Coronapocalypse quarantine week 4. (On pandemics and mental health.)

Callaghan and I sat down in the kitchen the other day to take stock of some of the items we’d kept in our bug-out bag. As we sorted through them, I tried to remember whether, in the Before Time, I imagined that the bag’s contents would ever be put to use in an actual situation. I don’t think that I did. At least, I don’t think I imagined the bug-out bag being used in this sort of apocalyptic situation. I always thought of it in terms of its intended use, which is the get the f*ck out of dodge STAT sort of situation.

The disposable gloves are out of the bag. The future is now, the hypothetical has become reality, and it’s all still so new.

It’s so new, we’re still mentally wrangling with the challenge of changing our behaviors, and we’re finding that this is incredibly hard work. A part of changing behavior is changing our thinking, and most of the behavior we’re talking about is subconscious. Not only is it mentally hard work, but it’s work that we have to do in order to survive and to save others. How can we not be at least a little anxious with this thought in mind? There’s a lot of pressure here, and there’s very little room for error.

Broadly speaking, this is how the pandemic impacts our mental health: We have to do this strenuous mental work in order to save ourselves and others while also trying to maintain our calm.

A zombie apocalypse would be easier to manage than this, in my opinion. You could see a zombie approaching. You cannot see this beast of a virus floating in the air and attaching itself to surfaces. This thing is encased in fat that makes it buoyant, and it’s festooned with little suction cups that make it sticky.

New behaviors to learn, and the mnemonic aids I’m using to ingrain them into my consciousness:

If you must go to the store, don’t do it without bringing a mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer or wipes, because all air outside of the house is poison.

If you have to bring something into the house (that hasn’t been disinfected outside), handle it with caution and then treat the entire area like it’s a crime scene and you’re the murderer and you need to remove your fingerprints from every surface you touched.

If you’re out walking, imagine that this is the zombie apocalypse, and every person you see is a zombie. Six feet between. (A fast-moving zombie could cut through the six feet distance in a heartbeat, so imagine that they’re the slow-moving kind.)

Wash your hands constantly, as if the whole day is spent chopping onions and garlic and you’re desperate to rid yourself of the overpowering aromas.

Train yourself to think before you touch your face, and I mean think as in all of my fingers are sponges soaked in hydrochloric acid that will burn holes into my face if they get anywhere near it.

And to keep my anxiety in check, I’m prioritizing working out. In the best of times, working out is the paramount fix where my mental health is concerned, so now, it’s even more critical that I get into “the gym.” I had time-consuming technical difficulties accessing Body Pump this morning, so I actually canceled my phone appointment with my shrink, as it was the next item on my agenda. I couldn’t imagine forgoing my workout, and I couldn’t do it any later in the day. I’ll have to explain this to him next week and hope that he understands. I’m sure that he will, but you know. I just felt terrible canceling at the very last minute.

Callaghan and I take evening walks every other day. Here’s a bad picture of the moon last night, on the eve of its super-ness:

 

The moon the night before it was pink and super. [06 April 2020]

 

Take care and stay safe, everyone.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Weekend: Being thankful for things I don’t like.

Hello! Welcome to today’s post that’s actually yesterday’s real post. (You may have seen my non-post post from nearly midnight last night.)

Maybe it was because yesterday was Thanksgiving Day that I woke up in a weird, meditative state this morning and started thinking about the concept of gratitude. Counterintuitively, I wondered, could I be thankful for things in my life that generally cause angst or distress?

I realized that:

1). I’m thankful for my depression, because it reminds me that I can’t guess a person’s struggles. Every stranger is a mystery, and it doesn’t make sense to judge a mystery. It doesn’t make sense to react to a mystery, either, no matter the rudeness or awfulness of it.

2). I’m thankful for my phobia, because it means that I can feel something. I can think of nothing positive about my paralyzing fear of roaches, but I can appreciate that it evokes a pureness of any emotion.

3). I’m thankful for stressful situations, because they force me to practice patience, self-control, and nonchalance.

4). I’m thankful for awkward situations, because they force me into a place of self-scrutiny.

5). I’m thankful for pain, because it heightens the bliss of not being in pain.

6). I’m thankful for cold, because it heightens the bliss of warmth.

7). I’m thankful for bad days, because they make me eager for the next day. Every day is a new day.

8). I’m thankful for the intensely trying or traumatic experiences in my life, because remembering them gives me perspective.

9). I’m thankful for hard times, because I come through them – I hope – as a more understanding person.

I realize that I can choose to see my struggles as positives; they can help me to become a better human out in the world.

 

“Without darkness, you can’t see the stars”

 

 

 

Relaxing my grip on goals.

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”

…is a true statement, and also antithetical to pursuing goals, when you think about it from a certain angle.

I haven’t achieved all of my goals yet, but I will one day… and then what? What happens when you’ve achieved everything you’ve set out to achieve? What do you do then?

I’ve flippantly said that I’d die without goals, and in my darkest moments, I’ve believed it. Something’s shifted in my thinking this summer, though, and now, with the season changing and the year just about 3/4 over, I’m approaching my 51st birthday thinking that goals don’t matter as much anymore. How can they matter when I’ve been busy discovering how crazy exhilarating it is to conquer the present moment?

Let me tell you, it’s been so damn satisfying and fun making changes rather than running after goals. I guess what I’m saying, really, is that once I get my shit together, then I can laser-focus on future goals. That’s where I’ve been. I’ve been in the moment, but I haven’t been floating along in it all serene and zen. I’ve been shaking it up.

I still have goals for the future, of course, but I like what I’m doing right now. I don’t want “life to happen while I’m making other plans.”

Onward!

I’ve got the following slew of pics because I heard you when you said that you wanted to see: selfies of me in tees not included in my t-shirt post, pics of me with Geronimo, and more than one selfie at a time. I tried, anyway. I took all of these pics late this afternoon! The lighting is different in the interior pics because change of location means a change of natural lighting, and I don’t care to spend time messing with my selfies to make them look differently. I take it, I post it, that’s it. I’m wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt today.

This one’s in my office – I’m sitting at my desk (with my back to it), and there’s a glow on the left side of my face from the pink salt lamp just below:

 

In my office

 

This next one is in my dining room, which is brighter and warmer in tone than my office. Yeah, I’m as awkward as ever holding a selfie stick. Eh.

 

In the dining room

 

Here’s my first attempt at getting a selfie with Geronimo! I had to point the phone down in order to get him in the picture.

 

With my scale-baby!

 

Callaghan took this one. You can’t really see Geronimo’s face, because the whole pic is hazy with the late-afternoon sun behind us. In fact, now that I look at it, can you even tell that he’s a tortoise?! I’ll work on these pics with Geronimo, for sure.

 

Courtesy of Callaghan

 

Until next week!

 

 

These are exciting times. (Mental health updates post!)

Since the weekend, I’ve been so stoked about rearranging the desk part of my office that I’ve forgotten to write. Then over the last two days I’ve been engaged in catch-up work on personal bookkeeping and accounting, and I’ve been so excited to be doing that that I kept forgetting to write even more. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been wrangling with depression to a slightly higher degree than usual these last few weeks, so being productive in creating new spaces and organizing numbers and files felt like a party.

One interesting thing I discovered about myself during this last little slump (which I’m sure was triggered by not having worked out in a while due to wound-healing) is that I get super sensitive to color when I’m in that mental state. I realized this the morning I put on one of my favorite t-shirts and immediately took it off because I wasn’t feeling it, or, rather, the wrongness of the color for that moment felt like a physical aggravation. It was definitely the color. I felt that if I had a super soft, thin, plain black t-shirt for every day of the week, I’d always be comfortable. (I have just one.) The other shirt I have that always feels right is this equally soft, thin shirt that I’m wearing at the moment:

 

Perfect.

 

The picture on the back is Donald Duck’s back, in case you were wondering.

Speaking of t-shirts, one of you requested to see my top 10 favorites. I would’ve taken those pics for today’s post, but I was too busy whooping it up rearranging furniture and organizing invoices and looking at my budget and accounts and shifting things around and whatnot. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll take pics of my favorite shirts so I can post them on Thursday!

Anyway, I’m feeling better now that I’ve been back at the gym consistently since two weeks ago Saturday, re-filling my empty feel-good fuel tank. Working out is straight-up medicine, guys. If you think you’re already in a good place, you’ll be surprised to find that there’s an even better place to be when you get your body moving. I’m always surprised by it, anyway, even though I know it.

 

 

Why I scroll past mental illness denial memes. (Thoughts on happiness as a state of being.)

Self-help has good intentions, but I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. I mean, I shouldn’t be, but I’m still kind of astonished when I scroll through social media and see that suddenly, everyone has become a life coach.

Wisdom wrapped up in little square boxes. I post memes, too, sometimes. The last one I posted said, “Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.” Most of the few I’ve posted have been fitness-related.

My pet peeve of the self-help meme universe is the genre I think of as “mental illness denial.” At the tired center of this genre, you get phrases like, “Happiness is a choice.” “Happiness is a choice, not a result.” “Today I choose to be happy.” “Happiness is not a feeling, but a choice.” And so on. I know that these are meant to serve as motivational, but I have a hard time with this category.

Happiness isn’t always a choice when you’re clinically or acutely depressed. The opposite of happiness is depression, and depression isn’t a choice, either. Happiness and depression are states of being, states unalterable by neat and tidy little happiness instructions. Glib quotes like “happiness is a choice” or “today I choose to be happy” can’t loosen bleakness embedded in your consciousness.

Dear Everyone Living with Mental Illness:

It’s not your fault if you can’t attain happiness by simply waking up and stating an intention to choose it that day. You’re not a failure. We know that “Today I choose to be happy” can’t account for a day that hasn’t happened yet. We know that a conscious navigation of our thoughts toward a mindset of happiness just isn’t possible all of the time.

Scroll on by those pebbles of wisdom online, because the last thing you need in front of your face when you’re struggling with depression is a meme suggesting that it’s your own fault if you’re not happy.

I get you.

What we might be able to attain is a state of being okay in specific instances; it’s worth floundering between anger and sadness in the process of talking ourselves into okayness with the situation. We have to get brave and get real with ourselves, and this can be difficult. It comes down to mental strength, an especially relatable concept for the mentally ill, as “okay” is more of a mindset into which we can will ourselves. For us, “okay” is “well.” Wellness is a solid aspiration.

Happiness is a state of being. It’s my humble opinion that the declaration “Happiness is a choice” cheapens the experience of being happy. I think it makes happiness superficial. (I may be interpreting the word differently than you do. Do you feel that happiness is the same as joyfulness? As contentment?)

We all have our definitions, interpretations, and strategies to get us through. A few of mine:

1). I work on reaching a state of okayness, and then I seize on that and do what I can with it. Okayness is a good foundation for me. It’s something I can top off with music, for instance… and then I can derive joy from those moments. It’s always the little things.

2). It sometimes helps to throw together a list of joyful little things, just quickly, without thinking about it. Reading over such a list can be soothing. I free-wrote a list for this post. It came out looking like this (in no particular order):

music.
poetry.
stories: fiction and creative non-fiction, whether depicted on the page or on a screen.
plants.
animals and their rights.
fitness and combat sports training.
paranormal, horror, thriller, action.
lipstick, band shirts, skin care.
sumo and mma.
desert and the sea.
black, gunmetal gray, periwinkle and other blue-violets.
tortoises.
cats.
volcanos.
albatross!
the zombie emoji.
food writing.
zodiac.
blueberry scented anything.
anticipation.
buddha.

3). I take a cliché of vague resignation like “Life is full of mysteries” and I tag “mysteries make life interesting” at the end. Then I have something of intrigue to ponder, rather than the hopeless quality of the mystery, itself.

4). I take optimism carefully. I’m all for optimism, but I’m even more for cautious optimism.

