Sizing the Covid-19 problem, for real

Like many, I’ve been watching the extraordinary infinity-ring circus of Covid-19 with rising confusion.

Old amber-screen lettering showing *TILT* like on old pinball machines

I hate being that confused.

So, I thought about how to cut to the chase. I investigated mortality figures, looking for clarity on the competing narratives about the actual danger posed by Covid-19. (This is aside from the epidemiological information, which is hard work for me and possibly beyond a lot of people. Look into attack rate, latency, and lag if you want to know more about the reasons for its spreadability.)

This boils it down to one simple, definitive marker:

How many die? Because that’s the point.
Lead-grey statue of dark angels swooping down from the sky

Comparing mortality numbers

This is all out of a U.S. population (as of 2019) of 328,200,000.

Annual US death rates from various causes in 2019 (or 2018):

36,560 … Highway fatalities (2018.)
 5,250 … Fatal workplace injuries (2018.)
48,236 … Adverse medical events ending in death (including surgical problems, allergic responses, medical devices, prescription errors, and fatal drug overdoses.)β˜†
61,200 … Seasonal flu, 2018-2019 season.
15,820 … Those with HIV, of all known causes (2018.)
Fatalities due to Covid-19 in the US in 2020, only up to Sept 1:
About 180,000

Expected to exceed 200,000 in 2 more weeks.

πŸ€―πŸ˜±πŸ’”

Questioning the data

If this number were as low as 2X the nearest competitors, I’d have dug into the question of just how bad the Covid-19 reportage is.

(Hint: lots of problems, some pushing the numbers up, others pushing the numbers down.)

It’s nearly FOUR TIMES higher than the nearest causes of death. Even I can’t pick a big enough hole in that number to change the outlook!

Bottom line

This final figure is inescapably bigger — in only 8-9 months! — than any other major/relevant cause of mortality in an entire year in the U.S.

So… death by Covid-19 is a real problem. A huge problem.

It’s a real, huge, problem.

Please protect yourself & others: don’t share air or germs.

Self-protection skills

For my fellow chronics, don’t be too worried. Surviving this is a 3-part skill, and you’ve mastered much worse. You can do this.

1. Dilute your air. πŸŒ€
2. Protect your airway. 😷
3. Wash wash wash. πŸ‘

Here’s what that means:

1. πŸŒ€ Get as much air as possible around you. Avoid recirculated air. Open windows in closed buildings. Dilute, dilute, dilute your air. Even a little! (Work within your constraints.)

2. 😷 Cover all your breathing apparatus with something that meets these practical criteria for masks that protect *you* as well as others:
A. Seals: doesn’t gust air out the edges and passes the “doesn’t fog glasses” test.
B. Protects: has enough material/filtration that you can’t see any light specks peeking through, when you hold it up to the light.
C. Doesn’t vent. (Apart from exposing others, venting can also create weird ripples for super-small viruses to ride back in on. Look up “Venturi effect”.)

After reading mask tests until my eyes bubbled, I agree with these guidelines. Plus, no codes to remember!

3. πŸ‘ Wash, wash, wash your paws & whatever you touch or touch with. Alcohol will do in between times.

Dealing with questionable cleaners

After two painful toxic exposures, I learned that 40 proof in a spritz bottle smells better, is easier & potentially cheaper than the gooey store stuff, and is far safer than methylated or isopropyl.

Alcohol-free folks: look into spritzing 3% hydrogen peroxide, which kills viruses faster than Clorox (watch your clothes, it can bleach too), proven essential oil blends, or even soapy wipes. Read labels for virus killing info.

Summary

THIS IS NOT IMAGINARY.

The death toll from Covid-19 is horrific — no matter how small the comparative R’s are.

It really IS a huge problem, still unfolding.

It’s appropriate to take it very seriously — and intelligently.

You’re not helpless. You really can protect yourself and your loved ones with that simple 3-part skill set:

1. πŸŒ€ Dilute your air.
2. 😷 Protect your airway.
3. πŸ‘ Wash wash wash.

Follow these guidelines for the best chance of staying well.

Reflect: “adequate protection” means masks AND 6 feet (“safer six”.) Both masks and “safer six.” Look around and see where that does or doesn’t happen.

Tip: Most eateries do takeout now, and parks are open for meeting in πŸ•πŸ–πŸœπŸž.

