There’s always an afterwards

When I was a nurse, I could see when death was creeping up on someone. I saw gray fluttering around the person’s edges, especially around the head and upper body. As they recovered, the fluttering grew narrower and disappeared; as they lost ground, it grew wider, sometimes growing too wide to see.

Rear view of sturdy stone angel inside a lovel stone church

When that happened, I made sure I could find the code cart, because we were going to need it.

I worked and fought like hell to shrink that fluttering, to get each person closer to life.

Not every life can be saved. There’s a dislocating moment when, after working with several others to try to revive someone, it sinks in upon all of you – neaerly simultaneously – that it’s a lost cause, and then the doctor calls the code.

Everyone steps back for a moment, same expression on their faces: eyebrows up, eyes on the erstwhile patient, mouth slightly open, every brain running through the scenario and looking for something left undone (never has been, on my teams)… pausing in the shock of rebooting.

When I was coding someone, that person was the most important thing in my world, and all of my training and experience and physical capacity was tightly woven into my determination to get them back. When I had to stop coding them, all of that intense focus, activity, and energy had to come to a screeching halt, be re-assimilated back into my reserve, and clear the way for the next set of tasks. Not a trivial job.

Multiply  that by the number of professionals in the room, and you see why there’s always a breathless pause, even in the most practiced ER.

Then we get back to work, but it’s the work of cleaning up, restocking supplies and meds, prepping the body for the morgue/organ harvesting, and clearing the way for the next incident — a gunshot wound, a bloody nose, a beaten child, a drama queen or king; could be anything.

This explains a lot about ER staff: whatever happens, however we feel about it, we have to clear it away, clean up, restock, and be ready for the most trivial or the most harrowing issues to come in that door next — with little or no warning. Then deal with that, sometimes by brutal means (which you’d understand if you ever saw a chest tube placed or helped set bones for someone who’s been beaten.) Then go home, get food down and go to sleep, and be ready to  come in the next day and do it all over again. Day after day after week after year.

Imagine what that takes.

No wonder they often seem a bit detached, a bit harsh, a bit clueless about the human impact of what they do. They have to come back to that every working day, and try to stay above the madness.

Bosch_painting_of_Hell_(582x800)

The very day I realized I’d forgotten the human impact, was the day I knew I had to change careers. No wonder my immune system was failing. The effort to protect myself was killing me.

My dad’s death was unexpected, and happened overseas. It happened shortly after I knew I’d have to change careers, and shortly before I gave notice and surrendered my RN licensure.

I don’t think I’ll talk about it much, except to pass on the best advice I ever got about survival:

Take every opportunity to be happy, because it makes you stronger for the other times.

Less than a year later, one of my dearest friends died suddenly, back East… After that, I lost someone I loved every month or two, for just over a year… and somewhere in the middle of that, my relationship fell apart.

Hellish, tragic and harrowing as that period of time was, it turned out to be training wheels for being disabled with CRPS and all that comes with that.

It’s no wonder I have some of the symptoms of someone in an abusive relationship. I am; it’s called Life.

me-fingers-2up
And that’s what I say about it.

I’ve seen the grey fluttering around myself more often than I’d care to say. I’ve wrestled with the desperate temptation to end this brutal, chaotic nonsense for myself.

Angels_lossy_notsonice

My own intransigence saves me; no stupid disease gets to win. The very thought is intolerable. Not gonna let it happen.

US Navy: Marines of the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit practice hand-to-hand combat
I identify with both. They’re working their butts off and there’s no telling who’ll win… but neither one will cry uncle.

I’ve had to tell myself, sometimes every few seconds, “Keep breathing. This will pass. There is an afterwards. Just stay alive long enough to see it. There is an afterwards. Let’s find out what it’ll be like. Keep breathing. This will pass.”

Verbatim.

And, eventually, times like this morning come, which thaw those unspeakable memories on the warm stove of peace…

Gentle air from a misty morning caresses my mouth. Happy morning voices trickle in from the neighbors. My tea tastes just right. The birds are screaming their fool heads off in the greenery. My feline ray  of sunshine can’t stop moving for the sheer glee of being alive.

Ari-squirming

It’s simple, but it’s perfect.

I find myself glancing back at the shadows behind me, giving them a nod.

I was right. There is always an afterwards.

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It’s a different world in here

TRIGGER WARNING: Body image. With a twist.

I feel like I’ve been inflated. If I get any larger, I may collapse in on myself and form a neutron star — possibly even a black hole.

