Goals, Lifestyle

My Messy Mindset

This post is the space where I’m going to discuss a certain consistent, prominent factor in my life. It is my relationship with clutter, and you guys, this is a doozy.

Some people have unhealthy relationships with food, which factor into all kinds of decisions they make. Some people have very strong fears or stressors, and have to dramatically alter their lifestyle and plans to avoid stress-triggers. Some people love Nickelback and nobody can understand why. These qualities can be prominent to others, but are not always so prominent to the people directly affected.

This is the phenomenon that occurs when I give my coworker a ride and she says with true, sincere admiration, “I think it’s amazing that you can just have your car like this. I would be so anxious.”

What’s the Problem?

I have a very specific style of messiness. It’s hard to describe.

My car has papers from everywhere – oil changes, doctor receipts, planners, an actual package of colored paper to copy on for work, sheet music. A full-size keyboard that belongs at one of my schools. Three scarves. A can of soup I brought for lunch once and then couldn’t find so I’d assumed I forgot it at home. Random shit people give me that has no home.

My desk has all kinds of craft supplies, pens from conferences, music books, teaching books, hobby books, hobby stuff, stamps.

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I am so productive!

My dresser has a basket with random hair stuff, maybe some old jewelry I never wear, a box for jewelry I do wear, two boxes with random scarves or specialty clothes like scarves and an Ugly Christmas Sweater.

My kitchen counter has all kinds of papers and all kinds of stuff. Even when it’s “clean,” it’s messy.

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This is truly a good day.

The problem is, when I get into someone else’s car and they apologize for it being “so messy” when there’s only a few things in the back seat and virtually nothing else, it seems my standards for messiness are askew from the norm.

Why am I like this?

Two reasons: Projects and Habits.

I was always a crafty kid. I loved making beaded jewelry. I loved drawing with all kinds of media. I loved sitting on the floor of my room, with all kinds of supplies, and making something pretty.

The problem was, those projects were often time-consuming and involved lots of little components. It didn’t make sense for me to put supplies away if the project wasn’t finished yet. So the stuff would sit out, sometimes for weeks, until the project was done. During this time I would usually have developed another, shorter project, that I could do when I got stuck on the first project. It was not uncommon for me to trip over a project in progress as these things typically took place on the floor.

Why put things away when you can keep them out? That was my mindset. Unfortunately that type of habit setup doesn’t transfer smoothly to anything besides running a personal art studio, and even then it’s questionable. Why do the dishes when you could wait for there to be more dishes? Why sweep the floor when you can wait for there to be more stuff on it?

Of course I was never consciously thinking those things, I just never made the space in my mind to make tidiness a habit.

Breaking It Down

It was everywhere growing up, too. My house was never clean. My dad had all kinds of projects going on in the den and the garage, always. There was constantly mail, books, catalogs, and unfinished business on the coffee table, dining room table, and kitchen counter. Clothes, shoes and school supplies were all over the place.

(Please note, growing up was pretty great. My parents and sisters are GREAT. My dad worked all the time and usually didn’t come home until late. My mom was usually taking night classes when I was in middle school. It would be unfair to expect my parents to keep the house clean in the situation we had.)

I hated messes but somehow never saw my own messes. When I got my own room, I was so excited that I would finally be able to have a clean room. Nope.

For a long time I felt shame about this. People did not want to be my roommate because of how messy I was. Then I decided to stop feeling stressed about that. I coped by deciding that I am just a messy person, and that’s how I will always be.

Then I went on temporary disability. To keep myself productive, I made a daily chart-format to-do list.

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I put “Dining Room Table,” “Dishes,” and “Cat Box” on my list. And just last Wednesday, like a ton of bricks, it dawned on me as I was doing dishes (no pun intended).

I don’t have to be a messy person. I just don’t currently have strong cleaning habits.

I can clean up my messy mindset. I can take control of my environment.

