Monday Notes: “Where’s Waldo”

I call him “Where’s Waldo” because he wears a red and white striped shirt and blue pants. He’s an older man, who frequently walks around the neighborhood. During the summer months, he walks to the pool, strips down to his swimming trunks, and does several laps. I’ve watched him repeat this pattern several times from our community gym’s window.

Sometimes when it rains, and he cannot swim, he comes inside the gym. This is how we met.

“They should have another treadmill,” he once said, taking slow strides.

“I agree,” I replied, while using the elliptical. “I’ve told them that before.”

“I can only walk. And swim,” he added. “I have an injury, so I can only do those two things.”

“Maybe you can ride a bike?” I offered.

“I can only walk. And swim,” he repeated.

Before he left, he waved good-bye and bid me a good day. I did the same, and as is customary, I felt a little closer to him. I wished I would’ve asked him his name, so I could stop secretly calling him “Where’s Waldo.”


The next time I saw him was a few months later.

I drove to the fitness room, as usual. As usual, I sat my yoga mat next to the treadmill, wiped down the surface, and placed my phone, water bottle, and towel in each appropriate place. Then, I went back to my car to get my free weights.

That’s when I saw “Where’s Waldo.” He was either headed to the pool or headed to the gym.

“Good morning!” I said, happy to see him.

“Morning,” he mumbled.

Turns out, he was headed to the gym, because when I returned with my weights in hand, there he stood…on the treadmill.

“That’s my stuff,” I said, pointing to my belongings: the white towel, hanging on the equipment’s right arm, the water bottle in the cup holder, and my phone, sitting in front of him.

“Well, get it then,” he spat.

“Oh no,” I clarified. “I was about to use the treadmill. That’s why my stuff is here. I just had to get my other things.”

“Well, I’m here now,” he said.

For a moment, I thought he wasn’t for real. However, his wide-legged stance implied that not only was he not playing around, but he also wasn’t moving.

Though there were many thoughts rolling around in my head, they weren’t polite, and I’ve been working on being as kind in speech as possible.

“This is incredibly rude, you know.”

“So,” he replied.

I’m positive I resembled the wide-eyed emoji. I stood behind him…on the treadmill and retrieved my belongings, and I said, almost in his ear, “I hope you have a good day.”

“You, too,” he said, with a laugh.

Then, I practiced what I knew to do, so I wouldn’t let this man’s behavior dictate my morning:

Grounding: For those of us who ruminate, it can be quite easy to keep going over a situation, until it culminates into a bunch of “what-ifs” and “I should’ves.” That’s not helpful. For us, it’s important to ground ourselves in the present moment. So, I called my husband and told him the entire story. I didn’t need validation that I was right, but rather, I needed a way to release the narrative, so it wouldn’t fill my head. Talking to Dwight for five minutes helped.

Exercising: I was red with anger at this man’s behavior and my helplessness in the situation. I almost went home. But then I remembered, exercising helps move energy around and out of the body. I was actually in the perfect place to be angry. I stayed in the fitness room, and worked out in a different order. He left after 20 minutes, and I was able to use the treadmill at the end of my routine.

Ignoring: In the past, I would’ve placed my phone call to Dwight inside the gym, so the guy could hear the conversation. That’s called being passive-aggressive, and I’ve worked extremely hard to not embody this trait anymore. Long ago, I also would’ve stared the man down, which probably wouldn’t have ended well. Instead, I set up my equipment so that my back would be to him. I needed to work out, but I didn’t need to look at him. Our interaction had ended.

Like I’ve said before, we’re living in some weird times. You never know what folks are going through, and it’s important to reman level-headed. People seem to be on edge, which is understandable. But it’s important to remember that we can only control ourselves. I couldn’t make the man get off the treadmill, but I could control how I reacted in the situation, which prevented things from escalating.

Be safe out there. People are unstable, and sometimes peace relies on you.

Monday Notes: Don’t Pop up on Me (Please)

March 2022, my stepmother, MJ reached out to me saying she’d be in Jacksonville sometime in August. 

