Past Failures

At some point in every conversation I’ve had about fasting the other person talking says, “I could never do that. I tried and it was awful.” Forty days is an extremely long time, but if I’m inspiring anyone out there to try a shorter master cleanse, please rest assured that you actually can do it and the awfulness goes away quickly. All you need is lemonade and motivation.

I tried and failed many times before I had any success. My first attempt went something like this:

Boyfriend, who suggested cleanse and was simultaneously quitting smoking, in a calm and supportive tone: “I know it’s gross but you just need to keep drinking the lemonade. It’s only day one, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Me in a blind rage: “What the hell do you think I’m doing?!! But it’s disgusting. It’s not gross, it’s disgusting! And I feel like shit! We’re not supposed to make ourselves feel this way. That’s it! I can’t do this. I quit!” Munch munch munch munch munch…

Ten days later, after he succeeded at both fasting and quitting smoking, I consoled myself. Clearly some people’s bodies just aren’t made for this, I thought. I didn’t quit because of my lack of resolve. I quit because my body told me to. (Yah, right.)

My second attempt was a three-day fruit fast. I made it halfway into day two until everyone at work wanted to kill me and I ate a slice of pizza. Attempts three through six lasted about twenty minutes each. Then I succeeded.

I realized after I succeeded that the difference that time was clear motivation to be healthier. Motivation came from having multiple flues, a blood clot, debilitating allergic asthma and Lyme disease right in a row. I was sick non-stop for two years with conditions that seemed to have nothing to do with each other. The last one, Lyme disease, put me over the edge of what I could handle. I’ve complained a lot about how much sciatica has hurt me in this blog but really it’s just pain on my right side. Lyme disease was the same intensity of pain in every joint and muscle in my body, plus a flu, plus severe headaches, plus nausea from the doxycycline. Feeling like that gives you a lot of motivation to do something drastic in order to feel better.

A year after my first successful ten-day master cleanse I tried again and it took me three failures before I committed. Even this time around, I thought about fasting right after I fell.  I bought supplies and thought about it all through August. The lemons rotted and I threw them away. It wasn’t until the middle of September that I started to do it for real.

All I’m saying is it’s normal to feel scared. It’s normal to be overwhelmed by a fear of starvation. It’s normal to have headaches and a hard time with it in the first few days. This isn’t an easy thing to do. And why should it be? The benefits you ultimately receive are worthy of the work you have to put in. The time you succeed is the time you convince yourself to shut up and drink more lemonade.

Advertisements

We Don’t Know What’s Going To Happen

My mother called yesterday. She had read my post about being in pain again and decided it was time to wipe her hands of this experiment. Fully expecting that I was in agreement she announced over the phone, “I knew you were never going to fix anything this way anyway. So you’re ready to eat food again?”

Mothers. All they can see is us in pain. They can’t appreciate the healing as it happens, only once it’s complete and on their terms. Such good protectors they are. (Hi mom!)

You can imagine her surprise as I calmly explained that I have no intention of stopping now. Regardless of the state of my back, hip and leg I have gained more insight than I could have imagined about my diet, ego/emotional health and the resiliency of my own resolve. I’m one for sticking to what I started and fully accomplishing my goals. Mama didn’t raise no quitter. She raised a hard worker who means what she says.

It’s nice to imagine that we know what is going to happen. Well, I should say that’s how I used to think and it caused me a lot of stress. So I guess it’s not that nice. It’s a false comfort blankie we wrap ourselves in when the uncertainty of the world feels scary. Eckhart Tolle speaks a lot about finding comfort in the uncertainty itself instead. That way we can live in the moment of reality and show ourselves how strong and awesome we are. Facing our fears helps us eliminate them. Eliminating our fears gets us to our true potential.

After a ridiculous tangent about her fear that if I don’t heal myself in forty days I’ll decide to quit eating forever, I asked my mom to save her judgment for after the cleanse is finished. “Please give me twelve more days,” I said. “Because much as we’d like, we don’t actually know what is going to happen. Don’t give up on me while I’m still in it.”

