Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to be kneeless

In 2000, while juggling graduate school, three part-time jobs, and a looming mood disorder, I decided that commuting by bike and putting in 50 miles every Sunday morning was getting boring, so I decided to take up running. I weighed about 140 pounds, and I was mortified. I was frustrated that my seriously healthy lifestyle did not equate to the size 4 clothes I so desperately yearned to wear.

Here's the thing. I am not all that impulsive. Research is my friend, my comfort, my hobby. I research everything to death before jumping in, mostly to avoid making mistakes. I hate to make mistakes. I bought this book that was going to guide me along in my new sport, and I followed the plan to the letter. Running was actually OK.

Six weeks into the plan, it was obvious that something was very wrong. Whenever I walked, it felt like someone was trying to peel my kneecaps off. The book said that if I had pain at week six, to go see a doctor. I went to a sports medicine specialist, and ended up having knee surgery. Chrondomalacia. Cartilage. Two words I couldn't spell until I had this problem.

The doctor was very clear that I had done nothing to bring this upon myself, and running had not caused it, rather, it just made it apparent sooner. He told me that running and walking quickly were two of the worst things I could do and so it would be for the rest of my life. Furthermore, the surgery would only be a temporary fix and I would likely need the surgery again in about five years, regardless of my activity level. Dr. Steve told me it was not too late to ride my bike and actually see the world before I developed the weird obsessive behaviors of a runner.

Whenever I hear interesting knee news related to chrodomalacia, I immediately tune in and pay attention. The other night while I was sitting here blogging, a commercial came on TV for Cigna insurance. There is no voice over, only words on a black screen. Very dramatic.

I read the words as they appeared and then melted from the screen. A weight loss of only one pound takes four pounds of pressure off of your knees...

Hmmm. Realllly? I did the math very quickly. If I lose 45 pounds, my knees will float freely as I will have achieved zero pounds of pressure on those joints! Suddenly, it became clear--I had found the real link between weight loss and avoiding knee surgery. Avoid knees altogether!

Damn, I am brilliant sometimes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where is the part about the ice cream???

Disheartening news. That whole thing about moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day being sufficient for health and all of that...Turns out it's wrong. No, not wrong in the way I would have hoped. Wrong as in, get off your big, fat ass and stress your pathetic flabby excuse for a body for at least an hour a day or until you puke. OK, even if you puke, you still have to torture yourself for an hour a day; anything less doesn't count.

Really? My sincere yet meager attempts don't count? Then what the hell am I still trying for? If 30 minutes of moderate exercise is meaningless, I would prefer to achieve meaninglessness by doing absolutely nothing. It's much easier to fit into my day and it doesn't make me break out in a rash.

May, May, May...what are you babbling on about?

Why, that would be the report released this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine stating that for the obese of the world, diet is a thoroughly insufficient means to weight loss. Diet and moderate exercise are nothing more than a token attempt at reducing body size. Alas, it requires about 68 minutes of vigorous, rigorous exercise every day for the exercise to have any meaningful effect at all. Even then, it might all be for naught:

Still, the underlying question remains: are diet and exercise a reliable cure for obesity? Modern-day obesity researchers are skeptical — achieving thinness, they say, is not simply a matter of willpower. Research suggests that weight may largely be regulated by biology, which helps determine the body's "set point," a weight range of about 10 lbs. to 20 lbs. that the body tries hard to defend. The further you push your weight beyond your set point — either up or down the scale — some researchers say, the more your body struggles to return to it. That might help to explain why none of the women in Jakicic's study managed to lose much more than 10% of their body weight. After two years on a calorie-restricted diet, keeping up more than an hour of physical activity five days a week on average, most were still clinically overweight (though much less so than before). For the obese, the end goal should not be thinness, but health and self-acceptance, which are more realistic and beneficial objectives.

To which I emphatically say, bullshit. I see no value in this kind of tedious, painful self-induced suffering if thinness is not the ultimate goal or result. Who are these people? They did all this research, didn't they bother to ask the study participants what motivates them to diet and exercise? Duh. People like me don't do it for our health. We do it because we don't like the way we look. It's about looks, looks, looks, body image, and the size on that little cloth tag inside of our clothes. Duuuuh. Those researchers know what phsyical benefit weight loss and exercise can bring, but those of us involved really only care about what's on the other side of the skin. The outside part.

I know about set point. I know that four years ago, I was many years into spending 15 hours a week at the gym (sometimes more). I never lost more than a few pounds. Very few. The trainers at the Y were stumped. So much wasted time. So much wasted money. Once I started taking all of these brain meds, there was nothing working to my advantage. The weight came over me almost overnight, despite all of that clean living.

Here is what I know. I eat a small dish of ice cream every day. It hasn't made any difference in my weight either way, but it makes me a much happier person at the end of the day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Post Traumatic Emotional Experience

Time is supposed to heal all wounds, but it doesn't. I don't think it heals anything at all. Physical wounds heal from natural processes and medical interventions. Emotional wounds never heal, they just get reinterpreted, accepted, synthesized into the greater emotional experience, or left to simmer, fester, or stay filed away until a new experience stirs the memory back into action.

