Sundog –noun 1. parhelion. 2. a small or incomplete rainbow.

paleo diet

A Beautiful Day

I had very vivid dreams last night of driving to town and going grocery shopping. For most people this surely would have been a pretty mundane dream and rather boring even. For me, its usually the nearest I come to living normally again because most things like this are beyond me at this time.

But apparently they weren’t beyond me today! What an exciting and wondrous day we have had.

It all started with a good night’s sleep – the first in at least a week. We both slept in well this morning and were pleased to see the first warm day without some rain in weeks. Shortly before we got going on breakfast and everything else that begins our day, Ron (Jeremy’s dad) called to see if we needed anything from town.

While Jeremy was chatting away with him on the phone it just suddenly occurred to me that it would be a lot of fun to go in to town with Ron for some fresh produce. I mentioned it to Jeremy who immediately liked the idea and he asked Ron about it because we’d have to keep the trip short and he had plans for several errands.

In one of those moments that makes me really thankful for how cool Ron is about helping us out, Ron spontaneously changed his plans and in less than half a hour we were all piled in his car and off to town!

It was a beautiful day, warm with a lot of sunshine. We went first to the Farmer’s Market where we turned in some paperwork for purchasing a CSA share at a local farm. This is a program many small farms offer of letting you buy a membership that will provide one box of produce a week throughout the summer of all the fresh stuff they are growing. It supports the local farmers, in this case an organic farm, while also letting us diversify our veggies. I was very pleased to see that the produce stocked at the booth was the best looking stuff compared to several other small farms with stands at the market.

Next we popped over to one of Ron’s favorite burrito joints, a new place that has opened in town. Remembering to go with tacos instead of burritos because of corn vs. flour tortillas with wheat/gluten, we got our food to go. It was the first restaurant we had gone into since Jeremy’s mom took us to lunch on the way home from a long distance drive to see a neurologist in 2003. Seven years went by with an amazing amount of speed.

Steak tacos with extra veggies instead of cheese.
Steak tacos with extra veggies instead of cheese

The trip to the restaurant highlights how odd life has become. It was loud with voices all around me as many people enjoyed their lunches. I found I no longer posses the automatic noise filtering I never knew I had, as it was very hard to focus just on Ron’s speaking – all the voices in the background were just as much in my attention as his was. The air felt very stale and the acoustics of a high ceiling were a bit disorienting.

Even the trip to use their ladies room was strange to me. They share a hallway with a next door cantina and its down this hallway that I found the bathroom. As soon as I stepped into the hallway I was surrounded by familiar smells from just about every bar I’d ever been in and memories of times past flooded in. I found it interesting these odors were comforting and inviting even though usually when suddenly surrounded by strong scents I react with anxiety and concern for my health.

Another thing I’ll share just because of its unusualness. That was the first toilet I had the chance to use since last October. Think about it next time you are using one yourself – months have passed for me without one. Its been seven years since I have used one more than a half dozen times in any give year. As odd as that must seem to you, it was just as odd to me today in using one. This was a first for me as in the past its always still felt normal. Perhaps its the length of time passing or just me having accepted my current state of life more, but it was definitely odd for me.

We made one last stop on the way home – our normal grocery store where Ron buys for us the majority of our organic produce. It was a bit surrealistic there because it was the same store I used to shop at while going to college and working, but it had been heavily remodeled a few years ago and this was my first trip in since. Nothing was recognizable as the old store after I walked through the front doors. The sights and smells were very strange to me as well.

All the soda, candy, chips and just plain junk that I was so used to seeing around me before, it now stood out to me as very odd things to consume. I have eaten quality food for many years. Since going paleo there hasn’t even been anything processed as we cook everything from scratch. None of the brightly colored boxes and giant logos looked like anything editable to me. While in the aisle at the checkout counter I innocently sighed a bit and was revolted by the sweet and cloying taste to the air from all the candy, gum, and mints next to me.

So many things today are so foreign to me now. When I do go into town and am active in normal pursuits there instead of only seeing a doctor, it feels like a different country. Some days a different planet even. I don’t feel entirely the same as everyone around me, in fact I feel fairly different. They all belong to a culture that is not mine now.

