Leveling Up

Sometimes it feels like a really big miracle that I have survived for almost 42 years.

Not only that I have survived, but that I have a job, that I am able to keep myself clean and fed, and especially that I can keep track of several things at once.

Lately, accomplishing these small daily feats has become even more of a victory, because I hit a point in life, several months ago, called “You gon’ need a doctor for that.”

Now, before you think that’s no big deal, I’ll admit that I’ve hit that point many times before. You hit it when you need a checkup. You hit it when you need a lady checkup. You hit it when you accidentally pick up some of the cancer.

But I’m talking about the type where you have to start living healthier because you’re really, really f*@#ed if you don’t. The type where you think (or maybe that’s just me), “Wait, what now? But I exercise!”

I remember reading about Jim Fixx when I was young. That dude ran all the time. Like, on purpose. This running on purpose is a concept I never have embraced. I don’t care for it. My standard reply when asked why I don’t run is muttering, “bad for your knees….” and then walking away from the person asking. My family all had a neat little Turkey Trot togetherness run this past Thanksgiving. I stayed home and made food. Priorities.

But I digress. The point is, Jim Fixx, the guy who ran all the time, died of a heart attack. WHILE HE WAS RUNNING. So clearly, exercise isn’t the whole answer. But even knowing how Jim Fixx bit it wasn’t enough for me to be convinced that I wasn’t doing more than enough for both my physical and mental health by performing moderate to vigorous exercise for 45 to 60 minutes, three to four days per week.

And then, the darkness.

I had a couple of alarming health scares in a short amount of time last fall, and they both scared the shit out of me. One was physical. One was mental. Both were the type that announced their presence in a fashion I best liken to a bitch slap. A backhand. Maybe even a street brawl. And both were the type that demanded I do something. Because to not would have been a really bad idea.

And then, the testing. I did all of the things. First was acupuncture. Then genetic testing. I got a PCP. I got an all-natural doctor. I had labs run. Scans. I needed to know why. And I also needed to know, why now?

Why was I falling apart now, when my life was finally falling together? It was like a little test…let’s take this human subject and give her a family. Then let’s throw in cancer, addiction, abuse, accidents, moving, divorce, moving, empty nest syndrome, comas, death, moving, new job, and moving. In a really short period of time. Then after that, let’s give her all of the good things. And then let’s see which phase of life she handles better.

It’ll be fun.

So the point was, I was doing really poorly when I should have, in my mind, been doing really well. And I mean, really poorly.

And then, the answers.

Which were not at all what I expected.

The first one was a welcome relief after years of uncertainty. I learned that my cancer had not been genetic, and was in fact hormone-based.

Then I learned that my hormones were really, really, jacked.

They were jacked to the tune of nine times the levels they should have been.

My natural doctor told me matter-of-factly that  I was really, really sick. So sick, she said like this was seriously blowing her jaded doctor mind, that I wasn’t even healthy enough to go through a detoxification. She told me that my hormones were so sky-high that my body perpetually acted as if I was about to get attacked by a bear. Like, a really pissed-off bear with ill intent.

She gave some high-powered doctor supplements. Iodine drops. Really concentrated Vitamin D. Some kind of B-vitamin blend. And adrenal support.

Then she sent in the eye scan and nutritionist lady, who told me that I needed to clean up my act. She didn’t care about my weight range or my exercise level.

She cared that my diet kind of sucked.

I mean, she didn’t know it sucked. But she knew what it needed to be to get my health in check.

Here’s what it didn’t need to be: one that contained dairy, or bread, or sugar, or caffeine. Minimal alcohol, preferably wine only. To zero in further and more randomly, no tomatoes, bananas, peanuts (or PEANUT BUTTER!), citrus fruits, or anything processed.

After a couple days of initial denial, I realized that I felt awful enough to give it a try.

