Friday, July 27, 2018

Being the December to a May.

While we're celebrating our anniversary, here is a post from three years ago on what it is to be the older party in a relationship.

"No, no, I still work from home, when I'm able to. He's just started school. Graduate school," I hasten to add. I haven't talked to my grandfather in awhile, so what would be light smalltalk is now invested with deeper meaning. When we ask each other how we are, what we've been up to, and where we're living now, we care about the answers.

He'd probably care to hear more about my significant other, too, but I'm not quite sure how it'd go when I got to the bit about my S.O. and I being nearly a decade apart.

Age gap romances aren't anything new or strange, I know that much on a logical level. It still felt like a pretty huge impediment to us dating in the beginning, though. Regardless of our relative senses of maturity, emotional development, or life experience, that's a chunk of time.
An entire fifth-grader-sized chunk of time.

I kind of hate the term May-December romance, mostly because it conjures up uncomfortable, quasi-exploitative images of an older man with a much younger woman. I care about my S.O. a lot, so the thought of people wondering what we're each "getting out of" dating each other is really, really unpleasant. The idea that people will judge our relationship differently because it's a younger man with an older woman is even worse. (This is probably a Thing for non-het or nonbinary couples, too, but it's also likely to be differently nuanced -- I've only ever dated ladies who were around my age, though, so I don't really have much insight.)

Granted, I'm probably not old enough to qualify as a December, but, if you're only as old as you feel, I should probably have checked into my local coroner's office several years ago.

Ignoring the numbers, it's super easy to see why he and I are together. We don't look hugely different in age; our hobbies align enough to be interesting to each other while still being separate enough to give us plenty to talk about; we're both curious enough to find all kinds of stories, art, music, and other things to share with each other; despite the gap, our upbringings were still similar enough to elicit empathy in each other; and our pet peeves, amount of patience, and levels of understanding mesh well.

We don't have an enormous financial discrepancy, we have nothing to gain from being together outside of just having a really good relationship, and there's not a whole lot we wouldn't do for each other.

Reality isn't that simple. The fact is, I'm still nine years older than he is. I'm still chronically ill with a painful, debilitating illness that places a lot limits on what I can do. I don't want children, and neither does he, but he's young enough that there's still plenty of time for him to change his mind. And, unfair as it might be, most people still just don't look all that favorably on relationships like ours. (These people are jerks, but I digress.)

I've laughed off my share of other people's jokes about it, too. "Three more years, and you'll qualify as a cougar!" "You can't find a good man, so you're gonna raise one!"
An older man with a younger woman is seen as distinguished and successful, someone to be envied... Which totally makes sense when you're looking at a culture that views attractive, nubile young women as Things One Should Aspire to Obtaining, akin to a gold watch or sports car.
An older woman with a younger man is seen as lonely and sex-hungry, someone to be pitied... Which totally makes sense when you're looking at a culture that views older, unmarried women as somehow defective.

My S.O.'s never given me any reason to think of our ages as a problem, he's said and done plenty to reassure me otherwise. I'm always the one secretly wondering if time, illness, or something else outside of our control is going to screw things up. Always. And, always, my reasoning ends up coming back to one question -- even if I knew for a fact that we were going to split up somewhere down the line, would I break things off now?

Nah. Not for anything in the world. Even if it means we're going to get looked at funny in another ten years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Get (side)real.

It's going to be my birthday soonish. (And I'm going to be older than the rocks ground down to make dirt. Older than dirt's dad.) This, coupled with an incredibly sleepless night the other night sent me back down the rabbithole of sidereal astrology, because I like punishing my brain by force-feeding it information when it refuses to sleep.

I say "back" down because, like a lot of people, I'm mostly familiar with western (read: tropical) astrology. A few years ago, there was a minor kerfluffle about everyone's astrological signs changing because, as it turns out, constellations don't actually stay in the same place very well. So, if you were born in December, Congratulations! You're an Ophiuchus now, and no, don't ask me what that means. I read about sidereal astrology, realized it'd involve more chart-making, and decided I wanted to nap instead.

Only, the thing is, nobody's signs were actually changing. The internet just becomes very silly when it discovers new (to it) information. Tropical astrology, which is mostly a thing in the western world, arose in the Hellenistic period and is based around the vernal equinox. Sidereal astrology, which is more of a thing in India, is based around the actual positions of the stars. Because things in space are notoriously terrible at staying in place, the two systems haven't exactly kept pace with each other over the past couple millennia or so. Go figure.

