Monday, September 29, 2014

Sacrilicious Sunday Services blog: Too much tech?

Downtown Grounds
still pumpkin spice everything day

The second and last blog...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Are we more connected or less connected because of social media?

So it's not Sunday... whatevs... This blog will be switching to a vlog (or blog/vlog hybrid or something) once I get it all sorted out. In the meantime, I'll give you a topic...

I saw this link yesterday to a video called Look Up arguing that we are cut off by our obsessive social media activities. It's like slam poetry but a bit slower. And it's good, but I find myself wanting to tell the author to just calm the hell down. It's so dire. I can't say that the amount of time we're spending on electronics isn't a problem, especially kids, but it's not the only thing going on. It's also not like this is the first time in history we've had anti-social trends.

There was a black&white picture going around recently of a crowded commuter train fully of nobody talking to each other because they were all behind their newspapers. Then came radio, and then television, personal computers and video games, each being hailed as the end of civilization as we know it. That isn't entirely wrong. The old norms pass away, but some things always remain.

I'm sitting in coffee shop right now. Some people are chatting, some on their computers, some behind a book or a newspaper. Almost everyone has checked their phone at some point. Even head-down over an app, we're communicating. We're chatting or texting with a friend. We're receiving information about the inane and momentous things going on in their lives right now. We're losing ourselves in a story, fictional or autobiographical. Some of us are reading about upcoming statistical research papers (because we are unashamed geeks). None of this stuff is new.

But I don't dismiss the truth that the amount of electronic interface time is changing. We can be accessible at all times. Some of us are physiologically addicted to checking our twitter and facebook accounts. I know the kids are supposed to be crazy texters - I remain one of the world's slowest - and so they come from a different mindset than when I was younger. There is no doubt that young brains develop differently when they spend too much time in front of a screen, at least partly because the brain reacts differently to an electronic screen than it does to the light bounced off a book, or the face of a friend. And it can't be argued that we can treat people differently when we are behind an internet connection than when we have to look at them eye to eye. We can be far, far crueler...

But I have found the various forms of electronic media to be the lifeline I have needed at different times in my life. When I have been homebound for long periods of time, being able to interact, even with strangers, online, I have felt like I still existed in the world. It has saved me from the rabbit hole of my own mind. It can get pretty dark down there, and you can always count on a little lolcat to drive away some of the darkness. Even so-called mindless cable TV helped abate some of the post-partem depression and loneliness I experienced after both of my boys were born.

There's a limit, of course. We need social interaction, but we can't get it all at a distance. We need to breath in other human thoughts and other human faces. We need empathy and discourse. We need human touch. And we need nature, fresh air and greenness. We need play and self-stimulous and imagination. If we are to remain a healthy society, we need to find the balance of all these forces.

Think of our electronics as a kind of food group. It's okay to ingest them, just in the right proportions for each person. It also means treating them like mealtime. A little snack is okay, even a meal of two. But some of us pop tweets like we pop potato chips. It's not healthy to be constantly eating, even small amounts, all day and especially not all night.

One last thing before I post this without editing and run off to my physical therapy appointment. In this video, it shows a missed opportunity for a relationship because of these nefarious electronics. You know how else you can miss out on talking to that person? Stopping to smell the flowers. Being on the other side of the street. Or even being at the park, which plenty of kids still do around here. You can't spend your life standing around on street corners waiting to have that chance encounter with "The One." That's why it's called chance.

Silly people. But I take your point.

So, anyone reading this, go meet up with some friends or strike up a conversation with some strangers and tell me what you think. Is our technology a leash or a lifeline?


16oz Soy Vanilla Mocha
Pumpkin Scone

From the Sacrilicious Sunday Services blog that nobody read: Patriotism.

Downtown Grounds
16oz Pumpkin Spice Latte
Pumpkin Spice Muffin
(screw you, pumpkin spice haters!)

I won a free coffee and it's National Coffee Day!  I has a happy.

