A Day in the Woods.

I started running four years ago. Well, I actually ran for a short time 15 years ago when Chris started running, and I hated it. A couple years in, unrelated to running (maybe), I had to have two foot surgeries, and my surgeon told me I’d never be able to run again, and I totally did a fist pump and whispered “yaaaass” (except the word yaaaass hadn’t been invented in 2005.)

But five years ago, I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia, which is a really annoying and life-altering nervous system dysfunction that is helped by even more annoying lifestyle changes, like drinking insane amounts of water, going easy on caffeine and sugar and all things delicious in life, eating healthy, getting lots of sleep, and – you guessed it – running.

(We do get to eat a lot of salt, so that’s the one decent change.)

I waited a year before I tried the running option. I REALLY didn’t want to – especially since Dysautonomia makes you feel exhausted and sometimes makes you black out when you stand up – it seems like running would be an exceptionally stupid idea.

But I was finally desperate for something that would make more of a difference. So I tried it. And within weeks, I was actually enjoying running, because of the difference it made in my quality of life. Staying in bed when I felt bad just made me feel more dizzy and woozy, but if I got up and ran, I would feel like a normal human – within a mile of the beginning of my run.

But, as with literally all things that help Dysautonomia, running also hurts it. Because dehydration is a constant factor that must be fought, and running, though it helps circulation and blood flow, clearly increases dehydration. So I decided that, for me, running helped until it didn’t – too much and it hurt. I did a few half marathons, decided I didn’t really *love* races (I much preferred the introversion and solitude of a quiet run), and committed that I would never do a full marathon.

26.2 miles is much too far to be helpful.

Then I fell in love with trail running. The kids and I love hiking, and so being able to enjoy my solitude of running while moving at a much faster pace (than with the kids) on the trails became my favorite way to treat Dysautonomia. Plus, being alone in the woods basically feels like you’re with a counselor. It’s the best therapy.

I still didn’t have any interest in racing, so I was happy to chill with the kids as Chris did a 27 mile trail race, a 50K trail race, a trail race series, and an absolutely insane 50 mile trail race.

Whatever, dude.

But when he returned from his 50 mile race, he told me, rather pensively, that he really thought I should do the 27 mile race at Lake Martin with him (which is just one measly loop of the two loops he’d just finished.) His reasons: we enjoy running in the woods together, it was a beautiful course, and he believed that I could do it.

I ignored him for a few months.

Then I ignored him a little longer.

Then I had a hysterectomy and he quit mentioning it, as the race would be 90 days post-surgery.

Then, three weeks before the race, I texted him.

“Sign me up. The kids are going to my parent’s for that weekend. I want to do Lake Martin.”

I was completely uncertain if I could finish the race, but I was willing to try.

Then the anxiety set in. What was I going to permanently damage? Would I fall? I do tend to maim myself when I fall…What if I am unable to move anymore when I’m miles from an aid station? How many more months of physical therapy would this race buy me?

I hardly slept two nights before the race, and the day before I was a sleep-deprived anxiety bubble. I just wanted to enjoy a weekend away with my husband, but for some reason this race had really gotten under my skin.

Chris, in all his wisdom, took me sunsetting Friday night to calm me down. Much like running, sunsets have a therapeutic effect on me.

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It totally worked and I slept great Friday night – until 4am when it was time to wake up and get ready to race.

(The race didn’t actually start until 6:45 but Chris has a nasty habit of waking up extremely early for races so that his digestive system has time to work and since we were staying in a camp cabin together, I woke up too.)

We took our time and gathered our supplies (these are just mine – poor Chris had to find room for me in his aid station box.)

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Then we headed to the starting line. The gun went off at first light, and we headed into the woods in a giant pack of about 300 people doing various lengths of race (27, 50, or 100 miles.)

A lot of the trails are single-track, and after being behind and in front of gaggles of people for quite some time, I whispered to Chris, “I really pictured this more of a you-and-me-alone-in-the-woods thing…”, and he said “Well stop for a minute and let all of them pass us.” and I was all like “WHAT?? NO!!” because I’m too Type A for trail races.

But I did finally have to stop and readjust my shoe laces, which let all the people around us get ahead of us and I breathed deeply and said “Ahhhh. That was the best shoelace tie ever.”

