Topsy-Turvy

As a professional hypochondriac, I pride myself on being able to properly diagnose and self-treat a multitude of illnesses. Not only do I diagnose my own disorders, but those of my family and friends as well. I may not tell you openly, but I’m probably keeping a mental file on you. I can’t treat you without your permission, but I’m fully aware of your Diaphoresis. Don’t be ashamed. None of us are perfect.

Considering my level of expertise, it bothers me when something slips through the cracks. I’ve known for a while now that Little Linebacker has had a problem, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. He has always struggled with reading. It’s not abnormal for boys to have a harder time picking up reading than girls, but my spidey senses told me that he was having a much harder time than he let on. I mentioned it to my mom and being the awesome mom that she is, she shipped an entire Hooked on Phonics set down for us to use. Somehow though, it seems he needed more.

A man will often refuse to admit that something is wrong with his own child, so I knew bringing my concerns up to my husband were futile. Was there a learning disability to blame here? Little Linebacker seemed to be doing perfectly well in math. In fact, he seemed to excel in it. He could understand this new Common Core nonsense a whole lot better than I could, and was even able to explain the concept to me so that I could “help” him with his homework. If math came so easily to him, why not reading?

I’d assumed that we were babying him with books, allowing him to read too far below what he was capable of and therefore pressing the pause button on his development. I pushed him to check books out of the library on a second grade level, and sat with him as he read aloud each day. I noticed something as he read though: he needed his finger on each word in order to keep his place. Otherwise, he would skip words, or even whole sentences. I had to read along with him to ensure that he was reading each word, and found that he was often guessing instead of sounding things out. When he did take the time to sound words out, he would often transpose letters. Salt would become slat, golden was gloden. They were just little slips, but very consistent little slips. My inner hypochondriac was itching for a diagnosis, but I still needed more information. Regardless of what you might think, I don’t ever make a diagnosis haphazardly.

The additional information I needed came at a parent teacher conference. Little Linebacker’s teacher loves him, as his teachers always have. He’s really a sweet child and has a way of wrapping you around his little finger. She mentioned his strengths in math and science, and her concerns with his reading. Then she brought me a spelling test that he received almost a perfect score on. His handwriting was the neatest I had ever seen, which is really saying something because Little Linebacker’s handwriting is not often legible. The strange thing about the spelling test is that the letters were written backwards, and the words from right to left. If I turned the paper over and shined a light through it, I would have been able to read it perfectly. “Huh,” I said after staring open-mouthed at the paper for a full two minutes.

The teacher mentioned that this wasn’t the only assignment he had ever turned written this way. She also noted that whenever he resorted to writing backwards, his handwriting was much neater and stayed within the lines on the paper. Feeling overwhelmed and relieved all at once, I thanked the teacher for taking the time to meet with me. She shared the phone number for her pediatrician in case I was interested in setting up some sort of screening for Little Linebacker, which I absolutely will. I think home remedies might be insufficient this time around.

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Little Girl Lost

Words cannot express the extent of my despair right now. At a time when I can actually paint my toenails, I only have four toenails left to paint. Since running/trotting/walking the Biggest Loser Half Marathon, almost all of my toenails have separated from the nail bed and eventually fell off. My feet look a raggedy mess. Yes, even more so than usual. My husband is terribly grossed out by the whole thing, so I usually wait until he is eating to point out the misshapen state of my toes. I’m still waiting to see if the nail on the big toe of my left foot will fall off, because it is by far the ugliest of all. It’s still holding on strong, though. Maybe I’ll just paint that one. There’s one other toenail that’s on its way out, and I feel like the Count from Sesame Street doing a countdown right now.

I’ve been advised that my toenail situation is the result of running in shoes that don’t fit properly. The running guru at work recommended Altra running shoes since I have wide, manly feet and Altra shoes have a nice wide toe area. I think that will solve my problems for the next race. Which brings me to my real reason for blogging today: I need another race.

