Wednesday, January 26, 2011

25 Is The New 60

Yesterday it got up to the twenties and I was so incredibly happy. It's a sad day when the native Texan is happy to see 20 degrees F. I took our big dog on a long walk that completely flattened me because I kept walking instead of coming back inside. I had to take advantage of not freezing to death in five minutes.

Last week it was cold, and it was a hard week. The dogs had been getting really bored. I was playing with them a lot on Wednesday while my fiancee was at work, throwing squeaky toys and getting cute videos of them. My dachshund got really riled up. He seemed fine, if a little bit extra bratty, but he's got a lot of personality for a little guy so I didn't think much of it.

Then he started throwing up. I'll spare you the details, but it was very very strange. The texture and smell were really off. He also went to the bathroom in the house, like he couldn't hold it. And he went from overly-boisterous to really quiet and curled in on himself. He looked really miserable. I got worried; I thought maybe he'd eaten something off the floor. My girlfriend called the vet and luckily he could meet us at the office (by then it was after hours).

Usually it takes me a good ten minutes to bundle up enough to go outside, especially when it's below zero like it was that night. But I wasn't going to take up precious time with my dog so miserable; I was scared for his life. I threw on a jacket and my double hats, leaving gloves, scarf and warm under layers behind, and ran out with him to the car.

I was in pain by the time I reached it. My face, neck and hands felt like they were going to come off, then went numb. By the time we had driven the five minutes to the vet's office, I was shaking and my teeth were chattering. Lesson learned: at least grab the gloves, you moron!

We were glad we took him in- he has a slipped disk, which is super-common in dachshunds. He was in a lot of pain (hence the vomiting), but it wasn't a serious case; he won't even need surgery, he's just on pain pills and stuck in his crate for two weeks. He got a shot that helped him feel much better that night.

On the way home, I was even colder. The temperature had dropped while we were inside the vet's office, I still had not nearly enough on, and I was crying the whole way home from relief. He was going to be okay; I wasn't going to lose my best friend, my little micro-manager, my first dog. The tears froze to my face on the way into the house. I sat by the fire and shivered and cradled my dog in my arms with a cold pack pressed against his back.

It took me two days to recover from the fear and cold shock and relief I had felt so overwhelmingly that night. I was worn out completely for days, and it was made more difficult by all the new things I needed to do to help my dog recover- special feedings, carrying him outside and back in, not letting him walk; the cold pack and then its replacement, the heating pad.

Sure enough, he improved drastically that first 48 hours. He's still healing fine, though he thinks being stuck in his crate is lame. A couple of days ago, the weeks of below zero ended at least temporarily. My dog can actually have time to go to the bathroom without getting too cold even under three sweaters and a windbreaker! Yesterday he got to smell in the yard for the first time since his back got hurt, and his brother, our big dog, has been getting good walks again.

I want it to be March, but that always happens to me in Midwestern January. We Southerners have this weird conception that below zero windchill is completely overrated. No idea where we would get such a crazy idea. Maybe someday we'll live somewhere sane...

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Narcolepsy Themed Art

Or, "Wolfies and Demons". :D

I got a comment from a fellow artist requesting that I post some art, and as I have been halfway planning to do this for some time, I figure, why not now? A lot of my art is quite relevant to this blog, as I'm constantly drawing things about my dreams and daily experiences with Narcolepsy, and those are the pieces I'm posting here. I find expressing the insanity and frustrations of my illness is a great way to cope. Also, the more humorously I express my feelings, the better I come to feel about the entire thing.

One thing that you have to know before you look at my art is that I'm an anthro or "furry" artist. That means I draw very character-driven art, and that my characters are half-human, half-animals. Furry art is pretty different from the mainstream, so I feel I have to explain it a little. Most furry artists have a "fursona," or furry character that represents themselves, and I am no exception. I almost always draw myself as a wolf person or werewolf (hence my blog pseudonym, "Wolfie"). My art is also quite cartoony, as per furry tradition, though not always as I also have quite a bit of classical training.

Also, you will see the signature along the bottom of each piece is blocked out. This is purely protective of my identity as I always put my real name there after scanning in my work. However, I want this blog to remain anonymous and separate from my other online identities for privacy reasons.

So, without further ado!

About the meds:

These two are both about Xyrem, and feeling like a nutcase for being on something so strong. I'm glad that these don't apply anymore, since I'm happy for now with just the Remeron.

