Saturday, October 29, 2022

Losing my religion

The summit of Blue Sky (Mount Evans) on Oct. 15 — honestly my only October activity that I could label an "adventure," and it was a pretty mild one.

"Whereas positive self-help encourages you to create ambitious goals, to reach for the stars, to "follow your dreams"— *vomits*— negative self-help reminds you that your fucking dreams are probably narcissistic delusions (or just burrito cravings) and you should probably just shut the fuck up and get to work on something meaningful."
— Mark Manson 

I have been in such a funk this month. A few days ago, I decided to embrace the superstition that it’s an October thing, a cursed month, and the light will start to return when November arrives. I realize this is objectively far from true — the end of DST and 4:30 p.m sunsets and all. Also, election season is an awful time of the year. I turned in my ballot yesterday but beyond that, I can’t even think about it without becoming upset. Still, I needed something to anticipate. “Soon it will be Nov. 1, and the clouds will begin to lift, and then … what?” 

Fall was particularly gorgeous this year, hanging on for weeks. So why was I so ... meh?

I don’t have a race on my calendar. That’s a first for me since I stumbled into this hobby 17 years ago. Even when everything fell apart in 2020, I clung to homemade challenges and virtual racing. I organized a 160-mile Winter Solstice challenge with a women’s group on Facebook and a 200K “Fat Pursuit” fat bike ride in Leadville with friends. 2020-2021 hardly counted as a break from racing. Still, even when I was aggressively powering through the setbacks posed by the pandemic, I could feel my spiritual tides shifting. The turning point really happened earlier, during the 2020 Iditarod, when I had a “big dream” crushed and gained a more clear-eyed view of the complex issues that would prevent me from ever surmounting that challenge. 

After my dad died in 2021, I tried to power through two different endurance events. Both raised the even more devastating question of “what purpose did this ever serve?” I was in such deep emotional pain during the 2021 Utah Mixed Epic and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m worse off for having tried it than not. I went back to the 2022 Iditarod with my fat bike and a plan to simply “joy ride” the short route but … I was miserable. The experience had its moments, but none of the soaring joys I’d come to depend on during these adventures. I suppose the best way I can succinctly describe my current feelings about endurance racing is that the suffering used to mean something, but now it doesn’t. This is its own loss, its own source of grief. 

 Earlier this week, the ITI organization released the list of participants for the 2023 race. Beat is on this list, of course. Most of the names are familiar. Many of the same people return year after year. In the past, when asked about why this is, I’d reply along the lines of, “Every race offers a unique and intense experience that’s worth the sacrifices.” But this week, going over the list, I thought, “Those poor souls. They’re still trapped.” I immediately laughed at myself for having this thought because it made the Iditarod sound like some kind of cult that I'd escaped. But then a more sober realization struck … maybe that is the way I’m thinking about this now. 

I knocked out several fast runs around the Walker Ranch loop this month. Normally I'd be more excited about that.

Racing provided meaningful structure in my life. It was a destination, an exciting future, something to push me out the door in the wind and rain. Training for races created colorful threads that I could weave into the mundanity of everyday routine. I never believed I needed the anticipation of a goal to boost these micro-adventures. But then October — typically the start of my winter season — rolled around, and my interest in adventure fell off a cliff. I had a lot going on this month, with a long build of biweekly immunotherapy shots to treat my worsening asthma, car issues, physical therapy appointments, and a remote copy editing job that pins me to tight deadlines four days a week. Still, I had time to get out, the weather has been good, and the air quality has been superb. Even my fitness has been above average. Usually when I’m in a “slump,” it’s because I’m struggling physically. But I’ve been running well, setting PRs on routes I’ve frequented for nearly seven years, and improving my downhill technique. And yet … I’m just not feeling it. It feels like I’m running on autopilot, going through the motions. I feel little emotion about the beauty around me and little interest in my successes. I feel “meh,” which is alarming and unlike me, in every aspect of myself I’ve come to understand. So who am I? What am I even doing? 

