Low-histamine shopping list and recipes

Ladies and gentlebeings, here’s what I’ve come to after a 6 month period of, firstly, a strict diet of tapioca, carrots, butternut, apples, and chicken; then, careful reading about *tested* foods on *living* humans, plus extensive empirical testing on my own particular system. The fruits (, veg, herbs, and meats) of this work lies below. Foods that I currently remember as improving the histamine picture have a +.

Note: I’m focusing on what I *can* eat as part of a low-histamine diet. Where my diet is restricted for other reasons, I say so, in order to point out where there’s obviously something for others to explore.

I don’t mention higher-histamine foods nor do I go into the details of what makes a food low-histamine (which can involve mast cell triggering, histamine levels within the food, salicylates, non-food triggers that raise the background level of reactivity, whether fermentation or aging is inevitably part of the process – as with beef – and so on) because that’s a whole ‘n’other article, and a bit beyond my bludgeoned brain at the mo’.

Caveat emptor: we’re all a bit different. This is why empirical testing, tracking results for yourself, and being able to notice when things change, is so important. My list is basically ok in principle, but it won’t be right for everybody, and may not even be right for me in a couple of years.

Besides “everything organic” and “everything fresh”, the third leg of this mow-histamine diet is “everything freezable frozen”, because leftovers and meats start making histamines real quick. So, freezing and then defrosring in the microwave is the only safe way to go with yhese things.

I let stuff that’s fresh off the stove or out of the oven freeze up on the top shelf (usually atop the “buns” box) and then move it to its rightful place:

The magic lists

Everything, absolutely everything, is super fresh and organic. This is part of the deal with low-histamine foods, and I’m ever so grateful that it’s possible right now. (Thank you to the federal SNAP/Food Stamps system and to HIP, the produce-enhancing state funding system for low-income people, plus an outstanding local farmer’s market that works with these programs!)

Produce:

    • +Apples, fresh local low-spray or organic (by low-spray, I mean they get sprayed twice, once when the buds set and once when the fruit sets. I find I tolerate this just fine, as long as the apples aren’t sprayed for storage)
    • Fresh cider, UV treated to impede fermentation (when I’m not frail)
    • Blueberries, wild
    • Cranberries
    • Peaches, when not frail
    • Plums, most kinds, when not frail
    • Cherries, when not frail
    • Mangos (not bruised)
    • Spring onions (some people are good with sweet white onions but not spring onions, and some can’t tolerate any onions, so YMMV)
    • Garlic heads (as above)
    • Sweet peppers (I find red bells and bullhorn peppers easiest to digest)
    • +Asparagus
    • Cauliflower, if good (no black or yellowed spots)
    • Soft/summer squash: marrows, zucchini, yellow crookneck (scoop out seeds if currently fragile)
    • Different squash: delicata, pattypan (seeded as above)
    • Beet greens
    • Radishes (which I like to steam)
    • Celery


    I can’t eat leafy cabbages because my fragile thyroid poops out if I do: mustard greens, collards, chard, bok choy, napa, savoy, radicchio, kale, green and purple cabbages, and other winter-harvest yumminess! Check them out for yourself, as long as your thyroid and gut is up to the job.

    Protein:

    • Chicken, turkey, pork, lamb (frozen straight off the block; another farmer’s market item here) (NOT ground: that generates histamine, possibly from the extensive cell damage)
    • Eggs (from scratching, soy-free hens)

    I can’t eat lentils, beans, or peas due to gastroparesis, but you lucky so-and-sos who can might want to read up & experiment to see which ones are ok for you.

    Lipids:

    These have to be fresh and not have any whiff of rancidity. Since all my food is fresh now, these and my protein sources are my only source of lipids for my brain and spine:

    • Olive oil
    • Grassfed (or Kerrygold) fresh butter, not raw
    • Avocado oil
    • Drippings from cooking meats, frozen right out of the pan. These are *wonderful* for cooking veggies with!
    • Coconut oil (when not frail)

    Carbohydrate rich:

    • Rice (plain whites, basmati, or jasmine are all ok for me; brown and sweet rice are not for frail times, but ok in small doses at other times)
    • Sweet potatoes, any kind but Japanese (which I think I did to myself by eating them too often at one time! Darn it)
    • Tapioca/yucca/manioc, same vegetable; fantastic for a sluggish gut & delicious made with apple cider
    • Farmer’s market honey
    • Sugars: panela, jaggury, coconut (all of them unrefined & mineral-rich, so YMMV)
    • Beets – with greens (I use the stems to flavor soups and I steam the greens or drop them on top of a batch of stir fry; delicious!)
    • Carrots, lots, as they go with everything
    • Broccoli
    • Parsnips, if I’m not currently frail (they’ve got such good nutrition I keep them on my shopping list, but they’re the first to go if I’m not up to the mast impact)
    • Celeriac
    • Hard/winter squash: butternut, acorn, kabocha (NOT pumpkin or spaghetti squash)

    Rice is my only grain. Some do ok with sorghum or buckwheat or some other things, but it’s hard on me in anything but small doses & when I’m not reactive.

