Documentation – a picture’s worth a thousand words

Doctors believe what they see.The training they get and the laws they must follow all reinforce that. If they see it themselves, then it’s real; if they only hear about it, it’s hearsay, which is much less believable.

This is why it’s hard for us, as chronic pain patients with all sorts of hidden issues, not to come off as shrill and demanding: we expect them to believe what we say, and they find that outstandingly hard. It goes against everything they really know.

Therefore, show them. Put it in pictures, put it in print, and watch their expressions change before your very eyes.

sketch of excessively happy doctor running with a hypodermic needle
They should always move with such alacrity and glee 🙂

This is the first in a series of posts about the documentation that I’ve used over the years. I’m starting with the time I got tired of pointing to my arm and saying, “Well, it was like this (gestures) last week and it’s like this (different gestures) most of the time this week. It’s only blue because of the cold.” And then he couldn’t remember what I said it looked like a week ago.

No help at all.

So I went home, put my hand and forearm on a piece of paper, and drew an outline around it. I came up with a set of symbols to show what I needed to track, and marked up the outline accordingly.

As my situation changed from week to week and month to month, I grabbed paper, put my arm on it, drew another outline (I really should have made blank copies), and filled it in with the current state of my arm.

Lo and behold, I hardly had to say a thing. One doctor looked over my stack of images and said, “Wow. They really tell the whole story, don’t they? I hardly need to look at the medical record.” He did anyway, but was pretty quick.

My office visits were a lot more productive after I started keeping those pictures. I called them “snapshots” and collected quite a few of them before the case became too complex and moved into different territory. (More on that later.)

Here’s the key I came up with to explain the symbols I used for the symptoms I had at the time:

6 different scribbles to show 6 different signs and symptoms
key to snapshot scribbles

As you can see, I just scribbled patterns which I found easy to remember. Nothing fancy.

Each sign is distinct from the others, except for the two strengths of “bruising” (I now know that that was CRPS discoloration), which are the same symbol at different densities. Makes sense, right?

Here are the first 3 images, and what made the difference between them:

Baseline, after working as best I could with the injuries:

sketch of hand that shows extensive pain and bruising.
My first stab at this. What can I say? I was a writer and musician, so I took my hands very seriously.

After about 4 weeks off duty, resting and recuperating:

sketch of hand showing very little pain or discoloration.
It took 2 weeks just to relax, but I succeeded.

After 1 single week back at work on restricted duty:

sketch of hand showing pain and discoloration going further up the forearm than ever before
Yeah. Sucks, huh?

That doctor was right. They really do tell the whole story.

See how easy that was? 🙂 All it took was a pen, paper, and a few notes.

Here are some tips:

  • Put the date and your name on every single one, always.
  • Be consistent about how you label things. They don’t need to learn different labeling systems, they need to learn your case’s course over time.
  • This is a good place to note your pain ratings.I annotated my snapshots with current pain range (at rest and on exertion), bullet points and narrative notes, but it took awhile to learn to keep those annotations very short and to the point.

I scanned all the snapshots into my hard drive, so I can recreate these at any time. I find it very useful when breaking in a new team, because the story told by my first few years of pictures really does tell the key parts of those first few years. They “hardly have to look at the medical record” to understand — and remember! — what happened.

Plus, you clearly don’t have to be an artist to make these pictures accurate and useful 🙂 If tracing around your own limb is too painful or awkward, there’s no reason not to ask someone else to do theirs. Alternatively, you could take a photograph and use image-editing software (available with your camera, or for free or cheap online) to mark the image with your signs and symptoms.

There are lots of ways to get these images going, with any set of tools. And boy, are they ever worth it.

As a point of interest, the freeware I use for editing images is called Gimp. Perfect tool-name for someone like me, eh?

