Yesterday was my birthday.  I did NOT follow the guidelines to the letter.  First, if I’d been on food stamps (and I have been in the past once), I’d have saved up so I could have something special on my birthday.  That’s just what you do.  Second, if someone offered me free brownies for my birthday, I’d definitely accept.  It’d be rude (and dumb) not to.  So… I cheated.

I’ve noticed some definite flaws in this challenge for those of us who aren’t well-off CEOs of major companies.  I can’t use food I already have on hand?  I’m a smart shopper; I buy in bulk and it lasts me a week, a month, or more.  buying for just one week for this challenge was a waste.  Not being able to use food I already have was wasteful and irritating.  If I did this challenge again, I’d do the month-long version.

You can’t accept freebies?  Trust me, if you’re on SNAP, you will accept any freebie you can get… and will actively seek out discounts, perks, and other things.  Again, I understand that the idea is to experience hunger.  It’s still flawed.

This challenge also assumes that you don’t already occasionally miss a meal or make a less-nutritious offer because you’re on tight funds.  Yes, I’m blessed and I can occasionally splurge, but I’m also digging out of four years of divorce debt.  I know what being hungry feels like.  I know what doing without feels like.  Between my finances and my ulcerative colitis, I can’t afford to let my nutritional levels drop too much or I really will be just like someone on SNAP… suffering from anemia, malnutrition, and other deficiencies.

I’m still going to try this today, but I may stop soon.  It HAS made the point… and I don’t have a big enough following to stress over it.  I just don’t.

Back in January I decided I needed something to motivate me to be a regular runner.  I’ve run most of my life– I ran track in high school and competed in the 800– but I’ve always been sporadic about it.  Even last year, when I ran a 10K (6.2 miles) for Run 10 Feed 10, I trained pretty sporadically (and it showed).  This year, I was determined to do something different.

That started with putting my money where my mouth was.  I put down the payment for the half as soon as registration opened.  There!  I was committed!  I was going to run a half-marathon nine months later.

Apparently, nine months feels like “plenty of time”.

Between work and commute and kids and laziness (and, to be fair, the occasional bout with ulcerative colitis), my training was pretty lackadaisical for the first four months.  No, six months.  I think the urgency really kicked in just before June, when I was still only running five miles for my long run.

I’m a big fan of slow building in training to reduce the chance of injury, so I didn’t want to lengthen my long run by more than 10% in any given week.  Going from five miles to thirteen is a slow process this way, especially when you take a “step back” week every fourth week.  (I did not get injured once during the training, though.)  5 miles.  5.5 miles.  6 miles.  Back down to 3.  6.5 miles.  7 miles.  7.75 miles.  Back down to 4.  Yeah, it was slow going and I realized I was going to be cutting it very close.

I had done a few things right.  I was definitely a stronger runner, with more kick at the end.  I was faster.  My mile had gone from 10:30 down to 9; I could do five miles in under an hour.  But I had a hard time running distances over five miles.

I stuck it out, even when I was biking 9.4 miles a day as part of my commute.  I kept running when temperatures soared, just moving it inside to the dreaded treadmill.  I even got up super-early on my treasured weekends to run before church on Sundays, since that was often the only time I could get in a long run.

I even stopped playing tag and football with my kids for a while so I could focus on training.  We’re not doing that again.

Then life struck.  I got bad cramping on my ten-mile run and had to walk the last mile in excruciating pain.  Really.  Every step felt like knives were going into my legs.  My eleven mile run was better, but I missed my six mile drop-down week entirely.  That’s okay.  I still needed to do my twelve, but I was hopeful.

I had a really bad bout of UC.  I don’t run when I have a flare-up.  I just can’t.  I missed another week entirely.

Now I was in panic mode.  Okay, so I wouldn’t run thirteen miles before the big day, but at least I would run twelve.

I overslept and couldn’t run in the early morning before the kids got up.  I sucked it up and took the kids to a track park so I could run and they could play.  They ran the first mile with me (my kids are awesomesauce that way) and then I started running endless circles.

Running twelve miles on a 1/4 mile track sucks.  Big time.

I made it to six miles.  The kids were bored.  I was bored.  The sun was hot.  We really wanted to go play games.

I stopped at six and we walked the seventh mile home.

That was it.  That was all the training I could do for my half-marathon.  Time was up.

Was it enough?

I travelled this weekend.  I had a blast, managed to keep the stress to a minimum, and ate carefully to reduce my chances of a flare-up.  I was doing great until…

… I got to Union Station, Los Angeles, and was told the bathrooms were closed.

I had checked ahead of time when I made my reservations.  I was supposed to have thirty minutes to use the bathroom before they closed up for three hours.  (I won’t even go into the idiocy of closing an entire major station for three hours just to clean.  Sectional cleaning, anyone?)

My bus arrived 35 minutes late.  This meant the bathrooms had been closed for five minutes and I was out of luck.  I needed a bathroom, but not desperately, so I thought I could manage.

UC doesn’t like it much when you hold off using the bathroom.

An hour later, I passed out.  When I came to, I’d had an accident and still felt awful.  Much as I hated to do it, I lay down on the floor of Union Station with my suitcase as my pillow until the bathroom would open.  Apparently, security didn’t like that and told me I couldn’t sleep on the floor.

“I’m not sleeping, I’m sick.”

“You can’t lie on the floor.”

“I need a bathroom.”

“Bathrooms are closed.”

“Then I’m lying on the floor.”

Apparently he eventually realized I was actually sick and found a way to get me into a bathroom.  I was able to change my clothing, but I was out of wet wipes, so I couldn’t even do a decent job of cleaning myself up.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so embarrassed to smell like one of the homeless people who live in and around the station, but I did.  I also felt awful… UC drains me.  Since I couldn’t lie down inside, I went out to a bench (security guard nearby) and went back to sleep until things got fixed.  Then I had to go home, rather than go to work, because I could barely stand up straight.

