Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sometimes, irony is evil

On Sunday, two massive bomb attacks killed 170 people in Bagdhad and wounded hundreds of others. Those are hard numbers to comprehend, let alone think of on an individual-by-individual basis. What does that look like? Who were those people? It was so far away, does it matter?

In the United States, war tends not to meet us on a personal level at all unless it is one of our own who dies--specifically, a soldier. In those cases, we get the full press treatment all the way from family reaction to funeral.

Well, yesterday, one of my own met the war head on and did not survive. You won’t read about it in the news and you certainly won’t hear the story singled out on television. That doesn’t make this loss any less significant. The war has a face and it is the face of Hadiya Ali.

Hadiya came here with her family in March, 2007. She was part of my life on a daily basis for almost a year until she was ready to enroll in school. She also took a free English class on Saturday mornings, a class that had been set up for refugee women living in on the east side of town.

Her participation in both classes is what brought her to be one of the first four women who became the core of the refugee women’s empowerment group. Hadiya was our champion. She not only learned the concepts faster than the others, she taught newly arrived women why it was good for them to be part of the group. She cried when she had her first speaking engagement, and then she asked me to help her write about the experience.

Hadiya was a one-woman public relations machine for women’s empowerment, and she was never subtle about it. She wanted everyone to know about the work we were doing, even after she left us to speak on behalf of Iraqi women and refugee causes.

Hadiya made friends everywhere she went. She met the Mayor and the Governor; she did two public radio interviews and she was the subject of at least two newspaper articles. She knew almost everyone it seemed, as well as a hundred more beyond that. She loved Barack Obama, books (and she read them in English), education, empowerment for women, and being as social as possible. She cooked many excellent meals for Frank because she felt sorry for him, knowing that I was too busy to cook for him myself.

Hadiya used to love to sit and talk. We would talk for hours sometimes. She knew when I was hiding something, and she gave me a hard time about a lot of things. Sometimes she was a major manipulative pain in the ass and when that was true, we didn’t get along at all; of course, it was probably just because we were both hard-headed and opinionated.

Hadiya loved to travel, and her sons made it possible for her to go overseas to visit her other family members. On this trip, she said she would go to Germany and then to Jordan. She stayed far longer than she had said she would, and many of us were wondering if she was planning to come home at all.

Unbeknownst to her family, Hadiya sneaked into Iraq late last week. She was so close and the temptation was too great to ignore. She had some unfinished emotional business she needed to take care of. Hadiya’s elderly father was murdered while Hadiya and her family were in exile in Jordan. The crime was unrelated to the war and it remained a cold case. Hadiya never had closure—she had no way to say goodbye to her father, and she was always pained that he didn’t have a proper funeral. As his only child, she felt his loss keenly. She often spoke of the day she could return to Iraq to visit her father’s grave and to say goodbye properly.

When Hadiya called her husband to say she was with relatives in Baghdad, he was furious. He told her to get out of the country immediately. Who knows what Hadiya was thinking. Perhaps she thought the conflict had eased to the point that it really was safe enough to visit. Apparently, it wasn’t.

Ironically, Hadiya was at the travel agent’s office making arrangements to return to the U.S. when the bombings occurred. Her relatives who survived the blast called her husband, Majeed, to tell him that his wife had been killed.

Hadiya was outgoing, creative, tenacious, stubborn, witty, amazing, and full of personality—probably enough for several people. She had many friends and many fans. It was easy to be impressed with Hadiya.

All who knew her and who have heard the news are mourning. Frankly, most are heartbroken. We work with refugees and we understand more than most what the true cost of war really is. We know why refugees aren't supposed to go home during an active conflict, and we know that for many, never going home again is the deepest wound of all.

Hadiya had said numerous times that when she died, she wished to be buried in her homeland, a country she loved and missed deeply. Unintentionally, she has truly gone home to stay.

Hadiya was buried in Baghdad yesterday, in a grave alongside her father’s.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Medication realities

You're losing all your highs and lows,
Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?
The Eagles, D. Henley/G. Frey

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let the games begin

Tomorrow: Physical therapy and then an appointment with the ear-nose-throat doctor.

Next week: Dr. G and more PT.

The week after that: Even more PT and a trip to the neurologist.

Later that week: The brain MRI. I want framed copies.

Sometime after that: Quality time with the bariatric endocrinologist mystery illness wellness lady MD PhD overachiever.

I remember when I used to spend my money on shoes and makeup.

