Reverb16 | December 21 | Time

Time. It’s something we never have enough of and can never get back once it’s spent. How do you prioritize your time? What would you like to make more time for?

I spend too much time:

  • Worrying.
  • Watching bad television.
  • Reading internet drivel.
  • Thinking about what to wear, cook, or do next.
  • Procrastinating.
  • Complaining.

I don’t spend enough time:

  • Reading books.
  • Working out (besides running. But, like seriously girl, do a sit up).
  • Cleaning the house or doing laundry.
  • Learning something new.
  • Improving at the things I love to do, like cycling or writing.
  • Traveling.

I see the list and know what I should do. Less of the things in the first list, and more of the things in the second list. It makes sense on paper, but is harder in real life. I do not understand why social media and crap television are such strong sirens and why I repeatedly crash on the shores of wasted time.

[FIRST WORLD PROBLEM AHEAD– THIS IS ESSENTIALLY A RECAP OF MY INCREDIBLE PRIVILEGE AND FORTUNE] Part of my struggle with time management is making choices, right? I have sort of been a Jack of All Trades, Master of None for a significant portion of my adult life. And I kind of like living that way, but sometimes I would like to master something. But putting more time into, say, cycling, means time away from running or reading. And should I really be learning something new if I can hardly keep up with what I already have on my plate? I don’t know. And it all means time away from the house, where I already think we hardly keep our heads above water between the cleaning and the pets.

But tonight, I am keeping this brief because I have spent this entire quiet, pre-holiday week with my face buried in books (I am on the third one since Sunday) and this is time well-spent.

Reverb16 | December 20 | Achievement

Achievement. Tell us about one thing you did or overcame this year that you are really proud of.

This year has been a long list of failures and false starts.

And I am not used to failing.

So not used to it, in fact, that this year when I didn’t get a job that I didn’t even want, I was still mad that I wasn’t their first choice so that I could, inevitably, turn them down. Super mature, I know.

But I am used to quitting. In an effort, I think, to save myself from eventual failure. Like, if I see failure coming, I quit. Or at least lower my own expectations of myself.

It’s not the person I want to be, but it is the person I am.

That sort of changed when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. And it probably seems weird that a relatively benign illness can have such a profound impact on a person, but it does. And where it really comes from is those few hours you don’t know that it is benign and harmless. Those hours you debate what is better to face*: a stroke, a tumor, or multiple sclerosis. Those few hours in the ER have dramatically impacted my life– the way I approach novel or scary things and the ways I want to spend my time and energy.

Even upon learning that it was “just Bell’s,” the truth was no one knew how long I would be dealing with it. For some, facial paralysis clears up in just 3 weeks. For others, 6 months or more. Many of us have lingering effects that aren’t as dramatic as facial paralysis, but still require a significant amount of adaptation. I suffer from constant ringing in my ear and an inability to modulate volume in my right ear– meaning background noise and the conversation happening right next to me all come at me at the same volume and I have a really hard time picking out the pieces I am supposed to be hearing and ignoring the pieces I am not.  I am also missing the “low vowel sounds” in that ear. A’s, O’s, and U’s. My left ear compensates outrageously well in normal situations. So much so that in a November hearing test, 6 months after the initial onset, I cried because it was the first time I realized those sounds were gone.

All this to say, “just Bell’s” is not as simple as it sounded in that first week.

Early on, I knew I had a choice to make. And I really made it in that first 12 hours when I bravely decided to go into work with my face paralyzed. That choice was not to hide from the things that are hard, and to stop quitting. Everyone said, “Oh, if this happened to me, I would stay home until it cleared up!” But after feeling like I might be facing numbered days, I certainly never again felt like I had 67 days to waste waiting to not be scared anymore. I hope I never do.

I just lived into it.

I went to work. I went to social gatherings. We traveled. People stared. People asked a lot of questions. I took pictures of myself and proudly half-smiled in the pictures others took. I dribbled a lot of beer down my shirt. We laughed about it. I was honest about it– the good and the bad.

And then, when life served up more shit sandwiches, I lived into those, too. It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t always fun, and it wasn’t without heartbreak or loss.