The Zero Waste Factor

Deciding to follow a zero waste lifestyle has made it much easier to address this part of my life. How?

First, I’ve started to take an extra critical look at the things that occupy space in my house. There are some things I can sell, but I honestly am privileged enough to say I don’t need $5 for that bottle of face wash I used for a week that makes me break out. If someone wants something I have and don’t need, I want them to have it. I will be systematically purging things that make clutter from my house, but working to throw away as little as I can.

Second, I’m aligning myself to the idea of using what I have. I have a lot of stuff. I have clothes, shoes, and five sets of shampoo/conditioner. That means I don’t need to get more for a long while. I don’t need more pens, either. I thought I might need a new cup mute for my trumpet, but a quick brush on the corks with sandpaper will give my current mute a much stronger grip.

Third, I’m disconnecting myself from acquiring more. Purchase-wise, that means I’m only going to be buying food and basic essentials. I’ve been receiving a lot of mail lately. I signed up for online billing. I subscribed to Catalog Choice and every time I get mail that I don’t need, I add it to my account. Accumulation of stuff makes the clutter come back.

Making a Change

So I have laid out my plans for reducing clutter in my house. That is great, but it’s not the only component of this problem.

The way to sustain a pattern of stopping big messes before they start, is to make it a habit.

“Duh,” says every person I’ve ever interacted with, who is by default a tidier person than me.

I don’t know why it took me 30 years for it to finally click that I don’t need to be messy. But if there’s one thing I am good at, it’s building habits. That’s how I got so decent at the clarinet in college – I habitually went to school at 10pm when parking was free, and practiced until midnight when the buildings closed.

Making a to-do list is a really simple way for me to keep up. If I get “most” things on the to-do list done in a day, I feel like a productive human.

But what really got me building habits was the chart. Because “Dishes” is on the chart every day. I can’t have one day that omits “Dishes” from my to-do list.

I hope this has reached someone who struggles with a problem like this. You are not alone. We can all build better habits and become better, happier people. Someday I will give someone a ride and there will be no comments on the cleanliness of the car. Someday I will have a dresser with only a few things on it that I use frequently. Someday my desk will be organized and functional.

This will be the week I plan on fixing those things. Who’s with me?

-Stephy

Lifestyle, Veganism

On My Veganniversary

Good evening friends,

Today for me marks the anniversary of a surprising doctor’s visit. She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your cholesterol. It’s high.”

I was so surprised to hear that at the time. I had been a vegetarian since 2005, the day after I graduated high school. But the truth was, I still ate eggs for breakfast every morning. And cheese with a few meals a week. And put half and half in my coffee.

I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” The doctor, also a vegetarian, suggested a plant based protein powder for breakfast instead of eggs.

I chewed on that information for awhile. And I used the protein powder for awhile. I started to think about why I stopped eating animals in the first place. I thought about how much I had wanted to give up all animal products, but I knew so little in 2005 about what a plant-based lifestyle was.

I made a plan to “eat plant based two meals a day.” That escalated quickly to veganism. Quickly, like within two days. Because, I figured, if I’m going to eat in a way that’s health promoting and reduces suffering in the world (the latter of which eventually far outweighed the former), why only partake 2/3rds of the time? Why only do the best thing most of the time when you can easily and happily do the best thing all the time?

Starting Out

What had stopped me from taking the full leap to veganism in 2005? Lack of education. When I was a kid, in college grocery shopping for the first time, I had no idea legumes could be a cheap and easy staple. I looked at packages of vegan cheese and thought, “That’s so much more expensive than cow milk cheese!” I just didn’t know.

This time, as a 29-year-old woman with a job and an Amazon Prime membership, I knew what I wanted. I did not want a diet full of processed food. I wanted something that would support my active lifestyle and keep me healthy for as long as possible. So I typed in the search engine, “Vegan whole food cookbook.”

(And quickly learned that the term was “Whole foods plant based.”)

