When Gallbladders Attack

This post could alternatively be titled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation at the Doctor.”

Hi, folks. Been a while.

I didn’t mean to take such a long hiatus from writing. It just sorta happened. You’d think that when life gets nuttier, I would run to the soothing salve of writing. Instead, I tend to bury my head in the sand. For any of you who have followed me for a long time, this probably isn’t news to you. I was on a really great streak for a while though, wasn’t I?

Okay, let’s get down to business. I’ll try to recap what’s happened since last summer and what has kept me away.

First and foremost, I started a new job, which took just about every ounce of energy I had for almost the entire year. Seriously. It wasn’t just ordinary stress of starting a new job, either. It was a doozy because the department I work in was going through a major transition. Myself and my colleague (who turned out to be awesome) just kind of grabbed on to each other for dear life and had a “make it work” moment à la Project Runway, except that it was twelve months of make-it-work moments. Things are much better now. Our office made it through the first year of transition and I am hoping the really rough stuff is behind us.

On top of that, Kevin and I finally left the house that tried to kill us. We moved into a great place and are very happy. Naturally, because it’s us, I have a story to tell about the adventures in the new place, but I’ll save it for later.

Adding insult to injury, our former landlords turned out to be giant pieces of crap in human form. The home’s condition probably should have tipped us off but we really didn’t know that we were dealing with legitimate scam artists. What I’m hoping happens, thanks to karma, is that they get back what they did to us and presumably countless others. They claimed we damaged their home to the point where they felt it necessary to hang on to our security deposit. They know it’s bullshit, we know it’s bullshit. But in the end, it would have cost way more time, money, and energy to prove we were in the right (which is exactly how they exploit their student tenants), and it ended up being more important just to get the hell out of there and never look back.

I’ll put it this way: the dog food in the oven was definitely not an accident and it was definitely in retribution for these people being truly awful. Even worse is that their daughter, who assists with their real estate business, is in on the whole scam. It’s like all three of them ripped off their human masks and underneath were writhing piles of rotting flesh. Graphic? Yes. Apt? Yes.

In general, 2012 ended up being a continuation of more bizarre health issues for me, as well. I’ll say this: being in my thirties has definitely given me a newfound appreciation for cell turnover rate in my twenties. By June, I was having some serious pain in my stomach, particularly when I would eat fattier foods. I don’t experience nausea very often–hardly ever–so when I started having nausea and dizziness (and confirmed that pregnancy was definitely not a plausible scenario) on top of a really full feeling in my stomach after eating, it got to the point where I went to an urgent care center on a Sunday.

The nurse practitioner ruled out appendicitis but ordered me to get an ultrasound after having an appointment scheduled with my primary care physician. Oh, that’s another thing–I finally got away from a really crappy doctor.

I was all over WebMD and Googling all my symptoms until I could figure out what could POSSIBLY be wrong with me. On the way home from the urgent care center, I came across some symptoms of a problem that mirrored exactly what I was going through: those of having a gallbladder attack. I had pretty much every single symptom on the list and it explained a lot, including having inexplicable pain on my upper right abdomen.

When I talked to my doctor later in the week and told her I was strongly suspicious I had been having gallbladder attacks, she dismissed this hypothesis of mine but ordered me to get an ultrasound, anyway. (She was a real winner.) The ultrasound was a really non-traumatic albeit expensive experience, which ended up not showing much. I didn’t have gallstones but my gallbladder was also not functioning, either. They give you this shot of stuff to stimulate your gallbladder and then monitor how it works while you’re in the ultrasound.

My doctor was smart enough to send me to a surgeon to talk to me about my gallbladder issues, however. Long story short, the surgery was scheduled in August and I had it taken out through the magic of laparoscopy. It’s hard to describe the pain when your gallbladder is giving you the finger and refuses to work, but essentially, if you aren’t properly digesting fats in your diet, your whole digestive system just like, shuts the hell down. So my little gallbladder had become inflamed and was throwing a shit fit and needed to be removed altogether. I am in the rare percentage of people, around 5%, who have their gallbladders removed without having any gallstones. Makes me feel special, all right.

I had never had major surgery before and the whole notion of having something I was born with, a formerly functioning ORGAN just totally removed, really scared the bejeezus out of me. Kevin was a trooper and waited until after everything went smoothly to tell me he had been terrified, too. I was glad I didn’t know at the time. Being wheeled on a gurney into this cold, sterile room filled with trays, bright lights, and stainless steel utensils that you just know are going to be inside of you had me tearing up something fierce. I was and am so incredibly grateful that everything went routinely and I was just another successful gallbladder removal case. The surgeon had a sense of humor and was from New York. Somehow that was comforting to me as a scared patient.