I don't know very much about astrology, compared to a lot of other people. Though I take the positions of the planets and stars into account when I'm doing spellwork, my actual birth signs don't matter that much to me. I'm interested in them and all, but, on a scale between zero and Buzzfeed Personality Test, it's like a seven most of the time.

Really, most of my interest lies in the fact that astrologers have somehow predicted that I will have brain problems and a stomachache basically always. That is more useful to me than knowing I like neatness and order and should wear a lot of earth tones. But I digress.

All of this is to say that I started reading about sidereal astrology again, which means I made my S.O. learn about it, too. He was not pleased by what he saw as an undesirable "shift" from Aries to Pisces, but I'm pretty stoked.

See, Virgos? They don't really have a great reputation. Pretty much every guide to Virgoan personalities points out that we're nitpicky, over-analytical, judgmental, and, perhaps worst of all, boring... but also level-headed and stable, so we've got that going for us. I've never really felt "at home" in the Virgo idea -- sure, there are some aspects that suit me (I like order, but who doesn't? Like, show me the person who actually prefers to live in chaos and filth) but most of them... Not so much. Even the rest of my chart doesn't really explain away why my sun sign felt like an itchy hand-me-down shirt, and I have less than no interest in most of the things that are supposed to excite Virgo sensibilities.

The sidereal concept of the Leo, though? Much better. Warts and all, even. The Virgo traits I felt within myself are still there, but tempered by Leo traits that match the parts of me that didn't fit the Virgo-sun-Gemini-moon-Gemini-ascendant-plus-assorted-planets I'd been taught about. I like it. It's got a more comfortable energy. A kind of leonine BDE, if you will.

I'd like to learn more (even if it involves more charts). I don't think it'll impact my life any more than tropical astrology did, but I can't help but be interested in where it leads.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Blankets Made of Sand

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy my first panic attack. (I did not.)

I had my first panic attack when I was thirteen.

I was reading in bed (some generic sci-fi story I barely remember now) when I suddenly felt the stifling, oppressive sensation of being unable to breathe. It was like all of the air in the room had been sucked out and replaced with air that felt somehow "used," like I'd never be able to get enough oxygen into myself no matter how many breaths I took.

I tossed my book aside and scrambled out to the living room in terror. Was I suffocating? Why did it feel like I wasn't getting enough air?

I tried to tell my mom, but the words came out in a rush.

"What? An affair? Just sit down." She turned her attention back to what she was doing.

I sat on the couch alone until it passed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would set the pattern for the rest of my teenage years. ("It's just a panic attack," my mother said, irritated that I was discourteous enough to waste her time with another one, "Just calm down. What are you even scared of? Your liver absorbs adrenaline in under a minute, so there's no reason for it to go on this long.")

I saw my pediatrician weeks later when the attacks continued to happen. He listened to my heart and lungs, said it was probably anxiety, and that was that as far as my mom was concerned. Satisfied with the this answer, everything I felt from then on, no matter how terrifying, was dismissed as being "all in my head."

I almost felt triumphant when I was old enough to handle my own medical care, got a second opinion, and was diagnosed with allergic asthma and a benign arrhythmia. Almost.

It's hard to describe what a panic attack feels like to someone who's never had one, and no two people with panic disorder really seem to experience the same thing. My S.O. has felt anxiety, but it doesn't really compare to the blind, animal panic of an actual attack. It's like being covered in blankets filled with wet sand -- heavy, oppressive, and suffocating -- while you feel absolutely certain that you're about to die. When they're bad enough, they can keep everything from feeling "real" anymore. The world around me takes on a weird, desaturated look, like an old movie projection or an image run through a third-rate Instagram filter.

The best part of it all? It isn't the times when everything seems too large and frightening that cause me to panic, it's the spaces between when I think I have a breather. Even then, it doesn't really take much of anything to bring them on. Stress, hormone fluctuations, indigestion, being just a little too warm, or even just reflecting on something dangerous that I lived through have all triggered a full-blown panic attack for me.

My S.O. tries to understand, and, even if he can't, he asks me what I need. Nothing much, I usually explain. Cold water, an open window, someone with me to rub my back and reassure me that they'll take me to the hospital if I turn out to be wrong about it being "all in my head."

I have to hand it to him, he's gotten pretty good at it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Questionably Safe Childhood Adventures

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy this story about petrified deskmeat.

I like abandoned buildings.

If you've found this blog through my Instagram, this is probably not surprising-- a bunch of my pictures are of ruins, abandoned things, and haunted spots. (Also, hello!)
Dead buildings and I go way back, though.

