Monday, September 1, 2014

Back To School Ramblings

I start my second year of Vet Tech school tomorrow, and I have so many mixed emotions. I'm excited, nervous, grateful, and ready to learn. But I'm not ready to let go of this summer. This has been the first summer in several years where I wasn't in treatment or in what I'll call a "bad place." We've seen several country concerts, danced our butts off, discovered new music, traveled back to the place we first met to celebrate our five year anniversary, took long walks/hikes, visited my family in Florida; I've worked in an amazing animal hospital and have spent a lot of time with my grooming friends at Petco. I'm grateful for all of those gifts.

I had a few wonderful months in full recovery, and while I've slipped back a bit, I'm gaining traction and getting back on the right path. If it weren't for my husband, dogs, family, and friends, I'd be ruminating over my recent struggles. Instead, I'm finding new ways to cope with stress and sadness, and am hopeful that school will reignite my desire to be stronger, more flexible, more social.

I had never anticipated I'd be going back to school at my age. I know, I know-I'm still young, but I'm a hell of a lot older than my classmates, and in a completely different place in life. But this is my dream, and I'm lucky enough to pursue it.

But there's always the looming thought in the back of my mind: Am I good enough? Smart enough? Am I doing enough to make my life better? Am I trying hard enough to maintain recovery? These are all lofty questions, but through this blog, long talks, and journaling, I've planned out some positive steps to take in the next few months.

I've gone back and forth about deleting this blog because I'm not always sure I can talk about veganism, recovery and eating disorders and feeling down without setting myself up for judgement, but I'm trying to erase those thoughts and be true to myself.

The reality is that this is a life-long battle, but I'm a fighter. I find hope and joy in spending time with my husband, my dogs, being outdoors, listening to music, and remembering how far I've come.

So why is today such a bad day? 

It's my last day of summer, and I'm petrified that school will be overwhelming and that I'll struggle through classes, that I'll have no free time, that I'll put even more of a financial burden on my family. But instead of sitting around and crying about it (although I did a fair share of that), we took a walk in a park nearby and thought up fun things to do this year. I am going to make an active effort to reengage with the animal rights groups I belong to, and intend on making/keeping more social connections-something that has always been hard for me.

I dream of the day where I have a salary and a steady job, even if I earn next to nothing and have to work overnights or weekends. It's what I've wanted for so long, and I believe I deserve it.

On another note, I've learned a lot of things about myself this summer, too, and need to keep reminding myself of that:

1. As much as I like to call myself an introvert, I truly do enjoy being around people. Ok, some people..just being honest.
2. I need to stand behind my convictions, no matter how controversial they are. Admittedly, it's hard to hold some beliefs so strongly (being childfree, for example, which is difficult for many people to accept at my age) when they are far beyond the status quo.
3. I can find ways to 'urge surf' when I feel tempted to engage in behaviors. I started reading again, will take short walks, listen to country music (those of you who introduced me to this world, I can't thank you enough), watching awesome shows (Walking Dead, I love you), and writing.
4. I can take risks and survive. I can eat banana pancakes with loads of maple syrup and not pass out from anxiety. I can drink a beer and not calculate how many calories I'll need to burn afterwards.
5. I can take on a job that I have little to no experience for, soak up the knowledge of my coworkers, and grow my knowledge (thanks to you, MSPCA, I am not afraid of seeing the blood and guts of surgery).
5. There is happiness in every day. It might just be my cup of coffee in the morning or snuggling with Sigmund in my lap, but even if that's all I can find, it's something.
6. I can exercise without becoming compulsive. That's a HUGE leap. I find myself setting goals to become stronger, not thinner, and I love the muscles I'm starting to see-they indicate strength I never had before, and I need to be able to be strong for school and work.
7. Life isn't all doom and gloom. I have spent so many months/years/days drowning in anxiety and depression, but that doesn't make me less of a person. I'm a fighter, and when those bad days come, I can proactively turn them around. Or cry and scream into a pillow, because that works pretty well, too.
8. There is more to life than school, work, (endless) errands and doctors' appointments. It's nice to find ways to up my happiness quotient that are *FREE* and available on a daily basis. That may mean journaling, reading, hanging with the dogs, or trying out a new recipe.
9. Love. It is all around me.
10. Money can't buy happiness. Not that we have much to go around now, but recalling the times that I did have a steady and well-paying job, I was miserable. This is what I want to do with my life, and I'd do anything to make it a possibility.

