I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

I’m a young person, and for most of my life I’ve enjoyed relatively normal health. No chronic conditions, average physical development, no major injuries to speak of. I never even needed braces.

However, in the last year and a half, my overall health has taken a hit in a few ways. Last summer, I started running more regularly. Things were going well at first, but after a few weeks (and as the weather got hotter), I developed a nasty cough after finishing a run. At first it wasn’t too bad, and if I drank a lot of water throughout the day that would help, but the cough gradually grew from slightly annoying to physically debilitating. At the worst point, I couldn’t stop coughing for hours after a workout, and I felt physically exhausted and unable to do anything but lie on the couch for the rest of the day (fortunately for me, I wasn’t working at the time). I saw my doctor and (after the supremely disappointing initial assessment that “it’s been pretty dusty lately” — I lived in the New Mexican desert, and had been there for most of my life, and the dust had never bothered me before) he eventually diagnosed me with exercise-induced asthma, wrote me a prescription for an inhaler, and sent me on my way. As someone who had never taken prescription medications as anything more than a temporary means of battling an illness (with the only exception of oral contraceptives, which I have since stopped taking…but that, I think, is a story for another time), I had now joined the ranks of so many others who rely on daily doses of prescription drugs to simply function normally. Happily (at the time), the inhaler seemed to be an instant cure for my cough, so I took it twice a day and got back to exercising.

By the time I got my inhaler (summer 2013), I’d been suffering from chronic sinus congestion for several months. I also asked my doctor about this, who again initially offered a pretty flat-footed diagnosis (“Allergies?”). He prescribed me a nasal spray and told me to try taking allergy medications more regularly. This helped somewhat, but the congestion never entirely went away, and occasionally it would flare up so badly that I couldn’t sleep through the night because I could barely breathe. I still vividly remember sitting up in bed at two o’clock in the morning, sobbing because I couldn’t breathe or sleep as my husband groggily tried to comfort me, and of course the sobbing only made it worse. Now it’s another year later (last spring it had already been almost six months of chronic congestion), and while my congestion has improved thanks (I presume) to trying some different prescriptions and (possibly) due to a change in environment (we now live in New England), it’s still there. I’ve just gotten used to “slightly congested” as my new normal, still with occasional flare-ups.

In the last four months, chronic ear infections have joined the mix. I got an ear infection in late February, experiencing pain, buzzing, ringing, and congestion in my left ear (and some in my right). This was a strange experience for me because (1) ear infections are primarily found in children, not (presumably healthy) adults, and (2) even as a child, I rarely (if ever, to my memory) suffered from ear infections. Again, in February I went to the doctor, got my prescription for antibiotics, and waited for the pills to cure me. They did, mostly, but the feeling of my ear being “blocked up” never fully went away (similar to my sinus congestion), and then two months later another ear infection flared up. The second was much, much worse than the first: my left ear started to plug up and ache on a Friday night, and by early Saturday morning I had horrible pain that woke me up, and I had to muster all my strength and will just to call my doctor’s urgent care line. I cried in the car from the pain as my husband drove me to urgent care twenty minutes later. Another round of antibiotics followed, and while the pain and ringing went away, the congestion (while it has gradually improved), has not. It’s now been over a month since the last infection.

I’m writing about all of this now because I am tired. I am tired of always feeling like I’m functioning at a sub-par level of health. I’m tired of being chronically congested in my head. I’m tired of not being able to feel “normal” without taking prescription drugs every day. I’m tired of not even knowing what “normal” is supposed to feel like. I’m tired of being given drugs to medicate symptoms instead of identifying and eradicating causes.

Most of all, I’m tired of going to the doctor with my complaints and undergoing a routine examination only to be told that I’m in perfect health, given a prescription for whatever chronic condition is ailing me at the time, and sent on my way.

Obviously, I am not in perfect health. Obviously, it is not normal for a young adult who is in otherwise good health and with no history of these chronic conditions to suddenly develop them out of the blue. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

I should say that (after a hiatus) I started running again this past week, and I’m happy to report that while I have not been using my inhaler, my cough has not returned. Perhaps a change in environment helped. Who knows, maybe that first doctor was on to something with the dust (although it still seems unlikely to me). I am also going to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist as well as an allergist to see if I can get some real answers about what is causing these problems. My new PCP here said that my chronic sinus congestion is probably due to an allergy to something, and I’m hoping that’s true. I’m hoping for answers. 