I am now part of a tribe of people spread all around the world who share in my hardships and joys, our one joining feature being a deep understanding of living with chronic illness. We are all very different from each other – even our seasons can be completely different with me just going into summer and them going into winter. Yet I feel distinctly more a part of the tribe that has formed on the internet of my fellow chronics than I feel while walking the streets of a town I’ve lived in for most of the last 11 years.

It has been a very interesting day for me and there is only one last thing to share. Today really showed me just how much improvement Jeremy and I have seen since going paleo and starting the b12 shots. We reacted much less to all the stimulus around us regardless of if it was loud sounds (live band at the farmer’s market), crowds of people, scents, perfumes, and lots of walking on cement (normally just on dirt paths in camp). We even had a chance to see improvements in how our bodies handled us skipping breakfast and only grabbing a small, quick snack before leaving. Being active without breakfast would usually have our blood sugar plummeting quickly, but today we did well despite the lack of food until 2 pm.

I am pleased with today and how my body handled it. Its been years since we spontaneously went to town just to have a good time. This speaks volumes for the mental changes taking place along with the physical ones. I deeply believe that part of getting well is mentally wanting to be well and being willing to accept change. It pleases me to see a trip like today because its a very real symbol of how ready we are for change to come to our lives.

I look forwards to taking more trips like today’s as the summer comes upon us!


Fuel for Happiness

The last week has been a rough one around here for us. Jeremy started his anti-candida medicine and so has been feeling very foggy, tired, and easily run down from the die-off reaction. Today will be his first day at the full strength dose. The course of treatment lasts for three months but hopefully a week or two from now he won’t hardly notice any ill effects from taking it once the initial die-off finishes at this strength.

I’ve been having trouble with him taking the medicine. Odd as it sounds, it seems to be triggering MCS problems for me – likely from the toxins he’s expelling when he breathes. I do better when we are not in the tent together. Even with the windows and door open 24/7 there isn’t enough air exchange to clear out what he puts out.

On top of all this, we had some solvents from the neighbors roll through briefly a few days ago though thankfully nothing as strong as they normally do. All in all, a hard MCS week.

sad puppy
I was a sad puppy this week.

All of which seems to have left me in a real funk of a mood. The last few days I have felt like I haven’t the energy to be anything but down, happy is just more than I could muster. Its been very frustrating because I’ve done so well the last several months. Then last night we hit on exactly what I need to feel a whole lot better.

Chocolate.

Yes, the food of gods is exactly what I needed to pick me back up again, albeit a temporary effect of a few hours. We mixed some organic cacao powder (chocolate comes from cacao beans) with a good amount of heated coconut milk for a very delicious cup of hot chocolate. The coconut milk sweetens the otherwise bitter cacao powder and also provides a lovely rich and creamy texture.

cacao pods on plant
Cacao fruit on the cacao tree.

Chocolate is well known for its mood enhancing properties. It alters brain chemistry through boosting serotonin levels, and low serotonin is something I’ve come to learn over the years is the cause for many of my funks. Getting a boost in this area certainly has a very positive effect and seems to help get my chemistry out of the rut it finds and back in line much sooner than if left on its own.

The coconut milk while providing a good base for the cacao powder, also helps to serve in boosting mood by providing an influx of fat and some natural sugars. These give my brain some extra power to run off because it seems one drawback I’m finding to this lower carb paleo approach is that when plagued with MCS I tend to need more carbohydrates to burn than otherwise is the case.

inside of the cacao pod
Inside of a cacao fruit pod- the beans where chocolate comes from.

I’ve boosted my carb intake today with extra veggies and will likely have another cup of hot cocoa later. Feeling so much better already, just needed some easy fuel.

I have been coming to the conclusion that the detox pathway that uses glucose to help turn toxins to harmless substances passed out of the body, often times when it is stressed (like with Jeremy’s toxin expelling from candida die-off) I tend to have troubles if I do not up my carbohydrates. It burns too much of my easier fuel, which apparently this time was stuff I’ve been needing to keep my brain chemistry inline. Life gets much better if I simply eat more of the right stuff.

My friend Grant summed it up well this afternoon upon hearing of my chocolate loving improvements when he said it was fuel for happiness! I also like to think of it as ‘better living through chemistry’ but that’s me just showing my true nerdy roots.

bag of cacao beans and pod
Bag of cacao beans and fruit pod.


