.5 mg sodium and 11.5 mg potassium. And I’ll take that 0.45 g reduction in sugar thank you very much.

Available: REI

Plus for Nuun

I’ve heard good things about Nuun, but the majority of their products contain artificial sweeteners and some even have gluten. Plus for Nuun is like a booster tablet that you’re supposed to add to your previously Nuun-ed drink for even more electrolyte power. Happily, it is unflavored and can be added to nearly anything to add some electrolytes in a pinch. Plus is in tablet form and does take a minute or two to dissolve, but the skinny container can easily fit in your purse for convenient electrolyte boosting on the go.

Recommended serving size is 2 tablets in 16 ounces of fluid.

Calories: 40

Sugar: 9 g

Sodium: 50 mg

Potassium: 100 mg

Again, 1-ounce gives 3.125 mg sodium and 6.25 mg potassium. Plus also contains magnesium and calcium for a more well rounded electrolyte benefit.

Available: Online, drugstores, REI

Thermotabs

The salt pill of champions! Salt pills are not everyone’s favorite. They are not coated, so swallowing them is tricky. They taste salty. They are known to cause stomach upset. (Take them with food to lessen this effect.) Yet nothing quite touches the salt content. Per pill, each contains:

Sodium: 180 mg

Potassium: 15 mg

Available: Most pharmacies and online

I tend to drink some combination of the above beverages, take a couple of salt pills, plus glue the salt shaker to my hand at each meal. I haven’t tallied my daily sodium intake up in a while, but any POTSie worth her salt (so punny) can tell when her sodium is dipping- if not, pay attention to the not-so-random headaches and over-zealous urges to pee all the time and adjust accordingly.

It’s important to get your sodium levels checked through blood work too. If you happen to be starting out depleted, you may need more. Also, if you have a stable level, adding more to your diet might not be as helpful as you wish it would be.

How do you get your salt, POTSies?

Also, have you ever drunk straight pickle juice for electrolyte purposes? There’s a company that sells it as a sports drink (Pickle Juice Sport!) and in 8 ounces, it contains 890 mg sodium and 70 mg potassium (111.25 mg and 8.75 mg in 1 ounce respectively- 8 times the amount of sodium in Gatorade!). I mean, I love pickles, but I don’t know if I love them enough to drink them before I go on a run…

POTSie Girl in the City

This past weekend, I got to go to Manhattan.

New York, New York- some people love it, some people hate it.

I’m somewhere in the middle.

I used to go all the time when I was younger. I have relatives who live in Brooklyn and Long Island (Hey cousins!) and we went every Easter and Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with them. Often this meant a special trip into the city. My mom is the epitome of a City Girl. Traffic, blaringly loud noise, and concrete are like oxygen to her.

Total unicorn, right? #CityUnicorn

Those things are not oxygen to me. In fact, they are much more like Kryptonite. Throw in a lack of public restrooms (though there is always the Ladies’ Lounge at Saks! Highly recommended, haha) and I am 1 liter of SmartWater away from a meltdown.

But the city is so fun once you get there! There’s so much to do, so much to see! Plus, we were there for a very important reason- my great-aunt’s 75th birthday party, held at the Café in the American Girl doll store. This was, of course, the greatest place ever to have a 75th birthday party luncheon, and of course, I had to be there.

So here it is, my POTSie Girl in the City Guide:

~Pick your hotel carefully…but remain adaptable.

We scoured the internet for weeks trying to find a hotel in Manhattan that had a mini-fridge and a microwave so that I could make my own food and not starve to death. (I eat small meals throughout the day on account of #POTSproblems #BrokenDigestiveSystem) We finally found one, and all was wonderful. Then we got there and they had a massive malfunction of their computer system. Computers are kind of important to hotels that have key-cards. We weren’t able to check into our room for an additional 2 hours after traveling 7-ish hours to get there (15 hellish minutes of which were spent NOT MOVING in the Lincoln Tunnel). I’d like to say I was super cool and handled this well. I did not and so will gloss over my actual reaction to the situation by telling you what I wish I had done… Remain adaptable. The hotel offered to hold our luggage and get us drinks at the bar. Do that. Listen to the friendly hotel manager who looks like Adonis and smells like a Gucci male model (that’s a good thing, by the way, a very good thing) when he tells you he wants to take care of you. Do not hole up in your car and have a panic attack while blocking the hotel unloading zone. No one likes this and all the horns honking at you will make you feel worse. Listen to Adonis-Hotelier. He’ll keep your gluten-free toaster safe while you decompress with a Shirley Temple on the terrace.