I like to think I move beyond the hurts and deep emotional gashes I believe I can overcome. I want to believe I can make peace with my experiences. I'm not one to obsess over the long term. Obsessing is a painful thing I do when I am hypomanic.

My friend, Jolie, is recovering from a serious crash that in an instant had her body skittering across the road, abraded, bleeding, and with a serious blow to the head. Among other injuries, she sustained extensive damage to her pelvis and lower back, as well as a concussion. A brain bruise can have long-term consequences for anyone who sustains such an injury, but for those of us who are "differently wired," even mild head trauma can cause all things cranium to get bumped off an already precarious axis.

Jolie's mood has slid into a low, low place. Some of it may be situational, but some of it is likely a result of neurotransmitters that have started dancing without permission, as Jolie herself would say. Nobody really knows. The thing about this type of injury that takes people by surprise isn't only that it causes cognitive and vision problems, but it can greatly amplify the patient's irritability and the ability to speak tactfully. When the brain's doing its dance, the mouth is on its own.

Jolie and I have this in common. When we aren't doing very well, we stop trying to be polite, which is something we mostly do for other people's benefit anyway. Along with rampant apathy, there is a complete lack of energy to put toward polite social intercourse. At times like these, we'll tell you exactly what we're thinking, no holds barred.

We aren't bad people; we just become painfully honest. And that pain is felt by other people, not us.

Another thing that Jolie and I have in common is that we are actually both kind and generous people. We are diplomatic. We are charming, but direct. Unless we don;t feel well, and then we just say what we're actually thinking. From the time my bipolar disorder started building itself into a teetering stack of unmanageable symptoms, my propriety filter disengaged itself little by little until I just couldn't stop myself from saying exactly what I was thinking. People who knew me were offended by this. I was surprised by it, but later came to find out it's a very common symptom of an unstable bipolar sufferer.

For a long time, I thought those people were offended because of my words. Later, though, when they confronted me, I was shocked to learn that they were offended by the change in me. I was no longer fitting into the image with which they felt comfortable. My words, my moods, my demeanor made them uncomfortable simply because it was unfamiliar. they honestly believed my behavior was willful and completely within my control.

At that time, I needed support. I needed to know that my friends would ride this out with me, help me through it, love me when it wasn't easy, and soothe the raw parts of me that were stripped bare by my anger and resentment at whatever had caused me to have my affliction. I don;t care how many famous people have it and have gone on to have successful lives. I just knew I didn't want to have it, period, and I was upset that I could only hope to keep it at bay, but it would never be gone from my body.

Only two people stuck around. The rest ridiculed me to my face and criticized me for not being the me they liked. they were mad that I had changed. The fact that I was sick wasn't even on their list of issues to talk about.

that hurt. A lot. I cried for about a year, and then I got angry. Eventually, the more I thought about this, I became enraged, a hunched over, monosyllabic vessel for rage. I was always the helper, the listener, the friend in deed, and I had just gotten screwed so hard, I could not process it. What added insult to injury was when the same people tried to re-enter my life later, when I was closer to stability. I was stunned. It was like, now that the coast was clear, it was time to go back to knowing the May who didn't make them examine their own attitudes and behaviors. No, they didn't like her at all.

I wrote off everyone except the two who stayed true, and in the middle of everything, I met Jolie. She met me at my worst, but she understood that my edginess wasn't something that was intended to be a personal affront to anyone. I was just having an episode of a very unpleasant illness. She liked me anyway, and the feeling was, and remains, mutual.

Over time and with talk therapy and blogging, and medication adjustments, I learned to reframe my anger. I analyzed it into manageable chunks and filed it away when I thought it had served its purpose and run its course.

In the past week, Jolie has had to confront people whom she supported through their worst upheavals, only to find that the support wasn't even close to mutual. She told me that one of those people told her he liked her better "before." He said she wasn't as nice now, and that she had become unaccommodating of the other's needs. She was only focused on herself.

Hey, well, when you fly off a motorcycle and then in a helicopter shortly thereafter, there might not be a better time to be self-centered.

Like me, Jolie was disappointed in the mentality of her friends, and then her indignant outrage took over. I know how she feels. I have been there, immersed and drowning in it.

Shortly after Jolie recounted everything she was experiencing, my own anger came back. For days, I've felt it like new all over again. I find myself having mental confrontations with the people who betrayed me with their indifference. It has all resurfaced, although this time, I understand that it will do no good to try to "work it out" and explain what I needed at the time. This time, I am trying to feel what I feel, acknowledge that these are valid hurts, and just go with the course of emotion in the hope that it will subside more easily when influenced by my new insight.

Sometimes I am surprised at how visceral our emotional memory really is. As the Burmese would say, Very, very.

Honeeeee, change the channel

When the cat's away, the mice will watch bad movies.