“Happiness is a choice” – not that easy. Such declarations in these self-help memes don’t account for we who battle depression. Don’t let them make you feel worse. We know we can experience moments of happiness… days of happiness, even. As for those other days, well, we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves. We know that we’re trying.

Love,
Kristi

~~~~~

Afternote: this pic is the last you’ll see of me in these glasses. Yeah, I got new ones. New prescription, new frames. It’s the little things.

 

Retired glasses. [23 February 2019)

 

 

“That one time I went to the shrink…” (My worst therapist experiences!)

You’ve likely had at least one negative therapist experience if you’ve been in therapy for any length of time. This is normal; no one meshes with everyone. It’s like psych medication… you have to find what works for you. I’ve been lucky to have had mostly good experiences with my counselors over years of on-and-off therapy.

I do have a couple of bad experiences to share, though, so I thought I’d go ahead and do that since I regularly discuss my mental health adventures in this space. Moreover, I know it can help to hear about others’ bad experiences!

Let me say that my two unfortunate therapist experiences weren’t bad in the usual ways. That’s how my life works. I can’t just have a normal bad therapist experience. It has to be a really freaking bizarre therapist experience, maybe more bizarre than bad.

First, there was:

  • The shrink who ghosted me.

I’d gone to this counselor for several months. I thought we had a good rapport, so I was surprised when I went to my appointment one day and she stood me up… as in, I knocked on the office’s front door, and she didn’t come to answer it. She was there. I knew she was there. I could see the light on in her office through the glass. She just didn’t come to the door! I even called her as I stood outside. Maybe she can’t hear me knocking. She didn’t answer her phone.

We later re-scheduled. The same thing happened again. I don’t remember if there was a third time, but for all of her apologies and excuses, I never saw her again.

To be ghosted by someone in your personal life is one thing. (I’ve had it happen to me, and I’m guilty of having done it, myself. Not proud of it. Just being real.) But by a counselor? A therapist? I’d never heard of any professional in the field of mental health doing this kind of thing to a client.

You place your trust in your therapist, right? Trust is a fundamental of the therapist/patient relationship. That’s why you keep going back. You’ve established trust, and you’re confident that you’re in a safe place free of judgement. Trusting this particular counselor turned out to be a mistake. After those last experiences, I felt worse than I did before I started going to her.

I might as well have wired $1,000 to a Nigerian prince to get the riches promised, only to discover the scam and find myself $1,000 poorer.

 

Next:

  • The shrink who lectured me for an hour about the evils of gluten.

He was an interim counselor, so it was the one and only time I saw him. But during that one appointment, all he did was try to convert me to a gluten-free lifestyle.

His proselytizing had nothing to do with mental health. What happened was he started out reviewing my list of medications, noticed that I was seeing a rheumatologist for autoimmune issues, and decided that I could easily cure myself of everything. All I had to do was go gluten-free. Miracles happen once you quit consuming gluten. I spent the rest of the session receiving an education for which I never signed up.

And I mean, he went on at length into biochemical detail, even showing me anatomy graphics to illustrate how gluten was wreaking havoc on my immune system and destroying my body from the inside out. His conviction was profound. A true evangelist, he made sure to pull out a pamphlet for me to take home. His passion for the gluten-free lifestyle bordered on fervor that almost edged me out of the room, but I sat frozen in awe. Without a doubt, this was the most bizarre and unhelpful counseling session I’d ever attended.

Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! Rest assured, most of my experiences have been good, if not excellent. The two that I’ve shared above are anomalies… don’t let them deter you if you’re thinking of seeking assistance. Talk therapy does many worlds of good. It does help.

 

 

Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?

 

May Favorites!

I’m not sure how to sum up the month of May. Mental health real talk: May was the white serial killer van creeping slowly down the street in front of your office window; you’re mesmerized by a combination of horror and morbid fascination as you wonder when it’s going to stop, and what you’ll see when it does. The van doesn’t stop, though. It keeps going, slowly, and when it disappears from view, you’re relieved, but you wish you’d seen more. Then June rolls around in the form of another serial killer van, and now you’re wondering whether you should ask for an adjustment to your depression medication cocktail.

In other words, ugh. This is what “Little Things” are for, right? Here are some of the Little Things that I enjoyed in May:

 

1). Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife (Netflix)

 

 

Some hilarity was in order. We got it by watching this. BEWARE if you have delicate sensibilities. Ali does not hold back!

 

2). A Quiet Place (film)

 

 

We finally made it out to a movie, and we picked a good one. It’s immensely gratifying when a horror film turns out to be good and not cheesy at all, like this one, though I love cheesy horror flicks, too.

 

3). The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, S2)

 

 

I probably noted the first time around that the phenomenal The Handmaid’s Tale is visually stunning, and that you could hit “pause” anywhere and it’s like you’re looking at a Vermeer painting. Season 2 follows suit.

 

4). Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (Netflix)

 

 

Netflix’ real-life crime drama docuseries game is strong.

 

5). Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)

 

 

Cobra Kai is a current day “where are they now” blast that puts you back in the 80’s because the main character is stuck there.

 

6). The Americans (FX) Series Finale (S6)

 

 

The Americans series finale couldn’t have been better, in our opinion. We’re sad that it’s over, but it had to end at some point, I suppose.

 

 

Philip and Elizabeth in the final scene of the very last episode of The Americans.

 

7). Sumo/Natsu Basho (May 2018 Grand Sumo Tournament) and Tochinoshin’s promotion to Ozeki.

 

Tochinoshin (actual name: Levan Gorgadze)

 

We’re big Tochinoshin fans, as you may recall if you’ve been here for a while, so we were thrilled to witness Tochinoshin’s historic promotion to Ozeki (Sumo’s 2nd-highest rank) at the end of his spectacular May tournament.

 

 

The wonderful tribute video above doesn’t include Tochinoshin’s most notable victory of the May Basho (for reasons of respect, I would guess), so I’m posting another video showing that match. This is his win over the formidable Yokozuna Hakuho. Yokozuna is Sumo’s highest rank. A Yokozuna is basically like a god in Japan.

 

 

8). Cherry season.

Cherry season is when Dad drives 1.5 hours to the cherry orchards in Brentwood (CA) and picks pounds and pounds of cherries and sends a big box of them to me, and then I know that we’re on the verge of summer, because I can taste it. Cherries are my favorite fruit. Callaghan doesn’t like them, so these were all for me.

 

Rainier cherries and another type whose name I can’t remember. The deep red-black Bing cherries come later in the season.

 

9). Popcorn with nuts.

 

popcorn and nuts

 

I started dumping roasted, salted mixed nuts on top of my popcorn, and it’s so very satisfying.

 

Alas, I could only come up with nine Things this time. They were outstanding. They were more than enough.

What do you get when you cross a flamingo and a ukulele? My office.

I had a hard mental health day on Friday, and all of the late-afternoon popcorn and Perrier couldn’t fix it. Neither did it help that that was the day I decided to watch Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. Excellent song and video. Bad timing.

But then things got better, because when I woke up the next day, it was a gym morning and it was Mother’s Day weekend. I got cards from Nenette, Geronimo, and Callaghan, and for my main gift, Callaghan took me to Home Depot and said I could go crazy and choose any plant I wanted, emphasis on “any”! I chose this tall guy and named him “Flamingo”:

 

Flamingo! (He’s a Dracaena ‘Massangeana’)

 

My desk now, as seen from the doorway:

 

Four of my nine office companions, from left: Holder, Flamingo, Icarus, Thoreau

 

At some point, I’ll do an updated office tour and take you around to see all of my companions of the chlorophyllous persuasion. Two of them have joined me since my last such update, and some of the older ones have migrated to different spots.

Also, you may be noticing that there’s a ukulele sitting next to my desk. Yes, I’ve brought the ukulele back into the light! I haven’t dusted it off yet, but it’s out. That white binder on the shelf above it is a lesson book. Mom gave these to me, as some of you may recall, and I proceeded to capitalize on the opportunity to share some of my favorite ukulele jokes.

i.e. (from my previous blog post about the ukulele):

What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.

What’s “perfect pitch”? When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.

What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm? A tattoo.

And my personal favorite:

A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.

I still love to laugh at the ukulele, but I do respect it, and I’ve decided to learn to play it. Going through my old rhythm and timing workbooks, composer collections, and sheet music made me realize how much I miss doing music. Self, I said one day recently – yesterday, in fact – why don’t you learn to play that beautiful, new ukulele Mom gave you? Why not.

I’m sure I’ll be back with ukulele-learning updates for any of you who may be interested; I can’t wait to laugh at myself as much as I laugh at the ukulele.

Oh, and my second Mother’s Day gift was a new tool box! Callaghan knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the one I’d been using. My new one (which I chose) is shiny and black and spacious and lovely. I should’ve taken a pic of it, too.

I hope you’re all having a great start to your week!

On minimizing “decision-fatigue.” (Mental wellness post!)

One day, in the third week of April 2017, I figured out what I’d wear to the gym each workout day of the following week. I wrote it all down. It was life-changing. I’ve since kept up the practice: once a week, I plan and list my gym outfits in a notebook (to keep track), gather the clothing, put them together in neat little bundles, and place them in the drawer in the order of the workouts. This completely eliminates having to think about what to wear to the gym as I’m getting ready to go.

This might make it sound like I have gym-clothing fashion concerns, but I do not. What I have is limited time and a limited mental/creative energy capacity each day.

No matter how little I care about my gym attire, I still have to decide what to put on. It’s a small, inconsequential decision, but it’s still a decision. Toward the end of the day, small and inconsequential decisions have added up, and then I start to make poor decisions, or I struggle to make decisions at all anymore. It could be that when it’s late-afternoon and I find myself stressed and unable to pinpoint a cause, I’m actually looking at decision-fatigue.

Why do couples sometimes bicker (stereotypically) over what to have for dinner? Maybe because they’re both at the end of a long day of making hundreds of little decisions, and they’re decision-exhausted and hangry. Decision-fatigue is a documented phenomenon; I’ve found web pages devoted to it.

As I said, my habit of putting gym clothes together a week in advance has been life-changing. It helps immensely that getting dressed for the gym involves only opening a drawer and pulling out the bundle on top. Zero decisions, minimal time. Even if I know what I’m going to wear, I’d still have to search for the pieces (t-shirts and pants – told you I didn’t care about gym fashion!) if they weren’t already bundled together.

 

Minimizing decision-fatigue: gym outfit prep, week-in-advance

 

This week-in-advance planning and prep – as opposed to multiple night-befores – allows me to devote my mental/creative energy and time to writing. Early mornings are especially precious to me; my primary focus each day starts with my “morning pages,” which consist of whatever part of my project I have in front of me. (Usually, it’s a single chapter.)

Gym-clothing planning is just an example. I’ve made it a point to try to be aware of other little decisions that feed on my energy levels throughout the day, and to get ahead of these decisions by strategizing accordingly. Because of my new awareness, I’ve returned to the habit of making daily lists of things to do. I might know what I have to do, but having the list in front of me saves me time and mental energy.

This leads me to a tangent: I don’t consider decisions to be distractions. There’s always a time and reason for distractions. Callaghan’s the same way! Perhaps we who work in creative realms need distractions because we’re easily over-saturated with our creations. Distractions carry me into a different head-space… they wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When the text is no longer at the forefront of my mind, I can start the next writing session and see what I couldn’t see before.

With that, I’m going to slam the door shut on this topic, because I can sense other tangents rising up!

Happy Friday Eve, everyone.

Getting personal: autoimmune disease. (Sjögren’s syndrome)

Though I’ve mentioned it in recent posts, my current medical situation has been a big enough part of my life that it warrants a post of its own, I guess, for anyone who might be interested. I’ve spent most of my adult life dealing with autoimmunity, working around various symptoms until receiving my diagnoses with Sjögren’s syndrome and autoimmune thyroiditis (hypothyroidism). I used to write about my Sjögren’s syndrome a lot. I haven’t written about it at length in years.