"Portrait of the Quasar as a Young Black Hole" from NASA's Hubble telescope
Charming, eh? And round.

My pain psychologist isn’t worried. She thinks there’s nothing wrong with “a little comfort weight”, especially as I’ve been making such progress in her area.  Of course, she has a slender elfin figure herself.

This isn’t the usual rant about weight and health, or the girly American whining about fat. This is about living from the inside out, and what happens when my physical vehicle takes up a whole lane.

Nursing has a diagnosis called, “Body Image Disturbance.” Take a look at that phrase for a minute. It’s very telling.

Body
Our physical interface with the world; the medium we use to communicate with others; the first sensory impression we get of our surroundings; the complex organism that gets us from one place to another; the thing that gives others their first sense of who or what we are.

Image
Our mental framework, or paradigm; the belief or understanding we have about our presence or effect in the world; the way others tend to think of us; the way we think they think of us.

Disturbance
Something awry — probably disturbingly so. Not good.

Do we need to address the usual social issues? Yes, skinny people get treated better, all across the board; fat people are far more likely to get abused and overlooked, and not just for sex — for everything. Lots of people have made lots of money writing lots of books about that, so read them if you’re confused.

Let’s move on.

I’m in a different sensory and physical world from what I’m used to, and it’s a really strange one. The experience of physical life from this different shape is, yes, disturbing.

My feet are pressing so hard against the ground that my shoes fit differently.  When I carry something, it pushes my weight over the tolerable limit and threatens to bring the CRPS in my feet back to life — and I had just about gotten rid of the pain symptoms there. The circulatory symptoms are another matter — zombie-foot is a regular event.

My cat floats above me by quite a few inches, when he should be lying more or less on my abdominal muscles plus a blanket of padding.  It’s weird to have to reach so far up from my spine to pet him — my shoulder rotates much further in my cuff than I’d expect. I’m getting better at feeling my joints, and this is not exactly a positive feedback loop.

My upper arms keep catching against my sides. This is rather disorienting, since I’m improving my sense of my body in space and usually, when my arm catches on something, it means I need to increase the space between me and foreign object. There’s no foreign object. It’s just more of me. Weird.

I had a sway in my lower  back which I managed to straighten out awhile ago. Better spinal posture means less pain overall. So now I have a substantial, unstable weight hanging in front of my spine, which means I have to work my abdominal muscles really hard to pull it closer to my center of gravity so I can just stay in balance.

My abs are killing me. If I don’t use them, my lower back hurts me worse, so those abs are constantly on duty.

I give them a break and relax them when I sit down — and it’s like being on top of a balloon that inflates, as my stomach takes over the lower horizon.

balloons-innflating

I poke it curiously, wondering how far down I have to go to find the original outline. I give up at the second knuckle. Too discouraging.

When I sit in my car, my right hip brushes against the driver’s armrest.  First thought: I’m over too far to the right; my hip shouldn’t be near that. Wrong. I’m dead center. It’s my hip that has travelled far.

But there is an up-side. When I fold my hands together, I have a perfect armrest. Soooo comfortable. It’s like it was made for me!

And the stares I used to get — or rather, that my endocrine-disrupted DDD cups used to get? Gone. No wolf-whistles or dribble on the sidewalk from creepy slimebuckets who seem to think I should be delighted at their lack of self-command. Nobody’s goosed me or grabbed a feel in ages!

It’s very peaceful. Makes it a lot easier to feel at home in my own skin, not to be bracing for the next random invasion of privacy.

I’m no longer constantly holding a sharp elbow at the ready, to fend off some suddenly-clumsy dude who goggles briefly, with a word-balloon appearing above his head that says “are those real?”, then says “oops” and bumps into my pneumatic (and sensitive) form as if by mistake. I got so freakin’ tired of that!

Perhaps a leather vest with spikes all around…

myvest_front_med

This, incidentally, is why so many women feel  comforted wearing a burka. It makes the wearer more sexually invisible and insulates her from much of this random predatory crap.

My fleshly burka. Take that, right-wing-nuts — of any religion. You don’t even WANT to control this.

And, in a huge relief to my CRPS-riddled body, nobody wants to slam into it now, either. Yesssss!

I’ve got to get that vest. I can’t, and don’t want to, keep the fleshly burka, but I have to find a way to manage the body-slams. Never again.

