About Kristen

“The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

-Mahatma Ghandi

“Everything on the Earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”

-Mourning Dove

For most of my life, my health went on the back burner. Then, I realized that my son was dealing with a lot of the same problems I had throughout my life. I began to wonder if maybe there’s something genetic going on… there was. We are now going through the diagnostic process for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is very lengthy and I tend to feel like a pin cushion very often. I was just accepted into a genetic study to attempt to find the gene responsible for my particular subtype of EDS, so that is pretty exciting! I also found out that I have a very small meningioma on the left frontal lobe of my brain.

I am using essential oils, natural products, diet and exercise, and natural healing to support me and my family throughout this process. That should go to show you how powerful my belief in natural healing actually is! I am no doctor by any means, and I recommend anyone planning major changes to their diet or exercise to discuss it with their doctor first, but I can tell you that these changes are giving me a much better quality of life and helping my child to cope and feel better! I hope that we can help you to feel better and get healthy, as well!

Life Is Full Of Repeating Cycles!

If your favorite outfit goes out of style, don’t worry! It will be back in style again sooner or later. Just like fashion, life is filled with cycles. If you study the Red Road, you are familiar with the medicine wheel and how it can be used to relate to the cycles of life. This sh*t is real! I have very recently realized that some parts of *me* have gone through a full cycle! It’s kind of an exciting realization! 

Let me explain…

When I was only 18 months old, my Mom gave me up along with my older sister. We were adopted and raised by our stepfather’s parents. Well, he was our stepfather for another few months until the divorce was finalized but by then the adoption had gone through. Anyway, the point is… abandonment. I was so young, I barely remember anything about it. I do remember feeling very alone, crying a lot, feeling empty and heartbroken. That was the START of a major life cycle. At least, I think it was.

During this major life cycle, there were tons of smaller cycles going on. I survived rape and abuse, which forced me to adapt and learn the difference between being a victim and a survivor. (I am now a survivor, by the way!) I survived the death of a child (barely). I was homeless. I developed PTSD and oikophobia that I am still working through. In the midst of the worst of my early life, between 16 and 20, I spent a lot of time on a bike, mostly riding the mountain backroads through the Appalachian mountains. I didn’t own any of the bikes I rode–they were all loaned by caring friends who understood that I just needed to feel the wind in my hair. I never had a motorcycle license, either. Oops…

When I was homeless, I didn’t stay in one place long enough to really get attached to it. I hitchhiked, and hopped freight trains, I hiked and would camp out in the woods for months at a time. Sometimes, I had traveling companions. Sometimes I went alone. But always, I was FREE. I was empowered. I healed. It was that true feeling of freedom that developed a healthy love of the road and wanderlust. The road, the wanderlust, the traveling, the “no roots lifestyle” was the only thing that made me feel close to how I felt when I would borrow a friend’s bike and take off into the mountains.

I let my driver’s license expire about 15 years ago or so and never bothered to renew it. Couple that with oikophobia and it’s really tough to get it back now. You just try passing the road test while you are busy having a panic attack! I did eventually settle down a bit. But with some severe issues. I’ve spent the last 10 years or so working through those issues, whether I realized it at the time or not. I had gotten married to a man that I spent 24 hours a day with, 7 days a week, and always got along with! We were always together and always got along. We even worked together. We were best friends. I had a wonderful kid that I am enjoying raising into a truly impressive young man.

Then, I came to a nexus point. The nexus has lasted for about 4 years so far (writing this in 2021). It started with my husband working at the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan with several trips into Afghanistan. During this time, I was at home with our son in America. We live in a rural location and I had no license to drive our car, so I had to get creative and push myself a lot more than I had done in a long time. Looking back, it was a positive time. The solitude was good and a welcome change.

When he came back stateside, he had an injury that we struggled with for a little over a year until he could get surgery to repair his arm. That was stress incarnate! My body wasn’t in the best shape and I was struggling to maintain everything. Right in the midst of that, my English Mastiff began having seizures from a brain tumor and he passed away. I was crushed and fell into depression. Everything was so empty and dark. It stayed that way for a long time.

One week after we found out about Thor’s tumor and lost him, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My doctors assured me that it is benign and extremely slow-growing, but the location was the same as Thor’s. It had only been a week. I was screwed. My entire world fell apart and the ground dropped out from beneath me. I felt completely lost and completely alone. My husband was in total denial and dealing with his own feeling of loss from Thor’s death. I was heartbroken. I was terrified. I was alone. Even though I was surrounded by family, my husband was in his own mind and my son needed immense support to help him understand and process his own feelings. I had been enjoying solitude so much that I didn’t really have anyone to lean on. Yep. All alone, in all the ways that mattered, anyway.

Eventually, I found some patient support groups online and participated a bit. Even those were prone to provoke a bit of panic at times, hearing survivors’ stories about their craniotomies and all that. Seeing photos of them, screens from their MRI scans, and stuff… it’s still too much sometimes. But now it is a couple of years into my tumor journey and it is growing less than 1mm a year, just like I was told to expect with a benign left frontal parafalcine/parasagittal meningioma. One day, I will need surgery to remove it but that day isn’t here. I have panic disorder, which is like a severe anxiety disorder. So it’s hard to keep my mind off of my backseat driver that rides around inside my head. The more I think of it, the worse my anxiety gets so I try to just accept it and move on. Worrying myself into a frenzy about it doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s hard and the process is ongoing. I get the feeling that this is how it will be until it’s removed finally. It causes memory problems, word recall problems, balance problems, migraine headaches, and a host of other sh*t but knowing about it and why all this is going on is better than not knowing. Yeah, it’s kind f*cked up. But life is, too.

