Tag Archives: health

The Stories I Tell And Why I Tell Them

4 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 4 – I write about my health because…: Reflect on why you write about your health for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

When I was young, I had a somewhat cavalier attitude towards my health. This was partly due to the invincibility and stupidity of youth, and partly because there were some things happening in my life that relegated my health to the backseat. I really had better things to think about than whether I was eating enough spinach.

Of course, my lifestyle through my early twenties didn’t really lend itself to healthy thinking anyway. I was fond of pasta, Coca Cola and beer. I was not fond of vegetables, exercise or moderation. Water was for swimming or showering in, not for drinking. My daily life was punctuated with cigarettes. I didn’t really care whether I had enough money for groceries as long as I had a six-pack in the fridge and some cigarettes in my purse.

One morning I woke up and realized that I was tired of being a smoker. And just like that, I decided to quit. I reasoned that while I was quitting, I may as well fix up the other troublesome aspects of my lifestyle. And so I gave up the soft drinks, reduced the alcohol consumption and took up running.

In the years since then, more things have happened that have forced me to take a close look at the health of myself and my family. I have learned better ways of running, I have battled some mental health issues, I have lost family members to cancer and I have become an autism mom.

The subject of health is not something I can ignore or take casually. So much depends on it, and it has far-reaching effects on my children. I am mindful of the fact that for the next few years, I am making decisions about food and activity on their behalf. And for their sake, I have to get it right.

Through my journey, I have learned a lot and discovered that there’s so much I still don’t know. Through my writing, I can share what I have discovered and reach out to people who very often have answers that I need. I have come across people who know exactly what I’m going through, making me feel less alone. In sharing a piece of my life, I have found a voice that I might not otherwise have.

I write because I love to, and because – hopefully – I tell stories that people can either relate to or be informed or entertained by. And as long as I think my voice is touching at least one other person, I will continue to write.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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In Defence Of Runners: Five Running Myths Dispelled

25 Jan

I have noticed a very strange phenomenon. When I tell people that I am a runner, many of them – all non-runners, of course – go to great lengths to tell me how bad running is for me. I’m never too sure why this is. The subject usually comes up in the course of natural conversation. It’s not like I walk into a room full of strangers and blurt out, “Hey, guess what, everyone? I run!!!” I make it a point not be all preachy about it, and I never criticize the lifestyle choices of other people. There’s no reason for anyone to get defensive about their choice not to run. So why do many non-runners feel the need to try and get me to give up my evil running ways?

There is a lot of misinformation out there where running is concerned. Today I want to dust off my soapbox and hop on, if not to convince more people to at least give running a try, then at least to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Running is bad for your heart.
This myth is undoubtedly fuelled by the tragic and widely publicized deaths of runners participating in marathons and half-marathons. In the last half-marathon I ran, a 26-year-old man in apparent good health collapsed and died on the home stretch to the finish line. It is beyond sad, and these incidents can be alarming. But one only has to take a look at the numbers to know that the risk is very low. Out of almost eleven million marathon and half-marathon participants in the United States from 2000 to 2010, there were 42 fatal heart attacks. This translates to one death for every 259,000 runners – about half of the death rate from heart attacks in the general population. In other words, from a purely statistical standpoint, people who run are less likely to suffer cardiac arrest than people who don’t.

Myth #2: Running is bad for your knees.
Arguments in favour of this myth seem solid. When you consider the fact that the knees take a force of about eight times a runners’ bodyweight with each strike of the foot, it seems reasonable to conclude that wear and tear would ultimately win out. However, a number of recent studies suggest that not only does running not harm the joints, it may in fact help them. A person’s chances of developing arthritis or some other problem with their joints does not appear to be connected with whether or not they have run. I know many people who are still running well beyond their 70th birthdays with no ill effects to their knees, and I know people who have never run who have had knee problems.

Myth #3: Running doesn’t actually help you lose weight.
This myth is driven by some scientific algorithm I don’t understand that dictates what intensity of exercise makes you burn fat and what doesn’t. Whenever I try to read the theories surrounding this, my eyes glaze over, so all I can really go by is my own experience. When I took up running again after a break of about seven years, I was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds. I was heavier than I had ever been in my entire life – and that included either of my two pregnancies. From the time I started running again until the time I ran my first half-marathon for autism – a period of about six months – I managed to shed about fifty pounds. My diet did not change significantly during that time – it was all down to the running.

