Category: health

What is an Activist

When I began Sustainable Life in Action back in 2013 the Grassroots Leadership College had only been closed for a year and I was trying to find enough work to keep my rent paid and figuring out how to keep doing community organizing. My dreams were of starting a new Grassroots Leadership College maybe statewide or maybe in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior. It wasn’t too much later that I left Madison. Life didn’t take me to northern Wisconsin, but to Minnesota.

In those days, for me, being an activist still meant organizing people, coordinating trainings, taking part in protests, speaking at rallies, being a force, and fighting out loud in a non-violent yet intense way. While my work was for a better world most of my actions still landed in the realm of working against the evils. I loved my work. I loved getting to know people, making connections, supporting others in achieving their dreams, creating positive social change. We did create change. Every time we people connected and came to know each other, to see each other as valuable human beings we were creating change, not to mention all the battles won.

Despite my love for my life work I was burning out. That’s why I started Sustainable Life in Action. It was a tool to encourage my own self care as well as to support others in caring for themselves. It has been a helpful tool for me. I hope it has been for others as well.

My journey as an activist has reached a new stage. It is an interesting one for me. After seven years in Minnesota and one in Poynette, Wisconsin, I have returned to Madison where Sustainable Life in Action began. When I left this place I was deeply involved in the activist scene. My name was known for work I’d done, nine years running the Grassroots Leadership College, coordinating the non-violence trainings for the capitol take-over during the Walker administration, Green Party stuff, Labor Radio and board leadership at WORT 89.9fm, and more. Now, I am coming back in quietly to a place where there are many new leaders and much of the old guard seems to have disappeared or maybe just is quiet in these times of COVID. It is coming back to a place where I’ve never been before.

It’s good to stand and watch this new place as I too am in a new place internally. After looking for jobs in the nonprofit realm and at the university and colleges to no avail, feeling my stomach churn a bit as I considered roles in organizing again, I decided to go back to another of my earlier careers. I accepted a position as an infant/toddler teacher in a large local child care. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of old friends who seem to believe that going into teaching early childhood is leaving the world of activism. These people tell me how I’ve “done my time” and that it’s okay for me to do something else.

How can there be anything that is more about social justice than caring for our children? Being an activist isn’t all about holding up signs and shouting slogans. Being an activist is about how we live our lives. At this phase of my being, much of my time will be dedicated to holding the little ones and showing them love. I’ve also chosen to commit my time to being creative, telling my stories, and playing with art. All these things are important. I haven’t done my time, none of us has. We all have a duty to care for this place and for each other each day for the remainder of our time. How we do it is up to us.

Take good care of yourselves. That’s where it all begins.

Not Done Yet

It was four years ago now that I contacted an old friend from high school and asked her for some help. I was struggling with seizures, depression, fatigue, and just general poor health. I was also at my highest weight of my life, tipping the scales at 217lbs. I was tired of my epilepsy medication which seemed to be causing more damage through side effects than helping and I was just tired. I needed some support. I needed a guide to help me reassess my approach to food. Kelly had studied nursing after high school and become a nurse practitioner working in wholistic medicine. She seemed my best chance. I sent her a note and set up an appointment.

It took a great deal of commitment just to make that appointment. Like many wholistic healthcare providers, the company that Kelly was working with at the time didn’t work with my health insurance and cost was significant for my small income. But, as it is with so many illnesses and addictions, there comes a time when we hit bottom and have no other choices. I had to do something and this was it.

After some allergy testing we removed a few foods from my diet and my life began to change. The foods removed for me were avocado, kidney beans, green pepper, black pepper, potato, pineapple, cane sugar, buckwheat, and olives. None were major allergies. All were irritants to my system.

Over the next six months I would lose nearly 50lbs regain energy and start a new adventure in my life that would both cause me great pain and give me some tools to keep healing. That adventure was leaving my work at Toxic Taters (a small nonprofit fighting pesticide abuse in Minnesota) for the University of Minnesota Morris and the Center for Small Towns.

The Center for Small Towns (CST) was a lonely place for me. I loved my students. They were great. There were some wonderful faculty and staff on campus and in the community who I’ll always count as friends. But, it was clear from the beginning that I didn’t fit in on campus. The prairie wasn’t wasn’t my home and neither was my workplace and it hurt.