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On sleeping despite all this

This is a brain-dump from a recent social-media post. Since the same question was asked 3 times in one day on my groups, I figured I might as well put it all right here and link …

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

I used to be a night shift nurse and a home care nurse. Boy, do I have advice about helping your body sleep. Pick and choose what to start with and try as many of these ideas as you want, until it starts coming together and working well for you:

* Positioning. (Old nurses and physical therapists can be really good at this — we don’t get to write prescriptions, so we have to go with what really works and has no side effects. Oops, did I say that out loud?) Invest in enough pillows that you can, as needed, elevate appropriate limbs; support your neck; cradle your head; support your back and hips; pad your knees; get your upper body at a good enough angle so your blood doesn’t pool too much in your head; if you’re a tummy-sleeper, this can be really interesting because you need to slant your whole body from the knees up. Positioning, and the pillows/towels/blankets that requires, is generally the first thing to address.

* Have a regular bedtime routine. This gives your body and brain a consistent, reliable set of cues that it’s getting towards That Time. Our too-plastic brains need to be constantly retrained. Mine starts about an hour and a half before bedtime; I would do well to move it up to 2 hours,, as my descent into sleep is iffy.

* Turn off electronics (TV, phone, interwebby stuff) 1.5-3 hours before bed. There are several reasons for this: multisensory stimulation, EM activation, input from the outside world beyond your control, input you need to react to or decide not to react to (all of which suck up neurotransmitters.) All of this cranks up the primitive brain. Mine goes off around 8-8:30 pm.

* Listen to soothing, calming music for an hour or two before bed. I love classical chamber music, especially Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Pachelbel – elegant but not too emotional. Soft jazz or soft rock are also good for those who don’t care for classical. The brain patterns readily to music, so this is like free help.

* Speaking as a night shift nurse, I have to say that chamomile tea is the best, bar none, the BEST way to get the squirrels off the wheel. It doesn’t make you feel as “different” as sleeping pills do, so many people under-rate it dramatically. I noticed that most of my patients couldn’t even get halfway down the mug before they passed out completely, so I know it works objectively, even if it isn’t dramatic subjectively.

* Tulsi, or holy basil (Latin name occinum sanctum), is an herb from India that actually lowers cortisol. (It was used to teach novice monks what a calm mind feels like, so they could get it together with their meditation.) If you get that pop-awake in the wee hours, that’s probably cortisol, and tulsi at bedtime can do a lot of good.

* Ashwaganda has similar abilities, but I haven’t used it much so I haven’t studied it. See what you think. Some teas have both.

* All major herbal traditions have herbs that help. Tulsi and chamomile work best for me, but valerian works for others. I find hops stimulating, and wouldn’t go near poppy or belladonna because of my CNS sensitivities. Those with migraines, central nervous system and some vascular issues need to check twice before using some hypnotic herbs… This is well worth discussing with an herbalist, because they can make all the difference if you get the right recipe.

* Melatonin can help, too. There are two ways to use it: at a “metabolic dose”, which means one tablet can last 8 doses, and that’s just to remind your body to do its calming down; or at a pharmaceutic dose, in which case you can experiment with the different dosings available (usually from 1 to 4 mg, I believe.) See which works for you.

* You can also use 5-HTP before bedtime, which is a good serotonin precursor. If you’re on antidepressants, start at low dose and be mindful of its effects; it can potentiate your antidepressants, making them more effective at a lower dose. Being overdosed on serotonin can be counterproductive, as it makes it very hard to wake up completely!

* If nightmares are making it hard to nod off (often the case for me; I can tell I’ve been having nightmares if I can’t make myself calm down for sleep) then lavender oil dabbed onto either side of your pillow can be a real help. Or a lavender pillow, but remember to refresh it as needed. It’s very good for keeping nightmares at bay.

* Get what activity you can, pretty much every day, and stop exercising either before 5 or before 3, depending on your system. Activity helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, especially if you respect the body’s natural diurnal cycle and take enough time to let the neurochemistry slow down at the end of the day.

* Be mindful of your caffeine intake. Caffeine in the morning can be a huge help to keeping the diurnal cycle regulated, but it’s important to lay off it in the later afternoon and evening, because the disruptive effect always lasts longer than the real waking-up effect.

* Be gentle with yourself. Take the time to learn what works best for you. Be considerate of your household regarding lights and noise, so there’s less fallout in the morning. When you’re stuck awake, remember that rest is still restful, even when it isn’t sleep, and do your best with what you can get. If all else fails, make the most of the time, and try again tomorrow night.