I bought an embarrassing number of cookbooks. Some of them were way over my head with the amount of work the recipes required. Some of them called for ingredients that were already in my house! (I gravitated toward those ones.) I liked “Forks Over Knives” for the simplicity in their recipes. I loved “Oh She Glows” because it helped me branch out when I wanted something more impressive.

I read “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Twice. I learned about food that has been shown to be health promoting through science.

I changed what I bought at the grocery store. Beans of some sort are always on the list. Instead of two eggs for breakfast every morning, it was now overnight oats with berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded wheat cereal, cinnamon and walnuts. Replaced 1/2 and 1/2 with the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s, easiest switch ever. I warmed back up to grains like rice, quinoa and barley, which I had mistakenly dismissed under the influence of my keto and paleo friends. Nutritional yeast, which I had loved in my days at Humboldt but slowly phased out when my partner expressed a distaste for it, came back with a fierce yellow vengeance. Instead of any oil for cooking, vegetable broth became my jam.

I got better at bringing my lunch to work. Unconsciously I had started relying on a bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks to eat for lunch in between sites. It became easy to bring last night’s leftovers to work because I would throw just about everything in the fridge into my dinners.

I experimented a lot but also had healthful fallbacks. I’ve developed a love for creating food.

My mom and stepdad gave up meat and dairy this summer. I relished in an opportunity to put together a vegan Thanksgiving for them. It was truly the least stressful Thanksgiving I’d ever had.

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My Thanksgiving plate, complete with Tofurky on my husband’s request
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I made a friggen’ vegan pumpkin pie from scratch!

Beyond Plant-Based

Inevitably I ran into the awkward situation of saying I was vegan while wearing leather shoes. They were thick-soled black Mary Janes, shoes that I had bought before I went vegan. Shoes that I wore to work nearly daily. (Extra shame points for being a vegetarian so long and still partaking in this.)

I came to realize there was more to be done in this journey to be less of a burden on the world. I donated my jackets that had down feathers. I switched my leather purse I’d purchased in a thrift store for a nylon bag. I realized it wouldn’t be practical to donate my leather shoes because I needed them for work, so my plan is to use my shoes until they become unusable, and not buy any leather in the future.

I thought about toiletries. I changed to a more ethically produced soap that isn’t tested on animals. I switched to a natural deodorant. I’m still trying to find the right hair products for me, but you can bet when I find the one it will have that starry bunny logo on it.

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This is the logo to look for!

The Hardest Parts

For me, by far the hardest part about going vegan has been my fear of judgement from non-vegans. I try to have a thick skin and stick to my guns and research but I’m a really sensitive person and care about what people think. For that reason, I generally avoid mentioning veganism unless it comes up.

I don’t like when people say sorry for eating meat in front of me. My lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be the source of your sorrow, and now you’ve shined the awkward spotlight on me. I’m still brainstorming better ways to respond to this behavior.

The restaurants in my area are not incredibly vegan-friendly. The one a few towns up that is, sells mostly salads and smoothies. (No thanks, for $8 I can make my own at home, plus 3 more for my friends.) Dining out is a chore and I generally try to avoid it if I can. I much prefer to cook a nice meal for others. I want to open friends’ eyes to the fact that vegan food can be nourishing, filling, and delicious.

After 1 Year

Now I feel like I don’t have to work so hard to navigate this lifestyle. I can put together any kind of meal. I’m not afraid to ask if something is dairy-free. I feel supported by my loved ones and enjoy seeing the changes they have made in their lives, too. I look forward to enjoying a lifetime of veganism. There are still challenges when it comes to people who are less educated about the horrors of factory farming and what it takes to get animal products to the table. I still struggle to find the right words when people sincerely ask me “Why are you vegan?” But I’m working on those things. It’s always a process.

I haven’t followed up with my bloodwork yet. I’d be interested to see if it’s changed since last January.

Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to share! See you next time.

Stephy

shoulder

My Shoulder Surgery Experience

Here I am, one week after my shoulder surgery. I am doing okay this lovely holiday weekend. More on current events later.

