Today I Am Fifty

fifty cake

When I was in my twenties I looked forward to birthdays every year. I have always looked young for my age and starting out in my career I never felt that people took me seriously because they thought I was younger than I was. I secretly hoped that some day I would actually look older. I know, a bit weird. So now I AM older ( not necessarily old) and I’m asking myself, as are other people oddly enough, how does it feel? Really it feels like just another day, but that doesn’t make for a very good blog post does it? So, as I sit in my cozy kitchen on this rainy October day and reflect, I have come to some realizations about what it feels like, and means to me, to be fifty.

Over the summer my husband and I were having dinner with some friends, one of whom had recently turned fifty. He told us about the party he had thrown for himself earlier in the year. It was a wild one from the sounds of it. A packed house party with loud music, lots of drinking and the mandatory requirement for any really good party, a visit from the police in the early morning hours. Sounded like one of the parties we had been to in our high school days. The next day he felt like hell, but it was all worth it for him. I am apparently not a party animal because just the thought of doing this makes me tired. I am a social person but I have never been a night owl (ask my college room mate) and am perfectly happy to be in my pajamas by 9:00pm most nights. My husband makes fun of me, but it makes me happy.

For others friends, the big 50 has been marked with a once in a lifetime trip, completing a marathon or overcoming a lifelong fear. When I quit my job last February I decided that this was the year I would train for a marathon. I even wrote a post about it. It took me about two months to decide that it wasn’t going to happen. It took me another month to come to terms with that and be okay with my decision. Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the people who have done these things immensely. I’ve just finally realized that it’s not who I am. I have always thought I needed to show people that I had accomplished some feat in order for them to be proud of me. Why it has taken me fifty years to realize this is not true, I am not sure. I still struggle a bit with who I am supposed to be, but I am getting closer to being happy just being me and realizing that I may not have a “mission” or a “thing”. I may just be…..me.

The past eighteen years of my life has been a bit of a roller coaster. Divorce and single parenthood at thirty three. I remember people asking me how I got through leaving my first husband with a three month old baby. You do what you have to do and you get up every day and move forward. When I did re marry, a few years later, my husband’s work took him 3000 miles away for four years. For anybody who hasn’t had one, long distance relationships/marriages really suck. Then at forty two another baby. Totally planned but nonetheless a challenge. I feel like it has only been in the past two years that things have finally felt settled down. I read a great quote the other day from, of all people, Nancy Reagan. “Women are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water”. It’s a good thing I like tea.

I’ve made some changes in my life over the past few months. I quit a job that I didn’t really like and am now able to be more present for my family. I overhauled the way that I eat and now physically feel better than I have in years. I have determine that killing myself trying to run up a mountain really has no benefit and have come to embrace yoga. I have come to terms with my relationship with my siblings and parents and am learning more about myself because of it. These things have made a huge difference in my life and I can say without a doubt that I am happier now than I have been in a very long time. I’m healthy, I have awesome friends, a loving, supportive husband and two great kids. Today, the Best Thing in Life is turning fifty.

Sugar Free

no sugarIf at any time during this post something doesn’t quite make sense, I will be blaming it on my current state of deprivation. You see, I am trying to rid my body of some nasty stuff, so I am on a sugar free diet. No, that does not mean that I can have all the sugar free soda and sugar free gum I want. It means I can eat protein, vegetables, seeds and some nuts. Yup, that’s it. No, I’m not kidding. Basically nothing that has sugar in it or that my body would convert to sugar. No sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no wine. WHAT? No wine. I am so screwed. I can eat rice though? No? WTF?

I am not doing this by choice. Well, that’s not entirely true. I could choose to not do it and continue to feel horrible and have weird arbitrary symptoms pop up every few weeks, but is that really an option? So, I have decide to heed the advice of my naturopath and change my ways. A few years ago I would have laughed at you if you said I should see a naturopath. My godmothers husband was a naturopath of sorts. He would wave a crystal attached to a string over people’s nail clippings and tell them what was wrong with them. So my perception of the field was a bit skeptical. I have, however, discovered that there are certain areas of health and well being that are better served by a different approach.

A couple of years ago I was feeling really run down. I wasn’t sleeping well, I felt nauseated in the mornings (nope, not that) I was anxious, not really sick but always just on the brink, chronic cold sores and my running ability was seriously going to the dogs. I went to my regular doctor and he said I should start on anti-depressants. “But, I’m not depressed”. I said. ” I know, but it might help anyway”. Really? How could it help? I’d feel like crap but I’d be happy? I left hos office feeling really disappointed in a man who I had trusted with the health of my family for years. I’ve since realized that there are some things that he is great for and some things that he is not. Conventional medicine is pretty black or white. You are sick or you aren’t. You have this or you have that. Not a lot of room for anything else.

So over the past couple of years I have explored some alternative ways of dealing with my overall health. This time around I have discovered that I can most likely deal with my current symptoms with changing my diet. I will admit that I have been hard on my body. I don’t have a high pressure job, but my husband travels a lot and I have had to hold down the fort (with kids in it) after a day of work on many occasions and weekends. I’m not a hard partier, but I like my wine. I’m not a marathon runner, but I do push myself physically. Running is my stress relief but I now know that running itself puts stress on your body. I’m not a junk food person but there have been times (I’m not proud of them) when I have been known to eat Nutella by the spoonful. There is said it. If you add all this up and on top of it put about eighteen months of a truly stressful time in my recent life, you could see how my body could be saying “Enough, I am done.” And that is what it has done.