Monday, October 12, 2009


OK, seriously. This freezing cold weather in not-quite-mid-October is tweaking my nerves. I hate cold weather. Hate it. We had a little snow this weekend, for chrissake. Grrrrr. I ordered a jacket from Land's End (one that will actually close and cover my ass) but it hasn't arrived yet. It can't be this cold--I don't have a jacket that fits.

The only way I can keep it together during the season change is to have the light adjustment first, and the temperature change later. The meteorologic gods really need to listen up: May cannot survive shitty winter weather if it's going to start in the first half of October and grind on through April. It is for this reason I do not live in the far north or Mid-Atlantic East.

Perhaps this is nature's plan for me. Survival of the fittest, elimination of the SADdest.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Holy crap! That HURT!

Things happen to me that don't happen to other people. My luck is strange, both good and bad. Today was...bad.

I woke up 35 minutes late and had to rush to get to work. I came out of the parking garage, walked a half-block, crossed a side street, took four steps along the sidewalk, and suddenly felt a horrible crunching sensation on the sole of my foot. And then it felt like I was standing on a lit charcoal briquette for just a second. I took a deep breath and attempted to resume my stride.

As soon as my foot hit the sidewalk, my situation became clear: Something was broken. I limped my way the remaining three blocks to the office. I hoped I could make it across the six-lane street with the 20-second walk signal.

At 12:30, I limped my way to physical therapy. Oddly enough, Monday is not my regular day, but there was a schedule glitch for this week, so I was moved to a different slot. Good timing. Toni took a look at my feet and let me know that my right foot was not broken, but torn. I tore the small tendon that connects muscle just behind the first metatarsal. Its proper name is the flexor hallucis brevis tendon.

Ouch. Walking. I was simply walking and while wearing good shoes, as a matter of fact.

I should be on crutches or wearing a boot-style walking cast, but since I feel like such a dork already, I refuse to add to that problem. Yes, that's right. I am eschewing medical treatment in the name of vanity.

There goes my dance career.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A whole new direction

What if everything you thought was troubling you turned out to be attributed to the wrong cause? Vague symptoms evolve until they meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Medicine, practiced by process of elimination, yields few good answers. Very strange hoof beats go unheard.

Although my life history shows a predisposition for playing in risky neurological traffic, I hadn't had a full-blown bipolar episode until I was in my forties. A condition like that doesn't usually just jump out from behind the behavioral bushes more than four decades into a life, but in my case, it did. Why?

Systemic disorders with no definitive diagnostic tools such as IBS, allergies, post-herpetic neuralgia, migraines, crashing chronic fatigue, vertigo, vision focus problems, pelvic pain syndrome (encompassing at least five other symptoms), random rashes with no apparent cause, and insomnia, all torment me. Nobody has been able to tell me why.

I have always felt inextricably wed to Western medicine. It's not that I reject other medical beliefs on principle, it's just that I like to know how the answers came about. Where is the empirical data? How were the research studies carried out? How much data is there? From Reiki to homeopathy, I remain skeptical without vetted, peer-reviewed data.

There is a fungus among us
This brings me to Candida. No, not the yeast infection everyone knows. Systemic Candida found in the intestines could be the key to everything. Apparently, Candida run amok is sending Americans' health into ruins. We're all going down in blobs of wheat and dairy products, fermented with heaps of sugar. Heaven help us all.

Did I mention there is no definitive test for Candida? It's all a trial-and-error hunch. Hmmm. This sounds a lot like getting to a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder. Leap of faith. Have I mentioned how desperately I want to discontinue medication? It's making life better for the people around me, but frankly, things are not so fabulous from the inside out. But if this Candida thing turns out to be the real deal, maybe I won't need any medication for anything ever again.

If this turns out to be true and I endure some truly unpleasant months treating the condition, then I will be cured. Period. Just...cured. Cured from the brain to the toes. Cured of everything.

Here is just some of what yeast is supposedly doing to our bodies:
Genito-urinary infections, food and chemical allergies, chronic skin infections, rashes or itching, recurrent hives, cravings for sugar, breads, or alcoholic beverages, unusual or severe fatigue, spaciness, lethargy, mental fog, depression, poor memory, ADD, numbness, tingling, burning, insomnia, muscle aches, weakness, joint pain, swelling, dry mouth or throat, bad breath, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, nasal itching, recurrent cough, wheezing, bronchitis, itching inside ears, ear infections, earaches, abdominal pain and cramps, bloating, gas, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, heartburn, mucus in stools, loss of libido, endometriosis, PMS, anxiety, depression, irritability, cold extremities, drowsiness, low body temperature, uncoordination, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, body odor not relieved by washing, excessive sweating, cancer, heart disease, MS, hypoglycemia, asthma, breast cancer, and arthritis, among others. Or so I've heard.