Today is the story of my shoulder surgery experience. To learn about how I got into this mess, click here.

I got a labrum repair and stabilization surgery on my right shoulder. Basically, on top of a painful tear in my cartilage, I also have very, very loose joints. Before the procedure my doctor said that when I was under, he would examine exactly how loose they are. Later he followed up with, “They are very loose.”

Why is this a problem? Because my shoulders slip backwards out of their sockets pretty much any time there is something pushing my arm back. Not such a problem until I started really working in physical therapy and realized I could no longer stretch my pectoral muscles against the wall because my shoulders weren’t staying in place. Plus, maybe someday I’d like to do pull-ups, or fall when running and not have something get torn. I’m only 30 and I should be able to get stronger if I work toward getting stronger.

The more pressing problem to me was the grinding pain of the labral tear, though. I use my arms for everything at work – conducting, ukulele playing, whiteboard writing, throwing instruments at children. The pain needed to go away because the instruments weren’t flying far enough.

So on to the experience. My amazing husband Brian agreed to drive me there. The time to be in Pismo Beach was 5:45am for a 6:30 surgery, so we stumbled out of bed at 5am and began the day. I never knew there was such a thing as a “surgical center,” but that was where my surgery would be taking place. When we got there at 5:39, naturally, the door was locked and I had a very paranoid moment that we were at the wrong place even though it looked just like the picture on the brochure and said “Coastal Surgical Institute” on the door. So we just waited a minute for the door to unlock.

It was quite well decorated inside, very cozy, lots of purple. The nice receptionist signed me in and I only had to wait a little bit. I was taken back to a room with lots of beds separated by purple curtains. The nurse had me stand on a scale that talked. “Sorry, she’s kind of bossy,” she said.

“Please step off,” the scale verbalized in a robotic English accent. I was relieved to see the number wasn’t that bad for me. “At least she’s polite,” I said.

I was brought to my bed where the nurse brought me a gown and offered me socks and a warm blanket, to which of course I said yes. The socks were royal blue with white sticky paw print shapes on one side. “The paws go on the bottom.”

Once I changed, and sat on the bed, and the nurse confirmed that it was indeed my right shoulder they were operating on by writing “YES” on my arm in purple marker, it was time to poke me for the IV. No big deal, I figured. I’ve been poked and attached to an IV before. But for some reason it didn’t work on my wrist, or on the inside of my elbow, so they wrapped my left arm in a warm blanket in an attempt to expand my veins.

While they were doing that, my surgeon came in. “So we’re working on your left shoulder today?” I laughed at this hilarious joke as he initialed my right arm. He had been a lot nicer to me since the first two times I saw him. I felt weirdly self conscious that they were having difficulty finding my vein and I tried to avoid looking by introducing the doctor to my husband.

Somewhere in there the anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself and talk about what he was going to do. It sounded horrifying. The first thing he would do was sedate me, so that didn’t sound so bad. Then at he would administer the nerve block using a long needle to inject stuff into my neck. “We could do this while you’re still awake, or after you’ve gone under,” he said. Guess which option I chose?

When the IV finally got figured out they put the sedative in. They introduced me to a male nurse that would be helping out in my operation. (I never saw him again.) My bed got wheeled into the operating room and I was asked to crawl over to lie on the still bed. Once I did, that’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up back in the comfy bed to voices talking. My husband was there and it was daylight outside. The most amazing sensation was keeping me warm. I found out it was just hot air being blown under the covers. I wanted to live in that. It didn’t take long to remember where I was, but it took awhile to figure out where my arm was because I couldn’t feel it and was afraid to move either side. The nurse offered me a beverage and I asked for water. I sipped on some through a straw and dosed off again.