 Another issue with October is that I’ve been deeply frustrated about my health. A physical on Sept. 23 revealed alarmingly high cholesterol (honestly, it’s alarming) and mildly high TSH, both indicators of hypothyroidism. The mildly high TSH is key; I don’t meet the clinical standard for treatment. (For those who are familiar with thyroid stuff and who are curious, my TSH is 5.25 uIU/mL; the clinical range is considered 0.4-4.5. There’s a lot of good evidence that most people, especially those of us with autoimmune thyroid disease, feel best below 2.5, but doctors typically don’t recommend treatment until TSH is over 10.) My primary care doctor recommended a wait-and-see approach, which is perfectly reasonable. But in the meantime, I’ve got this cholesterol issue that I must try to address with diet, meaning I had to give up ice cream and chocolate and other comfort foods that admittedly help boost me out of the depths. I’ve been on a diet for a month and this does not bring me joy. My mental health, meanwhile, is precariously perched on a terrible tightrope. I’ve experienced some debilitating lows, often at strange times — like while I’m running outdoors. Other times bring awful anxiety spikes, where I’m extremely on edge and even trembling, again at strange times — like while sitting in the waiting room at my allergy clinic. 

Running on Green Mountain earlier this week. I had been crying just seconds earlier but wasn't trying to depict a strangely volatile emotional state. I wanted my usual Strava selfie with the marginal dusting of the season's first snow. There's a lot to unpack about all of that ...

 I’m just not loving life right now, and there doesn't seem to be an obvious solution. Friends have recommended seeking medication for anxiety/depression, but I have a lot of concerns about this route. I can’t shake the thought that treating my thyroid health — before it again becomes a dangerous problem like it did in 2017 — might be a better place to start. After all, I had significant cognitive symptoms when I was hyperthyroid. On Friday, I paid out of pocket for further testing and learned that while my TPOAb (the antibodies typically present in Hashimoto’s Disease) are very high, my thyroid hormones fall in the normal range. My thyroid is stressed but it’s doing its job, which is probably why I’m not experiencing more obvious symptoms — such as a decline in fitness. So I have to concede — the wait-and-see approach makes the most sense. But I’d rather wait and see about my thyroid before I head down the SSRI road, which may mean straddling this mental health tightrope for the foreseeable future. 

Phew, I did not mean to take this tangent, but it feels good to write it all out. Another mental-health strategy I’ve been pondering is going back to therapy, which is obviously the first step on the SSRI road. I’ve not given therapy a lot of effort but had an extremely mixed experience with a therapist that I started seeing via Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. She showed me useful coping mechanisms and helped me sort through my fears in 2020. But things were starting to fall apart even before my father died, and her stunning lack of empathy in the aftermath was traumatizing. I recognize that finding the right therapist is its own battle, but it’s just so daunting. I don’t want to endure more trauma while trying to “fix” my mental health. Face-to-face interaction, in general, is already so difficult and stressful for me (yes, even on Zoom.) If I’m going to invest the high amount of energy required for talk therapy, I want real solutions. I do not need someone to tell me to kind to myself or remind me to practice self-care. I need someone who can guide me in the pursuit of truth and living a purposeful life in a broken civilization on a dying planet. I suppose what I really need is philosophy … or religion. 

We finally got some real snow on Thursday. It was short-lived and I knew it would be, but I was still surprised to not be more stoked that snow season has arrived. 

The recent shake-up on Twitter has bummed me out. My first thought about everyone leaving now that Elon is at the helm is, “Oh no, my ex-Mo friends.” I have, weirdly, recently latched onto a community of former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion I left in my late teens. Most of my family members are still active in this religion. I have a desire to better understand them, and a few rather innocuous search terms are likely how these algorithms landed on my feed. Still, it’s been helpful to read about the experiences of people who are processing the loss of deeply-held faith. I’ve wondered if this is because I feel a similar loss in endurance racing … a soaring form of worship in its own right. My community and many of my relationships are tied up in outdoor adventure. The Twitter ex-Mos — who are helping me process the religious issues I never did when I was 19 years old — are also offering outside perspective into what might come next, if the spiritual fire does indeed go out. 

