Career, health, shoulder

Grieving the Loss of My Old Normal

Hey friends!

WOW, it has been a long time since I was last on here. At least I’m posting now!

Today I’m going to write about something I had not seen addressed when I was looking into life after shoulder surgery. But first, I will update you on my life.

Going Back to Work…Kinda

On March 26th, I returned to work. My principals seemed surprised to see me even though I had e-mailed them. I learned later that HR had not distributed my return note…whoops.

It was a bizarre and intense experience to be back. I prepared all of the ukuleles for the third graders who would be meeting me for the first time (I would have started their lessons in January). I was so happy to deliver that first lesson to each group and excited to teach them the ukulele. All of my lessons went smoothly and wonderfully.

Band was a different story. At one of my schools, some very sweet children who weren’t even my students came in and asked if I needed any help setting up my classroom, so I directed them as they moved the chairs and stands into place for me. It was wonderful. At the other school, I had no help. I had to lift the cafeteria benches to move them into place, and they were HEAVY.

It was a shock to see how many students were still in my bands…not many at all. I’d left in December with over 140 total band students, and I think I only saw about 40 or 50 that week. It was the week before spring break, and maybe the kids didn’t know I was back, but it wasn’t something I expected. It happens over time, and I was seeing three months of attrition all at once.

There were a lot of things about work that I found physically overwhelming. The fact that I had to lug my laptop around to do any kind of digital work was hard. I went to my partner teacher’s classroom to work, carrying my laptop bag. Because I knew I would be there awhile, I also brought my lunch, water bottle, purse, and books. Because the school is gated and I had to walk through the office to get to the room, I walked about a quarter mile with all that heavy stuff.

Every school was like that. Every place I went, I had to carry a million things. Plus, there was stuff in front of my stuff that I had to move. NOT ideal for a shoulder healing from surgery. I was tired, very sore, and hungry because I kept forgetting to buy food to prepare lunch at home.

Mental Health Is Important Too

The straw that broke the camel’s back was on Wednesday, the 28th of March. I was originally going to help my friend lead the district honor jazz band, but here’s the thing…I was out late on Monday going with my other colleague’s band to festival, I was out late on Tuesday for regular band practice. On Wednesday, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and heartbroken that only three students had shown up to my last class of the day.

I could not even show my face to the honor jazz rehearsal. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could not make it through one week of teaching.

The truth is that teaching music, band, or any kind of program where you build something throughout the school year is contingent on consistency. Leaving it for three months and then coming back is DIFFICULT because March and April are the pinnacle months of the school year.

And the truth is that I overlooked that. Because I wanted to be back so badly. I wanted to be normal again so badly. But I’m not normal yet.

My therapist (counselor) insisted on Friday (March 30th) that I ask for more time. I called my doctor’s office the following week (spring break) and got two more weeks.

And then, faced with trying to figure out what the remainder of the school year will look like, and feeling completely hopeless that my program for this year has essentially been ruined, she suggested last Thursday (April 12th) that I don’t go back.

It’s Okay to Feel Feelings

The normal that I used to be is gone and I am sad because of that. My situation is different from other kinds of situations, my work is different from other kinds of work, and my surgery was different from other kinds of surgeries.

Things that I used to do, tools such as exercise that I was using to manage my emotions and process my thoughts, are not available to me the way they had previously been. Other things that I do to help myself, physically and emotionally, take more time right now. I have to respect that.

I am nervous about asking my doctor to extend my leave through June. My therapist said that if he doesn’t write a note to take me out, she will.

The important thing to consider is, who am I helping by being overwhelmed? Is it healthful for me to work in that state? Is it safe for my shoulder? If my work allows me to stay out, I can start again in August with every system in place to be my very best self in my teaching practice. That’s what the students deserve.

In the mean time, I’m doing everything I can to just breathe. And making some damn good videos.

To start from the beginning of the shoulder saga, click here.

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

Career, shoulder

Mental Muscles

Hey friends,

I wanted to write today about one of my favorite concepts. I strive to integrate this throughout working with my band students, who constantly are in a place where they have to learn something new all the time.