A Few Paleo Thoughts

Tuesday will be exactly four months since we made the switch to a Paleo lifestyle.

I can still hardly believe how much meat we consume each week because I have never in my life been a huge meat eater. The previous 12.5 years of vegetarianism, over a third of my life and nearly all of my adult years, has been thoroughly tossed out the window in favor of meat, meat, and meat! Combined with this is the greatly increased fat intake which is just as huge of a change from how I ate all those years.

Its really no wonder that it takes a body time to make such massive shifts in how it processes food. I think it is safe to say that our health is playing a key role in how we adapt to this new lifestyle. Provides some answers for why we have more ups and downs, even now four months in, than others who are healthy and make the change.

Overall impression of having shifted our diet this dramatically?

I think the long term benefits will be stellar. We are already seeing small improvements that are a little hard to define, largely because our memory has become so poor as to make any sort of quantitative analysis extremely difficult for minor changes. But in our world any improvement is a vast step forward after having been stalled out at such a low level of health these last several years. These improvements feel more solid and less likely to give us the house of cards effect we had last summer – one very bad thing causing us to crash and loose two years of improvements.

My pseudoscience guess is that the changes in us are slow because of how far down our health has fallen. I distinctly feel like my nutrition is greatly improved and my body feels calmer because of this. It just feels more ‘happy’ eating this way and I have the distinct impression that much healing is occurring behind the scenes and waiting to make a spectacular debut someday.

This has been a very life changing event for us and one which I am still awed by our ability to make it work so well from a tent, two burner hot plate, and a small refrigerator/freezer.

I can not speak highly enough of giving this diet a try if anyone has major health problems. As with us, the benefits might be slow in coming but in the long term will provide a huge increase to quality of life. It will likely seem daunting at first thought (I know it was for us!) but we started one step at a time and never gave up.

This change was six months in the making for us and most of that time was spent feeling very overwhelmed with the knowledge that we had to change our diet but not knowing in what way. I am incredibly grateful for Jeremy’s hard work and willingness to try something new.


Busy Bees

It feels like a bit of forever since I last wrote here. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me during this slow time. There have been so many comforting and encouraging thoughts sent our way, thank you.

I am very happy to be able to say that allergy season has mostly ended for the year! We are planning a small celebration for sometime this weekend to mark its passing.

This year the allergy month was easier than it has been for the last few years. Though there is no way to know all the factors that contributed to it being less intensive, I am very thankful for the lack of sleepless nights and pain that until now had been my curse.

Now the morning air fills with the sweet aroma of huckleberry flowers in bloom, the sound of bees making up for the lost winter months of gathering, and a warmth has entered the woods as the sunshine is briefly allowed in prior to the maple trees leafing out. This is certainly one of my favorite times of year and it always comes with a happy energy filling my soul with the awakening of a new year full of hope.

A small patch of Trillium near our tent where a young deer sleeps most nights.

A small patch of Trillium near our tent where a young deer sleeps most nights.

I find myself a little torn each sunny day as I want only to go play in my garden yet there is so much needing to be done in camp that has been waiting several months. We have had a very tiring road since last summer’s crash which left us with the lowest our health has been so far. A lot gets left to the side to be done at a later date when life turns to mere survival.

Survival is where we have been for many months now. Through the paleo diet and the tweaking of our supplements by our talented doctor, I think we are beginning to pull out of survival mode and starting to find life again.

My body feels frail after this long road but I can tell that with the extra nutrition of the paleo diet I am slowly regaining muscle strength. It feels good to pick up an object and not feel weakness but strength. Still though, I must be ever mindful of not overdoing life in my enthusiasm to catch up the months passed and still leave enough to rejoice in the spring weather.

I will talk more about our progress in a paleo lifestyle very soon. We are at the end of three months this week and the beginning of a lifetime.


Alder the Red

I don’t seem to be the only one noticing a very early spring around here. My springtime nemesis, the red alder tree, has begun a very early pollination cycle.

Every spring, usually around late March to early April, each mature Alder tree begins to ripen their hundreds of pollinating structures known as catkins. The catkins produce an amazing abundance of pollen each spring. Within a few weeks from now the tent tarps will have turned yellow from the pollen accumulating between rains.