Prolly enough to go on with for now… any other thoughts, folks? 🙂

On a lighter note…

toon_dlewis_bedtimeroutine

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Isy’s principles of blogging 101

Quite a few people I know are going into blogging. Most of them are CRPSers, all of them are clever and interesting, and I think that is terrific. I couldn’t find a Blogging 101 that wasn’t oriented towards cashcow blogs, so I figured I’d better write one.

Each writer who writes as themselves is unique, and the more of us who write truly about CRPS (or whatever we struggle with), the more others will begin to understand what’s really at stake when we talk about managing and even curing it.

The more, the merrier!
The more, the merrier!

First, let’s knock off some assumptions…

What it isn’t

– A blog post is normally not a chapter in a book, or a news article, or a short story — unless it is. If you’re posting any of the above, it means you’re writing a particular sub-category of blog, which is a good thing to be clear about. (Generallly, a blog is a place to work out ideas which subsueqently turn into books or articles, we’re writing for.)

– It’s not a journal. Generally, it’s creepy people who want to read other people’s journals; most of the rest of us are uncomfortable with that feeling.

– With that in mind, writing a journal entry before writing a blog post can really help deliver a punchy, powerful blog post.

Then let’s talk about the almost unlimited potential…

What it can be or do

– A great place to work out ideas that later go into books, articles, and so on, with more focus and a better understanding of the audience. The interaction and feedback you get on each nugget of thought is a great way to learn how to tune your writing and make your ideas clearer.

– Pre-marketing. When people love your blog, they’re liable to be interested in any work that comes out of it: books, articles, even speaking tours or movies.

– Wonderful way to connect with people in your target group, the group of people you want to explain things to or share things with.

And now some basic guidelines…

What a good blog usually is or does do

– Each post has one or two main points. A post is a limited space, oriented towards people with not a lot of time — either because of work, attention span, or memory issues. Keep each post to the point.

– Short posts get read more. Kinda sad, but true.

– The above is a good reminder to keep the writing “tight”, that is, no needless words, no needless sentences, and no needless paragraphs. (Another reason why journaling is so helpful — we can get the need to gnaw on an idea out of our systems, so we can step back and deliver it more tightly and strongly in less space.)

– Be particular about which posts get long, and keep them engaging to someone outside one’s own head. Extended metaphors or an underlying plot can keep people reading.

– Serious stuff matters. Humor keeps people reading. The two often go together really well, or at least can take turns gracefully.

– Keywords/categories/tags (the terminology depends on the blog host) are important. They help people find your blog online, so choose terms that people are likely to search for.

And finally…

Further tips and suggestions from my experience

– As I have to remind myself now and then — my readers are people outside of my head, not in here with me 🙂 This helps me explain and unpack when my first impulse is to be telegraphic; it also keeps me from belaboring a point that’s bothering me more than it would bother someone else.

– I get a lot out of watching the director commentaries on good/entertaining films, especially if there are director commentaries on the deleted scenes and outtakes. Hearing how they chose to eliminate much-loved or super-cool scenes in service to the overall piece, is like a mini-workshop on creative structure and knowing what your priorities are. Most notably, the concept of eliminating “repeated beats” is key to keeping my blog posts solid. I’ve deleted some great lines, but they aren’t missed. It took awhile to realize that, if they won’t be missed, they aren’t needed.

And now for a practical note…

Choosing a setup for blogging on

If you have access to a server and a web geek, read no further. You’re set. Just do what they advise and ask for any help you need.

If you’re totally new to all this, it’s not crazy to go to http://blogger.com, set up a Google account if you don’t already have one, and go through their step-by-step process for setting up and customizing your blog. The upside is, they really protect you from spam and thin out the hacking issues. The downside is, once you’re hacked, you’re hacked. They don’t seem to have a way of letting you build in extra protections.

If you have some geek skills and can get access to a server or hosting service, you might prefer http://WordPress.com to build your blog site with. It’s highly customizable and you can choose from plenty of forms of protection, which you can alter, tune, and change as you like. Downside: the spam is horrific. Upside: You can always upgrade your hacking protection.