About the Demon:

In addition to having a little wolf character who represents me, I also have a frightening demonic character who represents Narcolepsy itself. I heard a song once that had the line "like demons playing movies in my head" or something similar, and though I still can't find the song again, it made a big impression on me. I think that line is the best description I've found of what I experience when my brain throws dream/nightmare/hallucinations at me. And so, this is the demon who plays movies in my head.

Here's one of my more humorous drawings, of the demon kicking me in the butt. XD

In addition to frightening nightmares, I also have some pretty sweet vivid dreams that I like, so in this cg painting I was trying to express the interplay between the good dreams and bad. The white wolf-creature is a personification of the good things about my dreams, and is battling the nightmare-demon.

I've also been making dreamcatchers for a very long time (early attempts at preventative measures, lol), and this one I made with the above painting in mind:

The inner circle is about good dreams, and includes perfect weaving, pretty little trinkets (including a bell to represent sound), and shiny white ribbon. The outer circle is about nightmares, with uneven weaving and black leather, also interwoven with strange little objects. The hanging part incorporates both dirty bones and pristine white fluffy feathers, to show the intertwining of beautiful and disturbing that regularly shows up in my dreams.

Images From Actual Dreams I've Had:

I saw this dreamcatcher hanging in a room (well, my bedroom, actually) that was dripping with pipes covered in moss. When I woke up I jotted down the design, then actually made it to the best of my ability.

I dream about human skeletons a lot, which is unfortunate because I have a silly phobia of them. I don't know if the phobia of skeleton images came before or after dreaming about stumbling across them in my dreams, but weirdly, they seem to be everywhere in my dreamscapes. Whatever it means, I was excited to take an anatomy class a year or two ago and learn how to draw them so that I could a) attempt to overcome my fear and b) actually record some images from dreams that included them.

This piece is a combination of all the hallucinations I could remember having in high school in my old bedroom. It's actually a pretty clear pen drawing, but I like this blurry photograph of it more- it makes it more disturbing. :D And thus gives it more the feel that I wanted.

I also have some really cool beautiful dreams, from which single images have stood out so much that I've felt inspired.

The Baku:

And lastly, I recently discovered this awesome Japanese folklore creature that eats nightmares. I painted him on a piece of wood because I thought he was really cool, and, let's face it, I need all the help I can get, right? XD

The verse is from a song ("Darkness, Darkness" by Solas) and reads:

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow
Take my hand and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

And so, there you are. I have other pieces, but I figure this is long enough as it is. I'm sure there will be more later.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why Soy Is Not For Me

I'm sure I've written about my soy intolerance before, but having a distinct lack of brain these days, I have no memory of the entry whatsoever. But, as soy is continuously making life irritating (or in my case, freaked out anxious) for me, I figure it's safe to repeat my feelings on the subject.

I got up this morning feeling much better and less gunky. The cold is mostly gone, and because of the lack of headache and the renewed ability to breathe, I actually slept pretty well last night. Aside from multiple dreams about almost drowning, that is, but what's new? So I woke up feeling (for me) refreshed and like I might be able to walk the dogs or clean the floors today- both things that really need to be done. I had a little bit of caffeine in my tea to get me going as usual, a smaller amount since my normal energy level is on its way to being restored.

My girlfriend is also almost recovered from the cold today, so she made breakfast for us both, an experiment with new hot cereal. She put flax and chia seeds in it and a little honey and rice milk. It tasted pretty good, but I didn't eat much of it because there wasn't a lot in the pan, and after the fact I can say I'm really glad.

Since I accidentally became mostly Buddhist (see previous entries), I've been paying lots of attention to my own body and emotional states. I feel like by intentionally watching myself, I notice when I'm being a jerk or neurotic or getting excessively angry, and because I can see it as it's happening I can change course before I do any real damage. This comes in handy when you have a mental or even physical problem in your body because you know right when you run out of energy, or you can see past anxiety and find its cause, and possibly find relief.