Learning an instrument is hard, in different ways to different students. Sometimes it’s about learning how to listen. Sometimes it’s about re-shaping what the face does. Sometimes a student has difficulty with reading notation. Sometimes everything is in place, but playing in front of a teacher is really scary.

There is ego involved with something so liquid as music. Success at something one time does not guarantee success a second time. Student musicians constantly experience potential embarrassment.

These difficulties are all normal and okay. We work through them.

Comfort

What happens if we’re comfortable all the time? Maybe I’m sitting on the couch, mindlessly playing a game on my phone with the TV on cartoons (this may or may not be something I do every morning). My body is using minimal energy, just resting. There is no challenge to the muscles and no growth in strength. There is no progress.

The same thing happens with the mind, and this where my anecdote of the day comes in. Because I haven’t been working – I’ve been on disability leave for six weeks and still have six more weeks to go. And that’s a big deal to me.

Something you should know about me – I’m an introvert. That is a part of my personality that I am very aware of. (Introverts tend to be very aware that they’re introverts. Many of the most charismatic educators I’ve ever learned from have confided to me about their introversion.)

And I have a natural inclination to be shy. This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. My career (talking to students and adults) has lent itself very well as a stage to my explicit practice of social skills. I love talking to people. But I get nervous if there are problems – they are uncomfortable. It has taken me years of work to get to a place where I can talk to people as freely as I do about issues at work.

This takes work and maintenance. Just like anyone with a hot muscle-y bod, if I don’t do the work it takes to maintain those mental muscles, the skills deflate.

My Own Discomfort

I am approaching six weeks into recovery from a major shoulder surgery. Before the surgery, I was bendy-bendy-bendy. I could twist and contort both of my arms in all directions. I could bring my clasped hands over my head from the back to the front. I could lick my elbow.

So imagine my surprise today, in physical therapy, when I was asked to bring my arms forward and up, and then out and up, and I could only begrudgingly go about halfway.

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It’s supposed to go all the way up!
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One reluctant thumb up for this exercise…

I am embarrassed to say that this hurt my ego a little bit. I thought I was so great because I used to be able to do so much before. I thought, because I had worked so hard to stay strong before the surgery, that it wouldn’t take so long to regain my range of motion or strength as my protocol suggested.

I was so wrong and that was truly the uncomfortable part. It hurt like needles in my shoulder and like daggers in my mind. No way am I anywhere near ready to resume the activity level required to do my job at the present moment.

I was mean to my therapist. I questioned what he was having me do. He assured me that he was following the protocol outlined by my doctor. I am embarrassed that I didn’t trust him for a second and I plan on apologizing next time.

Mindfulness

One of my favorite professional development talks I ever went to was a session called “Mindfulness, Discomfort, and Growth.” It was geared toward teaching GATE kids, but I firmly believe that students and humans of all needs can extract value from taking a mental inventory of any uncomfortable moment. (The presenter was Dave Mochel, by the way.)

I loved it when he said, “The best two times to practice mindfulness are when things are going really well, and when they aren’t.” When I got home from PT this morning, I immediately prepared my dog for a walk and prepared my brain to feel some feelings. Years ago, I would have felt hopeless about my situation and cried on the couch. (This is still a valid thing to do, but I’ve gone through this process so many times I’ve learned how to streamline it/save it for later.)

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I immersed myself mentally into every aspect of how I felt. My arm already aches. It will hurt more tomorrow. I will plan on breathing through the physical pain that I know is in my future. I will probably do a drug.

There is also mental discomfort. I regret that I gave my therapist attitude. I retraced the steps that prompted that behavior. I realized that some of my mental/social muscles (usually exercised at work) have weakened. I will work on mending that important relationship.

Through mindfulness I can figure out the source of our discomfort, and create a plan to either fix it or work through it. And there is growth. It’s my most powerful tool.

-Stephy

shoulder

Shoulder Status: After 5 Weeks

Hey guys!

It’s been a few days. Being on disability is surprisingly busy. Here is how my life is going…

Actual Shoulder

My PT has been massaging the crap out of my scars. Last Tuesday, as he was massaging my shoulder, he said something to someone across the room and added something like “Stephanie here, smiling like a champion, but actually wincing because the pain is so intense.”