There are a growing number of options, but I’m describing what I know and have worked with myself. Hope it’s helpful.

Happy blogging 🙂

Link list

Predatory mis-links are so common now, I aim to be more diligent about providing lists of the links I actually use in my blogs. That’s not a bad tip, actually, and it was first suggested by one of my readers 🙂

  1. Writing Like Yourself, by yours truly
  2. Blogger.com
  3. WordPress
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Rock stars

As many physicians have noted, treating chronic pain is peculiarly frustrating. Therefore, treating a pain condition as subtle, complex and intransigent as CRPS must be heartbreaking — though it’s never as bad as having it.

Don’t get me wrong
If you say hello and I take a ride
Upon a sea where the mystic moon
Is playing havoc with the tide

Most of us live in countries where there are practical limits on who we can see for care. Since there are few CRPS experts to start with, this tends to put us in tight spots.

So, meeting a new doctor, as many of us have said privately, is a bit like being a bride in an arranged marriage in a backward society*: you have no idea how you’ll get along, but this person is not only going to have a significant role in defining your life for the foreseeable future, but can torture and even kill you without any fear of the law.

14 year old bride with lowered head and sad, helpless expression, standing next to an elderly man who peers at her as if she were a new car he was looking over.

It sounds dramatic, but that’s the bottom line. Think about it for a minute…

For one thing, nobody likes being in so vulnerable a position. For another, we’ve all paid the price for some practitioner’s ignorance or intransigence, somewhere along the way. The fears are not theoretical; they’re real and appropriate.

Suddenly the thunder showers everywhere
Who can explain the thunder and rain
But there’s something in the air

Add to that the fact that chronic CRPS tends to hot-wire the fight-or-flight mechanism, and you have to realize that the doctor is facing a situation that requires about a million times more tact and respect than they ever learned in medical school.

Don’t get me wrong
If I’m acting so distracted

And then there’s me.

I used to be an RN, so I can use med-speak fluently and, more to the point, I’ve got the background to understand the scientific material I read when it’s time to explore a new facet of this condition.

I was dealing with a full-bore case of ADD due to the mechanical and chemical damage of chronic CRPS. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of my psychiatrist, Dr. Todd Hutton. He’s so quiet that I simply couldn’t get a bead on how much attention he was really paying to what I was saying.

I was beginning to suspect that he was at least awake, which is a huge bonus in my book… But I had to have my duckies in a row, just in case.

Don’t get me wrong
If I split like light refracted
I’m only off to wander
Across a moonlit mile

Everything about CRPS goes off in different directions, so studying it is like working with refractions.

I studied up on the nature of the brain oddities that characterize ADD.
candleburn-1
Figured out where they overlap with the brain damage caused by chronic CRPS.
Sketch of brain, with bits falling off and popping out, and a bandaid over the worst
Then it was the neurochemistry.

candleburn-2

I have the neurochemistry of CRPS pretty well nailed, and found that, again, the overlaps with ADD were astounding.

How much of that awful, crippling fog we call “pain brain” is a treatable form of acquired ADD?

Do we really have to live like that?

I might be great tomorrow
But hopeless yesterday

I’m not so sure any more.

Then I looked at treatment modalities for ADD.

candleburn-3

The cognitive-behavioral stuff — like structuring your day, having contingency plans, staying in charge of your emotions, and creating ways to check yourself and to take care of yourself when things go wahooni-shaped — are pretty much identical, though CRPS adds a lot of material about pacing, communicating about functional and pain levels, and managing physical limits.

The pharmaceutical stuff has some interesting overlaps, too.

candleburn-4

Aside from narcotic pain control (which isn’t much good to many of us), treatment for CRPS neurochemistry tends to focus on serotonin, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and dopamine; treatment for ADD neurochemistry tends to focus on epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine.

More overlap, or is that just a coincidence? Hah! No such thing, when we’re treating the brain.