So yeah. Welcome to the wonderful world of deep yet strangely functional depression. I gained so much weight that it ain’t funny! I was almost 300 lbs! I just sank into comfort foods… and seriously, depression is painful. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome so my joints are loose. The tendons and ligaments that hold me together are weak. So the extra weight on my lower joints was too much for my body to handle. First, I had rolling ankles. Then my hips began dislocating more. Yes, dislocating hips have always been an issue for me. It’s weird and goes along with EDS. The more weight I gained, the less mobility I had. Finally, in 2020, I was about a month away from being completely wheelchair-bound, diagnosed with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Prediabetes. I’ve had a heart condition since I gave birth to my son. And a brain tumor. It was time to stop giving up. My husband was trying to be supportive of me, but he didn’t realize that his “supportiveness” was just enabling my self-destructive behaviors. 

I made the decision to take control and make some big changes. I started working out every day that I could. I couldn’t even stand up to work out, so I did it sitting. I gave up sugar. I started a keto diet. I started to lose weight. My blood glucose came under control quickly. My fatty liver healed pretty quickly, too. At the time of writing this on Halloween, 2021, I am at 171 lbs. I can jump. I can run. I can dance again!!!! Dancing has always been important to me, and music is kind of the filter through which I experience the world and life. I had lost that. Now I have earned it back. I’m not done. Thanks to my EDS, my skin is crazy stretchy, so I don’t have all that crazy loose skin that most people deal with when they lose a lot of weight really fast. It bounces back pretty fast for me, always has. And I dance every day!

I felt like everything was finally coming together. Oh, silly me!

I had a full abdominal ultrasound in 2020. That’s how they found the fatty liver disease. They also found abnormalities in my uterus. So I finally got in to see my OB/GYN in 2021. All hell broke loose again. She needed to do an endometrial biopsy, but my blood work was wonky and she needed to run another panel before I could get the biopsy, which meant a couple of weeks of waiting in between. I don’t do good with waiting for sh*t like that. I just want it done and over with. Especially knowing that the biopsy is to test and see if my uterine abnormalities are actually cancer or not. I already have a brain tumor, now they need to test for cancer on the other end, too. WTF?! Finally, I get in for the biopsy. I don’t recommend the type that I had for the faint of heart, BTW. No numbing and fully awake. That sh*t HURT! But it was over pretty fast, at least.  She told me to expect the results back from the lab in 2-3 days and assured me that I could review the results in my e-chart immediately. A week and a half later, I STILL didn’t have the results. Panic had set in days ago. I mean, WHAT THE F*CK takes so long unless there’s something really really wrong? Just so ya know, it wasn’t anything really wrong, the lab was just backlogged. I still have endometrial sh*t going on… it’s pretty much pre-pre-cancerous. The stage before it turns precancerous. But not something that needs immediate attention considering I’m in perimenopause now and if I get into full menopause before the pre-precancerous turns precancerous or cancerous then the hormones that cause the problem will stop and the progression will stop/reverse. We’ll see how that goes.

While I was waiting, something very important happened. I was again in the grips of nearly constant anxiety and panic. I really needed a shoulder to lean on. My husband, as much as he did not intend to, withdrew emotionally. I guess it was a self-defense mechanism of sorts. But that doesn’t change the fact that it felt me completely alone in my world-upside-down-ness.  I had to work through my sh*t myself. I HAD TO. I have a kid that needs his Mom. My kid has his own world of issues and the more I am lost in my mind and emotions, the less I can help him learn to handle his own. 

While I was working through my crazy, I spent a lot of time binge-watching The Walking Dead from start to finish (again) and getting into Fear The Walking Dead and Walking Dead: World Beyond. Yeah, I admit it: I go overboard when it comes to The Walking Dead. Some people watch soaps. Some watch reality shows. I watch zombies and awesome, compelling hero/antihero stories. It’s what I am into. I also surfed around and found Ride with Norman Reedus. That is a great show, BTW! I’ve been a little bit of a fan of both Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus since The Boondock Saints was released in 1999. I freely admit that The Boondock Saints is my all-time favorite movie (V for Vendetta is a close second, though) so I was interested to see what Norman Reedus was up to in Ride. After all, Murphy McManus (The Boondock Saints) and Daryl Dixon (The Walking Dead) are two of his most memorable roles and I really feel those characters are 100% relatable to me in different parts of my life in a weird way.

I ended up watching every episode that I could. I set a DVR recording to make sure I didn’t miss any reruns. OMFG that show speaks to my soul! Norman Reedus reminded me, through Ride, of how I began: on a borrowed bike, riding the back roads just to get away and feel free. Riding is the closest that you can get to flying while you are still on the ground. I need that again! I need to complete this circle. It isn’t just a want. It is a NEED. Anyone who has felt that, and loved that feeling, and lost it, they know what I mean. You GET IT more than anyone else ever could. 

So, I am lacking a lot that I need to get it done. I need to get my license back, for starters. I need my motorcycle endorsement (let’s do it right this time…). I need a BIKE. It’s gonna be a process. I haven’t driven either a car or a bike in so long that I’m really NOT COMFORTABLE going for it right off the bat. I’m going to take a driver education course that includes practice sessions. The fact that completing the course exempts you from taking the road test is a big bonus! And I’m going to take a motorcycle course at the local Harley shop. And I’m saving up for a bike. I’m dying with anticipation of getting back on  a bike and riding around some of the awesome back roads around here! I already have a few routes planned out in my mind (and heart!) and am just waiting not-so-patiently for everything to come together to make it happen. It will be a little bit of a process to make it work but I’m putting in the work. It’ll be great! As a side note: I also have a few new designs I need to take up to the tat shop. Every big transition in life needs to be documented and tattoos speak to me! I’ll post pics when I get them done!