In the meantime, I’m going to start making some other lifestyle changes on my own. The first I’ve already started: I’m exercising regularly again. I’m also going to implement long-term (perhaps permanent) changes in my diet and daily habits, because I’m a big believer in using proper nutrition and a whole foods, plant-based diet to facilitate long-term health improvements. Some of the diet changes I’m going to begin this week include:

  • No more coffee; I will downgrade to tea in the meantime, and lower my caffeine addiction and tolerance (which has gotten so high that I no longer feel energized by coffee; I merely drink it out of habit).
  • Starting my morning with a juice (kale, cucumber, ginger, lemon, celery, and granny smith apple) and warm/hot water with lemon.
  • Primarily eating big salads for lunches (consisting of spinach and/or mixed greens as well as nuts, fruit, and maybe sometimes a hard boiled egg or a bit of feta cheese).
  • Generally, making vegetables and fruits the centerpieces of my meals (as opposed to meats, pastas, breads, and rice). 

I’m also going to start going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (my goal is to have no more than thirty minutes of variance each day). My sleep habits have been really out of whack lately, and I’ve just felt perpetually exhausted for the last couple of weeks. 

A lot of these things are a result of poor discipline on my part, but that’s all the more reason to start making these changes. I have to retrain my self and refresh my body and mind.

I don’t think modern medicine is evil. But I also don’t think it should be considered “healthy” or “normal” to perpetually rely on prescriptions in order to function, or to take medications to reduce symptoms of a problem instead of trying to get at the root of that problem.

I know it’s not going to be easy, and I know it’s going to increase my grocery bill. I know that it will take a while for my long-ingrained cravings for foods that are high in sugar and carbs and low in nutrients to get under control. But I’ve gotten to the point that “it’s hard” is no longer a good excuse (as if it ever were). It’s just not a good reason to let my health slip through the cracks, especially during what is supposed to be one of the healthiest, most energetic times of my life.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s time to make a change.

Wish me luck.

 

My Writing on Evangelical Outpost

I meant to post links to these more consistently as they were published on Evangelical Outpost. Here are all of my current articles on the site (listed most recently to earliest), should you be interested in reading. (Another one is due to come out later this month.) Hope you enjoy!

How Should Christians Interact with Politics?

Learning to Not Be Judas

Ted Mosby Is Not a Hero

Giving Up: The Significance of Sacrifice

Finding Meaning

Force Yourself: Why Spirituality Sometimes Sucks

For this journey we travel lightly

“We fast in order to be able to participate in the Passover of Christ, His death and Resurrection, at the end of our forty days. This is the work to which He calls us–to deny ourselves, to take up His cross and follow Him, to die with Him and rise with Him. For this journey we travel lightly, like the Israelites in the desert, hoping that God will sustain us to reach the goal of the great day of His rising, the day which has no end.

The Didache, an early Christian document which dates from the early second century and reflects the practice of the Church at the end of the first century, the apostolic era, tells us that the first Christians considered fasting an important part of their life in Christ. ‘Pray for enemies,’ it says, ‘fast for your persecutors.’ Fasting, we see, is a form of prayer, an aid to prayer. This document goes on to urge Christians to fast on every Wednesday and Friday. This practice of the very early Church, which we continue in the Orthodox Church today, is done as a way of partaking in the passion and death of the Lord, Who was betrayed by Judas on a Wednesday and put to death on a Friday.

To sum up our practice of fasting, we can say that we fast in order:

  • to repent of our worldliness
  • to weaken the tyranny of our bodily appetites and passions
  • to express our faith that it is the Word of God that sustains our life
  • to lighten our souls that they might face God in prayer and hear His word
  • to undergo a little death in and with Christ, in the chastening of our mortal flesh, so that we might rise with Him in the spiritually glorious body of immortality

Fasting must be positive, joyful. As Christ tells us, in Matthew 6:16, the Gospel read on the day before Lent begins: ‘When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.’ We cannot think that our fasting makes us better than others who do not fast. Such pride destroys and devalues the Fast. Fasting must be accompanied by humility, lowliness of heart, or it is worthless. It is this humility that enriches fasting and makes it joyful and radiant. The Fathers of the Church, as well as the Scriptures, make this abundantly clear. As Bishop Kallistos Ware tells us: ‘The tendency to overemphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored as a betrayal of true Orthodoxy.’ In the words of our Lenten hymn: ‘There are forty days in the Fast; let us keep them all with joy.’”