“Okay,” I told her. “Just be sure to let me know ahead of time…when you know the date for sure.”

She agreed. 

The next time I heard from MJ was August 15, 2022 at 4:30 PM, when she texted me the following:

Hi Kathy

I am in Jacksonville at my friend’s house. I got here at 10:30

am this morning and I will be here until Friday. I would love to see 

you and the family.

Her daughter is going on vacation so I don’t have a ride. Give

me a call. 


August is the worst time to visit me, no matter what my relationship is with someone. I begin the semester in the third week, and to maintain a low stress level, I start revising syllabi and classes on August 1st. 

Also, I’ve learned to keep a very strict schedule, in general. Hosting or visiting with unexpected guests is not on the agenda. Hence, the reason you have to let me know if you’ll be in town, especially if you “would love to see me and my family.” 

In addition to planning for classes, the week I heard from MJ I also had an editing client scheduled, an unexpected trip to the car dealer, and a prior commitment to attend family game night at Dwight’s job

I couldn’t fathom how someone could plan a trip to a city, purchase a flight for a specific date, and not mention it to me. If nothing else, it seemed inconsiderate and rude. 

But I’ve been working on not freaking out when an unexpected non-emergency occurs, as a way to practice being calm when an actual emergency occurs. So, I meditated and gave her a call. 

“I thought you were going to let me know when you were coming?” I asked.

“Oh. I was, but something came up, so I didn’t.” 

Even though her flippancy set my belly on fire, I told her I’d pick her up on Thursday. I’d bring her by the house. We’d go to family game night. We’d take her to dinner with us.

“Okay,” she said.


Wednesday, MJ texted me, again:

Hi Kathy. What is your plan for tomorrow? What time are you coming

over here? 

I want to go to the beach while I’m here. My friend’s daughter knew this

but she is out of town working for the next two days. She is a traveling

nurse.

So she called a friend of hers to take us to the beach tomorrow. 

So please call me so I can change the time or day to go to the beach,

because I want to see you before I leave. My flight leaves at 5:45 PM on 

Friday.


My I’m not important trigger kicked in. 

“I deserve for people to visit me,” I said to Dwight. “I deserve for someone to plan ahead, with a date. I am not crazy for thinking this,” I continued. “And how does she plan a beach day on the day I agreed to come get her?” Then, I added, “Well, at least she came to Jacksonville, I guess.”

But I caught myself. I stopped myself from tying my worth to what other folks do or don’t do. 

And I didn’t get caught up in the “at least,” part of it, because that’s where we get ourselves into trouble. The phrase “at least” is not a positive way to frame something. It minimizes what you want or need in a situation. Sometimes, it represents the minimum action you think you deserve, which again, can cloud perception when tied to your self-worth. 

Even though I didn’t spiral, my stomach was so twisted in knots that I had to lie down. After resting, I realized I wasn’t responsible for how MJ decided to move in the world; her actions had nothing to do with me…at all. I called her back and told her to just go to the beach with her friend. We could take her to dinner afterwards.

At first, she agreed, but then she called back and said her “heart hurt,” with the idea of going to the beach, instead of seeing us; so she’d cancel her beach date.  

“Good,” I said. 


Thursday was pleasant. 

Friday, Dwight graciously drove MJ to the airport (because she also didn’t have a ride there), while I made my one hour and 45-minute trek to campus. I arrived at work by nine to attend a three-hour convocation, made finishing touches to courses, and returned home around six that evening. 

That night, I slept for nine hours. 

Saturday, my oldest daughter and I had lunch, and when I returned home, I slept for another three hours. Saturday night, I slept another nine hours. 

Stress exhausts me, more so because my parasympathetic nervous system is a little wonky. Whether obvious or not, beneath the surface, our bodies are always reacting to perceived stress. The kicker is that my body thinks a pop-up visit from my stepmother is the same as finding out my daughter was in a car accident, for example. Both feel exactly the same.  