But it was good. It was so, so good.

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*no pun intended, but it certainly is a good one! 

Reverb16 | December 19 | Littles

Little Ones. Whether you have kids of your own or not, there is likely a small person about who would like your attention. Tell us about what the kids in your life are asking for this season. Do you have any rules about how much to gift?

There’s a new Little in town this year.

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Bah. She slays.

This Spunky Brewster is my niece and she joined the family in February, making this holiday season my first real opportunity to spoil her until she bursts get her a few gifts. At 10 months old, she is getting SUPER fun so all I want to do is buy a bunch of stuff so we can have a SUPER fun time together. But my sister and I are cut from a similar cloth when it comes to our opinion of Stuff & Things: less is more, experiences are better. I followed that (more or less) this holiday season and tried to keep the amount of Stuff & Things to a minimum. And compared to what I wanted to buy this little lady (the moon, the stars, a screen-accurate Yoda costume), I think I did pretty well. I can’t say exactly what I got her, because she might be reading this (she’s super intelligent and she gets it from her auntie), but, based on my complete lack of knowledge about babies, I tried to stick with things that are:

1) good for brains,

2) fun today and could be fun still in 2-3 years, and

3) one sentimental, but useful!, thing from the heart.

I avoided things that make any outrageous sounds, because at my wedding 3 years ago I learned that my sister is better at revenge than any of us ever knew. I do not want that exacted on me with an army of light up, noisy toys.

Reverb16 | December 18 | Treat

Treats! Show us your favorite treat for yourself- it could be a favorite holiday indulgence, or a little gift you got yourself to reward all the gift buying you’ve been doing for others.

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I do love me a sweet treat. Or an expensive, “I worked hard on [insert project], so I totally deserve this thing that I will now buy myself.”

But the best treat I can give myself is time for myself, which I generally fill with running. Slow running, because that’s just the person and the runner that I am, and that’s okay.

Running is where I do most of my best thinking. It is where I do almost all of my praying. It is the fastest way for me to diffuse anger or to bring in some much needed peace. When everything else seems out of control and crazy, running reminds me of the beauty in pattern and simplicity– the steady beat of my footsteps, the deep rhythm of my breath.

There is this… movement? Or collective awareness, maybe, often referred to by the title of a book and video called “Slow is Fast.” It’s this idea/awareness that you can live or work in a place for a very long time, and never really see it until you slow down. Literally. In the case of the book, it’s these dudes who sort of rediscover parts of California when they take a 700 mile bike trip. I feel like I get that with running.

I cannot even begin to describe how intimately I know some of the stretches of sidewalk in our neighborhood. I know how different the Minnehaha Creek sounds under the bridge at Chicago Avenue from the gentle bend it takes leaving Lake Harriet. I mark the changing of the seasons by this rabbit statue in a tiny triangle park along the running path. She gets a red Christmas bow in December and a beautiful flowered crown around Easter. Through the summer she gets spoiled by dirty, sticky hugs from the kids riding by on bikes and scooters.

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I count the ducks I pass and often report a post-run Ducks Per Mile (DPM).

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Infinity Ducks Per Mile on this day.

I don’t remember the real reason I started running, but I’d guess it was out of vanity. I was in my early 20s, after all. I signed up for more races then– maybe to prove that I was a “real runner.” I still race, but I find the real satisfaction is found on the long, slow distances on the weekends. Church of the Sunday Long Run.

This year, when I realized injury had prematurely ended my bid to run the Twin Cities Marathon, I wrote this about my running this year:

At Mile 2 of today’s run, first I cried. Then, immediately, I forgave myself. I am beautifully and wonderfully made, inside and out. I am not a “good” runner, but I’m doing it anyway, because I am not ashamed of my pace or my body or my running form. I am proud of the work I put in during this training cycle– it was my most diligent one ever. I worked hard and I will not have a finisher’s medal to show for it, but instead I have collected sunrises, lakeside loops, and moments when I wanted to quit and didn’t. That is a worthy prize.

Reverb16 | December 17 | Beauty

Beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Show us a picture that is beautiful to you- the more unconventional the better. If you’d like to write about it, tell us why.