We all have horrible choices ahead. Hope it helps to have a little coherent, practical, straightforward info. πŸ‘©β€βš•οΈπŸ‘¨β€πŸ”¬πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»

Note on, & list of, sources

Sources are all primary data collection organizations within the federal government, which has access to all the original info streams:

– U.S. Census Bureau
– U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
– Bureau of Transportation Statistics (a dept. of U.S. DOT)
– The Joint Commission (of AHQS)
– DHHS-NPDB (National Practitioner Data Bank)
– HIV.gov
– CDC.gov
– EPA.gov

β˜†A statement along the lines of “prescription drug mismanagement results in >2M injuries and 100,000 deaths annually” is cut & pasted into many articles, some going back to 2005, despite the advances in monitoring and treatment in the past 15 years. Therefore, those figures are meaningless.

I wish politicians realized that made-up figures never improve the debate. They’re only bad for everyone’s blood pressure, at the very least.

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Living anyway, up at the sharp end

Ladies, gentlemen, and others, we can do this.

The tracks have been laid. All we need to do is acknowledge them, and accept where they can lead us.

The most recent relentless global pandemic was HIV. (Note: We still don’t have a safe & effective vaccine for it.) It changed all our lives forever, in ways that most people no longer notice.

My first nursing job was on a unit that specialized in HIV, in 1991. The treatments were new, the extensive effects of the disease still poorly understood, and everything was still very much in flux. Sound familiar?

We were pretty sure how it was transmitted — hence the dawn of Universal Precautions, where old nurses had to learn new tricks, like putting on latex gloves and a mask while running to a code blue. My class learned it alongside our other skills, so we usually found ourselves promoted to leading operations until the “dinosaurs”, who otherwise knew what they were doing, got kitted up.

What I learned from my patients then was that, in facing such a horrifying illness, basics matter:
– good nutrition,
– good information,
– adequate activity,
– relentless adaptability,
– cheerful determination,
– true friends, and
– emotional integrity — the only ballast burly enough to keep a person upright through wave after wave of bereavement and harrowing loss.

Obviously, those lessons tailored my response to my own ghastly illnesses. The more science discovers, the more sense it all makes.

“Emotional integrity? Huh?”
This is closely related to “radical presence” and “radical acceptance”, useful terms in trauma therapy.

This sense of the world spinning out of control, all bets are off, legitimate fear and uncertainty, not sure how we’ll survive, the horror of realizing that we can never go back to our pre-Covid-19 reality? That’s all traumatic, in the psychological sense. It’s legitimately frightening and disruptive of life.

This pandemic is a profound, global, traumatic event, and not everyone is handling it well — some leaders especially.

When dreadful things happen, we want to fly, fight, or freeze.

Flight:
Pandemics can travel with — or to — you, so, as Europe learned during the Black Death, running tends to make things worse all over.

Fight:
Pandemics don’t have faces. They can’t be punched or shot. Doesn’t work.

Try telling that to the weird extremists screaming for their imaginary right to kill and die without even trying.

Ah, denial. It’s so predictable, and it does not help.

The opposite of denial is emotional integrity.

This is the knife that cut through the fog after my Dad died; the sharp anguish somehow opened up my eyes to the silvered beauty of morning mist on the trees, and the bottomless comfort of being around my brothers — the only people to be similarly wounded by the loss, and whose sense of humor is as quirkily angled as mine.

There was no point pretending he wasn’t dead. Nothing would bring him back.

There’s no point pretending that Covid-19 and all that goes with it isn’t happening. Nothing will undo its intrusion or the consequences of our leadership and our collective actions.

It’s okay, and healthy, to let go of the fact now & then and focus on something equally real but maybe more fun, or at least more pressing. Doesn’t change the new reality that awaits the return of your involvement in dealing with it.

The weird and counterintuitive point is this:

Starting from “This is what’s real, and it truly sucks” opens up the barn door and lets out all the good feelings too.

Suddenly the air smells better, my real friends matter more, priorities simplify, internal muddles settle down… Although I become more keenly aware of the grief and loss and pain, it’s also natural to be more aware of the things that help me bear it. It worked then and it has worked through all the 21 years (, 3 months and 21 days) since then, in which I’ve lost far, far more than I ever imagined was possible. (Long-term spoonies and the much-bereaved, you get it. Like many, I’m both.)

You know how the sun keeps coming out and the world keeps turning even though you’ve just had a loss that leaves you almost prostrate? There’s a reason. Open up and let it in. It’ll wash through and leave you stronger.

Emotional integrity is learning how to stand and face the feelings, look straight at them, acknowledge them, name them, assert what they are. Then release yourself into the wider view that incorporates and surpasses them. Grief is complex anyway, so it makes sense, when you face it, to expand awareness enough to accept feelings that don’t suck, too. It’s weirdly freeing.

