What Ever Happened to Chocoholic? I’m Still Here, but Now I Need a New Name
FIRST INSTALLMENT, March, 2020:
Where we left off in September, 2019: I was injured by the time I got to southern Maine , so I stopped hiking, rented an SUV and supported Swiss hiking pal Freeman as he slackpacked north. I felt better by the time we got to Katahdin, so I fulfilled my earlier promise to Freeman and climbed the final mountain with him and headed home to Cincinnati.
And that’s when the real challenge began: recovery. I never would have guessed the convoluted path this would take. Here’s how things went:
On arriving home on Labor Day weekend, I hit the sofa and basically didn’t leave it till January. My right shoulder hurt a great deal and the pain in the hip/pelvic region was eventually diagnosed as two stress fractures, one on each side. Going from climbing mountains to hobbling on crutches in a 4 story house sent me spiraling downward.
I worked on the shoulder with a physical therapist, but couldn’t bring myself to go to a counselor for several more months. She eventually proved to be a God-send. It was so tough to go from actual mountaintop experiences to a valley of pain and immobility, but she threw me a lifeline.
By January, I was still researching the internet for any insights as to how I might help these 67 year old bones knit together faster. I was reminded of my one year foray into veganism several years ago. After watching the excellent documentaries, “The Game Changers” and “Forks Over Knives,” I was convinced. In my usual form, I plunged in 100% the next day, immediately eliminating all animal products (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs) and focusing on vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes. I avoided all highly processed foods and focused on a “whole food plant-based” way of eating. Because of my chronically high cholesterol, I also chose to go SOS-free (free of added salt, oil and sugar). (NOTE: one does not have to jump in full force as I did, if they’re interested in this way of eating. I just felt the need to see results quicker, and that’s also my style!)
I don’t know if the diet helped the bones, but, by the second week, I suddenly felt so much better emotionally and overall. I could now sense that one of the two pelvic stress fractures was no longer bothering me, so I carefully eased my way off of crutches. I was feeling more cheerful and energetic with every passing day, thanks to the new diet. I was now finding mild exercise I could do at the YMCA: the recumbent bike and the rowing machine, while sitting on a foam pad I brought from home. Being able to work out, even though very modestly, meant the world to me. I was now climbing out of the pit.
By late February, I was thriving on this new way of eating and was walking normally again, although a slight tenderness in the left side continued to keep me cautious about doing too much. Continuing to do the physical therapy exercises at home 3-4 times a week and eating this anti-inflammatory diet had my shoulder feeling a great deal better. Books by several well-known doctors who are strong advocates of a whole food plant-based diet guided me in my new way of eating, notably Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.
I was finding delicious new recipes and enjoying the food as my taste buds adapted to no added sugars, salt, and oil. My dear husband was completely supportive, and ate “mostly vegan,” always eating whatever I served for dinner.
And now here I am, very nearly healed physically and feeling like a completely different woman from the one who cried on her sofa for 5 long months and had no hope.
What would I suggest to anyone who is going through a dark time themselves?
BE KIND TO YOURSELF. The feelings you are having right now are real, and there is no need to deny them. Pretending doesn’t get you anywhere. I felt the need to stay within the comfort of our home, and didn’t force myself to go out if it didn’t feel right to me. I had a similar period several years ago. I tried to remind myself to give this time and I’d eventually get out of it, as I did before.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AS BEST YOU CAN. Even though I spent all day on the sofa, I always changed out of my pajamas before coming down from the bedroom. I wore my hiking pants and hoodies with deep pockets to hold my phone, my kindle and other small items, because the crutches making it impossible to carry things. The hiking pants’ pockets came in handy, but in reality, the pants were a comforting reminder of the 1900 miles of the AT that I had hiked the past 3 summers. They were also more forgiving than jeans as I slowly put on 10 pounds during this “sofa adventure.” Also of great help was the antidepressant that I finally admitted I needed. The first prescription gave me bad dreams, but the second one worked well, taking the edge off my sad feelings. Eventually, finding and adopting the WFPB SOS-free way of eating proved to be the best possible thing I could do for myself.
IT’S NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS TO DEPEND ON OTHERS. My husband was my greatest source of comfort. He learned that I didn’t want advice. Just listening to me and sitting by me with his arm around my shoulders was my lifeline. Knowing he was doing all the cooking and laundry while I was on crutches was a relief. A dear friend here in town and our out-of-town children connected with me, but I truly didn’t want them to see me in this condition. The counselor and my husband were my confidants.
SEEK OUT EXPERTS, BUT KNOW THAT YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN HEALTH. My sports doctor was the one who diagnosed the stress fracture on the right side, but it was me who pushed for a later MRI which disclosed the second fracture. I was also the one who asked her for a referral for a shoulder specialist. The CT scan this second doctor had done revealed not only the severe arthritis but also a mass growing on my thyroid! Happily, fine needle aspiration of the mass proved that it was benign. Physical therapy began because I requested it, and I followed a recommendation by a friend in finding the counselor. I most probably would never had returned to a whole food plant-based diet if I hadn’t been researching the internet for ways to aid healing. You’ve got to be your own best advocate.
So what happens next?
I have about 220 miles left in Maine to complete. When I left the trail, I said, “NEVER AGAIN!” But, of course, within two weeks, I was thinking of the trail wistfully.
I will take this year off from the AT, but will gradually work my way back into hiking. At this point, I have only walked 2 flat miles at a local park. Although I’d love to be able to do more, I actually enjoy each small step of progress. The plan now is that you’ll find me in southern Maine in early August, 2021, Katahdin bound. In a perverse way, I even hope to climb that beast again, to truly cap off this grand adventure.
Meanwhile, I do want to sing the praises of a whole food plant-based diet. I have now been eating this way two months, and I feel fantastic emotionally. I also intend to ask the counselor if she feels it’s time to discontinue the antidepressant, since it was always the plan.
SECOND INSTALLMENT, September, 2020:
I feel like a different person than the one who wrote the previous words. I am now back 100%, although I’d be tempted to say 200%!
To keep it brief, I have now been eating WFPB SOS-free for eight months, with so many health benefits appearing since week two: I lost 15+ pounds, my cholesterol dropped from near 300 down to under 200, the dosage of my thyroid medications was reduced by 1/3, all the aches and pains in my joints disappeared, and my energy level and sense of well being skyrocketed. My “sorta vegan” husband has now embraced the same way of eating and lost 22 pounds and the aches and pains in his joints, and has much more energy for cycling. I felt ready to get off the antidepressant shortly after writing the previous post, and never looked back. I’ll be eating this way for the rest of my life. I love the food, the lifestyle, the results.
All of this happened as Covid-19 changed life for the entire world. It has been the oddest combination, being both jubilant and cautious about our health. We are thankful that being healthier now could potentially lessen the side effects of Covid-19 if we catch it. So far, so good.
So what am I doing with all of this vitality? Well, let’s pretend that this is TikTok and you have to “like” me to see Part Two! Watch for another post coming very soon to find out about my big new project.
Meanwhile, back to the title of this post. Why do I need a new trail name? Because I have totally given up chocolate in any form, due to its saturated fat and added sugar. I truly was addicted to it. My goal is to reverse the plaque-filled condition of my arteries, and Dr. Esselstyn says, “Not one drop of added oil.” Whole foods provide all the fat our bodies need. So it was “cold turkey” to all chocolate, and “cool beans” to fruit as a sweet treat.
What will my new trail name be when I return to complete Maine in August, 2021? I guess it’s just going to have to grow organically. Let’s just see what ideas wash up!
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