Social Distancing Grocery Shopping

social distancing grocery shopping
Social distancing grocery shopping produces some odd but tasty combinations. Pictured is a cannellini bean salad with carrots and celery and Italian spices.

Grocery shopping used to be a relatively enjoyable task, at least for me. I was social distancing way before it was a government order. Shopping at our local co-op was one of the few outings I allowed myself. I would spend half an hour or so looking over the organic produce, frozen vegetables, and prepared foods, hoping something I needed was on sale or at least offered at a decent price. After the spread of COVID-19, grocery shopping became a robotic task filled with fear and angst. By my third trip to the co-op (I’m going only once every 7-9 days), I finally got a system down that helps ease some of the anxiety I feel as an immune-compromised shopper.

An old-fashioned paper list is my new best friend. I was using Google Keep on my phone for grocery lists, but not now. I use scrap paper from the piles of junk mail we get and divide my list into sections. Produce, meat, bulk, frozen, canned, and refrigerated are my usual subheadings. Each subheading has its own corresponding list, which helps me get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. No more dawdling and no more browsing, but it’s worth it for a little peace of mind.

Sacrifices for the Sake of the Budget

I normally get my groceries from the co-op and a big-box store. I almost exclusively eat organic food (yes, my grocery bill is super high, but I also literally never go to restuarants or drink alcohol, so it evens out). The co-op often prices the exact same food– same brand, same date, etc.– much higher than the chain store, and while I like to support local, I don’t have unlimited funds to do so.

Now, though, I can’t take the risk of hitting the chain, so I reconfigured my idea of staple foods to my my co-op experience as affordable as possible while still buying things that won’t make my health decline. Potatoes and strawberries are my main sacrifices right now. I simply cannot afford to pay $8 for a small box of organic strawberries that I normally pay much less for at the chain. Same with potatoes. They’re a rare treat now.

Evolution of the Shopping Experience

When all the coronavirus panic began, I wasn’t sure what to do or what to buy. I didn’t want to be a hoarder, but I also didn’t want to have to make unnecessary trips to the store. On my first trip to the co-op, I bought a lot of frozen organic vegetables and canned tuna. On my second trip a week later, I relaxed my concerns a little and focused more on fresh foods, especially those that could be cooked rather than eaten raw. I went for a mixture of sturdier items like carrots and more quick-perish items like chard. The co-op, like all stores, has its share of empty shelves. With a little improvisation, I mostly got what I needed. By my third trip, I really got the system down.

My Routine

I only go shopping on a weekday morning, but not immediately after the store opens when I suspect there’s a crush of people vying for soap and toilet paper. I go about an hour after the place opens. First and foremost, I make sure I don’t forget my paper list. Next, I take off my wedding ring and watch and leave them safely at home. Then I take my license and credit card out of my wallet and zip them into the waistband pocket of my shorts. I get a paper mask– we still have a few from pre-virus yardwork– and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Then I try to enjoy the simple act of driving and listening to music. Admittedly, I’m not finding the trip very enjoyable these days.

Once I’m at the store, I park next to a cart return corral as far from the store as possible. Usually no one else parks out there, which adds a little reassurance to my routine. I drive a pickup truck with a camper shell over the bed, and I open the shell and the tailgate before going inside. A tiny bottle of hand sanitizer sits in a corner of the truckbed for when I return with groceries. I zip my key into the pocket with my license and credit card.

The mask goes on when I’m about twenty feet from the entrance to the store and take one last breath of unfiltered fresh air to calm myself down before donning the mask. I remind myself that I’ll see people on every part of the spectrum, from terrified to arrogant, and that their actions have nothing to do with me. Then I grab a cart and sanitize it with the spray that the store provides. Finally, I start shopping from my list.

My List

Nowadays, I’m buying much less frozen and canned food than I was when all this started. I’m still hesitant to buy anything prepared, like my beloved kale salad, but maybe I’ll get back to that one day. Some fresh standbys include: bananas; carrots; onions; lemons; apples; and cabbage. All of those things have relatively long shelf life for organic fresh produce.

Canned standbys include: tuna; salmon; garbanzo beans; and kidney beans. I grab soy milk from the fridge for my wife and Nutpods coffee creamer for me. I get whatever nuts are on sale from the bulk bins– last week it was pecans!– plus split peas and lentils and oatmeal. I buy frozen fruit if it’s on sale. Lately it hasn’t been. I choose whatever is a decent price from the butcher, which nowadays is a mystery until I see what’s in stock. I try to buy things that will go together to make good meals but it doesn’t always work. We’ve definitely eaten some weird but nutritious combinations lately.

Once I pay– the checkout process is always the most tense, since that’s where I encounter the most people and have to use the communal credit card machine– I sanitize my hands before leaving. Then I wheel the car to my truck and put the bags in open bed. I return the cart to the corral next to my parking spot, then sanitize my hands with the sanitizer I leave in the truckbed. I lean over the passenger floorboard of my truck, pop the earpieces loose from my mask and let it fall to the floor, sanitize my hands again. Then I try to relax for the ride home.