I felt fine when I left the country in 2011 and stopped taking my medication (hydroxichloroquine – Plaquenil, in my case), and I assumed that I was in remission. A few years later, I came back to the Land of AZ and went to my optometrist for a routine vision check. He informed me that as far as my eyes were concerned, I never went into remission. (Telling myself that I was in remission sure helped me to feel like I was in remission, though!)

Musculoskeletal symptoms started up again toward the end of 2016, along with worsening “brain fog.” I’d entered an autoimmune disease “flare,” and it left no room for denial. Weird things started to happen, as they do with autoimmunity. When the middle of one finger turned blue one night (“Idiopathic Blue Finger,” diagnosed the E.R. doctor – not Raynaud’s, which I also have), I returned to the rheumatologist, who put me back on hydroxichloroquine (again, Plaquenil). I shrugged my shoulders and pressed forward. I had a rough draft to finish! It was the thing that was causing my stress, but it had to get done.

Toward the end of 2017, my immune system went into overdrive again, even as I diligently took my daily dose of hydroxichloroquine.

2018’s been more difficult, yet. The last three months have revolved around some of the most painful attacks on my joints I can remember, some of it incapacitating. My agenda jammed up with medical appointments and testing of various sorts, as my rheumatologist wanted to rule out the development of other autoimmune disorders before deciding on our next course of action. Let me just say that my rheumatologist at the Phoenix V.A. has been the best I’ve ever had! She’s fantastic. Autoimmunity is something that can gather steam with time and generate additional disorders, so it’s good to re-check everything when things go awry.

Genetics likely play a role here, by the way, and I think I know the source of mine: when we met, my bio-mom told me that I physically take after my father’s mother’s family (the Ashcrofts, in England). I would love to meet them and find out who’s had what autoimmune disease. I’m assuming there’d be something to learn.

It’s pretty easy for me to dismiss my symptoms. I’ve had dry eyes for so long that I forget that it’s a part of my disease. A lot of people have dry eye syndrome without having Sjögren’s. It’s “my normal” to be unable to open my eyes in the morning until I put in artificial tears. (I might have stopped taking the hydroxichloroquine when I moved to France, but I’ve never stopped with the eye drops.) Since I push myself in the gym, it’s easy to assign blame to my workouts when I experience bouts of musculoskeletal pain. I focus when I work out. I don’t consider that I’m dealing with Sjögren’s symptoms. I don’t want to go there in my mind.

I don’t feel sick, for the most part. There’s a general malaise sometimes. My energy levels are mostly good, but fatigue sets in more quickly during my workouts now, and I can feel that it’s Sjögren’s-level fatigue. I have occasional abdominal pain and nausea. The brain fog has led me into some embarrassing conversational exchanges. All of this is minor enough.

Since 2016, my white blood cells have mainly attacked my joints and my eyes. My vision in my right eye has worsened slightly over the course of a year, and there’s more scarring on my corneas. My optometrist applied a temporary contact lens bandage to the cornea of my right eye (the more affected one, the one that hurts) and sent me to a corneal specialist.

My last musculoskeletal attack started at a party a week ago Saturday. In typical autoimmune fashion, it struck all of a sudden and out of nowhere. My left hand seized up with intense pain, starting at the large joints on the outside of the hand and radiating inward. For the rest of the night and into the next day, I couldn’t open or close that hand all the way. It swelled up a little bit and changed colors, and it felt like a mild constriction was happening. It was excruciating. Thankfully, the episode lasted less than 24 hours. Some of my recent attacks have lasted for almost two weeks.

I’m grateful that so far, Sjögren’s syndrome has left my internal organs alone.

Meanwhile, my plant-based lifestyle helps me to function at a physically high level with Sjögren’s syndrome.  I’m trying to keep processed foods to a minimum. I’m trying to get more sleep. I’m continuing to drink water all day long, including water spiked with organic, raw apple cider vinegar. I really believe in that stuff!

Now that my test results have come back, my rheumatologist is adding methotrexate to my hydroxichloroquine. On the alternative side and courtesy of my amazing parents, I’m also adding Manuka honey (Comvita brand, from New Zealand) and Ukon (tumeric) to my daily supplement cocktail. I’m hoping for the best, but expecting life to continue as it is, with good days (as in, I can go to the gym) and bad days (as in, I can’t go to the gym). No, it’s not all or nothing – there are days that are bad because I’m in pain, but I can still do something, so I go to work out and I do whatever I can.

I went to the gym this morning. I took this selfie about an hour ago, in the late afternoon. I’m still feeling fine.

 

Autoimmune, don’t care. Today is a good day.

 

With my new treatment plan, I hope to see the end of this flare. The attacks on my joints should stop. My head should clear up so I can remember things like, say, the first thing about a prominent politician, and that a person who’s ridden in my car on many an occasion does, indeed, know what my car looks like, and that a friend’s get-together was in April, not in March. About that last: I’ve never missed an occasion by a whole month before. It just happened, and it sucks, because the friend who invited me lives out of town, and it might be years before I can see her again… not to mention, I’d accepted her invitation. I accepted, and I didn’t show up, and I regret that very much.

That’s the story. I know that many of you also live with chronic illness. HUGS to you all. Let’s keeping fighting the good fight!

 

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”

 

Cancel your resolutions! (Staying motivated in the new year.)

We’re early enough in the new year that we’re still thinking and talking about our resolutions, or about our decision to not make them, as the case may be.

More than once, I’ve been asked how I keep my resolutions, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on that, for whatever they’re worth.

I’m not a life coach or a psychologist. I don’t have it all figured out. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to my manner of inadvertently f*cking shit up or making a fool of myself or both, and the last thing I am is the walking picture of contentment, regardless of the (considerable) depth of my gratitude.

But I’m strong-willed when I have the passion to fuel my drive, and I do have a lot of that. In my opinion, that’s most of what we need. It’s hard to stick with resolutions in the absence of passion.

My main advice would be to cancel the resolution if you lose your passion for it. Focus your energy elsewhere! If the resolution is of critical importance, you will come back to it – or it will come back to you – once you’ve given yourself a break from the pressure of it. Sometimes that’s all we need to kick-start our second wind (or third, or fourth, or tenth): a break. Put that resolution down and back slowly away. Don’t hang onto it and worry over it and lament your struggle and your apathy and your “failure.” Just put it aside.

Yes, reverse psychology on your own self works.

If the resolution is not of critical importance, then you didn’t really need it, anyway. Sometimes, the mood you’re in when you make non-critical resolutions isn’t the mood you stay in for the next 365 days. That’s okay. That’s not a failure; that’s a realization.

Some other thoughts regarding staying motivated and not sabotaging yourself in sticking with your resolutions as the new year gets underway:

1). Deadlines hold no power. They really don’t. If you’re the kind of person who gets overwhelmed by the notion of a deadline, then try to relax where that’s concerned. Any progress is still progress. If all you can do today is get out of bed and get dressed, then you’ve accomplished something!

2). Don’t say too much – not to be secretive, but to keep something sacred within. There’s something weirdly empowering about hoarding a goal or an aspiration. Maybe it’s just that if no one knows you’re aiming for it, then no one can ruin it… no one can judge your progress or lack thereof. Having a resolution that only you know about turns that effort into something magical, a secret quest, a journey that you take alone. Share a resolution or two with others, but keep one for yourself. It’s amazing how progress toward your secret goal can help to build your confidence.

3). Helplessness is a mere state of mind. If you feel helpless, tell yourself that you’re not, because needing help and being helpless are two different things. Thinking “I am helpless” is self-sabotage. Thinking “I need help” is not. If you’re capable of asking for what you need, then you’re not helpless… if you need help and you have the wherewithal to ask for it, you’re not helpless. You’re more resourceful than you know, and you have more courage than you know.

4). Your journey is directed by you. You can make your own decisions, own them, learn from your mistakes, and move forward accordingly. When it’s all said and done, you have executive power over your own life.

5). Suffering is a fact of life; it’s a motivator, not an impediment.

 

January 2018 – Here’s to a bright and beautiful new year.

 

Another thing to remember: every week has a Friday, whatever day that may actually be! Again, you can decide what day that is. Revel in it.

 

Friday mental health meditation.

It’s been a hard week.

With chronic, clinical depression, you live with a continuous mental health ebb and flow. It’s usually unpredictable. When I feel the ebb, it’s easy to dwell on factors that might be feeding my mental state into the darkness.

Because while the low points usually come from nothing in particular (such are the vagaries of compromised brain chemistry), there are also times of stress responses to factors I can identify.

I recognize the counterproductive nature of dwelling on those factors, but still, it’s hard to avoid gnawing at them sometimes. This is why I constantly enumerate the things for which I’m grateful. When I catch myself going over the negative stuff, I can fall back on my long-standing practice of counting my blessings throughout the day, every day.

When I’m down, I try to dwell even more on the positive.

In other words, actively practicing gratitude amounts to depression damage control. I have other forms of therapy. Working out consistently is therapy, literally: exercise frees the body’s endorphins to help the brain make you feel better. Creative endeavors such as writing are therapy. Loving on (and being loved by) my cat is therapy. Eating well to avoid poisoning my body is therapy. I try to laugh a lot. I try to maintain a lifestyle that can help others, rather than hurt them. Now, minimizing my life is even a form of therapy. I see a shrink and take psych meds, as well, but in the daily course of living, it’s these other actions I choose to take that help the most.

I’m grateful to have the unwavering support of Callaghan and my parents, but I try to manage my mental health without leaning on them too much. I’d never take them for granted, but I don’t want to be needy, either. It’s helpful just knowing that they’re there. I have to take responsibility for myself, because what if they’re not there one day? I can’t allow myself to become dependent on others for my mental well-being. This is a survival instinct more than anything.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a selfie I thought would be amusing to take (the other day):

 

Yet another awkward mirror-selfie attempt, but hey. Hi.

 

There’s always another day, and next week will be a new week.

 

Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell. (And Gen-X. And okayness.)

Man, I’m in a dark and strange mood this morning. I shouldn’t be. It’s gorgeous out there.

I live in Arizona and it’s May 19 and we’ve been sleeping with the windows open. It’s been like this for almost two weeks. The bedroom air is slightly chilly in the morning, so I reach for a light robe. This bizarre behavior can only mean one thing: we’re entering a new Ice Age.

It’s not just at night, either. After I get up, I go around the house and open one or two other windows and the front door, and leave them open for a good half-day, if not longer. I open them again in the evenings. This, my friends in other places, is paradise. We desert-dwellers love the desert, but we also love an unseasonably cool breeze through our security screen doors.

For posterity, here’s me this morning:

 

May 19, 2017 – in a light sweatshirt. In Arizona.

 

At the same time, awful things have been happening in the world, including the recent and tragic departure of Chris Cornell, whose widespread fame was launched with his Seattle grunge band Soundgarden. His death was not only shocking and sad, but also somewhat alarming for we “lost ones” of Generation X.

When you spend your childhood in the 70’s, your teens in the 80’s, and your twenties in the 90’s –and when the 90’s was your favorite decade, and Ten is one of your all-time favorite albums – the untimely deaths of icons like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell are sobering. It makes you want to watch Singles (older Gen-Xers), Reality Bites (younger Gen-Xers), and Office Space all day, kicked back on the couch eating chips and not looking for a job, all of us stereotypical, slovenly losers and slackers of Generation X.

Should I complete my own stereotype as a Gen-X writer and install a coffee pot on my desk?

Should I stare off into space and then write a letter? (“Dear Eddie Vedder: please don’t.”)