Thankfully, Kelly’s guidance had given me a foundation to stand on during my three years in Morris. I didn’t stay 100% true to the dietary advice, but I’d made the big changes that I needed. I could now tell the difference when I ate well or I didn’t.

It’s easy to sink into bad habits and over the past four years between the struggles of having spent three years in a place that I didn’t belong, dealing with broken bones, surgeries, getting laid off in the middle of a pandemic, switching jobs, and moving among other things, I have sometimes resorted to my old frenemy junk food. I’ve gained back about 22 of those 50lbs that I lost. But, I’m not done and I’m getting back on track once again. I am happy to be back in my home state of Wisconsin. I’ve recommitted myself to eating what’s good for me and exercising in ways that I enjoy to build my health.

Right now that means that I’ve just restarted running, not fast or far, but my dog and I are running just a bit to start our morning walk. I’m also spending 15 or 20 minutes a day to workout with my resistance bands and later in the day 20 minutes or so doing yoga. Each day I’m watching what I eat, making sure that it’s mostly fruits and vegetables and that I’m avoiding processed foods and cane sugar. I’m just starting to see my weight go back down. I am confident that I’ll reach my goal weight, probably in the next six months or so. More importantly I will continue to meet my goal of maintaining my health and happiness for the long term.

I am thankful to Kelly for helping me out four years ago and hopeful that my experiences can provide something for others moving forward. It’s an up and down road, but we are all moving forward.

New Life

The pandemic has provided its challenges and gifts. A lot of people seem to be looking at this past year as having been all about struggle and loss. A year that we’ll look back on with horror or at least deep sadness. I’m not so sure, at least not for myself.

Sure, there has been sadness. My Dad died last July. He was 92 years old. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But, sadness at the passing of someone who is elderly and in the grips of dementia is always mixed. I will miss him, but I am also joyful that he could let go, move on, and no longer be held by the pain and fear that had become his life. Yeah, I got laid off. But, I got laid off from a job in Minnesota at a really unhealthy workplace where rumors, put downs, lying, and just generally disrespectful behaviors were the norm and wound up through a series of events finding myself working for a good friend on an incredible creative project and back home in Wisconsin.

It’s been a year for being open to possibilities. Last January a severe allergic reaction to a new medication for my epilepsy led to my doctor and I pursuing options beyond medications. In July I found myself at Mayo in the epilepsy monitoring unit. I started my visit on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing. I ended it a week later just after my Dad died by making the decision to honor them both by getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted. I came back a week later and had the little device that is changing my life implanted close to my heart, reminding me of them. Now, it sends a stimulus through my vagus nerve every three minutes and, along with my medication, is controlling my seizures and making life normal again. My energy is back. It’s been months since I’ve woken up in the morning to a headache and sore tongue, and best of all my doctors and the state of Wisconsin agree that it’s safe for me to drive and live with the independence that a car provides when one lives in a small town.

A lot of people have gone on about boredom and loneliness because of the pandemic and I confess that I’ve had some moments of wanting to get out too, but mostly I have to admit I’ve appreciated this time alone. I’ve been reminded of the joy in slowness and the importance of creative space. I took guitar lesson for awhile, long enough to give me some basics to work with and to continue to teach myself. I’ve started to work on becoming an author of children’s books. Now that it’s spring I just started doing a little volunteering at Taliesin. I’ve been reading a lot more, continuing to write here, doing a little drawing too. How could I be bored or seeking something else when I am given the opportunity to find the creative space? The world runs us too fast and I am thankful that we’ve slowed down for the moment. It is sad that it took a pandemic to slow us, but I can only hope that we find some lessons about caring for our creative selves from this experience.

It’s not been all bad. It’s been a year for staying home and eating home cooking, a year for being creative, a year for relaxing and getting to know ourselves, a year for embarking on a new stage of life in so many ways. What lessons have we learned? What will we carry forth? What possibilities have we opened ourselves to? What is this new life that we are embarking on as this pandemic, hopefully, begins to draw to a close?

Better than Pizza Ranch Day

I didn’t go to Pizza Ranch today. Some days that’s a victory. Today was one of those days. There wasn’t anything wrong with today. It was actually a fine day, beautiful weather, laid back schedule with enough to keep me busy but not more than that. Still, this morning I found myself craving some bad for me food.