 When I think about a purposeful life, I envision some idyllic version of Mary Oliver — taking my messy and discontented self for daily walks in the woods to commune with nature and emerge with beautiful poetry that I send out into the world so others can feel less alone as we all walk into a messy and frightening future. However, I am not nearly the artist that Mary Oliver was, and I’m not so enlightened that I can be content with walks in the woods. I still need novelty and excitement, ego-driven “achievements” and lazy comforts. I couldn’t even give up ice cream without being grumpy about it; it’s unlikely I’ll ever shed my extensive vices. 

 Still, putting my energy toward something — anything — that feels meaningful in a positive way is a necessary pursuit. I don’t know exactly what this thing is, or if it even needs to be tangible … maybe striving to be a good person is enough. Maybe love is enough. Maybe going into the woods, mostly alone but sometimes with someone who I love very much, in the backyard of this place I am extremely lucky to live … is enough. The universe is infinite and indifferent and I’ll never understand even an infinitesimal fraction of the truth in a lifetime of searching — but I understand that beauty and light go on. Maybe that’s enough. 

 Longevity might not be on my side — objectively, the odds aren't in my favor. Every day is a gift. If there’s one positive self-help platitude I can embrace, it’s making every day count.
Saturday, October 22, 2022

Carrying the Tradition

"Your first time only happens once," I repeated to each sister. I wanted to assure them that the training, preparation, and possible emotional turmoil would be worth it. The Grand Canyon is a wholly unique place on Earth, heart-rending in its scope and grandeur, and we finally going to cross it together. 

Their first Rim-to-Rim had been in the works for years. Our dad would light-heartedly bring it up in the early years of what was becoming our annual tradition, when I was still flying down from Alaska just for this. My sisters weren't all that into hiking and didn't take the invitation seriously. Then Sara took up running half marathons, boosting her interest and confidence in endurance sports. Lisa first expressed genuine interest five years ago, but then became pregnant with her youngest son. Life continued to happen: infants, jobs, Covid. Finally, in 2021, we were going to make it happen. Both sisters were training for the Grand Canyon when our father died in June, and everything shattered. 

Still in shock, I pleaded with my sisters to keep the tradition going, but quickly let go of this delusion. There would be no Grand Canyon in 2021. I wondered if I'd ever return.

The Tradition started in 2004 when Dad made plans to join a group of friends for his second rim-to-rim and invited me. Hiking had been a passion we shared since I first joined him on a Wasatch Peak called Mount Aire a decade earlier, but our adventures together had tapered off in recent years. Like many young adults, I was absorbed in my own life, and I'd also developed a zeal for cycling that took up much of my free time. Hiking miles had become increasingly scarce. I was mired in relationship drama, interviewing for jobs out of state as my solution for said relationship drama, and otherwise not taking the time to do the proper training for a 24-mile hike with all of the difficulty in the back half. But I wasn't worried about my fitness — I was 25 years old and still invincible in that way. I also was intrigued because my grade school nemesis, who used to bully me for being terrible at sports, was part of the group. I'd show him!

Standing with Dad at the Colorado River in October 2005

Rim-to-Rim 2004 was magical and grueling and memorable. "Your first time only happens once." We embarked from the North Rim well before dawn. Half of our group ditched us before we even started down the trail, racing to be the first to the South Rim. "Where's the fire?" my grade-school nemesis cried indignantly. But then he too raced ahead, and I had an incredible realization that I didn't care. I didn't need to prove myself to a childhood bully. I was just happy to be there, hiking with Dad, descending into a beautiful furnace. 

Temperatures topped 110 degrees. The other folks in our back-of-the-pack group struggled with heat exhaustion and bleeding nipples. Meanwhile, Dad showed me how to stay strong: refilling my water at regular intervals, eating a snack once an hour, resting in the shade, and taping the blisters on my heels. Slogging up the endless switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail, I felt fantastic — one of my first realizations about my propensity for long-haul endurance. My first Rim-to-Rim was, and still is, one of my greatest accomplishments. 