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I think this is one of the most beautiful things I did this year. Or rather, I let someone else do to me.

There’s a tattoo shop just about 2 blocks from our house that is 100% ladies– lady owners, lady artists. I dig that quite a bit. So when I decided I was finally ready to get a tattoo, I knew that’s where I would go. I scanned their portfolios and found an artist that had done a lot of work in the style I was looking for– a lean towards the strong outline of classic tattoos, but creative enough to apply that classic style to new imagery and scenes. I wanted to avoid some of the things that are trendy in tattoos right now to avoid a piece that looks dated.

I emailed her a few ideas; we chatted in a brief consultation. And then I waited. For seven months she was booked up. I decided that it was better to be seeing an artist that is in high demand than one that has a lot of free time on their calendar…

In May I went in for the first sitting– to do the outline and start the color on the bike. I was so nervous the day of that I threw up. I was terrified that as soon as I did it, I would have buyer’s remorse and would want my un-inked leg back.

Did I mention I had never seen the final design until the stencil was affixed?

I totally trusted her– I gave her some examples of the style I wanted, I listed some things that were important to be included (the mountain, the tent, obviously the bike, which I provided photos of), and a lot of it she brought to the design– the overall layout, the awesome oak leaves and acorns that provide the frame, the beautifully intense colors.

The first sitting was about 5 hours. Not until September did I go back to have the color finished in another 3-4 hour sitting.

Never once have I experience buyer’s remorse. In fact, maybe quite the opposite (which I hear is common after people get their first tattoo): I am always dreaming up what the next one could be.

Not only do I think the tattoo is beautiful, I think it makes me beautiful. I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels like it fits me and belongs with me. Not that my right thigh was ever lacking in any serious way, but that this artwork somehow adds so much. As I mentioned before, I feel like every year I am watching myself grow in a way that results in me becoming more unapologetically myself all the time and I consider this tattoo to be a part of that growth. It makes me feel strong and beautiful and reminds me that I have lived a great many of wonderful experiences so far.

Reverb16 | December 16 | Travel

Travel. Where did you go this year? What was your favorite? Where do you plan to or want to go next year?

This year was about getting away while staying close; and instead of focusing on the distance traveled, focusing on the other things I can do to truly be someplace else.

We camped twice at the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in the spring. We first went in April so Aaron could do some fly-fishing in several trout creeks and the Root River. We took the dog, who was new to our family in April. We had the world’s lowest expectations for him because our last dog hated camping. But Obi? He loved it all. A 9-mile hike. Digging around the campsite. Eating sticks. Chillin’ in the hammock. Sleeping in the tent. He seems to be a big fan of camping/hiking– what a great fit for us!

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Hiking. And hearing All The Things.
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Hammock break. Is it easy to teach a 70 pound, long-legged dog to get in a hammock? No, it is not. Is it worth it? Yes. Yes it is.
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“Just five mo’ minutes, Kate.”

We went back in May to camp the night before the Almanzo 100 bike race. We ran out of cooking fuel while trying to make pancakes. That should have been a sign to just pack it up and go home, but we didn’t listen…

In June, we raced in a few mountain bike races that are part of the Lutsen 99er series. Aaron rode the 69er and I rode the 39er on a fatbike. We camped along the North Shore at Cascade River State Park. We would have stayed two nights, but Aaron biked himself halfway to death so we ended up in the ER for the better part of Saturday evening, and I said, “Nope. Hotel tonight.” Still, we each managed to have a pretty great bike race, we enjoyed the state park, and hung out in Grand Marais, which is like the Stars Hollow of the North Shore.

Admittedly, when we decide to go camping, we almost always gravitate to the North Shore. There is ample state parks and forests for camping, tons of stuff to see and do in the wilderness and in town, and the scenery is delightful. So, when we decided to get out of town in late July, we opted for a part of the state we don’t see often: the prairies of the southwest. We camped at Blue Mounds State Park, in a small stand of trees amidst vast and beautiful prairie. We brought the dog along again, and he was a champ. I think it is safe to say we both learned a lot about the prairie landscape and the important ecosystem services provided by strong, healthy prairies. We also visited the Pipestone National Monument and drove into Sioux Falls for coffee and delicious baked goods from Queen City Bakery on Sunday morning. We really enjoyed Blue Mounds, and I think we will easily find ourselves there again.