Myth #4: It’s not safe for a woman to run on her own.
This really depends on a number of factors, like location, time of day, time of year, and so on. It is true that runners – women and men – need to consider safety when they are running. This topic is broad enough to merit its own blog post, but there are things that runners can do to ensure their safety. Some basic precautions are: be aware of your surroundings, know the area you are running in, make sure someone knows what route you are taking, stick to the beaten track, and make sure you have a means of communication with you, whether it’s a cell phone or quarters for a phone booth.

Myth #5: Running is boring.
I suppose for some people it might be. For me – and I daresay for most dedicated runners – there is far too much going on for boredom to set in. There’s all the clichéd stuff about trees and birds and fresh air – and there is merit to that. Early morning running in particular can be spectacular from an at-one-with-nature point of view. I love the feeling of running before the rest of the world gets going, when it’s only me, the open road, and the sunrise to which I am invariably treated. The air is clean early in the morning, before the traffic comes along to muck it up, and the sounds of nature are pure and beautiful. And quite apart from all of that, when I run I can I focus on all that is going on with my body. My heart race, my pace, how my legs are feeling. I take stock, re-evaluate, re-strategize, decide whether to speed up or slow down or throw in a burst of sprinting. I can marvel at what the running is doing for my mental health – the endorphin rush that gives a natural high, the stress relief, the fact that unlike the times spent at home, when I’m running I can actually start a thought and see it through to completion.

Do you run? Do you have strong feelings about running, either for it or against it? Have you come across any other myths about running?

Vaccination Vaccilation

8 Mar

Several weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail from Toronto Public Health, informing me that if George’s vaccinations weren’t brought up to date, he would be suspended from school. There is a series of shots that he was due to receive when he turned six, and due to a number of logistical factors, including the retirement of our doctor and George’s phobia of anything medical, we just hadn’t gotten around to getting them. I called the number listed on the letter and spoke to a very nice lady who told me that the six required vaccinations could be administered with just two needles.

While two shots certainly seems more manageable than six, we have still not been able to get this done. Since our doctor retired, we have still not been able to get another one. There is a dire shortage of doctors in Ontario, much less doctors who are good with children who have autism. There is a walk-in clinic that we’ve gone to frequently enough for them to know us, and they do carry all of the vaccines, but it’s one of these first-come first-served places.

Jabbing needles into the arm of my child with autism is something that requires epic planning. We would have to find a doctor who we could make an appointment with. We would have to secure the very first appointment of the day to guarantee no waiting. We would have to prepare George, ourselves, and the staff at the doctor’s office. The whole thing would have to be done much like a military strike: go in, do what needs to be done, and then leave.

You can’t do that at a walk-in clinic. There, you show up and wait your turn, which could give your child up to two hours to have a complete meltdown and make dents in the drywall with his head (I ain’t kidding about that, by the way).

In between our phonecalls to locate a suitable doctor, we have been doing research on vaccines.

I should say at this point that I have never believed in the connection between autism and vaccines, and I still don’t. Whenever I admit this within my autism circles I create a bit of a stir, because it would seem that most people do not agree with me.

I would never presume to speculate on what does or does not cause autism in other peoples’ children, but looking back, I knew that something was not right with George from a very young age, before vaccines even entered the picture for him. If I were to guess at the root of the problem, I would say that it is a genetic roll of the dice combined with certain dietary elements.

Much to the horror of many parents (whether they have children with autism or not) I chose to vaccinate James even after I knew about George’s autism.  That’s how much I do not believe in the vaccine/autism link.

So the research we have been doing is not from an autism angle. It is from a general health and wellbeing angle. Some vaccines apparently (depending on which websites you believe) contain potentially toxic ingredients that really don’t need to be there. These ingredients can do things like challenge the immune system and create a propensity to getting mild upper respiratory complaints.

And as convenient as it may be, we are debating the wisdom of administering three vaccines per needle, all in one session. That is a lot of stuff to be putting into the human body all at once. I’m no doctor, but I’m not sure that the human body is designed to be blasted in such a manner.

We fully intend to get all of George’s shots updated. We may just take our time and spread them out. It will involve more trauma for George, but there is a chance that it will be better for his long-term physical wellbeing. When James turns six, we will have to make the same decision for him.

In the meantime, while we are waffling around trying to decide whether to get George his shots, the Toronto Public Health deadline is upon us. With just two days to go until imminent suspension, we decided to apply for an exemption. We completed a Statement of Conscience, which basically says that we believe vaccinations are not the right option for us at this time.

It just buys us a little time to do this properly, without pressure bearing down on us.