Alder catkin on ground in front of tent feb 17, 2010
Unripe red alder catkin I found this morning on our main path.

Since becoming ill nearly nine full years ago, I began to develop an acute allergy to the Alder pollen and it has grown in intensity each subsequent year.

At this point it turns a lovely spring day into a hellish nightmare.

My eyes will become too swollen and light sensitive to see from but water and itch like mad, sneezes so loud they echo back from the trees in the small valley below our tent and go on for usually 7-10 in a row but have been known to last 30 minutes straight, sinuses that somehow never run out of snot, ears which become very tender and painful from the backed up sinus pressure, raw throat and chest due to the power of each sneeze, and heavy sleep deprivation because the severity of these symptoms prevent all but 4-6 hours of sleep at most each night instead of the 9-10 my body requires.

Over the years we have developed wartime strategies for getting through the 4-6 weeks of this Alder induced nightmare. Last year it was not as severe because of a few newly implemented weapons we found to add to my arsenal of allergy calming remedies. Though the difference was small, last year was finally a tolerable miserableness instead of something that pushed the boundaries of my sanity.

Xena battles Red Alder
Today I feel like Xena, armed and ready to battle Alder the Red who lurks above our tent.

My nemesis has started to wage an early war this year, several weeks earlier than most years, and it has caught me unawares. Luckily I am quick and have already begun my preparations for hunkering down and riding out the storm for the next month and a half or so. I think this will be another tolerable spring. I also have a bit of hope that somehow it will be easier even than last year.

This last week has seen some remarkable improvements in energy, endurance, and strength from the Paleo diet started seven weeks ago. I am hoping these improvements lead to me being better able to fight a winning battle in this ongoing war. The last four mornings have consistently seen me feeling physically better and generally even more upbeat than normal. Despite the allergies that pounced on me when I woke this morning, right now I feel surprisingly good!

I shall focus my mind on the garden I will begin to plant as soon as the pollen levels drop enough to allow me outside. Even though our tent windows are open (but have screens down), it does provide a small buffer from the raw windblown pollen lurking to strike the moment I leave for water, facilities or any other reason.

My posts will likely be more infrequent and hopefully being doped up on antihistamines and sleep deprivation will not adversely affect what I do write to more than a somewhat humorous extent. Don’t blame me if my jokes are not funny, if you were as sleep deprived as I am soon to become I am confidant you would find me funny too!


Week Six: An Early Spring?

Time has flown by these last couple of weeks. Today marks the start of week six and we are still going very strong. Other than El Polo Diablo, we have stuck 100% to strict Paleo – zero grains, sugars (refined or otherwise), potatoes, and legumes. We only ever drink water so it has been very easy to also skip all coffee/caffeine and alcohol.

This last week both Jeremy and I have begun to feel small, noticeable improvements occurring in us. As our bodies are adapting more and more to this new way of life our meals are keeping us satiated longer. The afternoon snack we seemed to have needed every day, we have skipped more often than not this week. We are looking forwards to seeing our food bill going back down again as time progresses.

In the last three days we have both been having small bursts of increased energy and ability to get things done. Finally starting to very slowly get caught back up on the things we had to let go around camp, we were really knocked down by El Polo Diablo and then an ankle injury Jeremy suffered last week.

I was amazed today to realize just how much I have been able to do these last several days around camp. Such as doing many tasks that would normally be Jeremy’s but which his injured ankle has prevented. Small things like making the short hike to our refrigerator several times a day have been easy this week where as the trip would make me feel like collapsing only two weeks ago.

Day by day our bodies are silently healing. Just as the first hints of an early spring are coming to life all around me, so too is are the beginnings of an awakening of my body and its ability to regain functionality in life.

A maple seedling with it's old seedpod hat.

I watch the tiny maple seeds that have begun sprouting from the soil and can not help but be awed at the massive accomplishment of life the fully grown, towering maples have achieved around me. From quiet and humble beginnings these maple trees have sought but one thing here under the thick canopy of leaves, to grow tall and strong so that they may one day reach their leafy boughs fully into the sunlight that lures them ever upwards.

Maples on our road last fall, reaching for the last of the sunlight before it drops below the horizon most of the winter.

Maples on our road reaching for the last of the Fall sunlight October 2009.