And the thanks are to Norman Reedus for reminding me of what I missed, and for showing me what I need again. Thank you. I am forever in your debt.

Anyone who has read this far, you have an insight into me as a person that most people don’t and never will. Thank you. I have created a Google Music Playlist that I listen to up loud, with room to move around. It’s a work-in-progress and will be constantly evolving but for now, it has music that personifies how this transitionary period feels to me. Here it is (or click here to open it up in a new window):

My Long Journey to Wellness

My journey started in the winter of 2016. My fatigue was absolutely debilitating. I had been pushing myself way too hard for way too long taking care of my son who had some still-undiagnosed illness. All through this, I was dealing with chronic fatigue and chronic pain that I was diagnosed with way back in 1992! My son had already been through his first hospital visit for dehydration and was just so miserable! He had been to the doctor so many times with absolutely no answers over the last few weeks that we were beside ourselves. Every doctor trip, every hospital ER visit all said the same thing which one intrepid doctor took it upon himself to tell me it is the standard "catch-all diagnosis" that they give when they don't know WHAT  is causing the illness, but it has gastric implications. Oh great. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, for months... and they have no idea what's going on.

I vented about this to a friend of mine. She brought over some doTERRA essential oils. She applied some to his feet. First, to cool him down and get him comfortable. He was so hot to the touch! Then, to help his tummy feel better. We improvised a way to use some aromatic oils near him to help lift his mood. I was at wit's end and willing to try anything as long as it helped my child to feel better! He cooled down pretty quickly. He asked for something to drink and to eat. This was HUGE and it only took a few hours after using natural doTERRA essential oils in my home! He hadn't asked for food in DAYS and we were resorting to holding a cup with a straw in front of his face while encouraging and begging him to drink and here he was asking for more and lifting himself up to sit! We kept up with his "natural treatment" for this "unknown illness" for a few days, watching him regain his appetite and strength with each passing hour. By the end of the first day, he asked if he could play a video game. By the end of the second day, he was having a bland, easy-to-digest dinner with his family and running around the house! I was dumbfounded. I was amazed. I had used essential oils before, long in the past, and knew they could be helpful. But these oils were unlike anything I had ever seen! They were so pure and so potent, it was like having the fresh plants right there and the effectiveness spoke for itself.

I wanted some more. I had health issues that I wanted some of these new oils to help with. I bought a wholesale account membership and a few oils. In retrospect, I really should have gotten an enrollment kit. It would have been so much more cost-effective, but I didn't have much cash on hand to spend after all those doctor bills. I got introduced to my team via Facebook and started my education on doTERRA essential oils. I learned SO MUCH and leaned so hard on my team, I am forever grateful for everything they taught me and all the help they gave me!

I learned such an insane amount in a short time, but a few key points were:

I learned a lot about how the chemicals and artificial ingredients in most products that I used EVERY DAY were harming my body and the bodies of my entire family.

How to replace a lot of my medicine cabinet with natural products.

How to replace all of my household products and cleansers with essential oils and all-natural products.

How to replace my beauty products with all-natural, plant-derived beauty products.

I even learned about making natural DIY projects with essential oils. Things like bath bombs and fizzy toilet cleaner tabs. Things that made my life so much simpler!

I learned about using essential oil diffusers that use water and also serve as a quiet ultrasonic humidifier to replace my plug-ins and air fresheners, thereby freshening and scenting the air without all the harmful chemicals.

I learned about doTerra's humanitarian efforts and, lemme tell ya, I fell head over heels in love with this company.

 

I already loved their oils and plant-based products but their efforts to change lives for the better, around the world, in each and every little thing they do. From the farmers and distillers to the transport, lab, bottling, and even down to their customer service folks, doTERRA makes a positive impact on thousands of lives every day. Then, they have their non-profit, Healing Hands Foundation, which does so much good in so many areas, both in America and all over the world. I can't find a single thing about this company that I DON'T absolutely LOVE!

My son was diagnosed with allergies, asthma, and reactive airway disease. He has ASD, dyscalculia, apraxia, and dyspraxia. He went through a period right before his asthma diagnosis that was terrifying as a parent. There's nothing more terrifying than seeing your child with lips turning blue, there's nothing you can do to fix it, and doctors are dragging their asses diagnosing. He didn't wheeze as is typical with asthma, so he went for 3 months having nearly constant asthma attacks without medication. The only relief we could get for him was using essential oils! I firmly believe that without doTERRA oils, he wouldn't have survived.

This was just the first stage in my journey to wellness.

This was the worst part of my journey. To be honest, I was doing a lot of things right by now, but also did a lot of things wrong! I had a year with my husband out of the country and everything in my hands at home. Basically, I dove into being a married stay-at-home single mom. Due to some health problems, I still wasn't able to drive our vehicle legally and I live out in the country, so my food options were severely limited. I was buying more in bulk, and almost everything had to be in a form that could be shipped to me. I was able to get actual fresh food once, maybe twice, a month when a friend gave me a ride to get groceries or picked up a curbside order for me. So, I was eating a LOT of highly processed foods and carbohydrates... basically, my daily diet tanked into a high carb and high preservative concoction that was most definitely not healthy! During that year, there were also several family things that happened. My sister-in-law passed away, leaving her little daughter orphaned. Her daughter was kidnapped by a completely psycho "friend" right after and taken to another state. It took months to get her back! All the stress really sent my health into a nosedive.