    Flavorings and spices

    I can do, almost all fresh:

    • Parsley
    • Basil
    • Dandelion greens
    • Cilantro
    • Sumac (this is dried)
    • Bay leaf (dried)
    • Rosemary
    • Sea salt
    • Mined salts: Kosher, pink salts
    • Garlic
    • Ginger
    • Turmeric
    • Cedar sprig (fantastic when cooking chicken or buttered black beans, not that I can eat the beans any more)
    • Cumin (when not fragile)

    Here’s the fun part…

    Recipes

    The web is international, and I try to work with that 🙂 Please be aware that, as my cooking was learned in US-origin households and restaurants, I cook by volume rather than weight. Measurements are noted accordingly. (I’m aware of the flaws in this system, so I use recipes that can accommodate the “fudge factor.”)

    These are much-loved ingredients I make ahead:

    “Ginger Fabulous”

    I almost took a picture of this, but it just looked brown on camera. It’s lovely earthy honey-colors IRL.

    • Peels from 4-6 apples (may freeze ahead)
    • Ginger x6-8 thumbs (a bit bigger than my smallish thumb, anyway)
    • Farmer’s market local honey, ~1/2 cup [120 ml]
    • Sugar (panela or jaggury for me; light brown or raw is probably good), same volume as honey
    • 1 pint [500 ml] cider
    • Optional: Dash of clove, if you’re ok with it

    Slice ginger to 1/8″ or less.
    Chop apple peels to about 3/4″ segments.
    Put everything in a good pot.
    Simmer until all the ginger is translucent, usually ~ 1/2 hour.
    Let cool.
    Try to keep enough for later; I find it hard to stop taste-testing.
    Uses:
    Use as is for preserves, or process/blenderise to rough texture for marinade, jam, or even hot drink if you don’t mind a bit of dessert in the bottom.

    “Super Greens”

    Here they are mixed into buns:

    • Parsley x6-8 bunches
    • Basil x3 bunches
    • Dandelion, Italian/less bitter (has spikier leaves), x1

    Chop parsley and the leafier part of dandelion greens to 1/2″ lengths.
    Pick basil leaves off stems and chop a bit smaller than that.
    (Wrap the stems in foil and keep in freezer for flavoring soups, as their flavors cook down delightfully.)
    Throw it all in a processor and chop very fine. (I have to go 1 head of parsley & equivalent of others at a time, because my processor is not that big.)
    Package up into ice trays, or in foil or paper by ~dessert spoon or ~50 ml sizes and freeze.
    Uses:
    1 of these dresses 2 to 4 scrambled eggs or omelettes, depending on taste.
    I take a batch and mix it with softened Kerrygold/grassfed (not cultured!) butter, to a ratio of 1 butter : 1 pressed-down greens by volume, and beat well into a super healthy spread. I refrigerate enough for a few days and freeze the rest. Way more yummy than something this healthy should be!

    “Isy’s elf-rising flour”

    This recipe is taken from alittleinsanity.com, but I removed the xanthan gum, use non-fungal risers, and make with organic flour ingredients. Its ingredients are friendly to systems dealing with inflammation and histamine problems. It makes buns, quickbreads, and muffins very quick & easy to put together. (I haven’t tried it with pancakes because I can’t limit my intake of pancakes sufficiently & don’t like to feel that sick, so doing without is my best bet rn.)

    This recipe uses weights because, for the most part, the ingredients are often packaged in these sizes so you just dump out a bag of each. Easy!

    • 24 oz [0.7 kg] brown rice flour, fine
    • 24 oz [0.7 kg] white rice flour, fine
    • 24 oz [0.7 kg] sweet white rice flour
    • 20 oz [0.6 kg] tapioca flour/starch (same thing)
    • 2+1/2 [37.5 ml] Tablespoons baking soda
    • 1 Tablespoon [15 ml] baking powder (I push this through a tea strainer to get all the clumps worked out. I abhor the taste of baking powder clumps)
    • 2 Tablespoons [30 ml] salt

    Blend carefully in a huge pot. I use both a paddle and a whisk, gently.
    Take the time to get everything *very thoroughly blended*.
    This makes a gallon plus 1.5 cups, or about 4 liters.

    Uses:
    This makes a forgiving dough, and will generally work out fine.

    2.5 cups [or about 750 ml] of flour will take:

    • 5 to 7 tablespoons[75-100 ml] of butter (maybe more; tell us if you try it?)
    • 1/3 cup [80 ml] liquid
    • 1/4 cup [60 ml] to 1/2 cup [120 ml] of sugar
    • Eggs, 1 to 4…

    If you use 1 egg per 2.5 cups of flour mix, it gives a texture suitable for scones or gf (American) biscuits.
    If you use 3-4 eggs per 2.5 cups of flour mix, it results in a soft, puffier texture with more volume, as for quickbreads [teacakes] or (American) muffins.
    Additions
    It adapts well: you can use water, broth, milk, or cider as the liquid, and can add as little as 1/2 cup [120 ml] or as much as 1+1/4 cups [300 ml] of diced chicken or Super Greens or wild blueberries – with or without some Ginger Fabulous – and still get a wonderful result.