Anyway... A few months ago, I tried to start up a new blog with the intent to create a discussion topic for my tiny handful of readers to engage other people in, and then respond with thoughts from their discussions.  People seemed to have missed the memo... and the comment thingy was having issues.  So, I think I shall try it again as a video blog later on.  Maybe after the new year.  I'm going to focus on finishing up book stuff (yeah, I'm still doing the book thing) in the meantime.  Anyway, here is the first topic from that blog from April.  Feel free to discuss with your bus driver or annoyed barista...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let's start with patriotism.

What is your definition of patriotism, and do you think it is a good thing?

Voltaire is often quoted as saying, "It is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind." Or something like that. I tried to tease out a more definitive definition from the online dictionary pages, but I wasn't quite satisfied. The interpretations seemed to be a little more modern, and the origins were a little... abrupt, and unclear. All that's clear is that it comes from the words for father and fatherland. The modern definitions mention love and devotion, and that just seems a little more romantic to me - more benign. I recall thinking that patriotism most implied an expectation of loyalty - loyalty to your fatherland.

And that's why I tend to agree with Voltaire's interpretation.

I don't believe in unquestioning, unwavering loyalty, not to any person or country or land. I don't believe in elevating my country and countrymen to some higher kind of humanity. And I do not think anyone, even someone I trust and care about, should be obeyed without scrutiny. No one is infallible, and even someone I reasonably trust now may prove to be a complete idiot about something else later. This is why I would make a bad soldier. That, and certain physical shortcomings we need not dwell on here.

All that's enough to get labeled a coward or weak, or that I somehow hate the troops. Fuck that. Just because I recognize that every other human being on this planet is a human being, that doesn't mean I don't care about my home and my family. And I include my country and countrymen when I say that. If the proverbial wolf is at the door, I would not cower. I would not hesitate to rise to the defense. For some people that means signing up and taking up arms. I respect that, but I can't do that. I can't put myself at other people's discretion to direct. I don't trust those people on the best of days, and committing to all the acts of war on someone else's say-so... just can't do it.

If I am patriotic at all, then I fulfill my patriotic duty by trying to keep the men and women who swear themselves to defend me from ever having to fulfill that sacrifice. I will always question the need to go to war. War is the definition of failure in my eyes. If you have to go to war then every other means of resolution must have been tried and must have failed.

(Oh, my goodness... "It's the final countdown!")

Anyway. I guess talk of patriotism always turns to war because that seems to be the finest test of loyalty - put your life on it or you don't really mean it. I hate that notion, too. I agree with that bumper-sticker: Peace is Patriotic. Yes, I was born in America so I have to tend to the matters of my family. That means supporting it, trying to make it better. It is my homeland and I love it, but it doesn't get a pass. I believe in the idea of America - the idea of it is truly one of the greatest humanity has come up with. But America isn't the idea it wants to be, or thinks it is. And America isn't the only great idea, either.

I wouldn't be a good patriot if I pounded on my chest shouting, "American Exceptionalism!" That would be a self-deluding lie, and lies are not going to make us a better country. A human being is a human being is a human being, and countries might help in an organizational sense (for things like getting your social security check in the mail) but not much for purposes of compassion and understanding. These arbitrary delineations are just another way of creating a false distance between us.

So, am I a patriot? I don't know. I'm not a nationalist, I know that. I'm not a chest-pounder, or cheerleader. I'm not much for competitive sports, or dominance, anyway. I will never shove my flag in anyone's face. But I care about the place I live and the people that live in it. But I care about everyone else, too.

I guess, if I'm a patriot, I'm a disobedient patriot.

...You know, I thought that was going to be the last line, but then I remembered that whole Bundy Ranch thing...

My "patriotic disobedience" doesn't include aiming automatic weapons at other people when I disagree with them. I believe in the rule of law. I know that laws can be wrong, and administrators of laws can be corrupt and abusive (I'm not saying that's the case here, just saying...). But we have means of recourse built into the system. Armed insurrection is not one of them, not while the system is still basically in tact. If people are not perfect, then no system we come up with can be perfect. So if you tear down one system with violence, whatever system you come up with will still have that fatal flaw running through it. The best we can do is try to make the system we have as balanced and transparent as we can, with viable means of challenging fault when we find it.