When that year was over and my husband returned home, he came back with a severely injured arm. Eventually, he had to have surgery to repair a tendon tear, which came with 3 months of disability before the surgery while the doctors explored his condition, then another 8 weeks of rehabilitation. All during this time I was basically doing the same thing that I did over the year that he was away, but with the addition of another person to care for. It was awesome having him home, knowing he wasn't in danger every day any longer. But it was also a lot more to take care of every day.

So, my health was tanking. My weight was ramping itself up to insane portions. I had no idea why at the time but in retrospect, it all makes sense. My body had gotten itself into a feedback loop: all the stress was triggering a lot of crazy hormones to flood my system, which triggered my body to store a lot more fat, which stressed me out more, and the circle continued. The diet didn't help. It was pretty much a primer for how to become obese!

Add in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and you've got the perfect storm for disability. I couldn't walk unassisted. The pain was so intense all of the time, everything hurt so much! Doctors told me to lose weight and I kind of blew them off because you always hear that and no one ever explains it in any greater detail. I now know that I did really need to lose weight, but I had no help in understanding why or how. That's the biggest reason why I decided to start helping others to understand the WHY and HOW of it all. I was a 5'6" woman with chronic health problems, genetic health issues, mobility problems, high blood pressure, left ventricular hypertrophy causing heart failure, double left-leaning scoliosis (acquired from the EDS, weight, and lack of exercise), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides), and prediabetes (metabolic syndrome) and 260 lbs in September 2020! My dog had died from a brain tumor in 2018 almost exactly one month before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I did get a puppy when I felt ready emotionally, but training him had been so exhausting and overwhelming! I had to do something. I was getting depressed and feeling completely hopeless. 

This was rock bottom for me, both physically and emotionally. Time to start step three!

Before I could do anything, I had to figure out WHAT to do. I am a natural researcher, it is a skill I have honed over the years. I am also one of those people who wants to maximize the results I get from the work that I put in. I set myself to work. I had to learn what was going on in my body so that I could learn how to improve my health, both emotional and physical.

I spent more than a month dedicating myself to researching the link between everything that was wrong in my body. Most of it seemed to revolve around my diet and weight. Those darn doctors did seem to be right when they told me to lose weight to feel better, but what they failed to do was tell me WHY or HOW. Most people really do need to understand why it is important on an intricate level. Once we understand why it is important, we can process it a lot better. That knowledge empowers us to take the actions that we need to in order to improve ourselves and our lives.

My cholesterol issues came from my diet. That was easy enough to understand. Bad, fatty food going in equals fats (lipids) in my bloodstream. That also helped to explain the high triglycerides, since triglycerides are just another form of fat (lipid) in the blood. Ok. Here's something to work on.

But that's not all that I need to work on. So, I continue...

I had been diagnosed with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. That is also kind of linked with the cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as obesity. Basically, my liver had began to soak up and store extra fat within itself. It's a weird process that is more common in alcoholics as a part of liver disease, but it is even weirder when it happens to someone who doesn't drink heavily (or at all!). It does happen, though, and it happens more and more often in people who eat a typical Western diet. What did that tell me? That the Western diet was causing some problems. So it would seem that I need to find another option for my nutritional needs.

I also have left ventricular hypertrophy, high blood pressure, trigeminy, and tachycardia. Might as well group all of the cardiac stuff together, right? You'd think that there's nothing much to be done about those but stay with me... the left ventricular hypertrophy is where the muscle wall of my left heard ventricular is too thick from years of untreated high blood pressure, so those are definitely linked. Cardiac hypertrophy interferes with the electrical signals flowing through the entire heart, so it makes for a weak heartbeat. But with tachycardia, my resting pulse is over 100 beats per minute! That must be my body needing more oxygen-rich blood than it is getting from that weak heartbeat. Trigeminy is where my heart throws in an extra little ventricular contraction once every third heartbeat. Lots of people have this. It is insanely common and could be something that I have had my entire life. It can cause some problems with tachycardia, though, because it can trigger a flutter-like arrhythmia, leading to a heart attack from my heart losing its rhythm cycle and having sucky conductivity from the thick muscle wall. Yeah, that's tricky. But I think I might be able to improve my overall cardiovascular health with some cardio exercise. If I can get some cardio exercise... I can barely get up on my own at this point.

My Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in itself causes a ton of very odd and strange issues. The syndrome is caused by my genes having a faulty blueprint for at least one type of collagen in my body. So all of that collagen in my body isn't made quite right. It still works, but not as good as your collagen does. You might think that this will cause me to have strange skin. Everyone knows skin has collagen, right? It's true. My skin is really stretchy. It heals weird and makes strange puffy, thin scars. But, on the plus side, it stretches! That means that when I was pregnant, my belly stretched out and popped right back after I gave birth! Bonus! It also makes me hypermobile. That's being double-jointed and really, really flexible. Yes, I'm bendy. The down side of this is that tendons and ligaments have a lot of collagen and in my entire lower body, they are all funked-out like a rubber band that has been stretched too much and lost its elasticity. That makes it hard to hold my weight up and move around without my legs popping out of my hip joint, and my ankles collapsing, and my knees bending backwards. On a positive note, I could build up my muscles around those tendons to support them better and help to stabilize those joints. Other types of collagen in my body that EDS effects is the kind inside my nerve sheaths. That means I have peripheral neuropathy (numbness and strange sensations in my feet and lower legs), which impacts my proprioception. That's your innate awareness of where you are in relation to the space around you, and how you move through it. Yeah. I'm insanely clumsy and tend to randomly fall over. It must be hilarious to strangers watching, thinking I am sloshed drunk. But I'm not, and it's insanely frustrating to me. That's kind of a hopeless situation. There's no known treatment or cure for this genetic condition. But, it has a huge impact on my life so it was important to note as a part of what I deal with through my wellness journey.