    It bakes in 12-15 muffin tins (depending on the extras) at 350*F [175*C] for 16 to 20 minutes in my oven, or until there’s no steam in the scent from the oven / toothpick comes out dry.

    Here are chicken buns & blueberry teacakes in their freezer box. Defrost & warm by microwave on low for 30 seconds on top and 30 seconds on bottom.

    I’m still working out a recipe for lembas, but it’s only a matter of time. Buns made from this are light & crumbly all right, and certainly very filling!

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Excercise intolerance, the invisible vampire

I’ve been walking for 2 1/4 miles 6 out of 7 days per week for a few weeks, and it stopped kicking my butt, woohoo! I could come home and go straight into another task. This took awhile; at first, I had to lie down with my calves & feet up on a suitcase for a couple hours & stay down for hours except for bathroom breaks, then I just had to lie down for hours, then it went down to half an hour of horizontal time, and finally it was fine.

So I bumped it up — like a fairly well-informed patient– by no more than 10%, or a whisker under 2.5 miles. Today was the first day. I had to lie down for a couple hours, and moving at all is brutal. I move like a centenarian who’s been sucked dry.

Dazed looking fellow with fangs
This outstanding cartoon is by JNL and is freely available under a Copyleft free art license

So, after realizing that yes, even though I can walk more than 2 miles, I *still* have excercise intolerance… I decided to look it up and learn more about it.

Further inquiry

You know me: I like primary sources. Doesn’t mean I always understand them, but I can usually glean the right vocabulary from primary science and improve my searches from there.

What a 1 hour scroll through the National Library of Medicine turned up today is that excercise intolerance is usually related to specific kinds of heart failure (already ruled out), certain profound lung diseases (definitely not), certain complications of diabetes (nope, thank goodness), and mitochondrial illnesses usually due to genetic variations that leave them struggling (definitely something I’ll check again, in light of this new info. I’ve got those geneticgenie.org results somewhere…) It can also go with POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia, which I have a variable case of.

So what is excercise intolerance?

As I understand it currently, excercise intolerance means that, instead of excercise building muscle and oxygen-carrying capacity, exercise chews up tissues and reduces oxygen-carrying capacity.

Much like what happens when the vampires have been at ya.

Edvard Munch’s colorful take on vampiric prey, massively stylish as ever.

It’s very uncommon in the general population, and many people think they know better than to “believe in” it.

No wonder. It’s completely counterintuitive! How can excercise possibly make you weaker, sicker, and more broken-down?

Because some of us are just that lucky. Or something.

That which doesn’t kill me…

Makes me seem weirder and even harder to relate to.

It also generates inflammatory crap much faster than the impaired body can clean it out, which means more pain, more limited range of motion, and longer recovery time.

Yep, it’s fun to have! XD

It used to be that, once I broke the 2-mile mark, the only symptom I’d get after too much excercise was simply feeling like I’d had too much excercise, and a couple of Advil and a couple of good night’s sleep would take care of it. There *was* such a thing as “no more excercise intolerance”, and it was lovely.

I didn’t realize there were also such wide degrees of excercise intolerance. *This* doesn’t feel like I just did too much exercise and all I need is a little time. This feels like I’ve had an inflammatory surge, a mast cell activation episode, like my bones are charring gently, and like everything is about 10 times harder.

Now I know: Excercise intolerance can keep up! (Foul expletives mumbled under the breath.)

In the interests of data collection (and getting physician attention), I’ve pulled out my pulse oximeter and will check my oxygenation and pulse rate before, during, and after my walks.

Data! Yummy data! Nom nom nom nom. It’s not a cure, but it might help in the longer run. — Walk. The longer walk, haha.

 

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New set of wheels

I walk everywhere I need to go. I finally tried the bus, and honestly, it could have been worse — but the base of my spine is still not prepared to put up with more than about a mile of that banging.

The problem with walking is that my legs are getting really good at “Burning Bones” — one of those trippy CRPS nerve games where it feels like the bones themselves are covered in & consisting of fire.

I used to wonder what burning bones were like and felt lucky for not having experienced it — and highly inclined to keep hammering massive doses of D3 to keep my blood levels in normal range. (D3 helps keep calcium in the bones & teeth, where it belongs, and prevents excess calcium from causing nerves to misbehave, among other things.)

Well, this clears *that* up! I know exactly what burning bone pain feels like now. But still, I’m well aware it could be so much worse: I just get little yellow flames, not big blue-based barn-burning flames. Those are definitely worse. I don’t know if I could keep walking through big blue flames.

Do I walk through the little yellow ones?

Go on, guess.