 

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The park has its own herd of bison.
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Completely wiped out after a day of hiking.
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Entirely too cool.

And of course, we took the Antelope Wells on her maiden wilderness voyage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in late September.

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There really aren’t words for the BWCAW. It is serene and wild in all the most wonderful ways. The sunrises and sunsets are the best I have ever seen. The scenery is breathtaking at every turn. This year we had some really remarkable campsites (and one infested with mice– so the next time you think it will be fun to camp on an island, ask yourself if there is anything on that island that eats the mice). We kept an easy pace, opting for more time reading and fishing, and making good meals. We went to bed at 9PM almost every night. Ugh, it was just magic and every time I am stressed I imagine being back there.

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We rounded out that trip with several other adventures– on the front end, spending a night in Hibbing, the small mining town where Bob Dylan grew up. We couldn’t resist the mine overlook, and it was a pretty spectacular sight.

On the tail end, we intended to camp at Voyageurs National Park, since it was the NPS Centennial, but the waves on the huge lake proved to be a bit much for our canoeing skills, so we opted for a night at Woodenfrog State Forest and 2 nights at a lodge on Lake Kabetogama. We spent a good day in Ely at the Root Beer Lady Museum and the International Wolf Center, as well as all the wilderness outfitters and the local brewery.

For me, the best vacations include being outside and taking a moderate pace. I am more comfortable living “unplanned” when we are on vacation; I am more flexible to changes in plans and slightly better able to go with the flow.

I also have found it to be an incredible relief to disconnect completely with social media, email, and text. In the Boundary Waters, it was a forced disconnection. But now, I am more often opting to put my phone on airplane mode for an entire weekend that we are out of town or at least limit checking it to only texts and only for a short 5 minutes or so (essentially in case of emergencies). It is a lot easier to be in the ‘here and now’ of my own life when I can ignore the ‘then and there’ of everyone else’s life. And as much as I really like using and participating in social media, it is also really refreshing to have a break.

 

Reverb16 | December 15 | Unexpected

Unexpected. During the year, we all have had unexpected surprises that have thrown a wrench into our plans. What was one of yours and how did you get through it?

Oh my god, if this hasn’t been the year of unexpected. And I don’t always do unexpected very well, so that means this has also been a year of growth and self-love to just get my battered carcass from one unexpected dumpster fire to the next (okay, it hasn’t been all bad).

Let’s see, if we reach a little bit back into last year, there was the time in December where our dog went from seeming totally healthy to diagnosed with cancer and then 6 days later he died.

Then there was the time my husband was let go from his job with zero warning.

And the time we canceled a bike trip we’ve been planning for three years.

And after we started to recover from all that a little bit, a good friend essentially broke up with us for being “too happy.”

Then there was the time I experienced no less than two mechanical failures on a 100 mile bike ride that I had been able to complete the year before.

Then there was the time my face stopped working.

And then the time I decided to train for and run a marathon as a way to “get back” at 2016 for being so rotten and as soon as my training really got good and I had an epically awesome 16 mile training run, I got hurt and couldn’t run the marathon after all.

And then my face nearly stopped working again.

So. Um. “Bye, Felicia” to this year.

Like I said, “unexpected” is really hard for me. Many times this year I thought maybe I couldn’t really go on. I have felt like this year was full of failures and false starts.

In my dream world, I would cope with this by actually preventing any of it from happening. But that’s not always possible (hence the idea of things being unexpected).

My big lesson through this year (and coping mechanism) has been exercising radical self-love and truly meaning it. And exercising it in all areas of my life and my self, not just the areas with “problems.” In some cases, radical self-love has been the result of the unexpected event. After dealing with my Bell’s Palsy, I pick on myself about my appearance a lot less than I used to. In my letter to my future self I told myself to let go of the crow’s feet around my eyes: “Do not put face cream on your crow’s feet. The wrinkles your face makes when it moves are beautiful and will always be there to remind you that you have laughed and it was good.” Because for months, half of my face didn’t wrinkle because it didn’t move. I will never take my laugh lines for granted again.