I said, “That’s true. That is not a lie.”

Next Thursday is my last day with the sling, but I’ve been increasing my up-and-down range of motion. I can get my hand slightly above my head with a straight arm. It’s not all the way up yet, but getting there.

I get pretty sore on those nights following PT. That is when sometimes I do have to go back and take a strong painkiller just so I can relax and go to sleep. Otherwise it’s pulsating and aching, as I simply lie on my back.

Today, as I was walking, a bee flew in my face and I reflexively swatted at it with my right hand. SO MUCH PAIN. I actually said out loud to no one, “Stupid reflexes! Why?!” Ugh.

Trashy Tales

I’ve been walking about 5 miles a day on average. Usually it’s just walking Luna, but every couple of days I go out and pick up trash on the sidewalks and streets near where I live. (I’ve learned that I can’t do both of these activities at once.)

There is a lot to be picked up. I live very close to two high schools and apparently they never learned about not littering in school.

Usually I use bags that other people have given to me when delivering stuff, or bags that our bread comes in. If there are no holes in the bag by the time I come home, I empty this trash into our kitchen garbage and use the bag again.

I’ve picked up some treasures. One time I found a very nice, fully intact Pyrex bowl. One time I found a whole 6-pack of small bottles of Mickey’s beer, lids and all. If I’d had the strength to bring them home and reuse them, I would have done so. But I put 5 of them in the recycling bins belonging to the neighboring apartment complex, and only brought one home to wash and reuse. They were lovely green bottles.

Most of what I find is food-related – small candy wrappers, bags that used to hold individually wrapped candy, fast food packaging, lids with straws, etc. I find a strangely large amount of drink bottle lids with no bottles attached. I find a lot of cigarettes and I wish I were diligent enough to pick them all up, but sadly I don’t.

The kids at the high schools would have no lack of work to do if anyone decided to clean up their campus as a senior project.

Work-ish

I was pleased to learn on Thursday that they found someone to teach music in my place while I’m gone. I’m truly relieved that my students will not be missing out for 3 months.

One of my projects is to downsize all the stuff I have, and I have a LOT of magazines. Music Educators’ Journal, Teaching Music and CMEA Magazines dating back to 2008. Do I ever read these? No. Are they full of valuable information relevant to my profession? Of course. The problem is, they don’t have the topics I need at my demand, and my job is very particular.

So I am cutting out articles that directly relate to my job in my district, and will be scanning them to put on a Google drive for myself and my colleagues. Then recycling the magazines. Shelf space achieved.

I have a long way to go with this, but I also have a long way to go before I can go back to work.

That’s about where I am. Stay tuned for a post about food soon. 🙂

-Stephy

For the next part in this series, click here.

shoulder

Shoulder Status: After 4 Weeks

Hey friends!

It has now been 31 days since my shoulder surgery. Overall I am feeling motivated and also a little overwhelmed.

The Scars

I have some pretty gnarly scar tissue. I guess they did open up my skin in four places and jam a camera all the way into my joint.

My PT has started massaging the scars after I do the exercises and it HURTS. Maybe more than most other things. I don’t know what more I can say about it. The only thing that hurts more is when I get startled and accidentally jerk my shoulder.

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So sexy
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From the back, ooo baby.

The Sling

I still have 11 more days with this thing. While it is a pain, I’ve actually been starting to sleep better on my back and left side. (Remember, my sling has my arm facing straight ahead, not across my body.) When I sleep on my left side, I still need a pillow to support my arm at the right angle. Often my shoulder aches in that position because it’s floating at the top of my body, not totally stable. The most stable way to sleep is on my back, but that can be hard if I want my comforter to cover me all the way. The weight of the blanket presses down on my hand, which stands straight up.

My sling has become pretty much a crumb and pet hair collector. When I’m finished with it I will give it a good vacuum and see if I can send it to be re-purposed.

With my arm this way, I still can’t drive. Even though it could seem like a loss of freedom I don’t think it really has to be. I can walk to the grocery store if I have to. I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at home, which brings me to…

My One-Arm Hobbies

Next week is when my school district goes back in session (I know, we have a long winter break!), and therefore my work friends will no longer be available to drive me around and hang out at any given time. No worries, though, I have acquired a few hobbies and activities I can do with one arm.

