Status Update


Finding the time, energy, and motivation to write blog updates has become more challenging recently. For years fall was my favorite season, and from a weather perspective it still is, but from a mental health perspective it is not. As the years have gone by, I find my mental health more and more impacted by the shortening days and that I start noticing the days getting shorter sooner and sooner in the season. I also find myself liking my job less and less and these two things are now fully coinciding. This begs the question, is it really seasonal depression or does my job just make me miserable? Before last year I always assumed it was just the lack of daylight but recently I’ve come to think my dissatisfaction with my work situation is a bigger part of my mental health issues than I had realized. It also doesn’t help that this is the first year in over ten years that I am teaching a full load. Since about 2010 I have taken on various non-teaching roles on campus for which I was “released” from one or more classes to fulfill and the last few years before my sabbatical I was often filling multiple non-teaching roles meaning I was teaching even fewer classes. Not only am I coming back this fall from a year long sabbatical of not teaching, but I’m coming back to a full load with full classes, and I am exhausted! Teaching, well good teaching, is a performance art. To capture and maintain your student’s attention requires a significant level of physical, mental, and emotional energy that I just don’t really have enough of any more. I am giving literally all my energy to my classes and they are leaving me utterly drained and unable to attend to other things, like writing blog posts. My hope is that my stamina for teaching will return, at least a little bit, as the semester wears on and I will have more energy for other endeavors and can get back to writing at least weekly updates if not twice weekly updates.

Piling on to all of this is a new round of grieving for Leeloo. Round one of the barn is almost done, the next blog post will be an update on that, but having it so close to done has totally stirred up all my grief over losing Leeloo. She should be here. She should be the first horse to use the barn with me, to explore it and run around like a crazy and kick up her heels and she’s not and that has just been way harder than I had been anticipating. The few times I’ve started drafting the next barn related update it in my head I immediately get sad and then I switch over to some other task to distract myself. But avoidance is not a healthy coping mechanism so eventually I need to deal with it. Writing those few blog posts this spring was really helpful with that first phase of grieving so I’m hoping setting aside some time to write the next barn update will help me work through this most recent round of grieving.

Just have to keep on keeping on.

Water Woes

updates and setbacks

First some updates

  • Hand/wrist update: After a second round of steroids and occupational hand therapy we decided I need to have the carpel tunnel surgery. The question now is timing. I’m not allowed to lift more than 10 pounds for 3-4 months and with horse chores that is going to be a challenge. Particularly for someone like me who can’t seem to recognize my body’s limits (see this post for a prime example). This means Nate will have to do most (all?) the horse chores for 3-4 months, so it has to be a time that is compatible with both our jobs, which right now looks like late spring or early summer.
  • Barn update: Hansen Pole Buildings sells just the materials to build a pole barn and I have been getting quotes for them for the roughly the same building since 2019 which has been an interesting way to track how insane prices have been the last few years. In 2019 we got a quote for x dollars, in 2020 the cost was 3*x , in 2021 it was 5*x, and now, it’s only 1.5*x! We might actually be able to afford this barn! There are still lots of other things we need numbers for, like labor and foundation work, but before this the cost of  materials alone exceeded our budget and now the materials are at least within our budget so there is a small ray of hope.
  • Mental health update: Overall I am doing better, but this week demonstrated that I’m still not fully back to where I would like to be. I was slightly busier this week than the previous two weeks and those fairly minor tasks used way more mental and emotional energy than they would have in the past so I didn’t get nearly as much done this week as I had planned (and would have been able to do in the past). That being said, I am still doing better than I was at the end of December/early January and am heading in the right direction. I am also trying to get my sleep back to a solid uninterrupted eight hours every night, which will hopefully help with everything. I don’t have insomnia, but I wake up several times a night every night. I usually fall back to sleep quickly but if it happens too close to my normal wakeup time it takes me much longer to fall back asleep and then when my alarm does go off, I feel like I didn’t get any sleep at all. I’m trying to be better about wearing my blue-light blocking glasses at night and attempting to end all screen time by 9:00 PM. Hopefully this will help get me sleeping through the night again and sleeping better helps with everything else.

Now the water woes.

