Birthdays and Reflections

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks around here. I turned 36 earlier this month and celebrated by taking a four day vacation BY MYSELF, which is basically the greatest joy in my life. I had an amazing time, but all the days before and after that trip have been hard. I’m so sick of living on this emotional rollercoaster that never seems to come to a stop. My own internal happiness seems so dependant on the emotions of the people around me and their emotions have been all over the place too. We continue to persist in this pretty small bubble of all living together every minute of every day with almost no space apart and it’s really wearing thin. All four of us are hurting in our own ways and instead of coming together to share in the pain and find healthy ways to cope, we’re turning on each other and lashing out or hiding or shutting down. It feels like the only way to regain our balance is to get back to normal life. And “normal life” may never come back. At least not the way we had it before.

I think I’ll work backward and explain that much of my anxiety in the last few weeks was riding on my annual doctor’s appointment which I had yesterday. I hate that day of the year more than any other. The vulnerability of the exam, the awkwardness, the pain – I hate every second of it. But what makes it so much worse is how my last two years of exams ended – with finding a problem that needed more appointments and procedures. Two years ago is when my liver problems appeared and I had to switch to an internal medicine doctor and then have a liver ultrasound. Last year my liver values were worse, so I was referred to a liver specialist and had to have a biopsy, the after effects giving me some of the most terrifying body pains of my life. I hate doctors, I hate having these lifelong health problems that never seem to get fixed, and I just don’t have much faith in my ability to get better or a doctor’s ability to help me.

The root of my problem is that I need to lose weight. Exercise more. Just BE HEALTHIER. But that’s a tall order during normal life, it’s nearly impossible during this awful year we’re all experiencing. I was actually on a great path after my biopsy last year and lost a lot of weight those first few months. Then the pandemic hit and life fell apart. I’m an emotional eater, and emotions have been A MESS this year. It’s also a huge struggle trying to feed myself healthier meals while still keeping the three other people in my house fed and satisfied all day, every day. When I was home alone to make meals only for myself two times a day, it was SO much easier. The only positive improvement this year has brought food-wise is that I’m making all our food. We almost never go out, and fast food – for me at least – is a thing of the past because I’m never out and about and starving and picking up the easiest option, which is something that might have happened multiple times a week in years past.

Exercise-wise, this has been a great year for me. Or at least since June when I started biking almost every morning. And once my plantar fasciitis started to get a little better, I’ve been trying to take walks most nights as well. It still doesn’t feel like a lot, but it IS a lot more than I’ve ever done before. A minimum of 45 minutes of exercise every single day? That has never been my life until this last summer. It’s been more of a sanity thing, but it’s been working.

Anyway, I’ve been feeling this impending doom about my annual appointment all year, really, feeling the stress of pandemic life, knowing I should be doing better, but not sure how to actually implement those changes in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty. But the fear of what awaited me yesterday got significantly worse in the last week, to the point that I really couldn’t concentrate on anything else. My internal medicine doctor retired in April, so I was being put with a new doctor I’d never met and didn’t know what to expect. Would I get someone nice or would I get someone who leaned heavy on the fat shaming (the way my internal medicine doctor was)? Would I find out that my liver values were even worse and I’d need another biopsy? Would I have another issue that needs to be dealt with? The fear of yesterday was overwhelming. There is so much shame attached to having a liver disease that’s a result of poor diet. I try to always focus more on how I FEEL than how I look or what the scale says, but the truth is still in the numbers, at least when you go to the doctor! And you can’t hide from the numbers in front of them.

In the end, my doctor’s appointment was not so bad. I survived, at least. 🙂 I really liked the new doctor, she was very kind and caring and empathetic to how hard this last year has been. She was also incredibly encouraging with lots of praise for my exercise improvements. And the best news – I got my blood panel results by the end of the day and after sitting down and comparing all the numbers, I’ve actually gotten better!! My liver values are still high, my cholesterol is still a little bit high. But both are BETTER. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked. But also so, so proud of myself. Despite how many challenges have arisen in the last year, I’m finally on the right trajectory to improving my health and quality of life. Sure, I have a long way to go, but that’s not the focus right now. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, keep trying to improve my diet as I can, but remember that I AM doing better. I really did turn things around. And I’m so proud of my progress.