Prediabetes is a part of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of diabetes or prediabetes, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. It is often accompanied with obesity. I happen to have all. It's also linked with NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). Maybe adjusting my diet will help all of these? I know it all puts me at increased risk of cardiovascular problems and heart attacks... like I need more risk with my plethora of heart issues I mentioned before. But yeah, even higher.

Before I go further, I need to complete the issues I am dealing with. I mentioned before that I have a meningioma. That is a type of brain tumor that is attached to the meninges (the lining around your brain and spinal column).  Most are benign and very slow growing. Most also have an interesting relationship with estrogen and progestin. Higher levels of estrogen and progestin can trigger a meningioma to grow. Also, women who are on or have recently been on birth control have an insanely higher rate of developing meningiomas. Needless to say, I went off my hormone-based birth control immediately when I was diagnosed with the meningioma. If I had actually known that birth control increased my chances of developing a brain tumor by more than 30%, I would have never been on it to start with anyway. Unfortunately, the birth control had my reproductive problems under control. I have Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a uterine fibroid, and cystic endometrial hyperplasia. Since my neurologist doesn't want to operate to remove the meningioma (it's benign and tiny), I am getting set up with a gynecologist who will work closely with my neurologist to work out something to balance out my issues between reproductive diseases and brain tumor. Again, not too much that I can do about any of these but they do have a huge impact on my day to day wellbeing.

So, as sad as it may sound, I had to accept that there was a ton going on to make me miserable. Accept. It is a lot harder than it sounds. There was a lot of crying, a lot of frustration, a lot of raging against the whole world for it all. But, eventually, it came. And it did feel good. Once I learned to accept all that crap, I realized that I was just accepting myself, and re-learning to love myself again. THAT was the big lesson. And it was a DOOZIE! On to step 4!

Ok, so I had learned to accept myself and all that messed up crap that I can't just magically manifest a change in from sheer willpower. Or can I? Hmmm....

I had realized that I wasn't practicing self-love at all. I was just indulging in comforts. Comfort food. Comfortable seats. Comfortable clothes. And all that comfort was making me very uncomfortable in my own skin! But I can change it! I CAN and I WILL!

My mind was chaotic. I was everywhere, all over the place. My patience, which I am well-known for, was shot. All of the time. 

So, I need to work  on this. I started by meditating for a few minutes a day, every day. I recognize that meditating doesn't work for everyone, but it does help me. I would also highly encourage people going through this to make an inspiration board. Add to this board everything that you can that inspires you to reach your goals. Put it where you can see it regularly. Like all of the time. And take time to look at it and think about it. I meditated a little bit every day. After a couple of weeks, I started working in more meditation time every day.

After about a week of meditating, I realized that I had to make some physical changes. I stopped drinking everything except water, coffee, and milk.  And I seriously cut down on my sugar. It was a slow process, honestly, and it took a while but within 5 months, I had gone down to not eating much sweetened foods at all, and only using two teaspoons of sugar in my coffee. That was a huge change and I had dropped about 10 pounds just from the lack of sugar. I also started doing Tai Chi for 5 minutes a few times a week. It was tricky because I couldn't really move my feet around much or stand for long without help. I stayed beside the kitchen counter and often had a hand on the counter to steady myself. But I had started!

Each Tai Chi session actually made a difference. Each one. After a week, my balance was slightly improved. After two weeks, I didn't have to balance with the counter anymore. After two months, I could walk around the kitchen without my cane for long enough to put away the dishes or cook dinner.

All of this really helped my mindset! On to step 5!

All through my mindset step, I was learning. Every day, I would look up things that I needed to learn to improve my well being. Most of these things boiled down to nutrition. I learned that I needed to relearn everything I had been taught about nutrition my entire life! The food pyramid? Throw it out the window. It's totally misleading and the pathway to illness! Basically, the typical foods we eat in America are some of the worst things in the world to ingest and lead a lot of us to an early grave.

I decided to switch to a low-carbohydrate diet. My initial target was to eat less than 150 grams of carbohydrates each day. I thought that was a baby step, but then I realized just how many carbs I ate in a typical day! I loved pasta, bread, potatoes, pizza, all of it! Almost everything I ate was high in carbohydrates! I downloaded the Carb Manager app to my phone and started using it to track all of the foods I ate each day.

Using the tracking app really helped a lot! I was able to learn to plan my foods throughout the day, and that ended up taking a lot of stress away in the long run because I didn't have to try to make rush decisions through the day about what to cook or eat, and it gave me a little extra willpower to hold out and not snack as much because I didn't include it in my plan for the day. It did help! I ended up slowly decreasing the amount of carbs I was allowing myself to consume on a daily basis. I decreased by about 10% each week until I got down to my target. Carb Manager really helped because as I moved the slider to decrease my carbs, it automatically updated my protein and fat amounts to ensure I was always getting adequate nutrition.

By the end of my weekly decreases, I was on a full-blown ketogenic diet! I eat 20 grams or less of carbohydrates each day and make up the difference for my caloric needs with protein and healthy fats. It is devoid of potatoes, pasta, bread, milk, and sugar. It is very, very low in fruits (mostly berries for the antioxidants), and very low in starchy vegetables. I eat more spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce (boston or butter crunch, usually), but it is heavy on eggs, meats, and cheese. 

Giving up milk was so hard! I always had a glass of milk before bed and had a hard time getting to sleep without it. I started getting unsweetened almond milk and making a smoothie with almond milk, a little swerve sweetener, and some frozen berries instead. I added some IsoPure Unflavored Whey Protein Isolate when I needed more protein in my day. I also got some Naked PB peanut powder and added a scoop or two to thicken it up a touch. It worked. I love my evening smoothies now!

