Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Exploding Head Syndrome

My night time existence has taken on a life of its own, it seems, and I think it's out for blood.

Day time remains the same as always: Office tedium interspersed with sheer terror and anxiety, followed by endlessly whoring out my writing to any one with a pulse and a pocket full of change. Sometimes, all of this is punctuated with my ten-year-old experimenting with surly teenagerhood, and more often than not, my only time alone is during my 45 minute commute to and from work, where my thoughts generally turn toward how we're going to afford to keep the lights on this month. There are moments of bliss throughout, of course. A moment of cuddling in a warm bed, right after I hit the snooze alarm. The taste of fresh, hot coffee hitting my tongue (although, coffee has become more medicinal than pleasurable these days, but it's still the finest beverage on earth). Savasana in low lighting after a long, sweaty, difficult yoga class. Hugs and kisses from my daughter, who is still as affectionate as always, even though she's a moody little beast at times. Michael's hand on the back of my neck while we wind down on the couch, a healing touch that never ceases to ease my tension.

And then darkness falls.

Passing out on the couch is never a problem for me. The television plus soft cushions plus comfortable lighting is better than a Valium; I'm out like a light the moment Madeline is tucked in and I'm finished for the day. It's fraught with guilt, though. I feel horrible for not managing to eke out just a few more minutes of alertness, like I should be able to muscle my way through it so I can spend some time with the love of my life, time that is more valuable than gold, more precious than a blank envelope stuffed with 100 dollar bills. Michael and I don't get a lot of time together, and I hate it, so what little time we have I should, at the very least, be awake for, right?

But I can't stay awake. It is physically impossible. A blanket of bone-deep exhaustion falls over me, and suddenly, I'm in the grips of what feels like narcolepsy, powerless to keep my eyelids from falling like heavy velvet theater curtains. That is, until we get up and go to bed. Then the circus of nighttime freaky weirdness begins, complete with loud noises and a creeping sense of dread, and I'm awake until the sun begins to come up.

It starts with banging.

As my mind finally quiets and my muscles relax into a pool of warm molasses, I hear the first bang. Sometimes it sounds like my bedroom door slamming, or another door slamming somewhere else in the house. I awake with a start and involuntarily ask, "What was that?" Michael will sleepily reply that there was no noise, but his assurances do nothing to stop the flood of adrenaline from pounding through my brain and heart. So I lie awake, letting the street lights turn the objects in my room into malevolent figures, watching and waiting for me to close my eyes again. Eventually, I do, and then BANG! Another door slams. Or a shot gun is discharged. I can almost hear the adrenaline woosh back into my bloodstream, which, inexplicably, makes me have to pee. I almost welcome the distraction of walking to the bathroom, because it allows me to return to the rational, sane world for 30 seconds.

Depending on my level of exhaustion, how long I've been sleep deprived, or the day of the week (this happens only during the week, never on weekends), the banging will go on all night. Every time I drift away, more banging. The banging is sometimes followed by quiet, nearly imperceptible music, or even more rarely, it's accompanied by voices. One night, the voices said the name "William" repeatedly while I was in that netherworld between awake and asleep.

A friend was able to give a name to these auditory hallucinations. Exploding Head Syndrome. Look it up, it's a real thing. And no, my head will not eventually explode, even though I feel like it will after multiple sleep-deprived nights in a row. It's so called because of the banging that goes on inside of your head. What causes Exploding Head Syndrome is kind of a mystery: Some believe it's caused by sudden shifts in inner ear components, and others believe it's caused by minor seizures affecting the temporal lobe. One nutjob on the Internet claims that EHS is caused by "electronic harassment", in which the sufferer is actually targeted by someone who is using a "microwave auditory effect". So, in other words, I have EHS because some jerk is leaving a flaming bag of poo on the front porch of my brain. Yeah. Thanks, Internet, for yet another morsel of useless yet amusing information.

 I don't know why we take comfort in being able to name what's afflicting us. Maybe that's just me, and nobody else cares what it's called. But it makes me feel a little less like I'm losing my mind, knowing that what's happening to me is common enough to warrant a name. It's a relief to know that, at night, when I feel like the bonds between my brain and sanity are tenuous at best, when the banging starts and stops for nothing, there are other people in the world whose heads are exploding in tandem with mine.

Maybe I'm not destined for sleep. Because EHS isn't the only thing keeping me awake at night. The banging sometimes brings a friend along, and that friend tells me that even though Michael is sleeping peacefully beside you now, any second, he'll be convulsing and turning blue, unable to breathe, chewing his tongue to bits. The friend wraps its frozen hand around the back of my spine and doesn't let go, whispering that danger is ever-present, never-resting, so neither will I, while the banging continues, acting as the twisted musical accompaniment to another sleepless night.

My home is filled with specters. None of them are ghosts.