So, after traversing my “moonlit (or candlelit) mile” of research, I showed up at the psychiatrist’s office with the following info:

  •  It’s probably related to the CRPS. (Nod.)
  •  It’s probably treatable. (Slightly qualified nod.)
  •  I can’t have Adderall, et alia, because my heart is dicky enough as it is. (Firm nod.)
  •  I could face Ritalin, et alia, but I’m already on Savella, which also boosts dopamine. (He shrugged and said, “Same molecule, different location.”)

After a bit more backing and forthing, he said, “How about Provigil?”

I’d seen a friend get hooked on it, so I didn’t leap out of my seat, but we talked it over. His reasoning was faultless. (Something I almost never say.)

More than awake, he was really engaged with my case. So I took the leap of faith and said I’d try it.

Trapeze_artists_trimmed

He said he’d supply me with samples of Nuvigil (a longer-acting form) since the maker no longer supplies samples of Provigil. (Pharma companies only provide samples of what they still have under patent. They’re in it for the money, remember…)

Don’t get me wrong

If I come and go like fashion

I had the singular pleasure of going in for my follow-up, dressed professionally for a change, and reporting that:

+ I had enough energy to get outside and move around nearly every day. This means laundry gets done, there’s proper food in the house, and I can get some of that so-necessary exercise.

+ I had enough focus to put together a settlement offer, which the insurance company accepted. (WOOT!)

+ I could change focus at need.

+ I was driving better, thinking strategically and more able to pay attention to what was going on around me at high speed.

+ I could sleep better, because I’d been properly awake and engaged during the day. (OMG!)

– My anxiety was no worse, but when it did kick in, it was harder to get it to chill. That was one drawback, but not a major one.

– Nuvigil tends to build up in my system, until suddenly I can’t sleep at all. It took about 5 days to clear it after that. So now I take half a tablet (that is, about 75 mg) every other day. That works quite well.

+ It’s not perfect — it’s not like being well — but I’m so much closer to being myself that I can actually think about what to wear again. (I used to be kind of a fashion plate, in the intersection of classic, practical, and colorful, with a dash of steampunk.)

 

I told him, “Love and the relationships I have make life bearable. But being able to think, and be productive, and learn things, and get some work done, THAT’s what makes my life worth living. This is giving me my life back. I’m really grateful.”

If I hadn’t grown up in New England (land of the unspoken), I might have missed the slight lengthening of his spine, the slight lifting of his head, the slight brightening of his face, the tiniest lift of a smile.

For once in my life, a doctor of mine got to feel like a rock star.

It might be unbelievable
But let’s not say so long
It might just be fantastic

I got into the car and drove away on a shiny September afternoon in Pasadena.

On the radio, Chrissie Hynde was belting out,

Don’t get me wrong
If I’m looking kind of dazzled

And it put the seal on everything.

For a moment, I tried to stifle the beaming joy that shot through me. Then sanity intervened.

glee

What I wanted to do was pull over, slap on a headset, and dance on the glittering lawn in front of City Hall, arms wide and the sun sparkling through my starry lashes.

I wasn’t sure the police would understand, though.

Instead, I danced in my car, grinning fit to split my head, bouncing my red SUV to the Pretenders.

Drawing smiles even in LA traffic.

Sometimes, the only right thing to do is dance.

Big grinning woman in spectacular Hawaiian ceremonial dress dancing with her arms
Photo: Joanna Poe in Honolulu

 

Here’s the whole song. At first, I thought the visual story, with its false leads, dead ends, and triumphant ending, was distracting — then I thought about it for a second… 🙂

* Common sense note: obviously, not all societies that practice arranged marriage are backward. I know too many couples who have an excellent partnership and tons of love between them, who were picked out for each other by their nearest and dearest. It’s not arranged marriage that’s the problem, but those situations where there’s a lack of choice and utter helplessness of one partner. That’s what’s backward.

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Imaginative experience and rebuilding the brain

In 1986, the course of neurologic treatment changed forever when Mark Block, one severely spine-injured young man, chose “imp-possible” over “impossible” and, every day, spent hours imagining how it would be to walk again, imagining his “wires” getting hooked back up again, riding a wave of inner certainty that can only be called a gift.