~Bring earplugs.

No one is kidding about that whole “City that Never Sleeps” thing. Trust me. If you want to break tradition so as not to be a zombie the next day, pack some earplugs.

~ If you have special dietary needs, look up restaurants in advance. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your waiter for help.

There is a wonderful app called “Find Me Gluten-Free” that uses your location or a zipcode to find you places that serve gluten-free options. It is so, so helpful. I was able to figure out that there was a restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel where I could safely eat…Sadly due to the above chaos, we didn’t actually go there, and I had a plain hamburger from room service which was not as fun.

However, this was made up for (Thanks, Karma!) on Sunday at the party because when I asked our waiter if I could get my meal bunless at the Birthday Lunch, he informed me that everything on the menu could be made gluten-free. Bless you, American Girl! I was flipping starving. I also got to have special gluten-free, dairy-free dessert because our waiter was looking out for me from then on, and he even threw in a free not-on-the-menu muffin in exchange for a wink and a smile. (It’s important to have a good wink and a smile in your friendliness arsenal, Chronics!)

This was my spectacular food, because I went all hipster (we weren’t even near Williamsburg!) and took a photo of it before I ate:

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~ Pack good shoes.

Ok, so when I say, “The restaurant is 3 blocks from the hotel,” that seems like super doable to most, right? Like, “Wow, convenient walking distance!” But those are city blocks y’all, and they didn’t count walking through Rockefeller Center in the directions. Toeless compression stockings + uber-cute sandals = blisters. Ouchy.

~ Skyscrapers are helpful when you are trying to hide from the sun.

Usually I wear long sleeves when I go outside for any length of time (see my previous posts with pictures of my running outfits. I don’t mess around) so that I can hide from the sun and avoid a Polymorphous Light Eruption. Except it was 102 degrees outside, in the city, which means it was like walking on the sun. I don’t know what it is about concrete and steel, but that <stuff> does not breathe. However, an excessive amount of tall buildings means an excessive amount of shade. Another reason better shoes would have been helpful: I was the weirdo dashing about under awnings and in shadows trying to not get burned in my pretty little sleeveless top. I probably added an additional ½ block to my walk time in order to be properly shaded.

~ A well stocked purse is a lifesaver, but make sure you can handle its weight.

I kid you not, in my purse I had enough food to last me 3+ hours (the approximate time I would be away from my personal stash at the hotel) and then some. I also had a sweater, 1 liter of water, a full Gatorade, plus all my usual purse-stuff. It wasn’t even a tote, just a well made Mary Poppins-esque number. I was totally good carrying it. Then I asked my mom to hold it for a second and she nearly fell over. We concluded that if anyone tried to steal it, they would be the victim in that scenario.

~ Incentive, incentive, incentive.

Reward yourself for all the Chronic obstacles you are overcoming. The concrete jungle is not very Chronic friendly, so you should expect overwhelming exhaustion and flare-ups no matter how well prepared you are. So be good to your self- buy that hot pink tank top at the Radio City Music Hall giftshop that says Rockettes in shiny silver letters! Eat every bite of that special allergen-free dessert! And don’t forget to take a selfie with Prometheus. You’ve earned it!

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#RockefellerCenter

The Siren Call of the Magic Pill

So this is awkward.

In case you missed it, in my last post I wrote all about the Fight or Flight response and how my Chronic-ness has conditioned me to be much more prone to Flight and Avoidance than I’d like to be. It was a pretty personal post and I ended it with the intention of adjusting my attitude to stop avoiding things so often.

I promptly followed this up by disappearing from my blog for a week because I was busy- you guessed it- avoiding stuff.

Not that I didn’t have a reason. (I always have a reason.)

You see, I gave in to the Siren Call of the Magic Pill.

Here’s the thing: There are absolutely no cures for any of the chronic illnesses that I have (see What’s POTS? in the sidebar for a complete list/explanation). Everything is symptom management, and it’s all a big case of trial and error. Pharmaceuticals are tricky little buggers. They can be immensely helpful or immensely horrific.

