Thursday, July 25, 2013

Downs and Ups

After my last post, I did not climb out of the depressive hole, but in fact, sank deeper into it.

I keep coming here to try and write about what's happening in my life, but I've been struggling with anxiety and depression and the best thing I could do for myself was to look away from my train-wreck life for a bit and let my inner turmoil work itself out. And now, it has, and I feel obligated to examine this very full plate I have, before things spill over and I start making a general mess of myself. Again.

School: I should have taken the summer off. Lesson learned. This class is not difficult, but keeping up with the quicker pace has been tricky, especially with the added migraine trigger of the summer heat constantly making my head miserable.

I'm actually running out of classes I can take at my current school -- they don't offer online degrees, just a smattering of a selection -- but I think I can stretch it until spring, if I want. But regardless of when I go, I need to start really digging into the application and integration process at my future school, which is intimidating.

Home: Our house has been under construction since we moved in, and while the biggest projects are finally completed (functional septic tank, you are my bestest friend!) many projects are still incomplete, which gives our home an air of disrepair. Also, my landlord/grandparent has never been keen on fixing the place up, and is unreasonable about issues like: mold, dangerously leaning trees, and providing copies of bills that he wants us to pay. I want to move, but we're kind of trapped, since rentals are outrageously priced right now. My whole SSDI payment wouldn't cover the average studio. How do other disabled people afford to live?

Dogs: We're fostering/have adopted another dog (depending on who and when you ask), and while he is a sweet and funny addition to our little family, we've all had to adjust. Shockingly, feeding and caring for two dogs is double the work and money of one. This can be overwhelming, and if I'd had the choice, we wouldn't have taken the new dog. Unfortunately, he's here and he's adorable and wonderful, so it's too late now.

Love: My man and I are working on some issues, and this is an ongoing challenge in our lives, because neither one of us had intact parental models to emulate, so we really struggle to avoid the dysfunctional pitfalls of our childhoods. Basically, we both need therapy that we can't afford.

Family/friends: I joked this week that I should write a book called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Chapter one: Become Chronically Ill. People in the real world are starting to forget that I exist, and I am so terribly lonely sometimes, I feel like I can't breathe. Traveling has become harder for me, maybe because of the heat, and going to the city wipes me out for at least a few days, so I've stopped doing it for any social reasons. I'm a mess by the time I get to my destination, anyway. We live at most an hour from most of my friends and relatives, and even though I've issued invitations for them to come see me, I get very few visitors. The internet provides some connection, but it's not the same. I have a huge extended family that gets together at least every few months, but none of them reach out to me, and haven't since I got sick. The difference in social interaction between the first 27 years of my life and the last 7 has been a major shock to my system. When I was well, I felt I had this huge support system, that I had no shortage of people who cared for me and would be there if I fell, but I was obviously wrong, because I have fallen, in fact I'm still sprawled out all over the floor, and none of those people are anywhere around. The isolation hurts more than the migraines, sometimes.

My head: I am so fucking tired of being nauseated. I'm tired of the constant pressure, the stabbing that takes me by surprise and ruins half of my happy moments. I wish I could just have a day off. This last depressive stint led me to all kinds of suicidal ideation, mostly revolving around creative ways to take out the hot spots on my head. It's scary when my brain takes me to these places of desperation, all I can do is cling to whatever I can to make it to the next day, the next hour, the next moment. I made it, this time. I worry that someday I might not.

So, that's what's been going on in my head recently. There have been good things, too, like getting As, spending time with the friends who do remember me, playing with dogs, cooking interesting, healthy, tasty food, going on hikes that leave me sweaty and giddy, and discovering awesome books and tv to take my mind off of my troubles. Life is full of ups and downs, it's about making the ups as up as I can.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Recommend You Eat This

Hummus is the perfect summer food.

I've been stressed lately, but not in a bad way. My head's been reacting to it, like it does, but I've been getting a lot done, and that always makes the pain more bearable, for me.