As for food… Here’s what I’ve learned for the current incarnation of CRPS endocrine/digestive ballyhoo:

– No grains of any kind. No lentils or beans.
– No dairy, except small amounts of hard cheese — the protein sufficiently altered that I can handle it in small doses.
– No sugar at all, but more unrefined stevia.
– I’ll have to get kefir “grains” and make my own water-kefir. I have some ideas for that.

I still have most of the world of nontoxic produce, nuts, and meat from healthy animals to sit down to. There are worse things… It isn’t cheap, but I’m learning where to shop. And it sure tastes good.

P.S. You want what?? Measurements, weight, photographs? They miss the point. I’m not looking at me, I’m looking from me.

I’m not comparing myself to anyone or anything. This is simply the view from inside. Hope it’s worth a laugh or two 🙂

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Recipe: Even Brain Food Shakes evolve

As my digestion has gotten more frail, I’ve had more and more trouble with my Brain Food shake.
 
I went to a powder, because organic kale was hard to find and unwieldy,  and the nonorganic kind smells like a chemist’s armpit. And was still unwieldy.
 
But those shakes still hit my stomach like a cannonball.
 
J listened to me complain for the second day in a row and said, “Don’t eat fruits and vegetables together. Of course it’s impossible to digest.”
 
I stared at him a moment. “I used to know that,” I said with chagrin.
 
That was over a month ago and I think I’ve finally figured out how to make the greens taste like something other than pond.
 
So here are the current incarnations of my Brain Food Shakes, the simplest way to get maximum nutrition with minimal effort:
 
Morning Shake:
 
– 1/4 pound Trader Joe’s frozen Wild Boreal Blueberries (high anthocyanins, low toxins)
– heaping soupspoon almond butter (good oil, protein, minerals) (TJ’s is cheapest)
– Cal-mag supplement (for nerve transmission, teeth and bones; 1 tablespn Lifetime brand, blueberry flavor)
– 1/8 tsp clove powder (massive antioxidants, calms nerve pain, and I love clove)
– ~3 oz apple juice concentrate (malic acid helps clear cellular detritus)
– stevia (stabilizes blood sugar, cuts any lingering bitterness)
 
Whizz it until the flakes of blueberry skin are more or less uniform and quite small.
 
I’ve recently added:
 
– fat pinch of schizandra berries (massive antioxidants, seems to stabilize neurotransmitter behavior; whole berries take extra time in the blender)
– lecithin (improves digestibility and oil uptake)
 
Once everything’s whizzed down smooth, I add at the last minute:
 
– 1/2-3/4 cup blueberry kefir (I really like Lifeway brand, blueberry or plain)
 
The point of blenderizing is to chop open those cells so the nutrition is easy to get to, but with kefir or yogurt, the cells only work if they’re intact. So I whizz in kefir just until blended, maybe 2 seconds.
 
I mix in blackberries and fresh local berries when I can. On the road, I use dried currants, which are an overlooked “antioxidant powerhouse”, in modern marketing lingo. They can make the sweetness overwhelming, though.
 
This afternoon (fruit is more appropriate in the morning, veg in the afternoon) I tried something like this:
 
Afternoon Shake:
 
– Vegetable juice (TJ’s Garden Patch, but I’m open to suggestions)
– Scoop of green powder (I get distinct results from Garden of Life brand Perfect Food Raw; brain really perks up)
– 1/4-1/2 an avocado (cleans up blood vessels, great oil)
– 2 handfuls chopped kale (most nutritious veg per calorie; thanks to TJ’s for taking the work out of prepping organic kale)
– 1 handful sliced cabbage (sulfur for brain, glutathione precursor; also, does something magical to the kale so it tastes smooth and mild)
– salt (reduces ANS/POTS symptoms of dizziness and wonky bp)
– lecithin
– 1-2 individual grains of Epsom salt, a.k.a. magnesium sulfate (sulfur for the brain, magnesium for nerve transmission and electrolyte balance)
– water enough to make it go
 
Has a wonderfully fresh, pleasingly grownup flavor. A bit of cilantro, onion and lemon, and you could call it gazpacho.
 
I’m considering a pinch of curry powder, for the antiinflammatory circumin and that wonderful taste. It doesn’t need it, but it could add a bit of variety. 
 
I’ve often said that it HAS to taste good, or I won’t be able to keep doing it. And, since I test regularly (that is, try to do without), I know I have to keep doing it.
 
And as long as it tastes this good, I’m happy to do so.
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Changing the glass, resetting limits

I have to resurrect a set of rules I thought I’d gotten past:
 
– No internet before noon.
– No more than 2 hours daily for all internet activity: email, FaceBook, Twitter, research, posting and illustrating blogs.
– This includes surfing on the phone.
 
