It’s been two weeks since my exposure to poison oak (it happened during this hike), and I’m still as itchy as ever. I have rashes on both legs, a huge rash on my ribcage and stomach, and rashes up and down both arms.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Just a few weeks of being uncomfortable – nothing compared to the health struggles many others are enduring. It will go away with time, and I will be just fine.
And yet… it still stinks. I’m on my third bottle of calamine lotion (and I’ve gone through a box of Benadryl), and while I’m trying my best not to scratch, I give in every once in a while because it feels so damn good.
The worst part about having poison oak is that it’s royally messed up my sleep patterns. I can’t sleep for more than three or four hours at a time before waking up with the urge to claw all the skin off my entire body. I’ve had nearly a week of sleepless nights. And, on one of those nights, I had a binge-eating episode.
It was between three and four in the morning, and I had yet to fall asleep, and I was so frustrated that I was downright pissed. And then I realized I was hungry, too, and I really wanted something salty and crunchy. There was nothing in my kitchen that satisfied those requirements, so what the hell? I’ll just go to the store. I’m wide awake anyway, and I know where there’s a 24-hour store, and maybe the drive and cool night air will be a good thing.
My desire for something salty and crunchy was a craving, plain and simple. And I recognized that. When I have a craving that’s broad like that, I try to narrow it down and figure out exactly what I want, so I don’t go overboard trying to satisfy it. On the drive to the store, I decided I’d buy a bag of salty, roasted almonds.
Guess what I didn’t buy at the store? Salty, roasted almonds. Instead, I grabbed a bag of popcorn, with movie theater butter. And a box of Ritz crackers. And a bag of chips. And a big donut. And multiple types of cookies.
Then I went home and ate it all. A lot of this stuff was in snack-size packages, but it was still a lot of food. And I supplemented it with more food when I got home: I made four servings of rice. I smeared butter on some crackers, and mayo on others.
I ate until 5am, when I finally passed out on my couch, my coffee table littered with empty wrappers. My alarm went off at 7:30, and I woke up feeling worse than ever.
I felt terrible all day. A lot of it was guilt, but some of it was an upset stomach – which, believe it or not, is a new feeling for me. I’ve gone an entire lifetime without ever getting sick from eating too much. As a kid, I never understood when grown-ups would warn me about tummy aches if I ate too many sweets, because that never ever happened. I suppose if my body was capable of delivering “stop eating” messages to my brain, I might not have gotten to be 400 pounds to begin with.
I spent the whole day beating myself up. I wallowed in shame. I worried that this lapse would continue beyond this one incident, or that I had undone days, weeks, or even months of hard work. I passed judgment on myself, and I wasn’t kind.
That night, I found myself tossing and turning. It was yet another sleepless night. Finally, I turned on my bedside lamp, and as I was reapplying calamine to my legs, I decided I had to forgive myself and move on. I actually said it out loud, to nobody, and repeated it a few times.
There is nothing I can do now except MOVE ON. I slipped up. It happens. I don’t have to let it ruin my week or derail my healthy habits. I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and focus on the wonderful things I’ve done, and continue to do.
Those are really freeing thoughts. While I wish I could say that it helped me fall asleep, it didn’t. I was still itchy as hell. But it gave me a sense of peace, and after a day of thinking such awful thoughts, that was quite the relief.
I’ve made much better choices since that binge. It’s remained an isolated incident. The thought of reverting back to old eating habits, like that binge, scares me… and that fear pushes me to stay focused and make better decisions.
Another negative side effect of the poison oak is that it’s really deleted my motivation to exercise. My piss-poor sleep patterns don’t help – I’ve been perpetually tired. But I’m proud that I’ve managed to exercise throughout this ordeal. I’ve begun training in a skyscraper stairwell again (more on this in an upcoming post), and even went on the hardest hike I’ve ever done.
Many of my workouts haven’t been as challenging, and that’s just fine. I’ve taken a couple long walks or gone easy at the gym, because that’s all I could manage that day, and I haven’t thought twice.
I received a bolt on inspiration on Sunday, though, and it came at a time when I really needed it. Los Angeles is currently hosting the 2017 World Police and Fire Games, a two-week athletic extravaganza for police officers and firefighters, with dozens of events: everything you see in the Olympics, plus other sports, like a mud run, dodgeball, and a stair race.
My friend Madeleine and I volunteered to work at the stair race. It was held at the Aon Center, a downtown skyscraper that I’ve raced up six times. We were stationed on the roof, and I spent the morning collecting bib numbers as cops and firefighters from all over the world crossed the finish line, 63 stories in the sky.
It was the most international race I’ve ever been to. There were men and women from five continents, and many of them proudly wearing clothes featuring their country or flag: Finland, Brazil, Japan, Belgium, Spain, China, Latvia, Australia, Italy, and so many more.
There was a climb in civilian clothing, and then a climb in full gear: firefighters wearing 60-70 extra pounds of heavy clothing, an oxygen tank, boots and helmet. I saw these men and women – quite literally some of the bravest people on our planet – push themselves to the absolute limit, and that was a powerful reminder that I too am capable of extraordinary things. I am strong. I am driven. I am ready to face challenges head on.
This poison oak is the pits. And while it may have taken me off my game for a little bit, it will not win. Poison oak is temporary. My resolve is forever.
Keep it up, David!
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