The sheer activity of Epsom salt baths

Taking a day to rest has been just the thing.Now here’s what I mean when I say, “I took an Epsom bath…” And I’m sorry to say that getting images loaded will have to wait for another day, so use your imaginations for now 🙂

Nearly all motels have a bathtub. I consider this essential. They’re small, but adequate. With a swipe of cleanser and a quick rinse, I’ve found all of them usable so far.

I should add that baths are not essential to Epsom treatment for CRPS. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve used, with a degree of success which not only included the targeted limb but also improved CRPS for me generally:

  • I’ve immersed my arms in an Epsom solution in a sink or basin. This is great when I’m not up to a bath, but I’m too chilly to sit around with wet limbs. I lean into the basin, with sleeves all the way up, and slosh and slosh and just soak it up. I’ve found that not only does it help my arms, but the relief goes up through my shoulders, down my back, and even my feet feel better after doing this with my arms for 15 minutes or so, 20 minutes if I can stand there that long.
  • When the dysautonomia is being REALLY bratty, I sit with a basin of Epsom solution and a tea towel nearby, and simply wipe the bothersome limb, stroking from healthy area to painful/spasming/misbehaving area, with the same mental chants I describe below…

Both of these strategies work extremely well. Many of us are accustomed to sink baths, and it’s no harder than that — easier, because rinsing is optional.

Temperature – the first consideration

People with chronic CRPS have two substantial issues that affect bath temperature: wonky signals to the circulatory system, and screwy temperature regulation.

Hot baths are a thing of the past. They aren’t good to me any more.

I like a bath that’s just a few degrees warmer than the temperature that feels like nothing on your skin. That seems to provide the best results.

I find chlorine to be counterproductive, so I let it go first. I run the tub a little hot, with the fan on, and leave the room for 5-10 minutes until most of the chlorine dissipates. (This really works.) Then I adjust the temperature.

MgSO4, my ally

I’ve gone up to using about 2 pounds of Epsom salt for one bath. That’s about a third of the 6 pound bag, costing between $3.50 and $6.50, depending on where you buy them. I used to use a cup or two, but I really get better results with a stronger solution.

The process

Remember, this is about re-regulating and re-normalizing, so leaping into the bath and getting busy is the wrong thing to do!

Going one step at a time and persuading my body to stabilize at each point is how the process works.

So I take a couple minutes to just sink into it, let the mottling pattern on my lower body and arms fade, and get some circulation going to my overworked skin.

I brush over all my limbs with my hands, introducing them to the idea of tactile input, and how that should go. This is an important first step, because the touch of a hand wet with Epsom solution is softer than silk, and it’s important to start with the most positive possible sensations. This helps de-alarm your central nervous system as well as re-acquaint your skin with the world. This is supposed to start, and end, as a definitely positive experience. In between, there might be some work.

When working on such deep and challenging health issues, it’s important to set yourself up for success whenever possible!

Back to our bath.

Nearly all motels have washcloths with a nice scrubby texture. The soft kind that you get in the bath and body store feels to me like turgid gelatin, soaking up a lot of soap and doing very little in the way of exfoliation – which is what I used to use washcloths for.

Now, it’s all about renormalization – or, to use the standard allopathic medical term, desensitization.

Leave it to medicine to make returning to normal sound like something bad!

I start with the soles of my feet. If yours are too sensitive to touch, start where you can touch. Remember, set your body up for success. This second pass distinguishes between contact on the surface and underneath, which are two different sensory realms. The first thing I do is go underneath, to the tissues below the surface of my feet, in a gentle and encouraging way.

I hold the washcloth in my open hand, using a big, squishing gesture.

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With that big gesture, and a certain amount of gentle elbow grease, I reassure the soles of my feet that they’re doing fine. Once they start sending appropriate signals of touch and motion, I work around the foot and up my ankles.

Using the washcloth in one hand, and nothing in the other, I alternate strokes, soothing the frazzled burning sensation left by the terrycloth with the silkiness of Epsom water in my palm. The frazzled sensation eases off gradually.

I don’t just notice what the sensations are from my skin, I tell that part of me what the sensations ought to be:
It’s just terrycloth. There’s no burning here. It’s just terrycloth. It should feel pleasantly scrubby, nothing more.

Every now and then, I move the washcloth to a part of my body that still thinks terrycloth is just terrycloth, and give myself a brief demonstration. That seems to help.