A few years ago, with the help of an old high school friend who now practices wholistic medicine, I made some major dietary changes and lost about fifty pounds. It was a strict diet that removed nine foods that appeared to be allergens for me. After a few years my gut had the time to heal and I was able to reincorporate some of the foods successfully. A few I still can’t eat without side effects. Unfortunately, these are the ones that are most addictive for me as it typically true for anyone dealing with addictive behavior. We are drawn to the things that are most harmful to us for that moment of good feeling. For me, from that list of nine allergens, I still can’t eat cane sugar or white potatoes without feeling it in my body. It comes in stomach aches, exhaustion or “sugar coma”, bloating, and just fatigue and feeling negative. It’s something that I know and something that I feel almost immediately after eating too much sugary stuff or too many fries or other potato products. Yet, sometimes the craving gets me.

The other issue that I have often questioned though it’s never been diagnosed as an allergy is dairy. There is a quite a bit of literature out there about how humans aren’t meant to eat dairy and how our body’s aren’t made to process it. I pretty much gave up drinking milk several years ago. I don’t really remember when. That wasn’t a big issue for me. Milk was good when I was growing up and we got it straight out of the bulk tank, the kind of milk that you shake to distribute the cream. That milk was good. I’m quite indifferent to pasteurized milk from the store, so I’ve never missed it. The challenge for me is cheese. Cheddar, mozzarella, pepperjack, string cheese, cheese curds, pamessan, cream cheese, the list goes on. For many years it wasn’t unusual for me to have cheese three or more times a day. In recent years I’ve cut that a bit, but I’m still a cheese junkie. I can admit it.

Reading a great deal about epilepsy in my own search to control my own seizures I keep coming across articles suggesting the possible connection between dairy intolerance and epileptic seizures. After seeing these stories for years, I’m biting the bullet and seeing if cutting my dairy consumption further might control my seizures. So, going the stove today to cook up a chicken breast and some veggies and making myself a couple of chicken wraps instead of going to Pizza Ranch was a victory that I can be proud of. I probably won’t cut out all dairy. I am, for now, not buying any cheese made with cow’s milk for consumption at home. I may have it as a treat when I go out. I will still use butter. I’m giving up yogurt made with cow’s milk too. Ice cream is already something that is best for me to avoid because of the high sugar content.

Each day, each action is valuable. I hope that others out there who read this piece might join me in doing whatever piece is right for you, making that one change in your diet that will make you healthier. We are all on a journey. Five or six years ago I was drinking pop every day and eating fast food at least five or six times a week and not eating all that much better when I cooked at home. Now, I cook almost all my meals at home with fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I use very few processed foods and drink mostly water. I feel so much better, happier, healthier. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t made those changes? My epilepsy was diagnosed about eight years ago now. It’s coming under control. If I hadn’t changed my diet, would I have been able to keep my seizures down? Would they have kept getting worse? I’ll never know the answer to that, but I am glad to have done what I’ve done and look forward to continuing to get healthier.

Women and the Fear of Aging

I was listening to a podcast by Michelle Obama earlier today. She was discussing women’s health and talked a bit about our fear of aging and our general dislike of our own bodies. It’s a common belief, but I’m not sure I understand anymore. Sure, I have disagreements with my body. I’m not happy that I have seizures. I would like that to change. But, at 49 years old, I have to admit that I look in the mirror and I feel pretty good about what I see.

I don’t see the image that society would call a a model or a superstar. What I see though is a story and that story is far more valuable than any commercial image that we’re sold.

I see my scars. I see where my cat jumped on my face when I was asleep some years ago, missing my eye by only an inch or so. I see where my friend’s dog took took a chunk out of my arm leaving a mark that looks strangely like a smiley face. I see that reminder on my finger of when I was maybe six or seven and I wanted to see if I was strong enough to break a glass with my bare hand, I was. I see the reminder of swimming with friends in college and jumping off the cliff and the memory of when my puppy in his over energetic play landed on my ankle causing it to break, and the lines of surgeries most notably my my VNS implant that keeps me safe from seizures. My scars are like a physical storybook of myself.