Speaking my peace to her really helped me refocus my goal. I think I was wrong to say I wanted to cure my sciatica. What I really want to do is find peace in uncertainty. I want to believe that anything can happen and it’s possible that it could all be good. It’s hard to be an optimist. Pessimists disagree but they’re wrong. I feel equipped to argue both sides because I spent three decades as a fiercely sarcastic pessimist and that’s one of the things that started to shift with my Saturn Return at age twenty-eight. I have worked hard to earn my optimist status and I think I’m almost there.

Yesterday I drove up to Washington to visit a good friend and squirmed in my chair as we talked. I limped around her beautiful yard as I tried to unloosen my hip and back from the twisting and pinching of sitting. Later that evening I went to another friend’s house to watch football and was the weirdo lying on the floor by the coffee table who kept refusing to join everyone else on the couch. Business as usual in the pinched nerve department.

Then I went home and something inexplicable happened. I had a really big poop. Twenty-eight days of no solid food and I had a really big poop. Where the fuck did it come from?!

I know it’s grossly unacceptable for me to force you to imagine me in that position, but I’m gonna do it anyway. There I was processing a bowel movement and this is what went through my head:

You know what would be fucking awesome? If I passed a marble and it turned out that when I was two I had swallowed that marble and my whole life it’s been sitting inside me so close to my nerve and every now and then it gets lodged in a cavity and zing! squeezes that nerve fucker and the pain and the ow! and the everything comes and I hurt but now it’s gone! That’s crazy! Oh but it would be so awesome. I can do this. I can heal myself. Why the fuck not?!

I remembered a note scribbled on a purple Post-It that I found stuck to the first page of the used copy of Tolle’s A New Earth I bought at Powell’s a few weeks back.

Put forth intention. Intend! And so it will be.

In the end I passed no marble. But when I got up and walked out of the bathroom I swear to you the pinch was gone. It took me almost an hour to notice it. I wrote yesterday’s post at my computer, straightened up around the apartment. Slowly it started to dawn on me that I could move more than I’ve been able to and I wasn’t limping in pain. I stretched and swung my body around and didn’t feel a pinch.

In disbelief I got onto my inversion table and it didn’t hurt. I flipped myself over backwards and it didn’t hurt. I shifted my hips without using my hands and started laughing at what felt like a miracle. Almost in tears I got off to call my sister but stopped myself. It was a fluke. This couldn’t really be happening. I needed to test it further before uttering a word to anyone else. Just then I lay down on my bed, no pinch, no piercing pain, and I did the impossible: I rolled over onto my side without using my hands to help me.

It took forever to fall asleep last night because I was overcome with joy and relief and I wanted so desperately to relish those moments of normalcy and a complete absence of pain. In the morning I awoke to a small pinch but one that is drastically reduced from what had become my norm.

There is something still occasionally shooting into my ankle, I have not cured myself, but the pain from my hip is gone. What remains is much less severe than anything I have felt since I fell in July. I’m not one to shout the divine from the rooftops but I’ve certainly been counting my blessings and humming the Ray Man Shabad all day.

I’m ecstatic to report that at the end of the day I’m still feeling better than I have at any point in this injury. Thank you mom for helping me get to the next level.

Proper Alignment

I have another theory 🙂

When I was 21 years old I made a lot of big life decisions. Chopped off all my hair, went vegan, got a tattoo. The other big change was I started doing yoga. Up until then I had remained fit and comfortable in my body through dance and step aerobics, but at that point I decided I wasn’t pursuing a path of “right living” and it was about time I started. All of my philosophies changed as I entered my twenties and discovered I had a very new idea of perfection to chase. At that young age I felt so behind. I had a lot of catching up to do!

I entered my first yoga class with a mat that matched my outfit and a cute water bottle. I was the youngest by at least a decade, huge ego boost! I figured I had this covered and would do just fine. In terms of strength I did fairly well but, like many of us, I struggled with flexibility and quieting my mind. I had a vision in my head of the perfect yoga body and the perfect yoga mentality and I was on a quest to master both.

Fast forward eleven years.

I’m happy to report I’ve made leaps and bounds in the arena of mental clarity and for quite a while I thought I was doing well with the flexibility. Right now however, I’m experiencing a bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment which is causing me to question everything I came to believe about yoga.