Once the signals start calming down a bit, I can go deeper. My calves take a little extra care. I start on the left, and it feels like a hunk of plastic. I tell it to calm down – in firm, maternal, authoritative tones – and go squish my right calf instead. When my right calf and shin are sending nice, normal signals of terrycloth texture in motion, I go back to my left calf, reassuring it that you can be normal, you know perfectly well what that feels like, there you go, you can do it.

Firm, yet loving, maternal tones are hard to resist. It’s a great re-progamming tool for bringing your brain closer to normal.

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Eventually, my left calf loses that awful dense feeling and starts to feel like a leg again.

The next step is to address the surface sensations on up the rest of me.

I coach my skin not to send sparkling messages of hot and cold where the washcloth goes, but just the sensation of terrycloth rubbing moderately over skin, and that that’s okay and the right thing to do.

I work my way up my legs, paying attention to the major nerve path and the major muscle groups (always with big, squishy gestures, not too challenging, but very tissue-mobilizing.)

I go back to my knees a couple of times, where the main effort is to mobilize the circulation and draw away the swelling.

I work on my low back and hips until the inclination to spasm turns off. I tell them to take it easy, just let go, you’ll know when it’s time to contract, now settle down.

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Then I lean forward to dip my arms and work on them, with somewhat gentler gestures. Since I can’t remember just what normal sensation is there, I look for overall warmth and better mobility in my forearms, with touch signals as close to normal as we can get.

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Part of the idea, obviously, is not only to re-normalize my skin as much as possible, but to improve surface circulation, so that as much magnesium as possible can be taken up by the troubled tissues.

Once I have squishy-massaged my arms from fingertips to collarbones, I do a quick scrubby pass on my back (where I used to get symptoms, and don’t want anymore)…

And then I get the Calgon experience, lying back in a warm bath, feeling alive and remarkably well, with nothing to do but enjoy myself until the water cools.

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Speaking to my brain in a way it can’t ignore

Health professionals dress it up in fancy words, but this is what brain plasticity boils down to: our brains take in messages that are so simple and so primal they slide in below the level of words. The way to push back against that plasticity and make it go the way you want, is to address your brain in ways that are simple, primal, and slide in below the level of words – even if you use words at the time. Even in spoken exchanges, remember, 90% of the communication is nonverbal. This is true when we talk to ourselves, as well as others.

With enough persistence, and a persuasive enough message, the brain can be re-reshaped.

Since so much of CRPS’s maintenance relates to the brain having been reshaped in a distorted way, part of the task is to reshape it into a healthier structure.

Dr. S. V. Ramachandran’s work on mirror therapy and lens therapy for people with amputations and other limb pain problems led the way in brain plasticity work, highlighting the very powerful (and nonverbal) effect of visual input on brain remapping.

There are several other ways to do this, including forms of brain retraining such as hypnosis, biofeedback, meditation, specific and clear visualization of painless movement (which, if done clearly enough, can cause brain activity nearly identical to the real thing) – and, naturally, using tones of parental imperative with your own sensations.

Speaking to my body in tones of loving maternal authority, I find, is remarkably persuasive.

Why I start deep and work my way out

I find that it’s often easier to start with deep tissues and then address the surface issues. It sounds weird, but it’s often easier for me to get past the surface sensations when I’m reaching into the muscle and fascial layers, and then, when the deeper tissues are responsive and the blood is flowing through them again, it’s a lot easier and more productive to work out the surface sensations.

Conversely, if I start with the surface sensations, I may not get far enough to be able to dig in to release and mobilize the deeper tissues. Getting halfway through surface pain leaves my body a lot more sensitive to intrusions than just charging in and starting with the deeper tissues.

On the other hand, there are times when the surface simply has to be dealt with, or there’s no chance of getting to the deeper tissues. My left calf was like that when I first wrote this, though it has improved a lot since then.

YMMV. Each of us is different. That is part of what makes CRPS so interesting, and at the same time so darn hard to treat.

Physical issues

In mobilizing tissue, the washcloth provides traction against my skin, so I hardly have to use any hand strength at all. This is important, because if I had to rely on my grip to get hold of the tissues, this would be totally out of the question.

The water neutralizes a lot of gravity, so it’s easier to control a limb you’re massaging. I can squish the muscles with either one hand or two, boof them against the bone, and jostle them around.