So, as I re-learn, un-learn, and learn ways to function as a person with knowledge of my nervous system, one thing I know for sure is that I will not tolerate people popping up to visit, even if they are only 15 minutes away, like MJ was. 

It will not matter if the person understands or doesn’t understand. It will not matter if they think I should bend to their whims, expectations, and lack of social graces. 

Ultimately, I’m the one who has to deal with the fallout that occurs in my body, and being physically exhausted two days after is not worth it. 

And even though I know my self-worth is not tied to how people interact with me, I also know I am better than to be treated as an afterthought, and I will not be responding to that type of behavior, either, as I move forward.


Monday Notes: 4 Weeks in the Netherlands

On Friday, May the 13th, Dwight and I ventured off to breakfast. I checked my workout pants pocket: phone, ID, no debit card. 

“I left my card at home,” I said.

But when I returned home, my debit card wasn’t inside the deep pocket of my travel backpack where I’ve kept it since we’d left the States. I’d lost it. 

I checked my bank account: 

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-39.60 (Spar City Witte)

Someone found my card and had repeatedly used it at a corner store (where I probably dropped it). It had only been an hour. 


This incident describes part of how I’d felt while vacationing in the Netherlands for four weeks. 

It was an explicit balance of stress and relaxation. 

The stress began week one when I found out there was no clothes dryer. I would have to hang clothes on a five-foot clothes rack. This may not sound stressful to you, but for someone like me, who successfully washes, dries, folds, and puts clothes away every Sunday, this immediately interrupted my carefully organized routine that I maintain to avoid stress. By week two, I realized it would take three days to use a small European washer and several clothes hangers to achieve what I usually did in one day. 

Stress compounded week two when we didn’t grocery shop for the week. No groceries meant no food, and no food meant buying food at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or multiple runs to the grocery store. Consequently, because Dwight worked from one to ten at night, if I wanted groceries, I’d have to do it alone. Shopping by myself wasn’t an issue; fitting this into my existing schedule was.

These new stressors occurred in between finishing Spring semester, starting Summer semester, agreeing to be on a work committee, and taking on an editing client—all manageable tasks when I’m completing household tasks under normal structured circumstances.

But these weren’t normal or structured circumstances.

I needed to rely on strategies so the stress wouldn’t build up in my body and turn into uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately scheduled a virtual yoga class with a studio in Jacksonville. Unlike being in Costa Rica, where the serenity of the mountains calmed me, in Rotterdam, I needed an organized practice once a week. 

Because I’d been working hard on balancing my microbiome in relation to my digestion system, I noticed when I was eating too much sugar or too little fiber. Unlike in Panamá, I didn’t have to wait until my belly was bloated to know when I’d gone too far. Instead, I began no-weight workouts with an exercise app; I had to meditate to stay calm; I had to journal. I had to work hard to be balanced in this new environment.

Without these practices already in place, it would have been easy to spiral when I lost my debit card, and I almost did. I was angry at myself for being careless in another country. But you know what? I first settled something in my mind, and then, out loud:

“I am not about to let this f**k up my day!” I said to Dwight but more so to myself. “I’m going to get my nails done.” 

Did I choke back tears when the bank representative asked me where I was located and then the country and then my zip code—twice? Yep. Did I wallow? Nope. 

Instead of spiraling into an abyss of anger after playing twenty-one questions with customer service, I thought rationally. I am not without. I have another bank account to transfer and use money. I am not lacking because of a mistake, and I’m not some sort of dolt because I made an error. 


The reality is in between dealing with the stress of unexpected events, I’ve done the following:

  • eaten authentic Belgian waffles in Brussels, the way Belgians intended, 
  • tried premier chocolate from a chocolatier in Brussels,
  • visited Gieethorn, a wealthy town built around a canal, 
  • watched sex workers solicit clients in Amsterdam, 
  • drank shots at the nine degree below Ice Bar
  • viewed Jesus’s (alleged) blood captured in a capsule, 
  • toured the city where In Bruges was filmed, 
  • eaten at a myriad of outdoor cafes, 
  • photographed tulips on the last day of tulip season, and
  • walked an average of six miles per day. 