We placed the water tank where it is so we could use the spigot on the front of the house to fill it and plug the tank heater into the outlet on the porch. We know spigots and water and freezing temperatures don’t always mix well so we have an expandable hose that we hook up and unhook every time we have to fill the tank and we shut the water off to the spigot inside the house every time. When they built our house the siding people did not place the framed cutout around the spigot correctly and the spigot is too close to the frame making it extremely difficult to get a hose on or off in the best of weather. Nate and I thought it would be better if we put a quick-disconnect hose attachment on it to get the hose on and off more easily while wearing winter gear. It had been working relatively well, though once we had to use the hairdryer to thaw the quick-disconnect piece. The same thing seemed to have happened this week. I used the hairdryer to get it warm enough that the quick-disconnect moved again then attached the hose, turned the water on and…. water came out of all parts of the spigot. Water everywhere in negative everything degree weather is not good. We got that water all turned off and started trouble shooting. We could try the spigot on the back of the house, but we would need to use our two long hoses. The long hoses did not like negative everything degree weather and refused to uncoil. After what felt like hours wrestling with uncooperative hoses I finally got them all hooked up (or so I thought) and turned on the water. I had to go into the house to turn the water on to the spigot and saw water shooting out from everywhere as soon as I stepped outside so I immediately ran back in and tuned the water off to the spigot and assumed I simply hadn’t gotten the hose attached correctly in this stupid weather and decided I needed to get a hose that could handle the cold and another quick-disconnect attachment. After a trip to Fleet Farm for a new 150-foot super special winter proof hose (that discount comes in super handy!) and another quick-disconnect we hooked everything up again, ran the hose from the back of the house out to the water (the new hose is FAR more cooperative in this weather), turned the water on and…. water came out of all parts of the spigot. Insert your expletive of choice.

The girls of course need water, so we’ve been hauling buckets of water to the water tank every day. Though annoying, this option works fine for Leeloo, it doesn’t work for picky miss Juniper. Juniper demonstrated in that previous terrible cold snap that she doesn’t like the taste of the water from inside the house. We got her to drink that time by adding molasses to her water, but I’m not dumping molasses into all of their drinking water, also having PPID means added sugar isn’t good for her (added sugar isn’t good for any of us!). This time I tried some apple cider vinegar and that seems to be working, which is good, but I don’t want to pour that into our already rusty and not in great condition water tank either. The result is that we’ve been hauling individual buckets of water out to Juniper, which means we’re also hauling individual buckets of water out to Leeloo because if Juniper gets something Leeloo wants it too. Leeloo drinks at a normal rate of speed for a horse and usually downs her bucket very quickly.

Here is a video of Leeloo drinking (which also involves a certain amount of playing):

Juniper, of course, takes forever to drink. FOREVER. You would think we could just leave it there for her to finish in her own sweet time but Leeloo, having finished her water ages ago, gets bored and decides Juniper’s bucket looks like a great toy and will promptly dumps the water out everywhere and start playing with the bucket unless we stand there and guard it.

Remind me again why I wanted to have my horse at home with me?!

Here is a video of Juniper drinking and if you turn the sound on you can hear my conversation with Leeloo as I try to keep her distracted.

We have contacted a plumber who can come out next Tuesday and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that (a) we didn’t do any actual damage to the house and (b) he can figure out some sort of winter solution so we can stop with the buckets.

Hoping that next year we have a barn with winter safe water supplies!

Physical Health 2023 – Phase 1

proactive not reactive

I went to the doctor last week about the increasing issues with my right hand/wrist/arm and got a referral to see a hand therapist again. At that appointment we determined that my carpal tunnel is definitely getting worse and that surgery is probably in the near future and that I also have symptoms of cubital tunnel which impacts the nerve running down the outside of your elbow and causes issues with the pinky and ring finger. Fun times.

I was also put back on steroids and they are definitely helping with the tingling/pins-and-needles issues, which is nice, but I can’t stay on steroids indefinitely. The biggest issue for me is they totally mess up my ability to sleep, and getting good sleep is so important for both my physical health as well as those pesky mental health things I’m trying to manage. Depending on how the physical therapy goes and the reaction to the steroids they may do some imaging but only if it will impact our next stage of possible treatment. I am trying to be proactive and find ways to get the benefits of the steroids without the actual steroids, and I am on them to reduce inflammation so that is my goal – reduce inflammation.

I have more searching to do about ways to reduce inflammation, but my goals for the immediate future are committing to an anti-inflammatory diet, getting a better handle on my sleep, getting serious about meditation, and being very purposeful with my exercise. You may notice that all of those overlap with my goals for getting a handle on my mental health, so I am not going to be adding anything new into my life, just being more focused. The biggest change will be dedicating myself to eating anti-inflammatory foods, and just as importantly (maybe more), eliminating pro-inflammatory foods.