From “The Light of Orthodoxy” Radio Program, Fr. Thomas Mueller, Ss. Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Milwaukee, WI

Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s trial should be a front page story…but it’s not

After inducing labor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell murdered live babies by severing their spinal cords with scissors. He spread diseases among patients with infected instruments. His practices resulted in the deaths of at least two women. He is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, and his trial is currently underway in Pennsylvania.

And hardly anyone is reporting on it.

I don’t usually get involved in political issues through social media, but this is bigger than politics. Please, get informed about this and spread the word to as many people as you can.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/why-dr-kermit-gosnells-trial-should-be-a-front-page-story/274944/

Recent (and successful!) adventures in food

The Orthodox Church is currently in its fourth week of Lent (our Lent varies from Catholic/Protestant Lent because we have a different date for Easter; the reasons for that merit their own post, but the “Date” section of the Easter Wikipedia page offers a pretty good summary, if you’re interested). As I’ve mentioned before, Orthodox Christians traditionally fast from meat and dairy products during Lent, so Jordan and I have been trying some new fast-friendly recipes this year. In the past week, we’ve made some delicious vegan discoveries that I’d like to share.

#1: Falafel. Or, really, most Middle Eastern food (they know how to eat). On the recommendation of our priest, we tried a little hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern restaurant in town (aren’t those always the best kind?) and were far from disappointed. Good prices, better food. Fast, fresh, and the cook visited our table to see how we enjoyed our meal. We each got a falafel sandwich: falafel, hummus, and tabouli inside a pita pocket. We bought some frozen falafel and garbanzo beans (the restaurant is also a grocery store) and recreated the meal at home. We made fresh hummus in our Vitamix and vowed to never go back to store-bought again. This morning, I had a falafel “taco” for breakfast: falafel, spinach, onions, garlic, and tahini in a rice-flour tortilla. This leads me to another interesting discovery I’ve made, thanks to fasting: you don’t have to be limited to certain kinds of foods for certain meals. I eat vegetables for breakfast; I have soup as a snack. Just because it’s 9:00am doesn’t mean you have to eat bacon and eggs. Fasting encourages (to some extent, requires) me to think more creatively about what I eat.

#2: Ugly Soup.

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I have to credit this one to another blogger, Ruth, author of GraceLaced. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for a while, and last night I got the chance. We shop at Costco, so often we find ourselves with half-full bags of vegetables on the verge of going bad just because we can’t eat them fast enough. I didn’t have the exact ingredients Ruth uses, but that’s the beauty of this recipe: you can use whatever you have on hand. We had tons of celery, carrots, and potatoes, so I used lots of those. I also used black beans instead of corn and spinach instead of cabbage. (And of course, I made it sans meat.) Like the ingredients, the measurements don’t need to be exact, either; I added a can-full of water to make it more “soupy” and help fill up the pot. It turned out great, and Jordan loved it, which is a win for me; I’m not really a natural chef, and sometimes when I try new recipes (especially when I deviate from the ingredients list) it doesn’t totally pan out. Thankfully, my own version of Ugly Soup was delicious, and I think it will be a new staple meal of ours, especially during fasting periods.

#3: Almond milk.

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Again, we have our Vitamix to thanks for this. It’s incredibly easy to make almond milk in the Vitamix: almonds plus water, blend until you have almond milk. Today, I wanted to make some coffee at home, and decided to try and make almond milk foam. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I was pleased with the result. It wasn’t quite as foamy as what you might get at Starbucks, but after blending some almond milk in the Vitamix for a few minutes, I had a warm, frothy, creamy addition to my afternoon coffee.

Now, I want to emphasize that the overall point of physical fasting is one of spiritual significance. Lent is a time to prepare ourselves for the death and resurrection of Christ; it’s a time to foster spiritual discipline and growth, and fasting assists in that by reminding us of our physical limits as humans and freeing us from the control of certain passions. However, I like to document the other discoveries we make along the way, because changing your diet (for whatever reason) has multi-faceted results. I enjoy how the fast opens my mind about food in general.