But I’m lucky. My depression is under control. I’m okay. We’re okay. Everything is okay. Everything is fine, despite global shenanigans at the highest levels of power, shenanigans of which there’s no need to speak. It’s like that one meme… that one where the dog is sitting in a house that’s burning down around him, and then he perks up and says, “This is fine.”

That’s a sign of our times, though, isn’t it? “Okay” and “fine” have long since been code for “things aren’t exactly hunky-dory.”  

“How are you?”

“I’m okay.”

“JUST okay?”

Commence questioning all of your life choices as you’re prompted to consider why you said just “okay.” You can’t be okay if you say you’re okay, because okay isn’t good enough. To tell the well-meaning inquirer that you’re okay is to send yourself an invitation to spill all of your not-okayness right there in the office hallway on your way to the water cooler.

Is this the product of a society defined by extremes? If we’re not flying high on the vaporous joy of life at all times, then something is wrong?

I’ll take “okay.”

Maybe this entire post was a sort of tangent. Maybe I just wanted to say, Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell.

 

 

“Be the best version of yourself.” (And other stories.)

I have a confession to make: I don’t like the phrase “Be the best version of yourself.”

The phrase has become one of my pet peeves. When I hear it, I immediately think of that Batman slapping Robin meme. You know the one.

Mind you, you don’t annoy me. I’m not judging or making fun of anyone who uses the phrase in any of its derivations. If it’s helpful to wake up in the morning and think, “Today I’m going to be the best version of myself,” then that’s awesome. It’s awesome because it works for you, and what’s more, what works for you is none of my business. Sometimes, catchy self-help adages are motivational. Whatever works!

If I may ask again, though – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – why do we insist on pressuring ourselves with all of this honing in on the self?

We’re constantly analyzing and judging ourselves, and often feeling not good enough. “Be the best version of yourself” seems counterproductive. It’s a command that could readily set us up for failure. We could end up feeling worse if, at the end of the day, we conclude that we didn’t live up to our own expectations.

Because that’s what “be the best version of yourself” means, I think: “Live up to your potential.”

“Potential” in terms of being good human beings: we don’t always have to be the hero risking our lives to save everyone all the time. It’s just as good to smile genuinely at someone to make their day a little brighter. Maybe that’s how you save someone.

“Potential” in terms of achieving excellence in everything we do: we don’t have to expect perfection of ourselves in everything we do all the time. 

Being the best version of yourself can mean that you smiled genuinely at someone, and you also made sure to not miss any spots when you cleaned the table.

Sometimes, it’s too much to try to be the best. Why even put a superlative on what “version” of yourself you’re going to be on any given day?

If you make it a personal policy to be a decent human being, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to be the flea market version of yourself, or the mix tape version of yourself, or whatever version of yourself you need to be that day… whatever version lifts your spirits. Whatever version makes your smile genuine, so you can pass it on to someone else.

 

Simple advice on a tank top (from my friend in France)

 

Phoenix Forgotten. (Failed non-review movie review!) (+PTSD diagnosis story)

We went to watch Phoenix Forgotten, which brought back the year of 1997.

As I sat there, it occurred to me for the first time that the beginning of my PTSD coincided with the Phoenix Lights.

[NOTE: The link function to open the linked page in a new window is down at the moment, so you’ll have to back-arrow to get back here]

 

 

Probably many of us living here in Phoenix metro in 1997 remember the lights that moved over the Valley in March. For me, 1997 was also eventful because it involved numerous doctors throughout the year. 1997 was the year I was diagnosed with PTSD. Yes – six years post-main event.

I wasn’t in school in 1997. I was taking a year off, the year after college and before grad school. There were only two things on my agenda for 1997: write poems and train for my black belt in Tae Kwan Do. I was also working.

So I was doing all of that, just minding my own business, like you do, and then, one night, I went to bed feeling sick to my stomach. As soon as I closed my eyes, my heart jumped in and crashed the party, like, Hey! I’m here too! Whheeeeeee! Cannonball!!!… and I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was going to die of a cardiac event.

Then I was waking up. It was morning. What the hell just happened?

It happened again the next night, and the next and the next. It got to a point where I was too gun-shy to go bed. Going to bed had become a horrifying prospect, so every night, I put it off until I was passing-out tired. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the doctor sooner.

Eventually, I did go to the doctor, because I had an episode that was different than the others, and that was the proverbial last straw.

In that episode, I was trapped in another dimension and I was going to die for sure. Somewhere between awake and sleep, something happened. If I was completely asleep, it would’ve been a nightmare. Whatever this was, it was psychedelic and real, like, 3D real… and that was on top of the physical Armageddon that was my new normal. After I survived that night, I finally went to the doctor.

*****

1997 became a year of medical mystery. I went back and forth between different internists and specialists, cardiology and gastroenterology and cardiology again, everyone referring me to everyone else. I was deemed healthy – good news! – but I was still having these ridiculous episodes.

Then my baffled first internist started asking me questions about my background. When it came out that I was a combat vet, she referred me to a shrink. The shrink explained that panic attacks mimic heart conditions and other physical issues, which was why no one thought of the PTSD possibility.

He explained that the first episode was a panic attack. After it recurred nightly for a period of time, it became a panic disorder (PTSD, in my case). And the next-level attacks, he said, were “night terrors.”

Why did it take so long for the PTSD to manifest? He said it wasn’t unusual for vets to come home fine and then experience a trigger years later. The trigger could be anything, he said. So what was my trigger? We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.

All we know is that my PTSD was triggered by something in the spring of 1997. Coincidentally, I’m sure, the Phoenix Lights also happened in the spring of 1997.

*****

I sat in the movie theater remembering and pondering all of this, and that is how my non-review movie review became a post about my PTSD diagnosis.

I can’t be objective about this movie, but I can say that in my opinion, it wasn’t bad.

Phoenix Forgotten begins on a robust note, then bleeds out into the Found Footage horror movie sub-genre. In my experience, Found Footage movies made after the first Blair Witch Project are doomed to the basement where Bad Horror Flicks live. I often really enjoy Bad Horror Flicks, but I can’t even say whether this movie was bad enough to qualify as that bad.

If you’re intrigued by the Phoenix Lights and/or you’re a fan of Found Footage horror movies, you may dig this one.

 

 

What you never read about the V.A. Health Care System.

Yesterday morning, I went to the V.A. medical center, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years… especially over the last few months. I’ve received wonderful care there. I’m a lucky veteran in that I have access to non-V.A. health care, too; I choose the V.A. over non-V.A. as my primary health care resource because I’ve found it to be a better system. In my experience, V.A. health care is superior to non-V.A. health care.

I know why you might be surprised. The media only wants you to know about the bad stuff pertaining to the V.A. health care system. Believe me, if the entire V.A. health care system was BAD, I wouldn’t be going there.

In brief, my experience at the Phoenix V.A. Medical Center has been superb.

In more detail, I prefer the V.A. health care system for the following reasons:

  • The time I have to wait to get in to see the doctor is significantly less.
  • The time I have to spend sitting in the waiting room waiting to be seen for my appointment is also significantly less.
  • The time that I spend sitting with the doctor during my appointment is considerably greater. I get more personal, thorough attention at the V.A. than I’ve ever received at non-V.A. medical facilities.
  • The quality of the care that I receive from doctors (including specialists), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, and administrative staff at the V.A. is better than what I’ve experienced at non-V.A. health care facilities.
  • V.A. doctors order labs and X-rays readily and on the spot. Since the orders are put into the computer system and the labs and radiology are right there under the same roof, I can leave the doctor’s office and go immediately to have the testing done.
  • If other testing needs to be done, the clinic in question contacts me promptly to schedule my appointment.
  • If I prefer an open MRI due to claustrophobia, the V.A. sends me to a non-V.A. clinic that does open-MRIs.
  • Doctors at the V.A. take a precautionary approach; they send orders for in-depth testing if they think there’s even a remote possibility that something of concern is going on.
  • The pharmacy, too, is housed in the same facility. I can procure my new medication in the same visit and go home with it in hand.
  • Lab and radiology test results come back in a fraction of the time it takes to get results and analyses done in non-V.A. clinics.
  • The V.A. has an online portal system that allows vets to access all of their medical records, notes, and lab results. Vets can also contact their doctors and other health care practitioners online via the My Health-E Vet system.
  • The V.A. is merciless in sending appointment reminders in the mail and calling with reminders. (This is a good thing.)
  • If I have to cancel an appointment, the clinic will call to re-schedule – repeatedly, until I’ve been re-scheduled.
  • The V.A. has a seamless phone-in system for pharmacy refills. Refills show up in my mailbox within 8-10 days.
  • The V.A. always asks me whether I’m safe and whether I have a place to live.
  • The V.A. always points me to available resources, should I need them.
  • The V.A. reimburses vets for their travel costs in getting to and from the medical center.
  • The V.A. ensures that vets have the suicide prevention lifeline phone number.

 

 

I could go on with this list, if I had time. I could offer specific personal examples, if I wanted to share details of my medical picture. Suffice it to say that I’m speaking from experience. It’s not just me, either… I don’t know (or know of) any vets using the Phoenix V.A. health care system who have a bad word to say about the health care that they receive within that system.

I’m impressed anew after the outstanding experience I had with my new rheumatologist at the Phoenix V.A. yesterday. (Previously, I’d gone to my former non-V.A. rheumatologist, who’s nevertheless also good.)

Now, at the Phoenix V.A. medical center, I have my primary care physician, my shrink, my doctor at the women’s clinic, and my rheumatologist. They’re all first-rate.

Yes. The best medical care I’ve ever received is at the infamous PHOENIX V.A.

Do non-V.A. health care systems have problems? Yes. Corruption at the highest levels occurs at non-V.A. health care systems, and patients’ risks on the ground can include negligence, poor conditions, poor treatment, scheduling hold-ups and issues, and all manner of malpractice.

I remember a case I’d read about a diabetic man who had the wrong leg amputated. It didn’t happen at the V.A.

I’ve heard about patients contracting varieties of strep and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in hospitals to disastrous effect, but all such cases that reached my attention have happened at non-V.A. medical facilities.

The thing is, non-V.A. health care systems aren’t scrutinized under the glaring political spotlights that blow up the V.A. health care system.

That’s actually another good thing about the V.A. health care system, though: since the system IS scrutinized, problems are addressed with highest priority. When corruption is discovered at the V.A., a gigantic national scandal ensues. The V.A. health care system is suddenly the worst thing that ever happened to veterans… mistreated veterans, poorly treated veterans, and veterans who aren’t treated at all. Action is taken.

Whereas non-V.A. health care system corruption and problems can go unnoticed and unresolved for years.

I’m in no way denying, discounting, or trivializing the horrendous or non-existent treatment veterans have suffered at the hands of the V.A. health care system; I’m not trying to detract from the real problems veterans have experienced with the V.A. I’m pointing out the fact that similar problems exist at non-V.A. hospitals, too, and they aren’t magnified x10,000 in the media. We hear about the V.A. because the V.A. is inextricable from politics. But from what I’ve seen, more veterans are pleased with the V.A. care they receive than not.

Speaking of medical matters, I’m happy to report that I had a great workout this morning. Here’s my gratuitous post-workout gym selfie:

 

Post-workout on a good physical day! I’ve been on a roll. I had five good workouts last week, and I hope to get in five more this week.

 

I am so grateful for my health and for the care I’m receiving at the Phoenix V.A. medical center.

Reiterating just to be clear: I’m not disillusioned about the V.A. health care system and its problems. I wanted to write this post so that somewhere, in some minuscule corner of the interwebs, there’s something positive to be found and read about the V.A. health care system, because it really is, despite its shortcomings, an excellent system.