Sounds odd, but it works. 5 thousand years of meditative development and ~50 years of neurological and psychological science all show this. Powerful tool; simple, though not always easy, to use.

I write this to remind myself, because I’m struggling.

I’ve lost another friend to suicide (not impulsive; she was truly done with her life), on top of the Covid-19 reality and the slaughter of my homing dreams and the shockingly multifarious personal devastations of 2019. Oh, and worsening disease with spreading & intensifying CRPS and either worsening neurovascular dysfunction or maybe a vascular manifestation of EDS, which recently killed a most excellent friend who was my angel of survivorship.

So yeah, tough times. Absolutely craptastic in so many ways. (But it could certainly be worse. I finally reside somewhere safe & kind, and I’m truly grateful.)

But still, I live. Still, I walk. Still, I love. More than ever. Still… I must find a way to go forward.

I don’t have to feel good. It’s a tiresome fact of my life that I almost never do. (The last time was a little over 2 years ago, in a successfully pain-killing vitamin C and Epsom bath after the right meds, my lover peeking in and giggling, and the songbirds going nuts outside.)

I just have to continue to feel — and remember not to close the door too hard or too long on grief and pain, because then I lose joy and wonder as well.

We can do this. We can all learn to do this. I mean that in pure sincerity.

It’s worth the effort of learning to do so at will, and not wait for the rare gifts of unavoidable joy to bring back a bit of life. I think we have to go out and get it, thorns and all.

Of course it hurts. Is that the point? There’s so much more to life than just all this terrible pain. I know that, even when I don’t feel it.

This is the diamond-hard point of “living anyway.” I never said it was easy. What I have said, often, is: there’s a future worth having — we just have to live long enough to get to it.

L’chaim: here’s to living… long enough.

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Next step, stop!

Update on wifiddling…
I got an idiot-proof radiation meter. Wifi is in the microwave band of 2,500 GHz and the additional 5,000 GHz band, which are part of the radiofrequency band, abbreviated as RF.

Here’s the reading from upstairs’s wifi, beaming down to where I used to have my sofa:
TriField Meter showing RF reading of .029
Here’s the reading where I have the sofa now:
TriField Meter showing RF reading of .004
I found a couple other hottish spots, but I also found a sitting spot that registers nearly 0 in every direction (as does most of my bed) and that’s where I take tea and pills in the morning.

I really like having data. After finishing my last post, I thought I was going to have to spend $1500 at the very least for partial protection, and start at $2200 for the whole enchilada, and where the heck would I get that? (My savings are tied up in a messy little mobile home I can’t go anywhere near.) Instead, it turns out I just need to move the furniture a little, and stay back from the windows that look next door. MUCH cheaper!

It turns out I’m just shatteringly tired. I’ve been living with too much fear for too long. Fear uses up a lot of energy and neurochemicals. On top of the relentless pain signalling (which uses a lot of energy and neurochemicals) and the neurochemically-expensive and exhausting work of having to juggle the exponentially increased effort and decisions required by disability AND poverty (each of which uses a lot of energy and neurochemicals)… once I got a safe and sane chance to rest, it’s like aaaaall those energy bills are coming due at once.

… To clarify my relationship to an excess of rest, let me relate a work anecdote.

I was new to software. I was still used to the pace of nursing, which is inhuman and unforgiving. I said something about having completed 4 out of 5 of my tasks (which I didn’t realize I had another week to complete) but I hadn’t completed the 5th because, I said with chagrin, I was probably being a lazy cuss.

The entire room erupted in laughter. Me — lazy? What a joke!

After 20 years post-injury and still being upright, articulate, and seasonally functional (which takes a TON of relentless work) I’ve almost adjusted to the idea that I’m the opposite of lazy. What I can do, I will, as soon as I can do it safely and adequately. That’s just how my programming goes. Good thing, too, or I’d never have made it this far.

It turns out I’m just phenomenally tired right now, 99.98% of the time. I’ve begun to stop apologizing for it, because it’s clearly beyond me. It just is, and will continue to be until it’s over.

When I can, I will do more. I have absolutely no worries about that, because I know in my bones that I’m the opposite of lazy.

I just really need to rest. I didn’t know it was possible to be this weary. Of all I’ve read about profound idiopathic exhaustion, the only thing that consistently works with no further damage is to rest thoroughly enough and long enough. Plus maybe a bit of careful, inch-by-inch support with Chinese herbs, which I’m also starting.

Rest. What a concept.

Well, here I go…

Ready? Set?

Resting.