Monday, October 22, 2012


The first time I ever saw a seizure outside of a movie or TV show was at my friend Lisa's house. We were sitting in her kitchen, and while we chatted, she held her dachshund Champion in her lap. Champ was teeny, not much larger than a kitten, and Lisa was telling about his myriad health problems, which included having seizures. Then, almost as if on cue, Champ began to shake and make little squeaking noises while his eyes fluttered and then fixed on the middle distance. "See," Lisa said. "He's having one right now." It was nearly imperceptible, the movements Champ was making while seizing. I probably wouldn't have known if she hadn't told me. But the longer I watched Lisa's tiny dog, a feeling of profound dread and panic began to overwhelm me as I observed the small changes in Champ taking place before my very eyes. "Oh god, Lisa!" I exclaimed. "Can't you do anything???" Champ looked so helpless, so far away. I'd never seen a living creature have a seizure before, and watching Champ have one, I started to feel a little scarred inside. What a terrible thing, to be trapped in your own body, at the mercy of an electrical storm inside your brain. Eventually the seizure ended, though, and Champ hopped off of Lisa's lap and ran around, like nothing had ever happened. Lisa and I joked about it for a long time after that, about how Champ's seizure nearly sent me to the looney bin.
And then I watched my fiancé have one.
I knew Michael had a history of seizures. I even asked him once time to give me a brief tutorial on what to do if one should happen. "Don't put anything in my mouth, and DO NOT, under any circumstances, call the paramedics." Thus ended the tutorial. But the likelihood of a seizure happening seemed so small, as he hadn't had one in a decade, and they seemed so specific to a period of trauma in his life. I never gave the possibility much thought, and neither had Michael.
Everything seemed so low-key that night in early August. We were tired, sure, sleep-deprived even, but weren't we always? We went to bed early that night, since Michael had a gig the next night in the city, and we needed all the rest we could get. We got under the covers, and we chatted little, just like we do every night in order to start winding down. The irony of the topic of this conversation has not been lost on me: "Tell me one thing I don't know about you," I said to him. What a funny, disturbingly-appropriate thing to ask someone that you've known for so long, right before something terrible happens to them. "Uh....you know everything. I honestly cannot think of a single thing," said Michael. I responded that I'm sure that wasn't the case, but before we could explore the topic further for the purposes of a consensus, we drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened by yelling. One loud yell, then shaking, and then a strange, wet-sounding noise. It was so disorienting, so sudden and unfamiliar, for a second, I was sure I was still asleep. I put my hand on Michael and felt him flailing and struggling to breathe. In one motion, I flew out of bed and turned on the light to see foam streaming out of Michael's mouth, foam that was pink and streaked with blood, his lips grey-blue, his eyes transfixed on something not here, something that neither of us could see. He couldn't respond to my cries and my shaking him, because he couldn't hear me. He was gone, farther away than he'd ever been, farther even then the times he'd been touring the planet playing music. He was trying to move, trying to sit up, trying to breathe, trying to talk, trying to BREATHE and not succeeding. It went on for an eternity, the strange whimpering and sucking noises. I couldn't help, and I stared at my phone, completely unsure of what to do. "DO NOT, under any circumstances, call the paramedics," I remember him saying. But he was grey. He looked like a reanimated corpse. Surely I should call.
"DO NOT, under any circumstances," he said.
"But why not?" I asked.
"Because the last time I had a seizure, my ex-girlfriend called the paramedics, and they wrestled me to the ground to get me into an ambulance to take me to the hospital. It took me years to pay off that ER bill because I didn't have insurance."
"So what do I do if you have a seizure?"
"Just wait it out," Michael replied, while shrugging his shoulders. "It will be over soon enough."
So while he convulsed and suffocated, I waited. Michael didn't have insurance. I didn't want the paramedics to wrestle him in our bedroom. During the seizure, he had peed a ton, the bed and the sheets and everything he wore was soaked with urine. How humiliating that would be for him, strangers seeing him this way. Wouldn't he be angry at me if I called them? I stared at my phone. I looked at grey Michael. I dialed 9 and then 1. I watched Michael flail and fail to get air. I thought he said it would be over soon enough. This isn't soon enough, I thought. It's been almost ten minutes. Horrible, dark, sad-beyond-compare thoughts flashed into my mind. Visions of a life without Michael. Terrible thoughts I can't bring myself to describe, even now, months later. I dialed the final 1.
The great thing about living three blocks from the ambulance shop is that the EMTs will probably be at your house before you even hang up with the dispatcher. In the time it took me to put on pants, check and make sure my daughter hadn't woken up from all of the ruckus, and run downstairs to open the door, the ambulance was already there, like they had been idling for a while. The two paramedics who arrived were so calm about the whole thing in contrast to my complete freak-out that it occurred to me at one point that I should be pissed at them. How dare they do their job with professionalism and aplomb while MY world was crumbling around me in what seemed like Apocalyptic proportions. By the time they were in our bedroom, Michael was starting to come around. He was talking, trying to walk, some color was returning to his lips, but the things he was saying were incoherent, nonsensical. He seemed angry that these strange men were in our bedroom. When the paramedics tried to talk to him, Michael got frustrated and slurred, "But I just have to go downstairs and lock the doors. Can I just do that? Can I lock the doors?" But within minutes, he was making some sense. His blood pressure was through the roof, and his tongue was bleeding and shredded, resembling ground beef, from chewing on it so hard, but he was making sense. "What's going on?" he kept asking, over and over, even after we answered him, over and over. But at least he was making some sense. And, oh, relief of reliefs, he was breathing and not grey anymore.
Flurries of questions on medical history from the paramedics, who tried to convince me to have him taken to the hospital, followed by an explanation of Michael's current insurance status (read: He has none, so please don't insist on handing us a financial burden on top of this). Another blood pressure check. Assurances that if it happened again, they could be back in an instant. Calm words. Reassuring words from these two strange men in my bedroom whom I suddenly wanted to hug and invite over for Thanksgiving dinner. In the midst of all this, my neighbor across the street appeared in my bedroom, asking me what was wrong. Sorry, dude, the bedroom is officially full. Out you go bye-bye we'll explain later (I must've left the front door open when the ambulance got here). And then, the two strange men were gone, leaving me to strip the bed, put on clean sheets, and ponder and puzzle with Michael over and over again about the hows and the whys of what had just happened. We were both so tired. The seizure had occurred around midnight and the paramedics left around 1am, and we were just. So. Tired. There was nothing left to do but sleep, and eventually, we drifted off.
And then it happened again. The yell. The gasping and sucking, the peeing, the sweating, the blue lips, the pink, bloody mouth foam. Before I could reach for my phone again, it was over, and Michael was looking at me and saying, "Honey, I love you so much. Why are you crying?"
Michael played the gig that next day. I don't know how, or where it come from deep inside of his heart's depths. But he showed up and played, because he's a pro, and when you're a pro, you suck it up and plug in. For weeks, I slept with one eye and ear open, or I just didn't sleep at all. Every murmur, every gasp, every fart, every weird noise, and I was sitting up in the bed, heart clawing its way out of my throat, shaking Michael awake to make sure he wasn't grey and far away.
The next time the seizures came, two months later, I knew exactly what was going on. Everything was the same. Every noise, every movement. It was long, like the last one, and it was scary, like the last one, but there's nothing like familiarity to dull the edge of sheer terror. He even got up and tried to leave the bedroom, falling into the bookshelf and bureau in the process. I tried to bring him back to the bed, but Michael is tall, very strong, and outweighs me by a good amount. If Michael wants to go somewhere, he's going, and there's nothing I can do to stop him. And again, like August, the seizures came in pairs. When the second one arrived, we were in the living room, he on one couch, and I on the other. He slept, and I did not. While watching some shitty pilot on Hulu, Michael started laughing hysterically from his couch, which I find kind of odd, but then again, not so odd. After all, the pilot I was watching WAS really shitty. And then the signature yell came. This time, I ran to his side, dug my feet into the floor, and using every ounce of strength I had, wedged him against the couch so he wouldn't fall, get up, hit his head, or otherwise injury himself. He had enough problems, right at that moment, what with all these seizures and stuff. Last thing he needed was a broken wrist or a concussion to make things TRULY inconvenient.
When Michael eventually came around to coherency, I insisted on going to the emergency room. "We don't know how many more of these will happen tonight, and we're running out of clean sheets." That last part was meant as levity, but I immediately regretted saying it, because neither of us were laughing. Defense mechanisms are involuntary, I suppose. In truth, I was scared to death he would just keep having them, every hour, all night long, possibly forever. Something had to be done. So at 2am on a Tuesday morning, we packed up Madeline and her blankie, and we headed across the Hudson River to the Northern Dutchess emergency room, sleepless, penniless, insurance-less, and terrified.
And what happened after that? Well, it's pretty well-known now. The CT scan revealed...something. We don't know what. Something that shouldn't be. There have been tests, MRIs, a prescription for an anti-convulsant that must be taken twice-daily, neurologists, ER bills, worry, uncertainty. Michael's neurologist told me that he should've gone to the ER every time he had a seizure, because anything longer than 5 minutes is life-threatening. Thanks, Doc. Thanks for that. Of course, if they happen again, I won't hesitate to call the paramedics, Michael's tutorial be damned.
There are no answers yet. And every day with no answers becomes packed to bursting with more questions. The seizures have been silent. The pills quell the storms in Michael's brain, I guess. But I can't help but feel that somewhere, they're just waiting. Waiting for a moment of peace. Waiting for complacency. Waiting for sleep-deprivation, or low-blood sugar, or stress, before they make themselves known again with a yell and a stream of pink foam trailing down the cheek of the person you love the most, as you watch him disappear into his own body while you stand there with your back braced against him, completely alone, being of no help to anyone whatsoever.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