Home Sanitizing Station

Once I’m home, there’s one last round of sanitizing before I can chill. This is the reality of social distancing grocery shopping. It doesn’t really end when the social contact ends, because the germs don’t just evaporate. We sanitize everything with either disinfectant spray and wipes or with soap and water. (Yes, I wash our bananas in soap and water.) I strip under the carport and drop my clothes in our washing machine, and then I take a shower while my wife puts away the groceries. Honestly, it’s a draining process, but I think I’d feel a lot worse if I didn’t do my utmost to protect myself, my family, and our community. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Chronic Illness and Coronavirus

For those of us with chronic illness, the unprecedented outbreak of the coronavirus presents a challenge with an extra layer of fear and concern. My white blood cell count is already low. I’ve been in relative social isolation for two months, way before I knew anything about COVID-19 (coronavirus). Having something new to fear is ramping up both my anxiety and my fear. Neither of those are good for general wellbeing, especially in someone who’s already chronically ill.

coronavirus social distancing
Fresh air can make a world of difference when I feel extra anxious.

Strategies for Sanity for People with Chronic Illness During the Coronavirus Outbreak

I’ve come up with a short list of things that are essential for me during this time of uncertainty and fear. The spread of the coronavirus and the panic that comes along with it is making life difficult for everyone. I hope this list helps you have a better day.

  • Go outside, especially when you feel extra anxious. Fresh air (away from other people) is a game-changer.
  • Breathe deeply. This is obvious, but it’s something I forget almost constantly. When I fear extremely worried, I tend to take shallow breaths. Stopping to focus on taking a few deep, slow breaths really does make a positive difference.
  • Read. Find books that are totally unrelated to current events and news. I read too much news, but at night, I only allow myself to read non-news items. I’m currently reading the entire 1930s Nancy Drew series.
  • Document your symptoms and include a few sentences about why you think certain things are better or worse. Documentation is valuable for you as a patient and for any caregiver who may need to know what’s going on with you. Medication, food, hydration, and/or supplements can then be adjusted accordingly to help you live a better life.
  • Drop any social media that’s causing you to feel bad or inflame existing negativity. I don’t get much good from Facebook nowadays, but Instagram is inspirational and socially connective.

Running with Lyme Disease

running with lyme disease
This is me on the last day I ran before making a deal with my acupuncturist to take a break.

Lyme disease sucks. One of the most frustrating things about Lyme disease in general, and perhaps more so for runners, is the conflicting advice offered by everyone from MDs to herbalists to bloggers. If you’re running with Lyme disease, get ready for an onslaught of “STOP IT RIGHT NOW” from the peanut gallery, combined with other, softer voices that tell you to continue to do what you love. I’ve only been diagnosed with Lyme disease for a couple months, and I’ve already heard more advice (welcome and unwelcome) than I can manage.

All I can speak of is my personal experience. One of my worst, strongest symptoms of Lyme disease is cognitive deficiency. On days when I was able (as in, not exhausted or in too much pain), running literally saved my life. Running became my only outlet for relief. The increased circulation, the endorphins, the outdoor air– I’m sure all these things and more contributed to my improved ability to think on the days I ran. Unfortunately, like many people running with Lyme disease, I hit a point where my physical symptoms became too severe to allow me to run. Reduced mileage wasn’t enough.

Taking a Break from Running

I’m currently in the midst of a break from running. It sucks. A lot. But the muscle spasms in my legs– and I mean every damn muscle from ankle to hip– became so severe that I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to stand up. The pain was incredible. Because the lateral thigh muscles spasmed the hardest, my kneecaps began to track laterally and grind against my femurs. I’m not exaggerating when I say the leg pain became some of the worst, possibly the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. There was no way I could run anymore when I couldn’t even walk.

Acupuncture

As my legs got worse, I increased my chiropractic treatment frequency, my foam-rolling time, and my stretching routine. Nothing helped. Not magnesium supplements, not a super-clean diet, not topical creams, not ice, not heat. You name it, I tried it. My coworker is a highly experienced massage therapist and referred me to an acupuncturist. I was doubtful, not of acupuncture in general, but of anything helping me. Lyme disease also dishes out a hearty dose of depression and anxiety along with cognitive disfunction, so my cynicism was at an all-time high. I made an acupuncture appointment with little hope for anything more than another pile of confusing advice.

During the initial evaluation, the acupuncturist told me she wasn’t going to target Lyme disease, but rather would target other problems to help with overall health. Her approach made sense to me, and she immediately noted a major deficit in my circulation. I had no doubt she was right, since I’d been spasming so much and my hands and feet are always ice-cold. She told me that, at least for a while, running with Lyme disease should not be on my agenda. I’m not a crier, but I came close to sobbing in front of her. Running was my last grasp on sanity, or at least it felt that way at the time.

I made a deal with her to stop running for a week (not that hard, in some ways, since my leg spasms were so severe). She wanted more time, but I only agreed to stop for a week. She explained that acupuncture, like most natural medicine that works with the body, takes time. I was essentially undoing her work if I kept depleting myself by running while in such poor health. I protested a bit more but eventually agreed to work with her twice per week. There was nothing to lose besides a little time and a lot of money. (The money is for a different post, but as anyone with chronic pain or chronic disease knows, it ain’t cheap to survive, let alone thrive.)

Progress

Fast forward to three acupuncture treatments later, and I’m doing better. It’s not just acupuncture– I take more supplements than most people will in a lifetime, wear compression garments, and use epsom salts– but I really feel a difference. It’s not fast, definitely not immediate, but something good is happening. My hands aren’t so cold, and my feet are a little less cold. My spasms decreased to the point that last night, for the first time in weeks, I didn’t wake up in agony or use compression garments in the middle of the night.

Of course my goals are to get extremely healthy, feel great, and beat Lyme disease. At this point, though, I want to get back to running. The reality is, I have to stop for a while so I can start again one day soon. I was well enough yesterday to slowly hike for a couple hours at the national seashore near my house, and that’s a major victory. I want so badly to run again, but I’ve had so many setbacks over the past decade that I’m trying to look at this as just one more temporary speed bump.

