Update: It was Definitely a Concussion

…which has made this a very weird week in Grace-land. (See Friday’s Post for context.) Of course I tried going to work on Saturday, the very next day, with a warning to manager and supervisor (both friends) that I was on concussion-watch but I thought I was okay. And I was okay! Until suddenly I wasn’t. The first warning sign is nausea in the back of the throat, at which point I can make it through a few more customers before I get real dizzy and have to go sit down. The first time it settled after a few minutes, and I was able to work a few more hours (a fixed heater and the sudden addition of WARM AIR blasting over the previously-freezing cashier area helped immensely) but then the same thing happened a little over an hour before I was due to leave. I clocked out immediately, but this time it took a while to settle. I had planned to take the bus home, slowly realized that wouldn’t be happening, and then I couldn’t even cope with the concept of ubering for about half an hour. Finally one of the upper managers was leaving and had a car nearby, and offered to swing back by the shop and give me a ride home. Where, thanks to pushing it all day, it took a while for me to feel better. This was probably my lowest moment all week. I had a pretty bad pressure headache, and I was very hungry, and another thing about concussions is you tend to get over emotional (that morning, while nursing a headache on a milk-crate in the hallway leading to the walk-in cooler, my manager asked if I was okay and I gave him a big thumbs-up but also started crying). So I was in my apartment trying to stand up to make some french fries, realized as I was getting the package out of the freezer that I couldn’t stand up to make the french fries, and then started crying because I was really sad and frustrated that I couldn’t stand up to make the french fries.

This is the type of moment where it feels especially hard to be single. It’s embarrassing to be a grown adult who can’t stand up to make french fries, and I wished I had a designated person, someone with a vested interest in my well-being and someone who has seen me in embarrassing situations before, who could make the french fries and assure my rattled brain it was going to be okay. I was seeing someone last spring while under strict orders from my physical therapist to ice my knee after every run, and one night after running and hitting the grocery store we were in the kitchen and suddenly that person was chopping and frying everything for dinner and just handling it, without me having to ask, and it was such a relief to realize I could sit down and ice my knee and not have to worry about it thanks to that other person.

What I did Saturday, though, was swallow my pride and text some nearby friends who had checked in with me after reading my blog post on Friday, one of whom is an EMT. Within an hour they were at my house with tylenol and a few slices of Otto’s (the local gourmet pizza). By then the worst of the headache was clearing up and I felt a lot less alone, but followed my friends’ urging to call out of work the following day. And I hate that, I hate calling out of work, but there are times when you just can’t tough it out despite your best intentions. I still wanted to get home (1 1/4 hrs away) for my mom’s birthday party on Sunday, and was considering driving despite my friends’ instructions not to, but it turned out two other friends were also going to my mom’s party and were able to give me a ride! I though getting a ride was mostly a precaution, but just getting my stuff together to be away for the evening pushed me into the headache zone, and when my friends arrived I had to ask them to come upstairs to help me carry my things and take the compost out. It sucks to already be carsick before getting in the car. But then it was so lovely to be home with family, cake, and home-cooked meals. The next day there was macaroni and cheese, and nothing beats home-cooked macaroni and cheese for comfort food. Of course I am a little nervous about how much I am eating without any of my usual physical activity—but there will be plenty of time when I am feeling better to get back on the road and back to the gym.

My parents gave me a ride home to Portland yesterday (Tuesday). On the way we made a grocery list (my mom wrote it down because once again I was carsick way before actually getting in the car), and…well, it doesn’t feel great to be a grown adult waiting in the car with a headache while your parents do your grocery shopping. But it did feel amazing to get home to my apartment as the headache was lifting and know that I had a bunch of yummy easy-to-make meal options. And my apartment was certainly a bit of a mess, but thanks to all the work I’ve been doing lately to keep on top of things it wasn’t the worst mess it could possibly be, and I felt really peaceful to be back and cozy in my nice space that I like.