I can mobilize a lot of tissue with very little effort, if I use a washcloth in the bath.

I figure I should spend at least a solid 20 min. in the tub, to absorb as much as possible of the magnesium, the warmth, and the chance to melt all the little knots out of my brain. It’s not a bad prescription. Not bad at all. There is always considerable improvement, and sometimes it makes me feel almost completely well.

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I’ll take it and be grateful

I’m happy to say that it has been an otherwise fairly uneventful day. I’ll have to repair the male connector that activates Oliphaunt’s tail-lights, but it’s taped up and will do until I’m somewhere warmer and hurting less.

Heading South was a good move. It was bitterly cold on I-80. It’s getting more bearable every 50 miles.

I’ve discovered that not only stopping every hour and stretching, but running in place for a few minutes — until my whole body starts getting warm — really makes a difference. 

Exercise not only improves circulation and oxygenation, it helps stabilize the autonomic nervous system. This is my substitute for a 20 minute walk at every break, which is rarely realistic at highway rest stops.

I got 4 hours of driving time today, which was my target amount. Considering I’m in hard recovery from the previous 36 hours, that’s pretty good!

Well away from Pennsylvania’s peculiarly slimy water, here in roaring downtown Ashland, Ohio (you can blink without missing it, but don’t blink twice, or you might),  I’m curled up in a rather luscious little Super 8. (I did say my needs are simple…)

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The bath overflow is halfway up the tub, leaving a depth suitable for a footsoak. I tied a couple of loosely folded tissues into the plastic bag they leave in the ice bucket, stuffed it into the overflow gap, and it blocked it completely.

I put about a pound and a half (~3 kg) of epsom salt into the bath, and had a looooovely warm bath. My spine and hips and legs and arms are sooooooo much happier now, and I can bear to be inside my left leg. The thought of doing it again tomorrow is bearable, and that’s all I ask.

My sweetie is safe and well, my last lovely hostess’s internet is up and running, and I am warm and at rest. Life is good.

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Not what I expected today

I got bitten by a deer tick right before leaving Massachusetts.

Lyme disease is, of course, something CRPSers are susceptible to, so I took it seriously, especially when the head popped off when we tried to remove it.

A two-tone rash quickly rose and fell with much hot salt water, but it rose again last night and I woke up this morning feeling glandular.

I found an urgent care clinic, called to make sure they take Medicare, and put it on my list of errands on my way out of Scarsdale. I returned one thing, picked up another, stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up lots of kefir to help with the antibiotic impact, and pulled over at an AT&T shop because my newly-activated Galaxy S3 phone wasn’t behaving well — and wasn’t surfing at all.

(Mine is white.)

Two hours and a great deal of work later, I walked out with a phone I now know is not as unlocked as Negri Electronics said it was (it will soon be available on eBay, once I know what carrier it can use) and a brand new Galaxy S3.

The very capable and helpful young lady who got me sorted out gave me a tip that is probably worth what I’ve lost on the phone: Never buy anything that matters from a company that doesn’t have a customer service phone number on their web site.

What a simple, brilliant filter. No customer service phone number = no interest in staffing for customer service. Do you want any problems dealt with in a rational manner, or not?

The good news is, these phones are so hot I probably won’t lose all that much on my original purchase price.

Then I went to the address of the clinic, according to Google Maps, and there was no clinic there. In fact, nobody at the Family Center had any idea about it. I  should have taken the secretary up on her offer to give me directions, if only to check the address…

I wanted to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge (yes, those of you from anywhere else, that’s the right name) before the construction started tonight. So I did a search for hotels and motels on the other side.

They’re all full, probably with hurricane refugees, and the least expensive room I could find was double what I have budgeted for a single night’s lodging. Most of them were quadruple that.

It was getting below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and very dark. I called my hostess and turned back to Scarsdale.

Safe, warm and fed, this is beginning to look less awful.

It really brings home to me the pointlessness of taking plans too seriously. The linear approach has only ever yielded average results for me, at best; I can only excel in a more seat-of-the-pants kind of way.

It’s hard to accept, because it’s — wow — really, really difficult to start something when you have absolutely no idea what the finish might be, and are necessarily vague about even the next step.

The blind leap is exceptionally challenging, especially with a hotwired fight-or-flight response thanks to dysautonomia.

Try it blindfolded, with live wires stuck in your brain…

But I did get down that birth canal all those years ago, and that was the quintessential one-way leap into the void.

