And then everyone saw my butt.

Hello, I’m writing this to you with one hand, because the other one is mostly shrinkwrapped.

I’ve talked about my anxiety before — about starting sertraline, taking beta blockers, the whole nine. My health is not really something I’m secretive about at all. Too many people have anxiety and panic disorders as it is, and I’ve been dealing with it for too long to give half a shit in a handbag about being ashamed of something I can’t control.

I have not, however, mentioned nocturnal panic attacks.

I’m lucky in that I don’t get them super often — once in a blue moon, really, usually when I’m under a lot of stress. At first, I thought they were something akin to a night terror, but the presentation is actually very different. I’m aware when I wake up panicking, albeit usually confused for a bit. My heart races, I feel a sense of impending doom. They suck super hard, but, as I said, I don’t get them often.

Then this afternoon happened.

We upped my dose of sertraline last night. I’ve also been on Bactrim for the past few days, which made every joint in my body feel as though it had been beaten by a team of enthusiastic pixies with cricket bats. Both of these can potentially increase anxiety, and panic disorders can be pretty unpredictable anyhow. I lay down to take a nap late this afternoon, and woke up feeling like someone had hooked most of my organs up to a car battery.

So, I did what I usually do: call my S.O. and ask him to hang out on the phone with me until things calm down, in case I lose consciousness, or experience transient blindness, or something else happens that keeps me from being able to call 911. Usually, it takes about twenty minutes for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and override the adrenaline response portion of a panic attack. I usually spend it on the phone, doing breathing exercises, holding an amethyst palm stone, waiting for things to pass. There isn’t really a way to speed up the process that I’ve found. Most of the emphasis is on riding it out with as little mental trauma as possible.

Twenty minutes came and went. I thought this might be more than I could handle on my own, so I took a beta blocker. (They’re not pleasant, but they’re pretty neat. From what I have experienced, read, and been told, they help me by blocking the adrenaline receptors in certain areas of the body. Pretty rad when your primary anxiety symptom is a racing heart, right?) Twenty minutes after that, my heart rate was almost normal. I also couldn’t breathe and felt like a donkey had kicked me in the sternum.

Welp. Plan B. I called an ambulance.

To make an already too-long story short(er), it was probably a reaction to the propranolol. We’re not sure why I had the original nocturnal attack, but I wasn’t actively having a heart attack when I got to the hospital. In fact, my vital signs were impressively normal, considering the completely dumbass amount of pain I was in. Just to make sure everything was okay, they took an EKG, drew some blood (shoutout to the dude who was able to draw from the back of my hand), and had me strip down and put on a robe for chest x-rays.

Remember when I mentioned taking Bactrim?

Do you know how hard it is to properly tie one of those damn robes on a good day?

Reader, I stood up to hold onto the x-ray machine so they could get a few shots of my heart, and flashed my entire butt at radiology. (To add insult to injury, when I got home, I realized I accidentally stuffed the hospital gown into the bag with my other belongings. So now there’s a permanent souvenir of my shame.)

Part of me berated myself for relying on medication. The fact of the matter is, though, that if you believe in an herb or crystal’s ability to heal, you must necessarily recognize its ability to harm. Anything can trigger an allergy. Anything can cause an adverse reaction. You can have a bad time with anything you put in your body, whether it’s a drug, a plant, or a sandwich. It’s the price we pay for having bodies, which, when you think about it, are both delicate and largely terrible. (Who’s idea was it to put the esophagus and trachea right next to each other? It makes no damn sense.)

Truth be told, butt-exposing aside, this went really, really well. My biggest fear has always been having an emergency when I’m alone, and potentially screwing up the things I need to do to handle that emergency. I was still half insensible with grogginess when I was fumbling with my phone to call for help, I was afraid of taking beta blockers because of the side effects, I experienced my worst fear after taking them, and came through it alright. I can’t say this has inoculated me against fearing these things in the future, but it’s a step. It was terrifying, and I did it, and if it happens again, that’s future J.’s problem.

And that’s something worth celebrating.

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The Star Rises

The weather’s finally cooling (after an inexplicable 94°F) , the trees are starting to change. and I’ve watered my cacti for probably the last time until next spring. We haven’t had any more carbon monoxide scares so far, and, as soon as our next apartment is done being renovated, we’re pretty much ready to upgrade our space.

So, as per usual, I figured I’d do a one-card drawing to see where this week’s going. In the midst of all of this (much anticipated!) upheaval, it helps to have a little extra insight. I didn’t ask a specific question — just cleared my mind, let my thoughts arise as they would, and shuffled until I felt like that wasn’t something I needed to do anymore.

And… I drew The Star.