It’s a shame that although there are many positives, only the negatives are reported. The public eye has been blinded to anything that could be positive about the V.A., which is a lot.

Thank you for reading, if you’ve made it this far.

I went to a big-ass party and this is what happened. (PTSD post.)

We went to a party on Sunday. It was Callaghan’s company’s “holiday soiree.”

 

thatasianlookingchick-com-holidaysoiree2016

 

(I concealed the names of the company and the party’s hosts.)

If the colors on the invitation seem unusual for such an event, it’s because the party’s theme was “early Mardi Gras.” If you didn’t know, Mardi Gras colors are purple, green, and gold. I’m not sure why it was decided to celebrate the holidays as another holiday that takes place in February, but that’s irrelevant. Well… mostly irrelevant.

We donned the requested semi-formal “festive attire” (I wore a red dress because I was feeling the current season… I wasn’t alone in this), and we ordered an Uber.

The Uber took us to BFE (far away from us, in the middle of nowhere) with no discernible civilization around. We were dropped off in a big-ass parking lot. To enter a big-ass tent. Which led us into a big-ass warehouse. In which there was a big-ass party with roughly 800 people, pretty much in the dark, save for spot lighting here and there.

No part of which agreed with my big-ass case of PTSD.

Not only that, but when we walked into the warehouse, the first thing that happened was a few metallic strings suddenly dropped from the air, straight down, and landed with a clatter on the concrete floor, right in front of my feet. Because, you know, Mardi Gras. It was someone’s role to stand on a second-floor balcony and throw beads down in front of people walking in. This surprise INCOMING situation set me more on edge, though I didn’t show it. I smiled and laughed and talked to people, and I enjoyed the excellent band. I enjoyed meeting some of Callaghan’s co-workers and their wives. I did have a good time in some sense. I focused on that. We stayed for four hours, and I was fine.

Here’s the thing: Like everyone with PTSD, I have some known triggers, and I have some random triggers that can come out of nowhere. I went into the party thinking that my introversion would be the issue, but my panic disorder overrode that completely. It would’ve been great if being an introvert was my biggest challenge.

In response to all of this, I’ve decided to book myself an hour in a sensory deprivation tank.

Yes, you read that right. I’m going to strenuously push my limits in the tank – claustrophobia is one of my issues – and that is the point.

I may never be able to enter a room without immediately looking for the exits and other avenues of escape. I may never be able to sit in a room with my back to the door. But that’s okay. That’s my normal, and those behaviors are valuable, so I have no problems there. Meanwhile, though, I would like to work on lessening the impact of some of my known triggers. Coming out of the party with this realization was the gift of the whole thing. I will act on it! I’ll let you know how it goes.

An aside: I have no pics of us or of the party, I’m sorry to say. There were roaming photographers and co-workers who wanted to take pics, so there are some images floating around somewhere… if I get my hands on one and get the permission of the people in them, I’ll post them at that time.

Let’s resist talking about each other just for one minute.

Overheard in line at the V.A. pharmacy the other day (for real, not metaphor):

Man’s voice: She looks too healthy and young to be here.

Woman’s voice (sounding snide): She’s probably just picking up for someone else.

I thought: They’re so close, and so loud. They can’t be talking about me…?

[::looks behind::]

[::sees no one but the two people making the remarks::]

And I realized that it really does suck to be talked about literally behind your back within close earshot, regardless of what the people are saying. I would have preferred that they address me directly, if they were so curious. I wouldn’t find that to be rude in the slightest.

When I turned to look at them, they were staring at me. I stared back. The woman’s eyes were cold. In fact, she was glaring. Like I didn’t have the right to be there.

Then the man said, to my face this time, that I looked too healthy to be picking up meds for myself at the V.A. pharmacy.

To which I replied, actually, yes, I’m picking up for myself. (I held up my veteran’s I.D. card, which I had in my hand. It’s required to pick up meds.)

Yes, I’m a card-carrying vet. You don’t believe me? Look. Holding up my I.D. as if I was a cop pulling someone over.

The man said, Whoa! You don’t say!!

A brief conversation about my combat service in the 1990-1991 Gulf War ensued before the pharmacist called my name.

NOTE: I was not offended. I was annoyed that I felt like I had to justify my presence there.

No one should feel that they have to validate their illness to strangers in line at the pharmacy.

No one should have to owe anyone an explanation to correct a record made because of an appearance-based judgment.

No one is safe from scrutiny.

It happens that “too healthy and young” are not hurtful words. I know that. But it was still a judgment based on appearance, and it was dismissive. It carried the insinuation that I was trespassing on sacred ground that belonged to others. Context is important. If you’re in line because you were ambushed during a ground war, it sucks to be dismissed because of how you look.

More often than not, though, people hear outright mean things when they overhear someone talking about them. People say hurtful things about others without caring. I’ve witnessed this kind of assholery; it’s awful.

The thing is, we’re constantly making judgments about others based on appearance. If that’s unavoidable because “it’s human nature”? At least don’t be an asshole.

 

lifecoach

 

When I had active Sjogren’s Syndrome, people actually did say to me, “But you don’t look sick!”

When someone found out that I have Hashimoto’s – autoimmune hypothyroidism – they actually said, “OH but you don’t LOOK like you have underactive thyroid disease.” (This has happened more than once.)

You’ve heard it all before. Invisible illness, blah, blah, blah.

Appearance: young/healthy = CAN’T BE A VET

Appearance: healthy = MUST BE HEALTHY

Appearance: heavier than average = MUST BE A LAZY OVER-EATER WITH NO SELF-CONTROL

Appearance: thinner than average = MUST HAVE AN EATING DISORDER OR A METH ADDICTION

Appearance: not white = MUST BE (insert stereotype associated with the applicable ethnicity)

Appearance: a cop = MUST BE A RACIST, BLOOD-THIRSTY PSYCHOPATH

Appearance: tattoos/piercings/other body modifications = MUST BE A DEGENERATE

Appearance: clean-cut = MUST BE AN UPSTANDING CITIZEN

Et cetera, ad nauseum. And we’re often wrong. We can get in trouble because of it. Remember Ted Bundy?

Most of us hear “Don’t judge a book by its cover” from the time we’re old enough to write a sentence. We know better, and yet we still do it! We are fallible human beings, all of us, by nature. In my opinion, since we’re born with the propensity to f*ck things up, we can at least try to be kind, decent, and respectful human beings.

(I’m sorry to come back to you with another ranty post. I prefer being positive here, but sometimes, there are things I need to say.)

Thank you for reading, as always!

How I manage my mental illness.

I’ve touched on some of this in various posts in the past, but I’ve been asked to share an actual list of tactics I use to maintain my mental health.

First of all, I accept that PTSD and clinical depression are a part of who I am. Mental illness and the management of it are “my normal,” and this acceptance helps a lot.

It also helps to accept the fact that just as there are great days, there are horrible days, and days ranging between the two. Sometimes, all the meds and talk therapy and things on the list below just aren’t enough. When this happens, I try to recognize that “this, too, shall pass,” keeping it all in perspective. (I know that this is so much easier said than done. I can say it easily now, when I’m not at the bottom of the abyss of hopelessness and despair. All we can do is try.)

That being said, here’s my list… things I do to manage my mental illness:

1). I avoid alcohol (with few exceptions).

Alcohol is a depressant. It also counters or otherwise negatively interacts with medications taken for mental illness. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis is never advisable for the mentally ill.

2). I take medication and talk to my therapist on a regular basis.

Meds and talk therapy are basic, first-line tactics of controlling mental illness. It’s critically important to adhere to such a routine and to have my external resources at hand. I regularly visit my doctor at the V.A. hospital, and I know that I always have access to emergency help at a national veterans’ crisis line.

3). I work out and try to eat well (within reason, making sure to maintain a healthy balance).

Exercise heightens our mood by way of its effect on our brain chemistry. It leads to improved physical fitness, which improves our physical health. (For this reason, more and more companies are including gym membership coverage fees in their employees’ benefits packages.) Improved physical health reduces stress and makes us feel more energetic and better about ourselves, in general. Choosing healthier food options most of the time comprises the other half of this picture.

4). I have routines, and I stick to them.

Routines are underestimated and even sneered upon. We like to say that spontaneity is critical to quality of life, and there is certainly something to that, but the fact is that routine can provide us with mental health benefits, too. Routines are valuable. They can be soothing when everything else is chaos. Routines can give us a sense of control and accomplishment.

5). I eliminate toxic factors in my life (to the best of my ability).

The word “toxic” is overused in our current vocabulary (instigated, I suspect, by self-help gurus, but that’s beside the point) – and yet, it captures this point well. In a nutshell, a toxic factor is that which makes us feel badly about ourselves. It’s a negative and destructive force and presence in our lives.

Toxic factors can include situations, places, and/or people and relationships. It’s not always possible to eliminate such factors; when we can’t, we can seek out ways to lessen their negative impact. I recently liberated myself from an utterly demoralizing situation, and that leap hugely improved my mental health and quality of life.

6). I engage my creative energy to the fullest extent possible.

If you have creative juices, let them flow. If you have hobbies, indulge in them. If you don’t have a hobby, get one. Losing ourselves in the physical act of doing something we enjoy goes beyond mere escapism. It often involves honing talents with which we’ve been blessed. The act of doing something physical that requires the creative part of our brains is beneficial to our mental health. There’s a reason why occupational therapy is a part of an in-patient mental illness patient’s prescribed agenda.

7). I have cats.

Connecting with animals on an emotional level and caring for them has proven to be a powerful stress reducer, improving our mental and physical health. Our relationships with our pets can actually extend our lives, improve the quality of our lives, and even save our lives. I can’t think of anything that can compare to cultivating the love and trust of an animal. (I say “animal,” but this applies to birds and fish, too.)

 

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

 

8). I actively express my compassion for others in one way or another, however small.

Example: I don’t have time to physically go and volunteer at homeless shelters, so I choose to do my part by providing with water. I make sure to have one or two small bottles of cold water with me when I leave the house, especially in the hot months.

We buy generic water in bulk, keep the bottles in the refrigerator, and give them to the homeless when we see them on the street or at a red light. (Admittedly, I try to identify those homeless who are vets, though I’ll give water to any homeless person, of course.) Every time, without fail, the person takes the bottle of cold water with visible – sometimes overwhelming – gratitude and joy, which they express in such an open and heartfelt manner that I’m instantly put in empathetic touch with their plight. Water is never an unwelcome thing. The person usually opens it and chugs it immediately.

Kindness is invaluable for the human spirit.

Giving water to drink means and accomplishes much more than giving change or a dollar. Giving water with a smile is an act that says, “I recognize that you’re a human being and deserving of this basic, life-saving thing. Someone cares about you and your well-being.” I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how showing compassion to the needy can be anything but beneficial to all involved.

9). I set goals for myself and plan things to anticipate.

I believe I devoted an entire blog post to this. Having agenda items to look forward to is a pleasurable thing. It can also, in the worst of times, give us a reason to keep on keeping on.

10). I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (Still trying. Still mostly failing. But still trying).

This can’t be stressed enough: Adequate sleep and quality sleep are important for optimal physical and mental health and well-being.

11). I count my blessings and nurture my relationships with loved ones.

One word: Gratitude.

Being grateful for what we have – and who we have – is an incredibly powerful reminder that things could always be worse.

 

Keeping it real.

Keeping it real.

 

That sums it up: In addition to acceptance, meds, and professional talk therapy, I manage my mental illness by working on physical health, stress reduction, and gratitude. I try.

Lopsided eyes and mild panic: A cautionary tale.