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No wonder I can’t get up! Rad realities

After the ghastly fiascos of last year, imagine my overwhelming relief to finally — FINALLY! — find a clean, safe place to live, in one of my favorite towns in the world.

The past weeks of unbudging exhaustion — starting from roughly the time everyone in the building got back from their holiday vacations — I put down to my body going into a “deep recovery” mode after the astonishing stresses it survived. I knew neighbors had wifi, as most adults do in this country, and noticed I felt better in the sunny side of my bedroom — behind an enormous brick wall, as the bedroom is an addition built onto a century-old, balloon-built brick building — so I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting there, letting all that earthing happen between me and the wifi signals.

Today, more or less out of the blue, two or three neurons fizzed together and I realized there was something differently-familiar to this feeling of having had all the air let out of my tires and my batteries totally drained. There was a knot of yuk behind my xyphoid — right about where the vagal nerve comes through the diaphragm and shakes hands with the stomach on its way past — which has rarely gone away.

Following these clues — my neighbors getting back, the bitter exhaustion, the yuk behind my xyphoid — I pulled out my elderly-but-spry laptop and asked it about the wifi signals it can see.

Here is what it sees in the living room:
List of available wifi networks, several with 4 bars

Here is what it sees in the bedroom, behind the double layer of brick wall with a door in the middle:
List of available wifi connections, mostly 3 bars

That one bar of difference is definitely palpable, to me. Also, I know that one of my near neighbors has turned off their wifi right now (bless them!) because there’s sometimes another network on this list which has all 5 bars when it shows at all; it chases me right out of the living room because I can feel it like an incoming missile to my gut.

This exercise simply goes to prove my longtime suspicion that, indeed, wifi is the Un-Healer for me. I can’t get off the couch for long, simply because I’m being soaked in it all the time.

Give me a moment to get myself together, please. This is tough.

Detail of a Bosch painting. Whiskery demon holding and reaching for a misereable man.
Bosch knew.

It could be worse. I could be unsafe, breathing mold, AND being soaked in wifi.

Solutions

First, a key term:

Faraday cages are structures that use particle absorption, grounding, or deflection to create a radiation-free space inside. I’d expect to incorporate all three elements, for a more durable and predictable kind of protection.

Grounding

There are some low-tech, lower-cost things to try that can have the effect of minimizing my exposure to wifi signals:
– Grounded skin, that is, a grounding mat I keep my skin connected to, to carry away the signal before my body takes it up much. I haven’t had terrific results from these yet, but I may have gotten a bogus mat before. I’ll experiment with wire and foil before investing in anything better.

– Rad sinks (already in place), a mass of metal dense enough to act as its own ground — in my case, big heavy old-fashioned steel filing cabinets. I should really paint them thickly in matte black to get the best results (preventing signal-bounce), but it’s hard to think of a less useful work-setting for a colorist like me. I’ll keep thinking about it, though, because I’m pretty sure it could help.

After that, it gets a bit more iffy vs. more expensive.

Shielding

Make a Faraday-shielded pod I can pick up and move around, and sit in when I’m doing anything for long. Given the inexpensiveness and availability of pop-up structures, black felt yardage, and that shiny mylar stuff, I could cobble that together, probably with a zipped door and a couple of battery-powered computer fans. But dayum, would that be claustrophobic, gloomy, noisy, and a space-hogging eyesore! Also, it would render most furniture effectively unavailable for shielding time.

I’ve tried rad-blocking clothing. This poor challenged body needs a good few feet between my skin and shielding, or the feedback gets incredibly painful. Can you imagine that thing that microphones do with feedback, happening to your spine & everything connected to it? Yeah, that’d be cute by comparison to the experience of me wearing rad-blocking clothing for 5 minutes. So, rad-blocking clothing is not an option for me.

– Creating a shielded-fabric blockade around my bed, looking rather like a mosquito net but costing the equivalent in silver netting, which it often is. Silver is an excellent conductor. If properly grounded (always a consideration for a Faraday cage you want to use for more than an hour!) this can, at least, create a low-rad place to sleep that still has air flow — and room for the cat. It’s not the total radiation seal that a proper Faraday cage should be, but it’s a compromise that works well for many people. I can certainly tell if it needs to be better sealed for my purposes; boy howdy, is that clear to me now!

Shielding & grounding my whole space

Then there’s the costly, smelly-toxic, protracted option of having a minimum of 2 good coats of rad-blocking paint (at ~$200/quart, I’m guessing a total of 5 or 6 gallons for these high ceilings, plus the ghastly oil-based primer required), securely wired into the building ground at appropriate points by an electrician ($1k), with adequate layers of 3M UV-filter film ($?) cut to fit every single window ($hundreds for labor, because I can’t do that), the sashes of which will also have to be painted or filmed over… And do something to cover the gorgeous old maplewood floors to block rad bounce from the basement. That, given my abiding love and admiration of maple in every form, would be absolutely criminal.