I look at my hair. It’s wild. It’s always been wild ever since it started growing when I was two years old. But now, it’s something special. It’s turned almost entirely white. It’s been turning this way for years. I never really got into coloring it. I dyed it at home a couple times, but just for fun. The white means a lot to me. My father’s hair was silver or white since black and white pictures. I don’t know if anyone remembers or knows what color hair grandma had before hers turned white. They both had the most beautiful white hair. I look in the mirror and I see them. How can I not embrace the gray that reminds me of these beautiful people who are now just memories?

I look at my body. There’s extra here and there. My muscles aren’t as toned as they used to be. But, I take good care of myself. I eat healthfully. I walk and do yoga and maybe some other workouts. Still, it’s the body of someone who’s lived some years. Yet, I think of my mom. At my age she’d lost one of her breasts to cancer, was bald, and dealing daily with the impacts of chemotherapy. I cannot feel anything less than extremely grateful for my body and all its flab.

I look at my face. I see that turkey chin that never used to be there when I was twenty and I see all my aunts and uncles and who I am becoming. I am reminded how all of these supposed imperfections tell me who I am and how proud I am to be this person. I have been gifted this life in this family and my body tells me each day who I am.

Restart

I wonder what it is about January that makes it such a challenge? There seems to be something maybe in the air or in my being or maybe just in the cold that makes my body reject the entire month. This year it seems the entire country is having to scrape its way out of 2020 to make an attempt to start again and we’ve not quite made it there yet.

I often look back at my memories on Facebook and I’ve learned from this practice that somewhere right around Christmas or shortly after is often time for a seizure. January is time for a nice head cold that’s bad enough to put me in bed for a few days. It’s also a time for dreams and nightmares. A few years ago I also threw in the excitement of appendicitis. Last year I spent New Year’s at the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at the Mayo Clinic hoping for seizures and asking for cold medicine.

This year I’m laying in bed waiting for my COVID test results and hoping it’s just another head cold and pondering the meanings of my most recent nightmares. I don’t normally have a lot of bad dreams, but I’ve had three in the past week. I suspect it’s both the powers of January and the changes in my life once again.

I’d thought I’d found the perfect job a few months back, but it became clear pretty quickly that the organization wasn’t ready for staff yet and that there were some people in leadership holding views that I believe to be quite harmful especially when mentoring children. I love mentoring, but not at the cost of any child. So, I had to leave. I was extremely lucky to land on my feet. Some friends of mine run The Memory Project and offered me a role which allowed me to leave the group that I was with.

So, after two intense dreams that might be called nightmares, the first of which I found myself I found myself at a circus with a tiger and a panther sniffing at my feet as I sat on a bench unable to move and the second of which I found myself again unable to move in my bed with an intruder coming in and about to rape me, I made the decision to quit my last job and start my new one.

The circus dream was an interesting one. The ringmaster was there and he told me that I didn’t have to fear the tiger and the panther. He told me that they were mine, wouldn’t hurt me, and that I had the power to move if I chose. It was interesting doing a bit of research later to find that the panther and tiger tend to be symbols of feminine power, creativity, strength, and positive change.

The rape dream was another recognition of my own choices and power. As the perpetrator attempted to attack me, my inner being assured me that this wasn’t real, told me that I had the power to move. It took great strength, as if I were breaking handcuffs holding my wrists, but I moved my arms and I awoke and was safe again.

Sometimes dreams tell us a lot. I decided I had the strength to take the leap into a new world. For the next six months or so, I’ll be sorting student art work, seeking out some freelance writing, working on a book, and deciding what I want to do next as my role with the Memory Project is just short term.

Still, my dreams aren’t gone. There’s still something figuring itself out. In last night’s dream, an intruder had again broken into the house. This time a friend told me she found my dog Buddy locked in the bathroom with a loaded handgun and an open window. She was worried that the intruder was still on the premises. The house filled with neighbors, most of whom I didn’t know as I tried to call the police. Buddy wasn’t hurt. I lost track of him for a few moments and was worried he might be, but then I saw him playing happily in the growing crowd.

I woke puzzled, but realized that in my current rental it would be impossible to lock poor Buddy in the bathroom with a loaded handgun since one of my bathroom doors is actually a shower curtain. Ah, the wonders of rental living. But, it does help me recognize the impossibility of the dream and go with Buddy’s joyous innocence approach instead.