A side effect of radical self-love has been that I am more fully myself at most times. Because I am more forgiving of myself, accepting of the things that aren’t perfect, and honest about my limitations and failings. It has been awesome. And also unexpected.

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Reverb16 | December 14 | Personality

Has this busy and festive month got all the Introverts like… “wah!” And all the extroverts like… “yeah!” Tell us how your personality enhances or takes away from the current mood. What are your strategies to deal?

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I love talking about personality. I love when someone in a conversation asks “What’s your type?” and a friend knows to answer with four letters (I’m ENFJ. What are you?!) I love when people have their StrengthFinders strengths memorized (sadly, I do not have mine memorized because I have all of the lyrics to NSYNC’s debut album stored in my brain instead, but I know it includes Woo and Strategic– which someone at work once described as my “planned and deliberate charm.”). Maybe it’s because I have a psychology minor, or maybe it’s the reason I got the psychology minor. I do not know. Maybe it’s because I just love talking. About anything.

I am pretty self-aware when it comes to my personality; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes the very ugly (ask my about my ability to hold a grudge). Note: I still make a ton of mistakes when it comes to social interactions in which I let my personality fly in Full Force when I probably should keep it in check; I don’t think excellent awareness translates to perfect behavior like we might hope it to. But have no doubt that, generally, I know exactly what I am doing when I am doing it or immediately thereafter. Even when it’s ugly. Rarely can I honestly claim ignorance for my bad behavior.

I got more interested in the real difference between introverts and extroverts when an introvert proposed marriage to me and we bought a house together. I realized I wasn’t confident that I could interact respectfully with an introvert every day for the rest of my life.

I read lots of articles that put extroverts down for being pushy and bossy and the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. That didn’t totally feel good. I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, which I thought was excellent. It sort of felt like reading the other team’s playbook and it was maybe the first time that I really learned that introverts aren’t unfriendly, which is probably how I would have described them prior to that (sorry guys!).

In all of this, I have learned some important things about how we misconceive extroverts that really ring true to me.

  • Extroverts are not self-centered. It seems that way because extroverts need people around them. But, at least in my experience, it’s more about you than it is me. I need you– interacting with you is what fills me up; it’s what gives me energy and motivates me. If that interaction doesn’t keep a pace that engages me or the person or people I am interacting with don’t fill the space between us, I will fill it with stories. And the stories I know best are the ones about myself. So that’s why it seems like it’s about me. But it’s not. It’s actually about you.
  • Extroversion is not the same as being outgoing. I don’t actually like to initiate conversation with people I don’t know. It makes me uncomfortable and I am shy about it. Probably because I hate small talk, which brings me to…
  • Extroversion isn’t the same as being just plain talkative. Some of us are both, but it’s not equal amongst all extroverts. I draw almost no energy from making small talk about the weather or regurgitating current events. And so I am really bad at it. I do draw a ton of energy if you tell me what you think about current events. I like to get deep into conversation– which is awkward to do the first time you meet someone which is why I am shy about meeting new people in the first place without a “buffer person” who can facilitate the small talk. And it’s not always about talking– it’s about connecting, however you define that. This blog, my frequent posts on social media– that all gives me energy to interact in that way.
  • It is not about the number of people. You are not all like batteries to extroverts, in which the more of you around the more amped up I get. Quite the opposite. I do not like crowds. I do not draw any energy from herds of sweaty people shuffling aimlessly around a mall or crammed into a kitchen at a holiday party.
  • Extroversion is my personality, not my mood. It is self-serving for extroverts to be a bit chipper, right? Because who wants to keep hanging out with Debbie Downers? Extroverts need you to keep coming around. But we aren’t always positive. Because that’s a mood.
  • I am not always going to extroverted with you. Sometimes that’s just me or my current mood and sometimes that’s you. Sometimes that changes. A lot of that is built on trust.