The following year, after I surprised even myself by up and moving to Alaska in September, I still purchased a last-minute plane ticket so I could join Dad in the Grand Canyon. Rim-to-Rim became a yearly tradition from that point on. By 2019, I'd completed 13 crossings of the Grand Canyon with Dad. 2019 was a most magical year, with beautiful light, perfect temperatures, and our steps dialed in like clockwork. Dad was 67 years old and as strong as ever. I still held onto the assumption that we'd continue this tradition for many years. I never could have imagined it would be our last. 

In October 2021, over the weekend that we were all supposed to be in the Grand Canyon, my sisters and I met up in California for a relaxing vacation that (perhaps because of nudges from me) turned to daily hiking in the hills above Laguna Beach. There, Lisa and Sara recommitted to the Grand Canyon in 2022. I wasn't entirely convinced they'd be up for all of the necessary preparations without our Dad encouraging them along, but I excitedly went through the process of booking rooms on the South Rim. Our mom, as she had done nearly every year since 2004, agreed to drive the long shuttle around the canyon and meet us on the other side. 

Lisa and Sara stepped up in a big way, taking time away from their busy lives and families — Sara has three young children and Lisa has four — to embark on training hikes and hit the gym. Sara — my baby sister who I still think of as a fastidious 12-year-old who abhors outdoor slogs and discomfort and dirt — downright shocked me when she embarked on three repeats of a steep six-mile loop during a 90-degree day in Orange County. Repeats! One needs a hefty dose of mental game to return to the inferno. 

For Lisa's long hike, we summited Mount Timpanogos in the Wasatch Mountains — this 14-mile route has 4,500 feet of climbing and was our Dad's specific measure for whether or not a person has what it takes to cross the Grand Canyon. Lisa and I did this on a 90-degree day over Labor Day weekend. It was rough. Lisa performed admirably, keeping a steady pace both up and down the mountain. I was admittedly a little surprised — and incredibly moved. The Grand Canyon meant enough to my sisters that they did the work, and it showed. 

Amid final preparations, I sent them a 1,600-word e-mail with every detail I could think of, from our accommodations to the elevation profile to specific items I thought they should pack. I did want to let them make their own decisions and have their own experiences, but I also really wanted everything to go well. Against the wishes of my physical therapist, who is still helping me work through back pain, I loaded a 45-liter backpack with anything that could remotely aid our comfort and success — an extensive first-aid kit, cooling towels, extra layers, extra snacks, a water filter, a wag bag (just in case!), and 20 pounds of ice in an insulated bag. To be clear, my sisters had both already planned their gear and carried everything they actually needed, but I was doing my best to be a worrywart big sister. 

I set a start time of an hour before sunrise, 5:30 a.m. To everyone's credit, we managed to hit the South Kaibab Trail by 5:45. It was a gorgeous morning — nice light, just a slight breeze, but already quite warm at dawn. The forecast high for Phantom Ranch was 95 degrees, so I was a little anxious about the coming heat. Still, everyone was in good spirits. 

One of the early viewpoints on the South Kaibab Trail. The street where we grew up and where our mom still lives is called Cedar Ridge Road, so we had to get a photo. 

The switchbacking descent toward the Colorado River. I had forgotten about the hundreds of big step-downs on this trail. This compounded the already-difficult 5,000-foot descent for Lisa, who struggles with knee pain (likely osteoarthritis) from a high school knee injury. Her knee brace wasn't quite cutting it and her joint was starting to ache. I fished two Aleve and two Tylenol from my industrial-sized first aid kit, along with lidocaine patches that I insisted she try. We took several rest breaks as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I could tell Lisa was in pain, but she hid any distress she might have been feeling. I tried to hide the distress that I was admittedly feeling. Was I leading her into a death march? In the Grand Canyon, descending is optional but climbing is mandatory. The hard part had yet to begin.

We made it to the Colorado River about two hours later than my best-case scenario, but it was still just 11 a.m., well within the range for a reasonable 14-hour pace. 

"The good news," I chirped as we crossed the footbridge, "is there's essentially no more downhill."

