07 January 2016

2015: An Introspective + Petra Update

I like data. I like spreadsheets and pie charts and visual representations of quantifiable information. I enjoy tracking my life on a calendar and using excel to track specific activities. If you've gone skiing, climbing, or running (and in some cases cycling or hiking) with me in the last four years I have record of it. I can tell you when we went, where we went, what we did, what the weather was like, and who else was with us.

This "activity spreadsheet" was inspired by my friend Kelly. She charted all of her ski days and I thought that was a darn good idea. Kelly moved to Norway a few years ago, but before she did we went on 6 runs together. After she moved, I visited her and we skied for 5 days overlooking the fjords together. And I know this because: Spreadsheet.

Kristina and Kelly do Norway.

Tracking can be an incredibly informative and powerful tool. While training for a marathon I could log my weekly mileage. When I was trying to step up my climbing - something harder to quantify - I started tracking the number of routes I climbed at the gym and their average rating. Over time, this allowed me to "see" improvement even when I didn't feel like I had made any progress.

I'm on the record as having not loved 2015, which is difficult enough for me to personally comprehend let alone try to explain to someone else. Now the year has come to a close, and I have the benefit of perspective to look back with a fresh set of eyes - and I have some good data to help me understand how I was feeling.

If you're a regular reader, you know I traveled to Thailand last Christmas and contracted a parasite (whom I named Petra) while I was there. I didn't know Petra had taken up residence in my belly until late-April, at which time I took a very heavy round of antibiotics to evict the illegal squatter. She was a fighter though, and a second round of antibiotics were needed in mid-May to get the last of it.

The antibiotics worked wonders. They gave my attitude an over-the-moon energy boost and made me realize just how far down I had fallen - just how sick I had become. My second day on the drug I was so happy that I called my mom elated. After 10-minutes on the phone with me, she said "You're annoying me. You're too happy. I have to go now." I didn't care. I felt GREAT!

Belly Bacteria. Turns out its something you want.

The inevitable fall came after my meteoric rise. I lost a tooth to infection and my stomach was completely chewed up, both from Petra and the antibiotics. It took months - nay IS taking months and might take years - to get my tummy back to normal. The "microbial imbalance" still affects my mood and leaves me feeling less motivated and more lethargic/fatigued. It turns out, your gut has a lot to do with pretty much everything in your life:
Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity....Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety." - New York Times
Which brings me back to my original point: data. Knowing all of this information about bacteria - knowing that it's supposed to take me 2-3x the length of time I was sick to recover my good belly bacteria (10-15 months) - doesn't make me feel better about the fact that I feel "off". It doesn't help me explain to my friends and family what I've been going through. But data - data is the key.

To quantify this "feeling" I've had for all of 2015, I went back to my trusty Spreadsheet. I totaled the number of days I spent climbing and skiing and running in 2015, by month, and charted it against 2014 data. What's the point? The data basically perfectly tracks how I had described my personal struggles last year. Take a look:

As I began to get sick, my activity declined. As my recovery began, it picked back up again, soaring into December when, late month, I finally had an incredible day that made me feel whole again.

If I had to describe how my year went, it would pretty much be like the chart above. A lot more up and down from day to day, but overall pretty much a bowl, with a really dark period mid-year. Here's a look at that same chart, with 2014 added in:

You can see the difference a parasitic infection can make. In 2014 I was much more active - not just in one month either, but in pretty much every single month. Even accounting for the fact that I quit climbing in June of 2015, my December numbers are almost identical for 2014 and 2015. To me, this indicates I am capable of the same quantity of activity days even if I cut out one of the activity types. Which is reassuring, but the bottom line is bacteria (leaving me fatigued, lethargic, unmotivated, depressed) absolutely impacted my life in a quantifiable way.

I also looked at my average pace of running, because I felt like that went down too. Here's that, plus one last look at the overall data:

I do want to say the year wasn't all bad. If I could eliminate the belly troubles, I might even be tempted to say it was a good year. I brought in the New Year in Thailand, spent a week on a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands with good friends and my amazing boyfriend in February, and introduced said boyfriend to the parents on a ski trip to Montana in March after summiting Mt. Shasta together.

Thailand. Shasta. Skiing with Popi. BVIs.

I *almost* climbed Glacier Peak in May, celebrated an extra-special summit of Mt. Adams in June, backpacked and kayaked in Alaska in July, met the parents on a great trip to New York in August, and hiked Angels Landing in Zion with my GrandBob (in a tutu!) in September.

Glacier. Hood from Adams. Denali. Atlantic Coast. Zion.

In October, I celebrated 4-years of Turns All Year and in November I hung out with Jim Whittaker and had a few articles published. And finally, December brought me back my mojo! I taught myself how to knit hats, spent the last three months blogging at least once a week as an exercise in reflection and appreciation, and was promoted to Director of Membership and Marketing at work!

Another year of TAY. Super happy faces. Hiking. Skiing.

So, objectively, not bad. Not bad at all. But when your year feels like an inverse bell curve it's really hard to have enough perspective to appreciate the good.

Which is why I'm happy to say goodbye to 2015. I feel like I'm nearing the end of this less-than-stellar spell. December was a very good month and has given me hope. My belly feels better (I'll give it an 85% for now), physically I feel less fatigued, and emotionally I'm feeling more motivated to get out there and get after it.

Since 2011 I've published a "Year in Review" blog. It's my chance to appreciate the previous year and set goals for the coming months. I talk about the things I climbed and the trips I took and the miles I ran. Only, I never published one in 2015 (to wrap up 2014), which to me really symbolizes the difficulty of 2015 from the get-go.

Skiing in the shadow of Shuksan to bring in the New Year.

So, in the spirit of looking ahead, here are my goals for 2016:

  • Make another attempt on Glacier Peak. Maybe finally climb to the top this time.
  • Continue to write one blog/week. It's proven to be a valuable exercise for me personally and will hopefully help me to become a better writer.
  • Find a new home for my blog. I'd like to create a custom site eventually. I'd love it if anyone wants to share tips and tricks with me!
  • Buy a house. I'm an adult and I'm tired of paying rent. Seattle is only going to get more expensive and I don't want to move out of the city. It's time to put down roots.
  • Get back to running with the run group. I pretty much stopped going when I started feeling weak, and I haven't been back. It's my goal to do at least two runs with the group per month. I figure with a conservative goal I can make it happen, and hopefully realize how much I miss everyone and jump back in full bore.
I'm really excited about all that lay ahead, and I hope you have some exciting things to cross off on your bucket list too. Now the real question is: I've shown you mine - care to share yours?

1 comment:

Luke Tursi said...

I hope I'm not being presumptuous but Jordan gave me the link to your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed it all, especially where you mention "met the parents". I didn't realize you had such a difficult time last year and am glad you included your trip to New York as a positive sign. Loved the story about the tutu sking and GrandBob. I think I would like him.

You've given me an idea with your blog. Since retiring 1 year ago this week I thought that fb would be a good place to document my new life but I find it wanting since it generally calls for short staccato type comments and complete thoughts get lost in the flurry of the news feed. Since reviewing your blog I think that's a more satisfactory answer. Thanks for showing me another solution. Now I need to figure our out how to do it.

Glad you're data is trending upward.

Luke Tursi (one of "the parents")