So, the opportunities for small, intimate gatherings this time of year totally have me like “Yeah!” The crowded, loud events have me like, “Oh, fuck no.” I will gladly stay up with two or three friends past midnight, drinking beer and talking. But I probably can’t stay at your Christmas party past 9 or 10PM.

Reverb16 | December 13 | Planning

Planning. How do you take your ideas from your head to reality? Did you buy a new calendar/planner for the new year? How do you trick yours out?

I am an excellent planner. I am always mapping out my day, weeks, months, years, life. But mostly just in my head. I know things don’t always get executed perfectly, but that gap between plan and actuality can be a major source of stress for me. Like, today it’s Tuesday and I have my whole week pretty well mapped out in my head and if an unexpected errand gets thrown in there, even if I have ample time to actual execute, I will probably throw a tiny little tantrum (at least to myself, though my poor manpanion gets victimized by these unnecessary meltdowns more than I would like to admit).

To try to stay organized and have perfect plans that can be followed perfectly, I have started approximately 10,000 paper planners, calendars, or journals over my lifetime, but I always felt like I had to have a specific strategy, and none of them fit perfectly or was I able to execute as well as I… planned.

I tried Bullet Journaling.

I tried Mind Mapping.

I tried one master paper planner for all of life– work, personal, running, etc.

I tried individual journals for each facet of my life (Field Notes were my favorite for this short experiment). I lost half of the journals or accidentally used the wrong ones.

I tried being more visual, but tore out a lot of pages when my little sketches weren’t 100% aesthetically pleasing to me.

I wasted A TON of time color-coding and creating cutesy fonts.

Mostly, I just use the tools most readily available to me. All my personal stuff is haphazardly entered into Google calendar, my work stuff is organized in Microsoft Outlook (though I did manage to create a “behind the scenes” calendar there so my tasks are entered on a calendar without giving away all my secrets to all my co-workers).

Every year I want to get more organized. Recently I found this little gem: http://commit30.com/product/undated-commit30-planner/.

Gold, Black & Brown CoversJuly Weekly Layout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a great preview on their website so you can see ALL the goods in the planner, but it’s got pages for goals, action steps, lists, calendars. ALL OF IT.

AND.

AND.

They also sell a sticker pack. Over 1800 stickers.

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Swoon.

I haven’t purchased the planner (or the stickers) yet, because I feel like a total cost of $50 feels high. I tell myself now is terrible time to buy yourself something; this is the season of giving. Then I tell myself I would probably save over $50 a year if I were more organized…

I am trying very hard to wait until after Christmas to buy anything for myself. But the more stressed I get, the more I want to control that with “Treat Yo’Self!” stickers.

Reverb16 | December 12 | Brave

Rulebreaking again today. The actual prompt for the day is: “Sweets! Do you allow indulgences during the holidays with all the tempting food about, or do you have a plan to keep it in check?” But I am really trying hard not to eat sweets this year. Not for vanity or to really exercise my muscles of willpower, but because I am sick. Not like, really sick, but not like a passing cold, either. Somewhere in that middle-ground of “probably not going to die, but also maybe not getting better for a long time. Or ever?”

So I again went back to the archives to look for a prompt more suiting to me interests in reflection on the year, and I found this one. And I like it. So I’m going to write about it. 

Brave. What was the bravest thing you did this year?

On a Wednesday morning in May, I showed up to work like this.

As you can see, even though I showed up to work, half my face did not. The entire right side of my face (on the left in the picture, in case that wasn’t obvious) just stopped working.

It sort of started that Monday with what I thought was a pinched nerve in my neck from a long, miserable gravel ride we had done the Saturday before. I had neck pain, ringing in my ear (which I thought could have been caused by 70 miles of crosswinds), and an unexplained loss of taste on exactly one half of my tongue.

I was facilitating a meeting on Tuesday, when I realized I was having a hard time forming certain letter sounds as I spoke– p, b, f, m– all sounds that rely heavily on your lips. No one else seemed to notice, but I could feel the right side of my face getting softer and slower. Immediately after my meeting, I called my clinic, hoping to get an appointment “this week.” They instantly got a nurse on the line and she said, “What you are experiencing is not a clinic appointment. You need to go to urgent care or the ER and you need to go there right now.”

