Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Year of the Snake

Did you know that this is 'The Year of the Snake'?

I, just so happen to have been born in the year of the snake. Indicating that perhaps this will be my year.

Start my career as a Sustainable Lifestyle Designer... DONE!

Yes. That's right. I took a huge leap last year. HUGE. I jumped off a cliff in a bad economy from a horrible job that was killing me and started working for myself. It has been an incredibly-crazy rewarding journey these past few months. I have had struggles (I'M BROKE AS HELL!),  but struggling builds strength in character, and I am going to need a tremendous amount of character for what I have planned. I was broke and miserable when I had a salary, and I'm broke and happy now. I get to tuck my son in bed every night, and wake him up every morning. That's more important to me than anything, especially when there were so many nights and mornings I had to miss out on because of work. Now, I want to help people. I get to help people. I want to raise awareness to the importance of sustainability. Stay tuned for more to come from me in my career.

I have come full circle to an understanding of my life over the last two years. First and foremost... I have been through way too much shit in this life to let it all be for nothing. It all has to be worth something! And it is worth something, because... all the shit that I have been through will give me a strong voice to stand up for what happened to my son. And, to stand up for countless families that battle health problems. That's right. I said it. Autism is a health problem. Just like cancer is a health problem. Just like diabetes is a health problem. Just like heart disease and obesity and food allergies and asthma are health problems.

At the top of my goal list for this year, is to establish Mission: Jonah as a non-profit. It is my mission to build awareness to the issues that we face as a society if we do not demand from our government that our children be protected from those things that may be causing autism and other health complications, and that we take immediate action to prevent further on-set of this epidemic.

It's not just autism. It's our lives. It's our world.

This world is imploding on us.

Over two years ago, I made a decision that changed my life forever. I went vegan for sustainability. I wanted to learn more about sustainability. I wanted to learn how sustainability would impact me. When I was finishing my degree in interior design in 2009, I learned about sustainability in the built environment. It became important for me to understand how sustainability would impact behavior. Every one was talking about being green, but were they living it?

We live in an extremely wasteful society. The average American consumer generates something like 22000 pounds of waste per year. Our society is structured to promote this lifestyle, and we lack the tools needed to improve upon bad habits. I began to think about sustainability in relation to design and architecture. I realized that you can build LEED certified buildings all over the world, but if no one understands the benefit or how to use it, what's the point. And, to be quite frank, those that stand to benefit the most from sustainability have the least access and education to do it. Like me, for example. I am a lower-middle-class, single mother buried in student loan debt beyond comprehension. I needed to be more sustainable, but I couldn't go buy a hybrid car or a LEED certified house.

So, I gave up meat and travelled down a new road.  Being that I was a food-addicted-emotional-eater, I thought I was going to be in for a challenge. I started with an 8 week transition in my diet. Every week, I phased out one item:
1. Beef
2. Pork
3. Chicken
4. Seafood
5. Soda
6. Eggs
7. Dairy
8. Dairy (I had to hold on to butter and cheese for an extra week)
This was carefully planned, with the first week starting right after Thanksgiving in Dallas. I was able to indulge on any kind of meat that I could have hoped for or wanted.

By the time I hit 8 weeks, it was a new year, I was suddenly a vegan, and I already felt dramatically changed. I decided early on in the transition that I would maintain the full vegan diet for an additional 8 weeks. If I didn't like the lifestyle I would stop. But, I loved it, so I carried on.

I know I've written about this period of my life before. I was a vegan for a year, and it put me on my path to healing. Part of Jonah's healing will require me to heal. Had I not recognized early on that food was helping to heal Jonah, I would not have stumbled on to CEASE. I felt incredible! I lost weight, had tons of energy. I was motivated, inspired, and ambitious. Depression and anxiety were things that I had battled for years, and they went away with the bad food.

Jonah responded to the lifestyle change positively. He still ate meat, but I removed most processed meats and started using organic meat. I noticed he was calmer, less fussy, and suddenly willing to try new foods again. As an infant, (pictured at 13 months above) Jonah was plump and happy. He ate everything. By the time he was 2, he wouldn't eat anything. I would struggle to shove 10 cheerios a day down his throat. Despite picky eating, one thing Jonah would always do is try food samples at Trader Joe's. He tried frozen mini beef tacos when he was around 3 and loved them. I was so relieved after months of him not eating to finally find something he would eat other than handfuls of cereal and crackers. He started eating eggs and frozen hash brown patties, sometimes he would eat berries or a banana. NO VEGETABLES.

My sister took him to McDonald's one day, and discovered that he would eat chicken McNuggets. We were so relieved, we would feed him chicken McNuggets and french fries 4 times a week or more. He was a french fry king. In hind sight, frozen mini beef tacos and chicken McNuggets may have saved him from starvation, but he was malnourished despite my best efforts.

Jonah had just turned 5 when I went into my first vegan transition. It was tricky to get him motivated to eat better. The turning point was the night I decided to make our dinners food sensory sessions. I made a giant bowl of pasta, and let him have fun eating the pasta plain. I added 3 different sauces on spoons for him to smell and touch. There was special cheese sauce (cashew cream), magic green sauce (basil pesto), and super purple sauce (purple kale pesto). He started dipping his pasta into the sauces and eating ferociously. I cried as I watched him eat. This was the moment that I knew there was a natural path to healing my son. I started involving him in the kitchen more, and the activity of cooking with me helped him to open up to food. Instead of buying chicken McNuggets, I made them.  He wanted to smell everything and touch everything. Suddenly, his favorite foods were eggplant tacos. No more mac-n-cheese from a box... now he loves eating pasta with cashew cream and pesto. I worked hard to develop his healthy relationship with food, and I'm proud of it. 

