Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Anxiety Attacks and Failed Willpower Throws

First things first: I failed my willpower throws all week last week. I ate sugar in mass quantities at work and at home. I did not go to the gym at all last week - which I justified each day with a challenging website build going on, and high stress levels over all.

Money was tight due to an attempted debit card sort of ID theft that threw stuff off, and poor planning, and a 2.5 week pay period because of how paydays fall compared to business days, etc. All told, we were scraping the bottoms of barrels we didn't ever want to touch.

Work was tough due to a new project requiring technical coding of stuff that I've never done before. Lots of Google and Stack Overflow searches there.

And, finally, my anxiety is getting the best of me during stressful times like this. It's causing insomnia and all of the subsets of issues that come with that. I'm averaging less than 5 hours of sleep per night, which is worrying me because lack of sleep is probably a prime contributor to the illness I got that caused this anxiety.

This morning I realized that the biggest knee-jello thoughts are when I think of the fact that I was feeling poorly, went to check into the hospital, and woke up 5 days later with no memory of anything in between those two events. The idea of feeling semi-ok, then waking up full of needles, catheters, and surrounded by family, and having only defeated the odds of dying by a narrow margin, terrifies me. I can't even watch shows that have hospital scenes without my legs feeling like pins-and-needles. (SPOILERS for watchers of "Wayward Pines": every time someone wakes up in the Wayward Pines hospital after an "accident" and I know it's centuries later, it just makes me feel like curling up in a ball somewhere).

I lost 5 days of my life to an illness. 5 days of my kids growing. 5 days of living with my wife. 5 days, just gone to the oblivion of heavy sedatives. But, more than that, I lost control of my mind and body, the only thing I can reliably count on most of the time. The idea that some of my brain might have changed, and I can't even tell, terrifies me every day.

It was only pneumonia and meningeal encephalitis. I survived, through medical science and caring hospital staff. I still have my facilities as far as I can tell, and I still have my family. But, now fear is a much larger component in my day-to-day life, and that's foreign to me.

I'm rambling, time to stop.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tale Of The Tape

Potential for embarrassment: high.

These are my measurements. I'm not proud, I'm not happy. The only silver lining is that my arms are symmetrical, so at least I have that going for me.

Measurements & Body Composition
Girth & Circumference Measurements as of 6/15/15
·         Upper Arm – Bicep (left): 16.25”
·         Upper Arm – Bicep (right): 16.25”
·         Chest: 47.75”
·         Waist (arms at sides, feet together): 46.25”
·         Abdomen (across belly button): 51.5”
·         Hips/Buttocks (feet together): 48”
·         Thigh (left): 26”
·         Thigh (right): 25.75”

Body Mass/Composition Numbers as of 6/15/15 at 12:00 pm – no fasting
·         Weight: 268.4 lbs
·         Body Fat %: 39.7 (healthy range for your gender & age 11 – 22%)
·         Body Water %: 46.1 (Normal Range 50 – 65%)
·         Muscle Mass: 153.8 lbs
·         Physique Rating: 3 (High Fat % w/ High Muscle Mass Index)
·         Metabolic Age: 50
·         Bone Mass: 8.0 (Normal Range 8.1)
·         Visceral Fat: 22 (Healthy Range 1-12)

Basically, the most important numbers here are the body fat percentage and visceral fat rating. Visceral fat is the fat deep inside your body surrounding your organs (viscera, obvs). I've often wondered how I can have a large belly, but still feel strong abs just below a relatively shallow sub-dermal fat layer, and now I know.

The treatment is the same as it is for anyone who is obese: reduced calories; reduced refined starches; reduced saturated and poly fats and increased unsaturated; increased physical activity (cardio mostly, but also strength training).

The main difference is that I don't have to do a bunch of crunches and be disappointed that my belly isn't going away because tighter abs over the top of a bunch of visceral fat is still going to be a big belly.

As much as I hate cardio, it's going to have to become - almost literally - my bread and butter.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sugar Is More Addictive Than Cocaine

That's what all the headlines are saying these days. Some are reporting a statistic of "8 times more addictive than cocaine".

What I've found is that a lot of these articles are quoting a study that was poorly done, and lacks much credibility. But, that doesn't mean it's not at least partly true. I think that sugar becomes a habit, more than an addiction, but it's a habit that extremely hard to break because of the rewards your brain experiences - sugar fuels every cell in your brain.

This year, I tried to stop eating added sugar and what I call sugar vehicles: candy, desserts, etc. I did really well for 4 months, but then I decided that I could have cake on my birthday, which became my birthday weekend, which became my birthday week, which rolled into my son's birthday week, and I couldn't be rude and not have some of the cake my wife made for him...and the snowball grew until I was back into full swing sugar mode again. I "fell off the wagon" as it were.