 

A Runner Is Born

7 Mar

When I was sixteen, I started smoking due to peer pressure. Although I was not quite a pariah in high school, I was not exactly popular either. I was one of a handful of girls who who kind of hung around on the fringes while the pretty, popular, sociable ones traveled in packs. All my life I have suffered from social anxiety, and high school was, for me, a time filled with awkward social angst.

Many of the popular girls would go to parties and smoke. They made it look cool, like the thing cool kids do. And so, in a misguided attempt to fit in with this crowd, I started smoking too. Throughout the next decade, I made the occasional token attempt to quit, but these attempts were never really sincere. They were driven more by guilt than anything else.

It was a lot easier to be a smoker in those days. You could legally smoke just about anywhere: in bars and restaurants, in airports, in shopping malls. You could even smoke in the workplace, although out of respect for my non-smoking friend Gary, who sat in the workstation beside mine at the office, I refrained from smoking at my desk. If I wanted to light up, I went to the communal coffee area and smoked there.

Shortly after I turned 26, however, something in me changed. It was a something that would prompt me to try quitting for real. It was not a concern for my health, even though – as my parents pointed out to me many times as they desperately tried to get me to quit – several family members had died from smoking-related illnesses. It was not the cost, which even back then was astronomical. It was not the nagging to quit that my family and friends subjected me to (in fact, because I can be stubborn and perversely bloody-minded, the nagging was probably my biggest deterrent to quitting).

I simply woke up one morning and realized that I was tired of being a smoker.

That was all it took.

I knew that I was not the kind of person who would just be able to go cold turkey. And if I was going to quit, I wanted to do it properly, in a way that would ensure that I would never smoke again.

Common sense told me that in order to break the habit, I would need to replace it with something else. Instead of having a cigarette with my morning coffee, or after my meals, or during my work breaks, I would have to do something else. I also realized that my endeavours would be a lot more effective if I took steps to ensure that I wouldn’t actually want to smoke.

So instead of quitting there and then, I picked a date six months in advance and decided that I would quit then. I used the six months to prepare myself, mentally and physically.

I took up crossword puzzles, to get into the habit of doing something else with my hands, and also, quite frankly, with my mind.

I told everyone I knew that I was quitting and when, to ensure that I would be mortified by embarrassment if I didn’t follow through. This also had the advantage of securing support from friends and family.

I recruited a friend to quit on the same day as me, just so that I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I have since lost contact with that particular friend, but I have heard through the grapevine that he has quit several times since then.

Most importantly, I made changes to my general lifestyle. I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal: if I was going to improve my lifestyle in one area, I might as well go all-out. So I cut back on the junk food and started eating fruit. I kicked the Coca Cola habit and switched to water. I couldn’t bring myself to give up coffee entirely, but I did go from eight cups a day to about three.

It was at this time of my life, while I was preparing myself to quit smoking, that I started running for the first time. To be fair, the term “running” is a little grand for what I was doing. Bear in mind that I hadn’t exercised in years. I was overweight and unhealthy, and the smoking had put ten years’ worth of crap in my lungs. When I started running, I was really putting in about thirty seconds of wheezy plodding for every ten minutes of walking.

My friend Gary (the same Gary for whom I had given up smoking at my desk), who happens to be a marathoner, said to me, “Some day you will be running races.” Gary was unbelievably supportive of my venture to quit and be healthy. While other people at the office were telling me that I would never quit, Gary had complete confidence that I would succeed. He gave me tips on improving my lifestyle, and he provided me with beginner training programs that would help me make the metamorphosis from “plodder who can barely put one foot in front of the other” to “runner”.

At the same time, I was drinking in advice from my Dad, who had been a marathon runner in his youth. He showed me how to pace myself, how to breathe while running, how to handle hills.

I gave up smoking on the day I had scheduled, almost fifteen years ago. I have not picked up a cigarette, or even had a craving since then.

One day, about four months after I had quit, I woke up and went for a run. By that time I was walking and running in more or less equal proportions. I would walk for five minutes and run for five minutes. I felt myself making progress, but I still didn’t really feel like a real runner.

Anyway, on this particular morning, I set out on my usual route, and I found myself focusing a lot more on how I was running. I set myself little targets: just get to that traffic light. Just run as far as that tree. You can make it past those apartment buildings. I gradually became aware that my breathing, which had always been a little jagged from all the years of smoking, was now regular and strong. I took stock of how my legs were feeling and realized that the gradual build-up of exercise had made me stronger.