It’s super easy to get caught up in one or two bad events, right? But we can’t let a few negative encounters dictate our entire experience. Overall, I’ve enjoyed living in the Netherlands. Sure, there were unexpected cultural shifts for living our lives; however, there were more “good” days than “bad” days. Was washing clothes half the week a pain? YEP! Was eating an authentic Belgian waffle worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

I’ll check back in once we leave our next destination: Croatia. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos.



Monday Notes: Monson Arts Residency

Who do you blame for not being the artist you were meant to be? That was one of the questions in The Artist’s Way.

It didn’t take long for me to come up with an answer. First, I blamed my parents. When I was in the fifth grade, I wrote a book called On the Farm. My fifth-grade teacher was so impressed, she entered the book into a citywide contest either named after or sponsored by Gwendolyn Brooks. I’ve written about this before. I didn’t win; however, now that I’m a parent, I wonder why no one asked me about my interest in writing. As an adult, I realized it’s probably because it was the same year my mother received a kidney transplant. She was hospitalized 150 miles away in Madison, Wisconsin. So, her illness probably took precedence over my perceived art.

Next, I blamed my grandmother. The year after my mother died, I announced to her that I was going to write a book.

“About what?” she asked.

“About my mother’s death,” I said.

“You think you’re the only person whose lost her mother?”

I didn’t answer, but what I did do is stop thinking about writing … anything … for a very long time.

After writing something similar to the above in my Morning Pages, I closed my journal and I cried. That was October 2021.

But as I continued The Artist’s Way activities, a thought emerged. I can do the writer things I wished my caretakers would have. I can nurture myself as an artist in ways I wished my parents would have. I can speak positively about myself as an artist in ways that I wished my grandmother would have. I’m an adult, and it’s up to me to live the life I want and to be the artist I want to be.

That’s part of what led me to applying for the Monson Arts Residency. I needed to submit the following:

  • a cover letter explaining why I wanted to come to Monson, Maine and what I’d be doing while I was there,
  • a writing sample,
  • a website, and
  • two references.

The first time I applied, I didn’t get it; however, the director encouraged me to re-apply in 2022, and if I did, he’d waive the application fee. I did, and this time, I was awarded the residency.

Cue the Prosecco!

Holmquist House

I’ve been quiet on the blog because I was in Monson from March 27th to April 7th being the artist I always wanted to be.

For twelve days, I lived in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a housemate. During that time, I received free breakfast from the General Store and lunch and dinner from a trained chef named Lou Lou. Lou Lou bought fresh groceries daily to prepare meals for us, like Ahi tuna tartare, pork belly, and congee with saffron. The intentionality of her meal creations was surreal. I had my own writing studio in another house that overlooked a lake with a view of the mountains. At the end of it all, I received a check for five hundred dollars. They paid me to be there. I was literally nurtured as a writer.

I have to repeat that. The nurturing I wished I had, I received from this writer’s residency, including being safe, secure, fed, and paid.

With nothing to worry about, I wrote no less than six hours a day, and with that, I was able to finish a draft of my second memoir.

I’m still in awe that I was even there. But I hope you see what I’m saying. I will always advocate for drilling down to the source of how you became who you are. After all, each of us is a product of our environments. But if you’re dissatisfied with the outcome of your upbringing, it’s equally important to take the reigns of your own life and do the things that will allow you to be who you desire. You’re the only one who can do that 😉

Next week, I’ll share the lessons learned/reinforced about myself while I was in Maine. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments.


Monday Notes: Parenting from the Heart (Part II)

Parenting is hard.

You never know if you’re really doing the right thing, until your children are young adults making decisions. To me, that’s where part of the proof is. Here’s how I know.

Today, is my youngest daughter, Desi’s first day of organic farming school. She now lives approximately 900 miles away in another state, so she can complete a two-year organic farming program.