I learned that the more I ate healthy foods, the more I wanted to eat healthy foods. The more my body craved healthy foods and the less I wanted sugary, starchy, and carb heavy foods! It was a hard two weeks to start, but once I got past that first two weeks, I was golden!

If the old adage is true that you are what you eat, I know now that I am healthy because I eat healthy. It feels great! The effect has cascaded throughout my entire body, and my entire life! Let's get going to step 6!

While I was in the midst of Step 5, I started on Step 6. It felt natural to start my fitness when my dietary changes had me feeling better. I didn't want to lose momentum!

After all, I was almost completely unable to walk or stand on my own. That is a horrible feeling, especially when you are used to being mobile and active. I knew I had to start SOMEWHERE... but WHERE? How do you do a workout from a chair? How can you do cardio when you can't stand up? It was a conundrum. To be honest, it felt hopeless. 

I am forever grateful to my husband for his patience, his support, and his suggestions during that time! I talked to him, tears running down my cheeks in frustration and defeat, and told him how I was unable to figure out how to start exercising, yet I KNEW I had to start somehow. But I had no idea how.

He had an answer!

He is a gamer, and I always got annoyed at how he seemed to have an uncanny ability to spend insane amounts of money on games and gaming hardware. We have always had X boxes and PlayStations in the house. Nintendo Wii? Nintendo Switch? Yes, to both! Then Sony came out with PlayStation VR. It worked best with an elite PS4. Yep. Had to have it. Then Virtual Reality left the realm of gaming consoles and different companies developed their own VR headsets. Again, had to have it. It was so frustrating! Those things weren't cheap, ya know! Luckily, their price has gone down in recent years, but I admit they still aren't exactly cheap.

Despite the pricetag, we had saved and got an Oculus Quest VR Headset. It was wireless, unlike the other options available at the time, and we had already learned with the PS VR that the wire leading to the console was just downright annoying. He got out his Oculus Quest headset, put it on and initiated it to cast it's screen onto our TV in the living room. Basically, I could sit down and watch what he was doing inside the virtual reality environment by watching TV. He played a game for me. He already knew that I love music. I used to dance all of the time, when I could still dance. And I sorely missed dancing. I always felt that not being able to dance really lessened my enjoyment of music and just kind of sucked the joy out of life a little bit. It might sound silly to some of you, but music and dancing was a HUGE part of my daily life and when it was gone, I felt like part of my soul had died. 

He opened the game Beat Saber and played it for a minute. It looked SO FUN! Basically, you have music playing in your ears and the headset screen covers your entire field of vision, immersing you into the game. You have a controller in each hand with a wrist strap firmly locked around each wrist. This is important to ensure you don't accidentally throw a controller across the room. Yes, it's happened. More than once. Those controllers break way too easy

In your field of view, these squares move down a row, with you standing at the end. The squares represent notes in the music or parts of the rhythm. They have a little directional triangle on them, telling you which direction to slash your hand (with the controller) in order to get full points for it. The controllers in your hands present as light sabers, Star Wars style! The light sabers in your hands are different colors, and the squares corresponding colors. You slice the blue squares with the blue saber, red squares with the red saber. Easy enough, right? There are also obstacles that you have to lean left or right to dodge, or sometimes squat to dip underneath.

Then there are different difficulty levels ranging between Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert, and Expert +. There are modifiers, too. The modifiers that he changed before he gave it to me to try. He turned OFF the obstacles. So I could sit down in one spot and not need to dodge or squat. Then he turned on NO FAIL. So I could miss squares and keep going past the point where it would stop me for failing the level. He also went into the headset settings and changed the GUARDIAN, which is the safe play area boundary. He set it to a small, static space around my chair. Then he selected a song that he thought I might like, set the difficulty to easy and put the headset on me, and the controllers in my hands.

It was really fun!! I kept checking out different songs, finding some that I really liked and some that I didn't care for at all. Before I knew what happened, the headset battery died and the whole thing shut down! It was 2 hours after I started. My arms felt like jello! But it had been such a great time, I started looking forward to playing it again. I learned that I had to set a timer for myself on my phone to make sure I didn't overdo it. My arms were sore for at least two days after my first session, but that is because they weren't used to being used that much! Just like any workout, you'll feel tired and a little weak right after. I had overdone it, but that's okay. It was just the one time.

I played every day for about 30 minutes each day. That lasted about a month. I was always seated with my obstacles turned off, but my arms were getting stronger! Before I knew it, I had even lost a few pounds!

At the end of the month, I stood up. I played the same amount of time, but standing while I could. Sometimes I just couldn't do it. But, I was able to stand and move around more during my daily activities, so I decided to push myself a little bit by standing during some of my sessions.

After a few weeks of standing during my sessions, I turned on obstacles. But with the "No Fail" modifier still enabled. So when I didn't dodge the obstacles right, it wasn't a big deal. To me, I was enjoying some music and playing a game. It was actually kind of relaxing in a weird way. To my body, I was getting a workout! 

It didn't take me long to learn how to place my feet to be able to dodge obstacles without having to step around my play area. With my joints being so unstable, the less I had to step the better I could do it. Once I did that, I was able to dodge obstacles reliably. By shifting my weight from one side to the other and occasionally squatting, my legs were slowly getting stronger and able to hold me up for longer. Body weight was disappearing slowly, too!

Slowly, I began to challenge myself more and more. I changed difficulties. I disabled the no fail setting. I started using Practice Mode to learn difficult parts of songs. I even bought some music packs for some more music that I enjoy a lot, mainly Linkin Park and Imagine Dragons music. Playing Imagine Dragons songs in Beat Saber is a lot harder than you'd think, but it is insanely fun!

