Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back to School

I actually didn't expect to get a summer vacation, since I opted to take a class over the quarter. I'd misread the calendar, or a class description somewhere along the line, and I thought I'd only get a week break between quarters. So, imagine my delight when the fairly stressful summer quarter ended and I found myself with over a month to squander!

I slept in, I binged out on Star Trek and word games and the sookie stackhouse books (which I really enjoyed and highly recommend, I warn potential readers that there are some heavy moments involving sexual assault, torture, and other themes of sex and violence, so the series may not be for the squeamish or trigger-sensitive, but the fun shines through the dark spots and the series made for a fantastic summer indulgence). I took the dogs for long, aimless walks on our mountain, I did a little sewing, a lot of cleaning and organizing, and loads of guilt-free lounging. Okay, not totally guilt-free, hence the cleaning and organizing, but mostly I made myself enjoy the down-time, I so rarely take the time to relax when my head doesn't force me to, it was really decadent to enjoy my favorite idle hobbies without a haze of pain constantly surrounding the experience.

Anyway, it was great, but I'm glad to be back at school because as of getting an A in this class, which I fully intend on doing, I'll have raised my gpa above a 2.5, which is the lowest threshold to start qualifying for more scholarships. A qualifying gpa is no guarantee, but my it'll give me more options and I'm so excited to finally hit this milestone, I keep calling it my christmas present to myself.

As soon as my school posted the available classes for fall, I'd researched what I could and should take, then fired off emails to the teacher of the class I chose (poli sci) and my counselor, advising them both of my plans and my need for captioned video and audio content. I am very happy to report that I received an excellent, professional response from each, and my first few assignments have all been adequately captioned, with no further interference from me. It's wonderful not to have to worry about accessibility, and I'm more hopeful than I've ever been about my future education experience.

The class itself: meh. It's political science, and I thought it was going to less american government and more social progress in terms of politics, but apparently I was mistaken. I'll survive. This is my first totally uninteresting, dry, academic class (sorry american government fans, it just doesn't do it for me), and I'm just glad I researched the teachers ahead of time because if I can't take a fun class, at least I can have an effective teacher.

I've encountered a few issues with getting settled into the new quarter, but nothing too serious. We tried to take care of my text needs early, before the rush of the first week of classes, but the disabilities office was inexplicably closed, and since they are the source of my book scholarship paperwork, I couldn't do anything until they reopened. So, we finagled the gas money to make it to town again, during the first week of classes, but discovered that the school's bookstore ran out of one of the assigned texts. While it's available elsewhere, I'm reliant on that school-sponsored book scholarship to be able to afford my textbooks every quarter, I can't go anywhere else. So, now I'm approaching week two, sans book. Thankfully, my teacher is agreeable and the text isn't necessary for survival the first week. Now we just need to have the gas money to go to the school AGAIN. UGH ANNOYING.

We've done all the requisite complaining that a person does when faced with a situation like this. Why must I pick up my approved voucher in a place that is not the bookstore, why can't they have it stashed somewhere? Or, why can't i receive it digitally? Why would the disabilities office be closed right before fall quarter starts? Why can't I order my books online (like students with a credit card can), or have them mailed to me? Why can't I have access to the bookstore before it becomes a madhouse of teenagers? These are questions that do not have answers, but hopefully by asking them something will change, eventually.

Things are getting better, but there continues to be plenty of room for improvement.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


The people in my life are generally good about inviting me to things, even if they suspect I won't attend for whatever migraine-related issue, but in the past week, I've been forgotten twice, and the two experiences were so different, I've got to talk it out.

So, the first one I found out about the day before the party. I asked why I hadn't been invited, the answer was that the occasion would have been noisy and it was thought unlikely that I would attend. I agreed that this was true, but asked to still be invited in the future, because while they may be right, I still like to have choices, and to know that I'm included, even if I can't join in. My friend immediately understood and promised to invite me forever after.

It was the simplest conversation, literally lasted three minutes, and left me feeling really good about my friends.

Less than a week later, I woke up in the morning, loaded up my facebook to see what all the cool kids were up to and my heart sank when I saw that there was a decent-sized family party the night before, for my grandfather's birthday. No one mentioned it to me, and the really frustrating part of it is that I could have gone. I was already in town for another reason, and plenty medicated enough for at least a stop-by. I would have loved to have given my grandfather a hug on his birthday, but I was denied the choice.

So, I sent an email to my grandparents, apologizing for missing the party and explaining that I didn't know about it. I'd emailed the morning before, to say happy birthday, but obviously hadn't mentioned the party because you can't rsvp to something you aren't aware of. The message I sent was bland, and ended on a good note, with an "i love you", but I also sent my mom a quick text to tell her I was actually really sad about it.