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

Carrying the bag I use as a purse adds a few pounds to the load on my legs, hips, and knees, and a bag or two of groceries adds about another 10-12, however carefully chosen they are for weight.

Plus, I’ve been slinging those from my shoulders — better than a backpack, which puts the stress right across the anterior nerve plexus for the shoulders, but — as we say about little yellow flames for bones — is, um, less than ideal.

I have tried every grocery cart conceived of in the last decade. The vibration on my hotwired palms is like hanging onto a working jackhammer covered in razorwire. (I don’t recommend doing that, however much you want to see what this is really like.)

I stared longingly at jogging strollers all year.

I designed my own grocery conveyance, priced the parts, and realized I had just designed a jogging stroller and it would cost about as much.

I haunted Craigslist and Freecycle for weeks, until an add for a Schwinn jogging stroller popped up.

Shows cupholder bracket affixed to handle of stroller

Is that a cushy push or what? 😀

And, guess what, it has pockets! — I mean, cupholders! (Cupholders are definitely the pockets of non-clothing items, say I.)

For once, I kept myself from saying *just how much* this means to me and why, because who wants to hear sob stories, right? I handed over the very reasonable sum, thanked him 4 times but not nearly enough, and sailed away.

Even though my legs are starting up the burning bones awfully quick today, in every other respect I feel like I’m walking on air.

I can pick my own *groceries*! OMG!!! And *get them home* with minimal further damage! WOOHOOO!!

Life is good.

Thank goodness for that sweet family who let this go ❤, and for craigslist.org for linking our complementary needs.

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Planning ahead

I’m getting an allergy panel in a month or so. This means I have to be off my antihistamine for 5 days before.

THAT means I have to start tapering off ~2 weeks ahead of time; 3 weeks would be safer, but I don’t see how to endure over 3.5 weeks total with that level of obnoxious symptomatology and brittle physical fragility. 

That said, I *really* want the data.

You might ask, “Why?” (Or possibly, depending on how familiar you are with the twisted satire that is my health record, “WhyTF?? Are you *crazy*??” As if you didn’t already have a definite opinion about *that*! 😏) 

Well, here goes…

Flash back to 2013

Years ago, under the tutelage of a late & very lamented friend who Knew Mast Cell Stuff like I know the back of my hands, I finally (in 2013) did my empirical testing around whether mast cell & histamine activation-like signs & symptoms I was struggling with, would respond to treatment. 

Step 1: reducing & eliminating competing problems

I had already gotten excellent neurological & biofeedback training, which worked well for many things (Go, Pain Psychologist Dr Faye Weinstein! I got tremendous and lasting benefits from my work with her. Highly recommended. “Stabilize, stabilize, stabilize.”) While I had excellent results from the neuro stabilization, it didn’t make much difference to the allergies, a particular “flavor” of brain fog, food & digestion issues, or the usual allergy circus of itching facial orifices & random urticaria.

The histological issues persisted most obnoxiously. This was 9 years ago when the mast cell activation diagnoses were not as well developed, and at a time that, though I had access to an enormous pool of well trained doctors, I was already up to my hip-waders in the maximum number of appointments I was able to keep. 

What do you think? Pursuing testing and inquiry into a set of issues that were still widely considered to be a matter of hysteria? — For a middle-aged woman with pain diseases and 60 extra pounds of weight, do you think *that* would have been a good use of my limited time? 

Smh!

So, I went empirical on it.

Two methods of science: “empirical” and “scientific” method

Both methods are scientific, in that they require diligent examination & limiting of variables as well as testing, retesting, and recording results accurately. 

(But hey, that nomenclature isn’t confusing, right? <eyeroll>)

It boils down to this: 

Empirical method: what works in this case in particular? 

Scientific method: what’s generally likely to work in many cases?

The empirical method of science is brilliant on a case-by-case basis, there’s nothing better; but avoid making assumptions beyond that case. The scientific method of science depends on hundreds, ultimately thousands, of cases, and from all those together, it generates statistical probabilities about what’s *likely* to work under certain circumstances as a general rule. It’s much more widely applied, but explicitly *not*  individualized.

This is why, as someone dealing with multiple rare issues, I test everything ~3 times on myself before deciding if it’s a good idea for my particular situation.

Now the next section will make more sense.

Right med, right dose, right time

I tried several antihistamines to see which one helped me the most. 

Then I experimented with dosing to see how much it took to get me functional most of the time. 

Then I experimented further with once-daily dosing, or dividing the dose in two and taking it twice daily. It had better results (and no “oog” feeling) if I took it twice a day.

In the end, I wound up on one of the top 3 meds for mast cell/histamine issues. I also wound up at the common dose for those with a solid case of Mast Cell Activation Disorder. (The twice-daily dosing was my own special twist, but I’ve since learned it’s not that uncommon among “masties”, as people with mast cell dysfunctions refer to themselves.)

Without any further ado, my doctors added MCAD to my list of diagnoses.