My experiences have tended towards the latter.

Because of this, I have whittled my medication list down to the bare bones, to the things that I absolutely have to take and nothing else. I have worked super hard at changing my lifestyle to be Chronic-friendly. I do everything right. I try, try, try.

Yet…

I still am functioning at about 55-60%. As in, every day I wake up and I’m only just now gaining footing on the “Today’s going to be pretty ok” side of the fence instead of being stuck in 50-50 land, or worse, the “Today’s pretty much going to be awful” side. Sure, I exercise and manage to function at some capacity most days.

But it is

So

Flipping

Hard.

I feel like I have had enough bad pharmaceutical experiences that I should know when a pretty little green pill comes along promising to make my life so much easier that I should back away slowly and just say, “No thanks.” I feel like I should know better by now.

Yet…

Those pretty little green pills sing a lovely little song. They say all the things you want to hear. When you Google them, 99 articles from people <JustLikeYou!> pop up to tell you how making this one little change made their Chronic-ness recede into the background of their lives so that they could carry on being awesome.

I would like to carry on being awesome.

Of course I know that there are jagged rocks surrounding the Island of Magic Pills, and if I get drawn in by the sweet sound of “decreased startle reflex, better sleep, less pain,” my ship may just get wrecked.

But I did it anyway.

I just want something (anything!), just once, to be easy.

My doctor agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to try something different. I have plateaued, more or less, and it wasn’t a stretch to say I could use a bump to get me past this weird in-between place I currently inhabit. She wrote a script.

The first day I try something new is always my favorite. I tend to have a great day that day. My insides are a little shook-up by the new thing, and the momentary internal confusion means that I kind of get a day off. As such, I was able to be an essential participant in ripping out yucky old carpets from the house I’m moving into and prying up the numerous old staples in the floor. For like, 7 hours. Then we went to Home Depot. Then I made dinner. Then we watched a movie. I was awake, alert, and relatively symptom-free the whole time.

~Insert False Sense of Security Here~

After approximately 24 hours of being duped, my immune system realizes there’s an invader in its midst and gets to work. It doesn’t take kindly to having unauthorized visitors. (Side note: Every visitor is unauthorized.) Therefore, from that point on, my insides decide to make the invader pay for its trespassing. Just as quickly as I felt better, I fall apart.

I tend not to give up, and trying a new medication is no exception. I “give it time” and “try to get used to it.” In the meantime, I try not to notice that all I have brainpower for is watching too much reality TV. I tell myself that I am letting myself “rest” even though there is nothing restful about side effects. And while I am super glad to know that Caitlyn Jenner is going to be just fine and that eating my bodyweight in marshmallows will not induce diabetic shock, there are other things I should/could/would be using this time for.

There is no Easy Fix.

There is no Magic Pill.

I realize this by Day 4. I can see that my ship is taking on water. I realize that I am sinking.

I want to avoid the inevitable. I want to pretend that if I hunker down in my Chronic cave (a.k.a. my room) for just one more day, I will make it to the other side, and all the promises that the Magic Pill Sirens promised me will come true.

I want it to be easy.

It’s not.

Being a fighter is hard. You walk the “hard road,” you make “tough choices.”

To avoid is to “take the easy way out.”

I wanted an easy way to be a fighter, and just ended up doing more of the same old Avoidance song-and-dance.

Ugh.

Now I’m on the other side of it, as thankfully I didn’t wait too long for those side effects to never go away. I’m still recovering (though I’ll never get those brain cells back that died peacefully in their sleep as I watched 12 consecutive Say-Yes-To-The-Dress episodes…RIP) and I’m trying not to be mad at myself. I feel foolish for giving in to the Siren Call. I’m trying not to blame myself for being tired of the Hard. I am only human, right?

I went back to my exercise today. I cooked my boring healthy food and put the marshmallows away. It’s not super fun. It’s not super easy, but it is the way that will actually get me to where I want to be. I have to remember to put my trust in myself and not Pfizer.

What was your Siren Call, Chronic readers? Did some pretty little pill promise to make your life better? Maybe a magical diet? We can’t blame ourselves for trying, but the truth is that if it seems too easy, it probably isn’t going to produce lasting change. Hard work and dedication, Chronic friends. We’ll get there one day, you and me ❤