My husband is a closet action movie freak. When I go out of town or work through the weekend, he fills up on cinematic crap that he knows he'll never get to watch when I'm in the house. I'm not saying my taste in movies is in any way academic--it's not. However, there are certain things I just cannot sit through either for intellectual reasons or because they make me afraid of the dark.

When I got home from frying myself on an AstroTurf field yesterday, my husband was deeply engrossed in Apocalypto. There was an immediate flash of recognition in my brain: I didn't watch this because it's gross. Almost on cue, my husband said, "Those Mayans were fucking psycho. That's a society that was no great loss. Brutal." I assumed the movie had neglected to delve into the artistic and engineering related accomplishments of the Mayan culture. Of course. Mel Gibson had been too busy focusing on disembowelments of live people,blood-spurting head wounds, and mass executions. Eeewwww.

I thought Braveheart had a good story line but was one of the most graphically violent movies I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I watched it the same week I watched Rob Roy, so I had far exceeded my ability to tolerate violent visuals.

I will say this: Apocalypto was beautifully and lovingly filmed. It's like watching a tropical painting come to life. The sound editing is phenomenal. The rest of it just seems like a two-hour attempt to out-gross-out the previous scene. Couldn't the story have been told just a little less sadistically?

Before this movie, I thought Smurfs were the only blue people running around in the forest. Now I know better. Evil Smurfs. Sadistic, psychotic, Yucatec-grunting Smurfs. Mel Gibson's Smurfs...

I saw one!

The weirdest trivial nonsense can make me happy. Rainbows make me happy, even though they're pretty common here in the summer. I once came across the Olympic Torch Relay just coincidentally, and it made my week. I get giddy when I happen upon the Weinermobile. I even stopped and chatted with the driver once (and found it's their job to chat with idiots like me).

This morning could make it into the May's Cool Things Spotted hall of fame. While driving to work, I started thinking of how cool Google Maps is, especially the street-view pictures you can pull up to get a 360-degree view of a spot on the street. The picture of my house is close and finely detailed. The only thing you can't really make out is the house number, and I wondered if that was intentional. About 30 seconds after pondering this, I arrived at an intersection just as the light turned red, putting me in the first position in the line of cars. And then I saw it. It was right there in front of me, driving down a busy street, just as nonchalantly as any other car.

It was a Google Camera Car. A mundane Chevy with metal rails on the roof and a bizarre array of equipment perched atop a long pole on top of the car. I did what anyone would have done. I smiled and waved. Hey, you never know.

I'm not sure which is the bigger deal here--that I saw the Google Camera Car, or that I saw it only seconds after thinking about the very photos it produces, or that I am such a geek, I waved at the car.
(The camera car pictured in this post is one spotted in Milan. The equipment is exactly what I saw.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Note to self:

SPF 45--Good.
SPF 0--Not so good

It was like being in a dream

I am generally not fond of any Sunday that starts by the alarm waking me at 5:10 a.m. and goes on to find me actually working. Outside. On another blistering hot day. The event was on the football field at a high school.

I learned something today I had sort of been aware of but hadn't fully appreciated before. The field was Astroturf. If it is a cloudless, 97-degree day, the temperature on the field is actually about 107. The college intern at the next table over started tanking pretty early on. Her coworker asked me if I had water. I did. I also brought her a chair and an ice pack to hold on her pulse points. I had been drinking large amounts of water from the time I got up, so my body was doing better, but only marginally.

The event ended an hour early due to, well, heat exhaustion. I can't unpack my car yet. Maybe later when it's much, much cooler.

The effects of the heat, the early morning, and a late bedtime caught up with me late in the afternoon. I stretched out on the couch and fell into a fitful sleep.

I awoke about an hour later, hazy, confused, and drenched in sweat. I distinctly heard giggling. Helium-induced, hallucinogenic giggling. Familiar voices. A lovely voice. Why was I sweating like this? Why couldn't I wake up?

It took a while, but eventually I realized that the TV was on and TNT was once again airing The Wizard of Oz. Glinda is my favorite. I love her. She speaks vaguely helpful phrases that leave Dorothy puzzling over what to do next, believing she's had advice, but without actually having received any advice at all. Glinda would be a great therapist. Her ambiguity is so charming. She knows the answers, but her wisdom requires her to provide nudges along the yellow brick road, but no clear directions.

Where should I go?
"Start at the beginning!"

"Don't give the slippers to her. She wouldn't want them so badly if they weren't very powerful."

"Click your heels together three times..."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because you wouldn't have believed me. You had to find out for yourself!"

Glinda rocks the pink dress.

I could write an entire month of blog posts on the topic of The Wizard of Oz. My husband and I quote it daily and liberally. We are currently shopping for a new front door. My husband saw one that has a little hatch door in the upper half, decorated with small ornamental iron work. Every time we go to Home Depot, he stands on one side of the display, flips the door open, and says..."Who rang that bell?!?!"