At the end of that year, we bought a free-range, organic, wild turkey for Thanksgiving. My sister and her man-friend killed it. I cooked it the next day. The best part was rigor mortis setting in unexpectedly.
I had to shove the bird into the oven sideways. It turned out delicious. Since it was a wild turkey, it was leaner, the meat was denser, with a rich flavor. A bit dry because I actually tried to cut the legs off after this photo was taken. 

I couldn't resist Thanksgiving dinner. A year of no meat, and I blew it on this bird. It was so good. I justified eating this turkey since it was almost as sustainable as I could get for a Thanksgiving turkey. I felt a little sluggish after the meal, but I kept eating meat for another year. I tried going back to a vegan diet a couple times during the first few months. I would get through about 3-4 weeks, and then break down in food cravings and eat fried chicken. It probably did not help that I was employed by a restaurant that is my food nemesis. 

After multiple failed attempts of reverting back to a vegan diet, I decided around April of last year to run a social experiment on myself. I decided to commit to finishing the year eating to my hearts content. I gained 25 pounds by the end of 2012. I was depressed again with increased anxiety. It was physically one of the worst years of my life. To completely revert back to where I was before was a disappointment. But I did it because I wanted my experience with food to make a difference. 

It is important to me that I commit to living as healthy a life as possible for Jonah. The definition of sustainability is 'the capacity to endure.' I have to find a way to out live my son, because my one desperate fear is that something will happen to me and he will not be able to take care of himself. It's important for Jonah to learn to be healthy by the example I set for him. If I fail to establish these skills and passions in him, then I have failed to teach him to care for himself. It is my dream that he one day be an independent, healthy adult. That's only what every decent parent wants.   

At the beginning of this year I started another 8 week transition back to a vegan diet, adding gluten to the list. For the record, I hate to say diet. I am happy to report that since surviving gluten-withdrawal, I am finding my life balancing in another direction. My diet right now is about as clean as it has ever been in terms of unprocessed food (minus rice cakes and tortilla chips). Gluten withdrawal was worse than quitting tobacco. I came out on the other side of it with an increased clarity about the food that my body needs. 

I am not off all animal product as of yet, and don't know if I will be anytime soon. When I was a vegan before, I consumed a lot of bread. It was probably about 30% of my diet. Without gluten, I feel I am more balanced in responding to what my body needs for nourishment. More importantly, I am looking at the nutritional benefits of everything I eat. At this point, I don't see myself going completely vegan again. Honey and bee pollen have too many benefits and I intended on keeping those items in my diet from the beginning. After years of not caring for eggs, I find myself craving one every couple of days, which must mean that I need it. I am making our own nut milk again. I am now cooking strictly with ghee or coconut oil. Food is so beautiful when you let it be. Mentally and physically, I am slowly coming back into balance.  I am feeling as great as ever. Finally. Feels good good to be back where I was 2 years ago.

Jonah is now gluten-free, which is why I did it. I can now state that food is an essential part to this healing process for both of us. Jonah is finally past DTaP clearings. The last one was a doozy! To be honest, the past year was garbage. Mostly because of the DTaP clearing. We have so many gains and improvements now, it was completely worth it. Looking back at the misery of going through that clearing is a bit overwhelming. It was not easy seeing the open eczema sores again. It was not easy going through the tantrums and mood swings again. The DTaP clearings literally sickened me. I hope to never go through that again, but I know as we move on with clearings, we have some challenging vaccines ahead of us. I am most scared of varicella and MMR. 

For now, we are back on Hib. We did an 8 week clearing for Hib last summer between DTaP clearings. There were noticeable gains in socialization, expression, speech, and fine motor development. By the time summer was over, Jonah had a nice strong grip on his pencil, and was making new friends. I saw some of the Hib speech and socialization gains diminish when we went through DTaP again, but I felt that there was a block preventing further progress with the Hib clearing, which is why it was important to battle DTaP again. We just started the 4th week of Hib, and the past few weeks have been amazing. His gains from the previous Hib clearing have been surpassed. 

I am happy to report that my son is talking more than ever. With improved clarity! For example, this morning, he said 'computer' crystal clear, where as before he said 'conpuper'.  It's incredible to get to know more and more of my son after all this time of dreaming about it. He continues to grow into the sweetest boy. He has been so independent and eager to help. It's really a magical period for the two of us right now. Of course we have always been extremely well bonded but it's hard to say how well we know each other. I finally see my son getting a chance to know me and understand me. I feel like we are the best we have ever been in terms of health. 

I am so grateful!

I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from this experience and to share it in hopes that it might inspire someone else. If just one person is changed by this, I will be fulfilled. I am not saying everyone should go vegan. I am saying that everyone needs to take a hard look at their lifestyle and determine what active steps they can take to improve it. Pay attention to politics and the corporate slaughter of our environment and economy. Get involved in your community. Start recycling. Shut your TV off and go for a walk outside. Spend time with your kids. Grow something and eat it. Do something that contributes to a positive change in yourself. 

Our society needs to learn as I did that their are 3 essential for survival:
1. We need good food to eat.
2. We need clean water to drink.
3. We need clean air to breath.
Our resources for these essentials are becoming more and more limited. The evidence is in the staggering decline in the health of our society. If you've come across this blog because of autism and read this far, you are likely a victim to it. We are all victims to what is increasingly becoming an unsustainable environment.