After a while, I was playing for an hour and a half EVERY DAY. Standing. Dodging obstacles. Beating my old scores. Having a blast. Before I knew it, I had lost 15 pounds and set my cane down for good. I didn't need it any more!

Eventually, I had to switch my focus to weight loss and utilizing the game as a tool, much the same way that others use their treadmill or stationary bike. When my weight loss slowed, I realized that my muscles had become adapted to the movements the game require and its effectiveness as a weight loss tool was diminishing. I had to work in other exercise stuff to keep Beat Saber as an effective tool. After all, that was the most fun! I wanted to keep it relevant! I ramped up my Tai Chi sessions (which I began in my mindset step) to include 8-Piece Brocade Qi Gong, added in some additional yoga, did a little bit of HiiT cardio here and there, and shoveled snow (we had a couple of huge snowfalls around the same time). I switched my Beat Saber time to 3x weekly (rather than 7x weekly) and it did work. I worked up a good sweat playing it every time and it kept my heart rate up. Doing some research, I discovered that playing Beat Saber at the level I was now playing it is equivalent to the same amount of time playing singles tennis! Check out the game rating on the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise here!

I had built up my endurance, a little bit of muscle, and had a lot of fun playing Beat Saber. But there's only so much that cardio can do for you. Cardio workouts, like a good session playing Beat Saber, are great for heart health, cardiovascular health, and endurance. But, there's still more to do!

There are some basic principals that come into play here:

1. Muscle mass increases your body's ability to burn fat by increasing your metabolism.

2. Eating a diet that induces weight loss boosts your body's innate ability to burn away fat by making it a fat-burning machine: ketogenic, fat-burning-adapted, powerhouse of weight loss. That really comes into focus on the next step!

3. Muscle is heavy. Don't expect to see the numbers on the scale change much while you are building muscle mass.  Instead, judge your progress with a tape measure! Inches off your waist means you've lost fat. If you have inches off your waist and the scale hasn't moved, your muscle mass is taking the place of the fat you lost.

4. Don't overdo it! Pushing yourself is great, but there's a line and, for your own health, it shouldn't be crossed! Check with your doctor and make sure it is okay for you to do it. I did and I'm definitely not elderly!

5. Building muscle mass will require strength training. That means resistance training (with rubberized resistance bands), weight lifting, or a combination of both. I do a combination.

6. Strength training can do more harm than good if you don't educate yourself before hand! 

Before you do any particular weight bearing or resistance bearing exercise, learn the proper form for it! The form exists for a reason, and that reason is to make sure that the people doing that exercise minimize injury while maximizing positive effect. Far too many people end up in the ER or in surgery after botched strength training sessions. Before you think, "yeah, but that won't happen to me," just realize that's what everyone thinks, especially those in the ER and in surgery! CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR!! And if you aren't comfortable following along with YouTube instructional videos, or buying a personal trainer's video series (there's a lot out there), go to your local gym and talk to the trainer on staff there. It won't be free, but they can help you get started with the right forms.

So in step 7, I had reached the point that my cardio exercises were only doing just so much for my weight loss and, to be honest, weight loss was the biggest factor for my overall health. Dropping pounds has had a MASSIVE IMPACT on my health and overall quality of life! While I needed to maintain my regular cardio routine, I needed to start adding in strength training.

Strength training burns more calories overall than cardio, so I knew it was going to boost my weight loss. I also knew that it was going to boost my metabolism, thereby allowing my body to burn more calories in a resting state. I got myself the cheapest set of resistance bands that I could find on Amazon that still had handles for holding it comfortably, and a door stop for using the doorway as a stationary anchor. When they arrived, I started out with the weakest resistance and did some basic resistance exercises for 10 minutes 3x weekly, typically just before my cardio. I got some good pointers from the YouTube Channel Fit Gent. Yeah, I am a woman but the forms don't change for genders. Just the pull amount and repetitions. I do less resistance and more reps than they say you should use if you are a man and that works out fine for me. Their full body resistance band workout was especially useful for me!

After a couple of months, (and a stimulus check) I got a collapsible weight bench and modular weight system that works as barbells and a bar. It's nice because the whole setup takes up very little space when I'm not using it but it is sturdy enough for me to use without fear that it will break on me. I started watching Erin Stern on YouTube for some good weight lifting exercises for women. She's really awesome at explaining proper form, what each exercise targets, why it works, etc. Granted, I don't want to be a competition body builder like she is, but I can do the same exercises with less weight and get my body to where I want it to be!

Step 7 has been a good time for learning and practicing forms, for getting started with strength training and figuring out how to include it in my weekly fitness routine. 

Now that I figured out the basics of diet, movement and cardio, strength training, and how all of this effects my body and metabolism, it was time to take up a notch and maximize my results!

Main points to remember are:

1. A diet is only useful if you can stick to it and not gain weight back afterwards!

2. Extreme dieting can lead to serious eating or health disorders! Extreme diets should only ever be done under medical supervision and with the knowledge that when you are at your optimal weight, it is time to back off the diet!

3. Weight loss in healthy individuals will only occur in a caloric deficit, meaning you burn more calories than you eat.

4. Human bodies are naturally adaptive. We have had to develop adaptive metabolisms through our development history to allow our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive periods of low food availability. We still have that adaptation present in our bodies and it can seriously mess with purposeful weight loss.

5. Seriously, us humans are stupidly adaptive. When we do the same cardio exercise all the time over a long period, it loses its effectiveness. When we do the same weight or resistance exercises all the time over a long period of time, it ceases to be as beneficial as it used to be. We have to change it up all the time to keep our bodies optimized for weight loss!