Life changes and I’m back to a routine of walking to work every morning. I’m loving the extra little workout every day! I also walk home three days a week. The big change in the equation is that on the other two days, I take the bus home so I can get there fast, change my clothes, and drive to Mesa for Body Combat. Why? Callaghan now works on-site full-time, and the site happens to be in BFE (very far away, in case you didn’t know the acronym). This necessitates me taking myself to the gym. Which is fine. As long as I can get there!

(The adjustment to Callaghan’s new schedule and location has been a learn-as-we-go process in many ways. Our lives are very different now. And on Monday, I did NOT make it to the gym, because I literally had no way to get there. That was the last time that was going to happen!)

On Wednesday, I got to the bus stop early and wondered what to do with the spare 15 minutes. People-watching opportunities were oddly nonexistent at University and Mill. What else is there to do while waiting? Take a selfie. Or twenty.

I don’t take selfies very often. It doesn’t occur to me because I’m always looking for interesting, stationary subjects to photograph, or I’m stalking my cats with the camera. There was nothing of interest from my vantage point at the bus stop, and my cats were selfishly sitting at home, so I thought it would be amusing to capture a rare moment of myself being bored in an unusual place.

All that happened in the end was I freaked myself out, though. A little bit. Just a little.

The selfies I took showed my eyes looking lopsided. They were mismatched. One eye looked larger and different than the other. This alarmed me because I thought I remembered reading somewhere that psychopaths often have in common a noticeable difference between their eyes. While no one’s features are perfectly symmetrical, the eyes of a mentally unstable person can be very obviously unlike each other. (I know I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find anything about it, of course.)

Thing is, I do live with mental illness in the form of clinical depression and PTSD, but I never thought I looked mentally ill. The selfies suddenly made me feel paranoid. Then I became paranoid about being paranoid, and that made me feel crazier. I wondered if my mental health situation was really what I thought it was, only. And very quickly, the whole thought process took off on a continuous, self-perpetuating loop inside my brain.

To stop the merciless cycle, I deleted all of the selfies.

I went about the rest of the evening not thinking about it. I went home, went to the gym, and went out to dinner with Callaghan, and I didn’t think about it at all.

Later that night, I went to remove my make-up and saw that my eyeliner was thicker under one eye than the other, and the two lines didn’t match in shape. All along, it was my eyeliner that didn’t match! That would do it. Eyeliner can change your face dramatically. Of course the eye with more liner would look larger, and the two eyes would look different with different liner shapes!

I looked like that before I went and sweated at the gym, so I’d gone around at work with lopsided eyes. How fun.

Either I was in too much of a hurry when I was getting ready that morning, or the eyeliner wore off unevenly during the day. The result was the same, though: I looked like a Picasso painting at work, and I almost drove myself crazy wondering if I was crazier than I actually am.

Yesterday morning, I took extra care with my eyeliner. In the afternoon, I took a selfie in my office:

 

(February 18, 2016)

(February 18, 2016)

 

I came out looking more normal, though the left eye still had slightly more liner than the right. Probably only I would notice it, now that I’m hyper-aware of the thickness and shape of my eyeliner. I may have to just set the camera down and back slowly away. It’s hard to get the two eyes to look exactly the same, and I only allow myself 15 minutes to do my make-up before going to work. It is what it is.

The lighting was surprisingly flattering, too, though. Also, it was a rare day that I put on e.l.f. primer under my foundation. I think I like it, after all.

And Callaghan loves his new job!

“Do not go gentle into that good night” (Thoughts on trolls, suicide, Robin Williams)

In any given human interaction scenario, there’s that proverbial line. Once you cross the line, you’ve entered the land of excess. You’re beyond. I think that as humans, for the sake of decency, we make efforts to not go there. We don’t want to offend.

Conversely, there’s a sub-species of human who regularly and deliberately crosses the line, a sub-species that evolved out of the masses somewhere in the mid-90’s when the World Wide Web opened for business and ushered us into a new dimension of existence. Suddenly, we could hang out in the ether. No one could see us, but we were there. And we had keyboards. They had keyboards… they of the sub-species whose raison d’être is to go there, into the beyond. Those with a propensity to offend could now do it in the most cowardly fashion: Invisibly. At some point, someone started calling them “trolls.” The name stuck, and the verb form quickly followed. Trolling is now a behavior that’s as common-place online as annoying ad pop-ups you have to “click to close” before you can read what’s on the page.

Trolls are everywhere. It’s just a fact of the internet that nothing is sacred to them. I know this, but still, I was aghast at their comments on articles about Robin Williams’ death (if I may use that event as an example). As a reader, I saw that as crossing the line of all lines. When trolls unleash their misdirected anger in the comments section of an article about someone’s death, they’re so far beyond that I can’t begin to comprehend it.

Maybe it’s naïve of me to expect nothing less from trolls who spend their days seething under the bridges of the interwebs, but really? Robin Williams committed suicide in an apparent state of confusion and despair. He was a fellow human being, an artist who devoted his career to making us laugh and using his acting gifts to enrich our collective human experience with the depth of his dramatic performances.

We now know that Robin Williams suffered with Lewy Body Dementia and a couple of other, related neurological diseases. His depression was likely a by-product of LBD, but what if he didn’t have LBT? What if he was simply, clinically depressed, as everyone assumed at the time of his suicide?

Disdain for those who commit suicide* confounds me.

Within our legal system, we have a mechanism by which murderers are shuttled away from incarceration. We informally call it the “insanity plea,” and those who use it can take up residence in a medical facility instead of in prison… because to be determined to be too mentally unfit to stand trial is to be recognized as suffering with a medical condition.

Given this, I often wonder why the murderer of one’s self doesn’t deserve that same consideration. Why do we judge the deceased who took their own lives? Why does the church refuse to bless a soul that died deliberately? The act of suicide comes from a place of inner chaos, whether from clinical depression or from neurological disorders such as those that Williams experienced. Regardless, to be in this state of despair is to be mentally unfit. If a criminal can escape prison due to being mentally unfit, why can’t a person who committed suicide also be spared? Why can’t we acknowledge the fact of mental illness and let the dead rest in peace?

 

Works of two of my favorite poets (of the many who've committed suicide).

Works of two of my favorite poets (of the many who’ve committed suicide).

 

You can’t explain such concepts to trolls. They can’t be reasoned with, but you can reason with others. You can explain how it’s offensive to speak of the deceased as being selfish, pathetic, immature, “a loser,” etc. Many of us say such things. “Suicide is cowardly and selfish. It’s the easy way out that only hurts those left behind.” In my opinion, if we’re into Political Correctness, we should deem it un-P.C. to speak unkindly of those who commit suicide.

Suicide is only tragic. 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and do we speak of them with disdain? No. For the most part, we understand that P.T.S.D. (whether from military experience or from other traumatic events) and depression go together. We reserve our disdain for civilians… but suicide is suicide. No one who commits suicide is mentally fit at the time of the act.

Trolls who emerge to spew their vitriol in the comments section of article about people who committed suicide – such as Robin Williams – are the worst, as far as I’m concerned. They’re gleeful to have this excuse to rant about politics, religion, etc. They want their hatred to be heard, and they’ll use any occasion to achieve that.

The fact is that trolls are the cowardly ones… not the victims of suicide. (This is not at all to say that those who judge suicide victims are trolls.)

People who commit suicide can no longer avoid “going gently into that good night.” Let’s honor their bravery in fighting it, rather than looking down on them for dying.

 

*****

*Please note that I don’t include extremists in my definition of suicides.

Garage gym updates and Tae Kwan Do techniques!

Coming back around to the promised garage gym update! Since our initial setting-up in January last year, we’ve made a few additions to the garage to further its transition into a small but functional training space. We also cleared out the relics that came with the garage when we bought the house – old cans of paint and such.

Now we’ve got the basics: 63 square feet of mat flooring (we added a couple of rows of rubber tiles to enlarge the floor), a standing punching bag, an MMA dummy on the floor, a mirror (thanks to Craigslist), a few sets of dumbbells, and speakers (for blasting dub-step, rap, and metal during boxing and Muay Thai training, of course). It’s a great space for the two of us, but as many as four people could train in there at once. Maybe five. Maybe six, depending on what we do. It’s small, but it works.

The South Korean flag still hangs in the corner. When I go in to practice Tae Kwan Do, I’m entering a do-jang  (the Korean equivalent of the Japanese dojo). There’s no music during a Tae Kwan Do session. Because of the quiet and the concentration required, I find that it’s akin to a moving meditation practice. I feel at peace. Perhaps more than anything, the flag carries sentimental value, as my Tae Kwan Do master handed it down to me before he moved out of state years ago.

Another thing – unrelated, but useful – is that I upgraded my phone last week, so now I’m equipped with a camera that’s much better than my old one!

(I’ll be honest… I only upgraded my phone to get a new camera. I was content with the phone, itself, but I wanted to take better pictures, and I didn’t want to invest in an actual camera. I was eligible for a phone upgrade, anyway, so it worked out well.)

So, with this new phone camera, thinking of how I could show what the space can accommodate, I decided to record myself doing a Tae Kwan Do form (hyung in Korean; kata in Japanese – this is TKD, so it’s hyung). I recorded the video on Sunday afternoon and used “pause” and “the snippy tool” to get the slew of Tae Kwan Do technique selfies posted here.

But first, observe the quality difference between my old and new cameras!

Old camera (Samsung Galaxy S4):

 

Home gym in the garage, one year later.

Home gym in the garage, one year later.

 

New camera (Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge):

 

Walking up to start...

Walking up to start…

 

I clipped this shot out of the video, so I’m blurry in movement, but notice the colors! The lighting in the garage was exactly the same in both images, and as per usual, there were no digital shenanigans involved to alter the pics. I’m in love with this camera. The phone part is pretty great, too, and yes, I’m totally raving about a Korean phone in a post about Korean karate. Coincidence.

Without further rambling about cameras and phones, here are a few of the Tae Kwan Do blocks and attacks I clipped from the recorded video:

 

Horizontal front chest block

Horizontal front chest block

 

Double-fisted groin block

Double-fisted groin block

 

Stomp attack with downward block (prep)

Stomp attack with downward block (prep)

 

Back fist (prep)

Back fist (prep)

 

(My striking fist did originate from further inside, but it looks awkward at this second of transition… )

 

Jump attack (prep)

Jump attack (prep)

 

Jump attack

Jump attack

 

Block to sides

Block to sides

 

Left hand groin attack (pull at the end of the technique)

Left hand groin attack (pull at the end of the technique)

 

Finished.

Finished.

 

Note that my feet are slightly too far apart in that finish.  I saw ALL of my mistakes while watching the video and pausing on the techniques, which makes the recording a valuable practice I should continue. You may see more training pics here in the future.  Just a head’s-up.

 

(walking back to stop the recording, haha)

(walking back to stop the recording, haha)

 

Anyway, our garage gym figures beautifully into my New Year’s resolution to get stronger. We’re going to add three or four sets of dumbbells to our little collection, so we’ll be able to get in some effective full-body workouts. Gotta love Play It Again Sports! We’re also going to add what we need to keep the space tolerable during the hot months.

Cold weather joy!

This last week we’ve had quite the cold snap here in Phoenix Metro, which I believe we can actually attribute to El Niño. A few days ago, our state registered the coldest temperatures in the U.S. while everyone else basked in unusual warmth. Hell has frozen over here in Sun Devil country!

It’s all good, though, because cold weather means a lot of enjoyable things. Such as:

1). Cold weather means I can light a lot of candles in my office at home.

 

Forest of candles.

Forest of candles.

 

It’s normally too warm for so many candles at once, obviously.

 

2). Cold weather makes savory, hot food even heartier.

 

Bocca burger at Red Robin (with iced tea, which I love in all kinds of weather).

Bocca burger at Red Robin (with iced tea, which I love in all kinds of weather).

 