Being way up in the mountains is great for my head, but I get so lonely sometimes, I can't breathe. I rarely get visitors, and trips to the city are hard enough on me that socializing becomes more of a painful chore than any kind of fun, so the few social interactions I do get, I relish and savor and try to milk for all they're worth. Being so starved for human contact, after a lifetime of being surrounded by a huge family and a myriad of friends, has been really hard. I haven't considered myself an extrovert in years, and I do enjoy solitude and quiet, don't get me wrong, but I'm also deeply lonely.

So, when everyone wrote me back with the usual excuses of the venue being too loud, I was really not interested. When I replied, I ignored all that and just asked for a make-up date. That was the end of the issue for me; I was disappointed, but I'd gotten my point across and I'd resolved to move on with my day.

It hasn't ended there, though. There have been more emails and phone conversations and more apologies. Which, okay, except I hate those apologies that feel like they're more about the apologizer than the apologizee. The ones that go,"i'm so sorry (if) I did that! DO YOU FORGIVE ME?????" And then the apologizee is expected to immediately comfort the apologizer so they no longer feel the horrible burden of being Wrong. This is what these emails and phone calls are feeling like, as if I'm suddenly in the middle of a bizarre drama in which I'm expected to make someone feel better for leaving me out. Which I'm absolutely not going to do, so this lunch we've got planned in a week might be interesting!

Writing this all out has been really helpful, I've deleted most details to protect the guilty, but before I did I took a hard look at them to try to discern if this second situation was more emotionally charged because it was a family party I'd missed, if my hurt and loneliness were showing too baldly, if somehow I should have addressed the issue differently, but no. It's not me that's making the difference in this situation.

Oh well, people process things differently, I'll just have to let this thing blow over however it does and hope that the important issues haven't been lost in the overwrought drama of it all.

Don't forget me, please. I'm may be quieter and may be far away, but I'm here.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thoughts on TNG and Agency

Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation made it to the seventh season before I felt the need to write about its problems. I'd love to say it's because the writing is so progressive, I have nothing to complain about, but it's much more true that after The Original Series, I was just relieved that the women had real jobs and weren't all yeomen in tiny skirts taking drinks orders.

On the downside, Deanna Troi's uniform for the first six seasons is ridiculous, and they hardly ever reference her rank, which is Lieutenant Commander, btw, equivalent with Data and La Forge. And La Forge is a total Nice Guy, has really creepy relationships with women, and actually got a woman to apologize to him for being offended at his serious invasion of her privacy and agency ("Galaxy's Child", Season 4 ep 16), while never really apologizing to her for his inappropriate behavior with her holographic double ("Booby Trap", Season 3 Ep 6). I spent those episodes making this face: :/

I love Troi and Riker's relationship, they are supportive and loving, even while they know they can't be together. I LOVE Pulaski, her defiance of authority was a joy to behold, particularly since the actress was one of the many women used as props and foils on TOS. I love how the franchise recycles its actors, it's a delightful scavenger hunt to find actors from one series playing a different character on another.

I have a love/hate relationship with Dr. Beverly Crusher, and that makes me love her even harder. I can't help but be interested in characters that aren't written as simply good or bad, characters that have enough depth to make me feel conflicted over them, especially female characters, because let's not kid ourselves, we still aren't getting enough real-life representations of women in the media. Dr. Crusher could be shrill, pious, and stubborn, and something in the actress' speech has always tripped me up, and of course, there's the awkward ghost sex. ("Sub Rosa", Season 7 Ep 14). But her smaller, subtle moments are quite beautiful and I'm enjoying her relationship with Picard immensely.

Ensign Ro and Guinan have been favorites of mine since childhood and I'm so happy that they've held up over time. Guinan is even better than I remember and Ro is almost painful to watch, the actress plays her so raw. Worf has somehow become a major favorite, when I was a kid I was bored by his storylines, but now I kind of get him. And of course, Worf has the best comedic moments, and I'm a sucker for a laugh.

Riker constantly reminds me of James T. Kirk, or what he could have been if Shatner hadn't smarmed it all up. He likes the ladies, and he's only a little gross about it, and he can be condescending, but compared to Kirk, he's downright respectful. He's confident, brave, and sometimes brash, but he makes room for other people, whereas Kirk (or maybe Shat) was fighting to dominate every scene.

And I love Picard more than anyone ever. Patrick Stewart makes TOS what it is.

Wow, that was a lot of Star Trek feelings, and I haven't even gotten to my point yet.