21st Century Hermitage

Today is day three of my self-imposed FB detachment, and I'm only freaking out a little bit.

I don't like feeling out of control. I've dealt with addictions in the past, and I know exactly how they feel, and FB is, quite frankly, starting to feel like one.

It started out so innocently, too. See, I don't have a lot of friends that I hang out with in person. There are lots of reasons I don't. They live too far away, I have two jobs, plus I'm training to be a yoga teacher, plus I have a 10 year old daughter who is, shall we say, somewhat high-maintenance. Time is definitely at a premium for me. It sucks, it really does. I love my friends, and I'd like to see more of them. Also, my family lives in Alaska, so FB keeps me in contact with everyone. Family, friends, people who are sort of friends but not really. Asshole family members who are straight-up nuts. For better or for worse, I'm constantly exposed to them on FB.

One of the reasons I'm stepping back is because I'm just...tired of it. I'm tired of not only constantly feeling the need to post minutiae, but I'm tired of seeing minutiae posted. I'm tired of how FB makes cowardly jerk-offs with too much time on their hands bold enough to say things they'd never be brave enough say in person. And I'm scared of becoming one of those jerk-offs.

I'm tired of not having privacy anymore. I am actually kind of a private person. Sure, I have a blog and have made status updates on FB that were somewhat personal, but you really have no idea what's going on in my life at all. Only Michael and Madeline do. And I felt myself slipping ever closer to just throwing the dirty laundry out into the yard to see what people have to say about it. Like I was priming for a fight. "Oh, you don't like that I do so-n-so and think so-n-so? Let's argue about it." Nope. Nuh uh. Nothin' doin'. That is DEFINITELY not who I am.

FB is turning me into something I'm not. Just like a proper addiction should.

So I'm taking a break. Not forever. Just long enough to take a hard look at how being disconnected feels. A 21st century hermitage, if you will. People can still reach me the old fashioned way, you know, through email, texting, and (gasp!) calling, but I was allowing FB to force me into looking at my life in little, fragmented pieces, when in reality, my life is not fragmented pieces. It's a whole thing, this life of mine, and I'm losing sight of the big picture. Maybe instead of taking the time to whip out my camera, take a picture of dinner, upload it, and obsessively check for comments, I should be talking to the people who matter the most to me, and finding ways to gracefully (or not) jettison people who suck the life out of me and bring me down.

It's uncomfortable, this kind of detachment. Especially today. I accidentally left my phone at home, so I can't even text with Michael every three minutes like I usually do to get me through my day. So I'm extra uncomfortable. We hate being uncomfortable, don't we? We try hard to avoid it, do everything in our power to make sure we live our lives in the utmost comfort at all times. One of the yogic lessons I'm currently ( and painfully) learning is not to be afraid of discomfort. It's going to come, no matter how much we pad our lives with big fluffy downy pillows. The best thing you can do to prepare is to KNOW that you can withstand a little discomfort, that you can dig way deep down inside of yourself and find comfort in some way. Maybe it's just breathing and in and out. Maybe it's going to your Happy Place. Maybe it's prayer. Maybe it's meditation. Maybe it's focusing on an image in your mind that brings you solace, like your child's face or a unicorn farting out a rainbow. Whatever. If you can do this, you are equipped.

So, in a sense, one could say that I'm looking for ways to make myself uncomfortable. Don't worry; I'm not going to do intentional, physical harm to myself. I'm just stepping outside my comfort zone more often than usual. And FB was getting a little too cozy for me.