Concussions suck! Don’t get one! I’m missing things this week that I don’t want to miss, and I’m getting behind in my training when I’d rather be getting stronger. But having to rely on your village makes you realize how strong your village is, and I am VERY GRATEFUL for friends who looked out for me at work, and brought me food when I needed food, gave me rides and helped me carry things while I was at my most pathetic, for parents looking after me and feeding me, and for everyone else who texted or messaged or commented to wish me well or ask how I was doing. Y’all are the best and I’m very very lucky to have you in my life. I am definitely improving and hope to resume some of my normal activities within the next day or two or three, so see you soon. 🙂

Ice, Or, The Story of Why I Didn’t Run Today

As it became clear today that I would not be completing a long run this afternoon, I told myself I would do a blog update as a consolation prize. Why did I not complete a long run this afternoon? WELL LET ME TELL YOU!

Falling on ice is a pretty common occurrence during a Maine Winter, but it all felt fairly dramatic while it was happening. (Mom you can stop reading now I’m fine!) I got a nice early start to the day, did some laundry and tidying up, had all my things together to leave the house and run some errands, was feeling really great. I went down the rear interior staircase from my 2nd floor apartment, opened the outside door, stepped out onto the three exterior steps leading from the door to the driveway…and immediately went down. There had been a drip of water from the roof onto the steps; the ice was wet and perfectly smooth. Zero traction. I’ve never had problems on these steps before and it wasn’t sleeting or anything, so I didn’t think to be careful. Just step and gone, keys and purse and my new vacuum-insulated tumbler flying out of my hands. I landed HARD on my right hip/buttock and my right elbow, and it HURT. I had to lie there on the steps a minute, whimpering slightly, in enough pain to wonder who I could call for help who wasn’t at work at 10:30 am on a Friday. I don’t remember hitting my head; it all happened very quickly and the largest amounts of pain were focused in the hip and elbow areas. When I eventually stood up, however, I found that I needed to crouch back down almost immediately and put my head between my knees like you’re supposed to do if you’re worried you might faint. It felt PRETTY SILLY to be crouched in pain at the bottom of the side steps next to the driveway, though, so with EXTREME CAUTION I eventually made it back up the three outside steps and through the door to the carpeted entry way. Where I felt very nauseous and once again had to sit down, low to the floor, and keep my head very still. In addition to the nausea, some of the arm muscles I was using to support myself were acting all shaky and not behaving precisely as told. But sitting in the shared entryway still felt silly, so after gathering my resolve I got up, shook the container of ice melt LIBERALLY over the offending outdoor steps, and made my way back up the indoor flight of stairs to my second floor apartment. I headed straight to the couch, and balance/walking was pretty tricky for a minute there. I saw the proverbial stars, which in actuality appeared as kind of a moving diamond pattern overlaying my vision. I was also overheating at this point, and struggled to remove hat/scarf/jacket while also lying down and ceasing movement as quickly possible.

And… within a very short amount of time the room stopped spinning and I was able to sit up, and felt fairly normal aside from general shakiness and bruises.

I figure I must have hit my head, although there still isn’t a bruise or specific place on my head that hurts. Once walking felt okay again I went to the bathroom mirror and checked for dilated pupils, and they looked fine. I also never lost consciousness, and I think those two things are some of the signs of a really bad concussion. After giving myself a good few minutes to make sure I stayed feeling fine, I decided to go about my day but take it with a grain of salt. When I stopped by the donut shop to pick up my tips I went for a mocha with whipped cream instead of my usual plain coffee—icy falls call for treat drinks! And I went to the bank and did all the out-and-about things I’d been planning on, feeling fine and capable but just a little sluggish and off. I decided my body would probably be better served if I replaced “doing a long run” with “resting on the couch” this afternoon/evening, and by the last errand on my list I was starting to get a tinge of a back-of-the-head, nauseous kind of headache. So I went home. And I feel okay, but also like “resting on the couch” is a good thing to be doing. And that’s my story!

I’m mad about the miles I’m missing. Due to scheduling conflicts I won’t be able to get a long run in on Sunday, and I’m not going to run tomorrow unless I really feel up to it. I don’t want to mess around with a possible concussion, even a mild one, and getting through work may be quite enough for the day. This might leave me with as few as 10 miles for the week , which is frustrating when I’m shooting for 20 at a minimum and would rather be in the 27-30 range (somehow I couldn’t fit in any extra mileage on top of the pub runs this Wednesday and Thursday either). But one thing I learned after an injury last spring is that sometimes rest is just what you need, so I’m trying not to stress about it. I’ll just try not to look at my Strava mileage for the week (Strava is the run app I use) and hopefully I can make up for it next week. I did a pretty hard workout at my circuit class yesterday and I’ve been leveling up on some of the weights, so it hasn’t exactly been an easy week and it might be an okay time to take a break. Either way it can’t be helped. And at least I hurt myself while walking, in winter boots and street clothes, and can still claim to be pretty darn good at running on ice.

