Oops, I Disappeared

I haven’t written in awhile, because I’ve been going through a phase of not-so-great. I feel like crap, to be honest. Pain and fatigue are through the roof, and brain fog has been creeping in as well. I’ve stopped sleeping through the night, which is a very new development for me, I’ve always slept through the night, and been a somewhat heavy sleeper.

I’ve been having a lot of “painsomnia,” as my wonderful chronic illness internet forum calls it. I wake up in the middle of the night with searing hip pain that radiates down my leg. I prefer to sleep on my side, but the pain is too great, so I use a wedge pillow under my knees and sleep on my back. Either I wake up with horrifying back pain or awful hip pain. And when I wake up, I am awake. Fully awake brain. So I go pee, turn on a podcast, and try to find a comfortable position. Eventually I fall back asleep, but I’m often awake for more than 2 hours. One night I woke up at 3, and was awake until past 6. I’m so tired.

Out of curiosity, I decided to start checking the time when I wake up. I find it exceedingly interesting that for the most part, I wake up between 5:15-5:30 am. I take my pills at somewhat different times every night, depending on when I go to bed, so I don’t think it’s things leaving my system and waking me up. The house and world are very quiet at that time, so I don’t think it’s outside influences. I just wake the hell up.

Being so tired has affected everything. I’m injuring myself way too much. Burns, cuts and bruises are the norm at the moment. I sliced up a finger knuckle with a serrated knife the other night. Tonight I managed to burn my hand through my thickest potholder (I think it was wet). The other day I whacked the side of my ankle so hard it gave me an adrenaline rush, which then resulted in a panic attack. Ugh.

I’m also lethargic enough that I can’t get much of anything done around the house. Before this fatigue flare–crap, I just realized that’s what this is, I’m in a flare again dammit–I wouldn’t watch much tv during the day. I’d get up, play on my ipad, get a few things done, read or play on my ipad again, etc. The last week or so, I’m fatigued enough that holding up my ipad first thing in the morning is tiring. I’m watching my way through the entirety of Futurama on Netflix (no great hardship, it’s only the best show ever). I have been trying to leave the house once a day, but that’s getting challenging. I have three errands I need to do tomorrow, and I’m already overwhelmed thinking about it.

The brain fog has returned as well. I currently can’t remember one of the three errands I just mentioned in the last paragraph. That was about 30 seconds ago. What the hell, brain. I hate the fog. It affects my speech, I stare into space, I confuse words not just when I’m speaking but when I’m writing. I have stuttered over my words and erased and rewritten things more than you can imagine. (ooh! ooh! library books! That was the third errand.)

The diet is still going well, I’m over 5 weeks in! I’m really proud of that, and for the most part, it’s become normal. But I really don’t know if it’s helping in enough ways to be worth the hassle. I’m still going to complete the two months, and slowly reincorporate the banned foods to see what the problems actually are. But before the elimination diet, I had such great expectations for it–energy! Pain-free days! I feel like I’m more tired and in more pain than when I started the diet. Maybe gluten lubricates my joints?!

I see my doctor in 2 weeks, where we’ll discuss how and when to reincorporate foods. I’m expecting that I’ll bring one food back at a time, and bring the dairy back incrementally, so I can see if I can tolerate ghee, then hard cheeses, then butter, then yogurt, etc. Something in the dairy family, I think, is the culprit. I refuse to think it’s gluten. Yes, there are decent subs out there, but dammit, I want bread! For the last week, all I’ve wanted was a slice of toasted sourdough bread with butter. Lots of butter. Well, except for last night when I would have given my left arm for a slice of pizza. Damn. 3 more weeks.

A few good things: I bought a sewing machine last week. I’m really excited to re-learn how to sew. I took a sewing class in high school and loved it, but I really haven’t touched a machine since then. I bought a used-new machine. A woman bought herself a new sewing machine, but never got around to learning to use it. So it’s a much better quality machine than if I bought one new. It’s a quilting machine with a zillion stitches and features. I was playing with it today for the first time, and it’s really fun. I would love to learn to quilt, as well as to sew household things. Ultimately, it’d be really nice to be able to sew myself a shirt that actually fits well.