Blogging has been a nice way to chronicle this experience. As you may have noticed if you’ve perused this site before, I don’t only blog about how sexy my scars are. I like to write about all kinds of things. It’s been fun to explore other blogs and other people’s worlds through this platform.

Reading is the next thing I can do with one arm. I’m currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I’m about halfway through. I also read Wonder by R.J. Palacio – that was a much quicker read. I finished that one in about 3 days. I was thinking about getting a library card. Before I do, I want to read every book I have. This will be part of downsizing – If I read a book and want to read it again, I’ll keep it. If once was enough, I will donate it or maybe sell it on eBay.

Walking my dog has been a nice hobby. I usually give her a walk after my husband leaves for work, and before he comes home. Lately I’ve been trying to go for 5 miles of walking a day.

Not looking at my phone all day has been really helpful for my sleep. I’m trying to develop better habits about that. I go on my phone to communicate. I can go on my Chromebook for social media.

Two days ago, as a step toward my zero waste journey, I went outside with a bag and picked up trash. I walked around my neighborhood and filled the bag, got another, and filled another bag with stuff from a different part of the neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s because I live right by two high schools, by an apartment community, or some combination of those things, but there’s a lot of trash around.

It has been a weirdly meditative process to go around and pick up trash. It feels bad because it’s there – some other human in this world decided that leaving their trash there was okay. But it feels better when I pick it up, and it’s no longer on the ground.

I hung up a poster on my neighborhood bulletin board inviting others to pick up trash with me. It feels nice to take some responsibility for my surroundings. What happens if nobody shows up? There will still be one person going around picking up trash.

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My one-arm artistic facility is minimal. :/

An unexpected side effect of this activity: squatting down to pick something up off the ground has left my gluteus muscles a little sore. Obviously this is how I will be getting my booty muscles back.

Outside of those everyday things, I’ve been doing a lot of little projects around the house: Sending late wedding photos and Christmas presents, turning my husband’s old undershirts into rags, sorting out the piles of stuff in the kitchen, getting rid of magazines I don’t need.

I spent one day making care kits for homeless shelters and people on the street. I reused bags to contain sample snacks I’ve received in the mail, sample soaps and lotions, washcloths, feminine products (I just got reusable ones in the mail yesterday!), socks and gloves, band-aids, plastic silverware, napkins, and cleansing cloths. These are things that I know could be used by someone but I don’t need them in my house anymore. I really hope they end up helping someone.

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Sleepy dog not included

So, that’s about where I am right now. Future projects? I have a photo project in mind for my brass chamber music workshop I will be compiling for soon. I would like to find a use or a project for the wine corks we always accumulate. And I need to figure out how to better organize this blog for new visitors. There is much to be done, but I need to go at my own pace. The most important reason I’m taking this time off from work is to heal myself.

What are some healing activities you like to incorporate into your day?

-Stephy

For the next part in this series, click here.

shoulder

Status: Recovery Day 21

Heyyy.

It’s a little dreary out to walk the dog right now (only 60 degrees, I’ve become such a wimp) so I thought I would update my friends and family on how my shoulder recovery is going.

If you are new to this saga of my life, I had labrum repair surgery on December 15th, 21 days ago. I’m at the 3 week mark! I will put links at the bottom of this page if you want the full previous context of my experience.

Last Doctor’s Visit

I went in for my 2-week follow up last week and was disappointed to learn that I am actually supposed to have my sling on for 6 weeks, not the 4 weeks my original work note had said. You guys. I don’t have a regular sling that holds my forearm across my body. I have an immobilizer with a wedge-shaped pillow that keeps my right arm facing straight ahead all day and night.

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LOOK AT IT.

So that was disappointing to find out.

I also got my stitches out. They put steri-strips over the scars, which the assistant said would “come off on their own.” But last night I decided to just peel them off, because it had been 6 days.

Starting PT

With my stitches out I was able to start physical therapy this week. I was visiting this same facility frequently before my surgery, before I was able to get an MRI and was just trying to figure out the source of my pain. They know me there.