I'm grateful for the chance to make my dream of working with animals a reality. I might not be a people person, but introduce me to a four-legged furry, and I'm a goner. I can't wait to see the animals at school and care for them. I can't wait to learn new things about veterinary technology. And I can't wait to gain back the ground I lost so I can focus on the more important things in life.

If you made it to the end of this, congrats. And if you feel like commenting, please do so below. I read every suggestion and comment, and I like to know that someone out there is listening. Next time, I'll post something upbeat..maybe rainbows and unicorns?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Quit

I finally did it. I smoked (hopefully) my last cigarette on Sunday night. It was a good one, and I savored every second of it (not going to lie). But it was time to quit. I have lost track of how much money, time, energy, and livelihood I've spent on cigarettes, and while I'm hoping this is my first and last quit, I am being patient with myself.

When I started smoking last year, I was in a very different place emotionally, physically, and...geographically. While I was at ERC, we were allowed outside four times a day. Big deal for a treatment center. Most of the time, I would go downstairs with the non-smoking crew, chat about what groups/outings we might have that day and stare longingly at the Starbucks across the street..or pace around, which always got me in trouble.

One day, I decided to go upstairs with the smokers. They got to stand on top of the roof deck (read: parking lot) and look up at the sky over the mountains. It was a beautiful view. I asked someone for a cigarette (camel crush, menthol), and got my first of many head-rushes. I instantly liked it. It provided some stress relief, bonding, and time to stare at the stars. I had someone buy me my first pack the next day.

When I moved out of inpatient into the partial program, I could smoke ANY TIME I WANTED. And I did. I used cigarettes to prepare me for meals or tough outings (and there were plenty of those). I used cigarettes to connect with other people, although I connected with many people who didn't smoke at all. Surprisingly, I never used them to squelch my appetite, despite popular conceptions about smoking and eating disorders.

So here I am over a year later. I've been in one more treatment center that allowed smoking, and honestly, some of my best memories are of sitting on the porch late at night with my friends, comforting each other, laughing at nothing, and dreaming about diet coke and coffee.

But now I'm 28 (almost 29). I am in an incredibly challenging Vet Tech program, work as a grooming assistant, am a surgery extern at a major animal hospital, and volunteer for a dog rescue group. I am emotionally and physically healthier than I've been in...14 years, if not more. I will celebrate my 5 year wedding anniversary this August, just adopted a guinea pig (and she'll be getting a sister soon!), and have two growing, adorable, energetic dogs to care for. I simply don't have the money (that's potentially the biggest motivator right now), lung capacity, and need for cigarettes anymore.

So I quit. It's incredibly, incredibly hard- and I am going cold-no patches, gum, etc. I just keep reminding myself of why I'm doing this. I have a picture of my dad and me on my phone's Quitter app as inspiration. If he quit after 40 years of smoking, I can do this. I'm on day 5 now (actually, day 5, 12 hours, 44 minutes) and have already saved $45.63 and 12 hours of my life.

If you're quitting, too, I wish you loads of determination, strength, and patience. Luck doesn't play a part of it. It's our choice, and as FREAKING hard as it is, we can do this.

Peace and healthy lungs,


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Eat Like a Bird

Ok, so maybe not literally..but birds do eat lots of yummy things (fruits, nuts, seeds) that fit well into a vegan/plant-based diet. One food that find its way into bird feeders and bird seed mixes is millet. Millet, a small, nutrient-packed grain, can be topped with veggies, herbs, and sauces; can be stuffed into peppers or eggplant; can be used as a pilaf. It has a slightly nutty taste, and if cooked long enough, can be mashed like potatoes. It is high in copper, phosphorous, magnesium..all good things that promote good health (you can check out the link above-I didn't feel like boring you even more than I am).

We eat a lot of different grains at home, but we tend to stick to a few favorites: quinoa (so stereotypical, but delicious), brown rice, barley, bulgur and whole wheat couscous. Every so often we'll cook up polenta, roast potatoes and yams, or boil some pasta. We do have some of the less well-known grains, legumes and seeds -and have tried a few once or twice-but they stay in the back of the pantry.

So as part of my goals for recovery, I've decided to try one new, scary, or 'treat' food a week. Millet didn't seem scary, but it was new, and it got me out of my comfort zone a little. I know that might sound pathetic to people who don't have a complicated relationship with food, but even a 'healthy' thing can be scary. I'll give you one example: I love bananas. I get major, major cravings for bananas and cheerios at breakfast, but I'll usually stick to what I'm used to. But the good news is, I'm getting to the point now where I am actually listening to my maybe I'll pick up those cheerios tomorrow.