Okay, back to my birthday…

My actual birthday was very nice. It was super low key, but that’s how I want my birthdays to be. I was kind of dreading my birthday this year since it was just in the middle of the week with everyone else still working and doing school. Nothing felt special about it. But most importantly, I couldn’t have all those one on one fun restaurant outings with friends or family or Greg, or have a celebration with a group of friends the way that I did last year. I couldn’t have any time to myself, either. Though I’m not allowed to complain about that one since I hightailed it out of here for four days right after my birthday! But considering the circumstances, it turned out to be a pretty nice day.

A few of my friends like to make fun of me for having a birthday week or month. I choose to believe that they’re just jealous of my ability to celebrate myself! If I’m not going to carve out time and special events for myself around my birthday, then who is? Nobody. I’ve realized long ago that if I want something like my birthday or Mother’s Day to feel special, I can’t depend on anyone else to make it that way. That’s a surefire way to bring on disappointment. If I take the time and energy to plan things for myself doing the things I want to do then I feel much more loved and pampered because I proved that I’m worth the celebration. (You are too.) Plus, why would you want to try and fit all your celebrating into a single day?! That’s exhausting! I prefer to plan one thing to enjoy on each of the days leading up to and after my birthday to really spread the joy out. I’m not trying to be selfish or act like I’m more important than anyone else on their birthdays, if that’s how it comes across. I just like to find ways to be happy.

My celebrating started on the Saturday night before my birthday with a short date night. We left the boys home on their own for the first longer stretch of time like that, and it was pretty successful. I don’t think either of them moved at all while we were gone, though Shepard started non stop messaging Greg around the two hour mark. Anyway, it was a super crappy weather night and I was ready to just ditch the whole date idea after a long and tiring day. But we powered through and picked up food from a taco place I’d never heard of before, Senor Machetes. Neither of us were very thrilled with the food, but it’s always nice to try something new. After eating in the car we drove and walked around Edgewood, picked up Dairy Queen, and came back home. I truly appreciate any time away with Greg that I get these days, so I still enjoyed getting out, despite the subpar dinner and bad weather.

On Sunday night we celebrated with my parents and brother and the puppies. Hudson called in to sing me a happy birthday. It was a little chilly, but not unbearable. They made me some delicious food and gave me some great gifts!

Monday was a really busy day with no school, but the vets had their annual checkup, Shepard had his final arm x-ray, and we had a couple of conferences with the boys’ teachers. Shepard was finally given the all clear for physical activity again, so we celebrated with a bike ride. He’s very intrigued by my sunrise bike rides and really wants to go with me sometime, but I think he needs to work up a little stamina first. And wake up earlier!

On Tuesday night we celebrated with Greg’s parents out on their deck. Ordered takeout from Benvenuto’s and had a caramel apple pie from Walker’s. They gave me some flowers and awesome gifts as well!

And Wednesday was my birthday! I tried to have a low key morning, sitting down to eat and have coffee and enjoy my pretty flowers.

Greg and Caden were out of town for an appointment in the morning, so Shepard, Annie and I met my mom at the dog park for awhile. It was a beautiful day!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I had two friends stop by with gifts, which was a sweet surprise. I’m pretty sure I took a nap! I packed for my trip. Greg picked up Wendy’s on his way home for lunch and we got Mexican for dinner. And we took a walk together as the sun went down. It was a really nice birthday!

Sparta Vacation

Thursday is when the real fun began – I left on a trip! I planned this trip in early September, once we decided going to airbnbs was a safe enough way to leave our house. Then I ended up taking that more spontaneous trip to Port Washington first. But this was the trip I was really looking forward to because I’d get to experience some fall colors and go on unique bike rides. Plus it was a pretty good way to guarantee I’d get a real birthday break, something that’s unlikely to happen at home.

I picked Sparta for my home base because I planned on riding the Elroy-Sparta Trail, but also wanted to spend some time in La Crosse and around the Mississippi River for best fall foliage views. Unfortunately, the fall colors didn’t exactly cooperate with my trip dates. There was SOME color, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. But still absolutely enjoyable!