When I was training for the half marathon, I felt like I had a purpose. The long weekend runs, the short stints on the treadmill at work, and late-night Zumba sessions at home were preparing me to accomplish a goal that had been on my list for the last 6 years. But it’s done now. My finisher’s medal is hanging on my cubicle wall in all its lonely glory. I don’t have a race to train for, and I am wandering around like a lost child on my fitness journey. Apparently, I’m one of those people who need specific goals to reach for. Otherwise, I’m completely unmotivated. I’m terrified of gaining back the weight I lost, but I can see it happening if I don’t find some incentive quickly.

I pulled out my notebook and scoured the internet for upcoming races in my area. I don’t think I’m ready for another half marathon just yet, but I can see myself doing one in the near future. For now, I have my eye on a few 5 and 10K’s. I’ll keep y’all posted, especially since I might have to hit you up for donations at some point.

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Mission Accomplished

I know you have all been waiting on the edges of your seats with baited breath to see if I finished my half marathon. And I’ll let you know as soon as I get to that part. In order for you to get the whole experience, I thought I would start at the beginning.

I’m thankful that my flight to Buffalo wasn’t an indication of how my trip would be. On my flight from Orlando to Atlanta, some heffa sat her behind in my window seat, and had the gall to act as though she couldn’t speak English when I let her know. I sucked it up and flopped down next to her, opening my Kindle to read. You know, since I couldn’t look out the window. Apparently her English wasn’t too poor, because she read right along with me. During my short layover in Atlanta, a young girl sat on the floor with a Chihuahua in her lap, stroking its head as she scrolled through her phone. An elderly woman took advantage of her inattentiveness, sneaking bits of her sandwich to the dog. I chuckled to myself, thinking about the mess that the dog owner would likely have on her hands (literally) as a result of her forbidden snack.

When boarding the plane to Buffalo, I was quite dismayed to find that the aforementioned dog was on my flight, only a few rows ahead of me. After about 30 minutes, I found myself very perturbed with the dog, its owner, and the supplier of the forbidden snack. Dog farts make for a seriously unpleasant flight.

Since I arrived in Buffalo on Thursday and the race wasn’t until Sunday, I thought I would spend some time visiting friends and family, as well as carb loading. For those of you who don’t know, carb loading is the practice of increasing carb intake prior to a race in order to store energy in the form of glycogen. Ideally, carb loading would involve the consumption of starchy vegetables and maybe pasta. I like to take a nonconformist approach, so my carbs included Bocce’s pizza and carrot cake at Ammeh Donia’s house. When all was said and done, my muscles were stiff and I felt as though I had gained 70 pounds.

The morning of the race was wet and dreary. I didn’t mind the rain, so long as it stopped before the race got started. My sister, BFF, and I arrived at the Erie Basin Marina at about a quarter to seven. Anyone who knows me personally knows that punctuality is not my strong point. It was an absolute miracle that I arrived not only on time, but early. After posing for pictures, taking trips down memory lane, and receiving a whole lot of unsolicited advice from a woman we’ll call Angel, we headed to the start line. Have I told you all how nervous I was about this race? As always though, I got swept up in the excitement of the experience and looked forward to getting started.

The first few miles were fairly easy. I had invested in some SuperFeet insoles for my sneakers the day before, so my arches (or lack thereof) didn’t burn the way they normally do by mile 2. We entered Delaware Park shortly after mile 6. When I was younger, I loved Delaware Park. At least that’s the false memory that my brain forced on me. “Remember how awesome it was to make two laps around this park?” said my liar brain. “I don’t recall good feelings about this place,” my legs replied. It turns out that my legs had a better memory than my brain. The majority of the path around the park was uphill, and it was the longest 1.78 miles I ever walked in my life. Something about steep hills just brings out the worst in me, and I had to fight to keep myself from growling at people on the sidelines giving me thumbs up. Shortly after leaving the path at the park, I hit mile 8. And leg cramps hit me. I had mentally prepared myself for fatigue and thirst, but the possibility of leg cramps never even crossed my mind. Needless to say, my calves are still tight even four days later.

