Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Critical Path

Where to begin with the huge subject of Health and Lifestyle? Whole talk shows manage to make this the cornerstone of their daily episodes. Celebrities the land over bombard us with new "plans". Reputable scientists and doctors - and those of questionable credit, moreover - churn out book after book.

I'm feeling sort of overwhelmed.

So I thought I'd start at the start - give you the personal preamble (honest but not so brief, to be honest), the reason I turned my mind to this monstrous topic in the first place:

I was in pretty good shape during my 20s. What does that mean exactly? Well, I was a vegetarian for a number of years, I walked miles a day (always have), did upwards of 10 hours of yoga a week (I was an Iyengar teacher throughout my 20s), got a lot of sleep and my weight was stable. I was also addicted to sugar and rather stressed, but then what self-respecting 20-something isn't?

I had a baby just before I turned 30. It was a turning point and, in brief, it was a destabilizing experience for me. My introduction to parenthood was by my own standards hideously stressful. I went through labour drug-free (yes, I am an idiot); there were complications. Then there were initial, post-natal concerns about my daughter's health. I am so grateful to say she's a healthy, happy, thriving girl. But the first couple of weeks of motherhood were traumatizing and they escalated my already keen levels of anxiety. The three years that followed were a haze of sleep-deprived misery. I did not enjoy motherhood. I feared it. (Never mind that I was also working full time, trying to co-manage a household, maintain a marriage and reclaim some small sliver of my former self...)

To compensate - well, I did many things to compensate, but the ones that are most germane to this discussion are these:
  • I ate. Like a lot. Like bags of cookies and chips. In stress-induced fits after prime time.
  • I abused sugar and caffeine. (That did wonders for my personality.)
  • I elevated anxious behaviours to an artform.
  • I walked compulsively.
  • I did a lot of yoga in the middle of the night.
  • I didn't go to bed until fatigue overwhelmed me, so as to avoid being woken by that curdling nighttime cry that tiny children come out with, only during the depths of their parents' sleep cycle.
By the time my child was 6, I'd burned the candle to the extent that it was a nub of string and a mushy goo. I was unwell constantly. I had gained weight. I had other intriguing physical symptoms (the indicators of extreme stress and an immune system that was all but shot). I got really sick and had to take 2 weeks off from work on doctor's orders. I spent that entire 2 weeks in a crush of sickness. It was enough time to seriously consider the impact of my lifestyle on my health for the long term. And then I realized: it really had to change.

Bear with me, I know this post is a behemoth.

Being the kind of girl I am, and under the influence of those OTC medications that cause me to hallucinate, I developed a sort of strategic plan for wellness expressing the mandate to restore balance of mind, body and ego (that's the lose weight and pallor part, in case it's not clear) by whatever means necessary. And being the kind of girl I am, I hit this sucker over the head with 87 tactics simultaneously, simply to increase the odds of my success.

BTW, I mention all of this, not to overshare, but to contextualize what comes next. I am very fortunate in that I started from a position of health (in my 20s) and that I was holistically-minded. Very fortunate that I am educated about diet, nutrition, exercise (specifically yoga) and other modalities to restore wellness. Very fortunate that I made the choice to change and that I am willing and able to incur the ongoing (and occasionally steep) costs ($$$ - but also discipline) of my "transformation".

Tomorrow, I'll talk more about the mandate and those high-level tactics. (Now I bet you're really starting to wonder about what kind of crazy ass day job I have :-))


  1. Thank you for your honesty.

    I'm sure many of us have had experiences that would/could lead us to the point where we decide to make changes in our lives.

    What's really great is that you have awareness. And even greater is your willingness to make changes so you can be healthier.

    Your family will appreciate that, and so will you.

    I'm fascinated and can't wait to see where you go with this.

  2. Wow! I appreciate posts like this one because I always find such commonalities among and between women that are, I think, fortifying.

    I look forward to your forthcoming health posts . . .

    And btw, I did the drug-free births too--strong woman/marathon runner (flawed?) logic. If I had a fourth, which I hope not to do ;-), I don't think I'd be so stoic!

  3. E: I regret to inform you that it's a long, rambling road over the next few posts. Man, it's been a challenge to get all the information out, to say enough but not too much, to give my opinions without sounding like I expect anyone else to agree with them. Gotta say, writing about fashion is easier! Thanks for your vote of confidence.

    Miss C: I often think about you when I'm writing (a woman of similar age and stage, a mother, a transplanted Canadian). Gotta say, if ever I had another baby (which I don't intend to do), they'd have to knock me out, pull out the baby, and wake me up when it was over. I can't believe you managed not one but 3 births that way. You are a vertible superwoman!