(As with every med and supplement, I continued testing it every 6 months or so, backing off the dose and looking for the minimum effective dose, but stopped doing this because of … we’ll get to that.)

But, frankly, a differential diagnosis doesn’t yield enough info to change anything causative. If I can nail specific allergens — or culprits — and receive treatments that can actually reverse this ghastly crap, that would be *great*!

So, I really want the data.

Histamines & tendon problems

I stopped trying to cut down on the antihistamines a couple of years ago, because I couldn’t bear any more injuries that threatened my mobility.

“Mobility? Huh??” I hear you ask.

One of the things the antihistamine helped with was tissue-tearing. I didn’t expect that, but was delighted not to be twisting my ankles on uneven ground or sudden jumps away from traffic, then having to crawl or scoot home because hopping on 1 foot when your tendons don’t work is a terrible idea.

As I thought about it, it made sense though…

Histology review:

Q: What happens when your histamines are active?

A: Among other things, inflammation in and around your cells.

Q: What happens when cells get inflamed?

A: Among other things, cell walls get weak and leaky.

Q: What happens when connective tissue cells get weak?

A: They tear more easily. 

Ah hah!

So, yeah, maybe MCAD could weaken my connective tissue after all — especially because, for one thing, I started out hyperflexible, which is a setup for these kinds of problems; and for another thing, the fibrosity of fibromyalgia has made my connective tissue more brittle & easier to tear.

Ducky! Another hat-trick! 🤣🤠

Back to the testing

This is the test where they put a grid on your back and scratch or inject tiny amounts of different stuff into your skin. In about 20 minutes, whatever you’re going to react to should be a nice hot ruddy lump, technically a “wheal”. 

For this to happen, your body has to have nothing interfering with histamine reactions — in other words, no anti-histamines.

Since the antihistamine I wound up on has a long half-life, I have to be off it for 5 full days before testing.

Prepping for the test

Because going from full dose to no dose means I can barely get out of bed safely (see “Histamines & tendon problems” above), I have to taper down. I’ve done this before, usually to eke out my meds when my supply is running late. It’s familiar territory. 

Experience tells me that:

  • I have to taper at a rate of no more than 12.5% of my daily dose at a time.
  • I’m best off (in this terrible sitiation) stopping for 3 days at each new dose before the next step down.

This means that it would take 20 days to taper off to 0 (shorting the last step to 2 days instead of 3) *and then* 5 more days at 0.

Doing this with tissues crying, “Go on — tear me!” And every bite of food, breath of air, bit of furniture, bump in the sidewalk, or tussock of grass all giggling in evil tones (so to speak), eager to hear my muffled yells.

Yeah. Tasteless spoofing aside, that’s not a great situation to spend 3.5 weeks in.

Then, of course, as soon as I can horse down my meds again, it’ll be several days before I qualify as human.

Then, about another 1 to 3 weeks before I get back up to baseline function.

My Halloween costume will require very little makeup for me to pass as a zombie, so that’s one bonus.

What a month-and-a-half to look forward to!

Is all this really necessary?

Well… I really, *really* want the data. If this is at all reversible, wouldn’t that be worth a few weeks of howl-worthy endurance?

Obviously, yes… but I don’t think I could keep at it for over a month. I’m good at enduring, but I’ve got hard limits.

I really, *really* want the data.

Managing towards the best possible outcome 

My doc prescribed me some prednisone to take in order to avoid winding up in the hospital over this. I look at the results of my last round of prednisone — the change in my face and the truly shocking stretch marks (which made my dermatologists blanch and leap back, no kidding) — and I consider this truly last-ditch stuff. Beats nothing, I guess. It might keep me out of our ER.

There are dietary issues to consider. (What follows is a brain-dump from my years of querying doctors and reading, as well as my empirical food testing.)

Food matters: boost the signal

I know that the system being tested (mine) can respond more truthfully if it’s familiar with the molecule being tested. For instance, I haven’t eaten gluten in years, so this test might possibly come up negative to that. 

Doesn’t mean that, the next time I walk past a bakery without my mask on, I won’t get an itchy swollen throat and everything won’t turn white for a bit, it just means my body had enough of a break to stand down, and will need to re-arm.

With that in mind, I might grab a couple of saltines before I go in. If I could calm the gluten circus enough to just be safer walking around, that would be awesome.

Food matters: reduce the noise

I’m getting off the aged and fermented food, because that makes such a dramatic difference in my pain and swelling. This includes seafood and beef and anything packaged (look up what creates histamine in food).

Despite that, I’m making exceptions for things which I want to make sure my body has experienced in the month before testing — nuts, bananas, stone fruit, fish, grains in addition to glutinous ones, even beans — although that’ll be a period of gastroparesis hell, but this system must not be “bean-naïve” for the test.

Because I really, *really*, REALLY want the data. This is the kind of info that could change the course of my life for the better. 

For that, I can get through some serious struggle. 