We spent about an hour at Phantom Ranch, eating our sandwiches and enjoying the lemonade. The concession stand had changed a lot since my pre-pandemic hikes. Inflation hit the Grand Canyon and a small cup of lemonade is now $5.50 — used to be $1! They also sell ice now — at the same price for a 10-pound bag, it's by far the best deal in the canyon. This was admittedly not welcome news after I'd schlepped 20 extra pounds for four hours. And everything is sold from a walk-up window, including T-shirts and postcards. One particularly oblivious woman spent 15 minutes ordering many souvenirs and mulling over postcards while the lemonade line stacked up behind her. I eventually had to hand Lisa our cash and walk away because I was seconds away from losing the last strand of my social filter. 

We started up "The Box" just after noon. Both of my sisters had built up this section in their minds as a place to fear and loathe. Online forums cite it — accurately, I think — as the hottest place in the canyon. I'd warned them that if we didn't get through the narrow canyon before the morning shadow faded, the sun would turn it into a sandstone oven. Because of these warnings, both sisters expected to witness soul-crushing desolation while slogging through a sandy wash. "The Box" is actually a lovely canyon with a spring-fed creek and a lush riparian zone wending beneath the sandstone cliffs. Pessimism pays off; it was a pleasant surprise. 

Once out of The Box, the going got tough again. We were well into the afternoon hours and now lacking any measure of shade. The high temperature at Phantom Ranch that day ended up being 99 degrees. Doubtlessly it was similar here. Sara is a regular at a hot yoga class in California and weathered the heat well. But Lisa again became quiet, and I was feeling the heat as well. We stopped at any reasonable access point to dip cooling towels and hats in Bright Angel Creek. The last of my 20 pounds of ice finally melted. We were nearing the end of my heat remedies as the hardest part of the climb neared. I continued to remind my sisters to eat their chewable electrolyte tabs — which they did, diligently, even though those things are disgusting. Everything was still going surprisingly well. 

Then we came to the intersection for Ribbon Falls. There was once a bridge leading to this alcove, but it washed out in a flood in 2019 and has not been replaced. This means hikers must cross Bright Angel Creek. Depending on where one makes the crossing, it isn't trivial — the current is often knee-deep and fast-flowing. From there, one must follow a more primitive trail that adds about a mile to an already long hike. I told my sisters it would be fine to opt out of Ribbon Falls. But I also assured them it would be worth it.

"This was Dad's favorite spot in the canyon." 

The creek crossing was tricky. We walked up and down the shoreline looking for the best spot, and settled on a place where I thought we could rock-hop. It wasn't the best choice — the rocks were large and slippery; falling off one could have resulted in a real injury. Lisa still plunged into the creek near the far shore and was not happy about having wet shoes. The 2019 flood left a steep sandy ridge that we had to find our way around, bashing through tamarisk and hopping back and forth over a smaller creek. But we made it to Ribbon Falls, and it was gorgeous. Lisa and Sara were awestruck. 

"It's like Hawaii in the desert." 

No one else was around. In all of the many years I've visited Ribbon Falls, I've never experienced anything but crowds. The waterfall is a beautiful, cool spot to take a break. In the past, nearly everyone who passed by would make a long stop, and the numbers often grew into the dozens. The missing bridge and bushwhacking approach must have been just enough to deter most hikers this year, or perhaps we were just incredibly lucky with our timing. Whatever the reason, for 45 minutes we had this paradise completely to ourselves. 

Lisa and Sara both had a small amount of Dad's ashes left over from some jewelry they had made, and we agreed to spread them here. It was a serene, lovely moment, but it leveled me in a way I hadn't expected. Up until Ribbon Falls, everything about this year's Grand Canyon had been positive — just happy nostalgia and the excitement of sharing an incredible place with my sisters. Here, I realized how much I missed Dad, how I could never again share this with him, how alone we are in this world, tiny flickers of joy in the darkness. We sat and hugged and shared a big cry. Then we sat a while longer, listening to the peaceful melody of cascading water. 