Eventually, I looked at my watch, thinking that my first five minutes of running must have elapsed by now. I was stunned – for the first time ever, I had run for ten consecutive minutes without stopping, without even slowing down. I took a one-minute walking break, even though I didn’t feel as if I needed it, and then ran my second set of ten minutes just as effortlessly as the first.

That day, for the first time ever, I felt that I had earned the right to call myself a runner.

One Step Closer To Normal

14 Feb

Life is one step closer to normal today.

James has rallied back after his week-long illness and is back at school today. It completely failed to register with my overtaxed brain that today would be the day to send in Valentines cards and treats for him to hand out to his classmates, but I don’t honestly feel too bad about that. I’ve had other things on my mind. In any case, James will no doubt get a lot of attention today.  He is immensely proud of the tiny little bruise on his hand where the IV line went in. He is going to show the bruise to his friends and tell the tale of his hospital adventures. I’d say the kid has earned the bragging rights.

George is still home, but he hasn’t thrown up for about thirty hours. He ate jam sandwiches yesterday, and right now he is digging into the scrambled egg that he requested. He has colour in his face again – a colour other than pure white, that is – and he is chatting away in his own little autie language. He seems happy, and definitely better. He’s getting one more day at home to recover his strength.

Gerard and I are at home as well. Both of us feel a little drained and weak, but we are also on the mend. My system is still very delicate – so delicate that I am, for the fourth day in a row, voluntarily foregoing coffee. Those who know me and my love for caffeine will appreciate just what a sacrifice this is.

Even though I am at home, I am well enough to actually work. Tomorrow I will go back to the office for the first time in almost a week. I’ll feel like Marco Polo must have when he got back from China or wherever it was he went, except that I won’t have boatloads of tea and rice with me.

After my return to work, I will be able to think about the next big thing. Running. Oh, how I miss running. How badly I want to lace up my running shoes and go out in the crisp, cold air and feel the crunching of the snow beneath my feet as I run.

If I try that today I will throw up all over that nice pretty snow. I have to be sensible. It will probably be Thursday or Friday before I try running again, and when I do, I will have to start out slow.

I won’t even care about being slow. I just want to be out on the road again.

And for everyone in my family to be able to go to bed at night without a designated puke bucket on the floor beside them.

Making The Giving Worthwhile

15 Jan

On Thursday morning (at 11:30 a.m. EST if anyone wants to be that precise) I will be donating blood.  I am greatly looking forward to it, and if you’re reading any sarcasm in that sentiment, none whatsoever is intended.  I really, genuinely, truly am looking forward to sitting in one of those reclining chairs while a unit of my blood is transferred from my body for the purpose of saving a life that needs saving.

I am excited to be doing this.  I am excited to be doing something, giving of myself in some small way, to help other people.

The last time I tried to donate was about twenty years ago.  I passed the initial iron test and got settled in one of the reclining chairs in the clinic.  The entire process from that point on was an absolute disaster.  The nurse – a kind, gentle soul who felt terrible about the pain she was putting me through – had to poke multiple holes in both arms before she could get the blood to flow.  When it did flow, it was painfully slow, and when about third of a unit had been taken from me, I passed out. I was sick for days after that, and when I went to my doctor, he advised me not to donate blood while my health was in such a fragile state.

It just wasn’t the right time for me to donate, back then.  There was a whole mess of crap happening in my life, and the stress of it all took its toll on my health.

Now things are different.  I am fit and healthy.  I am not under constant stress, I sleep as much as two kids and a hectic schedule allow me to, and my running regimen pretty much forces me to eat more or less healthily.  I am ready to put the memory of my last donation attempt behind me and try it again.  I am confident that the results will be far, far better.

I’m doing what I can to make sure, though.  My main objective over the next few days is to ensure that my blood is whole and healthy, that it can indeed be used to help someone who needs it.  If I show up on Thursday to give my pint of blood in honour of Capt. Snuggles, and they turn me away because my iron is too low, I will not be happy.  I have to do whatever I can to make sure that does not happen.

I share these tips for the benefit of anyone reading this who might be interested in donating blood (Michelle, maid of honour and friend extraordinaire, has already said that she will try to join me on Thursday).