 

He mentally rehearsed endlessly. Day after day after week after month.

 

And then, months into his care, he told the nurse, “Watch this,” and made his foot twitch. The first nurse dismissed it as a spasm. The second or third nurse got the doctor.

 

The doctor stood over the foot — really close — and said, “Do it again.” Twitch.

 

“Again.” Twitch.

 

“Again.” Kick.

 

One of the great moments in medicine.

 

Upon discharge, he walked out of the hospital.

Some of the meditations from my pain psychologist are visualizations. They’re made for a mass audience, not for people with chronic illness generally or CRPS specifically, so a certain amount of tolerance with the language is required. (At one point, the narrator says, after a pregnant pause, “Looking good.” Oh for heaven’s sake.)

Fortunately, she’s dropped pearls of wisdom about what’s important in these exercises, so I’m (naturally) mulling over a new set of scripts which attain those ends a wee bit more gracefully. (Of course, the files will be freely available to download.)

The key point is, it’s important to imagine what it feels/looks/smells/sounds like to be really well, really functional, really active, really smart again. Here’s the lowdown:

  • It’s not just a set of images, it’s a multisensory experience that I imagine as clearly as a good memory.
  • It’s important to do so vividly and frequently.
  • It’s important to think of imaginative experience as a good working hypothesis, rather than a hopeless quest or pointless daydreaming.

That’s key. Making it seem real, and not dismissing it afterwards. Over and over again.

That’s how the brain is persuaded — molecule by molecule, link by link, cell by cell — to give up its current structure, which pins so much of the neuro-anatomical, neuro-chemical and neuro-endocrine dysfunction in place.

Then, in many cases — and with suitable support from nutrition, psychological care and physical activity — it’s possible to reverse-engineer a healthier, more functional neuro-setup.

It takes time. It takes dogged persistence. It takes a vivid imagination — which can be developed, if it’s not already there. (Like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.) Last but not least, it takes a smidgen of luck.

The imaginative experiences, if all goes well, help your neurological structure leap the chasm between what it is and what it should be. It’s an enormous leap of faith to get started, let alone keep going for as long as it takes to rewire such an astoundingly complex structure.

Of course, inner resistance and outer events are liable to leap out and knock us off track, because that’s what they do… and we have to find ways to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get back on track as soon as possible.

It’s a huge job, inside and out — all that leaping.

Trapeze_artists_1890

But it’s not impossible.

I’ve been mulling experiences that I can imagine failing to do with my current body, but remember doing with my healthy one.  I think I’ll write them out (word-painting at its most precise) and build really great imaginative experiences to come back to, again and again.

Running; sailing; riding; studying; traveling; writing complex books; lecturing on neurology, pain, and healing — you know that’s what I’m thinking about.

What would your imaginative experiences be? What would you leap the chasm for? What could you immerse yourself in, week after week, month after month, maybe year after year, for the chance of pulling yourself up to it?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I have a feeling my list will change with time. As I sit with these imaginative experiences, I’ll see which ones really keep on giving, and which ones were better in theory than practice — and, of course, I’ll find the one I haven’t thought of yet, which will turn out to be key.

At the moment, the hard part is coming back to reality afterwards. That can really suck. But there are ways to deal with that — instant distraction, for instance — and the more I think it over, the more I think it’s worth it.

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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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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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Unexpected adventures with the rent

Yesterday I did 10 minutes on the treadmill. Today, I walked almost a full mile of this hill in 18 minutes and 16 seconds — no shuffling, no stopping, lots of striding, not much slowing down. Woo hoo!

I’d better start scouting trails and footpaths around here. I’m going to need more options soon.

As I calm my breathing in preparation for my autogenic exercise (more on that later), I have to admit that I had some angst to work off, and that probably had something to do with the pace I kept up.

Last night, I realized I’d lost my ATM card. I have one bank, one card, and one checkbook. … Er… had…

The card was gone.

The checkbook was empty.
I’m fresh out of cash.
And rent is due.
Suuuuuuuuuucks.

Welcome to My Brain on CRPS!

To be completely apt, these should be thoroughly scrambled.