I have at least 100 Wizard of Oz related items in my home. That might be a conservative estimate. Hehe. It's like that.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's midnight. Do you know where your blogger is?

I am blogging under the influence of Emsam, lithium, Lamictal, Lyrica, Ambien, Hydroxyzine, and Elmiron. My time is limited as I will soon go into semi-hypnotic sleepy state. Just before that, though, I'll be overcome with waves of nausea.Wheeee. What fun it is to take prescription drugs. I could make a small fortune selling off the things I don't use. Do people take trazadone recreationally? I have about 300 pills. They were prescribed, but I never took them. Lots and lots of Xanax, too.

It's hotter than hell here. It's also humid and that is just unheard of. This is a semi-arid climate. Ack. My scalp is sweating. Ack. That lovely skin fungus I get across the front of my neck every summer is back. My ex-primary care asshole doctor said I get it because I'm fat and if I would just lose 60 pounds, I wouldn't sweat on my neck and encourage the natural skin flora to thrive. He said losing weight would make me lose that neck roll and I wouldn't get rashes. Uhhhhh, I can't see a neck roll. Anyway, now the crud has spread, probably because my meds make me sweat. The crud is at the outer corner of my eyes and under my eyes, as well. I guess that fucking neck roll is so goddamn huge it must cover my face at night and cause the skin flora to go out of control around my eyes. Maybe that's why I can't sleep. The massive neck roll must be smothering me.

Why am I blogging at this hour? It's because I'm printing out glossy, four-color brochures for an event that starts at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. I should have help. This isn't really about the fledgling nonprofit. It's really about my actual job. I participate in events like this throughout the year. Smile and inform May, smile, smile, smile. My work in the community is the only thing standing between me and screaming at bad customer service people in stores, and more important, it's what stops me from participating in outrageous acts of road rage.

I've been trying to get a grip on my mood. I am a rapid-cycling kind of girl, and that complicates things tremendously. Maybe I'm just tired. I'm having a hell of a time with the shingles pain. I fear it will never go away. I'm not sure I can live in harmony with this particular malady.

I seem to be mostly normal, but prone to bouts of crying. Then I'm OK. then I have a dark mood for a few hours. Then I say hilariously funny things. Then I go to bed and watch the ceiling fan whirl in silence while I alternate between sweating profusely and freezing my feet off.

I went to Ross today. I didn't buy a black skirt, but I was tempted by many. Instead, in a bold mood, I bought shorts that actually fit, a T-shirt, and I forget what else. A stretchy shirt, maybe.

Yesterday, I was sitting outside of Kamila and Ali's house, (a nice couple from Iraq) waiting to go in. I had on NPR's Talk of the Nation. The psychiatrist on NPR said depression is not a disease, and people need to get over the idea that they need medication. He said in almost all cases, people just need to manage their lives better through diet, exercise, stress management, talk therapy, yoga, and deep breathing. I asked Frank what he thought that guy would say if I were to tell him that when ADs were prescribed for me five years ago, at that time, I was spending 15 or more hours per week in the gym, I was eating about 1,000 sugar-free/fat-free calories a day, and my annual physical proclaimed me to be exceptionally healthy. I must have still been doing something wrong because I became severely depressed anyway. Maybe I just wasn't breathing deeply enough.

Have I ever mentioned how psychotically livid I become when it is suggested that my depression/BP are my own fault? Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag.

(Thanks to my friend, Area25, for letting me borrow from my own email to tell this story. )

Meds kicking in. Teeth not brushed. Brochures sstill printing. Ink low. Not now. It's bad enough our washing machine croaked mid-way through my load of darks today. Why always on a weekend?

OK, I'm into the stage of visual disturbance now. Proofreading and editing tomorrow. Good night.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big, fat genius

Necessity is the mother of invention, or sometimes, adaptation. When faced with a conundrum, I can puzzle over that challenge indefinitely. The answer might come to me in the shower, in the car, or in the middle of a conversation--or never.

I've always tried to be resourceful. Sometimes I work at it, but other times, I just seem to know how to MacGyver my way through a lack of resources, especially when what I need doesn't exist, and so I must find a way to make do.

I love summer. Summer does not love me. I sweat very easily and I always have. Unfortunately, I was born with very sensitive skin, and trust me when I tell you that sweat and sensitive skin are a bad combination. I am the rash queen.

Gold Bond powder rocks. Cool showers are delicious. Ponytails are a necessity. Weight loss would be...helpful.

I prefer to wear skirts to work. It's just easier, especially given the amount of time I spend sitting on the floor in people's homes. Of course, having fat thighs complicates things because when I walk, my inner thighs rub together and eventually bloom into huge, swollen, fiery red, burning circles. Once this happens, it can takes days for the irritation to subside, and all the Gold Bond on the planet doesn't help.

In the winter I wear tights. In the summer, I'm already hot to begin with, so I know that wearing pants is the safest option. It's also the least attractive and usually the least comfortable, as well.