My next appointment with the acupuncturist is tomorrow and I actually look forward to it. It’s working, and that’s what matters. Anyway, if you’d like more info on herbal aids for the fight with Lyme, I’ve gotten a ton of help from Stephen Buhner’s book, and his website is archived at this link: Buhner Healing Lyme.

Running Again

I’m sure I’ll run again, and probably sooner than later. Lyme disease is rarely completely curable unless caught immediately, so “running with Lyme disease” is pretty much my new reality. Running with herniated discs, running with dystonia, and running with fibromyalgia have all been my reality, so here’s another one for the list. I’ll get back out there, just not tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going to walk, hike, and do as much as I can to stay strong and relatively healthy. It’s pretty cool to say I have a good acupuncturist on my side now. I’m cautiously hopeful and wildly dreaming of running again.

Running Gear Favorites

I write about serious health stuff a lot, but I also love to talk about lighthearted and upbeat topics. Life’s about balance, right? So, along with my very serious Lyme disease post, I’m also finishing 2019 by writing a quick highlight of three of my favorite pieces of running gear that I acquired this year.

Altra Kayenta

altra kayenta
The Altra Kayenta shoes are light and flexible enough for agility workouts in addition to running.

I was ridiculously devastated when Altra decided to discontinue their Intuition, but their new Kayenta helped dry my tears. They’re different from any shoes I’ve ever worn, but once I got over the novelty, I fell in love. They’re lightweight, flexible, (zero-drop like all Altras), and shaped like my feet. I like the colors, too.

Headsweats Hats

headsweats bigfoot
Headsweats makes trucker hats that actually fit my head rather than swallowing it. And they have Bigfoot on them! Well, not on all of them, but on several. This one’s my favorite.

I spent 2019 as a first-year ambassador for Team Headsweats, and it was such a cool experience. Not only did I get to connect with other outdoors-loving athletes, but I also got some really awesome gear from Headsweats. It’s hard to pick my favorite, but their Bigfoot collection wins in my book. I usually run in their high-visibility race hats and hike in the Bigfoot trucker. All of them are comfortable, have a black underside to the brim, and help keep sweat and sun out of my eyes.

AfterShokz Titanium Mini

aftershokz
I can hear cars, people, and animals just fine while also singing along to some embarrassing songs that shall go unnamed. Side note: that’s a Headsweats hat I’m wearing, and it doesn’t interfere with the Aftershokz headphones.

Many years ago, I ran with a tiny iPod shuffle and conventional headphones. After almost getting hit by a car– like, really almost getting hit– I never wore headphones outdoors again. I ran the wire up my abdomen and stuck the earbuds in my bra. Turning the volume all the way up basically turned them into tiny, horrible-quality speakers, and I sometimes got little raw circles on my chest from where the headphones rubbed. And then (cue the movie music for the big reveal) I read about AfterShokz, a company that produces open-ear, bone-conduction headphones for athletes. They’re life-changing. This photo is of them in action, not bouncing, rubbing, or making me deaf while I run across an intersection. The sound quality is excellent, although I refuse to admit to some of the bizarre and embarrassing stuff that’s on my playlist.

Did you get any new favorite running gear this year? If so, I’d love to hear about it. And here’s to the new year!

Chronic Lyme Disease

trail running
I’d like to say that 2019 was all about mountains, running, and enjoying nature, but in reality, I was in the fight of my life and for my life.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a 100% bad year, but 2019 came pretty close. Even as I type that, it doesn’t feel true. There were some absolutely awesome moments, from traveling for book tour events to hiking in gorgeous places to running past a bear in a tree. But overall, my health was terrible this year. Scary terrible. I finally got a definitive diagnosis, and it wasn’t good news: chronic Lyme disease.

In the past, the various diagnoses– cervical dystonia, fibromyalgia, relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, and the list goes on– ate away at my body and my mental health. Until this year, nothing attacked my cognition, and I can easily say that losing my ability to think clearly– to reason, to comprehend, to remember simple things– is the most terrifying problem I’ve ever had. The week of Thanksgiving, I finally got some clarity in the form of a doctor who spent nearly two hours with me, one-on-one, without interruption. From passing out in the hall in the middle of the night to getting lost in my own neighborhood to crushing headaches to constant exhaustion and a million other awful symptoms, the answer, for him, was simple. Lyme disease. Chronic Lyme disease, to be exact.

lyme disease
This photo represents how I spent a huge chunk of 2019. I took it during my lunch break at work. The bandage from a pre-work blood draw was still on my arm, and I was pale, miserable, and exhausted. I continued to work what were sometimes very long days, but by lunchtime most days, I could barely function. I’m lucky to work in a small PT/Chiropractic clinic where the staff is like family and comfort measures abound.

I was too sick for a while to fully comprehend anything, let alone a breakthrough diagnosis. I spent my days trying to make it through work at a job that I’ve done for almost nine years with previous relative ease. I spent my weeks wondering when bloodwork would come back (so. much. bloodwork.), and I spent my nights exhausted but unable to sleep. A depression that I can only describe as a feeling of being possessed took over. Migraine-like headaches left me even more exhausted.

Mast Cell Dysfunction

The first problem the doctor began to work on, almost immediately after our initial few minutes of discussion, was what he said is secondary mast cell dysfunction. I’d never heard of that before, and had no idea it could go hand-in-hand with chronic Lyme disease. I hadn’t even made much of a big deal about the symptoms, since they seemed so inconsequential compared to the other debilitating problems that I had. But when I described sneezing, coughing, gasping, and getting congested after every meal, the doctor paid close attention.

