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.