Let’s get personal. I’m going to share what will inevitably be a lengthy post about my health. Both mental and physical. I started homesteading before I started having some bigger issues, but I also started homesteading so that I could avoid some of these issues, so I want to dissect what went wrong. Because it wasn’t the homesteading!
To start with, I’m not having any health issues right now. I’m overweight, but I’m working on it. And I feel more peaceful than I have in a long time, even if I do get completely overwhelmed at times. I haven’t been shy about writing when things have been hard or when I was sick, but I haven’t shared the whole picture either.
A little over 4 years ago, I entered the most stressful phase of my life. That stress continued to build for 2 years, and I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to make it better. 4 years ago, we had put in an offer on what would become Spring Lake Homestead. The buying process was stressful. We had to sell our old place, and that was stressful. I had 4 young kids at home and I had to keep a clean house while packing so that we could show the house. Our oldest was just going to be “starting school” for the first time (meaning it was the first grade school year of homeschooling). Oh yeah, and two weeks before moving day, I found out I was pregnant. (Cue morning sickness.)
Moving was great! It was also horrible. The kids mostly adjusted well, but it took time. The move was a slow process (over a month and a half to get everything out of the old place), and I still had to take care of the kids, keep the old place maintained (including emptying that garden), and deal with morning sickness. A week or two later, I had a bursitis flare up of my knee, and I was pretty much out of commission for a week. And there was the stress of the finances, the yard work here, having a flock of hens to care for, and a second garden plus an orchard to take care of. It was fun, and yet a little much. Oh yeah, and homeschooling…. We did a lot of life-learning the first 2.5 years here.
We continued to settle in for 9 months, and then E was born. Things were better for awhile. I had more energy, we got a lot done, we kept picking away at our to-do list, but I was slipping further and further behind on things, and the stress wasn’t really getting much better. I spent a lot of time learning how to do a lot of different things. I spent a ton of time getting myself and the kids adjusted to our new life. Now, at that point, our oldest was still only 7. Looking back, it’s no wonder things were so stressful!
Sometime between when E was 6 months and 9 months, I am pretty sure I started struggling with depression, though I nor anybody else recognized it at the time. I started to withdrawal from everything because I couldn’t keep up. Our chickens were dying left and right because of raccoons and I felt helpless. I was trying to deal with THE most stubborn toddler in the world, figure out how on earth to homeschool my kids, and also figure out how to keep a semi-clean house. I was full of mood-swings. It got worse over the winter, and it was the first year I had ever thought of winter as being depressing.
Spring came and I was ready to fix things. The sun was shining, and I was feeling a little better again. But then I wasn’t. This time it was physical. I started having stomach issues. I got sick frequently, and for no apparent reason. I didn’t want to be run through a bunch of testing and knew that at least part of my problem was that I ate way too much junk food. Based on my symptoms, a doctor would have me take certain steps to begin with, so that’s what I did. I quit sugar, but without having a definite plan of attack. We quit as a family because I knew I couldn’t do it if the rest of the family didn’t as well. (Yes, everyone thought we were crazy.) Oh yeah, some mental stress returned when the hail storm came through and basically killed any chance we had of having a decent garden and caused a bunch of other issues for us to deal with.
My weight was finally starting to come down significantly for the first time since E was born. (Mostly because I wasn’t eating junk food, but partly because I was sick.) But the stomach problems were getting worse, not better. Then one day after having been sick for several days and getting terribly sick the last day, I fell down the stairs trying to make it to the bathroom because I was so dehydrated that I passed out. I ended up in the ER, not for injuries, but from dehydration. (I had tried all that day to rehydrate myself, but nothing stayed down.)
The doctors ran a few tests, but didn’t find anything. They gave me two liters of fluids, had me rest, then sent me home. They told me that I’d probably have to see a specialist to figure out what was wrong. Well, I didn’t want to put a band-aid on a problem by taking medications or run a bunch of tests when I knew that my problem was dietary. I’d heard of the Whole 30 diet a few times prior to ever getting sick, and I figured it was the right time to give it a shot.
The book came and I jumped in right away. I made it through 25 days of the diet before having to call it quits. E ended up in the ER from the whole peanut-aspiration thing, and I couldn’t keep up with the diet without access to the foods I had at home. I had intended to still attempt to ease myself back into other foods and do the testing it recommends, but I was too overwhelmed at that point to deal with it. The stomach problems were gone, and my weight was way down (mostly from actual effort), but I got a fresh shot of stress for my life.
