On Long Hair and Banishing Dementors

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It’s always hard to get pack to posting when I have been neglecting the blog for a while. Not really neglecting… we had some stuff going on and I needed to process out of the public eye so to speak. And I have done a lot of processing and made a few changes while I was at it.

I have started a lot of diets over the years, I probably begin at least a few times a year in fact, but I haven’t actually been able to do anything about this “baby weight” for the last few babies. The last time I got serious about exercise and diet, all I succeeded in doing was exhausting myself.

At the beginning of August, I hit one of those points when I had to either lose a few pounds or buy a bigger size. So I fired up MyFitnessPal again and began half heartedly tracking my food. Even that was enough to knock a couple pounds off. After a couple weeks of doing that, I had a day when I actually did my hair.

My hair lives in a bun of sorts most of the summer. It is hot out and I will likely be in the pool at least once a day, so why bother styling it when it will just be wet again in a few hours? But on this day my hair was dry and clean and I knew I wouldn’t be swimming, so I got out my straightener and Did My Hair for real.

My hair has gotten pretty long lately, probably as long as I have ever had it. Straightening and slightly curling the ends made it look so pretty and shiny, I pulled out my phone to take a picture…

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… and I was kind of shocked at what I saw. It’s amazing that you can look in the mirror every day and refuse to really see yourself, but that is just what I had been doing. On that day I saw myself, and I didn’t look like myself.

(Disclaimer because this is the internet and someone will get bent out of shape: I am not making a statement about anyone’s body but my own. I know the shape of my frame and my body was not reflecting that.)

I went ahead and took the rest of my “before” pictures and I began to buckle down and really get serious about my diet. I also dusted off my fitbit and started walking. I couldn’t handle anything else right then, that was my starting point and for the first time in a long time, the changes stuck and I began to lose weight.

I started feeling better right away and the pounds started really dropping. I’m not losing super fast, just about a pound a week on average, but I am now within spitting distance of 20 pounds lost. I’ll post those before, during, and finally some after pictures in some other post.

Feeling better physically rippled out into other areas of my life and I began placing a higher priority on my self care. I actively sought out time to journal or just be alone for a while (hard core introvert here) and I took a close look at my cluttered home and started working on that as well. I also started running again.

I love running. And I can’t believe I just said that. I was the least athletic kid in school – the slowest runner, the last to be picked for teams in P.E. classes, I didn’t even know how to play most sports. (I once volunteered to be the catcher in a baseball game, thinking that would keep me out of the way of the ball. See? I was clueless.) But running is like a brain cleanse for me. I am slow, and I still take lots of walk breaks, but it turns down the noise in my brain for a while and makes me a happier person.

So here I was – exercising, eating right (mostly), journalling, getting better rest, and other things to take better care of me. And then came my birthday.

My 45th Birthday.

Gosh, how did I get so OLD?

On the morning of my birthday I went for a run. Since it was later than I usually would go, I took a different route – one that I hadn’t wanted to take in the pitch black morning. This route took me through a tunnel under the street.

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Does that remind you of anything? It’s a little bit different, but it looked (and felt) very much like the tunnel in Harry Potter where Dudley and Harry meet up with the Dementors. I realized in that moment that I have been fighting some pretty serious Dementors and right now, I am winning.

I am winning. The thought very nearly took my breath away. While I have my bad days, for the first time in a long time (I can’t even remember how long!) my depression symptoms are at a very low point. That tunnel was such a gift on my birthday!

I have a long way to go, both in terms of my physical and mental health. I am figuring out what kind of maintenance needs to happen and when to help me stay here and even keep making progress. I know there are setbacks ahead of me and I am trying to have some contingency plans in place when those happen.

Through all this, the grace of God has sustained me in both the good and the tougher days, and my husband’s unfailing support (including  inconveniences on many work days) has made it possible for me to get to where I am now. With their help, I will keep going!

If you want support or to follow my journey you can find me on MyfitnessPal as NineLivesAZ and on Fitbit as jengroft at gmail (etc. You know how to write an email address).

Confessions of a Former Anti Vaxxer

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This post is a little embarrassing and frightening to write. I generally try to stay away from controversial topics, but in light of the recent increase in disease, I thought I should speak out.

My History with Regard to Vaccines and My Children

I started out doing everything by the book. My first daughter got her shots on schedule, so did my second child, for at least his first year or so. Around that time, I became involved with a certain breastfeeding organization. I studied hard, and eventually became a co-leader in a group.

As we led the group, we were careful to give good information about breastfeeding and not to allow any group discussions about off topic medical subjects like home birth and vaccines, but in the play group that spawned from the group… we were free to talk about anything. A close friend loaned me her copy of DPT: A Shot in the Dark by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher. To be honest, the book scared my pants off. It is full of heartrending anecdotes or parents watching their children scream for hours, have seizures and become brain damaged.