I showed him two videos (chronic pain patients know we need proof because practitioners often doubt what they can’t see) of me literally ingesting nothing but water and going into a massive sneezing fit. He diagnosed mast cell dysfunction and told me to immediately start taking Zyrtec every morning. I’m not a fan of Western medicine unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve been burned by side effects many times, but I reluctantly bought some store-brand Zyrtec and popped one before breakfast the next morning. No coughing, no sneezing, and barely a sniffle after I ate. It was just short of miraculous.

Lyme Diagnosis

The Lyme disease diagnosis was not so simple to handle. I’m learning more than I ever thought there was to know about Lyme disease, especially chronic Lyme disease. There’s a big chunk of practitioners who, for various reasons, fight about it, but I’d rather not go into that much. People will always have big opinions and big mouths, but I prefer to only listen to and respect the ones who deserve it. Dr. Richard Horowitz does a great job of explaining all this, if you’re interested. Look up his book called Why Can’t I Get Better for details. The main thing I know is, I’ve been very, very sick for a long time and now I finally know why.

I’m scared. I’m scared for my present and for my future. I wonder if I’ll ever get full cognitive function back, and the idea that I won’t is haunting. I have a binder dedicated to symptom tracking and Lyme disease information, and I’m beginning to solely focus (as much as possible) on majorly reducing my symptoms. There isn’t a cure, and I’m so NOT ok with that that I’m considering going back to school to become a researcher who works for a cure. In the meantime, I’m starting an herbal regimen (Stephen Buhner’s chronic Lyme disease protocol) and managing minute-to-minute fluctuations in energy, mood, and cognition.

lyme disease running
Running isn’t everything, but it’s a huge part of my happiness. I’m beyond grateful that, at least for now, the herbal regimen I started (plus my very clean diet) has allowed me to do what I love. Nothing about chronic Lyme disease is easy, but everything seems better after a good run.

After about a week on some high-quality, Lyme disease-targeting herbs, my energy level increased and I was able to start running again. That was a godsend. Running has long been my sanity-keeper, and the fresh air and trees are the best medicine for everything. I’m already a medical marijuana patient, so I have access to MMJ for sleep, but I also added CBD oil to my regimen. Lyme disease, once it spreads and becomes chronic, can cause an awful condition called Lyme arthritis, so I’m also starting on powdered gelatin. I made Golden Milk for the first time yesterday and am tightening up my diet more than ever. If you haven’t tried Golden Milk, I highly recommend Googling a recipe for it. It’s a warm concoction of anti-inflammatory foods, and while the turmeric can be a little potent for some people, I thought it tasted pretty good.

I started out reading everything and anything I could about chronic Lyme disease. I read studies that showed things like oregano oil and stevia work well to fight the bacteria, and other studies that showed garlic can be helpful. I read and read until knowledge-gathering become too much of an obsession, so now I’m alternating reading Lyme disease-related stuff with fun magazines and running books. Knowledge is power, but it can be oppressive, too.

I go back to the doctor in a few days and we’ll make a plan on how to go forward from here. I don’t know if he’ll want me to start strong, long-term antibiotics or not, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve talked to so many people who’ve had poor results from antibiotics and/or who had only very short-term success. But I’m sure they work great for some Lyme disease cases, and ultimately I have to decide what’s best for me, not for others.

I’m still spinning from the diagnosis and the fallout– I lived for YEARS with relapsing-remitting MS, except now I know that wasn’t true, and it’s freakin’ bizarre. I have a lot, lot more to say about chronic Lyme disease and how it’s affecting my life, my running, my work, but the brain fog is awful and it makes gathering thoughts quite challenging. For now, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite (so far) resources for chronic Lyme disease patients.

Lyme Disease Books

  • Stephen Buhner, an herbalist, has done extensive research on Lyme disease. You can buy his books on Amazon and learn a lot from his website. I bought Healing Lyme, and it’s a wonderfully informative, well-researched book. I would LOVE to meet Stephen but I recognize that this is a pipe dream of epic proportions.
  • Richard Horowitz is a doctor who’s worked extensively with Lyme disease patients. I bought his book Why Can’t I Get Better, and it’s a solid resource for a mixture of Western medicine, anecdotal evidence, real-life examples, and Eastern practices. He seems like the type of compassionate, thorough doctor that most of us would hope and pray would treat us.

Summer Trail Running

It’s not quite Thursday yet, but here’s my TBT to some awesome hiking and trail running this summer. I can’t wait until my iron deficiency clears up and I can hit the trails again! My new Altra Lone Peaks were barely broken in before my ferritin level dropped so low that I couldn’t run, and every time I see them in the closet, they look sad and ready to go. I can definitely relate!

It’s finally cooling down a little here in FL, which means prime trail running weather is almost here. The Florida Trail, which essentially runs from Pensacola Beach to the Everglades, is a great, diverse trail system. My favorite sections to run are through Blackwater State Forest and through the Gulf Islands National Seashore/Ft. Pickens property. I hope I’m well enough to run before November, but if I have to wait, so be it. My Lone Peaks and I will grit our teeth and wait. I’ve been through a lot this year, but I’ve never lost sight of my goals, hopes, and dreams. Onward, friends.

trail running
North Carolina is my favorite trail running destination.
altra lone peak
My new Altra Lone Peaks served me well and look quite nice next to a turkey feather.
female trail runner
I usually don’t wear headphones while trail running, but AfterShokz allow me to hear nature and music at the same time because they use bone conduction technology rather than blocking the ears.
mountain view trail running
I saw some of the most gorgeous parts of our planet while running this summer. The mountains are my favorite.