Okay... Thoughts?

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Decaf Soy Latte
Cinnamon/Brown Sugar Macaroon

Monday, September 22, 2014

I have some nerves, or... More fun with fibromyalgia!

Mix Bakeshop
12oz Soy Mocha
Double-Chocolate Cookie
Almond Pineapple Sage Macaroon
(don't judge... it's a heavy-flow day...)

 I wrote a while ago about my fun times with fibromyalgia, which was mainly an overview of advice for people dealing with it (or people who are supporting someone dealing with it).  But there are some important updates and amendments and some tantalizing questions to share...

First, most of the advice still stands, though I would like to go back and tweak some of it, add a few asterisks, and such.  I would also recommend reading the handful of comments, because they include something I forgot to mention in the body of the article.  I mentioned there that I have wacky internal temperature regulation and I speculated that that might have something to do with the underlying cause of the condition, especially since my first signs of illness - a random and mysterious breakout of hives - appeared following a day of prolonged exposure to intense heat (I was at an uncovered bus stop for almost an hour in about 105 degree heat).

It turns out, I was totally right.

Last summer, there were a handful of stories about researchers claiming to have found the cause of fibromyalgia pain.  It goes something like this...

People with fibromyalgia were found to have an exceptionally high number of nerves surrounding the blood vessels in the skin on their palms.  These blood vessels are responsible for opening or closing to allow more or less blood flow to the extremities.  This is how we regulate our internal temperature when we are exposed to different external temps.  Fibromyalgiers, however, seem to have a dysfunction in this process, which doesn't just cause us discomfort, it seems to impede the whole circulatory process for our blood flow throughout our body.  These means deeper muscles may not be getting the blood they need to purge that lactic acid that then builds and causes so much pain at any given place throughout the body.

Hurray!  It's not in all in our heads!  Everybody was very pleased with themselves, as if the whole matter was solved.  But I had way more questions...

First, how does just having more nerves make them dysfunctional?  What is the stress link, since that seems to be a necessary trigger for the condition?  Are we born with all these nerves, or does our body grow them for some reason?

Reflecting on my own life, and talking with other family members, I believe I was born with the preconditions for the disease, but it still took a trigger to kick it off.  My mother, for instance, has the same wonky temperature traits that I always have.  Like me, she's freezing in cold weather and can't seem to get warm, until she finally heats up, but is, by then, overheated and now can't cool down.  Likewise, in hot weather.  There are hot days when I'm shivering and have to put on a sweater - and then I'm burning up and have to lay motionless in the air conditioning until I'm okay again.  But, while my mom and I share these and other quirks, my mother does not have fibromyalgia.

So, with this new info in mind, I want to amend my recommendation on exercise: Don't just do 5 minutes a day to start and then increase to longer duration walks or other low-impact workouts.  Instead, do five minute sessions of movement - stretches, walking, whatever - every hour or so throughout the day.  Or something along those lines.  The issue is keeping the circulation going throughout your body throughout the day.  Keep it gentle and rest until you are fully cooled down again.  I have come to accept that lying on the floor is not being lazy.  I can literally feel the inflammation of my muscles go down if I lie down long enough.

Circulation and inflammation - these are your battles.  I mentioned aiming for an anti-inflammatory diet and encouraged anti-inflammatory supplements (like vitamins E and C, or turmeric, which has also had encouraging results in some recent studies, but I recommend looking into that more because my experience with different brands has been very mixed), but I didn't really appreciate my level of inflammation until I had a blood test to measure it.  We were measuring my CRP levels (I believe) and they were more than 4 times higher than the usual range.

Oh, I said.

I decided to put more emphasis on the anti-inflammatory pieces of my supplement regimen.  I also recently watched the documentary "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" which followed one man's (then more people's) efforts to heal his body through an extended juice fast.  That kind of fruit and vegetable centered diet has strong anti-inflammatory effect.  When he started, was suffering from the same chronic urticaria (hives) that I suffered from when my fibromyalgia symptoms kicked off.  It took several years for me to figure out how to get rid of those, but the (semi-)cure was essentially along the same lines - healing that inflamed, deteriorated gut.