As I called Aaron to ask him if he would come pick me up and take me to an urgent care, I was really commending my excellent clinic for their diligence over a pinched nerve.

I was so naive.

I waited in urgent care for 40 minutes. Alone. As I waited, I started snapping selfies. Each one mirrored to me a progressively worsening condition. When a doctor finally was able to see me, I think she was actually shocked at my condition. She started asking me some normal questions:

“Have you been dizzy? Did you blackout?”
“Have you had any trauma to your head and neck?”

And then she asked me:

“Do you know where you are?”
“Who is the President of the United States?” [To this I practically yelled ‘BARACK OBAMA!’ because already the election rhetoric was thick]

Slowly, I realized she thought I was having a stroke. At 29 years old. She furiously scribbled her observations and concerns on a sheet of paper that she handed to me, and said sternly, “Go directly to the emergency room. Right now.”

So I did. And in the 2 minutes it took to drive across the street, they were waiting for me. I checked in, and expected to have to sit in the waiting room for a space to open up and the intake nurse said, “Oh no, you are absolutely not going to wait.” The initial 20 minutes of the ER was a flurry of vitals and questions. I was again asked who the president was, and I was pretty miffed that the doctor from urgent care had not expressly notified the ER staff of my excellent recall of basic current events. All the while, the droop in my face worsened.

The next part, I can’t remember exactly. As 2 or 3 nurses stood around me, doing various work, or just listening in, the doctor said, “It’s possible you’re having a stroke, which I know is scary. It’s also possible that you’re not, and that this is something called ‘Bell’s Palsy.’ Unfortunately, we can’t know until we rule out stroke, tumors, or multiple sclerosis, which we can do with an MRI. But I don’t want to send you to MRI just yet, in case you are truly experiencing a stroke.” I do remember the doctor being kind and gentle, which matters. I don’t remember if Aaron was there.

At the time, this didn’t seem so absurd, but in the months after I realized what he was saying: “I am afraid to put you in an MRI machine because you could stroke out.”

I did not feel brave. I felt terrified. I did finally get to have the MRI and while I was in the giant whirring machine, I quietly wept as the gravity of what I might be facing slowly settled in.

We waited only about thirty minutes for my test results. I unraveled every single second of that wait over and over again in my mind. In hindsight, Aaron and I both admit to being frightened, but said nothing of it at the time.

It was nothing. Well, not nothing. My face was still drooped, my speech slightly slurred, my hearing on my right side gone. But it was just Bell’s Palsy (later further diagnosed as Bell’s caused by a recurrent chicken pox infection, if you can believe that!). Just your ‘run of the mill facial paralysis.’

So the next day I went to work. With an eye that didn’t close on its own and with a mouth that sometimes drooled a little (nothing says “take me seriously as a young professional” like some completely unintentional side eye and some casual drool). And the day after I sat for 5 hours to get the first part of my first tattoo done. And the day after that Aaron and I went to a cocktail evening at the Minnesota Zoo. And we went to Rock the Garden and we went canoeing and we went to Duluth. For 67 days, I refused to let a very public illness and a very crooked face take the joy out of my days. Mostly because, each day after the 18th of May that I am not having a stroke (or tumor or MS, for that matter) is a day for joy and for living bravely.

Those shaaaaaades, amirite? The doctor told me I need to protect my eye, so I bought myself these sunglasses at the pharmacy and I have never looked better.

You have gotten all the way here and are like, “What the fuck does this have to do with holiday sweets?” And I hear you, and I am sorry. So as to not make a long story longer, what I will say is: Bell’s Palsy is caused by inflammation around one of your cranial nerves. I thought I was having a recurrence this fall, and no underlying cause was detected (read: second round of MRIs to look for tumors. fun. or something). So, in an effort to hopefully just reduce any and all inflammation I might be experiencing, I am supposed to stay away from the sugary treats of the season. At least as best as I can. It probably sounds hard, and sometimes it is. But it’s actually quite a bit easier when your FACE is at stake.