After I got the little bugger removed and I was finally on the mend, I thought I would magically bounce back to some supreme state of being. 2012 laughed and said, “Oh, Zoe. You’re cute to think so.”

I had been experiencing all kinds of whack things that I just attributed to having a faulty gallbladder: acid reflux, tinnitus, incredible fatigue, and on and on. As life would have it, all of those things continued. Not one of them changed.

Fast forward a few more months and I finally do more research and plan to go back to get more lab work done; this time with a different clinic system. Evidently my iron levels have been in the toilet for quite some time and when that happens, it sends your entire functioning-as-a-human-being thing out the window. Extremely low iron levels can not only mimic hypothyroidism, which I thought I had, but can cause a whole slew of symptoms as I was experiencing, including but not limited to digestive problems and inflammation of organs, causing them to crash and burn.

Ding!

There is always the chance that I was always going to have my gallbladder out because all of my mother’s siblings have theirs out. So, shittygallbladderitis runs in the family. But since I’ve been my own medical researcher for a few years now and I’m still making a comeback with my health, I’d venture a quasi educated guess and say my low iron levels are the culprit of my chronic ailments.

The upshot is I was not only able to switch to a primary care physician who treated me like a human being and is a nice person to talk to, but my lab results confirmed that indeed I need to consume lots and lots and LOTS of iron to get my levels back to where they need to. As I’ve been taking my iron supplements diligently and consuming lots of delicious red meat and spinach, I’ve noticed a reduction in some of the symptoms that have plagued me for a while. By no means am I out of the woods but at least there appears to be a proverbial trail of bread crumbs for me to follow.

While it’s scary as all getout to go to the doctor, even and especially when you know something is really, really wrong, as I did, it is so much better to figure out what the heck is going on and get it taken care of. It also made me a hundred times more thankful for the healthcare plan my employer provides, because I had been without a healthcare plan since I left New York City. Having consults and labwork and endless blood drawn and a surgery still cost me a lot of money we didn’t have immediately on hand (thank you, Discover Card), but looking back from the privileged standpoint of hindsight gives me reassurance that I absolutely did the right thing by paying attention to what my gut was literally telling me.

2013 has already been a better year on the health spectrum than the last two years combined. I am hopeful the streak will continue but I have come to realize how much my health lies in my own hands. It is all about the daily self care, even down to something seemingly simple like taking iron and vitamin supplements to make sure my cells are functioning properly, which then means I can hold down a job, pursue hobbies, and walk around and do stuff like spending time with friends and family. You know, little things like that.

Last but not least, I want this to be the rebirth of getting back to mental and spiritual side pursuits, as well–like writing!

For now, je suis revenue.

Until next time, friends.

Sixteen

Earlier this month, I turned 32.

I’m still kind of coping with the number. I don’t FEEL 32. Thirty-two year-olds are supposed to have a few things figured out, aren’t they?

Sixteen years ago, I turned 16 and the only thing I could eat, sleep, and breathe was taking my driver’s test. Since the age of nine, I counted down the years until I could drive. I just knew at that young an age that I was destined to love driving.

Obtaining my driver’s license was one of the biggest thrills of my entire existence, no exaggeration. Getting that little laminated card sent to me in the mail felt like a bucket of freedom pouring all over me. No more would I have to solely rely on anyone else to pick me up and take me places. I could just get there myself and derive every drop of pleasure from driving.

Some people hate driving. My best friend is one of them. She still can’t drive and until some life event forces her to have to get a license, she will remain a chauffeured passenger. While I may not understand it, I am fully supportive of her if that makes her happy. (And I think we’re all a little safer with those who can’t stand driving not being on the road.)

The sensation of driving is a therapeutic one for me with the road under my tires and the steering wheel in my hands. Driving also satisfies my intense need to control. I fully admit I am a control freak. I don’t like to think of it as negative but there are several people who have told me – Kevin included – that I am bossy. I don’t have an answer for that except for a shrug and a, “Yeah, so?” I’m also one of those people who thinks my ideas and the way I do them are ideal.

You might think I’d be a manager of some kind by now but I’m not. Not even close. Despite my being utterly confident in carrying things out a certain way (and usually being disappointed when others don’t hold themselves up to the same high standards of execution), I am extremely non-confrontational. Having a subordinate or a team of them would be an incredible challenge for me. Though, having had some less-than-terrific superiors in my work history, I can say I would sincerely strive to avoid doing the things that have really aggravated me or been my own undoing. It has never ceased to astound me who makes it to a managerial level–anywhere. It could be Pizza Hut. When I run into inefficiency or sheer incompetence, I think, how am I not at the top again? But I don’t make it my life’s mission to choose a different path that might get me there. I stay put. I ruminate. I dwell on the what-ifs.