I was able to identify that my allergic reaction was definitely triggered by ingesting dairy.  So, while cutting lactose out of my diet, I started taking acidophilus supplements as well to re-seed my gut.  A condition that had needed to be managed with 40mg a day of Zyrtec for almost 4 years essentially vanished.  I still needed to take some dairy pills if I wanted to eat some ice cream, but I wouldn't be covered in hives afterward.  What I have since discovered, though, is that my continued stress continues to re-injure my gut and my intolerance will continue to flare up.  I also know now that it's not just the lactose but the protein in dairy as well that inflames my body.

It's important to appreciate how much a damaged gut affects our health.  I think I mentioned that last time, but given what I've been reading about nerves and the effects of different chemistry on them, I think it may be a crucial piece of the puzzle.  And in a roundabout way that brings me to an interesting condition I read about separate from my fibromyalgia reading that seems to be described exactly by the extra nerves around the blood vessels thing they just discovered with fibromyalgia.  Following me still?  Walk with me a little bit more...

So, Raynaud's disease seems to be present in people who don't have FM, but the symptoms are also found in many fibromyalgiers.  Some symptoms include - oh look! - blood vessels in the hands collapsing in cold weather or under intense emotional stress, or even numbness in the extremities, for instance...  The truly interesting thing I found while I was reading this was the mention of Calcium Channel Blockers among the treatments for the more serious versions of this disease.  Hmm, I thought... How do those work?

I will spare you the explanation of how those work.  Because it's long.  And technical.  And I'm tired.  The part of the explanation of CCBs as drugs (mainly used to reduce blood-pressure) was the mention that magnesium was a natural antagonist to the calcium ions in the blood, and could, therefore, intensify the effects.  Why is that interesting?  I mentioned that, although I tested for normal levels of magnesium in my blood, I benefited hugely from taking magnesium supplements.

I take a lot of magnesium.  A lot.  It is the most essential of all my pills.  Without it, I will quickly be incapacitated by the pain.  (I was reminded of this when I got sick a little while ago and couldn't keep any of my pills down - it didn't take a full 24 hours til I was in major suffering).  I understood it to be a muscle relaxer, but from what I was reading, it appears to work by keeping those blood vessels open.  Those pesky, malfunctioning blood vessels.  The magnesium is helping, at least to a certain extent, to keep things circulating.

Now, before you go out and chuck your calcium pills (which are shoved down every woman's throat in this country), be aware that I still take a calcium supplement.  I just take a much smaller amount.  Small doses are hard to find - I had to go with a gummy variety because the serving size was 2 gummies for a 500mg dose, so I can take just one if I need less.  And how much I need varies a lot - even by season, it seems.  I have gotten to know myself well enough to tease out the lack-of-calcium pain over the other varieties of pain I experience.

So what does this all mean?  I'm still not entirely sure, but my suspicion is that it comes down to whatever chemistry is being produced by our stress-damaged guts.  For example, from what I was reading, we don't produce more nerves in our body, but we can repair ones that we had.  There also seems to be a difference in the kind of nerves - longer ones versus many-branching ones - that can be regrown, by changing the molecules available to tell the nerves to regrow...

Or something.  Clearly, I am making due without all my available neurons.

All I can say is what I've said before - I believe it is both genetic and environmental.  My mother and I both seem to have more nerves (I believe in more than just the hand, though that is what those studies focused on) than we should (we've both been told we have odd or extra nerves by our dentists).  My mother also mentioned that she was told after a surgery that she had blood vessels in places she wasn't supposed to.  Related?  Quite possibly, I believe.  But the bottom line remains that it took more than just a predisposition to manifest the disease.  Perhaps, since my stresses started early in life and persisted, I was more likely to experience it while she was not.  Perhaps, it was the body's attempts to heal that inadvertently triggered the wrong kind of regrowth of stress-damaged nerves...