I want to be very clear that what I’m talking about is based solely on my own personal experience inside my own personal body. This theory I have is about me, it’s not meant to pose any negative light on yoga as a whole.

As I enter my thirties my philosophies are changing again. The most interesting thing I’m experiencing is an overwhelming desire to go back to the way I was when I was seventeen but with all of the experience and knowledge I have gained since then. When I was seventeen I was focused, confident and physically active. I could do anything. Then I went to college and we all know what happens there. Then I drank my way through my twenties, lost focus, became incredibly depressed and basically lost myself in the process of finding myself. Here I was in this decade that’s supposed to be all about self-exploration and I was losing what I already knew. I stopped trusting my own instincts and started listening to other people’s opinions more than my own. This happened on many levels of my life but here I want to focus on the physical.

I took my various yoga teachers’ lectures on proper physical alignment as gold thus ignoring everything my body had come to learn on its own. I didn’t even know what it meant to listen to your body even though I had been doing that instinctually all my life up to that point. Yoga class was teaching me how to move and stretch in a different way. Seemed like a good thing at time, it felt like growth, but let’s not forget that age 21 was also the first time my back went out. It was the beginning of my sciatica problem and the loss of my core strength.

So what exactly is my theory? Here it is (and this has nothing to do with doctors or experts or professionals, this is just me talking about me):

I believe that proper alignment for my body is the way I moved and stretched before I ever took a yoga class. I believe it to be technically improper and something I naturally compensated for up until the point where I started to forcefully change it. Yes, I know yoga is supposed to be gentle. Regardless of the level of force, I was making it do something it didn’t want to do. As I changed it I sent a system that was happily taking care of itself out of whack and unknowingly set myself on a path that would eventually lead to chronic pain.

Because here’s the thing, I used to take dance class 5 or 6 times a week and do step aerobics in my down time. I was super flexible and yet I couldn’t bend over and reach my toes. I just didn’t worry about it and my back never hurt. I knew how I was comfortable – cross-legged or in a split and never with my legs straight out in front of me – so I never bothered to hang out in positions that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I started worrying about it and set out on a mission to touch my toes and rotate my legs and hips inwards, as instructed in yoga, that my body started hurting. Basically I think my own personal improper alignment is what is necessary for my body to feel good and the quintessential proper body alignment is what pinches my nerve and causes my sciatica.

Over the past decade I have done more and more yoga and in turn my sciatica has gotten exponentially worse. Can you guess what the number one most painful thing for me to do, aside from sitting and driving, is when my back hurts? Downward dog.

Have I ever listened to the hurt? Oh no, I’ve told myself there’s something wrong with me and pushed through the uncomfortable in order to continue towards the goal of the perfect yoga body. Yoga has forever been a struggle, something I made myself do because I believed it was good for me. Part of that is my fault, a big part. But part of that is the way yoga is advertised which is basically that it’s the end all, be all way to balance and perfection. Look at the yogis! Well, guess what? Just like I’m not eating like the Japanese, I’m not practicing yoga like a yogi. I’m going to American classes where I am gently but constantly pushed towards a version of myself that really has nothing to do with me.

I have certainly benefitted in some ways from practicing but ultimately I’m coming to accept the fact that it’s not right for me. Just like I have to approach my diet differently, I have to approach my exercise regiment differently. There will come a moment when my sciatica pain will stop. I have no idea how or when I’m going to get there, but when I arrive the first thing I’m going to do is take a dance class with my friend Amber and remember how good it always felt. My body has known that all along, it’s just taken my brain a while to catch up.

OK This Is Getting Boring

My little cat Roody has eaten turkey all her life. When she was a kitten it’s all she wanted. Beef made her retch. She turned her nose up to fish. It was just turkey, turkey, turkey.

Yesterday I wondered how many turkeys Roody has consumed in her twelve years but I couldn’t realistically fathom it. Today I’m wondering if she ever wakes up, walks over to her food bowl and thinks, “Man! Fucking turkey again?!”

That’s how I feel this morning. Think about it, this lemonade concoction is made of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. And I’ve been consuming it non-stop for a month. That’s disgusting!