That’s the bite of irony, there. I feel mostly out of control when it comes to my situation in life, so I clamp down to control what I can. I’m not in the career I thought I’d be in by the age of 32, I’m not yet married, I don’t own my own home, I don’t have children, and for the most part, I feel very in limbo. (I do have a steady rock of a partner for whom I am grateful every single day. So I appease my litany of complaints with that solace.)

The number one thing I struggle with is self-discipline.

Mostly, that applies to exercise and other self-care choices. When I was much younger, maybe 12 or so, I thought to myself, “When I’m older and on my own [say, 25], I’m really going to have it all figured out. I’m going to be successful and physically fit because I’ll be making ALL my own decisions and doing what I want when I want.”

If only! I think back to that long ago thought and wish I could hug my younger self. I so wish it were that easy.

I am an absolute perfectionist and if I can’t have exactly what I want, when and how I want it, I give up quite easily (or take no action). My modus operandi is that something just won’t happen if it can’t be done in a manner matching whatever idea of perfection I’ve dreamed up in my mind.

A perfect example of this is with our vacuum cleaner.

When Kevin and I began our cohabitation adventure, he brought to the household a vacuum cleaner – one he had thoroughly researched that would really clean up pet hair. While we were still living in New York City, I determined that I hated this vacuum. It smelled bad when you turned it on (which was half the reason I hated it) it clogged easily, and the pet attachment only feebly worked.

Due to our budget constraints, this thing had to stick with us for a while longer. Fast forward to 2012 when I received my tax refund. I made an impulse decision that this would be The Year of the Vacuum and I could fulfill a fantasy of mine and purchase a Dyson.

I know, what is this, the 1950s, where the little wife dreams of her shiny new appliance?

Nonetheless, with nothing short of pure jubilance, I took myself to a local store and purchased a Dyson Animal. Let me tell you, this thing has seriously changed how I view vacuuming. Whereas before I avoided vacuuming at all costs, I have pulled this thing out again and again and again because it works just as it should. I have never in my life enjoyed vacuuming but since I can see everything being lifted away with ease, it actually takes away the blood, sweat, and tears I previously associated with this chore. I triumphantly proved to myself that if I only had the perfect tool, the one thing I really wanted, then all would be well and I would be motivated to do something I had formerly hated. I don’t jump out of bed every day and want to vacuum, but considering I do it without having to have a pep talk AND it’s done much more regularly, I consider this an incredible achievement.

I sincerely wish this were the case with all things. I think that’s why infomercials which tout that this ONE piece of exercise equipment will change your life are so successful. It’s so easy to buy into that fantasy! I have fallen for it, as have millions of others. I have owned (and loved) a Gazelle, that non-treadmill piece of equipment that that Tony Little guy is advertising incessantly. It’s actually pretty fun but it is not a miracle machine. Then again, nothing is.

I continue to struggle with my perfectionism, trying to just relax and let things be. It is the hardest thing for me to do. Because I can’t control situations, how other people react, or even the results I get if I put effort into something (read: exercise/weight loss), I struggle every day to not become completely immobile. In one of the thousands of episodes of The Simpsons, Homer says to Lisa, “The lesson is….never try.” I can so relate, since I have gravitated towards taking the easier path more often than not.

At the same time that I have all this self-awareness about this issue, overcoming these innate urges takes the same force of will that a 500-pound man would need to climb Mount Everest with no experience. I don’t want to be the fat guy choking for air on the side of the mountain. I’d rather stay put on the ground, safe and sound, where I can complain in pure comfort.

And then the question I have to ask myself is, where does that get me? Answer: directly to where I don’t want to be.

Sixteen years ago I was a junior in high school. I hadn’t even thought about what a college career would look like or where I’d apply, much less seriously considered what I would do for a living. (I also thought I’d be married by the age of 25. Hahahahaha.)

I look back and wonder where the second set of sixteen years went. The difference is, I didn’t begin in infancy to get to where I am now. I was a young adult and now I am a fully-fledged adult who is still trying to figure out the same things. I suppose we all are, on some level.

Sixteen years from now I will be 48. Talk about scary. It’s not just a little different, it’s a completely new era of life I will be experiencing. While I am striving to enjoy the small moments, the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, each year as it comes….they will add up into another sixteen years, where I will look back and wonder how I got from here to there, whatever “there” looks like. I will find this post and instead of mourning the choices I did not make due to some paralyzing sense of perfection, I hope I will celebrate the risks I ended up taking instead.