At 7.25 miles, we came to the first aid station.

photo 13(My socks were SO GREEN because it was St Patrick’s Day, which was a convenient excuse since all my socks tend to be overly bright.)

The race is set in four loops, each intersecting at one of two aid stations. So every 6-8 miles, you have the opportunity to refill your water pack, get food, fill a Ziploc bag with more food for later, use the port-a-potty, and eat a pickle from the communal pickle bowl (because pickles help with cramps…supposedly.)

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(It’s worth noting that hand sanitizer is a foreign concept at trail races and being a mom and frequent user of such really made me think about what all was floating in that pickle juice as I reached in and grabbed my pickles right after using the port-a-potty. But apparently this is part of the trail running mindset, and I really better get used to it.)

Before I was ready, Chris said “Okay, I think we’re ready to get going again.” As often happens with me, I forgot that I could say “Wait!! No!!” until it was too late. So I spent the next loop growling about how I really needed to pee one more time before we left because he should know my bladder basically has two chambers and it’s a known Dysautonomia symptom and now I’m going to have to pee for six miles and how can I possibly run if I have to pee.

(He’d told me pre-race I could say anything I wanted to him during the race and he would just take it. So I whined with pleasure.)

He told me to just pee in the woods.

I told him there was another couple too nearby (incidentally, our next-door-neighbors back at the lodge. I didn’t want to spend the evening on the porch talking about them coming up on me leaning on a tree in the woods.)

I whined more and looked for a hidden space.

I kept looking behind me and seeing the other couple.

Chris said “Let’s just let them go by us then you can pee wherever you want.”

I said no because who just stops and lets people pass them in the middle of a race.

Finally, after three miles of increasing urgency, I found a turnoff trail, walked down it a hundred yards, into some briars, and leaned against a very large and hidden tree.

Only after I utilized said tree did I realize it’d been caught up in a brush fire at some point and was covered in charcoal…and now, so was I. In all the places.

I walked back out to the wide red dirt road that was the race path at the time to find that Chris had actually held up the other couple and was chatting with them.

I said “What?? You thought I was just going to be peeing in plain sight?? That was the whole point in waiting three miles!”

We set off with them, and I realized running with other people wasn’t so bad – as long as you weren’t on a single-track trail where you were stuck looking at their butt.

We made it back around to the aid station at 13 miles and Chris wisely gave me ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.

My IT band (on the side of my knee) started hurting a bit in the third loop, which I had fully expected at some point, so we began walking more and running less. My Ultra Hydrating Plan continued to make me need to pee, and I got less and less paranoid about the whole procedure. Chris was so proud of my trail-racing-culture-embracing of barely hopping to the side of the trail that he might’ve bragged about it to one of our running friends.

Yay.

At mile 18 we came back through the main aid station at the start/finish line, and by now my IT band was getting fairly painful. They had chiropractors on hand from The Farm, which specializes in Ultra Running, and Sloan made me do 100 stretches in 30 seconds as she barked commands at me, helping to force my IT band to allow me to finish the race. I grabbed my spray can of BioFreeze out of Chris’ trail box and we headed back into the woods for the final loop.

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It was slow. It was hilly. I had to do a wide-legged duck walk to go downhill without burning pain. At one point Chris was chatting when he said “If, I mean WHEN you finish this race…”

I picked up a rock.

He threw his hands to his face and yelled “YOU CAN’T THROW ROCKS AT ME!!”

I guess that didn’t fall under the “You can say whatever you want” clause.

But he didn’t say the word “If” again.

The last loop was beautiful. It butted up against the lake, but the hills. I received three new FitBit Elevation Record badges while we were on it.

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At mile 23, We found a bench and sat for a few minutes. It was excruciating to get up and start again, but I was able to run for a bit after that.

At mile 24, we hit Rock Bottom.

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There was a bench there, too, but I was DETERMINED not to give Rock Bottom the pleasure. So we started up the steep incline.

We made it back around to the start/finish line – but that was just mile 25. To make it the official 27.1 miles (just long enough to call it an Ultra Marathon), we had to go out and back as if we were starting a second loop.

The one mile out, though downhill, was the longest mile I’ve ever hobbled. At one point, after it’d felt like five miles, I definitely yelled at the trail “OH COME ON!!!”