Ramping down steeper

I’m going to go down 12.5% of my dose every 2 days, instead of 3. This will shorten the ramp-time to 2 weeks. Recovery might be a little longer, but I can maintain attention on what I’m doing this for, for that length of time. 

Until then, I’ve got a lot of cooking to do and a freezer to stuff with things that 

  1. Won’t hurt me more than absolutely necessary, and
  2. Will include exactly what I think I need to be exposed to, to maximize the value of the test. 

If you’re in a similar situation, remember that your mileage may vary. Ask your own docs, and then ask their nurses the same questions.

The differences in the answers tend to reflect the wholism that nurses work with, a nitty-gritty pragmatism that rounds out the more optimistic notional-ness that doctors can succumb to. Both views matter.

For only the second time in my life, I might do actual menu planning. I’m usually more of a “what’s fresh? What’s cheap? What’s safe? What’s appealing? Throw it in the pan” kind of cook, but that takes brain. I’d like to insulate myself from a potentially very brain-free near future and reduce my frustration over the coming month. Having easy-to-grab, safely frozen meals sounds fabulous.

Here’s my plan…

The grocery order just arrived, so if you’ll excuse me…

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When momentum uses inertia

Wizard, with hat and staff, standing next to text of Tolkien quote.That last post, about acknowledging the shimmering sense of mortality I’ve lived with for nearly a year? Well, I kept meaning to post an update, but I’ve been having too much fun making progress elsewhere, and simply dropped the ball. I often think, “oh, I should post that on my blog,” and then – pain diseases being what they are – when I shift context to hop online, I’ve forgotten what it was and quickly get sucked into something else.

At the risk of using terms improperly, I found myself explaining this normality of painee existence as a sort of “acquired ADD.” As it happens, our brains get changed in the same places and pathways that ADD brains live in, so that our scans look amazingly similar. Those ADD-like symptoms are definitely not imaginary. I have found myself using adaptations very much like those I’ve read about in some of the terrific books on ADD. I recommend reading up on it. There’s a ton of helpful material on how to manage with and work around these attention issues.

I miss blogging. So, I hope to automate (or at least simplify) moving information here from social media. There are still interesting questions to answer, and I think that useful info we generate in pain groups should find its way to a more stable, searchable medium.

I have been sinking into this life, having acknowledged that inward message about its likely brevity. I’ve been here a year, and love my little flat more and more each day. I’ve been rearranging, creating more usable space within the same square footage. It’s delightful!

I keep the picture that reminds me of those who made this happen over the decorative fireplace, where it looks wonderful, and send grateful thoughts to its source/s – even when reaching out in real life only creates confusion and misunderstanding. We humans generally, and painees particularly, sometimes realize we don’t control how others receive us, but we can steer our own thoughts. So, I maintain this practice of gratitude, because that’s who I am and always have been, and wait for better times.

More health problems? Certainly! I will write about the gastrointestinal circus another time. I’m currently working on digesting a drink of water, and I’d prefer not to think about it until that’s done. This is the big, hairy, stinking follow-up to the first sign of trouble nearly 2 decades ago, which I wrote about (with disgusting toilet humor, inevitably) over at the post Intestinal Fortitude.

Apart from one misunderstanding and that additional body system, this life is amazing. Bit by bit, I’ve been getting a broader pool of professional and personal help and support. Bit by bit, I’ve been coming up with adaptations that bring more art, craft, and productive time into my weeks, although I have to be careful (of course) about changing tasks and changing position and managing time better than I really want to. For instance: “No,” I had to myself yesterday evening; “you don’t get to finish that row of adaptive crochet! I don’t care how pretty this is, or how soft the yarn. These helpful tools only improve my function, they don’t correct the problem! Put. The yarn. Down. Thank you.  Now go do something else.”

So I did.

And then I treated my right forearm with everything in my toolkit. And then I made myself promise not to pick up those tools for at least two more days, because that’s what it takes to recover when I’m forgetful enough to do crochet on a couple of consecutive days. Change those tasks! Figuring out a crafty solution is not as important as protecting tomorrow’s ability. Or even tonight’s. I can use myself hard, but I’m not allowed to use myself up. I don’t count on a ton of recovery time.

I’m back to using dictation software, in order to make better use of my arm time. The stylistic difference is clear to me, but it probably doesn’t matter. This is a good compromise to make, although it’s not necessarily an easy one. Dictation is a strange, slow way of speaking, and it forces me to think in chunks rather than in thoughts and words. But hey, it works!

Times are changing. Whether or not the current American president behaves any better, whether or not the next American president has the moral courage for fundamental changes, whatever, times are changing. My own possibilities are opening up, and I’m not holding back. I didn’t even know I was, but boy, things have changed since I stopped trying to eke everything out! I’ve got things to do, and I’m not waiting any longer to do them.

If I were more self-conscious, I’d throw in a bumper sticker-appropriate remark here. I’m out of ideas. I’ve got other things to do now. Maybe next time. Maybe. 🙂

Take care of yourselves. When you can’t, take care of each other. When you can’t do that, take care of your world. It helps.