Not gonna lie, seeing it made me a little emotional. The Star is a tremendously positive card. It stands for hope and optimism, and, since it comes immediately after The Tower, it points to positive feelings that arise from the ashes of whatever was destroyed during The Tower’s phase. I haven’t exactly gone through the kind of things indicated by The Tower (well, not recently), but it still indicates a lot of hope for the future.

This is especially good to know because I started Sertraline. I’m afraid of taking pills, so I held off as long as I could, but my doctor(s) and I came to the agreement that it would most likely do more good than harm at this point. I’m only on a tiny dose to make sure I tolerate it alright, and it’s too soon to feel any difference yet, but I have hope that I might not have to go from medication to medication to find something that helps re-balance my neurochemistry. I was especially impressed that my psychiatrist was willing and knowledgeable enough to take my cerebrospinal fluid pressure into account when she prescribed it to me — I can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve had who either didn’t know enough about IH to realize that that was necessary, or shrugged off my concerns when I  brought it up.

The idea of taking it still gives me some anxiety, and my S.O. literally hid the first half-pill in a spoonful of applesauce for me so the action of taking it wouldn’t make things worse. (I know, I know.) As time goes on, I feel more optimistic, though. It’s good to know that those feelings aren’t misplaced.

It’s going to take some time for things to really smooth out, but so far, so good. Wish me luck.

Man, the Ten of Swords does not screw around.

Betrayal, sure.

I had a feeling my body was going to be what betrayed me, because that’s generally how it goes. The only thing I enjoyed less than being correct about this was waking up so dizzy I couldn’t see, and spending several hours hunched over a trash can feeling simultaneously certain I was going to die and terrified I was not. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension carries a risk of stroke, which freaked me out for a bit, but most of my face was working okay so I figured that wasn’t it. Why’d this happen? No idea — I just woke up like that.

It was frustrating. It was disheartening. It was pretty much exactly what I’d been warned about.

(Enough about that, though, because it’s gross and I want to stop thinking about it.)

I did get a lot of reassurance afterward, though. I drew cards related to healing, cleansing, and optimism. I even saw a tiny hummingbird pause and hover right outside my window, which I thought was pretty impressive considering I live in a walk-up with no outdoor space to speak of. As long as I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never seen a hummingbird here before — if I hadn’t looked at the right moment, I would’ve missed him entirely!

Anyway, this week’s one-card reading felt a little more familiar. I admit, it was supremely weird to pull the Ten of Swords last week. I usually get such good news relating to what I’m up to or things I’m working on, to have my primary deck suddenly go all “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON” at me was extra unsettling. I get a lot of cups and wands. When I do draw something from the suit of swords, it’s usually a court card.

All of this is to say that I drew the Knight of Wands and I’m feeling a lot better.

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Knight of Wands from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, artwork by Pamela Coleman Smith.

The Knight of Wands is a person (or, in this case, bird) of action, like all of the Knights. This card represents the pursuit of an idea, and the drive and energy needed to bring a vision to fruition. By that same token, it also represents looking before you leap. Unlike the Knight of Pentacles, the Knight of Wands is not patient and definitely not into conservative courses of action.

This card comes at a pretty good time — my S.O. and I finished a book not too long ago, and are now working on what needs to be done to turn it into something other people can (and might actually want to) read. It’s taken a lot of planning and strategizing already, so I definitely don’t feel like we’re acting on impulse here. Rather, the Knight of Wands seems to represent the desire and ability to actually act on the plans we’ve been sitting on for so long!

… I’m not gonna lie, though, I’m just happy it wasn’t the Ten of Swords again.

 

 

 

Painting What You See

cropped-drawingThe simplest piece of artistic instruction is also the most useful: Draw or paint what you can see.

It’s surprisingly difficult to keep our minds from filling in the blanks — we see a cup, and we know the cup is round and three dimensional. Our eyes tell us the mouth of the cup is a flattened oval, but that isn’t what our hands want to make. Our brains know better than what our eyes tell us.

The ability to “know better” and anticipate shape and distance like that is an adaptation that’s probably helped us, in an evolutionary sense, but it isn’t much use when it comes to accurately translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional space. That’s when the admonishment to create only what you can see becomes useful.

For me, it’s also a bit ironic.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension about seven years ago. It used to be known as “pseudotumor cerebri” — in essence, a brain tumor that isn’t. It mimics all of the symptoms of having a large brain tumor, but without any mass present. One of its hallmarks? Vision changes. As cerebrospinal fluid pressure increases, so does damage to the optic nerves.

I can’t drive, because I can’t see well enough to. I have dead spots in my vision, which are almost impossible to describe. It isn’t really not seeing anything, it’s seeing nothing, in the same way that House of Leaves‘ Zampanò defines uncanny as ‘full of not knowing.’ Lines and space warp and deform around their edges like miniature event horizons, wholly confined to my eyes. Sometimes, I turn my head too quickly and see showers of golden sparks, or scintillations like the sun reflecting on water.