But it was pretty. There were horses.

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…Who didn’t care at all about my feats of impressiveness.

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On the one mile back to the finish line, I desperately wanted to see at least one human coming toward us – to know that I wasn’t absolute last. And we did. He was hobbling and looked in as much or more pain as me, but I mentally thanked him for his service and kept limping up the hill.

After nine hours and twenty minutes (and getting lapped by three people doing the 50 mile race), we got these.

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It actually was fun. I never thought about quitting, and (don’t tell Chris this) I already want to do another one. Clearly they lace the medal with some sort of illegal drug because why.

The total count: I peed 4 times in the woods and 4 times in port-a-potties. Whether I’m an ultra anything else, I’m SO an ultra hydrator, and that kept me from dying on the trails. And, per the official results, I actually beat seven people. I immediately regretted not wrenching out of Chris’ handholding finish and sprinting ahead of him so I could’ve beat eight people.

That night I woke up at 2am in a miserable panic with a fever (a pickle juice fever?), nausea, intense knee and hip pain, and a burning anger at my husband because he said right before we went to sleep “we’re going to sleep SO DEEPLY tonight.”

But I forgave him when he got up, brought me Tylenol, bread, and a Sprite, and made sure I felt better before he dozed back off into his deep sleep.

The next morning I was fine except that my legs definitely never wanted to move ever again. The sign at our cabin had never been more true.

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But Chris told me I’d be worse if I didn’t keep moving, so we went to take some more pictures of the surrounding beauty, and then went back to the finish line to watch some of the 100-mile racers finish (making me feel like a total wuss…but not.)

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But most importantly, I didn’t die or even permanently damage myself.

So, Dysautonomia. There are certainly days where I have to stay in bed for large portions of time, and that probably won’t change.

But not this day.

And ultimately, Dysautonomia has indeed altered my life. It’s given me running. It’s given me hiking. And it even gave me photography.

So I’ll say as often as I can, and I definitely said it on this day…

Not Today, Dysautonomia.

Give me a T… Give Me an M… Give me an I!

Disclaimer: This post is graphic and most likely not for people of the male persuasion. Unless they’re the overly-curious type. But I recommend they close this window and run screaming like a boy.

Secondary Husband Disclaimer: I let Rachel blog about my vasectomy, and this post is sort of similar, but girly. Seriously, this blog is chock full of uncensored period talk, blood and everything. Its just biology, but YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


If God had hired me as a creation consultant, (which He did not, for the record,) I would have highly recommended – insisted upon even – a Lady Switch.

Ladies can turn the switch on at, say, 25 years old, or whenever they’re ready to have children. And they can turn the switch off at, say, 36 years old when they’re totally DONE with producing progeny.

It’d be even better if the switch could be used more than once. Switch it on at 25, off at 27, turn it back on at 29, and off for good at 32. Let a woman suffer through an average of 20 periods in her life. I promise, God, Sir, 20 of those things is plenty enough to Keep The Curse Alive.

But maybe that’s asking too much.

Since God did not ask me for my opinions regarding such matters, we all must work with what we were given. And what we have been given is entirely too much of our life spent bleeding like an executed swine hung up to drain.

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My particular situation is made more perilous, as Dysautonomia makes periods worse, and periods make Dysautonomia worse. One of the main problems with my particular stupid illness is low blood volume, and any change to that can cause dehydration and sudden onset faintness (I had to offer up two vials of blood at the doctor the other day and felt light-headed and nauseous until I was able to speed to Chick-Fil-A and buy a biscuit.) Also, a side effect of Dysautonomia can be extreme periods – in all the ways.

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2017 began a downward spiral in my well-being due to every month being worse than the last, and not recovering from last month before this month arrived. It was getting dire. I was spending 1-2 days in bed a month. And everything was suffering because of it.

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A couple of years ago, my doctor had offered to give me an ablation. At the time, though, he gave a pretty awful sales pitch for it. “It only works about 90% of the time, and even for those it does work for, it may not be complete.”

I turned him down. Since then, ablations have become The Thing, and many of my friends have partaken, followed by glowing reports of the easy procedure and its magical results.

So after yet another crushingly awful month, I called and made an appointment. I chided my Gynecologist for being such a horrid salesman the first go ‘round, and signed up right away to give this life-changing activity a try.