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Focus

There’s a lot going on.

My own health took a hard dive late last year and the damage continues to evolve…

…On top of an increasingly human-hostile political system and increasingly deadly climate.

Fun times.

So, yeah, sitting here on a big pile of crap. But that’s not the problem.

What really bugs me is this relentless, quiet, basso-profundo voice murmuring in the back of my brain, “Hurry up. You don’t have much time. You, personally, don’t have time to waste. Pick your focus. Nothing else matters. Get to work. You don’t have much time.”

I used to have a lot of projects running at once…

  • I didn’t tell anyone, but I secretly hoped I’d be able to run again. I used to run 4 miles up & down a canyon in the redwoods before work most days. It was glorious. Before that, on the other coast, I ran 5 to 10 miles along the banks of the river in Alexandria, Virginia, because it felt good and kept my head clear for work on the HIV ward. I ran from one place to another because it was faster than walking.
    Yeah. Well. Between dysautonomia screwing up my circulatory responses and adrenal glands, the tissue fragility of mast cell dysfunction vs. undiagnosed EDS offering to rip holes in my tissues again, and the recurring exercise intolerance, I can let that one go. I enjoyed it at the time, look back on it fondly, and intend to be grateful for that much.
  • I was going to start a business with a line of absolutely stellar pain creams I came up with. Seriously good stuff! It’s at least as good as the medical marijuana salve I used to make from top-shelf medical-grade bud — but totally legal everywhere! I was looking forward to getting that out to my fellow painees, doing some good and making some money. (Comment if you’re interested. I could be persuaded to sell my stock-on-hand.)
    Instead, I’m willing my recipes and equipment to a friend who knows people. She can get it out, and make more when that’s gone. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few hundred bucks locked up in the only exception to my “2 piles” rule for money: 1 pile (my paycheck) for monthly expenses, and 1 pile (an insurance account from the Worker’s Comp branch of the higgledy-piggledy US system) for treatment and survival. That 3rd pile, which belongs to the business and only to the business, is gathering dust. It might help her get started.
  • As regular readers know, I once hoped to make my own safe home to age, work, rest, and die in.
    The downside to owning a home is clearer than ever, and to a limited budget and limited body, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. That dream is dead, staked, burned, and the ashes are buried at the crossroads.
  • I love fixing sh-tuff. The dopamine wave is delicious. However… too many piles of sh-tuff waiting to be fixed, plus associated tools and supplies.
    I’ve donated, bartered, and tossed away more than I even knew I had to spare. So far, I don’t really miss it.

Months ago, I gave up all my arts & crafts except writing and drawing. (And making masks.) I came up with some chirpy sounding reason, but it was about clearing my agenda and narrowing my focus.

There’s something intense about that voice. I look back and realize I’ve been responding to it since before this GI crisis evolved. Thinning out my pursuits. Thinning out my belongings. Thinning out my life.

Narrowing my focus long before I could hear the words this clearly.

For awhile, I thought it was a symptom of wonky chemistry, as I’ve had to do that medication square-dance that people who need neurotransmitter stabilizers have to do now and then. Chemistry is pretty good in here now, and that voice is clearer than ever.

So, here’s what there is to work with:
* I’ve done a lot of writing and training.
* The biological-sciences part of my brain has kept its doors jammed open, despite all the other closures.
* I’m an honest enough historian to know how too many people have been shut out of the process of using their health care systems, due to gender, race, class, and lousy sociohistorical times.
* Me and my friends have developed some powerful tools for being seen and being believed.
* Also, we’re pretty delightful cartoonists. (Hey, it’s a great teaching tool!)

It might be time for all of this to come together. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to “drive” turning all this into a body of work that can continue teaching, training, and translating between chronically & profoundly ill patients and the rest of the world, long after I’m gone.

I have only 2 jobs now: stay as well as possible for as long as possible, and craft that legacy.

It’s frightening to contemplate pushing everything else off my plate, but the experience of the past year has shown me, over and over, the peace and release that happens after.

I don’t have to find the perfect home, although I’d sure be grateful if it landed on me and sucked me right in. (I can’t pack myself up to move one more time.) I have to make this one work better, and get on with the rest of my life. I honestly don’t think I’ve got a lot of time.

But then, I’m not sure that’s the point. Maybe I just can’t focus on more than 2 jobs anymore.

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Chaos theory

  1. As regular readers know, I’ve had an eventful life. The past 20 years, particularly, have been a circus of bizarre improbabilities, oxymoronic paradoxes, and irreconcilable conundrums. My life reads like a dystopian comedy, if your sense of humor is sufficiently twisted.

This is why I’ve got the category “imp-possible” going in this blog. It looks merely cute, but it has a lot of layers. Imps could be little devils, or little fairies, or little children. They emphasize the power of the small. It feels like the only power left. “Imp” also suggests the power of the unexpected.