I went to the landlady’s bank to see if we could do a wire transfer.
Turns out they’re closed on Wednesday.

I called a different branch and asked if they could.
No, not without an account of my own.

I asked if I could open an account with a wire transfer.
After 20 minutes on hold, it turned out that I could only open an account with cash or a check.

Rather than repeating myself, I said, “You realize that does me no good.”

I called my bank (a local savings bank) in Massachusetts. They were pleased to tell me that someone had called in my missing card and it had been cancelled promptly. 2 weeks to get another one.

They couldn’t do a wire transfer because they’re rather old-school, and I hadn’t gone into a branch and filed the appropriate form in person.

But — and this is why I stay with them — they didn’t end the conversation there.

After exploring several possibilities, which turned up as dead ends, I thought of Cougar, one of my angels (a word with specific meaning.) He bears a passing resemblance to a slimmer and semi-shaven Jerry Garcia..

A recent photo by yours truly.

But, more importantly, he takes my mail. Why?

In case you hadn’t noticed, I move around a lot. (I’m looking for a place that has an affordable cost of living, good soil, first-rate medical care, and no extra pollution or radiation, and one day I’ll find it.) I’m here in California for awhile for medical care, BUT, no matter where the rest of me goes, my mailing address remains the same.

The benefits are tremendous:

  • Not only is my steel-sieve brain spared the affliction of changing my address every time I move,
  • Not only are my ridiculous paws spared the trouble of wrestling with envelopes and handling papercuts (a task which cougar claws are apparently well-adapted for),
  • But my memory and cognition issues get a real break from having to deal with pieces of effing paper. I have developed a mental block around dealing with pieces of effing paper, so I get them into softcopy as soon as possible.

Or, rather, most of the time, Cougar does… Because he doesn’t just take in my mail, he scans it in and sends me softcopy of anything I ask him to open. This means I have COMPLETE RECORDS of everything I need to keep track of.

He’s the Magnificent Mail Mage, and I’m grateful. Take that, Pain-Brain!

He’s my current Cash Carrier, now. The management staff at my lovely little bank have agreed to work with him as my designated agent, and will provide him with the cash I request — which he will then send to me via Western Union, so I can take care of business here. And with it, I’ll pay rent, open a bank account locally, and try not to let this happen ever, ever again.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get my heart rate down from the clouds and that strangely full feeling out of my tissues. Easier said…

While the excitement is over for the moment, I have a vivid memory of the stress-tracking line on the biofeedback machine, and how bloody hard and bloody long it takes to get the level to drop after it goes up over something as small as one giggle.

This was no giggle. In fact, it was several hours of no giggle. None. A totally giggle-free period.

I found it stressful.

The walk helped. And I hope — when I find some good forest trails to explore — to spot some wildlife.

Meanwhile, I’m off the hook for laundry and shopping. It all has to wait until tomorrow. Bonus!

Everyone should have a little cougarosity in their lives…

 

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Posture matters, across species

For the past forty-mumble years, and for some time to come, my experience of life is shaped by the particular body I’m in. The reciprocal nature of the mind-body experience fills more books than I’d ever want to read, and that’s saying something, so let’s cut past that idea of, “Wow, the mind can influence the body and the body can influence the mind, but neither has sole control of the steering wheel” and look at the subtle, but strangely clear, ways that it plays out – at least in me.

I lived in a dog-friendly marina. – Trust me, this is relevant.

It’s not just about the scenery.
I found that, even before I knew the neighborhood dogs, I could tell which ones belonged on the dock by their posture as they stood, sat, walked, and moved.



I saw dogs in every degree of getting along — or not.

I saw the active posture of dogs who were used to plenty of food and care…



and dogs who clearly weren’t.



This was interesting to me as I was coming out of a period of being thugged on by every force outside myself that had a duty to care for me. Being, not only neglected, but frequently tormented and abused in response to most of my efforts towards survival and care, left me very nervous indeed.

Not good for the brain. Or anything else.

I was having trouble with my posture, and – limited by impaired kinesthesia (the sense we have of where our body is in space) – I was working out exactly what the trick points were.