Giving up coffee and sugar-free Monster was hard. Giving up bread and sugar was harder. But giving up whiskey, eggs, and cheese was the  hardest. Separately, I mean. And together. Who am I kidding?

What I’ve learned in the last seven weeks: sugar is in freaking everything. Salad dressing is out, because if it doesn’t contain dairy, it’s got sugar. I’m down to olive oil and Frank’s buffalo sauce (thank you, Frank, for being the hot sauce WITHOUT sugar. I mean, what even?).

I’ve learned to differentiate flavors in my green leaf intake (spinach, kale, arugula).

I’ve learned that bland food really does have taste once you get used to not dumping stuff over it.

I’ve learned to really spice up my spice game.

I’ve learned turmeric will stain everything you love, with no remorse.

I’ve learned that there are lots of hummus options, but it all comes back to roasted garlic.

I’ve learned that roasting chickpeas can be good, or will be once I master the seasoning.

I’ve learned that I can eat rotisserie chicken a lot in seven weeks and not get sick of it.

Same with avocados.

And I learned that I felt great when I followed the plan. Normal. Not unstable. Not depressed. Not sick. Not exhausted. My skin cleared for the first time since I was eleven. I had confidence for the first time in, well, ever.

This was kind of a bummer, because I kind of wanted it  not to work so I could say welp, back to the drawing board, and eat my kitchen.

Instead, two weeks after my diet started, I went to my PCP. My labs were great. My cholesterol, always a problem for me, had dropped by thirty.

Four weeks later, I went back for my follow-up.

I was disgustingly, amazingly healthy. So much so, in fact, that I don’t have to go back until May.

That being said, I still have cheat days. And because they’re not as often, I sometimes lose my mind. I don’t want to talk about the night I had a lot of whiskey and about ten raspberry pastries.

There aren’t enough apologies for the people you love sometimes.

And after those cheat days, my system is in upheaval again. The entire next day, I am fearful and sure that I have lost all control, and that nobody loves me, and that nobody has ever been grosser than me. I’m having one of those days right now, in fact.

It’s made me realize that, as often as I heard it and dismissed it, food really IS fuel. Not just to keep us going physically, as I used to assume it meant (because cars), but also mentally. Also emotionally. We are comprised of many parts to make a whole, and all of those parts need to work together. When they’re taken care of, given frequent tune-ups and just plain loved, amazing things can happen.

Why am I talking about this? Because I didn’t know before. Because I felt like I was losing my mind, really losing my mind, and I didn’t know why. Because I didn’t even know enough to research what I was supposed to do. I just assumed I was depressed, and that maybe I had something wrong with my heart, or a blockage of some kind. I never, ever would have guessed that changing my diet would completely change how I processed information. I never would have guessed that it would make me more rational, more calm, more aware of things as they really were. It’s just a happy side effect that eating this way is also keeping my cancer in check and saving my life.

But I still made chocolate chip cookies tonight for the boys and had a spoon of cookie dough.

If anything I said rang true with you, do yourself a favor and Google anti-inflammation diet. Pinterest has great recipes, as well. Try it out for a week and see how you feel, and then have a cheat day and feel the difference.

I’m still occasionally a mess, but the difference is that now I know exactly what I need to do, and can precisely pinpoint the causes of my moments of crazy. With time, I hope to eliminate them.

And so do the people who have to deal with me.

Because I like to make things more fun if at all possible, I’ve come to think of life as a video game. I suck at video games, but I excel at analogies, metaphors, and even similes, plus I’m basically lazy, so I’m going with it.

When you play a game, you suck at first. You make a lot of mistakes, every step of the way. Eventually, you make fewer, and you level up, only to start the madness all over. You repeat the same mistakes again and again with each new level, throw the controller more than once, and cuss enough to make exactly zero difference, but it feels better anyway. And forget cheat codes.

This is just another level-up in my game of life. I’ve learned enough to know that there’s still going to be a lot of shit ahead.

But I’m at a really sweet part of the game.

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