The stress of E’s incident stuck with me for a long time. I’d be fine, and then out of nowhere, I’d just start crying and think of my little boy hooked up to all kinds of machines. With the return of the stress, my weight started creeping up. However, I was at least starting to make time for my sanity. Scott had convinced me that it was finally time that I start scheduling time off for myself, and I finally started to let him help me with things around the house.
The emotional stuff got better as I gave myself the time I needed for me. With that, things started to improve around the house a lot. My moods were so much better, winter wasn’t so awful, and I was almost to a point of talking myself out of stress eating (almost). My weight was back up to where it had been before I got sick and tried changing my habits, and I was excited that the weather was nice and I could start running again.
I was still really behind on outside stuff, but I was planning to spend the summer getting things where they needed to be. I was stressed a bit, but coping. My bursitis started acting up in one of my knees (it’s usually aggravated by heat and over-use), but it was manageable. It started improving, and then the coop fire happened and the stress loop started again. Suddenly, my knees started to swell one day. First one knee got really bad, and then the other. I tried everything to get the swelling down, and nothing helped.
It got so bad that I could barely walk so we went to see a doctor, but without running a bunch of tests, they didn’t have answers. Possibly arthritis, maybe something else? For two weeks, I could hardly get around. I laid on the couch and cried from the pain at random for a few days (it felt like my legs were trying to bend the wrong way). Finally, it started getting better, but I limped all summer long, and it took me through the winter to begin walking normally again.
On top of that, shortly after my knees improved, we found out we were expecting Baby Cheeks. Great news, but still stressful because pregnancy means morning sickness and exhaustion and mood swings and weight gain and oh yeah, now we have to get a new vehicle because our family couldn’t fit into our already dying minivan. Yet through it all, I got better and better at dealing with the stress. However, I was ravenously hungry from the pregnancy. It seems like it got worse with every baby boy that we had… which was 5 of our 6 kids. I felt like I was constantly starving. And I got into bad habits, like stopping at a gas station and picking up a candy bar (or 2 or 3) every time I had to take the kids somewhere or go for any kind of ride.
Fast forward to Baby Cheeks’ birth and I had gained the most weight I’d ever gained during a pregnancy by over 10 lbs. It was such a relief to not be pregnant anymore, and I was excited to start getting my weight down, but I also wasn’t about to do anything crazy. No worrying about weight for awhile.
I did good not worrying about the weight. I stayed off the scale knowing that baby weight gain can come off slowly, and that if I stressed about it, it could affect breastfeeding Baby Cheeks. But he started sleeping pretty well around 2 months, and yet I wasn’t. I was waking up with hot flashes and my back was constantly sore. I was having neck pain, too. And then my moods started getting funky, and I didn’t like the way things were going.
I decided I needed to start doing something to improve all of these things, and really the only thing to do was to change my eating habits. I started small, just trying to stop snacking after supper unless I really needed to eat (a sign to watch for when you’re nursing a baby). Then I started to concentrate on eating meals again instead of snacking throughout the day (that was a habit I got into during pregnancy since I was constantly hungry). It was helping, but I needed to do more.
By three months post-partum, I had enough. I was looking up things like simple workouts that I could do to help with my back and neck, easy diet changes, and I kept coming across an advertisement for a “weight loss app.” I was able to do a trial of the program for very little money, so I decided I would at least do the two weeks and then see how I felt. (I do not get paid to talk about this! It’s Noom, if you are wondering.) I was liking how it was going, and after a week, I’d lost some weight, started feeling a little better, and I even decided to start running again. Before the two weeks were up, I had committed to running a five mile race at the beginning of August, about two months from the time I started running again.
Well, the two months are up. My weight is still high, but that’s entirely my own doing since we had a busy month this past month and I wasn’t always making the best food choices. (Plus summer = ice cream, right?) But I am down 10 lbs. from where I started, AND I ran that 5 mile race on Saturday! I’m enjoying the app because it’s taking all of these things that I pretty much knew before hand, but it’s putting them all together and having me practice over and over, and it’s also giving me tools to deal with the emotional triggers (aka stress). So much of my health issues, both weight and mentally, were a result of not feeding my body the right foods.
It was really hard to get strong enough to run 5 miles in just two months. In fact, it was so hot and so up hill on that race course that I ended up walking for maybe a total of a quarter mile during the last two miles of the race. If I hadn’t been a runner prior to this, I don’t think I could have handled the mental aspect of running such a distance. I knew how to stretch, I knew how to breathe to avoid side aches, I knew how to develop a rhythm, and I knew how to cheer myself on during a long run. I knew what to do and what not to do.