After that, any other trip oughta be a piece of cake. Right? Even if you have to start it twice.

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Oliphaunt, the Thule Frog

Those of you on the central coast of California know that tule fog is what comes in when it’s hot inland and cool on the ocean. If you live there long enough, you can’t keep saying “fog” so — especially if your housemate is whimsical — you wind up using “frog” as a euphemism when it’s froggy out.

I couldn’t possibly get all my clothing, tech, and kitchenry into Henrietta and still leave room for a sleeping Isy, and a rooftop carrier would kill the mileage and my arms, so I had to come up with an alternative…

I stopped at ProLine in Wallingford, CT since they sell this, which is a cargo carrier with 3 features I really need: an accessible height, plenty of space, and a swing-arm so I don’t have to fight with the box to get to the back of the car.

It turns out that Stowaway ships direct from their warehouse on the other coast, but they had a slightly smaller Thule carrier. I asked to look at it to see if it would suffice. I thought it would, after measuring and peering and playing with the lid a bit…

Then it turned out they didn’t have the swing-arm version… but as he said so, I saw wheels starting to turn. Rather than dashing off, I explained a bit about why I needed it (“my hands don’t work so well; I can’t handle the Transporter’s drop-down hinge”) and stated rather baldly that, without the swingarm, I was screwed.

He said he might have the swingarm itself from a Thule Terrapin (which they discontinued for some silly reason.) He thought there was a spare one lying around somewhere, for some reason, and if the holes lined up…

There was.

And the holes lined up.

And it wound up costing less than my Plan A.

And, bless his heart, he got out a drill, put the whole thing together for me, and popped the monster into place.

Its gaping mouth… its long leggy swing… its sheer enormity…

Meet Oliphaunt, the Thule Frog:

The answer to my prayers.

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Different souls, one world

I’m intrigued by how different the characteristic of integrity looks on different people.

My car’s detailing is being supervised by a very Catholic chaplain who really doesn’t lie, really does respect others, really does care about his world, and really does put his time, life and energy into working for the greater good. He’s pleasant and charming in a comfortable way, and his whole demeanor is slightly aglow. He’s a man on a mission, and it’s one that coheres with his best innermost self.

Obviously, what comes next is about the general perception of certain groups — not individual or local impressions, but the wider impression that history, actions/consequences, and the publicity about them, have left in the public mind…

The Catholic church isn’t known these days for turning out coherent, stable, disciplined characters, so it’s really good to meet one.

Lutheranism isn’t known for sweetness, and one of my uncles is both a devout Lutheran and one of the most kindly, gentle, nonjudgmental people I’ve ever met. It really works for him.

Atheism isn’t known for consideration, yet this culture of argument which so often defines itself in terms of opposition has turned out some of the most resolutely practical, inspiring and embracing activist-philosophers of any creed in this age.

It’s possible to go on for some time, but let’s take a moment to realize that all belief systems look a little odd from the outside, despite the fact that living a belief system is a seriously powerful thing to do. It’s one of the great ironies of humanity.

I suspect it’s a clue: it matters on the inside, but shouldn’t matter on the outside. Being responsible to our own internal structure (respecting our own uniqueness) makes sense, but trying to push our framework onto others (disrespecting the uniqueness of others) does not.

Decency and moral stature don’t belong to any one belief, but they do belong to the human race. Each of us is at least as different in our inmost selves as we are in our outward lives. When you think about it, it would be impossible — bizarre and irrational — for us all to believe the same way.

Anyone who finds a path — whether well-defined or idiosyncratic — that gives them, in their uniqueness, real strength and purpose holds a great gift and a powerful tool.

I no longer fear the differences of belief and it’s been a long time since I held any in contempt, but I’ve taken a step back to simply admire and appreciate them, filled with joy tinged with awe.

We are an astoundingly diverse species, inside and out. Such an abundance of different ways to be should make us fitter than ever to handle anything. When we enjoy and admire our variety, rather than fretting over it, I’ve noticed that that’s exactly what happens: together, we can handle anything.

After we had done the paperwork, this chaplain and I continued our conversation and I wound up telling him about the purpose of this trip, the reason I was dropping scarce money on prepping my car.

As I did so, I felt my own coherence of integrity coming into focus, the energetic union of innermost self and outer reality.