  • For several days prior to donating, eat foods rich in iron.  Breads, meat, fish, chicken, fruit, raisins, nuts, dark leafy greens.  This is especially important for the ladies, whose iron levels tend to be less stable.
  • Be aware that many foods rich in iron are also high in fat, and a high lipid content can also result in you being turned away.  For 2-3 days before you donate, focus on a low-fat diet, but keep on consuming iron-rich foods that are low in fat.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  If you don’t drink enough fluids, the nurses will have a hard time finding your vein, and once you are hooked up, your blood will flow slowly and the process will take longer.  Limit sugar and caffeine in your beverages, since these slow the absorption of water.
  • Get enough sleep!  This will not necessarily change the quality of your blood, but it will make your recovery a lot easier.
  • The day before, load up on iron-rich foods, but ones that are low in fat.  Drink lots of water and go to bed early.
  • The day of, have a good breakfast so that you have the calories to start regenerating your blood.  Eat fruits with a high water content, and drink water and energy drinks (this can also give you one last iron boost before you go).
  • Try to eat either a meal or a snack right before you go.  You don’t want to donate on an empty stomach.  Take a bottle of water with you.
  • After you’ve made your donation, sit down and rest, and have a snack to raise your blood sugar.  Many clinics provide juice and cookies – if you don’t have a snack of your own on hand, accept the juice and cookies!
  • Light to moderate exercise several hours after you donate will help raise your energy levels.  I’m not talking about a five-mile run, I’m talking about an easy walk.

Many of these are good inroads to a healthy lifestyle, and following these steps will help make your blood healthy and vibrant.   If you are medically able to donate blood, I appeal to you to please consider it.  It really could be a matter of life and death for someone.

I am humbled and kind of ashamed that it has taken this – the life-threatening tragedy of a little baby – to spur me on to do this.  Ultimately, it is Captain Snuggles saving lives here, because he is the reason I am doing this.

Click here for Amy’s latest update on Capt. Snuggles.

Invasion of the Body-Snatcher Bugs

7 Dec

OK, that’s it.  I’ve had enough of this nonsense, and it is time for me to take charge of this situation.  My body belongs to ME.  It does not belong to this pesky bug that is invading it, making it feel sick and trying to keep it down.  This bug has been here before, and on previous visits I have waited until I was sick for weeks before seeing a doctor and getting rid of it.  Earlier this year, right after I had recovered from my injury, this bug hit. I allowed it to go untreated for almost a month, by which time I had bronchitis, was being tested for pneumonia, and was under instructions from my boss to not show up at work until I had a clear chest X-ray.  NOT THIS TIME!!!

I’ve been sick for about a week, and initially I thought I was just catching a cold.  But when I get colds, I get a stuffy nose and an unreasonable sensitivity to normal Kleenex.  I become a tissue-snob, insisting on the expensive super-cushioned tissues because the regular ones feel like sandpaper. My eyes go red and rheumy, as if I’ve been on a month-long drinking binge. My skin gets red splotches all over it that makeup only serves to accentuate instead of conceal.

That’s not what I have. What I have is the fact that I cough up a lung every five minutes or so. It’s the kind of coughing that is so invasive that people who have workstations on the other end of the floor keep coming over to ask if I’m OK.  I have headaches. I am hungry because I am not eating properly.  I am not eating properly because whenever I have food in front of me, I suddenly feel ill and cannot face the thought of eating it. During parts of the day my entire body aches, and I am completely sapped of energy.

This cough, which I can tell from unfortunte prior experience is on the slippery slope to bronchitis, is troublesome for several reasons:
– I cannot run. This is bad for my physical wellbeing.  I need my exercise.  I am getting married 145 days from now and have to look prettier than Kate Middleton, who’s getting married the previous day.
– My incessant barking is bound to annoy the people around me.
– I cannot run. This is bad for my mental wellbeing.  Not running is driving me crazy, and that’s already a short trip.  I don’t need any help with that.
– Every time someone says something funny and I laugh, I end up breaking out into the ugly,hacking cough.
– During the really, really bad episodes of coughing, a tiny little bit of pee escapes.
– I cannot run.  I miss my Sunday long runs with the running club, and I miss my solo runs with my music.
– The kids are getting tired of having their bedtime stories punctuated by coughing.

My tendency to get bronchitis is probably my own fault.  I never had this problem when I was a kid.  I first got bronchitis when I was about 21 and not following the healthiest of lifestyles.  Although I succeeded in quitting smoking almost fifteen years ago, the fact is that I was a smoker for a decade and probably weakened my lungs considerably.  I am hoping that the more I run, the stronger my lungs will get and the less this will happen.  The fact that I have not been sick since February is an indication that things are moving in the right direction.

Today I will be going to the doctor, who will no doubt give me some nice drugs to take.  Within a day, I will start to feel the cough retreat, and by the weekend, I could be running again.

Let the war on the bug begin…