I’ve also been knitting like crazy. I just finished my latest sweater, which just needs buttons and ribbon behind the button bands. It’s very nice and simple, sort of an old fashioned classic cut. I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on socks and a shawl, and will probably start thinking about my next sweater soon.

I found a local bakery that is gluten free and vegan, and gorged myself on scones and cookies over the weekend. The scone was pure heaven. I love pastries. I also bought myself a mini cake, and honestly, it was too sweet. I haven’t been eating many super sweet things, no ice cream (except occasional Ben & Jerry’s sorta-ok vegan ice “cream”), no pastries, cupcakes, cakes, etc. Not that I ate those things all the time, but now I’m eating almost none of it. I think maybe the diet has helped to curb my sweet tooth, and that’s a good thing.

Also, spring is here! Everything is better when there’s more light. Even when I’m awake at 5:30 in the morning, I can hear the birds starting to chirp. Trees and flowers are blooming, and we’re having lots of days with sunshine in the afternoon, and highs in the upper 50s. It feels amazing.

 

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Floating

Every winter, I get to a point where I crave the water. I want to swim in warm water, feel the weightlessness, be warmed throughout. Some winters, I’ve lucked into vacations to warm places like Arizona or Belize. Other years, I just head to a swimming pool. Today, however, I tried something very different.

I went to a float tank, or sensory deprivation tank. It is an enclosed, shallow bathtub full of very salty water. The water is full of epsom salt, a magnesium compound that has wonderful pain relieving properties. I love epsom salt baths, so I was looking forward to that. More than that, though, I wanted to float. Swimming and floating takes all the pressure off my joints and muscles. There’s no gravity, you get to virtually float in space. These float tanks take it a step further. The water is warmed to skin temperature, you’re in a pod that looks like a space ship with a closed lid, so the air warms up as well. The air and water become the same temp, so you truly can’t tell where the air stops and the water starts. The tank I was in had an option for total darkness, a greenish light, or darkness with tiny stars lit up on the lid of the tank. Darkness with the stars was perfection. You lose track of your body completely. Nothing hurts, nothing gets stiff or achy. You stop feeling body parts. You are just a brain, floating. I spent 90 minutes in the tank, and it felt like it couldn’t be more than 30 minutes.

Some of it is legitimately odd. You’re taken into a room the size of a bedroom. A giant pod is in the middle of the room. It looks like something Superman was shot to Earth in.

floatation-tank

There’s a shower in the room, and you take a quick shower to wash off as much body oil as possible, then pop in some ear plugs, and use vaseline to cover any open sores (cat scratches for me). You really REALLY need to cover any open sores. I didn’t do a good enough job and had to hop out to reapply. It stings like crazy. When you’re ready, you step into the tank, and sit down. They also gave me a blow-up neck pillow to use if I wanted. I popped that around my neck, and leaned back. The water was so salty, I barely leaned back and I was awkwardly floating. It takes a second to relax into the water. It reminded me of swimming in the Dead Sea. You float at a much higher level, more of you is out of the water, than in a normal pool. I ended up removing the neck pillow, and since you float higher, my face stayed fully out of the water.

I let my thoughts wander, focusing on relaxing and breathing. Other than having a song stuck in my head (Joni Mitchell), I felt incredibly relaxed. I was able to push aside all the daily thoughts of things to do, errands, worries, and just focus on being. It was basically the best meditation session I’ve ever tried.

When your time is up, underwater speakers start playing music to get you up. When you get out, you are encrusted with salt. There were sheets of salt across my belly, between my fingers, in every crease and crevice I had. It took about 10 minutes to shower the salt off my body and out of my hair, and I still feel a bit salty. However, the best part was that upon getting out of the pod, I felt painless. Nothing hurt. No aches and pains, I felt like I could do yoga, run a marathon, do anything. What a wonderful feeling.