So. What is an ablation?

Well, in my gynecologist’s literary description, it’s the process of “turning your garden into a desert.”

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In more technical terms, they stick a magic wand up there, and the wand spits out a mesh net. The net expands to the size of your uterus, then “emits a radio frequency”, which is code for “it burns the freakin’ house down.” Or at least it toasts the inside of the house into a nice char-broil.

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The procedure, which I had at the beginning of October, seemed to go well.

The recovery room was a bit dicey, because my blood pressure dropped out and, according to the squealing nurses, I was turning green, whatever that means. And because of my unusual color, they wouldn’t give me any pain meds.

Pretty sure that was discriminatory.

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But after I shed my green patina and they drugged me up, I was fine, and had zero pain once I got home. I was rewarded with a day to lie around the house and read while Chris carefully watched over me, and then immediately got back to normal life.

However.

This supposedly blessed procedure that promised to be the simple access to The Lady Switch that I so desired…turned out to have opposite-worked.

Now, instead of just having bad periods, I was bleeding every day AND continuing to have bad periods.

For the first couple weeks, I chalked it up to recovery.

At my two week post-op visit, my doctor, upon sticking his telescope up into things, proclaimed excitedly “I see the end of your bleeding!!”

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He assured me things were almost done, that yes I’d bled longer than most (you’re only supposed to bleed for a couple days), but he definitely saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

(Wait what?? There’s not supposed to be a light up there!! Did you leave something behind, doc?)

Then things really ramped up.

Whatever light he’d seen up there most definitely got drowned out. My uterus was now eternally going to be a Stephen King sewer system in which Pennywise was inhabiting and killing his victims inside it. There was no other reasonable explanation.

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What followed was me calling in,
The nurse checking with my doctor,
Then reporting back that he said “You need to go on the birth control pill.”,
Me taking a deep breath and using that overly-calm voice to let the nurse know that I had surgery to avoid such torture and WOULD NOT be doing any such thing,

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The nurse quickly finding me an appointment,

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The doctor examining me,

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And surmising “This is super unusual and I have absolutely no idea why you’re bleeding, but it could be one of these two things, so let’s take both these pills here and see if one of ‘em will plug the leak.”

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Shockingly, neither worked.

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After 60 days of my Lady Switch being completely jammed, my doctor announced that it was time to move to plan C: Goodbye, Uterus.

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After all she’s put me through lately, I know it seems like it should be more of one of these goodbyes,

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But we also created humans together. So I won’t deny a bit of sentimental attachment.

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I never wanted to have a Hysterectomy. I’ve been pretty against the idea for, like, forever. I’ve let go of a lot of body parts (a foot bone, a gall bladder, both tonsils, and two parasites now known as children), and was open to the idea of dismissing my appendix if it ever went rogue.

But my uterus – I really planned on us going out together.

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But after three days of being confined to bed due to the havoc my not-so-Cuterus was playing on my Dysautonomia, I was finally ready to break up the band. And resign myself to being a hollow shell of a human with nothing left but a lonely appendix.

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And so my doctor explained to me what would go down.

He would enter my body through my belly button (I guess my Dad was right after all – belly buttons do unbutton if you’re not careful,)

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(But my Dad’s horror stories about what would happen if you unbuttoned your belly button pale in comparison to reality…)

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Because he (the doctor, not Dad) would then use a very special tool with a very special name – A Morcellator – to grind up my uterus into hamburger steak,

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To make it easily removable through aforementioned belly button.

…Which brings me to wonder: does ground Uterus fry up as well as Placenta? And would you use ketchup or ranch to bring out its natural flavorings? Also, is mine a tastier variety since it’s no longer utero sashimi, but a nice medium-rare, compliments of my prior ablation?

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After removing all my newly formed uterine morsels, he promised that I would be a new woman, finally healed of all that ails me.

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And so I’ll be taking part in this groundbreaking Uterine Rave on Thursday. And it’s guaranteed to be the trendiest way to spend Early December.

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There will be a night in the hospital, two weeks of recovery, Uterus Sloppy Joes for everyone, and then I will hopefully never feel anything in my Uterus ever, ever again.