I've managed to taper off this week, but I still find myself grabbing something small. Wint-o-green Lifesavers are my kryptonite, and my office stocks a 3 lb bag of them in the break room. It's all to easy to succumb to that smell, and grab a handful on my way to one of the conference rooms, or back to my desk after getting a drink. We also have some granola bars, they're the lower sugar variety compared to some others, but still have 12g of sugar each.

This reminds me that I also started logging food, but I can't keep that up. It's just too annoying to either write down and research, or scan each food's bar code into an app (and if you have fresh food without a bar code, then you're back on the research mode). I do it for a week or two, and then find myself skipping meals, then skipping days, then just uninstalling the app. The accountability is good for me, as well as the educational habit of reading labels, but it's just not a sustainable activity for me in its current form.

New Fitness Plan

For my new gym, I've taken a new path to fitness.

I plan to alternate cardio and strength training, with cardio taking the fore. Previously, I've been content to just strength train - mainly because I get so bored with cardio, and also because I've yet to find a form of cardio that doesn't cause me pain.

My current plan is to do cardio on Mon-Wed-Fri and strength on Tue-Thu, taking the weekends off.

Sundays are my new "Scale day" and I won't weigh myself during the week anymore.

Yesterday was my first cardio day, and I rode a regular upright exercise bike. The first thing I noticed was that it hurt my butt - like, a lot. I figured that this was because I'm not used to supporting all 260 pounds of me on a small portion of my inner ass cheeks. For the record, the discomfort never faded, I just got accustomed to it.

The next thing was that my feet started to hurt, which surprised me. The outer edge of both my feet started to ache, and I think this is because my form is bad. I have to ride somewhat bowlegged in order to get around my gut, which means that I'm putting uneven pressure on my feet, knees, ankles, and hips. Which lead to the 3rd thing I noticed, which happened around the 15-minute mark, my left hip started to ache like it needed to pop or something.

Overall, though, I did manage to ride for 25 minutes and hit my cardio range. I rode something like 4.5 miles, and the machine at one point said "Congrats! You just rode the equivalent of a 5K race" so, there's that. I broke a good sweat, though, so I felt like I accomplished my goal, and I pushed through the pain.

After cardio, I did some core strength work on my abs - my degenerative disc disease, ruptured and bulging discs can only be helped by making my core stronger. Years of being overweight (and an 8-year career pushing around hundreds of tons of cargo per year) have been stressful on my back, and my body shape causes me to carry all of my weight in my lumbar, which is bad. I'm trying to get real strength in my abs, while also strengthening the muscles that line my spine in order to carry that weight with muscle instead of bone and cartilage.

That's it for the time being. I'll post another update with my body measurements as soon as my gym manager sends them to me, in case anyone is curious.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New Era

A brand new Anytime Fitness has opened up shop in the adjoining parking lot to my work building.

I've been venturing over there and watching the construction all winter/spring, and chatting with the owners when I could. I really like their philosophy and the gym itself.

In case you're not familiar, Anytime Fitness gives you a personal key fob that lets you in the doors of the gym any time, day or night. They are staffed during daytime business hours, usually, they have fixed and flexible scheduled classes like TRX and Yoga. They have a meditation room. They have individual shower/dressing rooms (5 at this location, I think).

Pretty much anything I could want as a self-conscious wannabe gym rat with social anxiety.

They worked out a deal with my company where my company subsidizes part of our membership fee, and I pay a greatly reduced fee for access, get free fitness and body evaluations monthly, and 5 free classes per month. On top of that, I really like the owners and staff that I've met so far. It couldn't be a better scenario.

Yesterday I got my body evaluation. Tomorrow I'm having my fitness evaluation.

Body evaluation - no surprises: Obese BMI; high visceral fat; high body fat %; low hydration %. What was surprising was that I have symmetrical biceps, and my quads are only 1/4 inch different (favoring the left because my right knee is giving me lots of pain, I assume).

268.4 lbs. Still 10 pounds under my heaviest  2 years ago, but I want 69 pounds gone, I want to be below 200 lbs. At a reasonable-but-difficult 2 pounds per week average, giving me 8 lbs per month, it will take me 9 months to get to my goal weight.

July is month 1.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fear, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Possibly PTSD? Depression?