Low Ferritin Level

low iron food

I felt bad for months without answers and had no idea that low ferritin could be the culprit. The first sign or symptom, I think, was when my feet suddenly hurt so bad that I couldn’t walk. I went from comfortably running 12+ miles at a time to being unable to take a single step. The pain in my feet was incredible. A five-week saga involved complete rest, new shoes, custom arch supports, and tons of medical treatments that didn’t work. Then a young chiropractor finally got to what seemed to be the root of the problem.

Near the knee, the sciatic nerve splits into two and becomes the common peroneal nerve and the tibial nerve. Extremely tight calf muscles were compressing the nerves, which in turn sent agony to my feet. The chiropractor used e-stim, heat, and RockBlades on my calves, then adjusted the bones in my ankles. The difference was immediate and shocking and wonderful. I went from no life to an almost normal one, or so it seemed.

But as time passed, my calves stayed tight no matter what, so my feet still hurt almost all day and night. I drank extra water, used a foam roller, a stick roller, and had my colleagues RockBlade my legs, but the pain and tightness always came back quickly. I knew something still wasn’t right, but I was so damn tired of going to doctors and spending time and money that I just decided I might have to manage my calf issues indefinitely without a real answer.

Decreased Exercise Tolerance

That was late spring. As I made my comeback to running and strength training, I never felt right. I was sweating profusely after even short, early-morning runs, my endurance stopped progressing, and I began to feel dead tired after any exercise at all. After so many years of chronic health problems, I wondered if what was happening was a natural progression of the disease process. I also started noticing that I had increasing trouble concentrating, felt exhausted most days, and my usual insomnia was worse than ever.

low ferritin runner
This was my last run before low ferritin forced me to stop. I needed tons of breaks during that run, felt extremely overheated, and looked pale. It was only three miles but felt like thirty miles.

Things really took a turn for the worse when I drove through eight states to get to Baltimore for a few days of work. What should’ve been a fun, exciting solo trip that involved camping, a super nice hotel, old friends, new friends, and tons of adventure was downright terrifying. The four nights I was in the hotel in Baltimore, I honestly thought I was going to die. I couldn’t sleep at all despite being beyond exhausted. The mental fog was incredible and like nothing I’d ever felt. When I laid down at night, I was so tired and sick that I would tremble hard enough to lift my body off the mattress. I began living on extra coffee and energy drinks and strained to keep up professionally and socially. I had no idea what was happening but was very afraid.

Urgent Care and Primary Doc

I thought I’d start feeling better after I got home, although the justification for that thought was pretty weak and didn’t pan out to be true at all. I continued to get worse and despite HATING going to medical facilities, I went to urgent care one night when I was so lightheaded and wracked with tremors that I thought I might be dying.

My blood pressure was 82/58, then suddenly shot up to 140/92. An EKG showed that my heart was in atrial fibrillation (AFib), and I almost passed out a few times in the exam room. The urgent care doctor wanted me to go to the emergency room, but I refused. After years of dealing with our medical/industrial complex, the last place I want to go is a hospital. I went home and made an appointment with my primary care doctor and crossed my fingers that I’d live long enough to get to the appointment.

I developed all kinds of theories about what was going on, from reactions to supplements to simply, “I’m dying.” My doctor ordered a huge battery of blood tests and said he suspected iron deficiency. He told me to start taking iron pills just in case, and that if the bloodwork results showed I wasn’t anemic, it wouldn’t be a big deal to have been on the pills for a week. I hadn’t eaten red meat in a long, long time and had unpredictable, heavy periods, so his theory seemed plausible. I agreed to the blood draw— my first bloodwork in more than two years (I wasn’t kidding when I say I hate going to medical facilities).

Bloodwork Results

I began taking iron pills every morning and begrudgingly ate beef. I didn’t feel better at all and was too exhausted to run more than a couple miles at a slow pace and with frequent breaks. Eventually, I couldn’t run and could barely even function during day-to-day tasks. My thinking, concentration, and mood got so bad that I felt like I’d had part of my brain removed. Since the doctor ordered such a massive volume of tests, the bloodwork took more than a week to come back. When it finally did, several truths were revealed. I had extremely high testosterone, which could partially account for my months of extreme sweating. My progesterone was rock-bottom, which further signaled major trouble with hormones. My white blood cell count was low as though I were fighting a bad virus, which was unexpected and never fully understood.

And, perhaps most telling for my symptoms, my ferritin level was in the basement. (For those who aren’t sure what a ferritin level is, here’s what Mayo Clinic says about it: “Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron. A ferritin test helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing. If a ferritin test reveals that your blood ferritin level is lower than normal, it indicates your body’s iron stores are low and you have iron deficiency.”) So, my doctor’s suspicion about iron-deficiency was well-founded, but there were also other issues to address.

My next doctor’s appointment was a few days after the bloodwork came back, but I saw the results online in my patient portal before the appointment. I understood pretty well what was happening but still had tons of questions. I spent a solid hour making a list (yes, an hour for a list, which is indicative of how bad my cognition got) of questions to ask him during the appointment. Every aspect of my life was affected. I was depressed beyond measure, stupid beyond reason, and exhausted to the point of near death. I hesitate to say I’ve never felt worse, but I think it’s true.

Treatment Plan for Low Ferritin

low iron food
My daily food intake now includes organic, humanely raised beef. Heme-iron is supposedly more easily absorbed by the body, so I’m learning to live with being a meat-eater. Cooking in an iron skillet is supposed to help, too.