Deep breath and……Ready. Set. Go.

Sendoff to 2011

If someone would have told me when I was 16 years old that time would eventually fly by so quickly I could barely catch my breath, I would not have believed that person.

Here I am, trying to get in one last blog post before 2011 expires and after being on Christmas vacation for over a week. I have no idea how it is December 31st – none.

As each year passes, the days, weeks, and months speed past me at an alarming rate. Scarier still is that while I have much to live for and much to look forward to, I believe I could be living more fully. Does that make sense? Essentially, instead of putting down specific resolutions which I want to “stick to” (and probably wouldn’t (see last year’s list)), I’m keeping it simple for this coming year and for all my years to come: be present. Live in the now.

It is so easy to get caught up in the details of life which are unpleasing. That’s what I have done in 2011 and at the year’s end, today, the first things that come to mind when I look back are the hardships. I dealt with some health issues–sometimes alarming ones–which have made me sit up and pay more attention to what’s REALLY important.

So what IS really important? Love. Family. Real friendships. Personal fulfillment. Being in the moment. Appreciating those times of joy and laughter and cherishing them for their immeasurable value.

Kevin and I spent the morning with some family members and had some belly laughs, swapped stories, and ate some delicious food. It’s such a blessing to have so much love in both our families. That’s how I enter 2012: with a full heart and more clarity on how I want to be spending my time.

The “bad stuff” is unpredictable and will always happen when we can least afford to endure it. What I am making an effort to do is to not freak the hell out when something happens now, and yes, to even try to laugh at it. This is a particular challenge for me because I have a flair for freaking out. I can really mull something over and over and over questioning, “WHY ME?” quite a bit.

For example, I’m still in the middle of unpacking from Christmas vacation and figuring out the rest of my weekend. I’m sitting here at my computer, minding my own business, and the shelf which sits above my computer monitor suddenly gives way. I had to clear off everything from the shelf and now I wait for Kevin to repair it for me. I really wanted to whine and complain about it for a little while but I took a few deep breaths, focused on the fact that it didn’t come crashing down on my monitor while I was gone for a week, and now I  simply look forward to it being repaired.

That’s some serious pivotal behavior for a freak-outter like me! (Can you tell I’m patting myself on the back about it?)

I love the freshness that a new year brings. I always wish I can hold onto it as the months pass by but it seems inevitable that by the fall, the year has become as comfortable as a well worn pair of shoes. December never feels like a full month but a couple of weekends and we’re at Christmas and New Year’s.

2011 has seen a continuing passion for blogging and an expansion into another art form, that of photography. I am so appreciative for the gift of writing and sharing with you all and am thoroughly excited for another year ahead. I’m focusing on this sensation of brimming with enthusiasm and of course I’ll be sharing more exploits. (I thought of another driving post I could do!)

May 2012 bring you a tidal wave of happy moments, new adventures, and fulfillment until you burst.

See you on the flip of the calendar!

Last of the blooms

A top favorite photo from 2011.

A hug from the soul

Make lists of positive aspects. Make lists of things you love—and never complain about anything. And as you use those things that shine bright and make you feel good as your excuse to give your attention and be who-you-are, you will tune to who-you-are, and the whole world will begin to transform before your eyes. It is not your job to transform the world for others—but it is your job to transform it for you. A state of appreciation is pure Connection to Source where there is no perception of lack.

— Abraham*

“They” always say that when you are at your lowest, it is when you need to feel gratitude the most.

I don’t know about you, but I have a really really tough time doing that. When I am severely down in the dumps and despair is the main feeling radiating throughout my mind and body, clinging to gratitude does not come naturally to me.

However, while I sit in my house this weekend thinking of those on the East Coast who are contending with Hurricane Irene, I remember to be grateful.

I sit comfortably at my computer in an air-conditioned home, with plenty of running water and food at my disposal, the weather is beautiful, the streets are quiet. I have a good job and work with really nice people. I get weekends off; I had time to relax and even nap today. My dog is sweet and healthy, my boyfriend and I are not suffering from any health issues at the moment, and we have celebratory brunch plans for Kevin’s birthday tomorrow.

We have a functioning car with working seat belts, air conditioning, heat, cruise control, airbags, cup holders, automatic windows, remote, and CD player. It’s five years old and is at a time in its mechanical life that it needs a little extra TLC and maintenance, but that is the way of life. I am grateful that it runs well and gets us where we need to go. When I complain about wanting a new car, I will try to remember to recite this to myself.

Despite the litany of things I worry and mutter about throughout the week, I am not lacking. I have more than enough. Relatively speaking to those in the world, I am a rich woman, and that is not easy for me to say. (I focus on feeling poor wayyy more than I do feeling abundant.)