For the bulk of my childhood, there was an old Lutheran school behind my house. It was large enough to span several yards, actually, with just a narrow, grassy alley separating our backyard fences from the walls of the school. When I was a kid, it went from being an empty school, to a pretty derelict building, to a community center, to what is now apparently the Mineola Justice Court (note to bandits and stalkers: I don't live there anymore). But I digress.

Because my friends and I were bored and, like, nine years old, we considered it great fun to hop the fences behind our houses and go play in the untouched, rusting playground. What probably looked like a sacrifice-zone-level tetanus vector to an adult looked like a peaceful, almost magical place through my (admittedly dumb, also nine year old) eyes. Everything was in the beginning stages of overgrowth, with vines creeping up the walls and over the left-behind seesaw and picnic table. Even though there was a relatively busy street and a fire station immediately adjacent to the school, no adults ever seemed to notice that we were there. It was a perfect little green alcove (as long as your vaccines were up-to-date).

Eventually, our curiosity began to outgrow the reaches of the little playground. Older kids had smashed some of the windows of the school at one point, and we became bolder in our explorations. We'd climb the rickety, rusted-through staircase up to one of the flat roofs to play, or try to sneak in through one of the thick, standard-issue institutional metal doors when we were lucky enough to find one left open. Nobody was ever actually inside, unless you count the hundred ghosts we invented or the constant, delightfully scary feeling of possibly being caught.

One day (after we'd gotten bored of racing busted office chairs down the hallway), we poked through some of the classrooms. They were littered with desks, some overturned chairs, plaster dust, pigeon droppings-- the kind of things you'd expect to see in a classroom that'd been left to go to seed. Most of them were the same scene of abandonment, acted out in classroom after classroom.

One of them was not.

"... What is that?"

"Iunno," I shrugged as I reached to touch the stone. It was sitting on a desk, next to a cracked plastic lunch tray.

"Don't touch it! You don't even know what it is!"

I was already hefting it in my hand, though. To be fair, I also used to collect cicada shells when I was very wee-- lining them up along the back of my tricycle, leaving their iridescent husks (sometimes half-dead, buzzing in tiny, confused consternation) on the coffee table, stuffing them into my pockets-- so I wasn't particularly worried about whatever the pink rock's weird, gross origins may be.

"It looks like... ham," I said, "Like really, really old, petrified ham."

I learned about petrification courtesy of some fossils my dad had given me. My room boasted a proud collection of slabs of mud with half-excavated fish (patiently picked out with the aid of a dental pick and a soft paintbrush), a handful of trilobites, and the fossilized jaw of some long-dead ungulate. If eons of minerals and water could turn bones and shell into stone, I reasoned, why couldn't an abandoned and probably-haunted school do it to a piece of dried-out deskmeat?

"EEW!" My compatriots shrieked in disgust.
I was secretly glad, because it increased the odds that I'd get to keep the fist-sized chunk of pink stone to myself.

I carried it around the rest of the day, clutched in my hand after unsuccessfully trying to stuff it into one of my pockets. Though it would be a long time before I could positively identify it as a piece of very rough, very opaque rose quartz, I brought the stone with me when I moved to Delaware at eighteen, California at twenty nine, and back to the east coast at thirty one. Even now, it sits on a windowsill in my living room. Sometimes I think about bringing it somewhere, maybe to a geocaching cache site, and leaving it for someone else to find. I'm sure that when I find the right person, I'll pass it along to them.

I... might skip the part about petrified ham, though.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

j. Reads "Organic Body Care Recipes"

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and do a bit of cleaning, please enjoy this review of a book of DIY body care recipes. Also, this post contains affiliate links to books. Thank you for helping to support this site!

This time around, I've delved into Stephanie Tourles' Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self. I didn't count up all of the recipes I leafed through, but I'm willing to take her word for it.

This book has a lot of recipes. A lot lot.

Will you be able to use all of them to DIY your beauty routine? Probably not -- with the enormous variety of skin problems and challenges that each person experiences (if you're anything like me, sometimes on the same face), Tourles has had to tailor her skincare recipes for mature skin, normal skin, oily skin, and the like. Erring on the side of caution, she also advises against people with sensitive skin using many of her formulas. Unfortunately, this means that my fellow itchy-faced people might be a little disappointed by how many things are off-limits to them. (Isn't that always the way?)