When I woke up again the nurse suggested something with sugar in it because it can take awhile to wake up otherwise. It had been since dinner the night before that I’d last had anything to eat or drink, after all, and it was now approaching 11 am. So I asked for some ginger ale. That perked me up. Brian said, “It looks like they have to monitor your meanness now.” He was referring to the blood pressure monitor, where at the bottom it read “MEAN: 70.”

I said, “If you were hooked up it would say a thousand.” This is the love we share.

The nerve block had put my arm into phantom limb mode. I really thought I was wiggling my fingers, or that my arm was resting to the side of me, but it was secure next to my body.

I didn’t want to leave the paradise that was the bed with hot air blowing under the blanket, but eventually they asked if I was ready to try and get up. I said fine, if I must.

The nurse helped me get dressed and asked if I had a bra to wear. I said nope, so we put on one of my trusty shark shirts, bad arm first. Then because apparently no bra means also no underwear, she put on my pants without underwear. (Honestly I would have said something but I just didn’t really want to.) I had a giant padded dressing on my shoulder that looked like a football pad under my shirt.

The nurse attempted to fit me into a sling that seemed rather ill-fitting. She looked at the box. “Size large?! No…”

Take two, I got a medium sling. At that point I think my doctor came back and gave quick directions. “Move your arm like this a few times a day. Squeeze the ball a few times a day. Do not put your arm across your body at all!” He smiled as they wheeled me away into the daylight.

My sling is intense. The doctor had described to me in my pre-op that I would have a pillow that keeps my arm facing forward and doesn’t allow it to cross my body. I guess when you get your shoulder stabilized it has to un-learn all the tricks it used to rely on to move normally.

Brian drove me home and built me a pillow throne. I basically slept on and off that day. I was anticipating the nerve block wearing off. I think for me that was the most uncomfortable part of the experience – looking at my fingers, willing them to move and them not moving, poking my arm and not feeling it, but knowing as soon as I started to feel it it would be time for the heavy meds. And anticipating lots of pain. I didn’t actually experience much pain at all, just discomfort from the anesthesia, the meds, and the numbness.

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My cool sling and relaxed demeanor

I had some toast when I got home, and a small amount of leftover soup around dinner time. It was hard to eat when there was so much flavor. I hadn’t anticipated that my heavy soup spicing habits would be an issue.

I went to bed where we built a second pillow throne (including a travel neck pillow!) and I’m fairly certain I slept upright through the night. I had set alarms for drugs, and was able to take them, and they made me feel drowsy enough to fall asleep immediately after. I kind of already miss those days.

The second day was hard. Getting up, eating breakfast, taking the meds. I mostly dosed the day away. I tried to drink water but the anti-nausea meds advised against it because it would cause headaches. The timing of food, pain killer, anti nausea, and water didn’t quite work out. I threw up my dinner that night. My amazing husband waited on me hand and foot – good Bri Bri.

Day 3 was better. I wore different clothes and went for a walk with Brian. He just worked a half day that day. I would have been okay if he’d worked the full day but I really appreciated his company.

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The cats lamenting my greaseball ways

Day 4, Monday the 18th, was my first day out. I got the dressing taken off and got to see my stitches for the first time. The doctor showed me photos of what they did. “It was really easy to see because your joints were so loose.” Thanks doc, I get it.

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I’ve named my labrum Natalie Imbruglia, because she’s torn.

My hair was starting to look like I’d been taking grease baths, so I asked Brian if we could go get it washed. And finally, I felt human again.

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Fresh hair, and fresh snap-up flannel shirt from Costco!

 

So that about sums up my surgery experience. Right now I’m 9 days after and feeling okay. I no longer feel a need to take the narcotic pain meds (though they were amazing for helping me fall asleep). I just take a prescribed anti-inflammatory once every 12 hours. I don’t feel a huge amount of pain at this point in the game. I try to go for at least one or two walks each day, though it’s a little different right now as it’s Christmas weekend. I have started wearing sports bras during the day but still keep my clothes very comfy and 1-arm friendly.

To read about what I did to prepare for this surgery, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 21, click here.