Several hours later now, and I feel a bit closer to normal, though my body still feels very happy and relaxed. It was a wonderful experience.

If you’re thinking of trying a float tank, look on sites like Groupon. From what I’ve heard, there’s almost always a Groupon happening for float tanks in my area at least. Normally it would have been $75 for 90 minutes, I got it for $42. I really want to do this again. It was invigorating and stress relieving. My skin feels soft and supple, I keep grinning for no reason. It was fabulous.

Driving for Dollars

Since I left my job, it seemed like an easy option to start driving for Uber and Lyft. It’s a great way to make money on the side, or like some people, turn into a full time job. I quickly learned my tolerances, and things I just wouldn’t do. I can happily drive for about 3 or 4 hours, until I’m bored, my butt hurts, and I’m sick of the same conversation over and over with passengers. I’m not enough of a night owl to drive the bar scene, even though there’s typically big money to be earned around 2 AM. Plus, I don’t want drunk people puking in my beloved car. So that limits my hours a bit. I tend to drive from about 3 or 4 in the afternoon until 6 or 7, depending on traffic and weather.

I started driving right around Christmas, and it was busy! People visiting town, people heading to the airport, Christmas shopping, all on top of the typical rush hour locals. It was a great month to learn about driving.

December and January also gave us winter storm after winter storm. Massive ice storms, and a snow storm that dumped more than 10 inches of snow on a city that has a panic attack over a single snowflake. I didn’t drive in the ice, I’m not stupid, but that snow storm was epic.

The snow started falling around 3 in the afternoon, and we had no idea it was going to be such an avalanche. Around 9 at night, we looked outside and realized how crazy it was out there. Cars were buried, and there wasn’t any traffic on the busy road at the corner. I flipped on the Uber and Lyft apps, and the surge rates were insane! (Surge rates are when there are more passengers than drivers, so rates go up to entice more drivers. Typical rush hour surge rates may be 1.5-2x the normal rate.) I saw surge rates well over 5x! so I would get 5 dollars for every dollar of normal fare. Around 10 pm, Dave and Sadie walked me down to my car, which I’d parked off our steep hill, and helped me clear the snow so I could go driving.

I only had, I think, 3 fares that night, but they were whoppers. I picked up my first pax (passenger) on 82nd street, and drove him downtown (about 90 blocks). That ride earned me $60! Typically that would have cost about $15. The roads were completely unplowed, and for the most part, there weren’t even tracks from previous drivers. My car, a Lexus SUV, has a “snow mode” as well as really fantastic traction control. I had no problem whatsoever driving in snow. My final ride of that night was a guy who had worked late (until 11pm in a snowstorm!?), and lived about 10 south of downtown. He lived up on a hill, and once we got into his neighborhood, my car actually did start to struggle. His neighborhood looked like it’d gotten about 15 inches of the white stuff, and he had me stop at the bottom of his cul-de-sac, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to turn around and leave. He had to push aside snow to get the car door open, and trudged in deep snow up the hill to his house.

The whole next week, while the snow stuck around, I drove like mad, bringing in great fares and substantial tips. It was a blast. People were always thrilled to see a larger car come pick them up, instead of a tiny sub-compact that wouldn’t be able to deal with the roads. I had a ton of fun, met fun people, and drove all over town.

A few fun pax I’ve had since I started driving:

I picked up a woman at a titty bar in a weird neighborhood. She was, in fact, a dancer getting off her shift at 2 in the afternoon. A bouncer walked her out to my car, saying, “Alright Peaches, have a good night.” I drove a stripper named Peaches home to Vancouver.

Speaking of stripping, right around Christmas, I drove a family around downtown. They were two adult sons, an adult daughter, and an elderly father. They had all been at one of the infamous strip joints downtown. I cannot fathom first going to a bar like that, say nothing of going with siblings and my parents!