So, that’s not going to happen.

Or, of course, there’s the prospect of moving again, to which my internal response is way out of the decibel range that blogs can carry. I have JUST gotten my hotwired system to stop leaping awake every hour or two, convinced I have to pack and move again. I really need not to move for a good while.

This is a great place in so many ways, and I really like being here right now. I aim to make it work.

I project that my solution, whatever it is, will be a compromise, like this home — so much going for it, but still missing crucial elements. I’ll have to come up with something that will protect me enough to heal while I’m here, since that’s the point.

First steps

I think the first thing to do is shield the bed. Like I said, not perfect, but it should improve my overnight recovery-time. The means to do that is readily available and I already know the better makers and materials-technology. I could probably get that up in a week.

After that, I’m thinking portable pod, big enough for a chair inside with a little writing desk. Might rig up a window or viewing port, using something reflective but not too dark.

Any engineers want to come play with these ideas and problem-solve here? πŸ™‚

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A 3-point reality check in the armpit of winter

I’ve got a sweet, safe little spot all to myself now. I can’t talk about it much but the gratitude and relief is STUPENDOUS. It took over a month to begin to come home to the fact that I get to come home now.

Last week, I didn’t spend much time upright. Months of overdrafts on my body’s account were called in: colossal spoon-deficit.

If I’d had the energy to feel much, I would have been alarmed. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t anything: think, choose, feel, read, watch, be.

Pale mass of bubbles from underwater

Just drifted through the hours, mostly lying down, listening to audiobooks I’d read (or had read to me; thanks, Mom!) at least a dozen times before. Drifting in and out of the stories. Falling asleep early, waking late. Weird, spacey surges of energy got the kitchen cleaned a couple of times, and enough whole food cooked (can’t afford premade) to keep me fed for another 2 or 3 days.

The laundry pile and state of the floors don’t bear thinking about. I’ve started cleaning the floor, one square yard at a time, and so far that’s one square yard. Yay!

Last week, I was incredibly seduced by the idea of giving up the considerable ongoing effort of living. Oh, the peace, the comfort, the over-ness…

Eventually, I made an agreement with myself to simply wait until summer. That’s all. Anything else I did would be pure bonus. Even knowing I’ve got dreadfully important things to do, I had to be ready to put them aside to get this internal agreement to work.

Reasons

Of course, part of this is the wacky human version of hibernation, an unsatisfying slowdown without the restfulness or calm feelings that make it pleasant.

Cold dark winters are brutal. I never stop thinking about 2 things: deep warm baths and warm places to go in the winter. There’s no tub here and I’m not doing any more packing for awhile, though.

Compounded by longtime central pain, dysautonomia now with heart effects, bereavement, and recent protracted survival-stress, it’s really no darned wonder that letting this ride stop appealed to me!

I made promises which I take seriously, and there’s no question of my hurting myself. That’s just not going to happen.

I only wanted so badly to stop pushing back all the time, stop doing the relentless self-disciplines around every life activity — eating, sleeping, moving around, taking care of self and pet and home, making it to all those appointments, staying on top of my tasks, tracking the endless cyclogram* of signs & symptoms & exposures & feelings & barometric changes & solar weather & functional levels… you get the picture.

Stylized image of woman asleep with enormous red and black dress billowing around and supporting her. White snow falls from a deep blue sky

What chores await

I want the business from my failed homing efforts cleaned up and moved on as soon as possible, so I can stop paying rent on a useless space. Going back to it is a desperately nauseating thought. The place nearly killed me, I realize in retrospect.

At least one of my friends realized that at the time. Sigh.

Line drawing of woman flat on floor, with woozles coming out of her head
Image mine. Creative Commons share-alike attribution license, credit livinganyway.com.

I’m used to pushing past feelings, of course — “CRPS R US!” — but this stage of illness makes an issue out of being too dizzy or vomity to drive safely. (The vomiting is really intense and leaves me no control of my arms and legs… or anything, actually.)

I toy with the idea of a tree falling on the thing hard enough to trigger an insurance writeoff… happy thought! Well, actually, I’m not fussy; anything that totals it and doesn’t harm anyone would be fine with me.

Dreaming is free. Meanwhile, I’m working on healing as hard as I can. This is one of several weighty and important things to manage, and I know a few of you know how much that’s like trying to run with no legs.