And I realized: I’m on a mission. Regardless of my own outcome, I’m certain now of leaving the world better for my feeble but determined efforts.

This radiant chaplain is going to pray for me and my work. The science shows that prayer and meditation correlate to better outcomes, regardless of the forms used. To bring the science back to life and into specifics, I know that the prayers of someone so coherently devout are powerful help.

I’m a handicapped woman on a mission which is technically impossible. But now, I do have a prayer 🙂

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Regen at Black Butte

I came to CA for a leisurely camping trip with my sweetie. (One can have enough of the “long-distance” in a “relationship” until you have to cut some slack on one or the other. I chose the former.)

I landed in the fiery heart of an explosive crisis in his life, but one thing that nursing and 10 years of serious illness have taught me is, other people’s crises are not mine. It frees me up to have all the empathy in the world, without losing my own balance. (Much… :-))

Our idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do has turned into … an idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do, but a lot more to talk about.

We wound up at Black Butte Country Store and Camping, …

The store as you approach through the intersection.

…run by his old pals Tom and Margie, a charming and hospitable couple who came up from the East Bay – so they know damn well they’re onto a really good thing here. Margie’s smile just won’t quit, and that kind of says it all.

We’re at the juncture of Black Butte and the Middle Fork of the Eel River, a far corner of a protected and remote swathe of the simple life called Round Valley.

This phone is getting old, but it still shows how blue the sky is.

We’re in the shadow of the Mendocino National Forest, recently the site of a huge wildfire. You can see where the charring and scarring stop at the top of the hill right across the street. A huge sign in front of the store thanks the firefighters in letters over a foot high.

Everyone here is REALLY fond of the fire service now.

 There’s very little cell signal (neither JC nor I get phone-joy), only a few radio stations come through at all, and the only wifi is at the store run by the campground owners, a 5 minute walk from the site. This is a huge bonus: the low levels of EM radiation are letting me cope with the stress and the dietary compromises perfectly well. 

Good for neurons and what they control.

I even drank half a soda yesterday, and hardly felt a thing… In other times and other places, I’d have paid for that for 3 days. At least.

The grill (closed on Wednesdays) serves fresh local natural beef and incredible salads. Really good greens with just enough dressing and the lovely smokey meat of your choice. The convenience store is pretty small, but the coolers are packed with everything from coconut water through Naked juice to conventional sodas all the way to the rankest beer you’d hate to find.

They’re perfectly happy to make me a gluten-free sandwich wrapped in that lovely lettuce.

You can’t see the sandwich, which covered the whole plate, cuz I ate it.

On our first night, the full moon rose directly over our feet, waking us both out of our first doze to stare at the radiant spot on the tent wall in bleary wonder for at least a minute, wondering who turned on such a damn great light at that hour.  JC finally stuck his head out and told me what it was, and we both had to laugh.

The air is absolutely pure. Each evening, the spotless sunset gets punctuated by exactly one contrail, a screaming streak of orange across a melting sky of peach, green and sixteen shades of blue.

Since the moon rises later and smaller every day (and as we get caught up on our rest, able to stay up past dark!), last night we got a full hour of gazing at the Milky Way and the million million stars I never get to see.

Photo collage: TwTunes at www.digitalsky.com

Casseiopea and the Big Dipper wheeled overhead with a-a-all their lovely autumn cohorts, as familiar and ever-present as old friends.

At the time of our visit, there was a breathtaking piece on show from local artist (and Santa  Cruz transplant) Lynn Zachreson. The link goes to her web page but, of course, online photos can’t do justice to her brush control, delicate textural discrimination, or authoritative use of color. Look her up; it’s worth it.

There’s a gorgeous swimming hole a few minutes’ walk up the pike, sinking deep around great boulders of white chalcedony. Healthy-sized fish nibble your legs if you hold still long enough, and the water is perfect on one of these bakingly hot afternoons.

The water is a lot bluer once you’re in.

JC says the weather can change in a minute here (this old New Englander reserves judgement) but we’ve had a glorious run of unseasonably hot, clear weather with deliciously cool, clear nights.

This illness is hugely responsive to nutrition, air quality, and man-made radiation. In most far-flung places, the produce is dodgy and tends to look (and taste) second-hand; you can’t get good food and good air waves without a lot of advance planning and a huge cooler.

This place was a total find, and for those of you who really care about things like air, food and EM smog, it doesn’t get much better than this. Especially at these prices.