With that, I will lay here and rest a bit more, build up my energy and get ready to leap into the next new adventure with faith that the tiger and panther and Buddy will all celebrate with me this new chapter in life with joy, fun, love, creativity, and all else it offers. Take good care and stay well my friends!

Starting the New Year

For the last few years I’ve posted my New Year’s resolutions here. This year I am a bit late, but that’s okay. 2021 seems to be getting a slow start separating itself from 2020, I can do the same. We humans have a strange time to start a new year these days anyway. It’s not the solstice or the equinox. It’s not the beginning of a new season. It’s just a day it seems to me. Anyway, moving into the goals for the upcoming. First, we start with my resolutions from last year.

  1. Getting my seizures to stop
  2. Getting to my goal weight
  3. Reading at least 12 books
  4. Cutting my screen time

Well, I got my VNS and my seizures have been been roughly cut in half and those I have seem to be less intense. So, I’d say I did pretty good with that one. On getting to my goal weight, honestly, I haven’t really worked on it. I feel pretty good about not gaining any weight and actually losing a couple of pounds during COVID. I think it’s a goal that I can let go of. I think I’m on book 15 or 16 now. A few of those were ones I read before, but they were good enough to read again. So, success on that goal. I can’t say the number of hours by which I’ve cut my screen time, but I feel certain that I have cut it. I took Facebook off my phone. I go out hiking and to dog parks more often. I’ve made a regular practice of daily guitar and piano practice, time for household tasks, and reading time all of which take me away from the screen. I’m guessing that I’m probably dropping 1-3 hours a day. I’d say I did pretty well in 2020 toward reaching my goals.

I think 2021 will be for continuing some these goals and adding in a few new ones.

  1. Becoming seizure free
  2. Reading at least 12 books
  3. Continuing to keep my screen time in check
  4. Writing a children’s book
  5. Finding my Ikigai (Japanese concept meaning reason for being)
  6. Getting back to being intentional about exercise 3-5 times a week

This should keep me going and keep me flowing. Wishing you all well in this year to come. Take good care.

Five Months Later

It’s been five months now since I lay in the epilepsy monitoring unit at Mayo, practicing my guitar, reading, watching movies, crocheting, doing just about everything but having seizures. But, from that visit and my prior one the doctors had enough information and we agreed to surgery and the installation of my VNS. While my seizures aren’t totally gone yet, it’s been a huge help both significantly cutting the number and intensity of incidents and just giving me better energy and raising my mood.

I am thankful for that for many reasons. A big one is that today also marks the five month anniversary of another huge change in my life. It was five months ago today that Dad made his journey to the spirit world.

I’ve not lived at home for any length of time since 1990. For the six years prior to Dad’s passing I lived in a different state. I only saw him around holidays and maybe for a few days in summer, but until his dementia took over we talked every week, usually Sundays, on the phone. Over the past year with his dementia taking hold phone conversations weren’t an option any more. I saw him last Christmas. He still knew me then, but by Easter when I called, because COVID didn’t allow for a visit, he no longer understood the staff when they tried to explain to him how to use the phone. I would never hear him speak to me again, at least not in this world.

It is the strangest thing, neither sad nor happy, but simply beautiful I suppose. I have seen more of Dad in the past 5 months than I had in years. He visits almost every night in my dreams. I don’t remember what he’s said when I wake, but he’s always happy, always his smiling self, laughing and joking, and just enjoying being where is and still watching out for his baby girl. Each day it seems I have a moment where it hits me again that he’s really gone. I can’t call him. I really won’t see him. He won’t be there when I go visit family. It hits hard and knocks the wind out of me for a moment, but my dreams bring comfort. While he isn’t here, he isn’t gone.

Over time, I suspect, both the daytime hits to my heart and the nighttime dreams will fade and eventually go away. But, I really do believe that Dad will always be there. That he will always be watching out for his baby girl. I feel so lucky.

Here I am five months later in a new job that I like, living in a new place close enough to family and friends that even with COVID I’ve been able to get together with people for hiking and dog park visits. My seizures are getting a lot better. And, having just looked at the goals I wrote before moving, I can see I’m doing well is most all of the area that I want to. I am thankful.