The Long View

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As the summer season draws to close each year, I am reminded that taking the long view forward can have a toxic impact on my mind. There’s nothing like stacking everything that’s needs done in a year or more to provoke depressive feelings in me.

The half spent sawtooth sunflower shown above well represents where I stand at this time. If I focus on what is best in the present tense, I feel well, but if I mull over what is painful or yet-to-happen, I feel a bit crushed. It’s like dismissing the beauty of this plant just because it blooms for such a short time.

I’m already feeling a bit of nostalgia over my medical leave for back surgery this past spring. It’s not like this small era was packed with halcyon days. For two months, I had time to delve into the tangential things my ordinary schedule does not permit, yet I did not have the energy to accomplish much at all. Four months later, I regret that I tainted this time with any expectations beyond healing.

At the time, I wrote that my expectations were very low, but I now realize that such writing was my hope of deflating then-impossible goals. No, I was not going to craft a cookbook bursting at the seams with recipes both cheap and easy. I wasn’t going to document the daily unfurling of early spring with perfectly focused images. Worst of all, I would not have a house that was truly clean.

I did accomplish what needed to be done. My back is still fusing ahead of schedule. I was able to drive during my daughter’s spring break, so we were not stuck at home during the days of her vacation. After I came home from the hospital, I maintained my usual weekday wake up time (5:30 a.m., no less). This provided continuity for my family and ensured that I wouldn’t feel jet lagged once I returned to work.

Twice the time I had for leave has now passed since I returned to work. I can’t claim that the surgery was entirely successful. The symptom that made this procedure (an L4/L5 fusion) necessary was increasing numbness in my feet and in one of my knees. I had a long-term ruptured disc that exerted considerable pressure on my spinal cord. I had sciatica for a three month span prior to my surgery, but I didn’t have much pain obviously related to my back before that symptom began.

My MRI and surgery revealed that my disc ruptured 10 to 15 years ago. I had developed extensive arthritis and hypertrophy in my lumbar spine over that time. I’ve written previously of being stunned at my mental oblivion regarding this disease process. I literally had no suspicion of this degeneration, despite having several family members who’ve suffered from similar problems.

Looking back, the whole long interlude reminds me of that movie The Others starring Nicole Kidman, (spoiler alert) wherein she crafts an entire reality based on denial of her and her children’s passing. She has all sorts of elaborate excuses for why they can’t do the same things living people do, such as her warning to the children that they musn’t open the drapes because they are allergic to sunlight.

During Trick or Treat nine years ago, I barely endured walking my daughter around for a couple hours because my lower back was aching. Rather than go to a doctor about it, I decided that my problem was entirely due to obesity and lost 130 pounds over the next three years. I didn’t make any medical appointments whatsoever during that time (and for another year afterward) except for ear treatments I couldn’t avoid. Why? Because I assumed that almost every symptom I had was due to my weight, and my diet was the slow cure. How absurd that seems now!

Once I went back to my family doctor for myself for the first time in four years, she was so shocked at my change in weight that she sent me straight to a GI specialist. After running all sorts of tests on me (including colonoscopy, endoscopy, and biopsies), the GI doctor informed that I was the first 40 year old patient he’d seen who’d achieved a 50% weight loss without gastric bypass surgery or the misfortune of cancer. My advice to those who are planning a diet beyond a 10% weight loss: keep your doctors informed, or else they might assume the worst.

Now I wonder if my ongoing lumbar degeneration dampened my appetite. I didn’t struggle with eating less and walking more during those years. Now that I’ve had the surgery, my appetite and weight are much more of a challenge. I’m in the midst of trying to lose the 25 pounds I’ve gained over the past year, and the losing has been very slow this time around, 6 pounds in 8 weeks so far.

I started this post with the notion that looking too far foward can be depressing, but most of the foregoing is a backhanded homage to my recent past. The subject of my spinal woes is one in which I am better off lingering on the past than thinking too far into the future. Once I had my surgery, I started getting mild to moderate muscle spasms on the left side of my back and my left thigh. Physical therapy helped dampen this problem by strengthening these muscles. If I don’t do those exercises, the spasms are sure to be worse. Now here’s how I could depress myself with contemplating the future: I am not going to retire until I am 67. If I consider that I might be working with spasms for 22 more years, I feel steamrolled flat at the prospect of it.

If I take this problem day by day, it is just a pain that is fleeting, a sensation that reminds me that I need to keep building my strength.