And because I’m still so out of shape and I’m still carrying around extra weight, I was really slow, especially compared to what I ran in high school. But I’m not as slow as I was just two months ago. I was so out of shape that running was extremely difficult. (I think what did more damage to me than anything was the knee issues I had last summer. I remember looking at my legs in disbelief at how much my thigh muscles atrophied from not being able to walk for a few weeks.)
Alright, so why am I sharing all of this with you?
1) Our health is why I homestead. Yes, it can be stressful, but the more I learn, the less stressful it is, and we’ve figured out ways of doing things to make a lot of the jobs as easy on us as possible. Food is medicine, and while I don’t always eat right, I want to get there. I want to know I’m eating the right things to make my body feel good and be strong. Raising my own food encourages me to eat better, and it also ensures that I know what we are eating.
2) I know I’m not the only person out there to experience things like this…the weight gain, the health issues, the PPD. It can feel scary and isolating, and sometimes we don’t even know what in the world is going on with our bodies or our minds until we hear somebody else talk about it. I didn’t understand that I went through a form of PPD until after I read a book that talked a little about it. (I cried so hard when I read that!) Plus, parenting is hard, homesteading is hard, homeschooling is hard, and when you put it all together in the package of an inexperienced person, it can be really overwhelming at times.
All of that being said, I need to make a final statement…I don’t go out of my way to talk about my weight or my health to people (unless it’s somebody I’m really close to). I don’t share my story looking for compliments or excuses for myself to not lose weight. Sometimes weight or health comes up in conversation naturally, such as: “What have you been up to?” “Running.” “WHY?” “To get in shape and lose some weight.” At which point, it is not at all helpful to hear “But you look great for having had 6 kids,” or “Oh, but you just had a baby!”
First of all, I don’t look great for having had 6 kids. I look okay, fine, maybe good, but certainly not great…not yet, and I know it. Great for having 6 kids would being weighing what I weigh at a medium weight for me, not where I’m at now. Second, I didn’t just have a baby. He’s 5 months old, and when I started running again, he was 3 months old. I don’t have a pass on being heavy because I birthed six children. In fact, it’s all the more reason I need to be healthy and in shape, because I want to be able to do things with my kids and I want to be around for a long time! (However, most people are good with hearing “You look great for just having had a baby!” when they actually just had a baby in the last week, but that’s usually lead by the comment of “I look/feel so unattractive right now!” amidst hormonal tears, in which it’s probably a good idea to say something along those lines.)
I say this for the women who, like me have been told these kinds of things. These kinds of compliments sting, and they fail to give the encouragement that perhaps was intended. If you want to give love or encouragement, there are better ways to say it than by adding qualifiers. If you want to compliment somebody or encourage somebody, make sure your compliment is honest. For example “I love your outfit!” “You look really nice!” And you know what, you can even say “You look great!” just don’t add the qualifier of “for having had ____(number) kids” if they are still overweight, because I can guarantee that those words take away any kind of a compliment you meant to give. And I know I can’t speak for everybody, but I’ve got more than one friend who’s had compliments given to them like that, and it always, always feels like an insult.
Anyway, sorry to end on a rant! I’ve mentioned bits and pieces of my health journey on here before, but I’ve never gone out of my way to share the whole story, and I know some of you have been wondering what my “mysterious” comments have been about. This last week may have just been the best week ever for me. I felt good mentally and physically all week long, and I started to feel like I look good again too. I ran my race and overcame some huge mental hurdles, and it put me on the path I needed to be on to get where I am trying to go. I guess the moral of the story is to keep working towards your goals and dreams if you know what is good and right. The rest of the world around you may not understand why you have 4 or 10 kids, why you homeschool, why you homestead, or any number of other things about you. You might face a ton of mental hurdles, but keep praying, keep practicing, keep at it. And above all, take care of yourselves!
P.S. Feel free to share your story in the comments or ask questions! I always love hearing from you all!
P.P.S. I am not satisfied with where my weight is at because of health reasons, but I do feel much better about how I look right now than I did 10 lbs. ago! 10 lbs. can make such a big difference!
P.P.P.S. Obviously homesteading has had something to do with my stress levels. I’ve been learning a lot, nd I’ve had extra chores to do. But I would have been more stressed out in our old neighborhood, and I still would have gone through the same stressful beginning phase of homeschooling kids that were grade-school aged and pregnancy stress and a million other things. But homesteading was not the main source of any of my stress, not by a long shot!