This stress has brought many good things, like an A in my last class, a successful beginning in my current, and already planning fall quarter like a Boss. Also, we've happily integrated a new member into our wee pack, I've enjoyed a bit of a social life, and we've been able to keep the house consistently tidy. I'm so happy I've been able to live this much, but I still have too many days when I really feel like I've hit my limit, I'm never going to be able to get up again, and everything is just too. damn. hard. Yesterday was one of those days, and today I'm still shrugging it off, but I have just seriously cheered myself up by making hummus for lunch. So, please let me share my recipe with you, because it made me ever so happy and I hope fellow hummus-lovers, and hummus-lovers-to-be, will also find joy in my chickpea delight.

I never make hummus the same way twice, it's one of those foods that is really hard to mess up, so I just improv my way through it, and enjoy the results. You will need:

1 or more cans of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, same thing), depending on how much hummus you want to make. You can also get them dried and prep them beforehand.

Roasted garlic. I just take a whole head or two and pop it in the oven for twenty minutes at 350. You'll only need a few cloves for the hummus, to taste, but roasted garlic will keep a while in the fridge and comes in handy in so many dishes.

Nut butter, a tablespoon or more. Traditionally, tahini (sesame seed butter) is called for, but I don't always have that on hand, and find peanut butter to be an adequate, though noticeable, substitute.

Salt, paprika, parsley, pepper, lemon juice, cayenne, basil, etc. to taste. Again, this is a hard dish to screw up, but it's a good rule of thumb to start with less and add if needed.

Extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon to several tablespoons, depending on your preference. I prefer only a teaspoon or two of oil, and to supplement any other needed moisture with water, a tablespoon at a time.

Directions: Dump everything in a food processor and let it go until it's creamy, and nicely dippable. Slice some cucumbers, wash a few carrots, dip, eat, and feel your cares melt away. Okay, not really, but hummus is pretty good and you should try it.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Reviews & Rants

I read paper books. Does that make me old-timey?

The Migraine Brain by Carolyn Bernstein, MD is an excellent resource. I binge-read it in one day and kept catching myself nodding in agreement with the life changes this book suggests. It's also obvious that this book is written by someone with first-hand experience with migraines, preventing and dealing with them, not just someone who treats them. Read it.

It's All in my Head by Paula Kamen is another good read about a woman with chronic headaches and her journey for treatment and enlightenment. I found it a good mix of sad and funny and hopeful and cynical. Read it.

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins is one of a long list of books of this type I've consumed. This one is a bit sensationalist at times, the juxtapositions of quotes from the meat and dairy industries alongside starkly contradicting quotes from government agencies and scientists are entertaining and sometimes difficult to stomach, but this book lays out the facts pretty well. We are what we eat, and if we aren't making our food responsibly, and consuming it responsibly, we'll suffer the consequences. READ IT.

Migraine by Oliver Sacks had a lot of good information, and I thought it was insightful, particularly in regards to more uncommon symptoms, until I got to the sections dedicated to chronic migraine sufferers. Let me save you the trouble. The gist was that many chronic migraineurs are emotionally unstable or in bad home environments and once they escape those situations -- TA DAH! -- they feel so much better. I've heard theories like this over and over, from doctors and civilians alike, and it never fails to get my hackles up. Check out this excerpt:

Clinical observation of migraine patterns indicates that a majority of patients with extremely frequent, severe, intractable migraines are caught in a situation of severe emotional stress or conflict (of which they may or may not be aware) and that this drives the migraine as a psychosomatic expression of their underlying emotional problems. (249)

"[O]f which they may or may not be aware". This is patronizing, and I'm so tired of being treated like I just need to have a long talk with a shrink, but it's good to know where the idea came from. I don't think Mr. Sacks invented the "migraineurs as repressed neurotics" trope, but I sure wish he didn't reinforce it. This is the book the doctors have all read! And while he has a lengthy bibliography, I'm not going to go hunting for the source of the above clinical observations, and instead I'll issue a challenge: citation needed. I need to know about these studies done on chronic migraineurs and their unresolved emotional problems of which they aren't even aware.

People in chronic pain may have less emotional control than those who are not, true. People who live in unhealthy home environments may have trouble getting proper medical care, also true. But correlation is not causation, and the inverse of what the author suggests is more probable: that many people, from all walks of life, experience emotional instability, or a difficult home life, but chronic migraineurs, like any person with a significant disability, can have an infinitely more difficult time extricating themselves from those situations. I'd bet that in these situations that the author describes, the migraines have more often led to, or at least contributed to, the life misery, not the other way around.