I started thinking about this last week, during a string of 100-degree days. Just sitting in my car made my thighs sweat. By the time I made the four-block walk from parking to work, the irritation was already almost unbearable. Until I broke out in prickly heat and my day really went straight to hell.

If I could just stop the rubbing. If I could just stop sweating. I could try something like Bodyglide to address the chafing. I knew cycling friends who used it, as well as runners, but what if it melted and left spots on my skirt, revealing to the world that I needed thigh lube just to walk on a hot day?

So, if not lube, then weight loss, but I can't stop the rubbing unless I drop, like, 70 pounds or more. Probably not even then because I'm not built like that. I remembered reading a story in a magazine about people who have excessively sweaty feet. Among the suggested treatments was roll-on anti-perspirant deodorant. Hmmm. If it works on feet...

One morning last week, I toweled off after my shower. I pulled out the tube of Secret clear gel stick unscented. What the hell? I applied a thin coating to the surface of each inner thigh. When it was dry, I applied a second coat. I maintained a wide-legged stance as I finished my morning routine. Everything seemed OK and comfortable, but I wouldn't really know anything until I made that long, long trek from the parking garage.

It worked. It worked with all-day protection! No mess, no irritation, no wetness, no sticky residue! Lubricates and provides wetness protection!

I have made a few small tweaks to the application process (larger), and I have never been so comfortable. Lalalala. My Secret has a secret. Hehehehe! Makes me want to twirl when I wear a skirt. I'll spare the world that particular visual.

Everything you need is on the Internet

Today, I needed this. Thanks, Joanna. You always seem to know exactly what and when.

(Just a suggestion though, turn the HD off unless you're on a T1 Internet connection, and for the love of God, move your cursor off of the picture.)

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

His claim to fame

If you aren't up on your world affairs, you may not know what gets people like me into an agitated emotional state called "secondary trauma."

Karadzic, mentioned in the previous post, masterminded and arranged for the implementation of some of the worst war crimes carried out in our lifetime, most notable among them, the rape camps and the genocide at Srebrenica. (Caution. The article is rated R for 'revolting.') Perhaps you saw it on TV more than a decade ago. The victims are not abstract, nameless images on film. I have met them. I know them. I have spent time in their houses sipping strong, Turkish coffee and eating pita and baklava while listening to their stories. They told me things, things that eventually accumulated in my subconscious and later bubbled up to give me the worst nightmares of my life.

The other people like me who do this work in my city became so emotionally overwhelmed by the witness accounts of genocide, that a trauma specialist was eventually called in to do a series of art therapy and physical reintegration sessions with us--much the same care that was being given to the survivors themselves. Some of my colleagues were the survivors themselves.

It appears that even secondary trauma burrows into the deepest fiber of human tissue and remains there until the right trigger makes it wake up and start coursing through the veins again. As long as Karadzic is in the news, I must accept that the indignant anger and the deep sadness that have been dormant at the cellular level within my physical being are going to drag themselves through my conscious mind for a while.

Human filth. He is human filth.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Die, die die!

Radovan Karadzic...Die you worthless, amoral, arrogant, mousse-head piece of shit. The sooner the better. No, slowly. Behind barbed wire, in the winter cold without clothes or food. Very slowly. How does it feel to have hubris bite you in the ass really hard?
You don't deserve the Hague.

Monday, July 21, 2008


My friend is in trouble. I don't know how to help or even how to intervene. I am sad because someone I love may be irrevocably and possibly fatally sad. I feel helpless.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

About an hour

I have unintentionally dedicated the last year of my life to helping people. I don't mean the way I usually do through my work, but by unintentionally starting a nonprofit and following through on nurturing this creation to true sustainability.

It's killing me.

I want to drop it and just go on to other things, but I'm sure that if I do that, all of the hard work that four of us have put into this will just evaporate into nothing more than an idea that could have worked. Could have.

I spent today outside in 100-degree heat, working my ass off in the name of helping my fellow humans. I am exhausted. my feet hurt. My ass is killing me (lots of bending, stretching, and cargo loading). What is wrong with me?

I was up late last night--until about 2:00. It was too late for me to take Ambien and still expect to get up and function by 6:00. It was hot in the house. I turned off the lights and got into bed. The room was bright. It was much too bright for me to sleep. The full moon always steals my precious sleep, and it always comes around just when I most need to rest. I stared at the ceiling and tried to lose myself in the blur of the ceiling fan paddles swirling in the semi-darkness over my head. A delicious burst of cool breeze tumbled through the window above my head and I tried to breathe in this ripple of night air.

My iPod was on, but the room was just too bright. I tried to clear my mind, but I just kept coming back to a mental checklist of everything I needed for Sunday's event. Every time I checked the clock, it seemed like it had leaped ahead an hour. I have a sleep mask--two, in fact--one for cooler weather and one for hot summer nights. It was just too hot to have anything on my face.

In the end, music didn't help, soft breezes didn't soothe me, and exhaustion didn't slow down my mind. The last time I looked at the clock,it was 5:03. I got up as 6:15 aware that I had slept only because I remembered my dream.