So, back in December, I got sick. Like, hospitalized for 9 days, in an induced coma for 4 sick. I had pneumonia, meningitis, and encephalitis. Apparently I had a seizure that was so long and severe that it took 3 large nurses to physically keep me in place - hence the induced coma.
I felt strange that Friday morning, with shaking hands like severe low blood sugar, but it just wouldn’t stop. I drove to work, against my wife’s recommendation, and the shaking only got worse there. A co-worker came up to ask me how I was feeling, because I just seemed “off” and I couldn’t finish a sentence. Eventually I stammered out that I was taking a sick day. She asked if I was OK to drive and my reply was “I live an hour away, and I have our only car, so I have to drive”. And, off I went.

When I got home, I tried to go to bed, but that wasn’t working with the kids, etc. Finally, my wife convinced me to go to my mom’s house (4 houses away) and have her take me to the ER to get checked out. Clearly to everyone, except me, something was *very* wrong. I drove the 4 houses away, and parked on the street, went inside, and sat on mom’s couch. A few vaguely remembered moments later, I was walking into the garage to her car saying “I think I will let you take me to the ER now”.

At the ER, I tried to check myself in, but by now I couldn’t complete a single sentence, couldn’t remember my phone number, couldn’t say my full name, and couldn’t even operate my phone because my hands were shaking too badly to operate the touch interface.

My mom came into the ER to finish checking me in, and that’s where my memory ends.
Mom says we went back to an examination cubicle thing, where I was sat on the bed waiting for docs to check me out. My shoulders shivered, and I looked at her and said “Wow, that was weird”. After that, the seizure commenced. She said I was making some ungodly groan that could be heard all through the ER, and drew all the attention that it needed to and more.

I have pictures of myself after that seizure, with at least 5 IV lines in me, breathing tubes, EEG lines, etc, all over me. I have no memories of the next 5 days, except some fleeting memories of dreams where I felt the intense need to stretch my arms and legs out straight. I have since wondered if those dreams are actually memories of the seizure, because that’s the position they say I was in, doing “gestures” during the seizure.

When I woke up, the first thing I can remember is the nurse asking me what day I thought it was. It took me what felt like 2 minutes to find the words, and I said “Saturday?” assuming that I’d spent the night. He said “No, Brad, it’s Tuesday.” I was shocked, but felt like a passenger in my body, a stranger along for a ride, looking out the windows of my eyes.

I couldn’t remember my kids at first, but then I did. I remembered my wife right away. I cried easily and often, every little thing would set me off from a drawing that my wife brought in that my son did, to realizing that my brother, sister in-law, and step-dad had all come to visit me from across the country, on no notice, and during Christmas travelling season no less.

Eventually I proved that I could remember my name, write, tell time, and swallow. All things that I had to complete before they’d take the dreaded nasal feeding tube out of my sinuses and let me go home. I don’t remember much of the first week home. I was weak, physically and mentally. It was about the most humbling thing I’ve ever had happen to me, having not my body rebel against me, but my prize, pride, and joy: my brain.

It’s taken months of slow, steady progress to recover from the weirdness of this event. My brain was temporarily - or maybe permanently in some cases - wired wrongly. I found that it presented itself in a lot of ways: insomnia at night, somnomulence during the day (tiredness); attention problems, concentration problems, basically a complete lack of the ability to stay on task; severely short temper, basically my rage became an on/off switch - I was either a teddy bear, or a grizzly bear with rabies, and no in-between (even scarier, I could feel the switch happening, but had zero control over it).
Some of these were side effects of the anti-seizure medications, some of them are known side effects of seizures themselves, and some of them are probably just my brain dealing with an intense electrical storm.

Now, to the point of this long story: Sometimes (often), when I’m driving to work, or sitting on the couch, or laying in bed, I start to think about what happened to me. I start to wonder if I’d know it was happening again, if it did. Every time I get a shiver down my spine, I wonder if it is the start of another seizure. Every time my hands get even slightly shaky, I wonder if I have encephalitis again. Every time I cough, or have a slight bit of phlegm in my throat, I wonder if the pneumonia is coming back.

When that happens, I start to imagine the events in the ER as they were described to me. I feel this maddening, deadening, leg-wobbling fear. The events I don’t remember, play vividly inside my imagination like a horror movie in my mind, and I don’t know how to stop it. It’s always followed by thoughts about how helpless I was, how I became a burden on my wife and family, how close I came to dying (over 40% of people who have this same series of events happen to them end up dying), and how I’m not prepared to leave my wife, kids, mom, brother, sister-in-law, step-dad, or anything else, yet.

That fear turns into some sort of shame/anger spiral, how I need to take better care of myself because I didn’t in December, and it almost wrecked everyone’s life.

I can’t stop the fear, I can’t stop the shame, I can’t stop the anger, and I almost constantly think about all of it…it’s always there, at the back of my thoughts, waiting to jump into my brain and start the movie again.

What do I do now?