I just watched a Data-centric episode called "Inheritance" (Season 7, ep 10) that really pissed me off. In it, Data is reunited with his mother, Juliana, the woman who helped his maker, Dr. Soong, create Data and his brother. Over the course of the episode (SPOILERS FOR A 20 YEAR OLD SHOW WATCH OUT) Data finds out that she is actually an android as well, the human Juliana died and Dr. Soong created her in his dead wife's image, with his dead wife's memories. He designed her to appear human in every way, including to eventually die of whatever natural causes, and never told her that she was an artificial life form. Dr. Soong's holographic projection implored Data to continue the ruse, so she could live out her life "happily", as a human. So, Data had a decision to make.

I just knew he wasn't going to tell her. To their credit, the senior staff had a meeting and presented all the issues of agency that are making me feel sick to my stomach, but Data chose to keep her ignorant in the end, and it was coated with a nice veneer of romanticism and a son's caring for his mother. AND she was played by the glorious Fionnula Flanagan, who is such a badass in so many of her roles. It is very upsetting to me that they just sent her on her way, to live her life in ignorance of her own state of being, to possibly find out in some other way anyhow. Oh, this episode ticked me off.

It's like not telling a cancer patient she's terminal, under the guise of letting her spend the time she has left happy. Except, that's taking away a person's choice. That dying person might want the opportunity to say goodbye to a certain person, or to go sky diving. Juliana might have wanted to be a super-cyborg if given the opportunity, maybe she'd have wanted to be reprogrammed to run search and rescue operations, or to obtain scientific data from extreme situations, or maybe she would have decided to live out her life as a regular old lady with a more interesting past than most. But, they took away that choice for her, and I really, really wish they had gone the other direction.

But no. She smiled beatifically at her son from the transporter pad, satisfied that she had made good on her relationship with him before she left him again, probably forever, completely unaware of who she was. I felt sick at his betrayal, that the whole room knew she wasn't human, except for the woman herself.

Bringing it back to the blog: There's a loss of agency that happens when a person is as sick as I am. I can't make decisions for myself all the time, and with the significant cognitive impairment that often comes with my migraines, I feel vulnerable letting myself be taken care of by others. I don't want to be cared for like a child, and I want to be the person who is the most in charge of my life. Like Juliana, it would be too easy for those with more power to manipulate my life to suit their needs, and that is very scary to me, though it's never happened to my knowledge.

Our right to choose how we live our lives should be one of our most sacred birthrights, but too often, when a person is disabled (or any minority group, really: gay, black, female, etc) their agency can be taken away without a thought, because the majority always knows better.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Music and Noise

Music is usually painful, since migraines. But, I've discovered that when my head is just right, and there are no competing noises to worry about, I can enjoy it almost as much as I did back when.

My sound sensitivity started decreasing as soon as we moved away from the constant influx of the city. It's often completely silent in my neck of the woods, save for the birds, cicadas, and the cracks and creaks of normal woodland movement. We can hear the neighbors, but only distantly. I wear earplugs a few times a month, if that; when we have tree work done, or my boyfriend is snoring like an aspirating wildebeest, for example. And I feel like my noise tolerance is much better for traffic, and other conflicting sound situations, but once I hit my tolerance, however improved it may be, it's the same old story, so I still have to be very careful.

Music's been out of the question for a long time, and that means no radio in the car, no ambient, background tunes while we socialize, and no live shows or festivals featuring live music. The clash of instruments, certain pitches of horns or vibrations of bass can make my nausea, dizziness and head pain immediately disabling, so after a few punishing attempts early on in my migraine career, I resigned myself to a life without music.

It was devastating, and only one of many horrible realizations I made about my migraines and my future at about the same time. I loved to sing (terribly), I loved to dance, I loved to blare my favorite song over and over, so loud that I couldn't hear myself think anymore, and all I could feel was the rhythm, in my bones and in my blood.

I didn't try to listen to music again for a long time; after I'd grieved its loss, I tried not to think about it so hard, and I nearly missed it when it came back to me. One day, a few months into my newly quiet life, I started noticing that I could listen to the tv at an audible level, still quieter than most people, but captions weren't absolutely required to be able to catch all the dialogue. (My sound sensitivity may have improved, but my aural comprehension is still in the tubes, hence the need for captions at school. I felt the need to clarify.)