I am not a nutritionist and a lot of people with far more knowledge on the topic than I have, have said a lot about healthy diets. Here is the link to my number one resource, The Paleo Mom, and here is what I am planning on eating for the next three months:

Nate and I have been following some variation of the “paleo” diet since 2011 so this isn’t that different from how we have been eating (most of the time). The biggest change is going to be cutting out the processed foods that are generally considered “paleo friendly” (depending on what paleo diet person you ask). Those include things like arrowroot, tapioca starch, coconut flour, almond flour, etc. As I write this, I am realizing this is pretty close to the Whole30 diet with the exception of the meat and fats. Because the goal is to minimize inflammation, I am trying to focus on getting more omega-3s and less omega-6s and in general grass-fed beef is a better choice than poultry and pork. Fish would be a great choice, but I have two issues with it. First – sourcing fish that is actually (a) the fish it claims to be (b) caught in an ethical manner both in terms of environmental impact and humane working conditions and (c) doesn’t have high levels of other bad things like mercury in it from our extremely polluted oceans is really hard to do and is made even harder when you live in a landlocked state. Second – I don’t like fish. We have been buying grass-fed beef halves from Stone Bridge Beef, a local farmer, for years now; so I feel good about it in terms of quality, environmental impact, and humane working conditions. Also I really like beef.

The other really big thing for my physical health (and mental health) is getting my vitamin D levels up. They are currently very low. 

Standard western medicine says vitamin D should be between 30-80 ng/mL, though some of the sources I look to say it should be more like 50-70 ng/mL. In 2015 I had my vitamin D levels tested and it was 23.5 ng/mL which is low, so I started occasionally taking a supplement. In January 2020 I got tested again and it was at 9 ng/mL. That is not a typo, it was a single digit, nine. That is bad. I have been actively supplementing since then and three years later it is now (there should be a way to do a dramatic pause but I can’t force things like pagination on you so this parenthetical will have to do) 14 ng/mL! Which is technically better, but still way too low; and this is with active supplementation. I’m stepping up the quantity of vitamin D that I am taking plus I am trying to get it from a variety of brands/sources in case there is a quality issue as well. I’m also trying to eat more vitamin D rich foods, the problem is mushrooms and egg yolks are the only ones I really like. Sunlight of course is also a great source but there are all the SKIN CANCER concerns out there, and my skin really hates the sun. I never tan; I turn red, then itchy, then pasty again – plus if my skin is exposed to sun it is also exposed to bugs and we all know how I feel about that. The light therapy bulb I am currently using is technically for reptiles and is supposed to be a full spectrum light that also provides the UVB needed to produce vitamin D so we’ll see if that helps.

I am starting to wonder if my extreme vitamin D deficiency might not be the root cause of many of my other mental and physical health issues. I’m hoping that being super aggressive with supplements and diet can get those vitamin D levels up and maybe make a difference in everything else, but I am also wondering if there might be something else underlying the vitamin D deficiency that is the real root cause. I’m hoping my doctor will be willing to retest in three months to see if my work has paid off.

In the meantime – mushroom omelet anyone?

Mental Health – 2023

getting my mental house in order

First things first – I am not a mental health expert, a medical professional, or any other anything that qualifies me to give advice regarding mental health. Everything I say here is in reference to myself. If something I say resonates with you and you want to try it too, that is great and I would love to talk about it in the comments, but this is not me advising anyone to do anything.

Second things second – Mental health issues, like everything lately, seems to make people take a hardline stance on one side or another of some imaginary line. In this case usually over the need to take medication. I often hear/see things like “You don’t need those pills, just [fill in whatever thing you think will magically make someone better].” or “You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin, why tell people with mental health issues they don’t need medication?” However if someone has diabetes, or high blood pressure, or some other physical ailment, they usually incorporate BOTH lifestyle changes AND medicine, often in the hopes of minimizing the amount of medication they need. Yet I don’t hear that middle-ground camp much when it comes to mental health issues, but that is where I fall.

I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year of college and put on medication. I took one medication or another for several years but also made changes in my life and eventually felt well enough to try living without medication and have been able to be okay (mostly) as long as I maintain those lifestyle changes. There have been a few times since then when my depression/anxiety started drifting away from managed, but each time I was able to get my mental health back under control when I got those lifestyle things back under control as well.

I however find myself once again at a point where my depression/anxiety are no longer well managed and are negatively impacting my quality of life. I’ve been struggling to get myself to do anything other than read books, click through imgur, or play endless games of spider solitaire. Though those things are perfectly fine on their own, doing nothing but them for hours on end, day after day, isn’t exactly the life I would like to be living. It is also clear that I have let many of the lifestyle choices that help me manage my mental health slide right off my plate and into the snow (along with a hoof pick and the padlock we started putting on the horse gate at night) but unlike the hoof pick and padlock I can’t wait around until spring and hope I find them again, I am going to need to be a little more proactive.

Here are the big things I will be reincorporating back into my life this January with the intention of being more diligent about keeping them around. Generally speaking, trying to establish good habits or changes in your life is easier if you do them one-at-a-time, but all of these things were established behaviors not that long ago and I have already started reincorporating them one-per-week starting the week before Christmas.