I liked that the skincare recipes themselves were straightforward, uncomplicated, and easy-to-follow. I also enjoyed the fact that Tourles didn't delve into a lot of woo and "your body will know!"-type language in her formulas. (While I'm as much a witch as anyone, I prefer to look at recipes that have a scientific basis and let my own secret ingredients and personal associations work from there.) Unfortunately, it's hard to give a critique of the end products themselves -- unlike something that's as pass/fail as baking, there's a lot of room for variation in how well a given DIY skincare recipe will work.

If I had to offer a criticism, it's that some of the information was a little thin. Tourles does mention that essential oils are strong and may be contraindicated in people with certain medical conditions, but doesn't really provide any further information. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't much information on the why of each recipe -- aside from brief mentions of papain and bromelain, I didn't really see much about the enzymes, volatiles, or other active components of the ingredients Tourles chose for her recipes. I get that that Tourles' book was angled more toward beginning DIYers, but it still would've made it a much more informative read. Readers of this book are likely to come away from it knowing how to follow the instructions, but without the necessary background information they'd need to really create their own products or understand why a given recipe did or didn't work for them.

At the end of the day, Organic Body Care Recipes is a good resource for people who would like to try DIYing their own skincare products for the first time. I  recommend that readers who choose to pick up this book pick up a copy of The Green Pharmacy or other herbal resource, just to help fill in some of the blanks when it comes to possible contraindications, side-effects, or other hazards.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Diamox Depletion, or "Why Can't I Feel My Feet?"

This post ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around, please enjoy this bit on how to avoid feeling like absolute crap while taking Diamox.

I've talked about acetazolamide before. Namely, my intense love-hate relationship with a medication that's saving my brain and vision while ruining my kidneys and giving me the memory of a coked-up potato beetle. I've even gone a bit into what one can expect when taking it, though everyone's experiences will vary. Now I'd like to go into a little more detail about what I, specifically, do to help deal with it -- especially the nutrient depletion that can result in pain, tingling, numbness, confusion, anxiety, and even death.

So, electrolytes. All foods have them to some degree, but some of those are going to be more useful than others. Most intracranial hypertension patients are told to avoid too much salt (which isn't too surprising -- salt-sensitive high blood pressure doesn't feel too great rocketing through a squeezed brain), but sodium is one of the nutrients that diuretics flush out of the body. Oh, and you also have to worry about keeping your chloride levels low (but not too low) and bicarbonate levels high (but not too high). Your vitamin D levels might be low, but you have to avoid spending too much time in the sun or Diamox'll burn the crap out of your skin. Better not take any vitamin D supplements unless your doctor tells you to, though. Hypervitaminosis of basically any fat-soluble vitamin is a major contributor to IH. You'll need your doctor to give your multivitamins a once-over, too -- too much vitamin A, and you might be told to stop taking them entirely.

If you feel like medical science has basically handed you a letter that says, "GOOD LUCK, SUCKER," I completely empathize.

Still, you've gotta eat to live. To help manage my Diamox depletion side-effects, I:

  • Look for high-potassium foods. Coconut water and avocados are great here -- they're a bit on the pricey side, but one serving of coconut water has 470 mg of potassium. A whole avocado contains 975 mg. Combine them with other fruits, like peaches (at 285 mg potassium for a medium peach) in a smoothie for breakfast. It'll help give you something easy to consume and potassium-rich, which is especially helpful for me on the days when I have no appetite.
    Some health experts recommend avoiding juices and smoothies, since the lack of fiber means they don't fill you up very well and can have a pretty big impact on your blood sugar. I've found them to be helpful for me because I don't have to wait as long for the tingling and anxiety to subside as I do when I eat potassium-rich solids, and choosing low-glycemic fruits and vegetables means I'm not getting a huge sugar hit either way.
    Even if you have to avoid (or just don't like) smoothies, there are plenty of other options. Some plain Greek yogurt (240 mg per average-sized container) and a half a peach (142 mg) is an easy snack that's also rich in protein. A skinless chicken thigh (238 mg per 3.5 ounce serving), spinach salad (167 mg per cup), and some yams (456 mg per a half-cup, boiled) is an easy way to get plenty of potassium in a single meal. If your doctor has ordered you to eat low vitamin A foods, be sure to pick yams over sweet potatoes -- while both are high in potassium and very similar in terms of flavor and appearance, yams contain a fraction of the vitamin A that sweet potatoes do.

  • Keep a careful eye on sodium levels. This means choosing minimally processed and low-sodium foods when I can. Most highly processed foods contain a lot of salt, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're deficient in sodium... but it is when you're trying to keep your chlorides down. If you're still feeling weird and tingly even after eating or taking enough potassium, mention it to your doctor. Acetazolamide's side effects feel pretty bizarre even in the absence of a potassium deficiency, but some people find that sodium bicarbonate helps.