Well, as soon as I finished my little bowl of the cereal, my heart sped up and I got tense. My thoughts derailed into a roller coaster of "OMG I HAVE ALL THIS STUFF TO DO AAAAAAAAHHHH!!!" and my shoulders were like a rock. It took me a minute to make the connection, but it was pretty obvious, as this is exactly what always happens the minute I eat even traces of soy. Honestly, I've never met anyone else with this reaction to soy, but it's listed as one of the eight major allergens, so it must do something to a lot of other people. You can imagine how nuts I was going between when soy began to have this effect on me and when I figured out the cause: for most of a year I was constantly freaking out (I got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder by a therapist I was seeing) and finding ten other things to blame it on. Anxiety can be caused by so many things, including just life and stress, that it's hard to pin down. And it wears you out so bad, which sucks when you already have a much lower energy level than most of the people around you. At the time, taking Xyrem was also not helping the situation.

As a usually pretty relaxed person, the reaction I have to soy is pretty extreme, so I can usually tell as I'm eating whatever it is. The pain I get from eating gluten happens similarly quickly, which is nice because it means these days I rarely eat a lot of either substance before figuring out I need to stop. But as someone who has to avoid both gluten and soy, it's tough. At least half of the new tasty-looking things I find labeled gluten-free at the grocery store turn out to have soy in them. Before I could cook very well, it was murder. You find delicious-looking cookies only to see that lovely "CONTAINS: SOY" on the back, and anything containing chocolate you can forget.

I have to say, life is much easier since the required allergen labeling came into effect. Wheat and soy both have to be declared really obviously on the label, and it's handy. It used to be I would get something that looked perfectly safe and try it, and have to have one or both types of reaction before knowing it "may contain traces". Since the labels changed I've seen a huge decrease in how often I have gluten or soy reactions, and at least nowadays it's usually my fault for misreading the label.

And, because I know the suspense is killing you, yes, it seems the chia seed came from a "facility that also processes products containing soy", which explains it nicely. Time to go raid the fridge for a better breakfast...

Monday, January 3, 2011

The F. Family Traveling Circus

For Thanksgiving, we had driven seven hours to my girlfriend's parents' house in Wisconsin to visit them and our horses. We brought our dogs and cats with us and it worked out really great. Getting out of Iowa was awesome and the animals were really well-behaved for the drive and the visit and all seemed happy for the adventuring. We had a relaxing four days or whatever it was and were sad to leave. So we figured, why not do the same thing again for Christmas? And since it's much easier to fly down to my relatives in Texas from there than it is from middle of nowhere, Iowa (three hours from the nearest airport with direct flights to our destination), why not visit my parents, too? Our animals could stay in Wisconsin and be cared for by people we trust who had taken care of them before and we'd get to see my family, too.

So it sounded a bit intense, but fun, and let's face it- adventuring outside of our small town for two weeks seemed appealing. Then we found out our mutual best friend and former college roommate, who is at least as much family as the rest of these people, was going to be visiting St. Paul around when we planned to leave for our trip. So naturally we decided to go visit her and her parents for a night or two on the way after they agreed to hosting us and our two cats and two dogs. We had been missing her like crazy.

And so, last Tuesday after my girlfriend got off work, we all piled into the car. It took longer than we had intended to get going because it takes a lot of stuff to sustain two humans on special diets, two cats and two dogs for ridiculous amounts of driving and when they are going to be away from home for almost two weeks straight. We left about an hour later than we had been hoping, but at least it was still light out and we still had a good chance of making it to our first stop for dinner.

Three and a half hours later, we got into St. Paul, tired but not completely exhausted. Having been to this specific house many times each, we just called to double-check the exit off the highway, which was the right one in fact. But after that we passed our turn, then turned the wrong way in an attempt to double back, which landed us on snowy and icy roads going the wrong direction. We dodged a couple of careening vehicles, called our friend back for help getting back to her neighborhood, and spent an hour finding our way there. All the way, our cat was letting us know that he had had enough of this nonsense, and we were stressed out so our dogs were whining. To this rather aggravating chorus, we finally found where we were going, hungry, exhausted and ready to get out of the car.

We had a really good time visiting our friend. The dogs stayed in the laundry room, which we baby-gated off to prevent allergy attacks. They were left to themselves for most of the two nights except for two walks and one bathroom break a day, and of course, being fed. All in all they didn't seem to mind- they were very polite and mostly quiet. My dachshund was a little frustrated by being separated from his humans (he's a clingy little guy), but both dogs seemed to just sleep. The cats were shut into the bedroom we were all sharing and hanging out in to keep them separated from the somewhat antisocial cat of the house, but they did very well also and got plenty of attention. Mostly it was a quiet visit with lots of resting (good for both of us). We caught up, cooked GF lasagna and finished a puzzle.