Now, how to reverse the damage? Cut out all sugar from my diet for a minimum of one month. Just as a note to anyone doing this. Do NOT watch the Food Network. It will make you crazy. Take probiotics every day to restore the good things that should be in my body. Take it easy. That one is easier said than done for me. I have a run coming up in four weeks that will involve me running three legs of two hundred mile relay. I at least need to be able to do that.

So here I sit munching on buckwheat crackers trying not to think about cupcakes and sushi and anything with cheese in it and resisting the urge to lace up my runners. I have learned to embrace coconut flour, coconut oil and coconut milk as alternatives to many things. My trip to Whole Foods yesterday involved a good deal of time wandering the aisles searching for suitable foods. I have to say, they do make it fairly easy to find good, albeit pricey, products. Did you know that some people eat like this all the time. By choice. At the end of the day The Best Thing in Life is my health so I guess that I am now one of those people living this way by choice.

There is No Upside to Brain Damage

brain

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could experience The Best Things in Life all the time? In a world of unicorns, rainbows and free wine that might be true. But the reality is that we don’t live in that world. Our world is much harsher than that. In fact, the best things in life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

I first met Jane at the local rec centre when our girls were babies. I knew I would always remember her name because my mom’s name is Jane and my daughter’s middle name is Jane. Also Jane is from England. Ipswich to be more specific. Another reason to remember her is that my granny lived near Ipswich. We stayed in touch through mutual friends, sports and eventually school as our girls grew up. Our daughters both love soccer and ended up on the same team and in the same Kindergarten class. Jane was active and I often ran into her with her kids on the local trails or at the park. Then her life changed.

Three years ago this month Jane was experiencing the life of a normal mother, wife and Software Program Director. It wasn’t a particularly stressful day and things were pretty quiet at the office, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling of being a bit “off”. Sitting at her desk, she remembers wheeling over to a co-worker in her desk chair and telling her that she didn’t feel right and wasn’t sure what to do. “You don’t look very good. You should lie down” they told her. That’s the last thing she remembers. She had a massive seizure and lost consciousness. The EMTs came and she was taken to the hospital in and out of consciousness. After eight hours they couldn’t tell her anything about her condition so her husband came to pick her up. All she can remember is thinking that they were driving home from the hospital with their newborn son who was in fact, already two years old.

Eight months went by as doctor after doctor tried to figure out what had happened. She was told not to work and her days were spent at hospitals and doctors offices hooked up to machines as they flashed light in her eyes, taped her eyes shut and tracked her brain activity. One doctor even told her that it was a just a tension headache and she should try Tylenol. “Really? I lost the feeling in my left arm. I think it’s a bit more than a headache” She endured rounds of heavy duty drugs. One round she discovered was LSD based and caused an alarmingly bad trip. At least she can tick that of her list of things never to do again. After that, they put her on amphetamines to improve her brain function. The drugs left her hazy, tired and well, drugged.

After a recommendation from somebody on-line, Jane requested neuropsychological testing. The result. A diagnosis of encephalitis. Because a spinal tap was not done when her first seizure happened, they can not say of it was viral or bacterial. Regardless, the prognosis was not good. Permanent brain damage showed up in an MRI. The list of things she can no longer (ever) do is long. When the doctor told her she would never work again she was shocked, but what really hit her hard was when he told her that she would never snowboard or ski again. For an active, outdoorsy person this was devastating.

As the question came out of my mouth I realized how stupid it was.  But I asked it anyway.  “Has there been any upside?” No, there is no upside to brain damage. She often has to check a book out of the library multiple times as she forgets she’s read it or even what it is about. If she stay up late to bake for her kids school carnival she needs to take it easy for a few days afterwards to ward off more seizures. She dreams in German. She hasn’t given up gluten because it’s trendy. She’s done it because gluten is a known neurotoxin and increases the probability of seizures. She is judged. She doesn’t look sick but it is often a struggle to walk the few blocks to school to pick up her kids. She can’t count backwards.

She tries not to think about the future because she just doesn’t know what it holds and that in itself is very scary. She does feel that she is a better mother and wife than before. She literally can only focus on one thing at a time so if she is with her kids they have her complete attention. How many if us can always say that? Her husband has been so helpful and patient with her and for that she is eternally grateful. Their relationship is probably even stronger now that they can spend more time together. She has discovered pottery can be very therapeutic and has produced some beautiful pieces.

Janes Pottery

What struck me the most as I walked home from our chat at the local juice bar was Jane’s sense of empathy for anybody else experiencing difficulty in their life. She’s not bitter, or angry or resentful at all. I can’t say that I would be the same given her condition. I can’t help but admire her ability to go on with life on a day to day basis. “I don’t have an option”. She says as I tell her I think she’s doing great. And she’s right. She is making the best of a really crappy situation. I know it’s cliché, but if our chat reinforced anything it is to enjoy The Best Things in Life every day because you just can’t predict what may happen tomorrow.