I really don't know.  I'm just speculating.  However long it takes us to understand all the mechanics, I believe that managing it remains essentially the same - healing the damage of stress.

It will be a long, long process to fully heal, but I think it is entirely possible.

Good golly, it's late.  No edits.  Night!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Epiphanies are overrated and invaluable

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
12oz Decaf Americano

Epiphanies are a favorite plot device.  They are either the climax or the precursor to the climax of the action in a story.  In the story, once the protagonist has had that moment of perfect clarity - oh, material wealth isn't as important as personal relationships... or, boy I can't keep behaving this way because it undermines my happiness - all is suddenly perfect.  That's the fiction: that just knowing your behavior is a problem somehow suddenly enables you to change your behavior.

Epiphanies are insights.  They are moments of illumination along the path you are on, not the destination you are trying to reach.  Sometimes they show you where you've been, sometimes where you're going.  Sometimes they show you who you really are, sometimes they show you who someone else really is.  And you can then say to yourself that you no longer want to walk that path.  Or you can come to realize that you are on the right path, after all.  But knowledge isn't action.  You must still walk the path, whichever path you choose.

Behaviors are the most difficult adversaries we will ever face.  To change the way we act, or even the pattern of our thinking - that is incredibly difficult to do.  For some people, a single epiphany is enough to reroute their life and to sustain them as they walk along their new path.  But for most of us, if we expect the epiphany to fix everything, then we are almost certain to return to our old ways and the old state of things.

So, don't dismiss the epiphany - they are often true (but not always) and can give you invaluable light in the darkness.  But don't rely on them to tell all the truth and carry you along to your destination.  Some epiphanies are just a campfire by the side of the road (sometimes, a campfire surrounded by bandits!).  But some are like the moon.  Keep your skies clear, and they may shine on the road to guide you home.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Florence Thompson couldn't live in a house.

Mix Bakeshop
12oz Soy Mocha
Sesame Brown Sugar Cookie

I got the Barenaked Ladies song "If I had a million dollars" stuck in my head, yesterday.  I thought it was appropriate since I was catching up on my receipts and figuring out just how financially screwed we are.  It is a testament to my addiction that I am back in the coffeehouse today.  (Also a testament to how impossible it is to write at home with the boys).  Now, if I had a million dollars...

I wouldn't be freaking out over the cost of my mocha habit.  I would never again cry over the cost of peanut butter (yes, I have cried over peanut butter).  It would be organic everything.  Every account would be back in the black.  We'd set up college accounts for the boys, of course.  I would fix up my little car, pass it on to one of my sibbies - probably my oldest, or youngest, brother - and then I'd splurge on a new car... with four doors.... Luxury...

And then we'd probably pay off the rent and the utilities for six months, maybe a year, and then we'd do nothing.  No big shopping sprees, no indulgences... beyond coffee and internet...  I would need a little time just to get used to being okay.  I have been so strained for so long, I wouldn't know how to deal with security.  I would be afraid of possibility... and hope.

Hope is a painful and dangerous thing for someone like me.  I didn't realize how much so until one time in a Denny's lobby almost ten years ago.  I was on my way out, putting my change away, when I spotted one of those claw machines with all the stuffed animals inside.  The prizes were smaller when I was a kid, but I used to win a lot.  My brothers and I would walk down to the old Redlands mall with a handful of quarters between us.  They'd stretch their game time playing Galaga and Gauntlet and Rampage.  I'd play skeeball and the claw machine, and I'd always come home with a prize, sometimes several.

Over the years, claw machines with bigger prizes started moving in next to the machines with the little prizes.  The cost was double but you could get a bigger stuffed teddy bear to hug.  And soon, the machines with the little prizes disappeared.  And I started to notice, when I did drop my quarters in, that less and less often I'd be pulling a prize out.  At first I thought it was because, since I still only had a dollar to play with, I had half the number of chances to win.  And the prizes were bigger, so they'd be just that much heavier for the claw to hold on to.  But it became clear that, no matter how perfect my aim, the claws no longer held fast to the prize.  They were made to be more appealing and more impossible to win.