An hour of sleep just isn't enough. Nobody's brain should fire at such rapid high speed that an hour of sleep still allows you to go full-bore through a 13-hour day in blistering heat. I am tired. I am not sleepy.

Sometimes I wonder what would be happening amongst my neurotransmitters if I weren't taking all of those sedating pharmaceutical medications. Ziiiing!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

So many thoughts

When my brain totally melted down a few years ago, I spent a lot of time on a well-known online forum. The community was tolerable and at times incredibly helpful. There was a definite social pecking order, though. I suppose that's true of any online community. At a time when I had been heading upward and then spiraled downward, I was no longer healthy enough to delude myself and ignore the truth that there were several hostile people there. They just would not tolerate anyone else having serious troubles--I suppose they resent that the attention that goes with that is going to someone else.

I recently went back and visited the forum. The same people are having the same discussions about the same exact issues and dramas they were three years ago and two years ago and one year ago.

This means something to me, mostly because I am no longer having those discussions. Maybe I have a good doctor. Maybe therapy worked. Maybe I was never afraid to keep looking for a way to not be able to relate to those discussions.

I'm not saying that I am in any way better than those people on the forum. No. I do, however, think that there is a big difference between talking about one's illness and talking to get insight about one's illness. As I scrolled through those conversations, it seemed to me that going over the same old ground is not meant to be insightful for them. It's more of a way to avoid getting on with life in spite of an illness.

That may sound judgmental, but that's not my intention. Looking back on the forum was a revelation for me showing just how far I've come and continue to progress.

The truth is, I haven't been feeling all that great myself lately, but I can see that I have coping skills and I know how to call on them. That's a good thing when you feel a little unraveled. It's encouraging.

I detest my illness. Treating it with medication may be a challenge, but getting me to accept that I would have to live with it if I were to choose to live at all was a much, much greater challenge. I am sure that this moment of personal insight exists somewhere on the famous continuum outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Progress, I guess.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The importance of medication

This is a cautionary tale. I always read these articles to remember that even the bright, acconplished people with BP still go over the edge. Literallly. I am not immune, so I remain medication-compliant. That being said, this guy was psychotic, and I never think of that as a BP symptom. Irrational, yes. His diagnosis was right on time, chronologically speaking, as to when some doctor finally gets it right.

HONOLULU, July 14 (UPI) -- A missing millionaire software designer was found dead in Hawaii Monday, two weeks after he was last seen at a Honolulu hotel, authorities said.

The Hawaii medical examiner identified a body found at the bottom of an Oahu cliff as that of Steven Thomas, 36, the founder of security software maker Webroot Software Inc. Thomas had been missing since June 30 when he went to a hotel to visit relatives, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

Officials said Thomas' decomposing body was found by three hikers Sunday afternoon below the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, a 985-foot cliff.

Thomas had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April after an incident in which he ran naked into a group of competitive runners passing in front of his Lanikai, Hawaii, home. His wife told the newspaper Thomas had experienced delusions of being stalked by aliens and the government but had refused medical help. Steven Thomas was staying at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Waikiki with his cousin and mother when he made an unusual remark, his wife said. "And they were all on the balcony and he said to them 'This balcony isn't high enough for what I need to do,' and that really scares me," Candis Thomas said.

Candis Thomas said her husband was "having major panic attacks, he was very agitated, aggressive" the last time she saw him. He disappeared as the couple was planning to travel from Hawaii to their summer home in Boulder, Colo., where Thomas founded his software company and later sold it for $50 million.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A very good man

Sometimes, there are people who are not afraid to ask hard questions. More important, they are brave enough to take a risk and pursue the most difficult answers. The world is a better place because of these people. Today, Brainucopia salutes one of them: Luis Moreno-Ocampo. We salute him not just for his actions today, but for the many times he stepped up to ask for accountability where it had been buried under the darkest, ugliest secrets. Tip your hat, raise your glass, give a nod.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The formula for a good night's sleep

The cure for insomnia is:

750mg lithium
200mg Lamictal
25mg Lyrica
300mg Elmiron
6.25mg Ambien CR
300mg Hydroxyzine
9mg Emsam*
5mg Valium (vaginal suppository) ahhhh....
Xanax as needed
iPod "Sleep" mix; silicone earbuds recommended

Works like a charm. I am a zombie.

OK, Emsam prevents sleep in a big way, but it takes the other nine medications to counteract it.

I remember when

I remember when I could accomplish so much in the course of a week, it made people tired just to contemplate my schedule. I remember when I could get up early, go to a 5:30 a.m. aerobics class, work a full fay, and hit a 7:00 p.m. exercise class on the way home, and then finish some paperwork while watching TV.

When I was in grad school, I also worked. I was on committees. I excelled. I was hypomanic for like, three years straight. Hypomania rocks, it rocks, it rocks. Other people might loathe me, but man, I got a lot done and I felt good, and it didn't matter to me how fuckin' obnoxious I became.