– My low back was in a tight sway, sticking my stomach and butt out egregiously. I lost over an inch of height to that sway in my back.

– I recently realized that, when I fall back in this posture, my abdominal muscles are braced outward. I’m not slack in the belly; the muscles are braced for an incoming blow!

– My neck was hunched against my shoulders. This was funny because I did used to have a bit of a weightlifter’s neck, short and thick; but that was many years ago… when I lifted weights.

– My tailbone was curled in tight, which I only realized after my physiotherapist at the time taught me to straighten it out as a way of releasing tension on the nerve “sleeve.”

– The points of my shoulders were rotated inward. I attributed this to an effort to ease the nerve opening through my shoulders, but that doesn’t actually make sense.

All of these things reduced effective nerve flow to my limbs, shortened the wrong muscles, limited blood flow to where I needed it most, and reduced my capacity for physical exercise.

And you can see how happy it makes me!

Since activity is key to managing CRPS and keeping the autonomic nervous system under some kind of regulation, this is actually a huge problem.

Good posture is not about vanity, it’s about feeling better, being stronger, hurting less, and surviving tolerably well.

Watching all those dogs running around and deciding whether to let others sniff their butts,

You’re not imagining things: the pit bull is missing a leg.

I realized exactly what my posture looked like: a dog in a hostile area, not wanting to fight, but protecting its spine while bracing for blows. Always ready to snap into action. Never knowing when things will go sour, but pretty sure they soon will.

That’s what those years had brought me to. It was a reasonable response, but not useful.

This is what’s really going on when I fall back into that posture.

I’ve managed to explain this “braced dog” image to my current physiotherapist, who’s wonderfully willing to work with my rather original views. He comes up with ways to tell my body how to stand/sit/move like a calm, alert animal, instead of one that’s braced for the next fight… 

I can’t do anything about the 3 extra cup sizes
this endocrine dysregulation caused, but
my back and shoulders hurt less anyway.

And I remind my too-nervous nervous system that a calm dog can snap into a fight about as fast, but tends to find far fewer of them.

In the meantime, relaxed animals have a lot more fun.

Postscript on self-imaging

Nearly every time I see pictures of someone in regard to posture or movement explanations, it’s someone really fit.

Now, really. Is that who needs to know?

Much as I loathe looking at myself from the outside, using my own image here is preferable to the implicit lie of using others’ figures. So here I am, warts (so to speak) and all.

/shrug/ Could be worse.
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Waiting

I’m sitting in the lab’s waiting room, recovering from the most recent vampire attack.

It’s always a bit of a circus. As I said to the lab tech, “I used to be a trauma nurse. What would be the fun of being an easy stick?”

This time, I had the joyful opportunity of having the first lab tech assess my veins and go find a better vampire without even poking me first. His hands were actually shaking by the time he left.

All I could do was laugh to myself. I used to have hosepipes for veins. They were still leathery, full of valves, and inclined to roll, but with a sharp needle and good technique, you could nail ’em with your eyes closed.

Now it takes 5 minutes with the warm pack (hot water in a blue glove) and the sharpest needler in the house. She got it in one.

In thematically related news… I’ve been essentially incommunicado since I moved into the new cabin. Internet is supposed to come tomorrow and AT&T has knocked $50 off my bill for not providing service yet and having terrible communication with me (losing notes, calling back the wrong week, trying to send me on wild goose chases) when they do get through.

Every effort to do anything other than nest — carefully, gently, and in small controlled increments of effort — seems to take 10 times the effort it should. Not two or three times. 10 times.

All I can do is laugh to myself… and, when necessary (such as when someone’s looming over me with a sharp instrument and a purposeful expression), sitting firmly on my perpetually hair-triggered fight-or-flight response.

As I said to the same skillful lab tech, “I have good doctors, and I’m finally getting lab tests, PT and good care.”

This is why I protect my mental faculties so vigilantly. They let me assess the real risk, the real effort, the real impact of the moment, so I can talk the CRPS-triggered responses down out of the sky.

And then wait for my system to recover.

I think I’m ready to go now.

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