So I had stopped playing.

And at that moment in that Denny's lobby, possessed by a bout of nostalgia, as I started to lift my quarters to the slot, my hand started shaking.  My breathing quickened and my chest started to get tight.  It was not the excitement of playing a childhood game - it was the fear, the anticipation of certain loss.

Everything in my life has trended the way of the claw machine.  The prizes were smaller, once upon a time, but I could win.  And if I saved my skeeball tickets, I could cash them in for a really big prize.  Now, the cost to play is double, the prizes look huge, and you're almost never going to win because the game has been rigged that way.  And that's more than just an unfortunate state of affairs.

The prevalence of failing to succeed - especially, while all the lights are still flashing, telling you that you could still win if you're smart, if you're clever, if you keep practicing - it's damaging.  It steals hope.  It steals a sense of security.  It steals the belief that things can ever change for the better.

People do not respect stress - continual, lifelong stress - and the damage it can do.  I am a testament to the damage - physically and mentally.  Not only do I get mini-panis at the prospect trying to win something, but I have multiple chronic conditions that are directly related to stress.  I've written before about fun times with fibromyalgia, which is either triggered by stress or exacerbated by it.  But did I mention I have arthritis in my neck?  I'm 35!  But my neck is so tight that I have pulled it out of alignment (spondylolisthesis) and am grinding it away.

When my doctor asked why my muscles were so tight, I resisted the urge to look down at my chest and say, "Well, I have a pair of guesses..."  I gave him the (bigger) true answer instead - stress.  Years and years of it.  Unrelenting, with little prospect of things getting better.  When he said he was going to submit a referral to a physical therapist, I actually laughed.  I've been to this rodeo before.  They don't want to pay for the fix.  They'll pay for the drugs - the pain killers and the muscle relaxers.  They'll pay for those for years.  But no p.t., no chiropractic, no acupuncture, and certainly no massage therapy, which probably would be the most effective of all of them.  In a little while, I'm going to have a consultation with a pain specialist.  And unless I can unlock the Magic Medical Code of Approval, it will probably be my only covered visit, and I won't go to any more out of pocket because, of course, I can't.

Just think of how costly all of this is to all of us.  When winning at this economy is impossible, we carry a stress that only compounds, until we're paying so much more than just the price to play.  I don't care about the size of the prize, I'd just like to win sometimes.

I know it can be hard to understand for some people.  If you've been middle-class most of your life, like my husband, hitting a hard financial stretch is not that big a deal.  It's still something that will "work out in the end."  Even if you were broke growing up but were able to work hard, get that degree and have a successful career, the damage can be mostly healed and left behind.  If you were able to go to school 20 years ago, as opposed to 10 or even 15, you can have a drastic misunderstanding of the burden student loans.  The numbers are just not what they used to be, not for education... not for a lot of things... and we are hobbling hope.  And there are more and more people like me being created - sick and un-actualized, and needing so much more than even a million dollars can bring.

So... before I post another unedited ramble and rush off to another futile fix attempt with the pain specialist... just remember that, even if you don't understand how stress could be this bad, the damage is real.  It's debilitating and it's huge.  Just think about Florence Thompson...

Florence was the woman in the iconic picture from the Great Depression.  She sat with chin in hand, surrounded by children she could barely feed, eyes faraway, and her face nothing but lines of worry.  She lived through greater adversity than most of us today face, but worry is worry, and you don't have to live in the most abject poverty to understand it.  You'll be happy to know that things got better for Florence and her children.  But the damage had taken its toll on her.  According to her children, years later when they tried to get their mother to move into a house, Florence refused.  She said she need to have wheels under her.  She had been down so long that stability felt more insecure.

I've looked at that famous picture of her for so many years.  I've seen the worry, spoken more perfectly on her face than maybe any other has.  But I never noticed until recently that Florence Thompson must have been beautiful when she smiled.

As damaged as she was, I hope she could still smile.