Once the fast runners finished up (those who complete half marathons in 2 hours), the volunteers started removing the traffic cones and taking down the water tables. You can imagine our dismay when we slowpokes reached mile 10 and had no clue where to go. After wandering around for a bit (and stopping at Walgreens to buy Gatorade), a police officer who noticed our race bibs was kind enough to point us in the right direction. The 10 mile marker was the last one I saw, because all the other ones had been taken down.

I could barely contain my excitement when I spotted the finish line. Do you remember that scene in The Shining where the lady is running down the hotel hallway trying to escape her would-be murderer, but the hallway just kept getting longer? That’s what the finish line felt like for me. The closer I got to it, the further away it moved. One of the former Biggest Loser contestants (sadly, I can’t remember her name because I didn’t watch the season that she was on) yelled encouraging words to me and gave me the extra push I needed to keep going.

I can’t explain the euphoria I felt when crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. During the weeks leading up to the race, I had some serious doubts about whether I would be able to do it. I had very little confidence in myself. I had even begun telling myself that it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t finish, as long as I tried my hardest. For the first time in a really long time, I started something and stuck around long enough to see it through to the end. Despite my tight calves and general fatigue, I’m ready to sign up for the next one. I’ve been bitten by the bug, y’all. I do believe I’ve found my calling.

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Not Ready

Have you ever noticed that the closer you get to an event that you are deathly afraid of, the faster time passes? That’s my predicament right now. My first half marathon is less than a week away, and I am nowhere near ready for it. I put in some time on the pavement this past weekend but with temps supposedly at 91 degrees (I’m pretty sure the heat index was 191 degrees) and humidity at 2,000%, I almost died. I was fine for a while but all of a sudden, I couldn’t move another step. My legs didn’t hurt. My feet were fine. But my body was just generally exhausted. I’m talking “falling out on someone’s front lawn” exhausted. And it didn’t creep up on me. If I’d had a little warning, I could have made my way to a shady bench or something. Nope, this feeling of being sucked into a vortex of fatigue came from out of nowhere.

I might not have been so bad off if I had eaten. Since I had been fasting for blood work since the night before, my stomach was just about empty. Why did I think a workout on one of the hottest days ever (that’s an exaggeration, but it sure felt like the hottest) on an empty stomach immediately after having blood drawn would work? Oh, that’s right. Because I was trying to get my workout out of the way early in the day, since we were scheduled for a high of 97 degrees. The problem with my logic is that I didn’t get blood drawn until 10:30, which means I was trotting/walking/dragging myself down the sidewalk when the sun was at its zenith. The whole time I was sweating out every drop of fluid inside my body, I was thinking of how much easier doing this in Buffalo, NY was going to be. At least I hope so.

I might have lied when I said I hadn’t eaten. I knew I would need some fuel, so I stopped at the store after my appointment and grabbed a bottle of water and a package of turkey nuggets. Those would be little pieces of dried turkey resembling chunks of Slim Jims. Hey, I needed something. Only that something was the wrong thing to eat after having an empty stomach for over 12 hours and prior to hitting the pavement in Hades-like weather. After mile 2, my stomach started bubbling something fierce. I should remind you that I wasn’t on a race course. There were no portable toilets, just me and my britches. It was a miserable time, let me tell you. The only relief I had came when Sir Flatulence decided to exit my body regardless of my intention. Thank goodness I didn’t have a running buddy. That would have made for a pretty awkward situation. And with my entire body sweating, I never would have known if Sir Shart decided to leave as well. Thank goodness for small miracles, because that would have been terribly chafing.