Back to..THE MILLET.

I did some perusing of the kick-ass Veganomicon (Isa Chandra, you are a goddess). She had a great recipe for basic millet, which I followed to a tee. But I didn't see any other millet recipes that I liked, so I picked some fresh spring veggies to sauté with a little bit of olive oil. I added thawed, frozen baby lima beans for protein, and after cooking for about 7 minutes, served the sautéed veggies and beans over the millet. I topped each dish with fresh lemon juice. And we always have bread and soymilk with dinner-VERY refined.

It turned out to be one of my favorite meals of this spring. The millet was perfectly salted, nutty, and a little less seed-like than quinoa. It fluffed up nicely, and was a great bed for the sautéed snow peas and baby limas.

Here is the recipe:

Basic Millet (From Veganomicon)

Serves 4

1 Cup millet
2 Cups water
1 Tsp. salt

1. Preheat a heavy skillet  (preferably cast iron) over medium. Put in the millet and toast for about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Once the millet is golden brown and smells toasty, transfer it to a pot, add the water and salt, cover, and bring to a boil.
3. Once the water boils, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until the millet is soft.

Sautéed Snow Peas with Baby Limas and Lemon Juice

1 Lb. snow peas, de-stemmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Cups thawed frozen baby lima beans (can also use edamame)
1 lemon

1. Preheat pan on high for 5 minutes. Add oil to coat.
2. Add snow peas and baby lima beans to pan. Turn heat to medium. Stir frequently to incorporate and so the veggies cook evenly, about 7 minutes.
3. Fluff millet with a fork, and divide among 4 plates. Serve sautéed veggies and beans on top of millet. Drizzle with lemon juice, and if desired, add 1/4 tsp. sea salt.

Enjoy! (And I promise, it DEFINITELY doesn't taste like bird seed...although the bird seed blends with the peanuts and sunflower seeds don't look so bad...)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Photos From The Past

Usually I enjoy looking at pictures from the past. Photos from my wedding, when I was a child, first photos with our pups...but I found a few this week that almost made me cry. We had visited a farm animal sanctuary, and there are photos of me with all of the animals. You can see the joy in my face as I fed a baby cow, cuddled with goats and chased chickens, but my eyes look slightly vacant. I look incredibly gaunt, all bones and little flesh, clothes barely fitting my child-like body. I look seriously ill. It amazes me now that no one said anything, that I didn't get more concerned stares. Most of all, I'm shocked that I couldn't see the reality in the mirror.

I chose not to include the pictures here because they might be triggering and could also be seen as glorifying a starved body. But they're out there.

They were another reminded of how far gone I was in my eating disorder.

I also found pictures of me with my family during a dinner out. It was the middle of the summer, and everyone looks glowing, tan, and healthy. I look pale, bony, and drawn. I can't erase those pictures, and I don't know if I want to-they are a reminder of how far I've come and where I never want to be again.

When I look in the mirror now, I see a little bit of a pot belly, the result of weight gain that has yet to distribute itself to other areas of my body. My favorite pair of jeans no longer fits, and I have countless shirts that are too tight or too revealing. The first time I put the jeans on, I had a minor freak out. Of course, I chose to wear them on a day that was already going to be stressful (we had a party to go to, and I'm still not exactly comfortable in large social situations). But once I figured out they weren't going to button, I put on the jeans that I'd bought when I was in treatment, and they fit perfectly (for anyone reading that's spent time at ERC, I bought them on one of our many Target sprees).

At each doctor's visit, my weight creeps up a little more, proving that sticking to my meal plan has worked. But I'm not just sticking to my meal plan. I'm eating 'outside the box' now, baking more cookies, trying new (scary) recipes, and eating LOTS of peanut butter....things my body is craving.

I have yet to ask my team when 'enough is enough', and I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm afraid of the answer. I feel like I've gained enough, but I don't know if that's the truth.

It's been over a year since my discharge from ERC and this August, it will be a year since I left CEDC. Each time I was in treatment, my weight gain freaked me out so much that I immediately went back to exercising daily. That hasn't happened this time around. I'm learning to appreciate the softness of my body, my ability to lift heavy dogs at work, the curves I've started to gain back (please come back sooner!!). I look less like a sick child and more like a 28 year-old woman.