It’s time to rally so I can make it through this last stretch. I can do two more weeks. I can do two more weeks. I can do two more…

Which Comes First, the Bad Mood or the Pain?

Last night I sat on a couch for a few hours while hanging out with friends and then got home and paid dearly for it. I can do it without a problem. In the moment sitting is uncomfortable but not painful. I just shift a lot. It’s afterwards that the pinch hits and sends me into mini seizures of pain.

It’s after I get out of the car or off my bike that I stand completely frozen knowing the slightest movement will send excruciating pain down the length of my body. It’s when I’m lying in bed thinking I’ll go completely insane from just one more day of this and I can’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep.

I sat on a couch like a normal person for two hours and it washed away every inch of physical progress I’ve made.

When I got into bed I sang through my favorite chant, Ray Man Shabad, and as I did that the pain began to dissipate. I kept it up for fifteen minutes until I was able to somewhat relax. The second I stopped chanting though, I started worrying about not having health insurance, how back surgery would bankrupt me, the debt I’ve racked up on my credit card just to pay for the acupuncture, chiropractor and massage… the pain came back immediately. I was literally writhing. Calming down soothed the pain, stressing out brought it back again.

I don’t know what any of this means. I think when I started this cleanse I had a vain hope that I could pray my way back to health. Now on Day 25, feeling just as bad as I did on Day 1, that seems like a totally ludicrous idea.

Emotion Junkie

Intellectually I understand that I didn’t have a crush on a real person, I had a crush on an idea I created and projected onto a stranger. All that really happened was the stranger didn’t project anything onto me. Smart guy. Or he read my blog and thinks I’m a weirdo. Whichever.

Emotionally it’s so much harder for me to let go. The biggest question I have for myself so far on this cleanse is this: Why is it so easy for me to go without food, but so hard for me to go without expectation and worry?

Food is what I actually need for survival. I don’t need to worry about strangers liking me back. I don’t need to live in a fantasy world of unrealistic expectations. I need to eat. And yet… no one has heard me complain about food in 24 days without it!

Could it be that emotions are my vice? Am I an emotion junkie?

Maybe if I got a handle on this I could stop setting myself up for disappointment and like enjoy my life and stuff. Hmmm…

Crickets

In my head it goes like this. I am calm and friendly. He is polite and attentive. I say, “I’ve never asked anyone out before so I may be totally off base here, but I really would have appreciated a quick response to my offer, even just to say ‘No thank you.’ It took every ounce of courage I had to ask you out. You know my name. We’ve had conversations. I don’t think I deserve to be completely blown off.”

In reality it’s just crickets. I won’t get the chance to speak my peace because chasing him down the street again would assuredly cross me over into crazy chick territory and I doubt he’ll ever return to my cart. I just get to live with being ignored. It’s right there in the Tao. Accept being unimportant. A good man does his part but does not exact his due.

This isn’t a lesson in rejection. I’ve got that down pat from years of practice. (Cry. Sleep. Wake up and move on.) No, this is a lesson in getting out of my head. I spend a lot of time in there dreaming up fantasies and worrying about everything I haven’t accomplished yet. I’m the queen of despising the journey and concentrating only on the outcome. I don’t want to meet someone, learn about them and fall in love. I want to already be in love. Where does that get me?

There is another option. The one where we live in the present moment and concentrate on what is actually happening instead of what we expect should be happening.

Sometimes when we jump the parachute doesn’t open. Doesn’t mean we have to fall. We just have to teach ourselves how to fly. I’m learning. In the end I can walk away knowing I am calm and friendly. Anyone who has known me throughout my life can attest; those are big accomplishments for me. And I can’t explain why, but for some reason I’ve got West Side Story stuck in my head.

Something’s coming

I don’t know what it is

But it is

Gonna be great

To Soy Or Not To Soy

Before starting this cleanse I was trying to put the pieces of a new allergy together. Last spring I went to dinner with some friends then to the theatre for a musical. By the third song I was feeling ill. My eyes were really watery and I couldn’t stop scratching my abdomen. Within a few minutes I could tell that my eyes were swelling shut and I felt like I had something stuck in my throat. I snuck out of the auditorium and in the bathroom found I was covered in hives and my eyes were puffed out to twice their normal puffiness (ha!).