Emotionally, I've been in a dark place since the Grand Canyon. I can't deny it. I went in expecting the joyful experience of new memories and traditions. But what I found is a finality, harsh and unyielding. It wasn't my first realization of the finality of death and it certainly won't be my last, but it has been the starkest of such moments. 

Still, life goes on. After our beautiful but emotionally devastating memorial, Sara injected levity into the moment with yoga poses beneath the falls. Then we hiked on, moving with the relentless march of time toward the long night — or, for now, the long climb.

I had warned my sisters that the final five miles are by far the hardest. We'd already covered 18 miles, both of their farthest hiking distances, and still had more than 3,600 feet to climb out of the canyon. These relentless switchbacks are usually what break first-timers. But the sisters had done well with self-care: eating and drinking at regular intervals, taking their salt tabs, and managing their feet. Sara was downright perky. 

We were lucky that, amid our long stop and Ribbon Falls and another at Cottonwood campground, it had become late enough in the day that the canyon had slipped into an afternoon shadow. While still warm, the unbearable sun finally relented. The sisters kept a steady pace but were starting to show signs of weariness. I'd warned them about scary drop-offs along this section but I don't think they noticed. 

We briefly connected with a large group from Minnesota, commiserating and encouraging one another. I looked at my watch and did some calculations, then sent Mom an ETA from my satellite messenger. We hoped to keep an 8 p.m. dinner reservation on the North Rim. I'd promised my sisters that we could take all the time they needed to hike out of the canyon and I wasn't going to push them — I brought my camp stove and mac n' cheese just in case we missed dinner — but tried to gently nudge them along when I realized the timing was going to be close. 

We reached Supai Tunnel just as the last hints of twilight slipped into darkness. I encouraged one more snack break. "I'm over eating," Lisa moaned as she forced down some candy — which I understood as "overeating" and vehemently disagreed. "You need all the calories you can get down!" 

We donned headlamps for the final 1.5 miles of relentless switchbacks with their big step-ups. It was my first time hiking out of the canyon in the dark, and I was thrilled by this new experience. I frequently stopped to turn off my headlamp and look down the canyon for a string of yellow lights — the hikers still below us. Amid the expansive darkness, they looked like angels ascending toward heaven.

Lisa, for the first time all day, indulged in the mildest of whining. She accused me of gaslighting, of convincing her this was a climb with an end when in fact it had no end. 

"That is my mantra," I exclaimed. "It's how I get through the hard parts of my endurance races. I just tell myself this will never end. I've gone to Hell and this is my new eternity. Then I distract myself with the mental game of figuring out how I'm going to live like this forever. It works surprisingly well."

As soon as I mentioned my "this will never end" mantra, I was again nudged toward my own inner darkness. This is where I am now. This is how life goes on. It's hard. But there's beauty in the marching. I can always look for flickers of light, for angels ascending. 

I had been tracing the climb on my GPS, so when we finally rounded the final switchback, I announced it as such. Ahead was only more darkness and quiet; Lisa did not believe this was the last one. Her head was still down when I first saw headlights from a car in the parking lot. Then we all heard our mother's laughter. 

"Mama?" Lisa called weakly into the darkness, sincere in her childlike plea. Her relief was palpable. It was over. Mama was here. We were going to be okay.

The four of us tangled into a hug as Lisa and Sara wept and Mom and I laughed. I was brimming with big sister pride. We'd done it. We'd crossed the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim. Two of the people I love most in this world — my sisters — had experienced the wonder and accomplishment that has been such a formative part of my life, that I'd come to take for granted, that I nearly lost. 

"This time next year?" I exclaimed as we hobbled toward the car. "You don't have to answer that yet. Don't answer that yet."

We did make our dinner reservation, just barely, still smeared in red dust and sweat. The meal was delicious, though, and Sara experienced the pure joy of "the best rootbeer in the world" — taste sensations only possible after a long, hard day in the heat. Mom again provided impeccable support. Even though I'd been sending her ETA texts and warning her that we'd be out after dark, she still showed up early and waited for us at the trailhead for hours. The North Rim accommodations left a lot to be desired — really, it's like camping indoors, which is a hard sell to my sisters who are not campers. There were mice in the cabin, which yeah, I may not live that down. Still, what a wonderful weekend. Everything about it was nearly perfect. It's just ... Dad wasn't there. That's the part I haven't been able to get over. 

