It’s been MONTHS since I’ve attended a Saturday morning spin class.
And when I say MONTHS, I mean like EIGHT of those suckers.
I left New Jersey on our fantastic voyage back in October, and I think it had been even September since I hit up my favorite workout with my favorite fitchick – Jodi.
And here I am, in Portland, May 2014. Never really thought I would be here. Used to imagine when I was younger – a teenager – running away when I was old enough to Seattle. It was the grunge music, the flannel, the coffee. And I always liked the rain. Loved the way it sounded. The way it could coax and lull me. Invite me to dream.
I guess last year I decided I was old enough. And finally we made the jump.
As I’ve written before, on the long and protracted trip that encompassed the last quarter of 2013, I gained back about 20 pounds. I knew it while it was happening. The sitting while driving AND working. The stress of driving AND working, and a whole host of other things that come with taking the reigns of a 28-foot long class A motorhome with a car attached to the back. The fact that after New Orleans the rest of the journey really became about how many tortilla chips and salsa I could eat as we drove across the southern tier and up north to California. In New Jersey, a basket of bread usually arrives at tables when you’re seated. In the southwest, it’s baskets of fresh fried tortilla chips and bowls of fresh and usually delicious salsa.
So even while we avoided corporate “fast food” with only two exceptions (one was a Wendy’s – for a baked potato and salad – just after crossing the border into east Texas, the other a requisite stop at an “In-n-Out” in SoCal) I still managed to pack on some weight. I could feel it – the way the inside of my elbows touched my stomach when sitting. I have strong, athletic legs and carry pretty much all of my extra weight around my middle. My stomach, my back. My tee shirts were getting smaller and I just told myself, it’s okay. Acknowledge that this is happening, continue to love yourself, you’ll get this back off when you land in Portland.
We landed in Portland on December 19th, and spent our first Christmas in the RV. Lisa was out and about in the world – I think at the office space she rented for herself because she just had to get out – and I cleaned up the place nicely, went to the Target across the street from our RV park and bought a set of lights to decorate with. My mom mailed us the smallest Christmas tree known to man and it was waiting for us at a friends’ house in Portland. But I was also so thrilled that I had insisted to myself on tucking away our stockings in the RV, because it was beautiful to have a piece of tradition and normalcy for us. It was crazy, but we had landed, and we would be starting the next leg of our incredible journey.
But things weren’t rosey in the Rose City for me. I went through quite a bit in the months that followed, and developed what I believed was an eating disorder.
Let me back up. My close friends, the really, really close ones know that I’m what Lisa calls a “safety bear.” Call it the influence of my protective Italian father. Call it my propensity for reading too much news. Call it my overactive imagination. But I’m the kind of person who is cautious – sometimes to a fault. Have I ever written about a hill I refused to ride down when I was a kid because I was so afraid that an errant branch would tangle up my wheels and I’d go tumbling over the bars? (Well, now you know.)
I’ve heard that food allergies develop quickly. The anaphylactic kind. It all starts with an itch on your lips which becomes more severe, and if you eat the offending food two or three more times – BAM – your throat is closing up. Several years ago I realized that eggplant gave me indigestion, and then it made my lips feel weird, and in recollection that ‘weird’ sensation was an itch, and then I felt that sensation in my throat – could only describe it as an itch – and then I was done. Swore off eggplant. Never eating that shit again. Fine. Not a big deal. Plenty of other food out there, and plenty of other food that didn’t have eggplant as an ingredient. It’s not like a soy or peanut or shellfish allergy.
But something happened in my head that I can only describe now as an eating disorder, and months later, as I’m able to look back with a clear head, I can see it for what it is.
I have a very strong mind-body connection. I think we all do, but I’m not in your body and you’re not in mine, so I can only speak to my own experience. However, I could very noticibly feel something in my throat while I was eating. It was like I went numb. I couldn’t feel myself breathe. Intellectually, I knew I was breathing, and I wasn’t gasping or struggling for breath, but something felt wrong in my throat. I would take a few bites of a meal, and then push my plate away. I started thinking, what if there’s eggplant in the kitchen? Sure, not in this menu item, but what if there was cross contamination during prep or cooking?
(Is this a good place to add that eggplant is in the nightshade family, and on Dec. 25 I met someone at a party who listed off all of their allergies and mentioned they couldn’t eat any nightshades? This includes tomatoes and peppers, two of my favorite staple foods. This is also a good place to mention that I should never EVER visit WebMD. FTS.)
My throat couldn’t handle spice any more either. My pallet could, I LOVE spicy food – straight up LOVE it – but it was causing pain in my throat that turned to numbness and set me off on an “am I breathing? ohmigod, AM I BREATHING?!” panic attack. This started happening all the time. And my partner had to watch me uncomfortably scrutinize every menu item, inevitably gulp loads of water while I was eating, and then push my plate away – brows furrowed with concern, my mind present only inside of my throat, feeling everything and being scared of everything. Arugula tastes peppery in my mouth, is that going to kill me? I admit that I was really only comfortable for a while eating rice and French fries. And soon I even came to question the fries. What else had been in the frier?
Prep knives. Peanut oil.
We house hunted pretty hard for two months – knew damn well we had to get out of that RV (two humans living and working full time in this thing was just not a good idea, and we had three cats – started the journey with four, but lost one suddenly and traumatically in West Texas, another source of tremendous stress and deep painful grief while we were on this adventure of a lifetime. LONG LIVE THE KING!).
Around the same time we found the lovely home I’m writing from today, I finally hit my breaking point and set up an appointment with a new primary care doc who could hear me and help me with referrals to address anything that might be clinical issues. I ended up in tears one night because I felt a palpable pain in my throat and suddenly had this vision of cancer. Of all the food I’ve consumed in my life slowly killing me not from obesity or heart disease, but rubbing my esophagus raw until the repetitive repair of which caused my cells to go wonky and grow into a tumor.