If I had known it was yeast that was making me so miserable, I would have tried to fix things long ago.

In the medical community, Candida has a nickname: The Disease that Doesn't Exist. I think that this diagnosis was made up to placate people like me who say, "You can see the symptoms, but why, oh why, can't you find the cause?" They could say it was gremlins or the effects of post-alien-abduction stress, but that wouldn't sound quite as plausible. You can always say a diagnostic tool is getting closer when talking about yeast, but you can't really get anyone to believe you when you say that about gremlins.

I feel miserable and have for so long that I will clap my hands and try to believe. Whatever it takes.

This thought was put into my head by the fine medical professionals who have been treating me with limited success. Even they are looking for some other avenue to pursue. We're all frustrated, but at least they are getting paid.

After doing lots of research online, I decided to buy a book: Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook, Revised 2nd Edition, by Jeanne Marie Martin and Zoltan P. Rona, M.D. This book says what all of the Internet information said, except it gives more in-depth explanations of the syndrome and it includes 200 recipes you can make out of wishes, brown rice and spinach--that's about all you can eat on the Candida diet.

Just for the record, I haven't had a vaginal yeast infection since 1988. I have never had thrush or any candida goo in my esophagus or mouth. I don't think I've ever had a fungal nail infection. I have, however, had topical (external) yeast infections of the skin across the throat area of my neck the past few summers. Just so you understand how confounding this is.

Candida is controlled entirely by diet and stress reduction. Meditation, yoga, and regular exercise are recommended. I think there's a rule out there somewhere that requires the stress-reduction-meditation-yoga-exercise clause be attached to any treatment for any illness, including leprosy.

You need to see the food list, or lack of food list, to really appreciate Albicans treatment. This includes: no caffeine, no sugar at all in any form ever, no wheat, no dairy, no gluten, no condiments, no peanut butter, no grapes, no (most) fruit, no juice, no mushrooms (no loss), carrots, alcohol, coffee, tea, cheese of any kind, no potatoes, no grains (most), no cereal, no legumes, no packaged foods, and nothing that contains any kind of yeast at all. I am a lazy typist, so this list is far from exhaustive.

The idea is to starve the yeast. I believe the real idea is to starve the patient and then make her so fucking miserable, she will never again complain about any symptoms because she will have something much worse to use as a reference on the misery index.

I am going to do this, but I'll bet I still don't lose weight. I'm pretty sure I am still immune to that.

Thanks, Jolie

Thanks, Jolie, for letting me pull so deeply from our correspondence so that I can test-drive my thoughts pre-blogging. --MV

Saturday, October 3, 2009

May needs a hobby

If I am to believe what I read, social isolation and a lack of interest in activities are key indicators of an unhealthy mind. Just raising the mere suspicion of being a mental outlier can find you sitting shoeless under the watchful eye of an armed guard when you least suspect it.

I haven't made any strides at all in allowing relationships into my life; in fact, I've put more effort into keeping people away from me. A hobby is in order. I don't want the thought police to use my lifestyle against me. OK, I already have a hobby--jewelrymaking--but lately I enjoy buying beads far more than I enjoy sitting still and focusing the way making jewelry requires.

Sunday is soapmaking day. I signed up for a class and it cost enough that I can't decide not to go. the truth is, I signed up for two classes in two different places. tomorrow is "cooked" soap, and at the end of the month there will be a class on cold-process soap.

If I really like this and I have an aptitude for it, maybe I'll start a business: “Soaps for the Psyche: We're crazy about soap.” My soaps will be infused with herbs, botanicals, and maybe a few leftover meds that lend unusual therapeutic qualities or, at least, inspire good names that imply those qualities:
  • Inner Calm Cakes
  • Bipolar Bubbles
  • OCD Enabler
  • Serotonin Suds
  • The Soap, Not the Rope!
  • Mood Lifter Lather
  • Cog-Fog Cleaner
  • Soooap—It’s-About-Time-You-Worked-Up-The-Enthusiasm-To-Take-A-Shower-And-Change-Your-Clothes
  • Slippery Slope Soap (Cleans up emotional baggage)
  • Better Than Therapy Bar
  • Showers of Happiness
  • A Whiff of Hope Soap
  • Mania Mender (sold in bulk); and,
  • Depression Circling the Drain.
I'm going to need a bigger crock pot.