Stay safe out there, and be careful on steps!

Winter Blues and Running Motivation

A good thing about today is that I have a meal in my crockpot bubbling away, and it will be ready when I get home from laundry/gym/library/errands and before I go off to my Thursday run. I haven’t made Butternut Squash Risotto before (another recipe from THIS BOOK that saved my life last winter) but the sage and cumin spice-combo smells delicious.

A bad thing about today is that it’s still November, and winter isn’t going away for MONTHS!

My Seasonal Depression is mild and manageable without medication, which makes me hella lucky! But as the days get colder I still notice myself feeling down more often than usual, and feeling more tired, even though over the summer I was doing more things with more intensity and with…not less fatigue but different, more positive fatigue. I have a pretty full schedule of life-giving events that I never miss, and sometimes over these last few weeks I find myself not wanting to go…even though I KNOW I’ll feel better when I get there. So I go, and I do.

Some of this is to say November hasn’t been a big writing month, even though in my post just two weeks ago I told you about my big November writing goals. I stand by my decision not to do Na-No this year because there just isn’t a new book in me right now, but without that bar graph and relentlessly increasing word count the writing has not been happening. It’s been a little more about survival—making it to the runs and social events, making a plan for tracking my expenses and making a budget, trying to feed myself more healthily and inexpensively. This doesn’t sound like that many things, but sometimes that’s just where you’re at, you know? I work early mornings at a coffee shop, and I LOVE the morning shift because I get out so early in the day—but if you’re not careful about getting enough sleep, a workweek can feel like a bit of a deathmarch, something to get through until that next day you can sleep in. During the summer on Wednesdays, the first day of my weekend, I just slept for hours and then woke up and ran for hours. And I actually miss that long run training schedule, because you feel just a little less pathetic about the week’s worth of dishes piling up in your sink when you ran twenty miles that day.

Running! The ebb and flow of fitness is a weird thing. I started being intentional about running and fitness just about two years ago, which is a very short time in the scheme of things, and I’ve had the luxury of getting fitter and faster for the majority of that time. I did my second marathon this September (2018) and got a Personal Record by 45 minutes. Going into that race I was the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my life. This was just a little over a month ago, and I’ve continued running and lifting things, so most of that strength hasn’t gone too far away. My miles dropped off when I stopped doing race-specific long runs, however, and now I’m trying to get them back up and build a stronger base for the winter. It’s demoralizing to feel exhausted after a 20-mile week when just two months ago you crushed a 47-mile week for your highest-mileage week ever. But you can’t always be at your best/most/fastest/highest/farthest ever, though I do think I have an awful lot of personal bests still to come. You have to keep yourself going by trusting the process over the long haul, and trusting that you’ll get there for your next big thing (I’m leveling up for my next race, if all goes well: a 50-kilometer trail race in the spring). And looking at the little things helps too. Last night was the coldest night for running so far this year, and for 3.3 miles I averaged 8:55 minutes per mile. This isn’t fast by a lot of people’s standards, but I remember a similar cold night in November or December of 2016, back at the beginning of this journey, when I ran my absolute hardest for a similar distance. I remember huffing and puffing on my way back to the bar, really putting my heart into it and running until it hurt—and I averaged 10:30 minute miles. And I was proud! And I should have been! But it’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and good to remember the huge difference between now and then, especially when I feel like I haven’t been working as hard as I could been have over the last month. There’s a lot more months ahead, and lot more hard work to go!

And a lot more cold weather before spring. Brr.

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I’m Back

I’ve returned to the USA. There’s cheese here; I like that.

It’s been a great joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for so long. My social plate has been full for the last week and a half, and I hope all my friends know how wonderful it is to see their faces and hear their voices.

People keep asking how it is to be back; and it’s good. It’s surreal how ordinary it all feels, almost like the last year never happened and I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m different, though. The ten months abroad gave me a lot, in terms of focus, identity, belief.