Still, what are traditions but the rituals we create to hold onto memories, and the memories of our ancestors, long after they're gone? I can hold onto the hope that a new tradition has begun. 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Thyroid update 6

I’ve been feeling depressed this week, and of course, I don’t have a reason. Just last weekend I had a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon with my sisters and mom. But then I drove home, and ever since it’s been tough to get out of bed. I go through the motions and feel exhausted with each passing minute — that is, until I boost myself into physical activity for an hour or two, wherein I feel inexplicably fine. I’m not … tired-tired. Just tired of myself. Low on motivation. Filled with existential dread. 

On Saturday I thought I’d overcome the ennui with a long bike ride, but I couldn’t motivate to prepare or boost myself out the door — not until mid-afternoon when it was just too late for anything long enough to slip into a flow state. Still, I pumped up the tires and wheeled my mountain bike outside. It was a gorgeous October day, 72 degrees under a fiercely blue sky. The aspens in our neighborhood are at peak gold right now. I pedaled along and felt uneasy and anxious. Finally, I realized … “The truck. This is what everything looked and felt like the day I was hit by that truck." 

Magnolia Road, about an hour before "the incident" on Oct. 10, 2021

As far as feeling depressed, there are probably more emotions to unpack following my first trip to the Grand Canyon without my Dad, but feeling dread about this particular anniversary makes some sense. 

Oct. 10, 2021, was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I’d returned recently from another cathartic visit with my sisters in California, not unlike last week's incredible adventure in the Grand Canyon. I headed out for a bike ride, later in the day than ideal, which left me pedaling west up the steepest pitch of Flagstaff Road as the late-afternoon sun began to set. Amid that blinding glare, a man driving a vintage Ford F250 struck me in the back with the passenger-side mirror. 

 The impact was so strong that the mirror arm broke and swung around, shattering his window. I remember hearing the “thud” of impact more than feeling it, and thinking, “That asshole hit me, he really hit me." The left side of my body skimmed along the moving bed of the truck and toppled onto the pavement, bashing my left elbow. I thought the driver hit me on purpose. There was just no reason for him to pass so close when the right shoulder dropped off steeply and there was no oncoming traffic. The truck's brake lights engaged and skidded to a screeching stop. I looked up to see shattered glass sparkling on the pavement. The driver stepped out of his truck, leaving it parked in the middle of the road. His jeans and arms were smeared with blood, and he had blood on his face. He was bleeding from dozens of micro-cuts caused by shards of glass, but the sight was alarming. I wondered if the collision had been much worse than I realized. Was I dead? 

Instead, I stood up from the pavement and took a few steps back. I was frightened of this man, still believing he struck me deliberately, and now watching him approach me while covered in blood. He was clearly distraught. He didn’t see me, he gasped, not at all. He didn’t even know what he hit when his window broke; he thought it might be a deer. When he looked back and saw a cyclist on the road, he panicked. He was clearly a good guy who wanted to do the right thing, but I was in shock and couldn’t deal with this — not this, not now. Not in 2021, the worse year of all of the years. 

Since I could move all of my limbs — save for my left arm — without pain, and since my bike seemed undamaged, I insisted on calling an accident and accident and going our separate ways. I tried calling Beat, who was out of range, spent an hour sitting at a picnic table while reeling in the shock, and ended up pedaling most of the way home with my arm pressed against my torso. 

Do I regret not calling the cops? Maybe — physical therapy is not inexpensive. Still, seeking legal compensation would have achieved little but more pain for both the driver and me. At the time, I was thrilled to be simply alive — not just alive, but “uninjured.” But I wasn’t uninjured. Something happened to my back. Within days I felt a sharp, shooting pain near my lower thoracic spine. The muscles surrounding my spine were so tight that I couldn't bend over. Sitting became unbearable. I finally went in for X-rays but the doctor found no fractures — at least none that the X-rays could see. Still … it was a challenging injury. I sought out physical therapy. I’ve been in physical therapy ever since. 