But I’m getting better

This morning, I could actually taste the raw sugar in my tea. That’s kind of amazing. I didn’t realize I’d simply stopped being able to taste sweetness. It’s these little things that give me some rational hope.

This first day that I’ve been well enough to get out, I loaded up on blue fruit and low-FODMAP carbs.

Hubris, meet Reality-check

I’m sitting down to give these palpitations a chance to calm down before heading home. If I’m up to it, I’ll get some digestible protein; if not, I’ll go home and get back to horizontal.

Something about that statement seemed odd. H’mmm…

I know what to do when a statement seems odd: do a simple 3-step reality check!

Isy’s 3-step reality check**:
1. Review what I just said.
2. Take a moment to notice the totality of how my body feels, right now.
3. Think back over past 24 hours and look for other symptoms.

That took 5 seconds for the first 2 steps and another 6 for the third. It gets very efficient with practice.

I said to myself, “Self… Palpitations and breathlessness now, and seeing spots last night & this morning? You’re going home to lie the heck down, pal! No argument!” (The spots relate to blood flow, in my case, so heart symptoms have been acting up in a non-chest way.)

Can’t argue with that.

…Well, I could, but it’d be wilfully stupid and I disapprove of wilful stupidity — not just in politicians, but also in myself. So I’d better get stable enough to drive and then go home and lie down.

1 hr later…
I did.

Cats are masters of pa:ng πŸ™‚

Footnotes
*A cyclogram is a way of charting multiple changing elements in a single system, using a circular graph. It can be useful for seeing overlaps, backtracks, correlations, and other patterns among the different elements. Whether it’s better than an oblong line-graph is a matter of taste, but I find the sense of spinning-ness very apt here!

**Step 1 keeps me on track. I had two professions where everything depended on my getting things right, but I’m not perfect (despite best efforts!) so I got into the habit, very early on, of mental review and double-checking myself.
Step 2 is nearly magical in its effect. I stole it from the stress- and uncontrolled-pain-management skillset. It’s key to getting on top of any mind-clouding moment. Try it out, it’s magnificent!
Noticing the body response is a tremendously powerful step to getting back in charge. Once we can notice the physical self in an overcharged state, we can learn to steer it to a better physical state — breathe better, stand or sit better, lift the neck, release the shoulders — and wow! Suddenly it’s not about being so overwhelmed, it’s about a single moment (in a whole life) which we’re managing and moving more gracefully through. Great tool. Gets better and better with practice.
Step 3 I add for health issues, because chronic conditions need more context so we can figure out what’s going on. I started doing that for patients 30 years ago, so there’s a special rolodex in my brain for recent symptoms. When that rolodex went missing during the Hell Years, I noted symptoms & signs in my journal, which lived by my berth on the boat, always in reach. Over time (time which was passing anyway) that ability gradually got rebuilt.
Tracking matters. It really matters.

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Angel wings & tactical things

This morning, I woke up feeling like a butcher knife was lodged in my heart, the memory of barking and snarling voices ringing in my ears. No surprise there; it’s to be expected.

My first coherent thought was, “This needs to be better.” I think that about a lot of things, but this one is mine to deal with.

I pulled one of my tools out of my mental toolkit, and flicked my eyes from ceiling to floor, ceiling to floor. (I’m a side-sleeper.) When I felt an urge to close my eyes, I did. When I opened them again, the butcher knife had shrunk to the size of a stiletto, maybe a medium-sized knitting-needle.

This magic technique is one way of using “bilateral stimulation.” Bilateral stimulation is a way of using neuro-anatomy to manage neuro-chemistry, using your brain signals to heal your mind. There’s loads of material on it in the field of trauma psychology.

Basically, the way our brain processes “sidedness” (the fact that we have a left, a right, a front, and a back) is even deeper than the way it processes strong, primitive emotions, like fight-or-flight-or-freeze. Those emotions tend to disrupt the brain’s normal processing of memory, thought, and decision-making, which can be useful when mastodons are stomping over your village — what you need to do is move faster than you’ve ever done in your life, and not camp on their migratory route in the future.

Most decisions we have to make are not on that order. Even when we live with a brain that keeps wanting to go there, it’s still rarely useful. So, it’s wise to have a few tools that can keep it in check when it’s working “after hours”, so to speak.

One way to do that, which works for most ordinary stressors, is meditation. It gives me practice in creating a still space inside, where I can survey my surroundings, assess things, and choose the best way forward, from this non-triggered space. The “success” of individual meditation sessions is irrelevant to this skill, because it comes naturally as a result of persistently going back to meditation and working on it over and over. Like with many things regarding central nervous system care, persistence is key.