Based on the bloodwork, my doctor quadrupled my iron pills, added liquid vitamin B to my supplement regimen, and sent me to a compounding pharmacy for a custom concoction of progesterone cream. He also prescribed Tamiflu to knock back any viral infection I might have, and ordered me to stay out of the heat and to not overexert myself at all. His reasons for why my ferritin level was so low were speculative but seemed reasonable— heavy/frequent periods, heavy sweating, long-distance running, and lack of dietary meat. He said heme-iron, the kind that comes from animal products, is the most readily absorbed by the human body, and that at least for a while, I’d need to eat meat again.

easy iron
Before my doctor’s preferred brand was back in stock (OptiFerin-C), I took Country Life Easy Iron. I didn’t notice any improvement while on it, but I only took one pill daily and wasn’t even on it two weeks before switching to OptiFerin-C.

We discussed an intravenous iron infusion to raise my low ferritin level. He didn’t want to risk me going to the hospital for the infusion with my health history and low white cell count. I struggled to take a deep breath, struggled to walk to my truck, struggled to concentrate. I knew there could be nasty side effects to taking four iron pills per day, but I also knew I couldn’t keep going on a fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality. The way I felt was affecting every aspect of my life. I’d called in sick a few days at work for the first time in years. I don’t have benefits, so calling in sick means losing significant money, which is pretty much the last thing a person needs when caught up in our broken, profit-mongering medical system.

Slight Progress

I asked for a timeline for improvement. My doctor said he hoped I’d start to feel better at the two-week mark, but that the 4x daily iron pills might still take six months to restore me to a healthy ferritin level. Six freakin’ months? I tried to focus on his two weeks comment. Two weeks is a long damn time, but six months sounded like something I couldn’t handle. Running and hiking are my major stress relievers. To not be able to do those things during such a hard time was even more crushing. But I’d gotten to the point of feeling so out of it— totally disconnected from life— that I almost didn’t care.

optiferin-c
My doctor has me on OptiFerin-C 4x per day to address my iron deficiency.

I’m now on day fourteen of taking iron four times a day. I have no way of knowing if my low ferritin level is rising a little, rising a lot, or staying the same, but I feel different. My next blood draw won’t be for another month unless I get worse. I hope it shows a huge rise by that time. I hope I feel so good by then that I’ll almost forget what I’m fighting. At this point, I do NOT feel good and haven’t noticed nearly as much progress as I thought would happen by now.

floradix
I read good things about liquid Floradix and decided to buy some at our local co-op. It’s a German product, which is unusual to see here in the deep south USA. I’m thinking about substituting one of my iron pills for a swig of Floradix each day.

The side effects of big doses of iron aren’t hitting me super hard, but my period came early and heavy and it’s possibly undoing a lot of the progress that I’d started to make. Heavy blood loss is one of the worst things for iron deficiency. My coworkers, patients, and family say I look better, and that there’s more color in my face than there had been for months. I’m not quite as stupid or exhausted as I was. The hot flashes are coming a little less often. I’m able to do light strength-training indoors with the AC blasting.

I still have zero heat tolerance, am foggy-brained, and very tired, but everything is a little better. One of the biggest changes is the pain in my feet and legs– it’s almost gone! But do I feel good yet? Definitely not. It’s amazing how long this process takes. Hopefully in a couple days, when my period is gone and I’m at the two-week mark on iron pills, I’ll really start to notice a difference. I miss running and hiking. I miss thinking clearly and I miss being sort of smart, but at least I finally see a tiny pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel. Y’all, don’t be like me. Get your routine bloodwork done and don’t try to hide how bad you feel. It can really suck to get caught up in the medical system, but avoiding it when something’s wrong is dumb. Don’t be me. Don’t be dumb.

Symptoms I Experienced with Low Ferritin

  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Decreased Cognition
  • Fatigue
  • Constant dehydration
  • Bilateral calf spasms
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Hot flashes
  • Profuse sweating
  • Heat intolerance

Greater Than Cool Review

Cooling Neck Wrap

This summer has been insanely hot, and the heatwave started way too soon. By the middle of May, most of us in the deep south were avoiding the outdoors after 10 a.m. if we could, not showing our faces outside until nearly sunset. It’s gotten worse, with “real feel” temps around 106 for our new normal. That’s not particularly healthy for anyone, but especially for those of us with underlying health conditions, excessive heat can be dangerous.

I first tried Greater Than Cool on a boiling-hot day in my parents’ backyard. Even in their pool, I couldn’t get comfortable and felt constantly fatigued. I love being outdoors (I should move out of Florida!) and didn’t want to go back inside while everyone else was outside. It seemed like a great opportunity to try Greater Than Cool.

greater than cool wrap
Wearing my Greater Than Cool wrap in my parents’ yard.

Filling the Wrap with Ice

My parents have an icemaker, and after extracting a few perfectly uniform cubes—which excites me since we don’t have an icemaker and our cubes are randomly sized—I folded them into ice pockets in the Greater Than Cool wrap. The experience was vaguely reminiscent of making a burrito and was quite easy and user-friendly. My left hand was around 50% numb that day thanks to scoliosis and bad cervical spine discs, but I got the wrap full of ice and around my neck without much issue, which tells you it’s reasonably simple even for someone with less than ideal dexterity.