I don't yet have the strength to throw out my sick clothes, though. It's as a if a part of me believes I'll need them again. But I know soon enough, I'll be making the trip to Goodwill. Hopefully when I'm there, I can pick up some funky things that fit my new and changing body.

So take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and instead of pointing out the flaws, try and thank your body for all it can do and for where it can take you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Mother's Day Means to Me

Mother's Day can be a lot of things to a lot of people. First and foremost, I see it as a celebration of my own mother. She has been there through thick and thin, guiding me and believing in me no matter how many times I stumble. She taught my sister and me to be kind, caring, inquisitive, and brave. My mom was the one who held onto hope when I was at my lowest points, and always stood by me regardless of how much I pushed her (and anyone who wanted to help me) away. I know she's reading this-because she's a great mom and reads everything I write (hi mom!!), and while she is not vegan or vegetarian (mom...), she listens to everything I have to say about animals and animal advocacy, and never neglects to tell me how proud of me she is.

So mom, happy Mother's Day, and thank you for all you do and have done.

That being said..

Mother's Day also reminds me that there are so many animals who have their children stolen from them so we can eat them, their secretions (yes, milk and cheese and eggs are all derived from animal secretions, as if that isn't gross enough to make you stop eating them), or strip them of their skin and wool. I may only be a mother to two furry creatures with four legs, but I this process is so horrific, and I can't understand how we can continue to support these actions.

Here are a few facts for you about the maternal instincts of animals and what happens to them (and their babies) so we can eat them or their secretions.

Cows: Cows are incredibly maternal animals, and when they give birth, it is love at first sight. Throughout their lives, they maintain a close social and parent/child bond, and when separated, experience extreme stress. Cows that are used for the dairy industry are forcibly impregnated to maintain milk production throughout the year. Upon giving birth, they immediately produce milk and nutrient-dense colostrum to nurture their young. On factory farms or dairies, their infant is rarely allowed to stay with the mother or drink her milk. If they have a female calf, that calf will be taken away and as soon as she is of age, is impregnated so she can produce milk as well. If it is a boy, he is either killed or sold into the veal industry. The cycle repeats itself until the mother can no longer produce milk and is sent to slaughter.

Chickens: Hens are also very maternal, and begin to nurture their young from the moment they lay their eggs. They cluck softly to their young (and their babies chirp back!) and will turn the eggs multiple times to keep them warm. When their chicks hatch, the mother hens will use their wings to protect their chicks from predators, and will refuse to leave their nests even in the case of extreme threat. On almost all farms that are dedicated to egg production, chickens are kept in cages the size of a sheet of paper. They cannot turn around, stretch their wings, or nest. Once their eggs hatch, they are taken away immediately and are inspected for gender. If they give birth to a male, it will be thrown away or chopped into pieces to be used as feed for cows or pigs, animals kept in zoos, or other captive animals. Female chicks will be placed in cages and used for egg production. They are killed after about a year when egg production declines. 'Broiler' chickens do not even reach sexual maturity: they are slaughtered after a few short months of torture.

Pigs: Wild pigs will travel miles to search for the perfect birthing spot and build a large nest in which to birth their young. Their piglets, once born, are kept close by and are nurtured by the mother sow for several months. Pigs are incredibly bright, and studies show that they are as bright (or brighter) than three-year-old children, dogs and cats. On factory farms, pigs are kept in gestation crates and like cows, are forcibly impregnated. Their cages are too small for the pigs to even turn around, and they can develop severe infections, injure themselves extensively by attempting to escape the cage or move around. Right before they give birth, they are moved to farrowing crates which, like gestation crates, barely allow for any movement. They only real difference between gestation and farrowing crates is that their is a small concrete space in the cage so that they have 'room' to give birth. The mother sow cannot see her young (as she cannot turn around), but can suckle them for about three weeks until they are taken away to be raised as meat.

I know this an incredibly long post, but it's important that we realize that the animals we turn into commodities are individual beings with natural instincts, maternal drives, and a desire to live and let their young thrive. If we took a good hard look at the results of meat and dairy consumption and the impact it has on every creature kept captive, I wonder if we'd still be as willing to enslave them and turn their children into feed, trash, or cogs in a machine.

That's all for now, but if you want to know more about these animals or others, here are some resources:

PETA: Animal Moms
Dairy Cows Fact Sheet
Fact Sheet: Laying Hens
Poultry Farming
The Pig Industry