I caught a few music videos one morning, I remember Rihanna's We Found Love in a Hopeless Place and Adele's Rolling in the Deep both made me stop and stare at the tv. Later, hope fluttering my heart, I opened myself up a free Pandora account and made an Adele channel. Earning my love forever, the first song it played for me was Rolling in the Deep and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby while dancing and singing to it. It wasn't as loud as I used to play it, and I couldn't quite holler-sing like I used to, but it was the happiest moment I'd had in a long time.

Twirling, dancing, singing as loud as my head would allow me, the dog staring and wagging her tail uncertainly, and my whole body, my whole being felt so good, so in tune with life around me, so vibrant with passion and joy. The freedom of it was decadent. It still is.

I've taken to putting on music when I clean, and it makes the chores go by so much faster. I'm still pretty limited, and I have all sorts of rules for keeping music within my tolerable ranges. Like immediately skipping songs if they are even slightly annoying to my ear, because certain pitches and vibrations just do not work with this head of mine, and there is no talking while the music is on, because competing noises are truly my kryptonite; but I will absolutely take what I can get.

My current musical obsessions are the song, Royals by Lorde, the Rolling Stones, and old R&B. Pandora is great for the ability to skip songs and make my own stations based on my likes and dislikes, but their player is difficult to use on my PC with my color settings, and their commercials tend to be excessively loud, but not too frequent, even with a free account.

I'm so fortunate to have been able to reclaim music; it's an easy source of endorphins, a great stress reliever, and helps me feel a little more connected to the world.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Diet and Exercise

I love talking about food.

I've been eating pretty healthily lately, and I'm proud of that. After a paper I wrote about plastic in the ocean and how microplastics are already in our food chain, I couldn't help but turn into a strict vegetarian. I've been some form of veggie since I was fourteen (twenty years ago, OMG!), even turning vegan for a few months when I discovered I was lactose intolerant, though back then that meant I subsisted on ramen and trader joe's veg potstickers. That didn't last long, and I was back on cheese as soon as I discovered those little lactase pills. I started eating fish again, occasionally, around 18, and that was my diet for the next decade and a half. No mammals or poultry, but seafood and dairy were all open season.

So, this recent change has been dramatic. I'm not quite vegan; I still consume dairy very sparingly, and eggs occasionally, and honey. I'm approaching food as more of an ethical vegetarian, I guess. It's a plant-based diet that I'm aiming for; it's not about what I'm not eating, but what I am: lots and lots of veggies, fruits, legumes and whole grains.

I've also discovered the concept that there are no healthy oils, so I've stopped cooking with them unnecessarily. I dry-fry my onions, garlic, potatoes, mushrooms, and and peppers, adding small bits of broth to deglaze, and the flavor is astounding. I've been taught my whole life that fats are necessary for cooking, so this realization that I don't need them at all, and then discovering how much better I feel without them, and how great my food still tastes, it's rather a kick in the head.

Learning to cook with a variety of spices has been essential for the success of an eating plan like this, after a lifetime of gooey pizzas, rich desserts, and salty, savory, greasy snacks, my palate isn't accustomed to the simplicity of, say, confetti rice with lentils and veg, without adding a healthy smattering of chili powder, cumin, salt, parsley and thyme.

Mmmmmm, that confetti rice was good, too. And not at all boring! The next day, I took the leftovers, mixed them with some homemade tomato sauce and some more herbs and spices, and made twice-baked potatoes, which were incredible! Other favorite dishes of late have been roasted radishes and brussels sprouts, grilled mushrooms, steamed artichokes, hummus pizza, pesto made from carrot and radish tops, and brown rice cooked with homemade broth.

My very omnivorous boyfriend has been really supportive, when I expressed anxiety that he's not going to want to eat my veganish food, he suggested I cook for myself and only worry about WWBAMT: What Would Boyfriend Add Meat To? Which is amazing, and he eats most of what I'm cooking lately.

Of course, every change in my life has an effect on my head. This one isn't so direct, but since I dropped the oil, my stamina seems to have increased quite a bit. I'm hiking with the dogs nearly every day, going farther and harder, and even breaking into a run in flat spots. I still have to rest for hours after a hike like that; I'm not normally in horrible pain, but I do often experience increased nausea and dizziness from working out more strenuously, and it'll last all day easily.

But, a little barfiness is small potatoes to being able to get my heart pumping and my sweat on for upwards of half an hour. It's nothing short of phenomenal to me that I can do this much. It took nearly two years of living in secluded silence to work myself back from the ravages of the sedentary confinement I'd been subjected to in the middle of the loud city.

Being able to go outside is still amazing to me, some days.

This morning, when I realized I'd made it to the top of our hill without stopping to rest, not even once, I could have cried. It's been a long road, but my progress is finally tangible, and it feels so good to have some measure of my health back.