Besides, it made me update my blog. How lucky you are! Maybe I'll see you here tomorrow? Want me to post pictures of lunch, just to normalize everything? Too late; I already ate it. My third FB-free lunch this week. It was isolicious.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lesson Learned

Well hello my pretties! It's been so long, and I suck so hard at keeping up with my blog. Conveniently, I can blame the fact that I now have a part-time writing job blogging, so I can't do EVERYTHING. Nonetheless, here I am, because my job blogging involves real estate, and the things I want to talk about have nothing to do with real estate, unless you count the real estate that is my being.

So much going on regarding my real estate, too! Good things! Exciting things! Things I want to write home about, but the people who live at my home have to hear about it CONSTANTLY, so I'll write to you, instead!

Dear All Three of You Who Read my Blog:

Two months ago, I became a vegan. Wait, where you going? Come back! I promise I won't preach, but I will talk about it, because it's my blog.

I've been a vegetarian for several years now, and was one long ago for several years. But for the most part, throughout my life, I've been an omnivore leaning toward relying heavily on meat for proteins and dairy for flavor. That is, of course, when I was consuming food. There was a long stretch there where I guess you could say I was an airitarian? A non-atarian? A nonivore? I was starving myself to be thin blah blah blah. And I was, and I was super unhealthy. Bad bad bad. Long story short thank you Captain Obvious: Size is not the only indicator of health. Okay. Moving on.

Recently, I discovered that dairy products were causing severe heartburn and acid reflux. Thankfully, mercifully, I didn't have to systematically cut a ton of different things from my diet to figure out what was causing my daily intestinal Apocalypse. I read some stuff, so I started with not consuming dairy, and poof. Heartburn gone. Yay. Then I started reading more, and you know what happens when you read more. That's right. You learn stuff. Ugh, what a drag, learning stuff. It makes you step back and take a long, hard look at the way you do things (AGAIN) and reevaluate whether what you always thought was true all these years is actually true. I started reading this nice lady's blog right here: http://happyherbivore.com/, and I decided to try a whole foods, plant-based diet for a while to see if could get my weight to budge. Because everything else I tried hadn't worked, so I was game for anything.

Here's where I pause for clarification: There's vegan, and then there's adopting a plant-based diet. I adopted a plant-based diet. Being a vegan means so many things: You don't use any animal products whatsoever. No meat and dairy, natch, but also no honey, casein (a dairy derivative found in many "vegan" products) or wearing wool. It's smacks of politics. People bristle when you say, "I'm a vegan." However, when you say, "I have adopted a plant-based diet," 9 times out of 10, people ask, "What's that?" And then I get to explain everything I'm about to explain here.

And here's the other thing: You can be a really sad, unhealthy vegan. There are plenty of scary, chemically-manipulated foods out there that contain things I couldn't even begin to pronounce...but they're vegan! Here's an example:

Totally vegan. But would you want to eat this....whatever it is? No. The plastic bottle it came in probably has more nutritional value. And if I don't know what it is, I'm not going to eat it.

That's kind of the goal of what I'm doing: Eating basic foods with no label on them. We're talking building meals from raw ingredients here, not opening a box and throwing it into the microwave. Luckily, my friends at Happy Herbivore have created an EPIC, RIDICULOUS array of amazing whole-foods-based recipes. Every single one I tried was delicious and satisfying.

And here's the other thing: I am a volume eater. There, I said it. I love food. I love it so much, I want to eat all of it. I am Mrs. Creosote, and I'll have the lot. Severely restricting my diet does not work for me, not since I stopped starving myself in my 20s. The flood gates opened when I got pregnant with Madeline, and they have not closed since. So I will eat three squares a day and probably a couple of snacks. So I have to work with that. Which brings me to lesson number 1:

I have to work within my limitations. There is no exception to rule number one.

If I'm a volume eater, I need to eat in a way that isn't going to make me feel deprived, or I will fail. Every. Single. Time. I discovered that eating a completely whole-foods, plant-based diet meant that I could eat SO MUCH FOOD YOU GUYS. SO MUCH FOOD. For less calories than I would eating a slice of cheese. As soon as I figured out the portion to calorie ratio, I kid you not, I cried a little. I thought, "Why didn't I figure this out before? WHY!!???? I can eat a massive pile of spinach sauteed in garlic and feel completely full and satisfied for the same amount of calories in, like, one spoonful of mayo." Yeah. Ding ding! Now you're speaking Kandy's language.

"Hold up yo," you're saying, because you're street like that. And also because you're thinking that a low fat option like sauteed spinach and garlic cannot be as satisfying as something like cheese, because cheese has fat in it, and fat makes you feel more satisfied, right? Right?? WRONG! Well, wrong for me. I can't eat a single piece of cheese. I need to eat lots of cheese (see above: Mrs. Creosote), but then I've blown it. I can, however, eat seconds of spinach, and I'm 1) not suffering from RAGING heartburn (remember? Dairy = excruciating stomach acid madness for me), and 2) sleeping soundly in the knowledge that I stuffed myself with spinach instead of bloat-inducing cheese. See the psychology behind this now? Plus, it tastes better. Which brings me to lesson #2:

Vegetables taste better to me than anything else in the world.

My mom's mind is totally blown right now. Seriously, she's probably spinning in her chair with this revelation. Kids don't like vegetables, and I was no different. But I grew out of it, sort of, especially after I became a vegetarian. But I sucked at not eating pizza and white starch and mac and cheese and things that were making me pack on the pounds. And even when I switched to a plant-based diet, I was a little scared of giving up coating and drenching my veggies in dairy products. But then an amazing thing happened: My taste buds woke the f*&% up. I started TASTING things. Like how good Brussels sprouts are with just garlic. How amazing kale tastes in soup. How good asparagus is with just black pepper and splash of soy sauce. I walk through the produce aisle now, and I drool. I drool and then impulse buy things that are purple and red and orange and green and light green and dark green especially dark green. Greens are so good. Mustard greens, collard greens. Spinach, kale. I love it all. Give me yours, if you don't like it. More for me.