My brain often tries to “help,” by compensating for the strangely existentially horrific idea of seeing nothing, like a kind of neurological horror vacui. It inserts spectacularly mundane things into the places where my eyes don’t work anymore — a spare copy of my laptop stuck in my peripheral vision, or a stack of books I’ve never owned. A poached egg in the middle of the floor. A glass of water that yields only air when I reach for it.
I’m not sure why it does this, but it feels like the bones of a good short story. You would think that having your brain spontaneously insert images into your vision would be the opposite of helpful… Unless hallucinating several bunches of bananas was somehow preferable to what it’s trying to protect you from seeing. Fun!

If I said that coming to terms with the idea of potentially, possibly, let’s-face-it-probably going blind was difficult, I’d be lying, because that’d imply that it was possible to begin with. I don’t know that it’s any harder for me because I work with visual media — who wouldn’t be upset at not being able to see anymore?

I’m at the point where my vision loss has slowed considerably, if not entirely stabilized. With time (and, hopefully, a prolonged remission), some of my vision might come back. A lot of it won’t.

Sometimes, I do paint what I see.

And it’s fucking weird.

Living my best life is sucking the life out of me.

Its 2:00 in the morning, and I am writing because I have, once again, destroyed my sleep schedule.

Well, not just my sleep schedule.

I have idiopathic intracranial hypertension. It makes me forget things, feel crushing headaches every moment of the day, occasionally lose my ability to see, and want to sleep basically forever. Left to my own devices, I will sleep for twelve hours and still be able to take a substantial midday nap.

Such is life.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me much time for anything else. This doubly sucks, because what time I am left is also devoted to coping with the headaches, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and other trappings of having a head full of surplus brainjuice. Showering is tiring. Clothes hurt. On a high-pressure day, even holding my head up is more than my neck can manage.

(more…)

A small, helpful rock.

Chronic illness demands strange rituals from you.

Sure, you go to the doctor. You take what they give you, though you might find that you have to do so at a certain time of night, or with a certain type of food, or adjust your dosage based on the weather or time of the month you take it. You start developing the small repetitions that (hopefully) keep you functioning.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough. So you branch out — you start adding medicinal baths, special pillows, vitamins, herbs. You go to a massage therapist, maybe an acupuncturist. You stretch, meditate, and spray yourself with magnesium oil. Your house becomes a haven for therapeutic smells.

Maybe you go further still. You look up the meanings and properties of crystals, and leave little groups of them huddled on your shelves or nightstand. You draw sigils on your medicine bottles, and paint runes on yourself in arnica gel and muscle rub.

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All of this is to explain how I ended up with my favorite medicinal rock.

Crystal guides usually give the same set of properties for a given stone — you use rose quartz for love, amethyst for peace and relaxation, and so forth. I come from a magical background staunchly rooted in personal associations. I don’t believe it’s necessary or desirable to reinvent the wheel, but most of the herbs, stones, and other tools I use are ones that I have a personal history with, and what I’ve learned about them doesn’t always match what the guides say.

Selenite is usually used to cleanse things. You can keep it with other stones or tools, or use the little wands to clear negative energy out of spaces like a spiritual lint roller. One crystalworker uses them to help itching from bug bites and eczema. I used to keep a couple pieces of it around to keep stagnant energy from accumulating. Now? I use selenite crystals for pain.

I get terrible neck pains sometimes, a direct consequence of a rare, incurable  neurological condition. There’s no help for it. I’ve been given everything from massage, to camphor gel, to opiates, to tricyclic antidepressants, all to little avail. If the pain becomes bad enough, it means I need to visit the ER for an emergency lumbar puncture and more hardcore pain management (which is also why I have several opinions on how the opiate crisis is affecting the way pain is managed in emergency settings, but that’s neither here nor there). If it isn’t yet at the ER point, I just have to suck it up.

One night, in a moment of sleepless desperation, I picked up a rough selenite wand and pressed it to my neck. And it worked.

Now, I keep a smoothed and shaped wand of selenite in my bedside table, ready for all of the times when pain keeps me awake. I don’t need to do much with it, just pressing it lightly to the places that hurt is often enough to give me enough relief to sleep. Would I use it instead of evidence-based medicine? No, but I also haven’t met a doctor yet that objects to me having a safe, drug-free means of relieving pain. I still need to visit the ER when things become bad enough — I haven’t found any stone that can substitute for having about 15 mmHg of extra fluids siphoned off my brain, unfortunately — but this helps make the other days more bearable.

Sometimes, chronic illness makes you do things. You might give up nightshade vegetables, take up polyphasic sleeping, or begin carrying magnesium oil in your bag.

Or, you might befriend a small, helpful rock.