While I believe that all children are born with their own personalities, I also believe that we as parents can either nurture or stunt those natural-born identities with our parenting style.

Desi choosing to be an organic farmer is an example of how Dwight and I nurtured her personality.

We both believe people should do what they want to do if they can live with the consequences. This concept extends to both of our daughters. Although we believe this idea, it hasn’t been easy to put into practice (well, not always for me, anyway).

For example, Desi graduated high school in 2020 with an international baccalaureate (IB) diploma. It’s as prestigious as it sounds. Because of her degree and intelligence, she could have attended any university in the world. But she didn’t want to.

Believe it or not, part of what was hard about parenting her through this was listening to everyone’s judgment associated with allowing our child not to attend college.

Doesn’t she know how important college is?

What I said: Of course, I have three degrees and Dwight has one. We’re walking examples of “go to college to be successful.”

What is she going to do?

What I said: She’s going to work and figure out what she wants to do.

She’s going to be at your house til she’s thirty.

This came from someone I’d just met. My actual response is too long and inappropriate for this blog.

Judgments withstanding, things have worked out. She took a year to think about her actual interests. She used the internet to research programs. She found an organic farming program: they pay her to attend, they pay for housing, and they will set her up to be a successful organic farmer.

Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

But what happens when success doesn’t come quickly or look like “success?” Dwight and I still nurture with the same belief system, but in a different way.  

Our oldest daughter, Kesi was afforded similar freedoms.* She has the freedom to do what she wants. She was supposed to be a hairstylist but (in my opinion) got distracted. Distractions are okay. And again, children have different personalities. Life hasn’t unfolded the same for her. However, we still maintain Kesi can live how she wants. We would never try to impose what we think she should be doing onto her experience in life. That’s hella arrogant.

Nurturing Kesi looks like having lots of conversation about cause and effect. And the one consistent thing that Dwight and I do, aside from showing how not to live in fear and teaching how to be accountable for your own life is supporting our daughters no matter what they choose to do and no matter what the outcome.

We don’t withhold love, support, or encouragement because their lives don’t look like ours. They both receive the same words of affirmation, quality time, and financial assistance.

I’m pretty sure they both know we value intelligence and education, but they also know we respect whatever it is they want to do, whether that is organic farming or working at Starbucks.


*I hope it doesn’t sound like I think we can give freedoms. People are born free and liberated, but sometimes specific parenting styles can make it seem as if freedom to be who you want is something that children have to earn; and that’s not true.

Parenting from the Heart

Monday Notes: Blueberries

I moved to Covert, Michigan to live with my grandparents the summer of 1990, June to be exact. I was seventeen. My grandmother had tasked me with finding a job for the summer, and when I wasn’t successful, she decided I would make money working on her friend’s blueberry farm.

I’d like to remind you that I was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. I had never seen a fruit farm. However, my grandmother has also never been the type of person with whom you argue, especially not at seventeen. So, I put on my designer jeans and straw-brimmed hat (the kind you wear by a pool), and I rode with her to the farm.

Someone had decided it was a great idea for me to actually pick the blueberries. I grew more miserable as I rolled each blue ball between my fingers and dropped it into the pail. How did I get here? What can I do to not be here? That’s all I kept thinking.

Around noon, my grandmother’s friend came to get me. Apparently, I wasn’t picking fast enough for a profit margin. She thought it best to move me inside, where her family worked to check for bad fruit and pack the good ones. Although I was no longer picking, I still lamented my current position. What am I doing sitting in this shed packing blueberries? I should be home. I should be hanging out with my friends at Water Tower.

I don’t remember why, but I didn’t have to return the next day. I’m assuming it’s because I wasn’t very good at it or maybe someone noticed I did more daydreaming than packing.