All of this would’ve been okay if I could have just used the bathroom when I needed to in the first place.  I can’t even think of a real solution to this one, since I had planned for the thirty minute window to use the bathroom “just in case”.  It’s just one more of the joys of having an “invisible” disease that people don’t know about.  Crohn’s, because of the gluten allergy, is more well-known.  Ulcerative colitis is like speaking Latin.

If nothing else, this incident definitely didn’t make me a fan of Union Station and reinforced for me the need to scout out bathrooms before I go places.

You know… like normal people.



I am generally what you’d call a high-energy person.  My boyfriend calls me the Energizer Bunny, for example.  I usually need a little less sleep (actually need less, not just run on less).  I wake up ready to go and full of energy.  I have to wind down to make myself sleep at night.

At least, that’s what my life is like when my ulcerative colitis doesn’t take center stage.

Most of the time, UC is about food choices, reducing stress, and dealing with urgent bathroom issues most people don’t need to stress over unless they overdid the Taco Bell the night before.  Sometimes, though, UC is about energy.

Because of my UC, I can’t eat as many things.  A good-sized salad, for example, is generally a bad idea.  Because of that, I sometimes lack nutrients even though I eat with a deliberate eye toward nutrition.  Lack of nutrients can add up… and tear down.

This last week, I have been exhausted.  Some of that I can attribute to monthly hormonal fluctuations; some of it to a hard training schedule for my first half-marathon.  But most of the lack of energy, I suspect, is from the UC flare-up I had the week before.

Being this tired makes me feel like a different person.  Rather than juggling multiple items, I struggle to keep one aloft.  Maintaining relationships is always a struggle for my introvert self; when I’m tired, it becomes an “I’ll get to it later” concept.  I feel a bit disconnected from the world at large.

There’s really nothing I can do about it but ride it out, but I feel less me while I do it.  That’s one of the hidden side effects of this chronic illness.

At least I can look forward to my better days as I work my way through these more low-key ones.  For that, I am grateful.


July 30, 2013

As I’ve mentioned, my kids are on summer break.  I also have a 3 1/2 hour commute each day… AND my coworkers have all been taking vacation.  Couple that with my first ulcerative colitis flare-up in six months and I just don’t have a lot of energy for blogging.

I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things next week.  For now, please be patient with me.

Here are a few articles about ulcerative colitis, for those who are curious about UC:


I thought I’d spend some time on “hidden” illnesses; ones where the person is ill and you may not even know it.  Because of my personal relationship with it, I’m going to start with ulcerative colitis.

Illustration of Human Intestines

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease or digestive disorder (WebMD lists both).  It is related to Crohn’s Disease, but while Crohn’s affects the entire digestive system, UC affects only the colon (large intestine) and rectum.  Ulcers form on the inside of the digestive tract and there is considerable inflammation.  The more of the digestive tract that is affected, the worse the symptoms may be.

Symptoms include belly pain and cramping, diahrrea, and sometimes bleeding.  In more severe cases, there may be a fever, weight loss, and/ or extreme diahrrea (which increases the risk of dehydration).

Most people will go months or even years without symptoms (remission), then have a flare-up.  For me, it can come on without any warning the first time, then recede slightly, but continue to have flare-ups for several weeks.  Then it will go away for a while.  I have gone years without it, but I’m currently in a high-stress lifestyle, so I have flare-ups more often.

When a flare-up occurs, my intestine gets inflammed (sometimes causing pain and cramping, but not always).  My food will backup and not be digested fully until the pressure/pain is too much.  Then, uncontrollable diahrrea, sometimes (for me) accompanied by passing out from the blood all flowing to the inflammed area.

Diagnosis of UC includes talking about symptoms, a physical exam, and a number of tests including a colonoscopy, possible biopsy, blood tests, and stool tests.

Medication for UC includes steroids (short term), immunomodulators to control the immune system, aminosalicylates to reduce symptoms or prevent flare-ups, and over-the-counter diahrrea medication like Immodium.

Certain foods seem to irritate UC more than others.  I try to avoid popcorn, nitrates (like those found in bacon, pepperoni, or hotdogs), iceberg lettuce, much caffeine or alcohol, and anything very acidic.

Because vitamin deficiency and dehydration are two very real risks with UC, I try to drink a lot of water and eat as balanced of a diet as I can.  I do more hard cheeses and yogurts to get my dairy, I vary my vegetables (but rarely do salads), cut out a lot of processed foods, and when nothing else works, I go for a liquid diet or a one-meal fast.  A lot of times missing one meal will give my body enough of a break that I can recover more quickly and get back to “regular life”.

UC requires a few lifestyle changes.  I try to always know where a bathroom is and I’ve had to make do in an emergency.  I keep a “flare-up kit” on me that includes a change of underwear, sanitary pad, plastic bag/baggies, and wipes.  I’ve learned to stop apologizing for being sick (usually) and to just adapt.  I haven’t learned to completely give up popcorn or caffeine or exercise, but I try to moderate all three.

There are worse invisible diseases to live with, but there are definite risks for UC.  I could have to have surgery at some point, and my risk of colon cancer is higher than the general population.  As healthily as I try to eat, I could be malnourished or dehydrated at any time.  I’ve passed out in some scary situations (never, ever on the road or I’d just stop driving altogether).  Still, it’s not life-threatening in itself and I can still have good quality of life living with it.  But the next time someone makes a mad dash for the bathroom or, worse, embarasses themselves by not getting there in time, know that they could be suffering from UC.. and have a little sympathy.