The week after the big snow fell, I was way out in one of the outer suburbs (Gresham), and picked up a man who needed to go all the way into downtown, quite a long drive. He was a physical therapist at acute rehab facilities, and work had given him a large allowance to use on rideshares to ensure he would make it to work. Since he didn’t car, and it wasn’t his money in the first place, he gave me a whopper of a tip!

On New Year’s eve, I picked up two women heading to a party. They were already tipsy and were stoned as well. They were hilarious and we had highly entertaining conversations the whole way. One of the women had chronic pain symptoms similar to mine, so we talked meds and pain stuff for part of the ride. At the end of the ride, one of them said to me, “I don’t have any cash to tip you, but do you want a hit of my bowl?” Thanks but….no thanks!

Generally though, the pax sit quietly and don’t talk to me. When they do, we seem to have the same conversation every time. What do I think of driving for uber? Your car is nice, they’re not charging me extra, right? What did you do before you did this? I had a couple last week that sang along to all of the songs that were playing, the whole way. I tried to quietly join in, but I’m notoriously terrible with song lyrics.

People often ask about the difference between Uber and Lyft, and which I prefer. The answer is always Lyft. The Lyft app has an opportunity to add a tip, while Uber doesn’t. I don’t get tips often, but I like that there’s an opportunity for it. Lyft passengers actually seem to be more interesting, more conversational, more fun in general. And I’ve heard that the driver support for Lyft is a million times better than for Uber. Plus there’s all the news lately about how sexist Uber corporate is, their sexual harassment issues, and the ball of crazy that is the CEO. If I could, I’d only drive for Lyft, but I can’t get enough fares to do that. I’m hoping that eventually it’ll be possible.

 

The Diet Experiment Continues

I’ve now been quasi-paleo for two and a half weeks. Seems like longer, actually. I say quasi-paleo because technically, I’m gluten and dairy free, and lower sugar and carbs. I’m ok with soy, and other legumes, I’m using some non-paleo gluten free flours, I’m eating fruit when I want it. However, it’s been a huge change to my eating life, and it’s starting to show. I have much more energy than before, I’ve decreased one of my crucial medications for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), my brain fog seems to have lifted. It’s pretty awesome.

Much more importantly, I’ve solved coffee! My morning cup of coffee with a hefty dollop of half and half was a surprisingly important part of my day. No longer having half and half to put in the coffee seemed like the end of the world. Until I discovered two techniques that work perfectly:

  • I now make coffee in my french press. French press coffee is much less acidic. With less acid, there’s less of a need for the natural sweetness of half and half. A bit of hemp milk in the coffee does the job perfectly. No honey or anything else is needed.
  • I’ve discovered the joys of soy lattes. I had no idea how easily soy milk frothed up! I’ve got a stovetop espresso pot and a great little frothing pot where you hand pump a fine mesh screen through the milk. Works like a charm, and the latte tastes divine. I never liked lattes before, they upset my stomach. No wonder!

I’ve also gained a new found interest in trying new recipes. I’ve been making crepes like crazy. And I’d never made a crepe before in my life. They’re so easy! I like finger food during the day, and with a stack of crepes in the fridge, I can roll up bacon and avocado for a sandwich, or make a breakfast burrito, or a peanut butter banana sandwich. Crepes are so versatile.

I explored making Ethiopian injera, which is a sourdough teff flour crepe. They were a bit too sour to use with everyday things, but they were another fun food experiment. I bought a jar of tahini (sesame paste), and mixed up a great tahini salad dressing to have with a raw kale salad full of pine nuts and a bit of nutritional yeast (replacing the umami flavor that I’d usually use parmesan cheese for).

I was expecting food to be boring and frustrating. Instead, I’m taking this new diet and running with it, exploring new ideas and recipes and actually having fun in the kitchen. I’m still looking forward to the diet being over, but hopefully I’ll keep experimenting, this is way too much fun.