After our second night it was time to go and make our way to Wisconsin just ahead of a storm. Otherwise we might have stayed longer, it was so nice and relaxing. I took advantage of being in civilization to get three packages of grocery store sushi and that kept me fed for the six hour drive. Even so, we were all exhausted (and bored) by the time we made it to my girlfriend's parents' house. Just sitting in the car tires me out pretty thoroughly (I don't drive at all anymore) and both dogs were whining at the end. Friday (our more vocal cat) was meowing indignantly along with them. It was at that point we decided "Traveling Circus" was a pretty good description of our trip so far.

We spent Christmas there, with a house full of people: six humans, three cats, five dogs, four horses and the miniature donkey. My girl's rather talkative brother and his girlfriend were there and we spent a lot of time with them and the parents. I met more of her family at a Christmas Eve party and (mostly) managed to retain who was related to whom for the evening at least. I also got way more exercise than I'm used to, between walking our dogs around the property and riding horses. I'm still working on just balancing and staying upright on a horse, but for me that's a difficult task, takes lots of concentration, and is therefore draining. I did well and was really proud of myself, but in hindsight it might have been better to save at least some of that energy.

Her family does Christmas a lot more than mine does- there was shopping, gifts (I got lots, which surprised me) and eating lots of meals together. My future mother-in-law is a good cook and mostly eats gluten-free anyway, so she knows how to make safe food and we let her keep us fed. Even though I've been pretty happy to cook lately, it was a nice break to have someone else in charge of it for once. But she doesn't cook quite as many fresh vegetables as we've been eating, or as insanely healthy. That was probably the beginning of us feeling exhausted and sapped of energy, between the food and the constant socializing.

By the day after Christmas and time for our flight south, we were both really tired. Her dad was nice enough to drive us to the airport, almost two hours away, which we were very grateful for. Our flight was delayed an hour but we didn't really mind. Neither of us was able to nap on the three-hour flight, so we were still really tired when we got there. My dad picked us up, so we talked to him all the way back to my parents' house, and then my grandparents were there, so by the time we went to bed that night we were both asleep at the table (me less obviously because I'm way better at faking). We way overate the enchiladas, and the next day there was a party with a bunch of my relatives and a big turkey dinner, so we stayed full of protein-rich, mostly vegetableless and sugar-containing food. My mom had made my two all-time favorite desserts- cheese cake and pumpkin pie- which I was not going to resist. They were delicious, but a far cry from the healthy diet we had been maintaining at home (we hadn't had any but tiny amounts of cane sugar in more than a month before the trip started). During the next two days we saw four of my friends at various meals (at restaurants, so again with the less strict diet), I had a gluten reaction to contaminated fudge, accidentally drank soy-containing tea (someone please explain to me why there needs to be SOY in TEA for Gods' sake), and didn't get a ton of sleep because of the loud city noise outside.

And so, by the time it was approaching New Year's Eve and we were waiting at the airport to fly back up, we both felt like we'd been run over by a steamroller. Of course, that was when storms were delaying everything coming through O'Hare and our flight ended up being delayed for three hours. Eventually we got back after a windy and foggy landing, her dad came and got us, and we collapsed in her parents' guest room at like seven in the evening.

The next day we spent collapsed in a state of no energy. I retrained the dogs (after they had destroyed a few things out of boredom and acquired a couple of other naughty habits from being without my strict rules for several days), convinced the cats that we were not abandoning them forever and ever, and mostly just attempted to recover. Neither of us had it in us to cook, so we ate frozen food, which didn't really help our energy levels. And the next day we packed the car, stuffing it completely with all of our presents, and drove all seven hours back to Iowa.

We chased the sunset for around an hour, and reached our town just as full dark came on. We both caffeinated in order to stay awake long enough to get everyone and everything inside. Then we slept. Yesterday we both woke up sick, our weakened state inviting a cold in. She went to get food because we had nothing in the fridge and we knew that was the key. We cooked three different really healthy vegetable dishes and ate way more than usual, and felt better afterward.

We're still recovering. It was a crazy trip, but it was great to see everyone. The more I'm away from most of my people, the more I realize how important it is to keep in touch with them. Plus, sometimes you have to leave for awhile to understand how nice it is to have your own place somewhere isolated and quiet. Boy are we glad to be back.