We eat stuff like this year-round, but I find it most fulfilling when it’s cold outside. This particular visit to Red Robin was especially welcome because it was the day after we got back from France, where I’d spent over a week subsisting mostly on salads, bread, and the Larabars I’d packed. Those salads were wonderful, for sure, but by the time we got back I was ready to sink my teeth into something savory and hot!

 

Roasted purple potatoes.

Roasted purple potatoes.

 

Pinto beans in the slow cooker.

Pinto beans in the slow cooker.

 

Pinto tacos!

Pinto tacos!

 

Side-note: Did you know that Field Roast makes vegan cheese? I didn’t know until we found it at the store last night. It was great in these tacos! My favorite vegan cheeses have been Follow Your Heart and Daiya, but now there’s Field Roast. Daiya probably still works best on pizza, though. I might have to do an experiment to find out. There are other vegan cheeses out there, too.

 

3). Cold weather means that chocolate tastes like Christmas.

 

Stonegrindz Chocolate

Stonegrindz Chocolate

 

This chocolate is made locally, and it is delicious. Somehow, cold weather and Stonegrindz’ midnight dark chocolate really go together. Callaghan even likes it, and he generally doesn’t care for dark chocolate! We get it at the Farmer’s Market down the street, of course.

 

4). Cold weather makes garage workouts possible.

You know it’s been cold if you see that my elbows are bruised… it means that I’ve been working out on heavy-bags in the garage, a thing you can’t do in Arizona heat if there’s no A/C out there.

 

I waited seven months for this.

I waited seven months for this.

 

(A selfie was going to be impossible, so I took these pics with the web cam… that’s why they’re kind of grainy and dark.)

 

Garage workouts once again!

Garage workouts once again!

 

Because let’s be honest… there’s nothing like an intense workout on heavy-bags to relieve your frustrations. Any shrink would back me up on that, I’m guessing.

The cold also means that I can lift weights in the garage, since we have some dumbbells out there. I need to build up some strength.

Did I mention, by the way, that my strength-training attempts at the work gym ended in failure? The plan was to go during lunch, but evidently the rest of the world had the same idea. I couldn’t get the weights I needed because they were always in use, and I didn’t have time to wait. I gave up after three or four days.

 

5). Cozy winter kitties.

 

Nenette in her favorite windowsill sunbeam on a cold day.

Nenette in her favorite windowsill sunbeam on a cold day.

 

Nenette asleep on the back of the couch, one of her favorite spots.

Nenette asleep on the back of the couch, one of her favorite spots.

 

Sleepy Nounours and his little pink freckled nose.

Sleepy Nounours and his little pink freckled nose.

 

Blanket weather!

Blanket weather!

 

It’s supposed to warm up a little starting today, but it’ll still be cold enough to be magical!

Looks like this turned out to be something of a “favorites” post, which I didn’t intend, but it’s great because I wasn’t going to do one for December. (At the end of the month I’ll do a “best of 2015,” instead.)

Dust mites. (So the house in France wasn’t possessed, after all.)

As I was making the bed yesterday morning, I thought of an article I’d read last week about how beds contain dust mites that eat dead human skin cells. Before you go imagining harmless balls of fluff that collect on the floor under your bed, like I mistakenly did at first, let me clarify that dust mites are alive, outfitted with multiple legs and a mouth that looks like a vagina, and not to be confused with dust bunnies. The article is called “Scientists Tell You Why Making Your Bed Is Disgusting – And Bad for Your Health,” and it was helpfully posted to my Facebook feed by one of my many helpful friends. I wish I could remember who it was. If it was you, thank you.

I read the article and it stuck with me because it’s all about how making your bed enables these vile little beasts to do their dirty work. The article reveals, as indicated in its title, that making your bed may not be the healthiest thing to do.

In her article, Ms. Harper reports that “each bed contains more than a million Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus – the scientific name for dust mites.”

Somehow this surprised me, but I guess everything alive has to have a scientific name.

“…feeding off of your dead skin cells and pooping (yes, pooping) out an allergen that can trigger asthma-like symptoms.”

 

Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.

Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.

 

Apparently, dust mites can’t do their things in an unmade bed because an unmade bed is exposed to daylight and circulating air, which are lethal for dust mites.

Dust mites are basically microscopic vampires who can only thrive in the dark. Exposure to daylight kills them. A bed that’s made is their coffin. At night, they feed on your biological matter.

(Okay, they’re not pure vampires, since vampires feed on living blood while dust mites prefer dead skin cells. They’re more of a hiding, creeping vampire-vulture hybrid.)

These findings aren’t new. Ms. Harper explains that the research she references was published in 2006. Then she recounts other research findings that suggest a correlation between making the bed and better mental health, including benefits such as lower stress and higher productivity. She points out that we have to decide which is more important to us: the mental well-being that comes with making the bed, or the knowledge that by not making the bed, we’re destroying the carnivorous creatures who feed on our dead, discarded skin cells at night.

So yesterday morning I was making the bed while re-thinking what I was doing, hesitating for the first time. After some serious consideration, I decided that for me, the benefits of making the bed outweigh the benefits of not making the bed.

See, I was hardwired to make my bed every day before I joined the Army. When you join the Army, if you’re not already hardwired to make your bed every day, you come out programmed to do so, and I’m talking bounce-a-quarter-off-the bed kind of programming. For me, the consequences of not making the bed would be more disquieting than the consequences of turning the bed into a hovel for skin-devouring dust mites, but it’s not a sense of threat that propels me to continue making the bed. It’s more of a reflex, more like how it feels wrong to put on your right sock first if you’ve always put your left one on first. It’s a deeply ingrained habit. To stop making the bed would mean putting forth effort to break the habit, and it would challenge my mental health to see the bed all messy and unmade every day. (Not to mention that our unmade bed would end up covered in cat fur.)

It wouldn’t be worth it, especially since we live in the hot, dry desert, where our dust mite problem is minimal compared to other places we’ve lived. As stated in this other article I found, “…if the humidity is under forty percent dust mites don’t live well so that is why parts of the southwest don’t suffer from this problem.”

I now know that the raging skin problems I’d endured while living in France were probably due to dust mites. That second article also states: “Some people will have an allergic rash reaction of eczema. This is similar to the situation with food allergies: Some people get respiratory types of reactions and others will deal with the problem via their skin by having a rash response.”

Mystery solved.

In France, I suffered constantly with horrible, rash-like outbreaks all over my body, front and back, from my feet to my legs to my torso to my arms. Callaghan never had anything. It was an infuriating mystery, and we couldn’t solve it. While the problem persisted on the French Riviera (when we were there, it was more often overcast and rainy than bright and sunny, and being on the coast, it was never dry), it was much worse when we were up in la Région Rhône-Alpes.

We figured I was having a reaction to some kind of insect. I’m severely allergic to insect bites; they wreak 10+ times the havoc on my skin than on Callaghan’s, so it would make sense that if we had dust mites in our always-made bed in the perpetually dark, damp wilderness of our little mountain abode, I would have this reaction, and Callaghan would not. I’d often wake up with one or several itchy bumps that would erupt into a horrible rash that would burn and itch uncontrollably. If I’d scratch the slightest little bit – even lightly – bruises would form.

All of it vanished once we moved back to the States and the sunny, arid Southwest.

I was going to supply a photo here (one of many) of the strange bumps, scabs and bruises that I constantly had all over my body, but I decided to spare your eyeballs because “what has been seen cannot be unseen,” as we all know. (You’re welcome.)

Kick ass in the kindest way possible, and other life advice (an A-Z guide)

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about “life-coaching.” I’m not exactly sure what that is, I’m no coach of any kind, and I certainly can’t claim to be an expert on life, but I thought I’d venture into related territory (meaning distant-cousin related). I thought, if I was to give just simple, pithy life advice, what would that look like? It seemed like a fun and worthwhile challenge. I searched my experience and came up with something for every letter of the alphabet, because my brain likes lists. Some of the “advice” is literal, some figurative; some are quotes, and some are definitions. It’s all helpful to me. So, for what it’s worth –

Life advice A-Z!

Age: Depends on the individual

Balance: “Pick your battles”

Caution: Conceal your true weaknesses

Design: Create your reality

Equilibrium: Drink lots of water

Fitness: Master a physical activity

Guidance: Have a goal

Health: Take the stairs

Intention: Kick ass in the kindest way possible

Juggernaut: Willpower on crack

Key: Unlock with fit, rather than force

Livelihood: Connect to artworks

 

Detail from "Dreams for the Earth, #6" (Beth Ames Swartz, 1989)

Detail from “Dreams for the Earth, #6” (Beth Ames Swartz, 1989)

 

Mental Health: Exercise hard

Nourishment: Cultivate relationships

Organizing: Turn procrastination into productivity

Provocation: Control your reactions

Quote: “Keep your hands up and your chin down”

Resonate: Remember interconnectedness

Strategy: Adjust your lifestyle

Thorn: Strengthen your mind

Urgent: Practice selective response

Vigilance: “Stay alert to stay alive”

Wealth: Clean sheets

Xerox: Never run out of ink

Yin and Yang: “Only when it’s dark can you see the stars”

Zenith: Construct your own ladder

 

[Full annotation on the image:

Dreams for the Earth, #6

“So the darkness shall be the light/and the stillness the dancing”

Beth Ames Swartz, 1989

(Donated by Louise G. Fink to honor the contributions of the Center for the Study of Law, Science, and Technology)

Arizona State University]

Have I “had anything done”?

A certain person found out that I’m going to be 47 in three months. Not being one to hold back, he blurted, “No way!! Have you had anything done?!”  Complete with dramatic interrobang at the end of the question.

It occurred to me that I’m getting to an age where people might wonder if I’ve “had something done” if they think I look younger than I should.

The guy’s question made an impact in my mind because not long ago, Callaghan and I somehow became ensnared in Botched, a reality T.V. series about plastic surgery that horrifies and depresses me as much as it fascinates me. I always anticipate the cases where the patients got botched during surgeries they had had for medical reasons (birth defects, disfigurement resulting from accidents, etc.), rather than for cosmetic ones. Those cases seem to be rarities, though.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Botched

 

I’ve never had anything “done,” and I don’t plan to ever get anything “done.” The idea of having non-medically-necessary surgeries is anything but appealing to me. I’d run from cosmetic procedures involving chemicals, lasers, needles, etc., too.

I have no problem getting shots and getting blood drawn. I’m fine with needles used for tattooing art on my body. I would not be fine with a needle injecting botulinum toxin into my face. I’m not judging those who do opt for such procedures – to each their own! – it’s just not something I can see myself doing. I wouldn’t get tattooed make-up, either; again, this is just my personal preference.

You could say, I guess, that I’m hyper-squicked at the idea of it all. I wouldn’t even get Lasik surgery! When it comes to surgery, words amounting to “medically necessary” have to be included in the documentation. If insurance won’t pay for it, I probably won’t get it.

I had a facial once, about 10 years ago, and even that was a little invasive for my tastes. The facial was a component of a spa package that someone had given me as a gift, and while it wasn’t a bad experience, I didn’t enjoy it enough to want to do it again. The aesthetician was gentle and methodical, and I remember that she used a botanical line of products, which I appreciated, but I found the whole thing to be strange-bordering-on-gross. I think I just prefer my own fingers and hands working with the skin on my face.

I’m particular about how I handle my skin, as well. I once tried a motorized facial cleansing brush after years of hearing people rave about their Clarisonic facial cleansing brushes. It kind of spooked me, and I didn’t like the way my skin felt during or after using the device. I gave it to Callaghan, who also tried it once and never used it again.

Body work – therapeutic massage therapy – makes me swoon. I love scalp massages even more. I could have my feet massaged for hours, which is odd considering that I don’t like people looking at my feet. And if I could hire someone to do nothing but trace designs on my back with his or her fingertip all day, I would. That spa facial, though! It was just kind of uncomfortably weird lying there while someone cleansed my face for me.

 

I'm really not happy in this pic that was taken last night, but a fake smile is supposed to lift your spirits somehow, so this was the experiment.

I’m really not happy in this pic that was taken last night, but a fake smile is supposed to lift your spirits somehow, so this was the experiment.

 