When my skills are toppled over by what goes on around me (cf. my last post! A perfect example of losing it and coming back again), these other tools come out of my “bag of tricks.”

Glancing from one side to another is easy, portable, and requires only some vision and muscular control of your eyes. Pick a spot about 45-60 degrees ahead of you on your left, and a corresponding spot on your right. Flick your glance from one to the other, and back again, not too fast, not too slow. The right speed varies from person to person and time to time. Feel out the point where your system naturally drops to a median, attentive level. It doesn’t feel dramatic or unnatural; I experience it as a sort of a natural pause, as if it’s waiting calmly for something reasonable. Getting someone properly trained in EMDR to teach you what this feels like is really helpful, but you might be able to find it yourself.

There’s a bit more to it: real EMDR training starts with finding, and programming into that deep layer, a “safe place” to go to in your mind; establishing a certain connection with what some call “your wise self”, so you can re-assess your situation and re-evaluate your responses without the triggering; and learning what happens to you, in particular, during the process, so you can self-treat with fewer problems and more success.

Other techniques of bilateral stimulation include the “butterfly hug.” Cross your arms so your hands rest on your opposite collarbones, and tap one side, then the other side. This feels very comforting. It’s not my go-to, because the nerves going through my elbows don’t like bending up that much.

Thigh tapping is widely taught in disaster- and war-related trauma recovery. It can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. Simply tap your legs, first one side, then the other, with the hand on that side. Left hand left leg, Right hhand right leg, back adn forth. The signal demands attention from the brain, which pulls itelf off of panic duty and gets back to processing information and sorting memories in a healthier way.

My physical therapist recently taught me the cross-body crawl. I can do this standing, sitting, or lying down on my back. Reach over with one hand and bring up the opposite knee, then switch sides, back and forth.

This does several things: it provides bilateral stimulation, which calms the panicky system down. It tones the core muscles, especially done while walking! It reminds the brain where the limbs are, which is kind of a huge deal with CRPS, which tends to muddle our brain’s map of our bodies. The cross-body crawl tops my current list of things I wish I wouldn’t do in public, because people look at me funny, but I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s so helpful to me.

I’m also able to focus on nutrition, physically the biggest player in the healing game. I made a green soup last night — Not Chik’n brand bouillon with all the green things I could find in the store that weren’t cabbage relatives (because they push down on my thyroid), and yesterday that was parsley, leeks, mature spinach, celery, and dandelion greens, plus carrots to smooth it all out. I cooked the rather harsh-smelling leeks in butter until the smell sweetened, then dumped everything but the spinach in and simmered for awhile, letting the minerals leach out into the broth. Then I cooked the spinach on top more briefly (so it wouldn’t get bitter) and threw it all in the blender.

As my friend said, “It’s like a chlorophyll bath.”

Meanwhile, as long as I persist in my meditative practice, the work on finding a home charges ahead. It’s a lasting puzzle to the linear part of my mind why an hour spent on meditation makes the other 3-4 functional hours I can squeeze out of the day ten times more effective. I’m gaspingly glad that it does, because it’s a heck of a job to find a safe place for this body.

This cascade of events has carved into my very bones the understanding that it’s meditation that will save me in the end. It’s the axis of my mundi, strange as that may seem to those who’ve witnessed any of my eventful life.

I feel the wings of angels stirring my hair now, and I can’t worry, only take the leap and trust that I’ll fly, rather than fall.

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Floating again

I’ve removed two posts:

  1. “Departure & apology” is moot, completely overtaken by events.
  2. “Outrageous fortune” has the seeds of a good tutorial for navigating intensely difficult, but very predictably-patterned, situations which painies are very likely to find themselves in sooner or later, especially in relation to other painies. (Currently, it’s mostly “bleeding on the page,” which is not very useful.) With a top-flight professional in the field as a cowriter, I think we can turn that into a useful tool which could help limit damage in other situations and provide good tactics and strategies for self-extrication and perspective.

 

To provide some sort of segue between two very different periods of life, I’m including the end of the second piece here. It seems like a pretty good transition marker.

bursting milkweed pod hanging between rock, birch, and sky

So now… I spend alternately painful and peaceful hours in meditation. I walk in the fresh air whether it’s warm enough or not. I drink another glass of water every time I pass the sink. This will pass. This will pass. I still live, so I must breathe and keep on. This will pass.