It’s absolutely outstanding.

And you can bring your horses! There’s a black and a bay here who’ve kept us endlessly amused.

Being around JC has always knocked back my pain and increased my strength since we first met, before we ever thought of getting together. He’s obviously got his own electrical field or something. Between his company and the clear and deliciously benevolent environment here, I’m stronger after a few days than I’ve been in some weeks.

I’d thought of this as a side-trip to squeeze in, before I got on with my serious healing junket… but it’s looking like an ideal start, instead. I wound up landing on my feet, and I am grateful.

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The Hot Cocoa of Peace


I’m thoroughly enjoying a cup of cocoa made by an excellent friend, warmly mulling another cocoa and another excellent friend.

C and I met at the American school in Cairo, Egypt, in the mid-1970’s, and I share this story with her kind permission. I had just moved there and she had just come over from the German school, where she had spent her first five years of school. Her mother was English, a working artist, and her father was American — although his English accent seemed slightly stronger than his wife’s – teaching drama and English at the University.

C told me something which, in this era of rising intolerance and martial rage, gets more interesting all the time…

At the German school, they had cocoa with their morning break. At that time, at least, German children took their cocoa without sugar – more like coffee, really, but milkier and easier on the adrenals. But, every day at 10:30, one of the staff would bring out, on a little silver salver, a sugar bowl and a small spoon, just for the one child who was used to having her cocoa sweet.

It’s a simple story with a lot behind it.

This was less than 30 years after Germany had succumbed to two bitter defeats — an internal one, when they collectively gave in to a meme of hatred and intolerance; and an external one, where they were eventually crushed — despite superior technology and better training — in an epic war.

We lived in a country that had been one of the pivotal battle-grounds of that war. Think of Rommel, the Desert Fox, or google El Alamein.

This one child was the product of their two most bitter recent enemies.  And they were both nuns and teachers, second only to nurses in their capacity for passive-aggressiveness, suppressed rage and murder with a smile.

The way they handled it was this: they taught her the same, scolded her the same, cared for her the same, made accommodations as she learned the language but expected her to finish her homework — and, every day, brought sugar on a little silver salver just for her, so she could mix exactly the right amount of sweetness into her cocoa.

It could have been seen as coddling, and there’s no question that C enjoyed the little feeling of specialness. It could have been seen to spoil her. Instead, it was a demonstration of — well — not just tolerance, not just accommodation, but of real graciousness and decency, a touch of comfort in a foreign environment, and a tiny gift of autonomy inside the regimented life of a strict school.

As it turns out, it was a lesson well learned, because C has always been one of the most gracious and utterly decent people I’ve ever met, while being wholly individual.

She’s also the most adept amateur historian I’ve ever even heard of, one who shows the real sensitivity and love in the word “amateur.” Hard not to be, growing up in such a place, with parents grabbing at life with both hands, as hers did.

But it’s hard for me not to think of an intelligent, middle-aged Teuton with an excellent memory, bringing a little Anglo girl sugar on a salver, without any fuss… and wonder what that added to the mix.

I sit here, wreathed in gentle steam, and wonder what it would take to share my cocoa with all this anguished world. It would be a better place indeed.

And I’d be happy to bring sugar on a salver to anyone who likes it.

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Into hot water.. then cold water.. then hot..

This is a bit odd and I haven’t heard anyone else with CRPS trying it, so I’m just tossing it out to show how weird things can be…

I’m cold intolerant. Absolutely can’t handle it. My body locks up and the pain goes all-body and through the roof.

Can’t take too much heat either; makes me weak and foggy, and can trigger POTS symptoms (in my case, that’s mostly nausea, bloating, dizziness, weakness, lethargy.)

My body temp drops so much when I sleep that I’m cold to the touch. A housemate woke me once when she touched me affectionately as I slept, then found I was so cold that she shook me awake — she wanted to be sure I wasn’t dying. That’s how cold I was.

My first massage therapist, a good friend of mine, insisted I try the hot/cold plunges at Harbin Hot Springs, which happen to be 47 F and 118 F.


I told him that was completely insane and did I need to explain dysautonomia again?

He kept at it, and I finally went there for a few days. I was in bad shape, one of those times when I think I’m not going to live for long because there’s so much that’s so wrong and there’s so little energy left. So there wasn’t much to lose, as far as I was concerned…

At least it’s not an ugly place.