I will be moving upstairs to a brighter apartment that’s arranged better for two. J still plans to move in come September, so I’m grabbing the opportunity while it’s there.
 
For the past several months I’ve been learning to notice and deal constructively with signals from body and brain. Part of the reality of this is, there’s a ton of backlog to sort out.
 
This is significant, partly due to CRPS and partly to the nature of last year, which was an ongoing festival of upheaval:
 
– Got SSDI.
– Had to save life of same friend twice in three months.
– Sold my boat/home.
– Moved 3 times.
– Travelled for 6 months at a stretch.
– Started an important romantic relationship.
– Had 2 serious threats hanging over my own life.
 
It’s not good for the ANS, all this excitement.  I’m not personally opposed to eventfulness, it’s just really hard on my regulatory systems. Given similar situations, I’d probably have to do similar things, but it’s time to chill the h#11 out now.
 
I’m moving and it makes my lizard brain howl — if lizards can howl.
 
I’m moving upstairs,  not far at all. And it’ll be safer — you can’t even find it from the road. It’ll be brighter and quieter. The paint scheme is far more cheery and pleasant.
 
But I’m moving, and at some level, that’s an absolute… That is, an absolute brain-fogging mess of suppressed fight-or-flight response and irrational despair. It’s seriously altering how well and how long I can think… changing the water level in my current glass, so to speak.
 
Packing my few things is not a physically imposing task,  but moving at all is a brain-crippling one, apparently.
 
I still have to maintain my care schedule, keep appointments and stay caught up (-ish) on laundry and groceries, none of which is optional.
 
When my adrenals are under stress, my brain gets quickly exhausted, especially in the morning. According to my old acupuncturist, that’s a classic diagnostic indicator. Cognition is linked to adrenal function, he says.
 
The thing to do is go with it, and not make decisions or try to parse communications until the whole system has had a chance to wake up and get moving. Thoroughly.
 
So, out of respect for my brain’s needs, I’ll be spending my mornings playing with the kitten and catching up on my bookshelves, instead of being online.
 
Oh gee, isn’t that tough 🙂
 
And when I’ve moved in and gotten the new place under control, with no intention of moving again until I’ve got a “forever home” to go to, I’ll find out just how resilient this brain really is and see what parameters make sense then.
 
Until then, the online world will go on with, at most, 2 hours a day of attention from me — for research, social networking, web page managing,  and posting & illustrating blogs.
 
We’ll manage just fine.
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Half-glassed — a metaphor for flexibility

We all know the old trope: half full, or half empty?

I worked at Borland, which means, I worked with highly capable engineers who were accustomed to doing things right. I once got a very friendly, but very earnest, lecture about the half-glass phenomenon: the point is not whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.

The problem is, the glass was not designed for that amount of water. You either have to fill the glass,

… or use a vessel that’s designed to hold that quantity.

The whole half-glass thing drives them crazy. It’s not a matter of attitude, it’s just bad design!

I love engineers. There’s something adorable about the way they storm the gates of Accuracy, convinced it’s the same as Truth.

At first glance, that attitude looks silly at times. On deeper thought, they’re usually right.

I was thinking about the engineering approach to the half-glass issue, while my subconscious was still bathed in reflections on Rosalie.

I realized that the engineering approach is exactly what those of us with crippling disease have to do: our glasses, our outward lives, were designed to hold a lot more than we’ve got right now.

We either have to build up what we have to put into it, or we need to use a smaller glass. A significant disparity between what our lives can hold, and what they do hold, is depressing. They need to match up better.

Rosalie alternated, and I think all of us with chronic disease (and determination) do that as well. Sometimes we can build ourselves up, and expand what we can put into that glass; sometimes we adjust our expectations and commitments, making the glass smaller so that the contents fit.

I like this image, because it reminds me that I can do either thing. When pushing against my limits doesn’t work, when I really can’t get another drop of water into that glass, I can pull back my expectations and switch to a smaller glass.

By now, I have mental cupboards full of wildly mismatched drinkware – a glass for every occasion, for every level of function so far.

The one on the right is for when my hands don’t work.

“My cup runneth over” takes on a new meaning now, doesn’t it? When it does, I’ll reach for a bigger glass.

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Moving is hard anyway

Intermittently, this page is getting redirected (the Back button usually takes you back to this blog) and Google is becoming more and more problematic. It’s like their old adage of “Don’t be evil” is fading into the mists of time, along with Borland C++ and proper punctuation.