My neck is extremely sensitive to everything. Ever since I royally jacked it up while working in the back of an ambulance when I was an EMT, I’ve dealt with everything from cervical dystonia to herniated discs to hand numbness and, of course, chronic pain. I was a bit concerned about wearing the Greater Than Cool wrap around my neck, but the weight of it, even when full of ice, wasn’t symptom-provoking at all. My neck got damp when I put the ice straight in the wrap, but I didn’t care. I was already sweating anyway, and it’s not like the melting ice poured down or even dripped. It just made me a little damp. If you don’t like that, try using the small plastic bags to house the ice within the wrap. 

Details

The fastener is Velcro, so it’s easy to handle and adjust. According to the manufacturer, “the proprietary cotton polyester multi-layered material is engineered to absorb and distribute cool moisture evenly throughout the neck wrap.” The Greater Than Cool wrap is navy blue, so it looks nice enough with just about any outfit (although I’m looking forward to them considering a unicorn design, hint hint y’all!). You can put the ice directly in the wrap or in small plastic bags, or I guess if you wanted to, you could buy and use re-freezable packs. As of this post, the wrap costs $22.99 on Amazon, which isn’t a ton to pay if it allows you to live a more comfortable, full life outdoors.

Does It Work?

Yes! There’s science behind “central cooling,” which was a term I learned when training at a firehouse in the Florida summer. Since so many of us had overheating issues, our chief drilled the basics of central cooling into us. Essentially, he told us, putting icepacks over arteries is a great way to cool the human body. Greater Than Cool circles around the neck and comes into contact with a couple of major arteries, and I could really feel a difference in my whole-body comfort while wearing it.

The wrap is unlikely to help with major heat illness like heatstroke, but it might help you avoid getting that sick. I was able to stay in the backyard with my dogs and family while wearing the wrap, when otherwise I’d have been forced to go back inside. As my ice melted—which didn’t happen as quick as I thought it would—I simply went back inside for a minute and got new cubes. The wrap could work even if you’re not home, as long as you have access to a few ice cubes, like from a restaurant or a hotel or a convenience store. I filled up all the ice pockets, but if you just want to cool down a little, you can add less. 

Verdict 

If you spend time in the heat and need a little help staying cool, definitely give Greater Than Cool a try. They’re a small, family-owned business born from the need to help loved ones participate more fully in life without overheating. They’ll unveil new options soon, like color choices and multiple sizes, but their basic product (blue, one size fits most) is great! Click here to check them out on Amazon.

Disclaimer: I received a Greater Than Cool wrap in exchange for an honest review. I’d tell you if it sucks, but it doesn’t! It’s a solid product and a good choice if you deal with heat intolerance. 

Headsweats Visor Review

headsweats visor review
My new Headsweats visor has Bigfoot and a full moon on it and I’m very happy about that.

My second Headsweats ambassador box arrived yesterday and I was super excited to find it on my front porch. Along with some other great gear, I got my first-ever Headsweats visor. I’ve worn Headsweats hats for years and loved them, but never bought a visor because I wasn’t sure if that style would work for me. I’ve had visors in the past that didn’t fit right no matter what I tried. They were usually too tight to the point of giving me a headache or so loose that they slipped down and folded my ears outward. I love the Bigfoot line of products that Headsweats produces. After cyber-stalking the full moon Bigfoot visor for a few months, I decided to give it a try.

Unboxing the Visor

The first thing I noticed about the visor was the awesome graphic on the front. It’s printed well and clearly and looks like something an artist created. No pixelated junk! Sometimes online photos don’t represent reality, but the Bigfoot visor looks even better in person than it does in pictures. The next thing I noticed was the lack of adjustability of the headband. I wasn’t sure if that would be ok or create headache city, so I wore the visor around the house before taking it for a test run. I couldn’t believe how comfortable it felt! It was secure and snug but not at all tight. The elastic band is very thin, wide, and flat, and pretty much becomes unnoticeable once it’s on my head. No headache, no slippage, no ear-bending. My ears are small and sit very close to my head, so the ear-bending struggle is real with a lot of hats and visors and even headphones.

Wearing the Visor

We’re already in the mid 80s in the first week of May and the sun has seemed brighter than ever this spring. I decided to put the visor through a nearly literal trial by fire on its maiden voyage. It was already 82 degrees when I left the house in the morning. The humidity was between 85% and 99%, depending on which app I looked at. Hot as hell and wet as a swamp. The sun was intense and beginning to rise high enough above the trees that shade would soon become scarce. I started to sweat within five minutes out the door, but the visor stayed exactly where it was mean to be. No slippage at all.

I didn’t wear sunglasses, so the all-black underside of the visor was especially helpful. If you’ve ever worn a hat or visor with a light-colored underside, you probably know how ineffective they are at blocking glare. I had a hat once with a light gray underside and I swear it reflected more sun into my face than if I hadn’t worn it at all. All Headsweats hats and visors have a black underside to minimize glare, and I really appreciated that feature this morning.

I’m rehabbing from a major health setback, so I only ran 2.75 miles, but I kept the visor on for a metcon workout in the sun and a 1.5-mile walk home from the park. Running, jumping, pullups, pushups—nothing made the visor slip, shift, or otherwise do something unpleasant. I even banged the brim on a pullup bar by accident and it held firm on my head and only needed a minor adjustment. By the time I walked home, I was in love with my new Bigfoot visor.

As an athlete in Florida, sweat in the eyes is a major problem. It burns pretty bad on its own, but add sunscreen to the mix and it can be temporarily blinding and very uncomfortable. Never once did I even get one drop in my eyes today. The soft, wicking headband underneath the Bigfoot design did its job perfectly. Having the top of my head open to the breeze (unlike with a hat) helped cool me down. I went into Headsweats visor ownership feeling a little unsure, but now I’m hooked. If you’re not a fan of Bigfoot (or if you are), they have a ton of designs, from neutral to loud. I definitely recommend getting one and will probably get another visor for myself soon. Let me know if you have questions and I’ll do my best to answer. 