Giving Up

I’ve been contemplating a new life motto:

“I give up.”

Not in a self-loathing or self-pitying way; not to say I don’t believe in my value or abilities (to an extent).

But in a spiritual way; a relational way; even, now that I’ve been through nearly three years’ worth of various fasting seasons in the Orthodox church, a physical way.

My new motto was spurred by an Ingrid Michaelson song, “Giving Up,” which popped up on my Pandora station recently. I’d never heard it before, and I was immediately struck by the lyrics of the chorus (of course, it’s better to listen to):

I am giving up on making passes

I am giving up on half-empty glasses

I am giving up on greener grasses

It’s a love song, but I find it to be a rather theologically sound take on Christian commitment in marriage. As I once heard it put, “When you say, ‘I do,’ you’re also saying ‘I don’t’ to everyone else.” When Jordan and I got married, we committed ourselves to each other and our marriage, which means we promised to give up on things like flirting with or dating others, physical intimacy with anyone else, and most shades of emotional intimacy with others, too. We were (and are) giving up on living individualistically. We’re giving up.

I don’t think everyone should or needs to get married–some are meant for singleness and celibacy. But I think those who resist marriage because they don’t want to give up their independence are missing out. They choose to sacrifice bigger, deeper, longer-lasting joys for smaller, more immediate pleasures.

I think it’s worth it, giving up.

And I think this idea has far-reaching spiritual and theological implications (which also encompass the physical aspect I mentioned). When the young rich man asked Christ, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” the Lord didn’t reply with, “Hoard your wealth, and focus on doing whatever you can to make yourself happy.” He said:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

In other words: give up. Give up your wealth, your comforts, your self-serving ways, for Christ. The apostles, when called, literally gave up their former lives–Christ called Peter and Andrew while they were fishing (doing their job), and Scripture tells us that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20)

Christ doesn’t stop at possessions or trades, though; He takes it all the way. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) So what do we need to do to serve Christ, to live fully as Christians?

Give up.

Finally, a thought on fasting. As I said, I’ve been through a few Lents and Nativity Fasts at this point, during which Orthodox Christians abstain from meat and dairy in preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and birth (respectively). This is a very literal approach to giving up. Physical fasting, obviously, demands one to give up certain foods. In the church, this activity serves several spiritual purposes: to remind us of our limits as human beings and dependency upon God; to help us focus on things of God, instead of on serving our desires; and to remind us that faith and Christianity are active, not passive: they are effortful, requiring work, even pain, and especially sacrifice.

We are called to give up. Which is why I think this makes such a good marriage, spiritual, and life motto. This idea of giving up reminds me of two other related interests of mine: minimalism and monasticism. Minimalism, or the practice of living lightly on necessities rather than messily on luxuries, has many pragmatic benefits: space-saving, stress-reducing, finance-increasing, to name a few. But I also find it to have spiritual significance, similar to that of monastic living. Living simply puts into practice the monastic mindset of disconnecting from typical worldly desires or material goods for the sake of pursuing greater goods like spiritual clarity and fullness and a stronger devotion to God.

And that’s what all of this giving up is about, anyway. We give up so that we may gain more.

Senioritis (Part 2)

I’m supposed to be working on my thesis, but I feel like doing anything but right now. My advisor told me that the final stretch is often the hardest, because at this point writers are usually just so sick of working on it that they want to forget about it. I’m totally feeling that. My most recent draft is pretty good, and it’s at that point where it’s just almost there but I’ve just got some more work to do, and a tiny bit more research to fill a couple things out, and a couple more passes to clean things up and refine everything…it’s so close, but not yet done, and I just don’t feel like it!

So here I am, ranting on WordPress. Sorry to not write about anything really substantial, but not all writing can be substantial, right? I learned that with my first draft…

The bright side is that I’m at the upper limit of my page count. When I embarked on this whole thesis-writing process, thinking about writing a 30- to 50-page paper was one of the scarier parts of it. But I’ve realized now that when it comes to a big writing project like this, length minimum ought to be the least of your worries. I’ve probably only got a couple paragraphs of wiggle room at this point before I’m over the limit.

OK, enough rambling. I’m going to get to it. I guess.