This was still the pre-internet era, so my research from there on was done through talking to natural minded friends, reading more books and articles, including How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Robert S Mendelsohn, MD. Even then, with just a public library and advice from friends, it was easy enough to confirm my growing suspicions that vaccines were unnecessary and even unhealthful. Graphs like this one didn’t help at all:

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The seed of doubt in the medical community had been sown early in my parenting in my pursuit for an unmedicated birth. That doubt bloomed in full when I had my third child at home with a lay midwife. She received no vaccinations, had no crib, lived in the sling, breastfed on demand… the whole bit. And I wasn’t afraid to tell anyone I talked to all about it. (I’m so glad I didn’t have a blog then, I would have been obnoxious!)

I am thankful that through all of this I had an understanding pediatrician and nurses. They listened patiently to my concerns and did their best to answer my questions. Still, I remained distrustful and would not vaccinate. They continued to care for my children anyway. Had they sent me away, I am sure I would have found myself and my children in the office of a doctor who agreed with me.

Babies 5, 6, and 7 were born at home. During this time, we had stopped homeschooling and put our children in school so the vaccine thing became a real issue every year. I had a lot of children to keep healthy, and decided to take a leap of faith. Looking around me at all the normal, healthy, and intelligent children, in our school and far beyond, I decided that maybe I had been manipulated – emotionally milked by anecdotal stories – for too long. My 7th child was vaccinated on schedule (with a few exceptions, like the newborn Hep B) and I began to get the other children caught up as well.

I guess it wasn’t entirely a leap of faith. I had witnessed long, drawn out debates on parenting message boards and had talked to friends with advanced degrees in different types of science (chemistry for one and biology for another) who had also researched and had a fuller understanding of some of the things they read about vaccines than I did. I had been quietly processing this information and letting my fear die down a bit.

Then my 8th child was born, at home, with a more traumatic birth. This and other situations at the time left me emotionally raw. When she reacted strongly to her 2 month shots, I was scared all over again and resolved that I had been wrong to trust in vaccinations. She received no further shots, nor did any of the other kids.

Parenting is a scary thing; having your heart go walking around outside your body unprotected. I reacted out of that fear. Thankfully, we were spared from the increasing levels of outbreaks that seemed to be popping up more in the media.

I listened quietly, I read, I sought out opinions, facts, and studies from both sides of the debate, instead of just trying to back up my own opinion. Slowly, I calmed down and started catching the kids up again.

Things That Changed My Mind

If I had to pick one thing that was a turning point for me, it was the comparison of some of the graphs. I think the first time around, I had just taken them at face value, the ones I saw were like the one above, comparing the death rates of diseases. Of course the death rate dropped before the vaccine – we were finally in an era of modern medical care, with understanding of germ theory and antibiotics! Death isn’t the only bad effect to come from these diseases. There were graphs like these, which show cases of disease, not deaths:

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There are other contributing factors. My mom told me one day recently about her own experience with the measles at age 12. She told me of friends who suffered through whooping cough, and even had a child die from it. She had told me before, but I had been of the mindset that the diseases weren’t really all that bad. But they were that bad. My mom had no long term effects from the measles, but it was long, severe, and painful. And she was one of the lucky ones.

One day when my daughter got her polio shot, she asked about the disease it was preventing. We came home and did a little research, and found that maybe death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person with polio.

Yet, those people won’t be counted on that graph of deaths from polio.

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I’ve recently read some books that told the story of the fight against disease: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, and The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. These helped me to see the development of our medical system, complete with its mistakes and rabbit trails, as one that still has the cure of disease and the helping of people as its goal.

I began by mindlessly doing what I was told to do. Then I wrongly assumed that was what everyone who vaccinated was doing. Now my children are vaccinated and my eyes are open. My purpose in posting this is not to debate the issue, but to encourage each parent to continue educating themselves and understand that changing your mind is not failure or defeat. In each year of parenting we do the best we can for our children with what we have available to us. We have to forgive ourselves past mistakes and move on the best way we know how. I also want to let people on both sides of the fence know that their voices are heard, often by people who aren’t audibly participating in the debate. Be reasonable and respectful, check your sources, and you will be better heard by others. Many who do not vaccinate make this choice out of fear or distrust of the medical profession. It takes more than arguments to move past this.

I want to thank my pediatrician’s office one more time in this post; for caring for my children even when you didn’t agree with my decisions, for answering my questions honestly and respectfully. There are many offices who send non-vaccinaters packing. I’m glad you are not one of those.