I came in Tuesday morning and my therapist said, “So, cartwheels and push-ups today?” Heh heh heh…I wish.

This set of exercises, of course, was very different from what I was doing before the surgery. Before it was a lot of strengthening and stability exercises. Now it’s just getting used to the feeling of using it again – letting it hang, curling my arms, climbing up the finger ladder and using the pulley to reach a little higher.

It felt weird that I could only get my elbow as high as my chin. My shoulder feels so different – like moving it at the wrong angle could dislocate it again. I guess that’s why I have to stay in the sling for so long.

Daily Life

I have relinquished a lot of freedom in my life by only having use of one arm. I can’t drive with my sling. Luckily I have a great husband and good friends who can take me places. My husband just had a lot of days off in the past few weeks, so it’s been nice to spend some extra time with him.

I get approached a lot by people in public now. Many people will ask, “Rotator cuff surgery?” (no) or “Who did your procedure?” or smile and say “I remember those days!” I find that people at check out stands, in making polite conversation, will ask what happened. I promise a lot of people, it looks much worse than it is. (Though maybe it’s just as bad as it looks? I don’t know.)

I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be pregnant.

I’ve been using my Chromebook a lot to write blog entries and read other people’s blogs. I’m liking this routine, peeking into other people’s worlds. I’ve also been reading a few books like I said I would. I’m preparing to go “zero waste” and making plans for how I’m going to live my life when I have my independence back.

I’m still walking my Loon dog once or twice per day. Usually I will walk about 3-5 miles a day total. It’s important to me that I move around as often as I’m able.

I have done two, beginning-level, YouTube spin classes on the exercise bike. Those are challenging and I’m glad to get even more of a lower body workout. I can’t do it all the way because I’m wary of standing up with only one hand to grab the handlebars. Still, it’s a good aerobic workout in a situation where I can only move one arm.

I really, really miss cooking my own meals. Brian is a good cook, but he doesn’t always want to cook. And those days we get take-out, which creates a lot of trash and is expensive. I bought a lot of pre-cut veggies from Trader Joe’s so I can cook some meals with one hand. I know it’s a lot of packaging waste, but I can’t cut or hold something down that’s being cut with my right arm. So for now, it’s take-out, leftovers, smoothies, veggie burgers, and sauteed pre-cut vegetables.

Bathing is getting easier. With my stitches out I can shower like normal, and I have washed my own hair (with one hand) twice. I was starting to get a rash in my armpit area, so I applied hydro-cortisone cream on it for a few days and made sure my arms were completely dry after bathing, before I got dressed. That seemed to help a lot.

I can’t put my hair up at all unless I contort my neck at a crazy angle. Something I didn’t realize – boys do not know how to tie ponytails. I asked my husband to tie my hair up and it felt like a kindergartner was playing with my hair! I know what I will teach my future son.

I am pretty much a pro at buttoning my jeans with one hand now. I got tired of feeling like I was always in pajamas.

Sleeping

It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.

Some nights I’m like, “I will probably sleep really well tonight!” But most nights I do not.

The evening after my first PT session, my 40-pound heeler dog jumped on the couch and practically sat on my bad shoulder. It was so painful I decided to break out one of the hard core painkillers from right after surgery. I slept well that night!

I have taken to occasionally smoking the wacky tobacky before bed. The stuff we have is not particularly strong but it helps a little bit.

I’ve had vivid dreams almost every night since the surgery. It’s like my brain has been processing every possible awkward or uncomfortable situation I could ever have and making me live through it. Last night I dreamed that I was teaching the ukulele to my music teacher colleagues, and we were using ukuleles from my schools. But they were dirty and in cruddy condition. Why did my dream self let those ukuleles look so bad?

Honestly, though, this week I’ve had an easier time sleeping through the night. I think exercising more helps a lot, which is why I was excited to get that bike.

That is about it for where I am. If you’ll excuse me, I must walk my doggy. Thanks for reading!

Stephy

To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I prepared for my surgery and recovery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here. 🙂 Woo!

For the next part in this series, click here.

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

Status: Recovery Day 13

Hola my friends and two followers. It has now been 13 days since my shoulder surgery. Here is where I am today.