Decades went by, and I refused to eat blueberries. No blueberry pie. No blueberry jam. No blueberry muffins. You know how they give you a fruit cup at a restaurant? I’d eat everything, except the blueberries. It wasn’t that blueberry picking was so horrible. It was more that the circumstances surrounding how I ended up living in Covert (i.e., my mother dying and my father kicking me out of the house) and completing senior year there incensed me to my core. Blueberries reminded me of that year and the one before it, and for a long time, that experience was something I didn’t want to even think about, let alone eat.

I want to be super clear here. I didn’t consciously stop eating blueberries.

One day someone asked, “You want some blueberries?”

And I said, “Nope. No, thank you.”

I didn’t offer an explanation or biographical context. No one would ever know that I avoided this small, blue fruit because it triggered me in inexplicable ways. It’s something I unconsciously chose.

Today, I am fully aware that I made blueberries the issue, instead of recognizing the issue as the issue. People do this all the time, though. I don’t want to get all psychology here, but it is related to our amygdala and triggers, which can range from seeing blueberries to seeing someone raise their fist in anger.

There is always hope, though. As I began to heal from each phase of abandonment, I no longer avoided blueberries. First, I used frozen ones for smoothies. I mean, baby steps, right? Recently, I’ve begun buying them fresh from the store and popping them in my mouth for a snack. They’re not so bad. I see why they’re popular.

I suppose we all have our own “blueberries.” The key is when you realize what they are, to seek help as soon as possible. Otherwise, the next thing you know, you’re out here avoiding blueberries and missing out on delicious fruits 😉



Digestion, Gut Health, and Me: Healing (Part IV)

After the laryngopharyngeal reflux diagnosis, the doctor recommended a pill called Omeprazole, which lists lupus as one of its “rare” side effects. Rare or not, I refused to take it or the next prescription he provided. That’s how I ended up with a naturopath, Dr. Megan. Seeing a naturopath is one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Dr. Megan took a more integrative approach, meaning prescription drugs was not her first suggestion. She wanted me to heal on a metaphysical and physical level.

METAPHYSICAL

Third Chakra

The first thing that resonated with me was the importance of healing my third chakra, which is associated with personal power. I reflected on places where I felt stuck, such as my occupation. I thought about ways I currently give my power away, such as in conversations with family. Next, I did a guided meditation focused solely on the third chakra, and I used a mudra Dwight suggested. Immediately, I found myself speaking up in private, public, and professional settings.

The Artist’s Way

Dr. Megan also recommended a book called, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Initially, I didn’t think I needed this book. I thought it was for wayward creatives. Even though I didn’t consider myself lost, I did have a tendency to downplay what I did create. So, I sat myself down, read a chapter each week, committed to writing Morning Pages, and took myself on Artist’s Dates. I kid you not, by chapter three, I felt lighter, more playful, and more creative than usual, which in some way helped to heal my body.

PHYSICAL*

Elimination Diet

Another thing Dr. Megan wanted me to do, against my will, was an elimination diet. She wanted to make sure I didn’t have a food sensitivity or food allergy. As much as I like to eat, this part stressed me out for a little while. But eventually, I saw the benefit of eliminating dairy, most meats, wheat, shellfish, soy, and specific spices. As much as I like to eat, the elimination diet gave my gut a much-needed rest. Think of it like a detox. It really made it easier for me to see how wheat and some dairy are problematic.

De-Stress

Even with all of these changes, my cough hasn’t gone completely away. However, it has subsided. During those times of little-to-no coughing, I’ve noticed something. When my stress increases, so does my cough. For example, if I have an editing client whose manuscript needs more work than I originally thought or students are pissing me off during finals week, the coughing begins and continues through the night. When life is easy going, there is almost no coughing.

This reaction is similar to when I was in Costa Rica. In that country, we had little access to “bad” foods, life was simple and free, and I didn’t have a care in the world. Panamá was the opposite. It was more like being in the States, especially with access to all the food I shouldn’t have been devouring.

So, in addition to yoga, meditation, a probiotic (with ashwagandha), and journaling, I have also begun taken longer breaks in between activities. For example, I used to go from grading college students’ work to editing a nurse’s dissertation with no visible break. Now, I sometimes sit and stare out of the window for five minutes. This has been one way to signal to my brain and body to calm down before we begin a new task.


