A friend mentioned to me that it would would perhaps be a good idea to update the blog, seeing as how my last post.was a tad forlorn, written smack dab in the middle of a flare....three months ago. Oops. Today in Part One, I'll make up for lost time and try to cram three months of health updates into one post, and then in Part Two of this post, I'm going to go all geeky New Year's productivity hack on you and dive into my most recent nutrition habits and the research I've been doing lately on habit formation in general.
In August when I came home from an awesome vacation from my family, I was pretty much on top of the world: reading geeky books, making career plans, and thinking that I could probably handle a 30-35-hr workweek, including practicing consistently throughout the fall in preparation to find an agent and launch myself again as a solo artist come New Year's 2016...ok, I may have been dreaming a little big there for someone with CFS, but the first year I'd been sick, I wouldn't have been able to go on that vacation or even concentrate well enough to read a business book, much less put in a respectable week of piano practice. I was so excited to be feeling better and have my mind back, I let my diet and pacing plan slip after continuously pushing myself beyond my limits for weeks on vacation, and I ended up suddenly in the middle of a flare in August. LESSON LEARNED: eating a clean low-carb diet and allowing room to breathe in my schedule were some of the biggest reasons I had improved in the first place, and diet and pacing are just as crucial to maintaining my health now.
The semester didn't turn out anywhere near I'd imagined, either. Several of my family members suddenly had the opportunity to participate in a major theater event, which was awesome, but it also meant all the other adults in the house were either at work, school, or theater all day, while it was up to me to hold down the fort at home in the middle of a flare. With no accountability at home (more on that in Part 2), and with very little energy to cook anyway, I struggled to maintain a consistently clean diet and started feeling some of my worst symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nauseousness, anxiety, irritability, and depression. I was really woried about myself and knew I was in way over my head, but the day after I talked with my mom about my need for help, one of my sisters was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Which meant massive stress on the family and over-exertion for me the following week, resulting in episodes of paralysis. The next few weeks of Emily's recovery were particularly hard physically for both her and me. It was difficult to communicate how dangerously ill I felt, and I caught myself wishing my invisible illness wasn't so invisible....similar to how I felt the first year of illness, when I was concerned I was dying and wished I had been diagnosed with cancer so others would better understand it, take it seriously, and stop telling me to just drink a glass of orange juice or stop being a hypochondriac. LESSON LEARNED: It would have really helped to be involved in a support group during this time. Since then, I've found some great Christian support groups on Facebook for those with chronic illness and food interolances. Also, the Sunroom at Restministries.com is a whole network of AMAZING support groups for Christians with chronic illness.
This all lead to the last couple weeks of October: my twenty-fourth birthday, which I didn't want to celebrate. That right there should have told me I was depressed (duh, Lizzie!) I just wasn't feeling too on top of the world and it made me sad to think I didn't really have any close friends I could invite to share it with me. I sucked it up and celebrated with my family anyway, although I was too sick to play games that day and all I could do was watch movies. A couple weeks later, after a failed attempt at being productive and a sleepless night due to CFS, I couldn't think clearly and seriously wanted to end it. LESSON LEARNED: although I don't plan on allowing myself to slip that far again, next time if I don't feel like doing something as awesome as celebrating my birthday, I won't wait until I feel suicidal to dedicate myself very energetically to my depression checklist (described below).
However, my lowest point actually served at the catalyst for my most recent health and happiness journey. It got my attention and woke up my dormant fighting spirit more than anything else would have. I also was finally able to take a couple weeks off to focus on myself. I told my family about my depression and asked some others in my church for prayer. I made myself put make-up on everyday, whether I felt I had the energy for it or not. I started distracting myself with making others happy: on a good day, I'd take my siblings out to Barnes and Noble or take my uncle on a grocery shopping trip, his favorite. To remind myself how much of an impact even someone in a CFS flare can have here on earth, I poured myself into the ministry Operation Christmas Child, and with a donation of just $6, I put a child halfway across the world through a Christian discipleship program. I drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of chocolate...gotta keep those seratonin levels up somehow ;) I spent extra time in the sun and ate a lot of vitamin D-rich foods (side note: my first year of illness, I craved eggs like crazy before discovering I had very low vitamin D levels. My craving went away once I starting taking my prescription. I started craving eggs late fall this year and think that a lack of vitamin D may have been playing a part in my depression this time around, as well). I took my gratitude journal more seriously and never allowed myself to skip a day (I list five material things I'm grateful for and five spiritual things I'm grateful for each day). And I met someone. It's been a great couple months.
But what about nutrition? I actually loosened the reigns a little. I stayed away from major trigger foods (gluten/dairy/nightshades) but allowed myself to eat whatever else I felt like: anything that would make me happy. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the food I felt like eating was healthy food, and I had sufficiently recovered to enjoy having the energy to bake healthy treats in the kitchen. By December, I'd established some stricter nutrition guidelines which have worked well. My relationship with food right now is healthier than it has been almost all year. But if there were just two things I learned from the past few months, they'd be 1) I can't take my health for granted, and I can't get away with as much leeway in my diet and lifestlye as the average person. 2) Stress and mindset are AT LEAST as important as diet in managing both CFS and depression. I am much more aware now of these aspects of my treatment plan. And even though I'm doing great and practicing piano (YAY!!) and staying moderately productive now, I still faithfully write in my gratitude journal and drink coffee (2 parts decaf to one part caffeinated) daily. I intend for my lessons to stay learned!
Stay tuned for Part Two: Personality-driven Habits! Thanks for following! :)