Took two and a half days to work up to it, starting with cool bath/dry sauna, working up to going between intermediate baths, dipping in the really hot for moments, splashing arms then trunk with cold. Eventually I could go for the full plunge. I did 2 full exchanges, and was all right. In fact, I was pretty good. Felt crisp, not chewed.

I went back later and did at least 5 or 6 more (I lost count, truthfully.) By then, I could FEEL my hands and feet as I couldn’t remember having felt them before: exactly where and what and how they were — which was, keenly alive.

I had no pain, no pain anywhere at all, everything was the right color — only a much better shade than I’d seen in years, and my head felt as sparkly as a diamond.

I don’t like to sound over the top, but it was such a feeling of absolute, perfect, poised and healthy ecstasy that words simply fail in the face of that experience.

Being totally pain-free makes us CRPSers high, but this was more than that. Everything worked, from the tiniest microvessel to the least drop of chemical messenger. My cells sang with the bouyant joy of it.

I copyrighted this image… kinda cool. Think I’ll use it as a logo.

I went out to the main pool, actually enjoying the cold roughness of the path on my unharmed feet, and drifted into the “quiet zone”, that is, the temperate pool. Although it’s not etiquette to contact strangers there, an awful lot of people turned to look at me and smile the sweetest smiles. I can only imagine how radiantly happy I looked. I felt that I was glowing brightly enough to light the whole space.

According to my online research, there aren’t many hot springs that have contrast baths at all, let alone to that extreme degree. If they do, they’re awfully coy about it…

I have hopes of a particular roadside hot spring at Yellowstone National Park that runs into a chilly stream. In winter, which it nearly is, that could be worth trying, though it would take a bit of effort.

I’m not sure how slippery it is, what the currents are like, or what sort of work is involved to get from hot to cold. I do have to be mindful of physical damage, until I can really find that cure I’m convinced is just around some corner on my winding path.

We shall see what comes up. I know this is something to add to the repertoire, one of the ingredients to combine into a cure, or something like it.

One more piece of the puzzle… a twitchy, morphing, complex, incredibly irritating puzzle, but one I’m rather stuck with until further notice.

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One for the money, two for the show…

I suddenly got tired of waiting.

I do this: churn up a great idea, spin possibilities, lay in lots of groundwork, get cold feet, get reinspired, hammer down some details, fall apart completely, then say “oh the heck with it, who needs drama, let’s stop dithering and get this done” — and off we go. (Editorial “we” there.)

I’ve gotten nearly all the stuff that I need — vehicle, bedding, cooler, and a power inverter to charge the laptop with.

I’m making a custom map on Google Maps with airports from the halfway point on (in case I need to fly out to make my next doctor’s appointment), campgrounds and national parks along the way, and increments of no more than four hours of driving per day — aiming for one hour at a time, with lots of long breaks.

There is flex built into this that lets me stop for a couple of days when necessary, to rest and reboot. Some days I might drive only two hours, or one. I got my ticket on Southwest so I can change it for free. It’s all progress.

I’m driving across the temperate zone during harvest season, so getting my produce is less of an issue than it would be at any other time.

I’m fed up with the mess in my car so that’s great motivation to thin out and repack.

I found a wonderful site called http://www.reserveamerica.com/ which includes national parks, state parks, and KOA, among others. And there’s always Motel 6 for backup, if I really need walls and a door.

And I’m wondering why I’d delay getting better. I’m off to combine the healing factors I’ve looked into and spend enough time on them to make a lasting difference.

Or not.

In any case, it’s time to try. At least it will leave me in better shape for the winter — always the worst, hardest, bleakest time. Maybe this one will be better..

Let’s find out.

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Remembering and re-membering

I’ve been doing intensive massage and craniosacral therapy for the past few weeks. I’m reminded, of course, that the neurological system extends throughout: bodies have memories. (There is some confusion about how those memories are stored. We’ll figure it out eventually.)

This, in turn, reminds me that the brain is malleable. CRPS changed it,

and if I’m thorough enough, persistent enough, and clever enough, I might be able to change it again.

Persuading the brain to remap itself is a remarkable process, because the brain uses the language of vision and metaphor and it responds most strongly to longing and fear. (This is one reason why mythology is so helpful, given the right story: myths tend to have powerful visual metaphors and visceral emotional force.)