My life is still busy, but it takes so much effort to get through my over-achiever's workload, I am tempted to become a slacker and just not care if people are impressed by my accomplishments or not. It would help if I could stop trying to prove how worthy I am to be in the world, also.

The biggest things holding me back are physical pain and serious medication. Yesterday, the post-herpetic neuralgia was the worst it has been since the shingles episode itself. It brought me to tears, which scared my husband. Pain killers didn't work. In addition to that, my feet hurt--I feel like a ran a marathon and have felt that way for about a month. No new shoes, no related changes to bring it on.

And then there's the whole pelvic thing. I can't continue the physical therapy, and that makes me sad. When Great West fucked up my account so badly, they basically made it impossible for me to spend any more money on my health care (except for meds). Within two weeks, my crotch was on fire, once again. My pelvic muscles hurt. I have cramps. Great West is taking away my TENS machine because, although they have deemed it to be a medically necessary device, they do not work with the device distributor the physical therapist does. The company Great West works with, Apria, does not provide TENS units. They deal strictly in oxygen, wheelchairs, and the like. This means that if I want to continue with the TENS machine, I have to buy it. It costs $700.

What the FUCK do insurance companies do with our money?

So, I don't feel so hot physically. I mull the need to kill myself every day and go on to decide this is not the time. I cannot call the severely mentally developmentally delayed customer service agents at Great West. They make me too angry to function. I have a bad history with intellectually dulled customer service employees.

My mood is OK, overall. I just feel discouraged. Chronic pain will do that to you. I could really do with a hell of a lot less nervous system activity.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Mall

The vision was so clear in my head: A simple white camisole, preferably modal, preferably silky finish, V-neck, lace trim a minimum of one inch wide, skinny straps. This seems like a fairly straightforward item, one that is not all that creative or obscure in its imagining.

Without the camisole, I can't wear the white eyelet dress I bought weeks ago. The dress has a deep V-neck that almost completely exposes my breasts if I move my arms in any direction. Picking up a pen and writing would be enough to earn Mardi Gras beads.

I steer the Jeep to the mall. I usually buy my clothes at Ross, but there are some things that just aren't there. Like my camisole.

The mall here is full of beautiful people. It's like one continuous parade of Aryan perfection, long, tanned legs, perfect hair, and cosmetically whitened teeth. My first instinct is to hunch over so nobody will notice dumpy me trespassing on their hallowed ground.

As I make my way toward Macy's, I realize that I am very much out of the demographic for this mall. Louis Vitton, Coach, Juicy Couture, L'Occitane, Anthropologie, Neiman-Marcus...I have just enough cash to buy some lotion at Bath & Body Works. I look at the ads on the sides of the mall directory and am puzzled when it occurs to me that I don't know who any of the celebrities are who are pitching products. I don't even know why they are celebrities. I don't seem to recognize any celebrity under the age of 30. I feel unhip. Old and unhip.

A girl about nine or ten years old almost bumps into me. It looks like she is alone. She is dressed far more fashionably than I am. She is carrying two shopping bags and chatting on a cell phone. When I was her age, our big solo shopping trip was to the candy store with $1 to spend. Then we came home and played Barbies. This kid was Barbie.

Foley's. Macy's. Macy's bought out Foley's and replaced all of the merchandise I could use with items that cost more but look no better. In the lingerie department, my camisole is elusive in a repeated course of Yes-No-Well, almost-No. Definitely not what I'm looking for. I tell Christy the sales clerk that I am looking for a bra in an impossible size--42-B. Maybe. I want something lightly padded, with wide straps and a wide band in the back that won't dig into my shingles nerve. She tells me that my Warner's Saturday Bra is giving me very good lift, not that I asked, and then brings me five bras, but none of them work. I feel bad after she went through so much trouble, so I skulk out of lingerie and into Plus sizes. (Side note: Later on I went to Nordstrom. I had trouble finding the plus sizes. All of their departments have names like "Insight," and "Encore.")

At 7:00 p.m. I call home to tell my husband that I am shopping and not left for dead on the side of a road. He assures me that he wasn't worried. Somehow, I find this troubling.

I stop at what I call the short-fat store, Talbot's Woman Petite. It's like they knew I was coming, except I refuse to pay $75 for a simple cotton skirt that I know cost about $2 to make.

After four hours in the mall, I can't take anymore. I step into Bath & Body Works where I pay cash for three bottles of shower gel and try not to sneeze from scent overload.

I come home, walk in the house, and am greeted by husband and dog. My husband assesses the situation and says, "Seriously. No camisole?" I nod and walk silently to the bedroom. Another shopping failure. I look at the white eyelet dress hanging on the closet door. I feel discouraged. Maybe I should just return it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thay Htoo

Thay Htoo sits across from me while we wait for a fax. He is ethnic Karen from Burma, about 50 years old, and he smiles softly when I look up at him. He is of small stature. Thay Htoo is gentle and soft spoken, but quick to smile. There is something deep about his eyes, something different. His eyes don't smile. He always looks a little bit tired, but his mood seems steadily pleasant. He has a sense of humor and he is eager to help others smile.