  4. Before you start guilting yourself out, let me share. First born. 42 weeks. Induced. Felt like trying to reverse park an SUV out my arse. Given Pethadine to calm it all down and start again next morning. Next morning, waters broken with a crochet hook (who knows) and I think I started crying and abusing the cable guy in my SHARED ward so my husband made them move me to the labour ward early. Spent next 20 hours naked, walking around trying to escape my labour. Had Epidural, Spinal, and some gas. The gas just annoyed me by that stage. Finally gave birth a full 30 hours after first induction with sister and husband operating hand pumped ventouse (who knew? I thought it would be like a dust buster)
    And Little boo was born after Obs gave me a "zipper" to help him out.
    Boo was in special care for a few hours while I went off to theatre to have third stage of labour.
    Bratty was a planned caesarean after she was diagnosed breech at 36 weeks and no amount of hippy shit alternative therapy would pursuade her to turn around. She hasnt changed in 8 years.
    Given my time again? I would have had Boo by Caesar.Should have had Boo by Caesar, but 2 other women were having emergency caesars at the same time, hence the zipper. Feck the whole natural birth. If you are scared shitless then there isnt anything natural about it. And I know where I would rather have stitches; especially after that first pee.

    So please don't go blaming yourself for anything that followed your natural but risky and scary birth and what you did to try and heal your body and soul afterwards. People who are driven by career are so goal oriented, they score themselves too poorly when they don't do the parent or motherhood thing 100%. You made a person with your own body. You kept them alive and well. Give yourself a raise. Key Productivity Indicator ACHIEVED.

    No one who looks that great in a leotard and pale tights (your photo) could ever do anything wrong. xx

  5. don't mind me if I silently stalked the next couple of posts because I'll likely to chime in with some inappropriate and perhaps unwelcome muppet-esque commentary!

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. Although I don't have a baby...I am curious of the impact of motherhood. Actually, it purely terrifies me - including the transformation of your body and mind. I'm very excited to see how you have worked and gained back your strength. I could use some of those tactics!

  7. remember back in the college days, i can control my weight with such ease. but now it's such an effort even though i am still a size Chanel 34/36. I am scared silly with stories of motherhood and yet still looking forward to my future children.

  8. Hammie: OMG, I cannot imagine those experiences - esp. the first with Boo. (Well, actually I can imagine cuz I had the crochet hook and zipper thing but 30 hours is mad torture.) Thank you for your excellent pep talk (really smart talk) about not judging oneself for not being perfect. I think we modern mothers are up against a lot of our own insane expectations. I think if there's one thing we can tell young women about before they have children is that expectations of perfection are both counterproductive and IMPOSSIBLE (regrettably :-))

    Love your comment about your daughter going her own way from the get go. Mine is so that way too!

    Mr. Matt: I so appreciate your discretion :-) Glad to know you will be reading. K

    Pls. Sir: I hope I don't pose more questions than answers :-)

    Savvy: It's a trip, that's for sure. Enjoy your size 34 now! (Not that you won't regain it after a baby but it's always good to love what you've got when you've got it!)

  9. You are awesome for sharing this, lady. Thank you.

    Although I am not a parent, I am all too familiar with the amazing havoc that anxiety can wreak upon the human body. One of my best friends is an Orthodox Jew living in NYC. Our lives couldn't be more different, yet we are able to quickly diagnose each others' physical ailments as stress-induced because we are WIRED the same way. That you found a way to yank yourself out of the cycles of anxiety is impressive to the point of heroism. To me, anyway.

    I look forward to learning more, and thanks again for telling us your tale.

  10. That's some story. I am fascinated. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I did the natural childbirth thing too, twice. I tried to look at it as an endurance athletic event and trained hard for it. I was actually in the gym the day I gave birth to my daughter, doing squats (luckily I didn't go into labor right there). Everything went as planned: excruciating pain, followed by healthy babies, but knowing what I know now, I'd opt for a C-section.

  12. Sal: Thank you for your comment. I find it fascinating that you and your friend are so in sync. Anxiety is the tie that binds us all :-) But seriously, to know someone whose constitution is so similar must be comforting...

    Wendy: I'm glad you find it fascinating because it's (regrettably?) just getting started :-)

    IHeart: See, I understand doing it once, but twice?? You should have taken that c-sec when you could get it :-) Of course, I'm sure your babies are very healthy for having not been subjected to drugs while being born. But really, priorities...

  13. I do think that mothers are the true modern warriors. Anyway, in the spirit of full disclosure/forgetfulness, I should add that I had my third baby by emergency c-section, after going through all the labor and pushing for an hour. He was simply too big--massive head, 10.8 lbs--and I was put to "sleep" for the surgery.

    But there was another drug too, namely pitocin, which in my experience is the most horrid labor aid imaginable. It gave me extra strong contractions, and, I believe, that it so imposes itself on your body that your natural self can't catch up. So you're ready to push, but you're not ready to push.

    So I realize that there were drugs, but of a different sort . . .

  14. Miss C: I can fully understand how you might have blocked that last delivery from your mind :-) Honestly, that's one huge baby! (Were your girls big too? Are you a tall person? For some reason I imagine that you are kind of petite...) There is no justice when a woman, ahem, modern warrior, has to live through nightmarish labour and then push for an hour before getting knocked out!

  15. Oh, and I should have responded to the pitocin part. I agree that it is a rather evil drug - I mean, potentially necessary in rare instances, but vastly overused. I can't tell you the number of women I know personally who were overdue, got the drip, went into scary labour, needed an epidural stat just to manage without passing out, which then stopped the labour and a C was the final result. So I hear you about that. I mean, I could barely manage the contractions and I didn't take anything to gear them up! I had a pretty fast labour though, which tends to up the intensity, I've heard.