When the ENT doctor first handed me the Omeprazole script, he said, “Don’t expect immediate changes. It took how long for you to develop this? It’s going to take time for it to go away, too.”

Although I opted not to take medicine, he’s still right. Healing is not linear, whether we’re talking about mental or physical health. I’m not at 100%, but I don’t feel bad about it. I feel better simply because I understand how I ignored how stress and anxiety affected my body over the years and now know what I can do to repair the damage. That’s what I continue to focus on each day.  

Thanks to you if you’ve read one or all of these. It’s appreciated!

*My physical health maintenance already included working out four times a week and decreased intake of sugar and carbs. What’s described here is in addition to that regimen.


Digestion: First Day of Senior Year (Part I)

Digestion: Undergrad (Part II)

Digestion: Adulthood (Part III)

Digestion, Gut Health, and Me: Adulthood (Part III)

It was 2015, and my friend and I had just finished dinner at Chili’s, complete with one of those big, iridescent blue fishbowl-looking drinks. My belly was tight. My pants were tight. I looked like I would deliver a baby at any moment. It wasn’t the first time I had this feeling. It had been surfacing more and more, but only when I ate at restaurants like Chili’s.

Unlike previous years, I didn’t ignore this sign. I scheduled an appointment with Borland Groover to see what was going on. The gastroenterologist talked to me for a few minutes.

“Those chain restaurants use a lot of sugar and salt,” she said. “What you’re experiencing is common. I want to draw some blood just to be sure.”

The bloodwork came back normal. I stopped eating (and drinking) at chain restaurants. Crisis diverted.

Fast forward to 2021. Panamá City wasn’t as exciting as Costa Rica, and there was nothing left for Dwight and me to do, but eat, which was fine because I love food. I. ate. everything: pour-over coffee, ice cream, pizza, ropa vieja, fresh bass, ceviche and more ceviche. Y’all. The store up the street gave me their WhatsApp so I would know when the empanadas would be ready. I was out of control. But I didn’t know it until I was damn-near immobile on the couch with a seven-month-pregnant-looking belly.

A friend of mine had to tell me what I had was called “indigestion.” I’m not joking. I had no idea this was a symptom. I thought I’d never had it before, because even though I’d gone to the gastroenterologist in 2015, she never said that word.

(Again) I stopped eating out and drinking as much and I spent the last two weeks in Panamá walking three miles a day and biking. Crisis diverted, again.

Well, almost.

Ever since 2017, I had a cough that would come and go. My primary doc did a chest scan. Even though it came back clear, she couldn’t tell me what was wrong, and kind of like the poop thing, it was intermittent, so I ignored it. I figured it was no big deal. But in 2021, after indulging in Panamá’s cuisine and having indigestion, my cough returned. This time, with mucus.

By August, I saw an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor, who diagnosed me with having laryngopharyngeal reflux. I wrote about it here.

I guess the point of this elaborate series is to encourage those of you who are like me, those of you who see and feel what’s going on with your body but ignore it because it’s not that bad or because it doesn’t happen that often. Kind of like intuition, you always know what’s going on, especially if it’s physical because there’s literally a sign. You probably don’t need a doctor to tell you something’s wrong, but you do need a professional to provide a diagnosis and possible treatment.

Also, I know each of these events may seem unrelated, but in my gut (pun intended), I know they are interconnected. For example, after spending months listening to my body, I’ve learned that stress explicitly affects me. It begins in my belly like a message, and when I ignore it, it worsens.

Tomorrow, I’ll share what’s worked to mitigate these reactions.


Digestion: First Day of Senior Year (Part I)

Digestion: Undergrad (Part II)

Digestion: Healing (Part IV)

Digestion, Gut Health, and Me: Undergrad (Part II)

In undergrad, my friend, Los and I spent many a day (and night) drinking all manner of liquors. We were in undergrad, so it was allowed, excused, and even possibly expected. Drinking was our pastime.