Anywho, I managed to burn a few calories and avoid dying this weekend. But I still don’t feel ready. What if I don’t finish this half marathon? I have to finish. I mean, I paid my registration fee. I bought a plane ticket. So I spent some time Googling “completing a half marathon when you have undertrained”. It was inspiring to see so many blog posts and articles written by people in my situation. Then my inspiration flew out the window as I started reading the posts and scrolling through pictures of people who probably weigh a hundred pounds less than I do. *sigh*

This is the time in my training schedule that I should be tapering down to prepare my legs for the big day. No sense in going all out now, only to possibly injure myself and not be able to participate at all. All I can do is ask you all to say a prayer for me. Pray that I don’t pass out before reaching the finish line. Pray that I don’t get picked up by the fat cart for not being able to maintain the minimum speed. Pray that I don’t gain seven pounds before the race by overindulging in delectable food Buffalo has to offer. And most importantly, pray that Sir Shart doesn’t make an appearance. But I’ll be wearing black pants, just in case.

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A Painful Truth

As African Americans, we do an outstanding job of banding together when we believe an injustice has been committed against one of us. We organize marches across the country, wear ribbons to silently make our opinions known, and some of less scrupulous of us go on looting sprees. Why shouldn’t we benefit from tragedies with big screen televisions? After all, “the man” owes us that much. Don’t even get me started on that mentality.

Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and organized protests go together like peanut butter and jelly. We can always count on these self-appointed spokespeople of the black community to speak out against the injustices that plague us as a people. And you won’t hear me dispute the fact that we often get the short end of the stick. There are two different standards of justice working in our country, and I don’t believe we’ll ever see that change in any of our lifetimes. But how long will it take us to organize marches protesting the atrocities we commit against each other?

It’s disheartening to see articles each day about black people who have shot, stabbed, raped, and robbed other black people and not see one related article mentioning residents of any given community speaking out against these heinous acts. Our children are killing each other in droves, yet we haven’t managed to organize a march for them. We haven’t designated a ribbon color to tie onto our lapels. Instead, we bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t notice, or shake our heads while listening to the news describe crimes committed by people who we subconsciously consider to be beneath us.

When the rest of the country takes notice of these offenses and our lack of a response as a community, what message do you think they get from it? Blacks only get upset about blacks dying when someone else is doing the killing. That’s what you are telling America when you tweet your feelings of anger over the most recent officer-involved shooting of a young black man while turning a blind eye to the teen that killed another teen over a pair of expensive running shoes. It may not seem fair to put it that way, but perception is reality. Getting riled up over what we perceive to be racial injustice while ignoring the ongoing turmoil within our communities is akin to throwing bricks around in a greenhouse. No one will ever take us seriously while we accuse others of the very transgressions we commit against ourselves.

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Breaking Bread, Pita, and Challah

When I took my shahada (declaration of faith) and became Muslim at the tender age of fifteen, I knew some people would be opposed to my decision. I also knew others would respect it. My friends, family and classmates surprised me more often than not when showing me which side of the fence they fell on. People I expected understanding from went out of their way to make life difficult, while I found support in some very surprising places.

When I explained to my grandpa why I wouldn’t be attending church with him anymore, he stopped eating and looked at me thoughtfully. I braced myself for the wrath of a man who had been a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church for more years than I had been alive. “Do you still love the Lord?” he asked in his thick Alabama accent. “Yes, Grandpa,” I responded, “I still love the Lord.” He nodded his head several times. “Well alright, then.” He went back to eating his biscuits and syrup, and that was that. As a man who loved his religion, I never imagined that he could be open to his beloved granddaughter choosing a different path.

With all the conflicts in the world today, it’s easy to lump all the followers of any religion into one category and hate them equally. At an Annual Interfaith Iftaar I attended a few days ago, it was refreshing to be able to sit down with Jews from the synagogue across the street and Christians from the church up the road and share a meal. Rather than argue about the differences between us, we chose to embrace our similarities. Instead of seeing one another as outsiders, we realized we are all ultimately members of the same club – humanity.