I’ll be switching my active blogs to new URLs, but don’t worry, I intend to redirect this link myself (take that, hackers!) to the new link.

It’ll be good.

In the meantime, I’m in geek hell. If I could remember more from my software-career days, I’d be in much better shape, but I have to relearn a bunch of basic stuff with a CRPS-riddled brain.

Yeah. It’s a ball.

So there’s some blood, sweat, tears, and probably no further posts until this is sorted out, but then (I hope) things will be even better and easier and cleaner than before. 

Those of you much-cherished people who’ve subscribed via email, I’d love to be able to port your subscriptions myself, but we might have to do that the old-fashioned way. There will definitely be a way to sign up again on the new page.

Wish me luck, patience, insight, and adequate brains…

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Breathing

Sooner or later, it all comes back to breathing.

Without adequate breath, obviously, nothing else matters. As a sometime ER nurse and continuing asthmatic, I’m more than usually aware of that fact.

I mean something beyond that, though. Something more pervasive.

Breathing, like walking, is one of those things that I keep coming back to as an interesting study — one that’s so fundamental that I forget, in between times, exactly how deeply it changes everything else in life.

I first began meditating in my very early teens, after basic instruction from my mother:

1. Think of a simple, unemotional mental image, like a burning candle flame, and breathe.
2. As thoughts come and go, let them go (sometimes, especially at first, I had to chase them off) then…
3. Bring your attention back to the image and the breath.

The image didn’t do me much good – I think fire is a little too emotional for me – but simply being at home to my breath, and letting the haywire-ness of the day drift off into the mist… with my odd and beguiling little cat softly nestled against my leg under the covers… did me all the good in the world. Especially at 13.

The language of breath is interesting. Breath, spirit, life, and insight often share the same word or sounds in languages around the world. For instance, in English, “inspiration” means both a breath, and a sudden idea; the root word means spirit. There is no divide between these ideas.


(Life, breath, spirit, ideas… how can these be separated? How can a life worth living, let alone a bearable life, let alone a pulse, exist without all of them?)

As I said, I’ve been breathing intentionally for decades. In my 20’s, I taught my ER and ICU patients a particular form of breathing which, I’d noticed, cut their pain response, lowered their blood pressure, and improved the level of oxygen in their blood — no matter what they came in with.

In 3 breaths the difference was noticeable, and if I could persuade them to take 10, we were halfway home.

It goes like this:

1. Breathe in through your nose.

2. Draw the breath all the way down into your lower abdomen.

3. Let it out through gently pursed lips, like softly blowing out a birthday candle.

4. Repeat.

The abdominal breathing improves lung expansion. The slight backpressure on the exhalation nudges extra oxygen into the system (the importance of oxygen can’t be overstated, especially in emergencies) and sends a gentle message to the blood-pressure sensors in the neck, telling them to lower pressure.

This kind of breathing activates the “calm down” part of the central nervous system, that is, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

The extra oxygen helps clear some of the oxidative damage away.

It feels wonderful.

And it always works.

(Clinical note: for people with COPD, I did 2-3 breaths, and checked in. As with most adults with a chronic disease, they could generally be trusted to sense their limits and stop. Youngsters soon learn, though very few youngsters have COPD.)

Recently, I’ve learned a slightly different technique from the same psychologist I mentioned in my last post…

1. Notice my breathing. That’s all. Let everything calm down for a bit.

2. Draw the breath into my abdomen.

3. Gradually increase the size of those abdominal breaths.

4. Let the midchest join in, getting still more air in. Exhale from the top down.

5. Eventually, let air into my abdomen, then midchest, then upper chest — inhaling from the bottom up. My lungs are pretty fully expanded in the inhale now, and I still exhale from the top down.

6. I tell myself: My arms are heavy and warm. Soon, they are.

7. I tell myself: My legs are heavy and warm. Soon, they are.

8. I tell myself: My lower abdomen is warm and relaxed. The whole bowl of my pelvis becomes a sea of lovely calm. (I had no idea how much standing tension was stored there, at the bottom of the spine and where all the exits are — though it makes sense, when I think about it…)

9. Then I stop contriving my breathing, and let it just flow.

After about 15 minutes, well, life is good. Really good. Talk about activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

I’ve forgotten what else I was going to say. I want to be that peaceful and warm right now.

Oh yeah. The point is this:

Breathing well makes everything better.

It shouldn’t be that simple, but it is.

Excuse me. My limbs need to be heavy and warm… In a good way.

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