Pain

I stopped taking the narcotic painkillers regularly around day 5, and used them to help me fall asleep until around day 7 (when we left for Christmas). I’ve been taking a prescribed anti-inflammatory called nabumetone, just 2 times a day. It didn’t help me at all before the surgery but I think it makes a big difference now.

I’m not feeling a huge amount of pain right now. I didn’t ice my shoulder at all yesterday, and only iced it once today.

Sleep

Sleeping is the worst since I stopped taking the narcotic painkillers. Every night I try to get to sleep upright but it’s very uncomfortable, and my butt slips down and I end up just on my back with my forearm sticking straight up. Last night I slept on my left side, placing a firm pillow under my sling pillow so my arm would stay put. That kind of worked. Then my big fluffball kitty Emmy, with her massive kitten mittens, stepped on my bad shoulder with her full weight on each paw. Not the massage experience I was looking for.

I woke up last night at 3am. After failing to get back to sleep for an hour I looked at food webcomics on Bored Panda for the 4:00 hour. Then attempted to go back to sleep around 5am. At 6:15 I gave up and went downstairs for breakfast. I felt like I’d stayed up late writing a paper for college, but I had nothing to show for it.

This afternoon I napped for 2 hours. I woke up feeling horrible. I hate naps. Tonight I will attempt to either sleep on the couch, or re-construct my pillow fort to be more supportive. I think I may also try consulting with Aunt Mary Jane before bed so I can stay alseep. I keep forgetting that’s an option.

Bathing

Took a bath this morning and shaved my legs thinking it’ll be 74 out today, maybe I’ll wear a skirt. I attempted and failed to shave my armpits. I scrubbed my right armpit 3 times and it still smelled like B.O. Can’t say I didn’t try.

Got a nice hair wash and blow dry. The other client there also had just had surgery. I don’t know what I’m going to do after becoming used to the jetset Fantastic Sams lifestyle!

Exercise

Since getting back from Christmas I have resolved to go on at least one walk a day, if not two, if not three. The person who was feeding my doggy when we were gone overfed her, so she has put on a little bit of holiday weight. (I, being vegan in a sea of non-vegan social functions, actually felt like I didn’t eat enough for much of my trip.) We walked 4.6 miles yesterday, and 4.3 miles today.

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Luna playing ball – before my surgery of course!

My great work friend brought over her exercise bike she never uses, so I’m excited to give that a try. I figure if my arm has to be totally still, I should still be working on my lower body strength. I can get a little more cardio in that way, too.

My only arm exercise right now is to bend and straighten my arm a few times. I do that 2-3 times a day, usually when I change clothes.

Speaking of clothes, I wore a real bra today! And jeans! I’ve missed looking like a grownup.

Mental Health

My mental health has been up and down so far. Christmas took a lot of energy out of me, much more than I wanted it to, with a jam-packed 3 day schedule of event after event after event. I missed the relaxed and low-key way my own family celebrates.

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However, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to decorate my sling like a present!

At home, I’ve been watching a few shows, but I’m trying not to watch TV and look at my phone all day. I’ve been trying to read books. I have a lot of books in my house that are cookbooks or nonfiction “How to do this!” kind of books. Cookbooks are great for when I’m able to drive to the store, purchase ingredients, and use two hands to chop vegetables. But now it just makes me sad that all I can make are leftovers and soup from a can.

I’ve been sloooooowly reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, since I am a musician. It’s good but so long, and I’m not sure reading about music is as exciting for me as actually listening to or participating in making music. After this I think I’d like something lighter and definitely fiction. Reading is actually kind of hard because of what I have to do to hold the book open. But I can make it work.

Walking the dog has helped me break up the day. Luna Loveypants is a great walking dog. We’ve bonded a lot. Plus I’m hoping the sun exposure will help me more to sleep at night.

I’m trying to navigate the cause of my insomnia. I’ve never been great at sleeping. I think it comes down to, even though I have very minimal structure to my days while on disability leave, I’m trying to impose more on myself. I don’t think that’s as good for me as it is for many people. Maybe when I start PT and have more of a routine going, that will change.

So that’s where I’m at. 🙂

Stephy

To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I got prepared for my shoulder surgery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 21, click here.