Now on to the list:

  • Meditate/Mindfulness Practice
    • Nate and I try to meditate together for five minutes every morning and we’ve managed to stay pretty good about that. In addition to that I am also trying to incorporate a mindfulness practice throughout my day. Of everything on this list, this is the one that never really went all the way away, but also the one I don’t think I’m that good at and need the most work with. Hopefully more practice will make this habit better and more effective.
  • Exercise Daily
    • I had been really good about doing 15-30 minutes of strength and cardio exercises every morning for years, but once we brought the horses home my morning routine went right out the window and I have been struggling to get it back. The various injuries to my back, neck, wrists, and hands have not helped the situation either. The week before Christmas I decided to actively reclaim a morning routine which also includes some form of exercise and have stuck with it on the days I’ve been home. This had been a pretty established habit prior to the horses coming home so I’m hopeful it will stick.
  • Light Therapy
    • I have had some version of a light box for a few years and try to sit under it every morning once we’ve passed the autumn equinox and until the spring equinox, but since my morning routine was obliterated when the horses came home I didn’t start it up again like I should have. Now that I am reestablishing a morning routine with my exercises I decided to squeeze fifteen minutes of sitting under my light in to it as well. I started sitting under the light again last week and so far I’ve managed to do it most mornings. It’s also another opportunity to practice mindfulness/meditation, which is good. Though watching Juniper and Leeloo stare at the house wondering what is taking breakfast so long is still making me feel guilty.


  • Cut Out Sugar
    • Sugar is evil (as discussed in this post) and it has got to go. I do however feel it is worth saying again that sugar is not the same as carbohydrates. When I say I need to cut sugar out of my life I am not saying I’m cutting out carbohydrates, which are a necessary part of a healthy diet, I’m cutting out sugars. Read your labels – see how much added sugar is in your food, if it isn’t something you’ve paid attention to before you’ll probably be shocked. Sugar does lots of terrible things to our bodies but in the case of my mental health it makes my depression, anxiety, energy levels, and overall mood so much worse. I know this and have successfully gotten sugar out of my life several different times but it always creeps back in because it is sooooooo tasty and soooooo addictive. SO addictive! I will once again be buckling down and cutting sugar back out of my diet. Here are two more links discussing the relationship between sugar and mood disorders: What to Know About Sugar and Depression and Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression.
  • Getting a Handle on the To-Do List Issues
    • Like many (most?) people I tend to suffer from having too much to do and not enough bandwidth to do it. I have tried any number of practices to gain a sense of control over what feels like an overwhelming life and they each worked to varying degrees, but nothing became a real habit. My current plan is to use the Pomodoro Technique more intentionally (work on a task for 25 min, then take a 5-min break; after 3-4 sets of 25 min work + 5-min breaks take a longer 20-30 min break; rinse and repeat). I have used this method in the past with success so I’m hoping it will work again. One thing I will be experimenting with is if it works better for me to work on a different thing for each 25-min work block, therefore chipping away at several different things each day, or if I should focus on specific things each day. This week I’ll be trying the different item for each 25-min work block, next week we’ll try to focus on just one or two things for the whole day and we’ll see what works better.
  • Get My Physical House in Order
    • This one is somewhat loaded because there are a lot of gender role and societal role issues involved with “keeping house;” who is responsible, who bares the blame when standards aren’t met, who determines those standards, etc. But the reality is, when my house is clean I feel better and there is research to indicate that it isn’t just societal pressure. I have experienced an actual physical reaction when I wake up the next morning and walk into my recently cleaned kitchen – I feel physically lighter and I can feel my mood lift. The problem is I hate cleaning my house! Nate and I had developed a method that was working pretty okay. We both agreed to do 30 minutes of “adulting” each workday and two hours each weekend day and we were doing a decent job of keeping the house and our lives in order. But this summer that all disappeared when every moment of “adulting” time got taken up doing stuff to get ready to bring the horses home and now that they are home we do horse chores every day and those use up more than our allotted 30-min a day plus 2 hours each weekend day which has resulted in us barely keeping up with the things that will not be ignored, like laundry and dishes. But the state of our house is not one I am okay with and I have got to figure out how to get it back to okay.

None of these ideas are new or my own and are all things I have done in the past, so it is a matter of reincorporating them back into my life and not necessarily creating new habits.  The suggestions themselves come from many sources but there were two books that were the biggest influences in helping me develop my own holistic approach to dealing with my mental health.

The Depression Cure by Stephen S Ilardi. This was the first time I had heard anything about managing depression with something other than drugs and/or therapy and it was really eye opening for me.

The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons. This book was recommended to me by my therapist, and it was amazing and I highly recommend it for anyone, even if you don’t have diagnosed depression or anxiety. There is a lot of information in this book, and I feel like it would be worth re-reading. Maybe a to-do for February.

For now I’ll be shaking off the bad habits that have snuck back into my life and taking time to find beauty even when its negative everything degrees outside.



 At least there are no bugs!