Beat assures me back pain is normal for 40-somethings, but I didn't have a single problem with my back before this incident. Suddenly I couldn’t wear backpacks without pain. I bought a fanny pack. I couldn't drive long distances. I still can't, not without paying a price. I had to vacate the couch, perhaps forever. I still can't sit on soft surfaces without discomfort. While I realize that I’m still very lucky, the experience angers me. Health is so fragile; it can change in an instant. Scars accumulate, both physically and mentally. The privileged and carefree way I used to enjoy cycling up steep canyon roads — honestly still one of my favorite things — is forever tinged with these negative emotions, with resentment and fear. 

Still riding a year later. No, I still haven't removed the silly headlamp from my helmet.

This was all an unintentionally long exposition to lead into the thing I actually came here to write about, which is thyroid health. The last time I wrote one of these updates was in May 2019, when I was officially in remission from Graves Disease. I’d been battling the condition for more than two years, having been diagnosed in February 2017 with symptoms that were slowly killing me: tachycardia, high blood pressure, severe shortness of breath, fatigue, and most concerning of all: brain fog. I genuinely believed I was facing early-onset dementia at age 37. 

These are symptoms of hyperthyroidism, a common result when the autoantibodies associated with Graves Disease attack the thyroid gland, causing it to overproduce thyroid hormones. For several months I had to take a high dose of methimazole — three pills, three times a day. The medication prevents the conversion of thyroid hormones in the liver and has a number of less-than-ideal side effects, but it worked. Within a year I’d mostly tapered from meds, took a low dose for another half year, and went off the drug in November 2018. If life were fair this would have been the end, but autoimmune disease is a life sentence. Even as my endocrinologist cut me from her schedule for being too healthy, she warned that the high number of Hashimoto’s antibodies in my system would doubtlessly activate someday, and I’d have to deal with it when the time came. But until then … live for today! 

It seems that time has come. What is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis? This more common presentation of autoimmune thyroid disease attacks the gland and causes it to produce too little hormone. It can have a lot of the same symptoms as hyperthyroidism: muscle weakness, brain fog, fatigue, and heart problems. Low thyroid hormone levels tend to impact metabolism, causing low energy, weight gain, and a buildup of bad cholesterol in the blood. The link between Graves Disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is poorly understood, but it’s generally accepted that these diseases are two sides of the same coin. Just over two weeks ago, I went in for an annual physical. My bloodwork showed a concerning spike in my cholesterol — it’s nearly doubled since 2019. And my TSH has climbed above the official (much too broad in my opinion) “normal” range. I now meet the medical standard for hypothyroidism. 

My primary care doctor recommended waiting three months and testing again, but indicated that medication is likely in my future. In the meantime, for my cholesterol, she recommended adding “a handful of almonds” to my diet — which I find humorous. If I was 65 years old or in slightly poorer health, I’d probably be on cholesterol medication right now. But the alarm of high cholesterol is a good prompt to improve my diet, which was growing heavy on cheese and ice cream. Still, being on “a diet” isn’t a great mood booster, especially when it seems like an ineffective bandaid for a sluggish thyroid. 

 What I feel is similar to how I feel about the truck collision. I’m happy to be alive. I’m glad it’s not worse. I don’t want to deal with it even though I probably should. I’m angry. I already have this allergic asthma thing that’s getting worse, and now-weekly treatments for that, along with the bad back that I don’t deserve. I hear from friends with long Covid, complications of concussions, more severe autoimmune diseases, cancer. I feel empathy and fear. This could easily be me. It could be any of us. Good health isn’t a moral reward; it’s mostly luck. 

 And it’s true, I mostly came here to vent. But even though I have been much more sparse with my blog posting than I was in 2017, I’ll probably continue with these updates. If only for the angry eye-rolling from my future self who just didn’t realize how good she had it in 2022: 

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