As the current American president’s so-called “tax cut” comes home, the US Disability Income management agency, Social Security, has decided to trim costs in anticipation of their lost income: they’re cutting my pay, on the grounds that the Worker’s Compensation element of US health care paid me off for being hurt. Separately, they handed over a bunch of health insurance money so Medicare wouldn’t have to pay for my work-related treatment.

Social Security confused the two, and then added zeros to the left of the decimal, divided it by 12, multiplied that by the square root of Guatemala (I’m making this up, just like they did), slapped a bonus on it, and decided I make OVER $5,000 PER MONTH and they’re going to count 80% of that and dock my pay by ~$160 per month…

I’m allowed to make over $5,000/month? Where? How? Sign me up! But wait… huh?? You think I actually have $5,000/month???

Yeah, I’m confused too. (The payout was good, but not that good: I got a sturdy, 10-yr-old car and a year’s worth of rent in a clean, dry cottage out of it.)

That $160 is what allows me to keep my pain-cream-making gear & off-season clothes in storage *and* pay for my writing course at the 50% discount I negotiated with the teacher (I’m doing that course instead of buying books & music for a few months.) I’m not sure any of that counts as extra these days.

They said this would be (future conditional tense) reflected in my pay as of December 2019 (whaaaaat???)…

Either they’re as confused as the rest of us, they’re in even harder denial about which year this is, or they’re setting up to make the pay cut retroactive in case they decide that that’s in their best interests. Also, Social Security being who they are and the current US administration being who they are, this feels like the first move against our lifeline, not the only move.

… I’m sitting here speechless again. Happens every time I think about it.

This is on top of the brutal horrors of approaching winter (relentless agony, burning brain, incapacitating fog), no bathtub (CRPS’s disruptive surface effects creep up my legs and over my back and make my shoulders, hips, and right arm into bloated purple sausages wrapped in electrified barbed wire, with no way to push back), encroaching mold (which multiplies everything, including mast-cell hyperreactivity/disabling allergies, heart dysrhythmias, gut problems, and it adds respiratory diseases to the mix), and gastroparesis so bad that every other day I have to do a big ol’ — you don’t want to know. Trust me. Even I can’t make it funny.

My psychotherapist is savvy, sweet, and has that merciless faith in her client that the best of them wield like surgeon’s tools (yes, this is relevant, hang on through the curve)… I fell apart completely in our virtual visit and whispered in stricken tones, “I don’t know if I’ll make it this time.”

After acknowledging the depth and legitimacy of my feelings and recognizing my prior successes against staggering odds (she does know her job!) she encouraged me to see the breadth of creative possibility embedded behind, “I don’t know.”

I blinked, because that sounded pretty darned merciless, even for a top-flight psychotherapist. (Keep in mind that surgeon’s tools include, not just scalpels and silk, but electric saws and the sprung barbs known, deceptively, as towel clips.) She wouldn’t give up, though.

I agreed to accept that as a working hypothesis.

On reflection, that thought began to feel more like pre-2019 Isy, before my heart got ripped out and stomped on a little too hard by a few too many, and my system fell apart so badly in the storm of it. It began to feel more like the Isy who, 13 years ago at the start of the Hell Years, looked around at the absolute rubble & blasted mess of everything I thought defined my life, and realized someone was still there doing the looking, so there was still an “I” and I wasn’t done yet. It felt more like the Isy who made the term “imp-possible” a regular category. I didn’t know where that would lead me, but…

I didn’t know how to finish that sentence yet.

This morning, while listening to an audiobook that’s a romantic comedy about overthinky nerds (still relevant; hang on through one more curve), I used the toilet successfully for the first time in months, without having to resort to the apparatus hanging nearby for the thing I’ve had to do that I won’t tell you about. (It involves soap & warm water, nothing too ghastly.)

I use audiobooks to keep my brain from overheating. It gives me just enough to focus on that I don’t drive my thoughts off a cliff, and it’s not so intrusive or demanding that I can’t do ordinary tasks at the same time.

This one had gotten to a part where the author discusses basic chaos theory: chaotic systems (and I defy any biologist to come up with a more chaotic system than a dysautonomic human body with longstanding central pain syndromes) … where was I? Right. Chaotic systems tend to get more and more chaotic until a sort of tipping-point is reached and they reorganize at a higher level of criticality.

What the heck does that actually mean, anyway?? What do they mean by a higher level of criticality?

Partly, it means that a lower level of energy is required to maintain that state of chaos, even though it’s still a higher level of chaos.

And that (I thought, as I looked up at the equipment I was going without at last) meant that I could do more coping with less effort.

Once you’ve prioritized your needs hard enough and developed your adaptations effectively enough, it gets a whole lot harder to throw you off your game.

I can work with that.

The next level of chaos is here. I have no idea how it’ll unfold. That said, I’ve already reorganized at a higher level of criticality.

I’ll meet it somehow. I don’t know how. I’m still here doing the looking, so I’m not done yet.

In honor & memory of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

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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? 🙂

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