6. Some diets are great long-term, but to maximize weight loss, we may need to cycle on and off the diet. Again, our bodies are seriously too adaptive sometimes!

 

For changing my daily nutrition to a more healthy diet, I did a lot of research. To me, it was obvious that I needed to cut down on my carbohydrate and refined sugar intake but there's a lot of diets out there that follow those principals. I wanted to find a pre-existing diet rather than coming up with something on my own, so that I could find scientific data to support WHY one thing is going to be more effective than the other and so on. There's no point in reinventing the wheel when it comes to diet, after all. Back in step 1, I learned how harmful chemicals and artificial ingredients are to my body, so I knew I wanted to stay away from those and all diets that require them (Atkin's and Weight Watchers, for example, utilize a lot of aspartame and saccharin. I wanted to stay away from those.

I think it is safe to say that we all know that bodybuilders eat a lot of protein because protein supports muscle growth. What we don't always know is that muscle mass actually helps to increase your body's ability to burn fat! So, I decided that an increase in my protein would be good, but needed to learn how to optimize it. I learned that something weird happens in overweight people! When you are overweight or obese, your body reacts differently to excess dietary protein! Overweight people who consume excess protein tend to have more blood glucose spikes from high protein intake, and their bodies use that protein in a general poor way. It tends to convert protein into glucose more than someone who isn't overweight. That glucose triggers more fat storage. The energy that your body gets from the protein (that would be used to build muscle in an average sized person), gets about 70% stored within and with fat cells, only about 30% used for muscle development. So... protein is good, but too much protein is not.

So I decided that my ketogenic diet would be based on this idea. It would cycle between a high fat and high protein intake periods. The high protein periods will still be lower protein while I am still working on losing weight. When I am at my optimal body fat percentage, the protein can ramp up a bit more to support more muscle development. With my adaptive metabolism, I adjust to one dietary style and exercise so quickly, I need to make sure that both diet and exercise switch around frequently to keep my metabolism optimized for weight loss.

Put plainly, eating disorders ain't no joke! And a long or hard diet can lead even the most intelligent and diligent of us to develop one. I MUST remember that when I reach my optimal weight and body fat percentage, it's time to transition back away from dieting. I have already noticed that I am physically and mentally adjusted to a caloric deficit diet within just a couple of weeks and keep reminding myself that one of these days (hopefully sooner than later), I will need to transition to higher calories. Keeping myself mentally and emotionally prepared for that transition is important to me. I keep reminding myself that I can't eat a particular food right now because I am dieting, but that I get to look forward to having it later. That keeps me mentally primed to transition off the diet and, at the same time, helps me to stick to the diet by reminding me that it's temporary and I just need to be patient with myself.

It's true... diets are hard. It's hard to stay on it, and it's hard not to gain weight back when you are finished. We see it time and time again, the yo-yo of dieting, losing, gaining, dieting, losing, gaining, over and over and over again. It's frustrating. It's depressing.  It plain out sucks.

So, I'm not really dieting hard core. It may seem like I am but I'm not. I have been working on making lifestyle changes! The diet part is just making sure I am in a caloric deficit to lose weight. But the ketogenic diet and exercise, those are here to stay for the most part. When I am finished with my weight loss, I will be able to eat more calories in a day but the foods I eat won't change that much. I will still continue exercising, though more optimized for maintaining my ideal weight rather than optimized for losing weight.

The ketogenic diet has really helped me to feel a lot better! I immediately noticed less inflammation in my joints, less pain from my arthritis, less heart palpitations and chest pain, and greater mobility. I don't want to give that up when I reach my ideal weight! The exercises keep me moving, keep me healthy, and keep my heart in better working shape. I'm not willing to give that up either! Together, my keto diet and exercise have helped me to improve my mental and emotional health in addition to my physical health! I am NOT giving that up!

This is in no way a crash diet, it is a lifestyle with minor adjustments dependent on my level of physical wellness. I don't believe that any crash diet or overly strenuous exercise regimen will ever truly work. They aren't sustainable. I worked hard to ensure that my diet and exercises aren't just sustainable, but enable me to thrive! In the long term!

For that reason, I can say that they are here to stay. Sure, I may have a cheat meal here or there. Everyone does. It's an indulgence. It happens. And it's absolutely fine, as long as it happens as an indulgence and not every day. 

Step 10! We're here, finally!

So now what? Go celebrate with a big slice of chocolate cake? Honestly... maybe!

But here's the thing. In step 9, I had briefly covered the idea of maintaining my lifestyle changes beyond my dieting stages. I do mean it. Keep those before and after photos close at hand to remind yourself what can, and probably will, happen if you go back to the way things were before this whole journey to wellness. Remember that the celebratory slice of chocolate cake is just that... a celebratory slice. Not something to have on the regular.

In my fitness spreadsheet where I worked out all of my macronutrients, exercises, body fat percentages, and all that, I worked on stages of refeeding and readjusting, high fat and high protein cycles, and exercise cycles. I did that to not only optimize my metabolism for weight loss, but also to prime my body for glucose flexibility. So that my body keeps being reminded how to burn carbohydrates as a fuel source, as well as how to burn fat, and how to produce ketones for energy. It is designed to minimize insulin resistance while still keeping our ability to switch between any fuel source quickly and easily.

Maintaining wellness doesn't have to be a chore, especially if you follow my journey in your own life. We can make it a smooth, effortless flow throughout life as we move on. Getting here was the hard part, and that's over with! From now on, it's all easy street!

So now, I thank you for reading through my journey to wellness and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to come with me into wellness! I have ploughed ahead and cleared the way for you, all you have to do now is to follow along and do your best to stay on the path.