After maddening conversations with several incompetent ushers who offered me no help, I ran out of the theatre and up a few blocks to a convenience store in search of Benadryl. I popped four into my mouth before paying for them and did my best to calm down as the anaphylaxis subsided. WTF?

I had a much less severe reaction to wine many years ago, which likely points to a sulfite allergy, but I couldn’t figure out what I ate that night that might have had sulfites in it. I hadn’t eaten anything I’m not completely used to.

A few months passed. Then over the summer suddenly another attack, this time in the middle of the night. I awoke dazed and confused barely able to open my eyes. At first I thought I was just groggy and had to pee but as time passed and I still couldn’t open them I realized my eyes were swollen shut and my throat was on its way too. After four more Benadryl and some sleep, I woke up hours later with most of the attack gone except the feeling in my throat. I continued to take Benadryl, six total, and finally felt back to normal in the late afternoon.

Anaphylactic shock = mega scary. Living by yourself and waking up in your bed alone while your throat is swelling shut = kinda terrifying. But allergies are really hard to figure out.

Luckily, I have a theory. (I know, I have a lot of theories.) The only common denominator of the two incidents was soy. I had eaten edamame and miso soup with tofu at the restaurant the first time and chugged a huge glass of chocolate soy milk before bed (because in private I act like a nine year old child) the second time.

How could I be allergic to soy? I’ve been consuming large quantities of it for eleven years without ever having a problem with it. Hmm… or have I? Yes I’ve obviously been consuming it, but maybe all along I’ve been having problems I wasn’t paying attention to. A quick Google search of common soy allergy symptoms unveiled info I didn’t expect. It could be that the digestion issues I was shrugging off as just part of life, the general fatigue I could never explain, stomach pain and conjunctivitis of all things could each be related to soy intolerance.

Soy is touted as an absolute health food. I have bowed at the temple of the soybean for a long time. I incorporated it into my diet when I went vegetarian fully believing I was making a compassionate choice for myself and for the world. The Japanese are the healthiest culture in the world, right? I wanted to be healthy like them. But let’s be honest, I don’t eat like the Japanese. I eat like an American. And in America soy is in everything, literally. It turns out soy is the single most prevalent ingredient in foods processed in the US today. Why do we ruin everything good?

As a result of my blind faith in the health food debate, over the past few years my soy intake has skyrocketed. I’ve eaten it every single day in multiple forms: soy milk, tofu, soy yogurt, soy margarine, protein bars, soy sauce, miso, edamame and soy lecithin (can you say chocolate?) are the most common for my diet. Further research shows it popping up in unexpected ingredients like vitamin E preservative in cereals and crackers, vegetable gum, vegetable starch, natural flavors and more.

It pains me to write this for two reasons. First it means a huge shift in my diet if I’m going to effectively avoid it. Second it means admitting that something I believed was really good for me might not be working out so well. I’m going to have to re-invent my vision of healthy.

I don’t think I have to cut it out completely, but I do think my high volume intake over the last decade has built itself into a nasty intolerance I need to attend to. Can I live with it? Probably. Should I? Heck no. Fasting brings clarity. Clarity shows us how to be good to ourselves so we can be healthy and happy and therefore good to everyone else. And while my ego would still disagree, I deserve to be healthy and happy. (I’m working on it.)

So sionara to soy! I shall see you in small quantities on the flip side.

Here are some links to food allergy info for anyone interested:

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

SoyNutrition.com

Food-Allergy.org

Another Slice of Awesome

Rainy days are great for podcasts and Radiolab’s episode called “Limits” is particularly fascinating. Jad and Robert interview triathletes, synesthetes and scientists to explore the perceived limits of the body, the mind and science in general.

When faced with total body collapse 400 feet from the finish line, Ironman Competitor Julie Moss says she made a deal with herself. Calling on a voice inside her she had never listened to before, she didn’t care if it hurt, she didn’t care if it was messy, she would finish. “That’s your ego that will come in and sabotage. Your real self, there is no limit.”

Watch Julie Moss’ incredible finish on YouTube. The entire podcast is downloadable for free from both iTunes and NPR. Enjoy!