Mr. Cole

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My husband has joined me for almost all of my photo walks this year. I feel lucky to have a husband who is very supportive of my hobbies. Just this morning he drove me to three different wildflower prairies in far flung parts of my county. In the picture above, he is holding a bit of gossamer fluff from a thistle plant in hope of recreating its slow flight through a sunbeam. He did this three times for me, but I did not capture the flying fluff too well:

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He offered to set the fluff aloft again for me, but I insisted we move on. I had captured what I wanted from that moment in my picture of him.

Tonight’s Dinner, and Anticipation

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I’m pleased when the odds and ends in my refrigerator merge into a handsome dinner.

Currently my mind is full with waiting for my dad’s 23andMe ancestry-only test results. No matter how many times I’ve ridden this sort of testing roller coaster, I am anxious for the results, unreasonably so.

Since Friday I’ve seen “Your results are almost ready!” whenever I check the progress of his test’s processing. Whoever wrote that line does not share my sense of urgency. As Carrie Fisher wrote in Postcards from the Edge, “Instant gratification takes too long.”

Every day “Your results are almost ready!” doesn’t actually become ready, I feel a bit crushed, like a miniature of the deflated hope of each of the eight days I was pregnant past my due date.

It’s not like this test will offer earth-shattering revelations. ¬†Like when my mom tested earlier this year, I am so grateful once again that my family has been so supportive of this interest of mine.

Once my dad’s test is done, my results will be phased with both parents, and this, to my knowledge at least, is the most accurate direct-to-consumer geographical ancestry composition result available currently. Through Dad’s results, I will also be able to see his maternal (mtDNA) haplogroup, which is currently a mystery to me.

And now I must check “Your results are almost ready!” again.

Cookies and Rain

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Monday is my whirlwind. This day is dense with tasks at work and at home. As I start my week, it’s inevitable that I’ll need to do something I set aside last week. No matter how much I try to stay ahead of the current, there is usually some basket of laundry or pile of papers that can wait no longer. I also do a retrospective in numbers of the past week at work. These reports have thousands of rows of figures. I wish all that is done outside work could be plugged into cells and sorted, too. The tide comes in Monday, for all that is counted or uncountable.

My daughter and I baked some chocolate chip cookies for my family’s little Fourth of July gathering tomorrow. We used a Ghirardelli mix for these batches.

The weather was heavy with heat and humidity today, and an early evening rain relieved some of the tension:

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Fitbit and Sleep

This week my Fitbit Charge 2 started offering me data on the “quality” of my sleep. It has presumed to know when I’m sleeping as long as I’ve been wearing it, and it has been wrong only when I’ve managed to stay awake through an entire episode of a TV show while lying on my couch. Truth be told, I struggle to stay awake watching TV unless I am riding an exercise bike or elliptical machine the whole time. If I stay still, I will fall asleep within 20 minutes. My dad, my husband, and I all share this affliction, but I am the only one who tried pedaling while watching to stay awake. If not for my exercise bike, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of seeing every episode¬†of Man Men, Foyle’s War, and George Gently.

My sleep data that I’ve seen on my Fitbit app does not motivate me in the slightest to use this information to “perfect” myself. Actually, it makes me question if using a fitness tracker has helped me at all. While I will not blame its use for my decline, I will confess that my fitness and weight have not improved at all during the two years I’ve been using a tracker. Having the charts of my steps and exercise minutes has not inspired me to move more. Instead, this data makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel who’s earned a more sedentary life, at least for this evening, and that day, and so on.

My Fitbit sleep charts represent another set of information that only makes me feel more fatigued in the knowing:

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The sleep stage tracking is particularly pointless because it only estimates the depth of sleep based on user pulse rate and movement (btw, this feature is available for Fitbit Blaze, Charge 2, and Alta HR). It’s not like the numbers provided can approach the accuracy of a medical sleep study. I doubt my Charge 2 unfurls a micro EEG that seeks out the appropriate contact points on my scalp once I fall asleep.

Here’s a stage chart for one night of this past week:

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The start and end times on this chart are pretty typical for a week night. I try to go to bed by 10:30, and I wake up at 5:30. Those who knew me well in my youth will recognize that my early awakening is a daily miracle that cannot be improved upon. For the first thirty years of my life, I struggled with a second shift circadian rhythm, and I never had a job with those hours! The thought of embarking on some program to improve my sleep “quality” brings to mind the scene from This is Spinal Tap when Bobbi Flekman complains about the band’s offensive album cover for Smell the Glove, and their manager assures her, “You should have seen the cover they wanted to do. It wasn’t a glove, believe me.”

Despite these complaints, I’m not ready to give up on my Fitbit. I still dread the thought of my data coming to an abrupt end. Someday soon I might forget it at home while it’s plugged in for charging, and I won’t care that I left it.

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