One night, he invited me to happy hour at Waldo’s. We walked to the campus bar, excited to eat twenty-five cent wings and two-dollar well drinks. We sat there for at least an hour talking and devouring food as if we’d never eat again.

On our walk back to the dorms, I had the sudden urge to poop. Luckily, we’d walked through the Student Union.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Los, while concealing how serious the situation was.

“You can’t wait til we get back?” he asked.

“No!” I almost shouted.

When I got to the stall, feces exploded everywhere—my underwear, pants, toilet seat. I was mortified. How was I going to clean all this up? How was I going to get home?

I guess the Fates were on my side. When I peeked out the bathroom door, I didn’t see Los or anyone else, so I found the nearest exit and bolted back to my room.

At the time, I thought it was an odd incident. But that’s all it was…an oddity. I chalked it up to Waldo’s cheap wings and jungle juice. Nothing like that had happened before, and nothing like that happened again…until my thirties.


I’ll spare the details, primarily because they’re repetitive and gross. The same exact thing happened a few more times, minus the wings and rum. There was even a time when I didn’t make it to the bathroom. That was a long ride home.

I know what you’re thinking. By the time I was over thirty, certainly I must have known that not being able to hold my bowels was not normal. Yes. Yes, I did. But I didn’t seek treatment because these occurrences didn’t happen frequently enough for me to personally deem them an issue. Over the course of ten years, I’d say this happened five times.

I also never sought a doctor’s opinion because shortly after I finished my doctoral program, everything stopped. I want to say, “like magic,” but I know that’s not the truth. It was probably akin to my senior-year tummy—stress. Once my stress levels significantly decreased, then loose, uncontrollable bowels disappeared.

And so, I continued living life as if everything was all good.


Digestion: First Day of Senior Year (Part I)

Digestion: Adulthood (Part III)

Digestion: Healing (Part IV)

Digestion, Gut Health, and Me: Senior Year (Part I)

“The bus will be here soon,” my grandmother announced.

I hadn’t been on a school bus since the eighth grade, but it was different here. Here was a podunk town too small for a transit system. Everyone rode the school bus. Kindergartners and twelfth graders, alike, all on the bus headed to the same building to learn the required curriculum.

“Okay,” I replied, then excused myself to the bathroom for the second time that morning. I hadn’t even eaten breakfast, so I wasn’t sure why my stomach was gurgling and what my body was eliminating.

“Are you nervous?” My grandmother asked.

I was.

The first day of senior year was nothing like I’d envisioned. My friends in Chicago, the ones I’d gone to school with since first or seventh grade knew me. They knew I was part goofy, part serious. They knew if I looked at you funny, then I was probably judging your hair, clothes, or speech. But they also didn’t care. Would these new people understand, or would they do like most new people did with me and assume I was stuck up or bougie?

“No,” I replied. It was easier than admitting the truth and then having her turn my fear into a speech about the uselessness of fear or into some inspirational moment on apprehension.

I went to the bathroom one more time.

“The bus should’ve been here by now. School’s starting soon,” my grandmother said. “Bernie, you’ll have to take her.”

Divine intervention. My stomach was relieved. I wasn’t supposed to be on the school bus after all, not at seventeen, not my senior year, not today. Maybe God would also perform some act that reversed everything that had happened up until this point. Maybe I would be transported back to Chicago, where I would meet my friends on the L, where we’d revel in our senior status, mimic house music songs while waiting on the train, and fantasize about post-graduation plans.


My grandfather dropped me off in front of the one-story brick building.

“Have a good day,” he said.

“Okay, I replied,” and I knew I would because I planned on keeping quiet and shrinking into the building and its smallness, hoping no one would notice me or my sudden urge to use the bathroom every ten minutes. I hoped I’d disappear into this nothingness of a town.


Digestion: Undergrad (Part II)

Digestion: Adulthood (Part III)

Digestion: Healing (Part IV)