But today, I am making a point of taking the time to reflect on all that I do have. Feeling gratitude and appreciation is like receiving a hug from my soul. It sounds corny but it’s really true. It’s in that feeling place that I can acknowledge that all is well. Again, not easy to remember in the day-to-day stuff we all get caught up in.

So even though I am not directly affected by Hurricane Irene this weekend, I know many people on the East Coast whom I care about and I am thinking of them.  And I remain grateful for the loved ones in my life and for my circumstances. Right now.

The Rainbow from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.stuckincustoms.com

 *Excerpted from the book “Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Health, Wealth and Happiness” by Esther and Jerry Hicks, 2008

Can you keep a secret?

Shhh.

Photo courtesy of ~robot robot lover on Flickr

I had a fleeting thought the other day: are bloggers good secret keepers? Or are we in a special category because we have a public Internet presence? (I suppose saying “public Internet” is like saying PIN number–redundant and unnecessary.)

In my case, I can certainly keep things to myself that other people tell me in confidence. But I am a pretty open person and don’t mind talking about myself to most people, creepoids excluded. I also have a hard time buying gifts more than one week in advance for loved ones and not spilling the beans on what it is. I may have mentioned already that Christmas poses a huge problem for me because the anticipation just kills me. For weeks, I drop hints about how much my loved ones are going to love what I got them. Last year, I gave Kevin half of his presents early because I couldn’t stand to wait.

Now, I’m not saying I’m one of those people who has no tact or just blurts out what I’m thinking. I can actually be a pretty quiet person. I just mean to say that in my friendships with people, I have to compartmentalize friends into categories like Can Tell This Person Anything, Everything But Sex Stories or Fart Jokes, or Doesn’t Get My Humor. I suppose everyone has to do this to some degree but I keep detailed mental notes on what I can and cannot talk about with certain folks.

Having a blog allows me to write down many of the meandering thoughts that pass through my brain at any given moment. Sometimes it’s a miracle I even remember a topic for later if I don’t write it down right away. I find that a lot of my ideas or wonder-ments come to me while I’m driving (formerly it was on the subway when I lived in New York). But like dreams, they can be easily forgotten, gossamer wisps lost to the wind.

Naturally, not everything I think about or that has happened to me is written about on this blog. I have considered writing on more private topics but then I think that that goes against the grain of what this blog is about and would be better suited for a different medium – certainly a different kind of blog.

Still, I admire authors who have the ability to write short stories or memoirs of their lives where it gets rather down and dirty; we are reading about intimate moments that I don’t think I could fathom putting down on paper for any old stranger to read. Two examples come to my mind: Running With Scissors and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. One is by Augusten Burroughs and the other Chelsea Handler. Granted, the latter author’s books are written with a huge dose of tongue in cheek, but we’re still reading about all of her sexcapades in gritty detail. Hm, the word ‘sexcapades’ is officially on my blog now.

As for Running With Scissors, all of that dude’s family business is out there for anyone on the planet to know, albeit with a lot of humor and hindsight thrown in. I struggle with how much I want people to know about me and thoughts that I have which are deeper than complaints about salesmen and even what some of my childhood pasttimes were. I don’t know that I could keep a blog that is much more like a diary and one which I allow the world to see. I really possess such admiration for those who can regularly write out their innermost thoughts. Maybe it’s something a blogger or writer progresses towards, much like an actor who works on successfully drawing upon certain experiences in his or her lifetime to evoke a specific emotion for a scene.

But that begs the question again: does being a blogger/writer necessarily make a person naturally more open? Or can s/he remain an immensely private person regardless? Perhaps I should be directing this question to someone like J.D. Salinger, a notorious recluse, even after (and in spite of) the success of his books. (Side note: I do not think The Catcher in the Rye is one of the best stories ever written. Quite the contrary.)

Here’s my first attempt to put something out there I normally wouldn’t: bad as it sounds, I rather hope that if I get to the point where I feel comfortable publishing some seriously private ish, that I have a generous book advance in my bank account. That’s not to say that people are clamoring to read my life story, but it’s the private stuff that usually garners more attention and is more interesting to read.

How’s that for revealing? Eh, it’s a start.

And because this is Zoe Says and I usually leave you with something arbitrary or funny, the below picture is of a book I can actually highly recommend. Its title is apt. Some might call it “chick lit,” a term I’m not entirely comfortable with, but it’s a good story written by Miss Sophie Kinsella. If you don’t mind modern day romantic comedies with a British female protagonist, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy it. And with that, I’m off to my private life. I think it’s suppertime.

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