Over a meal of fried rice, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour chicken, we got to know one another on a more personal level. Some of the non-Muslims present had opted to fast for the day in order to fully experience Ramadan. They shared their experiences with us, and let us know that we would always be able to count on them for friendship. They have no idea how much their kind words meant to us, considering that the general consensus when it comes to Muslims. In a world where religion serves as the basis of most conflicts, it was nice to take a moment to be human beings.

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Bubble Guts

In an effort to combat vitiligo holistically, my husband decided to go gluten free. That means that I have also gone gluten free by default. We didn’t make this decision lightly; we did a fair amount of research. I am really embarrassed to admit that at one time, I didn’t care where my food came from. As long as it was pleasing to my taste buds, I was happy. I never gave much thought to the impact this approach would have on my health.

After watching the documentary “Food Inc”, I knew I needed to be more mindful of where my meat came from. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to watch it. It will change the way you look at food forever. Even after watching the documentary, I didn’t give much thought to something as simple as grains. As long as I stick to whole grains and avoid highly processed foods, I should be good to go, right? Not necessarily. Thanks to scientists fiddling around with the properties of wheat for the sake of increasing yield and durability, we are left with a product that our body isn’t quite able to translate.

I can’t speak for everyone when I mention the benefits of going wheat-free; I can only share my own experiences. Now if you have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a hypochondriac. I’ve successfully diagnosed myself without needing any input from medical professionals. You can laugh if you want, but I know my own body. One of the disorders I believe I have is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. I should warn you that I am about to take a left turn into the land of TMI, so you may want to leave this page if you are squeamish about that sort of thing. If not, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you all about my bathroom habits.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with gallstones. Yes, actually diagnosed by a medical professional after a bout of biliary colic put me in the hospital. Gallstones are calcified or hardened bile. I have so many of these stones that my gallbladder is pretty much nonfunctioning. You may wonder why that’s such a big deal. That’s where the TMI comes in. Bile is necessary for digesting fat. If your gallbladder can’t release bile to digest all the fat in that monster grilled cheese sandwich you had at lunch, guess what happens to the fat? It leaves the body indigested. And its exit is not a pleasant one. The fat is apparently disgruntled at having been told to leave the club after having just arrived not long ago, so it decides to wreak havoc on its way out. This means the unsuspecting consumer of a monster grilled cheese sandwich is going to experience some really nasty gastro intestinal effects. Diarrhea is the most prevalent. And of course, Diarrhea is a coward who can’t show up without his posse. His homeboys Gas, Cramps, Cold Sweat, and Goosebumps act as emcees announcing his arrival. And they don’t wait until for a convenient opening. Whether you are in the checkout line at the grocery store or in a meeting with a group of executives, Diarrhea and his crew are coming through with live entertainment at your expense.

You may wonder what one issue has to do with the other. Well, one of the symptoms of gluten intolerance just so happens to be the body’s inability to absorb fat. I usually keep tablets of Pepto Bismol in my purse to avoid public humiliation when I am eating away from home. Now I am not going to tell you that eliminating wheat will change your life, but it changed mine. At a potluck recently, I indulged in some foods containing moderate amounts of fat. And I had no side effects. Guacamole was tolerated without as much as a whimper from my lower half. Considering the amount of fat in avocadoes, I never would have expected to eat guacamole without the accompaniment of pink bismuth. I also managed to eat sautéed veggies without embarrassment. Clearly, fat is not the culprit here.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to diagnose myself with Celiac Disease, but I am claiming gluten intolerance for now. I miss bread, but more for its convenience than flavor. Avoiding gluten seems to have reduced my cravings for carbs, which leads me to believe that crack is a real component of gluten. I’m not kidding; there is something suspiciously addictive about the food we are eating.

Since giving gluten the boot, I’ve actually dropped a little more weight. As of today, I am down a total of 43 pounds. I put my hands on my waist today and it dawned on me that I actually have a waist again.

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