Honestly, I didn’t know if I needed a therapist, an oncologist, or an epi-pen.
I went to a gastro doc who told me it could be eosiniphilic esophagitis – a food allergy that triggers a non-anaphylactic reaction in the esophagus but causes discomfort and narrowing of the esophagus – and wanted me to have an endoscope so he could take a peek and collect a sample for biopsy. At the same time, I scheduled a visit with an allergist who did a prick test on my arm – and I understood then what a histamine reaction is and feels like – but they didn’t have eggplant in their little bag of allergens, so I would have to cook one up and bring it in.. They did give me a script for an epi-pen and pondered whether I was having a slight reaction to peanuts and milk. I think my throat was itchy after eating a banana once. Awesome. Let’s add that to my bag of insanity.
Did the endoscope. No lesions or anything unhappy that could be seen by the naked eye other than just some irritation. Biopsy came back negative for cells having an eosiniphilic reaction. I forced myself to eat a handful of arugula while preparing dinner one night. The peppery taste came, but I kept myself busy focusing on my tasks – cutting board to frying pan, the ballet of the kitchen – and soon the peppery taste was forgotten and we sat down to dinner, where I survived another meal.
Went back to the allergist for an “oral challenge” with some cooked eggplant. Let’s note that this had to be done at the hospital “just in case”. I hung out for about two hours eating saltines with increasing amounts of my suspected allergen on them in fifteen-minute intervals, having my airflow and oxygen levels tested after every turn. The last saltine had a piece of eggplant on it that made me scream like a little girl. But I ate it, and I lived. And Lisa – who had been there by my side for all of this – relished the glory of the remaining grilled eggplant from the passengers seat while I drove us home.
Still though, I felt something in my throat during and after most meals – and when I learned that an endoscopy only really examines real estate south of the clavicle, I had one last step on the clinical piece before I diverged to therapy: an otolaryngologist (ha! didn’t even need spell check for that one!) or an Ear, Nose, Throat
After the doctor examined my throat, pushing from the outside, asking me to swallow – he asked my permission to stick a camera up my nose. He asked me to make stick out my tongue and I could feel the camera pass down over the back of it. He asked me to make some vowel sounds and he examined my voice box. So I sat there, as vulnerable as ever in a doctors care without an IV drip or my feet in stirrups, with a tube passed through my nose and down into the back of my throat. And when I was just about ready to freak out from the deep psychological and slight physical discomfort of it all, it was over. He warned me and then pulled the fiber optic tube out – the point that I learned was actually the most uncomfortable part of all of it.
He explained that he also didn’t see anything alarming – no serious abnormalities or gross lesions or anything – but what he did see, was inflammation and irritation in some of my glands inside of my throat. Our lymphatic system is all joined together in a chain, but these were part of the sublingual glands and they looked mad.
Why might that be? Oh, I don’t know. Seasonal allergies, or pollutants in the air.
Say, you were living and working in a closed up RV for several months in winter, with little fresh air and three cats. That could sure do it. Maybe you also eat a bunch of spicy food. That’s not exactly soothing. And stress. Often from about October on, my stress was so palpable you could spread it on toast or eat it plain out of the jar with a spoon.
So there it was. My perfect storm, perfectly explained. It’s taken a few weeks now to reprogram my relationship with food and de-energize all the fear that had been born from a combination of environment, a hyper-active imagination and physical discomfort. And thank heaven! I am so thrilled to not only NOT have food allergies (a mantra I often repeat to myself as I’m looking over menus or ingredient labels) but to also have an explanation for this sensation in my body, which I’m treating with food-as-medicine anti-inflammatories and the occasional Zyrtec. I’m not one for medications or anything, but I needed to know if it would give me some relief when my throat gets itchy, and it does. I’m told bee pollen is really good for fortifying your system against seasonal allergies – and I’m learning more about that so I don’t depend on over-the-counters. Me no likey that kinda thing.
I’m finally at a point where I can eat a balanced meal (food that nourishes my body and I can feel it) without second guessing every little thing and not just live on French fries and rice. which is awesome not only for the obvious reasons but PORTLAND IS A FOOD WONDERLAND, PEOPLE! I don’t need to go crazy, but it sure is nice to be able to try things. Once advantage to my distress has been that I feel full quicker since I spent so many months eating such small meals so infrequently.
Which brings us – flash forward! – to this weekend. I joined a nearby gym a few weeks ago and I’ve gone a handful of times now; often biking there on my lunch break to run on the treadmill and lift some weights.
This past week I finally felt ready and went to spin class. The first one was Monday evening – felt great! My fitness level is absolutely decreased since this time last year, but that’s not exactly a surprise, and I reminded myself – it’s okay, just build on this. Saturday morning I went to my second class and dug in a little deeper. I feel like I’ve got the lay of the land now; solidifying my place in that class like as though I were back East, at the old home front, with Jodi kicking my ass in the best way possible.
I weighed in yesterday morning. Starting over. 211.8
Yes, absolutely up. Absolutely 20+lbs north in 12 months. But I’m here, loving myself. These 20 stress pounds, encouraged by the primitive part of my brain, helped to keep me safe from starvation. Honestly, it’s not just about losing weight anymore – I want to be healthy, both in my mind, my heart and my body. I want to enjoy life. I want to feel good.
And for the first time in so many months, after approaching every meal with a fear so real I practically pulled up a chair for it next to me, I finally do feel good again. I missed it. I missed me. I missed you.
I am so excited for life, and for exploration of not just myself again but this Pacific Wonderland.
Thank you for reading. I hope you’re well*