So here I am, going along, eating tons of veggies and legumes and beans (protein!!!) and some whole grains (more protein! but just some whole grains, and high quality ones like quinoa; my diet is primarily vegetables)...and a very funny thing happens: I stopped having low-blood sugar crashes. Which leads me to lesson #3:

I am a volume eater, but I'm starting to need less food now, and I don't have a melt-down if I go five hours without something to eat.

People. This is major.

Two months into my plant-based diet, and I've stopped weeping and acting like a giant baby if I go a few hours without eating. The food I eat now is so slow-burning, I'm feeling it for much, MUCH longer than I used to feel that cheese morphing into a flaming brick in my stomach. Granted, if I did what I did yesterday, I start getting touchy: I didn't finish my lunch (feeling a little blue and didn't have much of an appetite), and I took a long yoga class, then ran some errands, and I didn't get to eat until much later than normal. So by then, I'd probably gone a good 8 hours between meals, and the crankiness was starting to settle in. But this is unusual for me, and it's also the beauty of this: I have the option of eating more food, but I find myself satisfied quicker, and I don't have low-blood sugar crashes anymore. Which means less headaches, less crankiness, less grabbing disgusting food items out of desperation. Disgusting, expensive processed food items. Which brings me to lesson #4, the final lesson for today:

A whole foods, plant-based diet is insanely cheap.

WHAAAAAAT? Yep. Sorry to burst your bubble. Junk food is more expensive. You know what else is expensive? Meat. Unless you're out there hunting it yourself (you know who you are!), meat is pricy. And cheap, factory farmed torture meat is gross and evil and please don't put that crap into your body. Raw, plant-based ingredients, however, are as cheap as it gets. Here's the example I use: One of my favorite, easy go-to meals is sweet potatoes, dark red kidney beans and Brussels sprouts (or kale, or spinach, or whatever I have around) sauteed with garlic. Super easy, really healthy, very filling...and it costs about .80 a bowl. A substantial bowl. Make it organic, and you're looking at about $1 a bowl. Get it from my local farmer's market, and it's probably around .50 a bowl. How much is a 99-cent cheeseburger from McDonald's? That's a trick question. It's actually, like, a dollar and some change with tax. And how long will one single McDonald's cheeseburger hold you over? Just the cheeseburger, no fries. Five minutes? An hour, if we're being generous? Okay, let's make it a Quarter-Pounder. Just that, no sides. How long now? Two hours before you're hungry again (probably for another Quarter Pounder). Please, The World and Everyone In It, please stop telling people that eating healthy, whole foods is expensive. It's a big, fat, gross lie to keep you big, fat, and gross. In disgusting, evil CAFOs, they like to keep the herd big, fat and gross. You know why? So they'll be docile and palatable. Do you want to be docile and palatable like a sad, overstuffed, doomed pig kept in a cage not even big enough for it to turn around in? Yeah. Me, neither. I'm not thin, but I'm not a doomed pig either, and some might argue I'm hardly palatable. Which brings me to the Bonus Lesson of the day (sorry, I guess I had one more in me).

Health is not about size. It's about health.

Remember this one? I said it earlier. Oh, this was so hard for me to learn. So, so hard. So hard, in fact, that I have to relearn it every day, sometimes multiple times a day. My size is my size. It just is. My body is my body, and it's the only one I have. It's also strong, extremely flexible these days (thanks, tons of yoga!), and an amazing machine. It is not, however, what anyone would consider thin. It's curvy and zaftig. It just is. It has also been through the ringer. Remember when I was talking before about starving myself throughout my 20s? Heh. True story, being malnourished for many years damages your natural metabolic processes. Shocking! It also turns out that if you spend decades abusing your body and your metabolism, you can expect to clock some serious time, years perhaps, fixing the damage you've done. You've taught it to hang onto every calorie you consume, because your body doesn't know when you're going to plunge it into starvation again. It's called survival, people, and that's the way we're wired for times of famine.

My weight went up when I started my plant-based diet. I was profoundly confused and discouraged. I wanted to quit, to grab a bowl of ice cream and dig in. As most of you witnessed, I struggled HARD with trying to lose weight in 2011. I worked my ass off every day exercising, trying to eat right (and failing because I didn't see results and gave up), and I didn't lose a pound. But I didn't want to give up this time. This time, I wanted it to work, because I was loving how I was feeling on my new, plant-based diet, how my skin cleared up, how my hair started getting shinier and thicker, and I couldn't accept another failure in my life. So I did something drastic: I threw out my scales. Got up one morning, went to stand on them in the bathroom, but instead, I tossed them right into the recycling bin. And I haven't looked back. My body is my body. My weight doesn't matter. It will never matter again.

What does matter is that I am satisfied. I am fulfilled. Fulfilled enough to take a hammer and smash to bits the things in my life that hold me back and make me feel weak. Which is what I'm doing now. Some of you know what that means for my career, and if you don't know, I'll tell you in private, not on this very public blog.

A lot of people say that adopting a plant-based diet is drastic. I say taking pills everyday for the rest of your life or having a massive, expensive surgical procedure to fix issues that can be treated with lifestyle change is drastic. We cannot keep pretending that our health and what we consume is somehow mysteriously, magically not inextricably entwined. That's what got us all into this mess to begin with, pretending what we eat makes no difference. It makes lots of difference. It makes all the difference. If you eat garbage, you become garbage. It's just exactly that simple.

Oh, and I wasn't going to say anything, because it's not the point, but I had to tighten my belt today one notch. One very awesome, completely mind-blowing, but super unimportant and ultimately inconsequential notch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Don't Know How You Watch This Crap

I'm probably not going to see the new movie, "I Don't Know How She Does It". I'm probably not going to read the novel by Allison Pearson, either. Which is probably just fine with Pearson and whichever Hollywood mega-hack made this film, because I'm almost certainly not their target audience.