Currently I’m existing in a state of unknowns. Thankfully I saved enough to invest in some things I need (an American phone, a drawing tablet that works, new interview shoes), but things cost a lot in America—like, so much—and I need an income sooner rather than later. I expected to feel more anxiety about that, but I’m putting a lot of energy toward the search, and it all has to work out one way or another. Housing is also an issue, and unexpectedly so, but I know we’ll find a solution.

My most overwhelming reverse-culture shock moment so far happened while walking into a Hannaford grocery store last Sunday. There are many Hannaford stores all over the greater Portland area, and for the two years I worked as bus driver Hannaford was my home-away-from-home. You can always find bus parking in a Hannaford parking lot, and I used to go in at least once a day to use the bathroom and grab a snack, or even get lunch from the wings/salad bar. While riding back from the airport, just seeing the Hannaford sign gave me a surprisingly intense shot of nostalgia.

So I walked into Hannaford on a Sunday morning, concise grocery-list in hand, and it was SO STRANGE to be alone in a public place and feel like I was meant to belong.

Every time I went into a mall or grocery store or market in Phitsanulok, I knew that I stood out. I was the tall foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t be expected to know how to do anything. If I ever needed help, or if the cashier needed to tell me that it was buy-one-get-1-free on one of my items (which I never knew while getting it off the shelf because I couldn’t read the sign), it meant we were in for a half-mimed and half-understood conversation of broken Thai and broken English. I became really accustomed to that feeling of standing out, of being watched, of sales people whispering to each other when they saw me and then sending their best English-speaking representative over to ask if I needed anything.

So it was bizarre to be in a large store and to feel like everyone around me expected me to fit in and know exactly how to behave. It felt like a lot of pressure, suddenly, like if I messed up people would judge me. I didn’t realize that the lack of expectations for my behavior in a foreign country was actually freeing, in some ways, and belonging in a place visually made me feel like an imposter. Especially since I couldn’t remember where the coffee aisle was, and hadn’t steered a shopping cart in months.

I’m also really scared that Hannaford has stopped making lemon poppyseed muffins, which were my favorite. They did them perfect, too, soft on the inside and crispy on top. I need to try a different store, or a different day, to confirm. All I know is that the back bay store didn’t have them on Sunday, and it was a bummer.

That’s all for now! Despite the muffins, it’s great to be back.

February Update

Hello blog! Just a quick check-in to let you know I survived the holidays. December Sketches, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Valentine’s, Etc.

I finished the December Sketch-A-Day Challenge  and completed 31 sketches for the first year ever! It wore me out, though, and I wasn’t super thrilled with all of my sketches. Well, okay, here’s one that turned out nice.

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I’ve also have visitors. Four whole people in December, including my brother and some very dear friends. Two of whom stayed for almost a month.

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And then my parents visited, and we went to Cambodia, which was my first time leaving  Thailand in a lot of months. Then my parents went to India, and then came back to Bangkok where I met them a week later, so it was like they visited twice.

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At the end of a long day of touring Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commonly referred to as Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually the most famous of many ruins, and we are standing near the back of Angkor Wat in the photo above.

Oh, and on my birthday I had dinner outside by the river with these lovely people (and the guy taking the photograph, sorry Andrew!). They even got me a CAKE, which was ridiculously sweet. Then, at home, I had a drink out of this glorious unicorn goblet which recently arrive in the mail from Lady Higg.

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I’m also writing, when I can. I’ve been wrestling some plot demons, but I think I’ve found a solution—to at least some of the problems. What with preparing final lessons and student grades, picking up an extra class, making travel plans for my last few weeks, and job hunting, it’s been hard to find the time. Did I mention I’ll be home in less than a month? See you soon!

Rainy Season

Friday night. Throwing a few extras in my purse before trotting down the stairs and heading out. Ako was already on her way to town, picking up a friend, and I would follow after. Others were already in town, all of us converging in a little while on a restaurant in the night bazaar for food and drinks. Some of us just wanted to get out of the house, some of us had transferred Saturday plans to Friday due to an early engagement on Sunday, and some of us had missed a bus to Bangkok due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. My phone was in my hand on its way to my bag when my bedroom AC shut off and the lights went dark. Seconds later, the phone rang.