Of course I’m flattered when people remark that I look younger than I am. I’m not immune to vanity, I’m not a humblebraggart, and my mother taught me well regarding taking care of myself, so in a sense, the compliments are a tribute to her. But as far as anti-aging efforts go, I do my own thing, and whatever happens, happens. Just because I have a skin care regimen and use some products that say “anti-aging” on the labels doesn’t mean that I’m actually anti-aging.

Currently, in the morning, I wash my face and use an eye cream and sunscreen under my make-up (I apply the latter to my face, neck and upper chest, as the appearance of your neck and décolletage can make a huge difference)… and that’s it. I stopped using daily moisturizer on my face months ago. The sunscreen I use seems to do a good enough job, so I leave it at that.

At night, I remove any make-up I might be wearing, wash my face, and put on the same eye cream before misting my face with water and adding a layer of night cream. I do a mask once a week, usually on Sundays. I also spend most of the weekend (if not all of it) make-up-free, to give my skin a rest.

As for my hair… when I go gray, I’ll continue to color my hair, with the purpose shifted from enhancement to coverage.

So I do my routine, I make sure I’m consuming the right nutrients, and I drink lots and lots of water. I try to get adequate sleep (ha!). I avoid direct sunlight on my face as much as possible, and I avoid things like refined sugars and alcohol in my diet. After that, though, I’m eager to see what I’ll look like at each stage as I mature.

Because aging is life, and life is good.

Hello, I am a CNTJ.

“Hey Baby, guess what?” I asked Callaghan the other night.

“What?”

“I realized that I’m not an introvert, and I’m not an extravert. Guess what I am!”

“A bear.”

This took me by surprise. Wasn’t it obvious where I was heading?

“No.”

“A mama bear.”

“No.” Although I am.

“I don’t know, mon amour. What are you?”

“I’m not an introvert, and I’m not an extravert,” I began again. “I’m a catrovert.”

Callaghan paused, then snorted with laughter.

“That’s a good one,” he said. “It’s TRUE.”

Yes, it is.

In a world of introverts and extraverts, I’ve always been a textbook introvert. The personality tests I’ve taken have reflected this unfailingly. According to Myers-Briggs, I’m an INTJ. But actually, I’m a CNTJ.

I’ve yet to see catroversion documented anywhere in the literature concerning personality types, but it should be, because I know that I’m far from the only one.

Introversion and extraversion are terms that describe how people replenish their mental and emotional energy stores, right? The way I understand it, introverts “recharge” best in solitude… they get their energy from within themselves, so they need alone-time. Extraverts recharge by being with others; they’re energized in the company of other people.

Catroverts, meanwhile, recharge by being with cats. We derive our energy from those of the feline persuasion, so the time we spend with them is the most profoundly therapeutic time we can know.

 

Catroversion with Nenette

Catroversion with Nenette

 

These pics with Nenette were taken on Sunday. Lots of Labor Day weekend fur-baby bonding went on around here!

And Nounours got all kinds of snuggles in the aftermath of his dental surgery a couple of weeks ago:

 

Catroversion with Nounours

Catroversion with Nounours

 

Since I just did a search and found no mention of catroversion anywhere online,* I figured it ought to be published somewhere, which, I guess, means here in this post. Let’s take it a step further and break catroversion down into two types:

  • Type A catrovert: Derives energy from being with cat(s)
  • Type B catrovert: Derives energy from being ALONE with cat(s)

The Type A catrovert often tests as an extravert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. (That would be Callaghan.)

The Type B catrovert is essentially also an introvert. (This would be me.)

“Voilà,” I said to Callaghan, “We’re not really opposites in this regard! We’re both primary catroverts.” It was easy to flesh out my theory as I went, so I kept going. “And your secondary extraversion and my secondary introversion complement each other.”

Seriously… with a few exceptions, if Callaghan wasn’t around to encourage me to go out and do social things (i.e. attend parties), I just wouldn’t. He’s good at busting me out of my comfort zones. Pretty much the only place at which I look forward to socializing is the gym. Outside of that, give me one-on-one interactions with friends, and small groups over large ones.

Callaghan had to admit that I was onto something when I presented catroversion to him.

So what are some things we should know about catroverts?

1). The catrovert with secondary extraversion (Type A catrovert) may be prone to:

  • Overspending the household budget on cat birthday party preparations
  • Bringing home every stray cat on the street
  • Struggling to resist adopting all the cats in the shelter
  • Feeding the neighborhood stray cats
  • Insisting on going over to talk to the cats up for adoption at PetSmart and PetCo

2). The catrovert with secondary introversion (Type B catrovert) may be prone to:

  • Being accused of being anti-social (if not an all-out misanthrope)
  • Being labeled a “crazy cat lady” (even if not a lady)
  • Taking longer than average to grieve the loss of a beloved cat
  • Feeling inexplicably jealous if kitty responds to a visitor’s affection
  • Dying alone with cats

3). Advice for the employer, since the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is heavily used as a resource in the workplace: the best way to handle your catrovert employees is to allow them to bring their cats to work.

4). Being a catrovert does NOT make someone a strict cat person; being a catrovert doesn’t preclude loving and/or appreciating dogs or other animals.

I could go on. I may even expand this topic into a book-length volume at some point. For now, I’ll just sign off with the observation that the only reason we don’t have a houseful of cats is that my being a Type B catrovert balances out Callaghan being a Type A catrovert.

—–

*ETA: I just searched on a different engine, and I DID find references to catroversion elsewhere. Catroverts REPRESENT!

When the sea boileth over. (My roach nightmare come true.)

We interrupt (what has become) our standard Friday kitty-update programming for something entirely the opposite, and I’m abjectly horrified that I even have such a thing to report.

The cataclysmic event happened the day of our recent exterminator appointment. I’d arranged to telecommute that day because we didn’t know what all would be involved.

We didn’t want to call the exterminator. The idea did cross our minds when the crickets started showing up at the beginning of the summer, but we thought we could get away with avoiding it. We said to each other, “The crickets will leave. The problem will resolve itself.” Which, of course, led to the brisk proliferation of crickets in the house, until such a point arrived that we were living amongst them like no civilized people do. Finally, just as we’d wound up vacuuming herds of spiders in our house in France, we had to get medieval on the crickets in this house… Creepy Crawley Pest Control style.

We’d seen no insects other than the crickets. We had lizards, mostly baby ones, but we’re fond of them and don’t view them as pests. Scorpions don’t trouble us, either. My one major, remaining phobia, as many of you know, is roaches. Summer in Arizona brings the sewer roaches, which I always envision as boiling up from the bowels of hell. Had we seen a roach anywhere on our property, inside the house or out, I’d have been on the phone with Creepy Crawly that same second.

I knew this company. I’ve used them before, in previous houses, and I had confidence in them. I know that their product isn’t harmful to dogs and cats, and I know that they’re effective, so I’m happy to open the door when Z from Creepy Crawly rings the doorbell.

He’s a no-nonsense guy and explains the process succinctly. He would “blast” the outside first, then come in with a different apparatus to drip-deposit the de-insecting solution along the baseboards inside the garage and house. 

Now, let me just pause to assert that if I had my druthers (am I old enough to get away with using that phrase? I’ve been waiting to age into the right to say it, kind of like get off my lawn, which would actually be funny considering this post)… if I had a choice, I wouldn’t choose to have a lawn. I dislike the maintenance involved, and, moreover, I don’t believe in cultivating lawns in the desert. Alas, our house came with its front lawn and the smaller lawn out back. When we moved in, ripping out the grass and xeriscaping our yard went high on our list of “Projects to do one day.”

We bought the house about a year ago. We still have the lawn.

No-nonsense Z from Creepy Crawly explains the treatment process and wastes no time. He does the exterior first, spraying his lethal brew along the front of the house near the door and making his way around the perimeter of the lawn, winding around the date palm and wrapping around to the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, Callaghan is in the garage, getting it ready. The garage will be done next. I go to give him the tool I’d retrieved from the house as requested and walk back out onto the patio, stopping to stand under the awning. I’m looking out in the direction of our neighbor’s house when –

“This is why you need me,” Z announces loudly as he heads toward me from across the lawn.

“What was that?” I turn my head to look at him.

“THIS. Is why you need me,” Z says again, a note of glee ringing in his voice as he gesticulates with the hand not holding the hose. He’s indicating something on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be looking at, and then my eyes pick up movement.

It’s movement happening so fast, it’s literally a blur. It’s actually happening on the lawn. There’s an animated cloud flashing in shades of dark and red, a fast-moving, chaotic cloud glinting in the sun. I’m confused. It reminds me of the swarm of bees that appeared in front of our neighbor’s house back in San Jose that one time….

My chest seizes up, my insides suddenly on high alert. It’s summer in Arizona.

“What is it?”

“Roaches. Those are sewer roaches.” Z sounds downright triumphant.

The word “roaches” grips my larynx and I feel paralyzed in my throat. My mind falters. I CAN’T be looking at a huge, thick cloud of spastic roaches on my lawn, I think. It can’t be possible.

“Don’t worry, they’ll all be dead within 15 minutes,” says Z merrily, as if that solves everything.

He has no idea. Or maybe he does. He does this for a living. How can anyone do this for a living?

“Baby,” I croak.

“What?” Callaghan steps out of the garage.

“Over there.” I’m fighting my roachaphobic body’s urge to hyperventilate. “It’s… roaches….”

“Roaches? Where?” Callaghan studies where I’m pointing, and the look of confusion on his face probably looks exactly like the one I wore when Z said “roaches.”

“There. That cloud…”

Callaghan slowly makes his way to the sidewalk and approaches the area with unusual care in his step. He stops and looks. I can see his face, and it tells me everything.

I’m shivering in the heat. The broad span of air up to two feet above the lawn gleams thick with oily, reddish-brown wings. Callaghan stumbles back up the driveway and says, in awe, “It’s a sea of roaches.”

And the sea boileth over.

Z is laughing. He’s laughing at our shock. He’s laughing at my pain. He explains that water from the sprinklers has collected where the lawn dips down to the metal grate covering the main water valve. Moistness attracts sewer roaches in the summer, he says. When he sprayed the lawn with his lethal concoction, he activated them into the frenzy stirring before our horrified eyes.

I’m thinking, I’ve walked across the lawn over that exact spot many times. I’VE BEEN TREADING OVER A SEA OF SEWER ROACHES.

My ankles prickled. I was mired in a scenario straight out of my worst nightmare.

I went inside and Skyped a message to my co-worker.

They like to take shelter in palm trees, sewer roaches. This roach population likely came from the palm up against our house. It’s unbelievable, miraculous, even, that we’ve never seen a roach of any kind on our property, outside or in.

Later, I asked Callaghan how many roaches he figured there were. He thought out loud: “I could only see maybe 450 of them, so if you take into consideration what I couldn’t see, I’d say… around a thousand. There were probably a thousand roaches.”

“That’s it,” I said. “That lawn is HISTORY. I don’t care if we can’t afford actual landscaping right now. WE HAVE TO KILL THE LAWN.”

Callaghan, who’d peered inside the swarming sea of a thousand roaches hovering above the lawn, and who, unlike me, is not phobic about roaches, needed no arm-twisting. “I’ll shut off the sprinklers,” he declared. “The lawn will die.”

We stopped watering the lawn, but it’s monsoon season, so we’ve had some rain. The grass grew, and I couldn’t help but think about a thousand huge sewer roach corpses hidden in it.

Before long, Callaghan had to go out and mow the lawn. I watched from my office window as he courageously pushed the lawn mower over the mass roach grave.

The grass is slowly dying, but the ghastly image of the hovering, flashing roach cloud refreshes in our minds every time we look at the lawn, because this is what the lawn looks like right now (I took this picture yesterday):

 

Our front lawn right now.

Our front lawn right now.

 

Lest you wondered whether my phobia caused me to exaggerate, as that can certainly happen, LOOK AT THAT LARGE PATCH OF GRASS THAT’S LUSH, LONGER AND GREENER THAN THE DYING GRASS AROUND IT. That is Exhibit A. That’s where the roaches were. The decomposing bodies in the mass grave have been fertilizing the grass we’re trying to kill.

The lawn can’t be ripped out soon enough! I’m going to call the City of Tempe today to ask about their conservation program (that financially assists with homeowners’ xeriscaping costs).

Z the exterminator is coming back this morning for a follow-up treatment, but I’ll be at work this time, so if another cloud of roaches rises above the ground, I won’t be here to witness it.