But who is? Aliens from a distant galaxy, confused by our ways? People who've spent the past thirty years in a bomb shelter, tucked away far underground? Unrepentant morons and dull-wits? Imbeciles? Honestly, who is actually spending their hard-earned ducats (conceivably) to witness such nincompoopery? If you're one of those people, please identify yourself immediately. I think I have a right to know. It's okay, we'll wait for you.

Nobody willing to admit it, huh? Okay, I can't say that I blame you. I mean, it stands to reason that someone is watching this crap, because crap like this continues to get green-lit. But it's not me. Unlike the "IDKHSDI"'s plucky protagonist, Kate Reddy, I don't have the option of [SPOILER ALERT!!] up and quitting my job when the kitchen gets too hot.

If I feel distant from my partner, we don't get to slam on the brakes of life. I don't get to remove myself from my cube for some extended period of time to work it out. Like most everyone on the planet, we have to fight and make up on evenings and weekends, or through furtive text messaging on my lunch break, if we're lucky. Like most everyone else on the planet, I don't get to quit my job when I blink and my child has suddenly shot up a foot in size the last time I noticed. And, like most everyone on the planet, I don't have the luxury of bailing on my employment if I grow weary of being unavailable to take my child to school and pick her up in the afternoon. Instead, like most everyone else on the planet, I have to gird my loins and pay the nanny to do it.

HAHAHAHA! Just kidding! Like most everyone else on the planet, I don't have a nanny.

So, what happens when I, along with millions of other working moms, feel like I'm not fulfilling my motherly duties according to some random, arbitrary measure of such things? How do I cope? How do I do it? Everyone wants to know, but they don't know! How I do it!

Well, first of all, I like living in a house. Have you ever been to a house, apartment or other type of semi-permanent/permanent enclosed dwelling place? They’re neat, aren’t they? Places to live are the best. You can keep your stuff there! Also, I find that my family and I enjoy consuming food for sustenance. Additionally, we are rather partial to warmth within our semi-permanent/permanent enclosed dwelling place, as well as light so that we may see our needlepointin'.

“But how else do you do it?” You ask, because you are clamoring to know. “There must be more ways that you convince yourself to, you know, do it!” Calm down. You will get your answers right now.

I do it because I am an able-bodied, relatively sane-minded individual who has no reason not to be able to take care of myself, should the need arise. What if your husband/wife/platonic life partner drops dead tomorrow? What would you do? I know what I would do. I would continue to do what I’ve always done, which is go to my job.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a better job than the one I have. I would be crazy not to, because nobody’s job is secure anymore. Don’t fool yourselves by laboring under the misguided assumption that you are indispensible. You aren’t. You are infinitely expendable. Somewhere in China, someone is doing the same job you are doing right now, for $12 a day. But what I have learned during these constant job searches is that there are none out there. I don’t mean that there are no better jobs out there. I mean, there are NO jobs out there. PhDs who previously made triple digits are doing battle for low paying jobs with not only less qualified workers, but other PhDs who are just as good at what they do. It’s a nightmare out there. If you don’t have a back-up plan for your back-up plan, you better get one, and then you should probably have a back-up back-up back-up plan, just to be safe.

I find movies like “IDKHSDI” deeply offensive is the glib pigeon-holing and rampant, unabashed stereotyping. Sarah Jessica Parker is going to Have It All in a super quirky and fun way! Until she decides she doesn’t want It All, just the things that Truly Matter. If that’s not enough to get your gag reflex going, there's more! Like a whacky, scattered Single Mom who is barely holding it together…and SURPRISE! She’s failing miserably and even the most basic of tasks! Oh, and a shallow stay-at-home-mother who is insufferable. Grrr! We working moms are supposed to hate her, no questions asked! Grrrr! That bitch! And no sweeping sexist stereotypical female movie would be complete without the ambitious, conniving assistant. Yep. There’s one of those, too.

Newsflash, Hollywood. These lazy character assignments don’t apply anymore. In the real world of the American Dream Circa 2011, that single mom who can’t do anything right (hilariously, of course) has three jobs and an ex who hasn’t paid child support in months because he got laid off and Family Court hasn’t caught up yet. That shallow stay at home mom we all love to hate just refinanced her house for the third time and that ARM mortgage she got ten years ago isn’t working out quite the way she had hoped, and she’s tending bar on the weekend. That conniving assistant got fired and is an unpaid intern working on her second college degree. And Sarah Jessica Parker, the Working Mom Who Wants It All, couldn’t quit her job, hates her asshole husband but can’t afford to divorce him, so they stay in a loveless marriage for the tax breaks and the sake of the children.

Characters like the ones in “IDKHSDI” are becoming more and more absurd as the economy continues to sputter and blow black smoke. Movies like this are beginning to border on a grotesque minstrel show.

Nothing is clear cut anymore. The days of assigned gender roles and the luxury of choice are over for so many. There are people swallowing their pride/ideals of how things should be every single time they deposit their unemployment check. Up is down, black is white, and millions of hard-working Americans are on Plan B, or Plan C, or Z or Z1a[2].

So, again, I ask, who is watching these travesties? Who are you, mysterious audience member? Are you just a huge fan of escapist, chick-flick dreck that are blissfully devoid of any tether to reality whatsoever? Are you so filthy rich that you don’t care how you spend your money? Are you bored? Because if you are any of these things, you are amazing, and you astound me. Really. I don’t know how you do it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Without Borders

It was 1994 when I moved from Alaska to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend college. I was 18 years old, and I was scared shitless.

Quite a leap, moving from the small Alaskan town of Eagle River to a giant university so large, that you had to take a bus to get from North Campus, where I lived, to Central Campus and the rest of the school. Ann Arbor wasn’t just a college town; the college was the town, and I had to figure out how to conquer this behemoth by myself.

My mother came with me, which was both wonderful and horrible at the same time, because I was eighteen years old, hungry for independence, but terrified of being on my own. When we arrived at my dorm, cars lined the street in front of the door, belongings and furniture spilling out of every window and trunk, and new students and parents bustled about, unpacking, moving things around, figuring out where this lamp should go and whether the rug should go in front of the door or in the middle of the floor. I had almost nothing, save one large suitcase stuffed to near-bursting with everything I owned that would fit. No furniture for me. We flew eight hours to get to our final destination, so all incidental shopping had to be done upon arrival.