Headsweats Ambassador

I’m an ambassador for Headsweats, which means I get some of their gear at no charge. This review is my honest opinion, but I did not pay for the visor. If you want to get one for yourself, you can use VICTORIASTOPP25 at checkout for a 25% discount. Click here to see the collection.

Capsulitis and Foot Pain

My feet are still not functional after a month of rest. I do, however, finally have more precise answers. The second specialist I saw diagnosed me with severe capsulitis, especially in the second metatarsophalangeal joint. Theories abound about how it happened. The main thing now is getting it fixed so I can first walk, then hike, then run again.

The pain of capsulitis is like nothing I’ve ever felt. Through all the years of spinal issues, chronic pain, and other health problems, nothing compares to capsulitis. My right foot is now the worst, although it started out opposite. Luckily, the pain is starting to localize a bit and is primarily focused on the joint capsule of the second metatarsophalangeal joint.

Through many sleep-deprived nights (I’m an insomniac anyway, but the nighttime pain in my feet has been unbearable), I’ve done a ton of research on capsulitis. There are a ton of theories out there, and as is often true with health-related information, a lot of the theories directly contradict each other. One example is in footwear. Many podiatric and orthopedic websites (and doctors) swear by a rocker sole for a shoe, while some decry traditional shoes as part of the problem. As with all things, it’s best for me if I gather information and opinions and then form my own plan.

Shoes for Capsulitis

Since I already run in zero-drop, wide-toebox shoes, I’m definitely a believer in natural foot motion and foot strength. I think it’s possible that my capsulitis developed from walking in more traditional footwear: i.e., the kind with toe spring and a major heel-toe height differential. For those who’re clueless like I was, “toe spring” is the amount of upward turn in the toe are of the shoe. If you think about it, that really is an unnatural, weird position for the human foot, which is meant to be flat on the ground when standing.

Debilitation of Foot Pain

The pain, swelling, and dysfunction in my feet go so bad that capsulitis landed me in a wheelchair. It was almost surreal to be pushed around the park in a wheelchair because of foot pain. The fresh air and change of scenery was great, but it was unbelievably frustrating to be in a chair for what seems like a ridiculous reason. The capsules that’re causing this misery are tiny, but holy crap are they sensitive. 

Solutions for Capsulitis

metatarsal pad for capsulitis
The red-pink, pacman-like outline is for the custom metatarsal pad my doctor made to treat my capsulitis. He used a cutout at the top to give extra room for my swollen joint capsule.

One of my coworkers helped me tape custom-cut (courtesy of a wonderful podiatrist), firm felt metatarsal pads into the metatarsal arch area. By elevating and supporting the metatarsals, plus wearing flat, zero-drop shoes, some of the pressure is taken off the capsulitis. I’m able to hobble-walk with a borrowed rollator, which isn’t awesome, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being in a wheelchair due to foot pain.

capsulitis pain runner
Capsulitis is extremely painful. I’m using a rollator so I can get some upper body and core workouts done while I can’t walk or run.

I’ve been good about doing upper body and core workouts throughout this nightmare, but it’s demoralizing and depressing to be unable to walk, run, or hike. A major trip was postponed and I began to reach a scary level of depression and hopelessness. Throwing everything at capsulitis—ice baths, epsom salt baths, CBD oil, ibuprofen—and getting no results was crushing. My auto-immune specialist called in a prescription for a Medrol dose pack. Steroids aren’t necessarily standard treatment for capsulitis, but I was desperate and he was quite worried about the raging, long-lasting inflammation. I’m on day three of the steroids. They’ve made me a bit more emotional, they’re slowly helping clear up the agony of capsulitis. 

One thing I’ve become conscious of is my toe position. It seems that for some time, I’ve been walking with my toes bundled together. I think I’ve been running that way, too, but I’m not sure. I have no idea why that’s happening, other than weak intrinsic foot muscles and tight extensors in my feet. I found a website with a wealth of information about all things feet, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re suffering from capsulitis or any other foot malady. There are a ton of informative videos available for free, especially on common complaints such as plantar fasciitis. Click here to get to the the video library of all things foot-related. 

The next phase of the plan to heal my capsulitis is more of the same for several more days—rest, elevation, gentle stretching of the extensors, and gentle foot mobility exercises. I’ve never been this sedentary in my whole life, but it’s necessary for now. The core and upper body exercises are keeping me a little bit sane. In a few days, I go back to my auto-immune specialist, and then back to the podiatrist. I’ll be done with steroids by then and really, really hope to feel good enough to declare capsulitis a thing of the past. For now, I’d be over the freakin’ moon if I could just take a few normal, pain-free steps. Capsulitis sucks big time and I never want to go through anything like this again.

UPDATE!

It’s a long, long story, but my problem turned out to be coming from entrapped nerves in the calf musculature. After intense sessions with Graston technique (Rock Blades, scraping, and other names, all pretty much the same thing), my foot pain was drastically diminished. I now keep it away by obsessively rolling my calves with a foam roller, stretching my calves, and wearing calf compression sleeves. It seems it wasn’t ever a foot problem at all, despite multiple doctors saying it was. If you’re having issues with capsulitis or other foot maladies, it’s probably worth getting a good, deep calf massage and seeing if you get results!