It was Ako, already partway to town. “It’s raining,” she said. She was under the roof of a store somewhere between the school and Phitsanulok, trying to decide what do. As we talked I made my way to the window, narrowly avoided tripping over my harp in the dark room, and opened the shutters to let in the remaining light.

“Huh,” I said. “It’s not raining here yet. No, wait, here it comes.”

Ako carried on into town because she was already wet and halfway there. I decided to wait a while; usually these storms pass in twenty minutes or so. Soon the initial downpour eased slightly, and I ran downstairs and put my purse inside double layers of plastic bags and got ready to move out—but the slackening turned out to be an illusion. A few more minutes brought another downpour. The word “torrential” came to mind. I stood with the door open for a few seconds and thought about it, but it just seemed stupid to take a motorbike out into a storm like this if you didn’t have to. Even if the power was out, and the light was leaving the sky.

I stood by the large kitchen window as the light faded, feeling the cool air through the screen and staring at the rain, willing the sky to keep its glow for a few minutes longer. I turned on my cell phone every few seconds to illumine a dark corner behind me, and to check for lizards on the wall nearby.

Maybe 25 minutes into the storm, I heard a loud noise. It was a cross between a wail, a rusty door, and a foghorn. It was followed by others, a chorus of creaking, mechanical noises. I grew up with a river in the backyard and I’m used to frogs singing in the swamp at night, but this was a breed of frog I had never heard before. The rain continued well past the half hour mark, and soon I was only imagining that the sky was any brighter than the rest of the dark around me. I couldn’t stay here without light or food, but going out into the storm still seemed like a foolhardy proposition.

When David called, he solved my dilemma (he was the “missed his bus”  portion of the dinner crew). “Don’t go out if you don’t have to,” he said. “I just watched a motorcycle accident happen in front of me. The roads are a mess.” He had already given up on going to the restaurant, and offered to bring me pad thai when he came back to the school. Yes. Minutes later, I remembered the frog-shaped rechargeable lamp on the table, surely purchased by my Thai roommate for instances such as this. Soon after I was happily writing by lamp-light at the table, and not much later the power returned. David made it back as the storm was finally fading to droplets and sprinkles, and by this time the strange frog noises had grown as soothing as a foghorn in the night.

Oh, and the Pad Thai was delicious.

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town. In this photo, we look RELATED.

The view from the chinese temple

The view from the chinese temple

A Weekend, A Sketch

Long weekends don’t mean too much to me, generally; I always have Mondays off. Brother came up from Massachusetts on Friday evening, though, and stayed with me and Brackett through yesterday. We checked out the newly renovated Dogfish Bar and Grill for lunch yesterday (I can recommend the 128 Free Street Sandwich) and then Brother and Brackett picked up some vinyl and a few Super Nintendo games at the Electrcic Buddhas nostalgia shop around the corner. They proceeded to beat Goof Troop in under two hours—a game that had seemed impossibly difficult when I was a child. Brother headed up to our parents house yesterday evening, and I’m following in a few hours. Sadly, I have to return my mother’s car. It was easier for her to leave the vehicle with me last weekend than for us to figure out the logistics of her and my father dropping me and another friend off in Portland on their way home from the retreat in separate cars in time for a scheduled event back home. It’s been really nice having wheels for a few days.

I can’t share the painting I was telling you about last weekend yet. I’m really happy with how that’s turning out, but it’s not quite done. My week was subsumed by another worthy project (yes I did make art during the week this week, though it was for a different purpose [an exciting one!] than my usual stuff) so I haven’t made too much more headway on that painting or my other digital art. I did make a sketch yesterday that I finished today, though, so I’m sharing that instead. I’m working on an illustration for the picnic scene in Chapter 4 (Wanderlust Chapter 4: City of Shadows) and right now I’m planning where everyone’s sitting and what they’re doing. I’m hoping to round up some friends to shoot reference photos this week (friends in Portland: I need about two more models for a picnic scene—let me know if you want to help!), so it will be good to know what poses I’m looking for ahead of time. I’m thinking Vanya will be in the background of the scene taking a swig of his drink. I realized I’d never drawn that before, so I did the following sketch as a study, using some stock photos as reference.

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