Tired, jet-lagged and most likely arguing, my mother and I explored Central Campus together. My face burned bright red when I spotted a store devoted entirely to condoms and condom-related items on the street where we walked. Head shops abounded. Record stores were everywhere. I was elated at the prospect of living in that environment, but I felt so awkward, so uninformed. I did not know what lay ahead.

My mom and I bid each other a tearful good-bye when she flew back to Alaska when classes officially started, but I had managed to make friends with my hallmates in my co-ed dorm, so I wasn’t quite as deer-in-the-headlights petrified as I was when I arrived just a few days before. I also quickly figured out how to get around the sprawling campus using the bus system, so I spent a lot of time exploring, walking around, going in stores and fondling merchandise that I could not afford. Once, while on an excursion, I stumbled upon a huge bookstore on East Liberty Street. It was called Borders Books and Music. I excitedly went in, and when I realized that I could sit. In the store. And read books without buying them! Like a library but with much more comfortable chairs!! I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.

I spent countless hours in that store while I was in school, even though it was far from my dorm and the University’s music conservatory. I’ve always felt comfortable in book stores. When I’m in an unfamiliar place, I seek them out. They are familiar in a preternatural way, as if I was a bookbinder in a former life, or one of those guys that held the torches up so some much more talented scribe could write something. Or maybe I cleaned Shakespeare’s chamber pot, I’m not sure. Either way, I adore books and places they reside.

Although Borders was already in the full swing of franchising when I moved to Ann Arbor, the Borders on East Liberty didn’t have that sterile, soulless retail feeling that I get when I walk into my local Barnes & Noble in Kingston, New York. Every employee at the East Liberty Borders knew EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW about the section in which they worked. The periodicals guy could tell you what was on the cover of the Life magazine that came out in September, 1947. The food/cookbook section lady could tell you six different ways to prepare quince, and which book had the best recipes for emu eggs. And don’t even get me started on the music section employees. Those dudes were scary when they dropped music knowledge on you. If you went in there and asked questions, it was best if you just got comfortable, opened your brain and let the esoteric knowledge of every genre of music pour in. They probably played that music, too, when they weren’t working and fighting with each other over which album to play over the P.A. system in the store (which could be whatever they wanted; no corporate suits around to tell them what they could or couldn’t put on).

Madeline’s father, Crispin, worked at Borders stores all over the country. When we picked up and moved to San Francisco on a whim, he immediately found employment at the store in Union Square, where he got Nancy Cartwright to sign his Bart Simpson doll, and told Chuck Palahniuk to write me a note because he knew how much I loved/hated/loved again Chuck’s work (by the way, Chuck’s a weird dude. Not sure if you’re surprised by that).

The Borders in Union Square was also the first call I made when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, Madeline. It was the first place I went after discovering my high-rise office building was closed on the morning of September 11, 2001. Most of my daughter’s book collection came from the children section of that store, books that were recommended to me by a very knowledgeable children’s book section employee, naturally.

We moved back to Ann Arbor right before Madeline was born, and once again, Borders became our bread and butter. The pay was shit at the East Liberty Street Borders, but I couldn’t get hired by a temp agency while I was nine months pregnant, so we had to suffer on that pittance Crispin was paid working there. I still remember driving there, in the dead of winter, to pick him up when the store closed at 11pm in our unreliable Volvo station wagon. My stomach was so large, I had to move the seat back to the point where my feet almost couldn’t touch the peddles, just to reach the steering wheel.

The day before Madeline was born, I was a week overdue. That morning, I laid on my side in bed while Leave It to Beaver played on my television, sobbing uncontrollably because I hadn’t slept in weeks, every part of my body hurting, and I felt no closer to labor than I did on her official, midwife given due date. In order to make myself feel better, I got up and applied makeup for the first time in at least a month, and drove myself to the East Liberty Borders. Crispin told me that Anthony Bourdain was doing a signing there. I loved Anthony Bourdain, and I was promised a private audience with him before his book signing started.

We had a lovely chat, and he signed my copy of “A Cook’s Tour” with dripping butcher’s knife under his name. And he smelled nice, too, not at all like stale cigarettes, old beer and fried chicken, the way I had always imagined. I sipped hot chocolate while he read from his book before his signing. Madeline did backflips the whole time, but I didn’t know she was a Madeline. We didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. Roughly 40 hours later, we found out.

The first place we took Madeline upon her arrival to the planet was the East Liberty Borders. All of the employees came over to her stroller and oo’d and ah’d. They cooed and giggled at her and tickled her little fat cheeks. Those first few weeks were rough. Madeline’s father continued to work a late shift, and I was alone with a screaming baby who cried 24/7. And we were broke. We were always one paycheck away from homelessness. Thank god for WIC, or we wouldn’t even have had peanut butter and eggs in the refrigerator box we were *this close* to calling home.

With Madeline barely out of the womb, I took at job at the East Liberty Borders in their café, working from 6pm to midnight. Crispin managed to change his shift so that he could come home in time to catch the baby that I punted to him on my way out the door to my own shift at Borders, where I made expensive espresso drinks we could never afford to drink and reheating giant pretzels and fancy sandwiches we could never afford to eat. I liked it there, though. It was comfortable and familiar, and my supervisor was almost never around. Deep into my first shift, around 10:30pm, while bussing tables and schlepping bins of plates and cups, and I looked down and noticed that the front of my shirt was completely soaked with breast milk. From that night on, I brought a bottle or two with me to my shift so that I could sneak into the bathroom or the back storage area of the café and make sure such unfortunate mishaps never happened again. Meanwhile, back at home, Madeline was on a hunger strike, refusing to eat any of that expressed milk that I had stored for her, instead choosing to wait until I was home, sweaty, exhausted and covered in coffee grounds before she had dinner. I feel sad sometimes when I listen to my stay-at-home-mom friends talk about what it’s like to spend so much time with their children when they were small. My heart breaks a little, because I never had that, and I never will. But my working kept a roof over our heads, and that was more important.