If I could omit these sections from the book, I might recommend it to a new migraineur as well as I would most of the other migraine tomes I've read. But, the ableism and privilege of the hysterical migraine theory made me want to throw it in the fire, so at the very least, skip those parts.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Caching and Crashing

I went on a hike with a person who didn't understand my limitations and it didn't go great.

I should have never said yes, but for a complicated set of reasons, I did. It was gearing up to be another scorcher when I got her text, did I want to go check out a geocache within 1/2 mile of home? I decided yes, with the stipulation that it would have to be quick, because the day would be hot.

We headed out, never found the cache and the hike went much, much longer than I expected. I started to feel ill and requested that my hiking buddy call a ride. She joked with me that we would make it, and didn't. I asked again, a little later. She encouraged me to keep going and called me a trooper, and again, didn't make the call. To her credit, we were stopping every few minutes to rest, drinking lots of water, and moving at a slow to moderate pace, but when I said I needed a ride, she really should have made the call. The first time.

So, we got to some other cache that I was way too sick to care about and my vision started going wonky, so I sat down, refused to get back up and I asked her again to call my boyfriend. She walked away with her phone and I heard her asking him to come and get me, without telling him I was sick. I suspect that omission was out of some kind of guilt. He didn't ask for details either, since he already knows what this phone call means, and they hung up quickly, after determining our location.

While she was talking, I made mental notes of what was happening with my vision, being ever the migraine blogger. Looking down at my lap and the wooden bench under me, the textures seem to swirl together, pulsing and moving of their own accord. The field of grass and path further away seemed to ebb and flow like waves at the beach, and when I closed my eyes, I could see stars flowing into a center. Unfortunately, closing my eyes made my nausea flare high, so I couldn't enjoy that show too long.

Finally, my boyfriend found us, we made it home, and I actually recuperated faster than I expected, but not without experiencing severe nausea, dizziness, mild head pain, confusion, and those truly frightening visual effects.

I learned my lesson that day. I won't be going anywhere alone with that person again, she has proven herself untrustworthy and insensitive to my illness. Being chronically ill makes it so easy to weed out people, sometimes I'm really grateful to have this perspective. The migraines, no, but the deeper understanding of people and their capacity for sympathy and cruelty has been a fascinating lesson.


Monday, July 1, 2013

From The Redwood Forest

Sunshine in the coastal redwoods smells like honey.

Some mornings, I'll head out for a walk and I'll be breathing in the normal forest smells, a combination of gently decomposing wood and earth, when suddenly, like finding a cold spot in a room, the smell of sweet, warm, vanilla-sugared syrupy honey hits my nose and I'm practically salivating. I wish I could take a bite out of the mountain, it's just so delicious. Instead, I walk slower and further than I intended. Taking my time, I soak in the scent, the warmth, the woods and the earth. Under the canopy, the breeze can have a chill, but basking in a sunny spot for a few minutes will warm my skin. The cicadas click, unseen in the trees. I can hear birds around me: the squawks of bright blue crested jays and the watery warble of tiny, brown juncos. Occasionally a conspiracy of ravens will pay a visit and fill the trees with their harsh, chattering screams. The squirrels chirp and bark at each other, dart from the ground to the high limbs lightning-fast, and the delicate snap of branches just out of sight betrays the presence of a deer. I've got my mace, if it's anything else.

Summer is pleasant on our side of the hill; we have some hot days, but we're partially sheltered by the trees surrounding the house, and since we're on the side of a mountain, the sun disappears completely behind our hill by 5 pm. The bees are harmlessly curious, lazily zooming around us like we're huge, confounding flowers. The air is still and thick and damp, and I have always hated humidity, but a hot, wet day in the forest is a totally different experience than the same in the asphalt landscapes I grew up in. Mornings stay cool until late, with the trees protecting us from the early sun, but once that summer heat hits, the hillside is baking, and even after the sun has dipped beyond our mountain, its heat seems to radiate from the very air, the trees, and the forest floor. The buzzing of crickets and the whine of mosquitoes are constant for a few more miserably hot days of the year, but mostly, we live in paradise, with the sweet, honey smell.