The brain is also a monument to inertia: once it has started going down a certain path, it’s very hard indeed to persuade it to change course. I find I have to be firm, focused, and relentless, and since I also have CRPS-related ADD and periods of unbelievable vacuousness, that’s tricky… (I’m working on how to construct a webpage that has all my tricks and routines easily accessible, so I don’t have to remember what to do when my memory is at its worst. It’s a heck of a design problem.)

One good way to access the central nervous system (CNS) in a way that specifically rebalances some of the most critical areas of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is through bodywork, like therapeutic massage and craniosacral therapy (these link to my providers — both warmly recommended.) Here are a few of the reasons why.

  • Humans, and other mammals, are hardwired to respond deeply to touch. The “safe touch” of good bodywork is profoundly soothing to the ANS, and since the ANS drives the multi-system dysregulation of chronic CRPS, this is a powerful thing.
  • The rocking motions of massage stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a lasting calming effect.
  • It releases endorphins, which reduces pain and brightens mood.
  • The tissue stimulation improves and stabilizes blood pressure and circulation, major factors with CRPS and dysautonomia.
  • Swelling goes down, as circulation is mobilized.
  • Hyperesthesia (pain to light touch) and allodynia (blunted sense of touch) improve because of something that clinicians call “desensitization”, a hostile sounding word which really means, “developing appropriate sensation.”
  • Hormones stabilize, perhaps due to the improved circulation and more stable ANS.
  • More stable hormones improve mood, reduce pain, and stabilize immune and inflammatory responses.

Therapeutic bodywork does all that. There is no pill or surgery in the world that can come close. Once I get my links sorted out, I’ll rewrite that for the medical blog. The value of good bodywork simply can’t be overstated.

A couple of weeks ago, during several treatments in a row, I had the curious sensation that my right arm and shoulder were being knitted back into my body. I hadn’t realized until then just how completely I had succeeded in shutting them out.

The still, quiet voice inside me indicated that dissociation should be intentional, purposeful, and temporary; if I wanted to be well, it could not be habitual. My inward guidance wasn’t telling me to stop dissociating (that is, mentally and emotionally separating myself from that part of my body), but to do so only when I needed to, to separate from too much pain.

Remaining dissociated is like disowning that part of my body, and I can’t persuade it to do anything when I’ve essentially cut it off. I need to persuade it to heal, and that’s a tall order.

During today’s craniosacral treatment (from the delightful and competent Sonja Sweeney), I remembered standing on the wall of my French-bed corner garden a few years ago, right before I fell off it and smashed my tailbone on the edge of a ramp. Pathetic lavender and dying weeds filled most of the bed, since I hadn’t gotten far with digging it up. Behind the glorious, fragrant, massive rosemary against the back edge, a 20-year-old growth of climbing roses spilled green and pink everywhere.

I had just completed a course of treatment that put my insides in the best shape they’d been in years. My stomach no longer bothered me, I was healthier and stronger, my stamina was better, and I was still inside the five-year mark with RSD.

What’s interesting is that, during this treatment, I was remembering the moment right before I got injured, not right after. My eyes were filled with roses and my nose with rosemary, and I was sketching out great plans for my bit of garden.

As I walked away after my treatment, that quiet inward voice said, “Remember pre-injury, not post injury. Remember that.”

It had to start with the rosy garden, because before the CRPS injury, I was working at Borland and was so involved with my work (which I loved) that I really had no idea how magnificently fit my body was, by the time I got injured. I simply didn’t notice it.

I enjoyed the activities of riding to work and running miles through the redwoods, but when I thought of my body, it was to criticize function, appearance, or both. (Except occasionally when I noticed those legs… :-))

In the rosy garden, I was aware of being better. And that was the point.

My brain needs something to reach for that has inward meaning and emotional oomph, so vague dissatisfaction is not a helpful point of reference. A sturdy inward “YES” is the goal: re-remembering this body, with all attached limbs fully integrated, blood coursing warmly throughout, everything moving and working, and that radiant feeling of blooming health and returning vigor.

I’m 46. I don’t expect feel the way I did when I was 34. But I know 60-year-olds who could kick the ass of me at 34. Being well is not an unreasonable idea, keeping in mind that I’m going forward, not back.

I’m inventing a frame of mind that doesn’t exist yet. Both remembering and re-membering give me important clues as to what it should be. I’m delighted to have figured that out.

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