  • Drink a lot of water. Like, a lot of water. Getting enough electrolytes is great, but dehydration is pretty miserable. Look for purified drinking water (which is typically water that has undergone reverse osmosis and had some electrolytes added back in). Skip bottled water (which is probably tap water), spring water (which may still contain traces of industrial or agricultural runoff), and distilled water (which contains no electrolytes). If you can filter your own water and avoid disposable bottles, go for it! If not, consider getting a large, reusable water jug that you can refill at a water distiller -- a lot of grocery stores have them, and you can get several gallons at a time for cheap -- and add electrolytes later if needed.

  • Eat regularly. I force myself to sometimes. Set alarms for it, even. Diamox makes it very, very easy to forget that I've missed a meal (or two, or three) because it honestly ruins appetite for some people. In my case, it isn't even that it makes me feel nauseated most of the time -- I'm just honestly not hungry.

  • Carry emergency provisions. For me, this is anything shelf-stable I can stash in a bag just in case I end up all anxious and tingly or lightheaded while I'm out. Things like nuts/seeds, some coconut water, a jar of protein-based baby food, and/or a bottle of Ensure work well here. (I might feel a little weird tucking into a lukewarm jar of turkey and strained peas, but any port in a storm.)

Every body's different, so what I do may not work for you. Talk to your doctor about creating an eating plan that will address your Diamox side effects, appetite loss, and calorie needs. If you need to limit your intake of any specific nutrients (like vitamin A), he or she will be able to point you toward ways to tailor your diet to your specific situation. Nobody's really sure what causes many cases of intracranial hypertension, and it's often found alongside a host of other illnesses and disorders that may have their own particular dietary requirements.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Kale is a Crappy Vegetable for Jerks

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and do some cleaning up, please enjoy the time I almost died of salad.

Okay, maybe not, but still.

A couple of days ago, I was eating a salad. It was a pretty good one, too -- kale, baby spinach, tomato, hemp seeds, avocado, all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, this green action was so good my lungs decided they wanted in on some of it.

After spasmodically coughing for interminable minutes (in front of my significant other, no less, because there's nothing sexier than someone who looks like a dog choking on a chicken bone), I began to worry. I thought to myself, "Self," I thinks, "is kale the kind of thing that will just kind of work itself out? Because we've been at this for awhile, and I am noticing a distressing lack of kale bits being shifted by it."

This isn't the first time I've choked on a thing. Maybe I don't meet the level requirement for an epiglottis. Maybe my body periodically vastly overestimates its expertise at inhalation and swallowing, I don't know. I do know that I have it on good authority that:

  • You can definitely tell if you have aspiration pneumonia

  • Having a scope jammed all up ins to see if you've got some crap stuck in your lungs kind of sucks, and

  • Most things will just break down on their own (if you can avoid the whole pneumonia thing in the process).

Is kale one of those things? Will it just go away? It seems a bit tough and fibrous for a squishy bag of air with no enzymes to speak of to handle on its own, but my idiot body also thought it was capable of eating and breathing at the same time so who even knows what it's going to try to do next.

Long story short, after three days of a just-kind-of-uncomfortable foreign body feeling in the left side of my chest, I was awakened by the sudden realization that I wasn't breathing so great. My S.O. and I go to the ER, I get whisked away for x-rays, breathe into a little tube for a bit, get some blood drawn, and find out my bicarbonate's a little low and I don't have pneumonia.

So, for now, I am basically on Pneumonia Watch while my body tries to figure out what the hell to do about this rogue salad interloper. Sometimes I feel it kind of move if I change how I'm sitting or laying, and it sends me into fresh bouts of pointless coughing. I am not a fan.

Sorry if anyone came here hoping for an authoritative takedown of this crappity-ass hipster lettuce. Here are some links that are maybe relevant to that:

Sorry, Foodies: We're About to Ruin Kale Is kale a silent killer whose weapon-of-choice is a completely ridicubutts level of thallium? Eh, maybe not. Still, if you're looking for a reason to excuse your dislike of kale (other than the fact that it tastes bitter and has all the pleasing mouthfeel of socks), "toxic heavy metal scare" might be a good one.

News Update: Can Kale Cause Hypothyroidism? Kale contains goitrogenic compounds -- things that can worsen a pre-existing thyroid condition. While it's probably okay in regular amounts, people with thyroid problems may not want to jump on the "omg kale green juice superfood yes" bandwagon.