I spent most of Thursday slowly making my way to Sparta with plenty of stops at nature areas along the way. I had three state parks I wanted to check out, but two of them were already closed for the season, which was baffling. So I had a lot of extra down time while I waited to check in to my airbnb. And once I did check in I realized how hot the place was and knew I wouldn’t be comfortable until I bought a fan. So I headed over to La Crosse earlier than planned to stop at Target, pick up HuHot for dinner, and made a spontaneous decision to go up to Granddad’s Bluff for some sunset photos.

Despite my best effort, I did not sleep in on Friday, but I did force myself to spend a little time relaxing before getting out the door. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to see the sun rise, the way I did on my Port Washington trip (and basically every morning of my life when I’m biking). When I finally got moving I stopped at an awesome bakery and then headed to La Crosse again. I ended up on Pettibone Park, which is an island on the Mississippi. It was gorgeous! I started walking and then realized I’d have a lot more joy seeing it by bike. I only learned how to put my bike on the rack the day before, so I was nervous about dealing with that – it’s really tricky with the oddly shaped middle. But I’m SO glad I did. I could have stayed there biking laps around the paths all day. It was such a gorgeous day too.

I stopped at a really nice park on my way back to the airbnb. It had a big pond to walk around, which I’ve decided is my favorite type of walking trail. No trees, like my recently favorited Quarry Park, but it was still really pretty.

After a break back at my airbnb, I ventured out to try and catch the sunset. Which meant I was literally in my car driving west trying to find ANY good place to pull off and take a photo. I ended up at this amazing park with the most iconic part of the La Crosse River Trail. I would have loved to have spent more time there, but it felt a bit creepy when I saw a man coming down the opposite way toward me. But it was really pretty!

My plan was to be as busy as I wanted to be on Thursday, but then have each day be significantly more restful. It didn’t end up being that way because I was so desperate to catch the fall colors and enjoy the absolutely perfect weather conditions. But I did make sure I spent a lot more time on my bike on Saturday and Sunday – the whole reason I went to this location in the first place. So Saturday I finally got on the Elroy-Sparta trail in the Norwalk location, so I’d be closer to a tunnel. It was a pretty exhausting ride, but I finally made it to the tunnel, only to be too scared to go in! But there was tons of water dripping down, and bats, and I had planned on turning around at the end anyway, so I skipped it. But the ride itself was so amazing! Exhilarating, really. I can’t wait to go back again.

I spent way more time than I should have driving around in search of new parks after that. I drove all the way down to Viroqua to stop at a unique public market that I missed out on in August. Then I went to Wildcat State Park, which was really pretty, but also packed with people. And finally headed back for a nap. I finished my last evening picking up some tacos from a permanent food truck and walking around all of the bigger parks in Sparta. While I did not find the city itself to be that exciting (although they have pretty parks!), I am IN LOVE with that area of Wisconsin. Especially in fall. Every time I hopped in the car I was just blown away by the beauty. It was a really lifegiving thing for me.

On Sunday morning I got up early again so I could start the Sparta trail at sunrise. Unfortunately I once again did not get a very good sunrise, but it was awesome to have the trail all to myself! It felt like a totally different trail on this end, even though Norwalk was the next destination. The ride was easier, but mostly enclosed by trees on either side, so it felt like going through a tunnel. I would have loved to have rode and rode, but I was worried about going further than I could handle. Plus I still needed to get back to shower and pack up before checkout. I loved the bike rides, though, and am SO glad I took it with me. Honestly, the whole trip was just amazing. Exactly what I needed.

I finished my vacation with a stop at Buckhorn State Park, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere dead center in Wisconsin, but it was gorgeous! Hardly any people there and wonderful fall colors. I once again found a pond to walk around and took about a million photos. I went on two separate hikes before finally deciding it was time to head home. All in all, a fantastic getaway!

Well, I started this blog post seven hours ago, thinking I could whip it out while I had the desire to write. I didn’t expect to spend half my day on it! I’m not sure I actually did any reflecting, despite the title, but oh well! I’m 36 now. I’m surviving, trying to thrive despite the weird circumstances of life right now. I’m finding ways to seek out joy and happiness for myself, whenever I can.

Author: Amy Noe

I'm a maker, a writer, a reader, a wife, and a mom. I love pursuing my creative passions!

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