In 2003, Madeline’s father took a job opening a new Borders store in Poughkeepsie, New York. We would be close to his family, closer to the help we didn’t have in Michigan. Crispin abandoned that job quickly, with almost no notice, and that was the end of our fiduciary dependence on the Borders Corporation. But we still went there, all the time, especially when we were broke, which was almost always. Because Madeline and I could sit. In the store. And read books without buying them! Like a library but with much more comfortable chairs!!

The Borders store at Union Square in San Francisco closed its doors in February of this year. The flagship store on East Liberty Street in Ann Arbor will be closing soon, too. It was only a matter of time. The once-booming company fell prey Amazon.com, then to electronic books available on Nook and Kindle, and stores like Wal-Mart and Target didn’t help, either. There, people could brainlessly buy whatever books Oprah was telling them to buy that week without thinking or needing to ask a knowledgeable employee whose love of books was evident in every word they said.

I’m scared of what’s going to happen to those employees, the ones that knew everything about everything. Where will they go? What will they do? I hope they open their own bookstores, where people can sit in the store and read books, like a library but with much more comfortable chairs. And if I’m ever in a jam, I hope they hire me to run their café’s espresso machine. Or Madeline, if she needs a job when she’s older. She can stock shelves and talk books. It’s in her blood.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let's Pretend

I've been feverishly working on a book that entails my struggles with weight loss over the past twenty years, so I've been even more lazy about updating my blog than ever. It's kind of amazing that, after all these years struggling for a book idea, one should come to me (in the middle of spinning class, no less) about something that has been my constant companion since puberty. That being, my giant ass.

I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. Maybe I was just too close to the whole process. Maybe the process itself had become so second nature to me that I stopped thinking about it as a big deal and more of, "Welp, looks like I'm packing on the pounds again. Guess it's time to try 4 billion diet and exercise plans that will have varying degrees of effectiveness but ultimately won't change what's really wrong with me."

Focusing on things that are wrong with me is just soooo me. It's what I do. I see something that is wrong, and then I try really hard to fix it. Sometimes, I succeed. I quit smoking, and I don't mean I just stopped smoking. I addressed the way I felt about cigarettes and addiction, and I changed it. And because I changed the way I felt about addiction, it changed the way I confront other addictive habits. I feel so good right now overall, so much closer to the person I've always strived to be. And yet, one addiction remains: The addiction to constantly focusing on my flaws.

I always felt that if I didn't fixate on some aspect of my personality that I considered to be flawed or bad, it would never go away. But in reality, I was picking at a scab so much that it was never going to heal, no matter how much Neosporin I slathered on it or how many Band Aids I piled on top of it. Remember when Mom always said to just leave it alone? She was right. I wasn't leaving it alone, though, so it got worse.

Now, I'm tired. I'm physically exhausted from hating myself so much for so long. You know how people say that no one will love you if you don't love yourself? It's wrong. People in your life will always love you. Your kids will love you, you parents will love you (or they won't, but that's their problem because that's kind of their job), your dog will love you. Your awesome friends will love you, too. But, although your kids and parents and dog and awesome friends will love you no matter what, they will get bored and fed up with your constant self-loathing. It will make them not want to be around you. Except for your dog, but that's because you carry bacon in your pocket. That's cheating. Anyway, what that saying really means is that people will love you if you don't love yourself, but they'll stop calling you to hang out and won't invite you to karaoke night at their house anymore.

So here's the deal: I'm finished with hating myself, with nitpicking on stuff that might be considered bad aspects of my personality by people who judge and evaluate such things. That doesn't mean that the self-improvement ends. Oh no no no. I will continue to improve because I'm learning to love myself, and loving oneself means taking care of oneself. But you know what? My ass is big. It's probably not going to get much smaller than this unless I start doing things that go against my quest for self-improvement.

I also eat too much sometimes. There, I said it. I try hard and mostly succeed, but sometimes, when I've had a particularly difficult day, I have more than I should. Even when the day is not particularly bad. Maybe something is just tasty and I want more. So what?

Oh, and also, sometimes, I turn people down when they want me to do something or hang out with them, just because I want to be alone or spend time with my family. No other reason. I just don't feel like it.

Occasionally, I am not as direct as I should be. I'm getting better, but I will continue to fail at times. Sorry about that.

I don't always want to exercise. Even when I've been super lazy and haven't exercised in three days. Or MORE, even! Sometimes, I just don't like it. Sometimes, I want to plant my butt on the couch with a giant bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and watch 37 episodes of "My Crazy Obsession". This probably means I'm lazy, another undesirable aspect of my personality. Meh. Screw it. So I'm lazy.

I have no patience with people who 1) tell me outrageous, unbelievable lies and then tell me I'm crazy for not believing them; 2) try to engage me in an argument just for argument's sake; 3) blame me for things that aren't my fault; and 4) tell me that I'm not working hard enough on something, or that I should have done something different with my life than I have. But especially that first one, about the lying. I probably won't give you more than one chance on that one, which probably doesn't make me the bigger person, but I don't care anymore.

I'm also asymmetrical, overweight, my eyes are bad, I have a slight speech impediment because my two front teeth stick out from chewing on my fingernails for so long, I still chew my fingernails, I struggle finishing things I start, I have ugly toes and I don't like scary movies so please stop trying to convince me that it's fun to be scared.

Some people may consider all of these things to be flaws. I sure have, for a long time. But it's just too hard to feel that way anymore. I've got a pretty full plate. So how about this: Why don't we all just pretend that I'm actually an amazing person full of altruistic tendencies and charitable acts who is endless patient with your bullshit and loves it when you talk about how much you admire the Blue Collar Comedy tour comedians? And in turn, I'll pretend that you don't need to use A LOT more deodorant than you currently use, you look really good in Spandex and the fact that you love crappy country music is an endearing quality instead of just a confusing and baffling one.

Okay? Sound like a deal? Good. I love you, too. Let's be bestest friends forever and ever now for reals.