The day before we waited for the fax, Thay Htoo came to me with a large manila envelope. He handed the envelope to me with two hands and a slight bow, saying, "My story. Please read my story." He backed away a little bit and then excused himself. I assumed he needed a snack or to use the restroom.

I pulled a stack of papers out of the envelope. This was a collection of immigration documents, mostly, but there was a neatly typed letter on top. The paper was very light and the letter had been written on a typewrite, not on a computer.

I started to read. This really was Thay Htoo's story. As I read it, my eyes filled with tears. This kind, sweet man, this gentle human being had seen horror and had emerged with bravery and honor in his heart.

Thay Htoo first ran into trouble with the Burmese government in 1988. As a young man, he eagerly and with a sense of duty, participated in demonstrations in the streets of Rangoon. He was arrested and taken to jail. There was no trial, no lawyer, no self-defense. Over the course of the next 18 years, Thay Htoo lived in deplorable conditions. The prisons were a brutal place, and he was moved frequently from one to another.

Thay Htoo was tortured for no real reason other than for his jailers to humiliate him. Besides the physical torture, Thay Htoo was subjected to a litany of mental and emotional abuses, the cruelest of which was extended stays in solitary confinement.

Thay Htoo spent more than 16 years of 18 imprisoned in solitary. He was only out of solitary for a few sporadic months among the almost two decades he was incarcerated. His family had no idea where he was, if he was alive or dead, hiding or in custody. He does not know even today what became of his wife and children.

Thay Htoo made a desperate escape from prison in the late fall of 2007. At the time, there were violent, bloody protests once again on the streets of Rangoon, now called Yangon. Thay's story indicated something I never saw coming. He made his way through the streets and saw the protests being led by the monks. Only one thing came to his mind.

He said that rather than keep running to a safe location, it was his duty as a good Buddhist to join the monks and march along with them. And so he did, until the brutality of the police and soldiers was around him, and he realized that staying would mean certain capture and probably death.

A quiet group of democracy-seeking Burmese moved Thay Htoo from safe house to safe house until he was on the banks of the Moei River. Unable to cross via any regular border crossing, he made his way under cover of night, straining against a fierce current in a rowboat.

Once he was on the Thai side of the border, he remained in hiding. He was hungry, wet, and feeling the effects of a body locked in hot, damp prisons for 18 years. While it was still dark out, he found his way to the jungle that parallels the road to Mae Sot. His letter continued, detailing the fact that he couldn't venture into the city because the Burmese military is undercover there looking for escapees. He was a marked man, twice over.

For a week, Thay Htoo slowly made his way through dense jungle until he had walked the 40 miles to Mae La, a sprawling UN refugee camp that is emptying slowly. Normally, a potential refugee must go to an official office in a city in the second country. After an interview, the person is then assigned a camp destination. Having circumvented the process, a fatigued Thay Htoo showed up at the gates of Mae La and petitioned for asylum.

His story told of his injuries, but he kept his emotional wounds to himself. He finished his story by telling his dream: It was not to have a new life in a new country. No, Thay Htoo dreamed of peace in Burma, of democracy and human rights. He made no mention of any dreams for himself.

The fax came just as Thay Htoo returned. I realized then that he had left not because he had something to do, but because he couldn't bear to be present for the reading of his story. I handed the fax to Thay Htoo. He put his left hand on his right wrist as he accepted the paper with downcast eyes and a slight nod. Then he smiled and thanked me. He thanked me again.

I saw a flicker of sadness pass across his face. He was alone here. He had been granted expedited processing out of Thailand before he had a chance to really catch his breath. This kind of priority priority was something usually reserved for government officials and friends of the US government. It was apparent that immigration feared for his safety in Mae La.

For the rest of the day, I thought about Thay Htoo. His eyes always have the color of sadness in them, despite his beautiful smile. It seems impossible that anyone could endure such hardship, brutality, and loss and still emerge with such a positive attitude and such a beautiful soul. He is completely alone here. He deserves better, this sweet, gentle, kind, and honorable man.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Someone in my neighborhood is caught in a loop. He lights firecrackers--one at a time--all day long. this started about ten days before July 4. It has gone on almost continuously ever since. Sometimes there's a whole string being lit.

They start at about 10:00 in the morning and go far into the wee hours of he morning. Maybe theyll blow off a hand and be unable to light their firecrackers in the future. Here's hoping. It would certainly teach them a lesson. My husband said that's harsh. Just a finger will do.

I just don't understand what could be entertaining about lighting firecrackers and bigger things that go "boom" all day long. If these guys are really that turned on my blowing shit up, I believe they should join the military and go to Iraq so they can explode ordnance on a regular basis. This way, some person who desperately wants to come home can have a reprieve, my neighborhood will be a lot quieter, and the guys who find entertainment in explosions and the sound of shots can do something useful in the course of their day.