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Now Accepting: Book, Netflix, and Amazon Prime recommendations, Sarcastic wishes of “Merry Christmas to YOU!”, gifs and Memes, chocolate, and tacos.

No Longer Accepting: Secondhand Hysterectomy Horror Stories, Firsthand Hysterectomy Horror Stories, preventative Essential Oil recommendations, and raw ground beef anonymously mailed to my doorstep.

Origin Stories.

Every year about this time, I write a post similar to this one. Then I don’t publish it, out of concern that my words would be misread or misunderstood. This year I decided to go ahead and hit that publish button.

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For the past ten years, the constants of my life have been that I am a writer, a mom, a wife, an accountant, a homeschooler. But four years ago, that shifted dramatically. Very suddenly I found myself sure I was going to die, dealing with daily chest pains and blacking out and heart racing. Four months of every medical test imaginable and I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. Since that point my life has consisted of working every day at being able to minimize my symptoms. Drinking obscene amounts of water, running nearly every day, abstaining partially or wholly from the delicious parts of life like caffeine and chocolate and sugar, IV treatments, and tracking everything imaginable to see what helps or hurts my situation.

For clarification, I actually do live a fairly normal life, but I work seriously hard at being able to do so.

There are some things I can’t fix, however. I have tried countless things to make my brain work as quickly and as wittily as it used to, and nothing seems to help. Writing takes infinitely longer, and I have shrunk my writing schedule down from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, times a week to the current 2 and sometimes only 1 time a week. If I happen to go back and read something that I wrote more than four years ago, I end up in a funk for a couple of days because it makes me so mad at how well my mind formerly functioned. And then it frightens me that my brain is in a continuing state of decline, and it’s going to get even worse.

Every year about this time, when my Dysautonomia gets especially rough (thanks, summer) and my brain gets unendingly fuzzy, I struggle with whether I should continue writing, or if I should take that pressure off of myself and quit while I’m ahead. Other times I glance at my blog’s dwindling visitor numbers and ponder whether I’m like a sitcom that’s gone three seasons too long.

But then I remember that the real reason I’m writing is for my children to read. They have 2,100+ posts over nearly ten years, many documenting their lives, and they already enjoy reading and hearing the stories I’ve captured here. Although Ali has reached the age where I don’t write about her as much because she deserves her privacy, Noah still has a lot of childhood left to document. And so I convince myself to keep writing – to not care if I’m boring people or losing readers with my diminished ability to craft words in a captivating manner. I write for the reason I started writing – to record our own personal history book.

(It really is hard to remember that because I love you all so much, and the hundreds of relationships I’ve birthed out of writing are precious to me. But at the end of the day, I try (but often fail) not to stress about my writing.)

So if I don’t write as often as I used to, or if you also notice that my writing style has drastically shifted, or if I take a long quiet break, please know that I’m probably somewhere, racking my brain for words and original thought, frustrated that I can’t remember how to think creatively.

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But as hard as the writing loss has been, from the journey of dysautonomia came my love for photography. Because when my brain was too foggy to form words, I could still tell stories in picture. And since I was now forced to exercise to stay lucid, I was seeing (and appreciating) more of my surrounding world on the daily.

From that birthed Picture Birmingham, my photography business where I sell my prints, note cards, and other photo art products so that I can donate all the profits to The WellHouse, a ministry that helps rescue and care for victims of human trafficking. In the three years of Picture Birmingham’s existence, it has raised over $15,000 for The WellHouse – and zero dollars of that would have existed if I hadn’t gotten dysautonomia.

So although my daily life is affected in annoying and constant ways, and although my ability to craft words and love for writing has been decimated, and although I have to work every day to live normally, dysautonomia has forced me to LIVE to be able to live – and therefore, to help my children also live a life full of seeing our beautiful world. It has forced me to appreciate my state, to explore, to engage in nature, and to do crazy things like go in a wet cave and climb on a slippery pedestal above a 50 foot drop.

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It has changed who I am and what I value. It has given me an appreciation for this spectacular world and an ability to go explore it. It has given me the opportunity to use those explorations to help women that are suffering in ways that I cannot imagine.

So yes, I have an incurable illness. And yes, that’s really stupid and annoying. But as illnesses go, this one does have its blessings. And I am, (at least some of the time,) okay with that.

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