It’s now a week … and already the formless future is beginning to gain a bit of shape. It’s nothing like what I’d imagined before. I imagine nothing now. I wait to see what emerges. So far, my family of origin is leaping onto their shining steeds; high school friends are posse-ing up with an offhand, “That’s Buxton; we look out for each other”; and a meditation center that works for me and a glowing kindred spirit have popped out of the fog, pointing out a way before me.

Meanwhile, the milkweed is bursting its pods — a glorious, silken, dizzyingly delicate reminder of the peaceful beauty of letting go…

Outrageous fortune is starting to come from a different direction now. I will feel whole again someday; I feel it in the wind.

Hours before leaving the city after all that horror, my driver’s-side wing mirror got creamed. The rest of that side is fine, hardly a scratch, but… no wing mirror.

As metaphors go, it’s probably good advice:

Stop Looking Back.

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Nerdy stuff: menstruation, hormones, pregnancy, and pain

This is a brain-dump and research-blurch I just did for a compatriot. These are issues that come up occasionally — every 28 days, for many — and always deserve good answers. Lots of links to scientific articles here.

Mouse brain neurons, two pairs, stained flame yellow against red background
Image by neurollero on flickr, CC share-alike attribution license.
There has been little research on women’s experiences of CRPS in terms of menstruation and pregnancy & breastfeeding. Gee, surprise surprise!
So I’m working to come at the issue sideways: looking for info on hormonal changes during menstruation & during pregnancy, and the effects that those hormones have on deep or central pain. Tedious, but possible.Β 
Also, I only have access to those articles which are publicly available. Many are kept under wraps because it’s one way that labs protect their intellectual property, sigh.Β 
PAIN & CHEMICAL-MESSENGER BASICS

Pain-related cytokines (this is old information, so these studies are old, but still informative):
“Recent findings on how proinflammatory cytokines cause pain”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394003013879
This article specifically cites 3 main culprits in neuropathic pain: IL-1beta (interleukin 1-beta), IL-6 (interluekin 6), and TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor alpha, which does a lot more than kill tumors!)

The publicly-available articles on cytokines’ role in pain are abundant from the early part of the millenium (1999-2010) but seem to disappear after 2013. I assume a lot of patentable activity is going on about it now, and given the usual lead-time on drug development, may not be available even for human trials for at least 5 more years.
Your pain specialist should be able to pull up more recent articles to share with your OB-GYN about that.

“Oxytocin – A Multifunctional Analgesic for Chronic Deep Tissue Pain” 2015
https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/cpd/2015/00000021/00000007/art00008

“Oxytocin and the modulation of pain experience: Implications for chronic pain management” 2015
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763415001177

MENSTRUAL CYCLE

Pain-related cytokine & hormonal changes around menstruation:
“Impact of Gender and Menstrual Cycle Phase on Plasma Cytokine Concentrations”
https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/107423
Women always have more pain cytokines than men, but they have more still during the luteal phase of the cycle, right after the egg is released (a.k.a. premenstrual phase) and leads to menses.

Since there’s so little science on menstruation in those with pain disorders, I include an article on menstruation & cytokines which explicitly draws a conclusion that *menstrual tissue itself* is the cytokine trigger (and endometriosis is basically an exaggeration of it), a conclusion which does support our experience of higher levels of CRPS pain with menses:
“Menstruation pulls the trigger for inflammation and pain in endometriosis”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165614715000449

PREGNANCY & BREASTFEEDING

Breastfeeding confers protection against noxious brain chemistry:
“A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health”
https://internationalbreastfeedingjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1746-4358-2-6
Has loads of references. It’s from 2007, but it’s so approachable I want you to have it anyway. Besides, the chemistry of our bodies hasn’t changed, only our understanding has increased.

Here’s an update by the same original author:
“The new paradigm for depression in new mothers: Current findings on maternal depression, breastfeeding and resiliency across the lifespan” 2015
https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=283392990281695;res=IELHEA
It may be risky to include this, depending on your OB/GYN, because of the brutalizing confusion and ignorance around depression — widely seen as a character flaw and sign of weakness, when it’s just an overwhelming neurochemical state, and incidentally overlaps significantly with the overwhelming neurochemical state of neurogenic/central pain. In short, things that alleviate/mitigate depression also usually alleviate/mitigate central pain. It’s very simple.

GOOD TO KNOW

Let me give you two names to pass on to doctors willing to learn, for great info on CRPS: R.J. Schwartzmann, who retired in 2012 but whose work remains the most intelligent and articulate among CRPS researchers; and currently Breuhl and van Rijn are doing good work too.
More articles listed here by a trained 2dary researcher: https://elleandtheautognome.wordpress.com/crps-frequently-asked-questions-faq/

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