I have lived too long under the gloom of this illness. The time has come for me to sprout out of my protective shell and take a chance at growing too. For it is only through walking into the unknown that I will one day find myself standing high atop a distant peak with the wind whipping through my hair and the sunlight a golden glow upon my upturned face.


El Polo Diablo

It has been a long several days but I’m finally feeling a bit more normal today.

Last Sunday night we had a big windstorm in the area which felled a tree onto some power lines and knocked out our electricity. It happened just after midnight. All night the wind waged war in the tree tops overhead and we had a very fitful night of sleep.

Monday morning we awoke to find the power still off which is actually a little unusual. We also found only six hard boiled eggs remaining and no other precooked heavy protein sources for meals. Though we are well prepared for going several days without power (as has happened a few times in the past), it was with foods dense in starchy carbohydrates remaining from our past style of eating.

latimesblog 11/10/09
On the prowl for food.

For a Paleo diet, the cupboards were largely bare. And so the hunt began.

Jeremy’s father could bring home something from town after he was off work but he needed to know what to get and where to go. Given that until four months ago I had been a vegetarian for over 12 years and so had never gone to a restaurant and ordered a meat dish in this town… it proved rather difficult to find anything to eat. Add to this difficulty a national holiday leaving half the places we called closed, we were lucky to find one place after two hours of searching.

Or at least we thought we were lucky at the time.

This brings me now to saying how absolutely burned up with frustration that I still am today at what follows. We called one of the local grocery stores that tends to try and be a bit more upscale and I spoke directly to someone in the deli department. I asked her very specifically if their rotisserie roasted chickens had MSG in them. She claimed to go find out, came back and told me they did not.

There is not a doubt in my mind that that bird was covered in tons of MSG and I have paid a steep price for having eaten it.

My goodness, I have never been sensitive to MSG before. I knew we wanted to avoid it based on a number of things I have read over the last year that said it wasn’t a very good thing to ingest if you have chronic illness, hence the hours of calling around looking for food that did not contain it. But it was just a precaution; I had no idea that it would make me this ill if I did eat it.

Less than a hour after eating I began to have my first symptoms. The first two days were the worst. I had difficulty breathing at times and a lot of shortness of breath all other times, a huge amount of exhaustion, nausea, intestinal cramping, my emotions going very haywire, large amount of water retention (also from the added salt at the store), headaches, greatly increased allergy symptoms with my sinuses, really scary stuff going on with my ears, and just in general a strong feeling of my body systems being really messed up.

Why did I react this way to MSG while others can safely eat it? MSG is an excitatory neurotransmitter which means it excites nerves and makes them fire more frequently. It does this in your mouth and your brain first so that your taste buds are triggered to enjoy the food more. Problem is that it doesn’t stop there. In an already overly stimulated nervous system such as mine, it is like adding oxygen and gasoline to a fire barely under control.

firestorm
The chaos of an overly stimulated nervous system.

Everything goes haywire. Brain chemistry gets wonky, felt like my body was utterly exhausted yet I had done nothing to cause it, and there are studies showing MSG increases histamine by 150%. Histamine is responsible for allergy symptoms amongst having other biological roles.

As time has passed my symptoms have slowly been lessening in severity. The first three days I could not walk to our ‘facilities’ and back without nearly collapsing in a breathless heap on the ground partway back, willpower the only thing that kept my feet under me till I could fall into bed with my heart pounding and dying for air. Luckily that has passed fully. To take its place is a light rash over much of my skin. The gastro-intestinal problems have mostly gone away too. Allergies are still hyperactive but slowly going back to normal as is the myriad of other symptoms.

All of these symptoms (minus maybe the water retention) can be traced back to how MSG allergies/sensitivities present themselves. This could have been prevented were it not for one incompetent worker telling me there was no MSG in the food. Grrrr!!!!

Today I am very happy to say that I am finally starting to feel a lot calmer in mind and body again after a very chaotic week. Jeremy also had some troubles with the food, but not to the same extent as I did though the first two days were also pretty rough on him and he is not fully recovered from it yet either.

Half of week four down and we are very much still eating strict Paleo and gradually feeling a bit better with it. The only bump in the road was that chicken… El Polo Diablo.

El Polo Diablo, my photoshopped image
El Polo Diablo aka “The Devil Chicken”