A Thing You Should Do, and the Jen Fitz Mid-Summer Update

What’s with the radio silence?  Let me just tell you.

But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’s Theology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity.  The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could.  So put that on your calendar.

The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.”  I usually stick to code on these things.  But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically.  I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.


Now back on topic.  A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”

Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer.  So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.

File:Souq Waqif, Doha, Catar, 2013-08-05, DD 107.JPG
I needed a picture that would preview well. I love this one. It’s by: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0. Click on the image to see all the details.

The very, very, long answer:

But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed!  Isn’t that cool?!  I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind.  June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.

I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation.  Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse.  No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.

It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.

Some other interesting body-things for this summer:

Dang it I can’t talk anymore again.  The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time.  This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.)  80% isn’t 100%.  On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.

–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations.  Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking.  So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour.  But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.

Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.

Except for some other problems.

The stamina isn’t there.  This is a thing that keeps confusing me, because I swing all day long between being really quite fit and functional and being completely incapacitated with fatigue.  Here are a series of excerpts from a description I came across that describes me dead-on:

Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .

This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again.  Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day.  More on that below.

I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:

Impaired oxidative phosphorylation  [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.

Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”

The answer is that at this writing, no I am not.  But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot.  (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache.  Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad.  So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is.   I think most other people can also use those adjectives.

[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.”  I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs.  So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]

And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:

Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.

This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life.  Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there.  Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.

And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:

. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.

This thing I hate.  I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks.  Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately.  I just get all the fatigue.  (Um, and I always have a cough.  So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)

Exercise does help.  The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do.  Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise.  I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.

–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time.  If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards.  Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep.  There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.

The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others.  So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do.  Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.

Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.  Not being snarky there.  I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”)  Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).

So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible.  I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues.  If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later.  It might be just lucky coincidence.

Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:

Heat intolerance!

It took me a long, long time to figure this out.  Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.

I live in a warm climate.  I don’t mind being sweaty.  I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day.   Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on.   I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself.  (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).

The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”

It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise.  Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.

The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate.  Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.”  But it’s certainly my loudest.  As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE.  This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing.  I’m home all day with four kids.  There’s noise.  There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.

What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides).  And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.

So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog.   I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that.  But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:

Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake.  Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me.  I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.

So we went.  And I was fine.  Dreamy fine.  No problems.  Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc.  Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.

Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy.  Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often?  Two reality checks:

  • Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
  • If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.

So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.

And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning.  So yeah, CAWOG.  I’m rolling with it.

I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut.  (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there.  I guess it’s dry now.  But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.