Category Archives: FM/CFS

Reboot

Yesterday I got a surprise book in the mail with no clue as to the sender, and this morning I got some Peaches & Cream tea from DavidsTea! The book is from our friend Helen in Australia (actually, I have two friends named Helen in Australia, thanks to the magic of the Internet), and the tea may be as well. Random acts of kindness are so special, and it came at a good time and cheered me up.

In mostly unrelated news (because being happy is what being treated for depression is all about, right?) I met with my doctor this morning. He says the numb/tingling tongue issue is odd, because I’d been taking the medication for a while at a lower dose for fibro with no side effects, but to be sure he wants me to take it at the half dose again for a few days. If there’s no reaction, I’m to up it to the full dose again and watch for the same tongue thing. By that point we’ll be at our next appointment in a week’s time, and we’ll go from there. If it turns out I’ve developed a sensitivity to it, we can switch to the medication I was on twelve years ago, but he wants to make sure I have a sensitivity to this one first, to resolve the open issue, so to speak. He doesn’t want to leave a question mark in my file; if I have a reaction to it, he wants to be able to confirm it and enter it in my permanent file. I can understand that. And he doesn’t think it’s dangerous, or he wouldn’t ask me to do it. Although I did the right thing by coming in, he assured me.

So we’ll reboot the medication, and see where it goes. La.

Blurry

Owlet and I are both sick with colds. She seems to be chugging along with the usual bounces and energy regardless and is back at daycare today with just a bit of lingering chest congestion, but I feel like I have cement in my head. Beyond this, something odd and worrisome happened over the weekend. On Saturday, I finally got irritated with the odd tingling in my tongue. It had been happening for a few days, and I had ascribed it to spring finally deciding to drag itself out of bed. Sometimes the roof of my mouth tingles when I’m having trouble with my allergies, so it wasn’t that much of a leap to put the tongue tingling down to the same thing, especially when I noticed it more when I ate chocolate or peanut butter, two things that sometimes make my mouth feel a bit odd in the spring when my system is already handling allergy overload. Except it wasn’t going away, or getting any better when I took antihistamines. In fact, it was kind of getting worse. So maybe it was something else? What else could it be?

The only thing I could think of was the medication my new doctor put me on. But I’d been taking it in a lower dose already for fibro; surely the higher dose couldn’t be triggering it, could it? I looked up side effects to be sure, and, um, there it was, in big “seek emergency medical help if you feel any of these following symptoms” letters.

So I stopped taking it. I wasn’t going to go to the emergency room of the hospital saying that my tongue felt a bit odd, not when I’d been taking the higher dose for three weeks already. But it was worrisome enough that I wanted my doctor to know, and to discuss alternate medications with him. I left a message this morning and the receptionist got back to me at lunch (on her lunch hour, I think) and gave me an appointment tomorrow morning. (Bless her; it really does pay to always be super understanding about cancellations and rescheduling on their end.)

Stopping my medication isn’t a huge thing. I mean, it is, and it isn’t. I haven’t been taking it for long enough for a full stop to have significant negative effect. On the other hand, the blessed sleep it was ensuring has taken a hit, and that’s ungood for the physical rest I need for the fibro (proper muscle relaxation and all that) as well as the mental and emotional wellbeing (bad sleep makes me short-tempered and significantly reduces my available spoons with which to cope with basic day-to-day stuff). And I still can’t think of why I started having the reaction three weeks into the treatment. Did it hit a particular saturation in my body or something? Or were my allergies stacking, as they sometimes do, and I started having a reaction to it now because there are so many other things taxing my system? I have no idea. Perhaps the doctor will. But stopping it and the reaction vanishing within twenty-four hours was pretty significant, I think. Even if it’s a stacking issue, it needs to be dealt with.

In Which She Takes A Deep Breath

Yesterday morning my blog started displaying php errors at the top of the screen. The last time this happened was in 2008, when my host upgraded their end and my blog software didn’t play nicely with it. I tried to upgrade, we lost the RSS feeds for a while, and the blog was broken in a way I couldn’t fix. It mysteriously fixed itself a year or so later, but having been scarred by previous upgrade attempts (the great mySQL disaster to 2006, anyone?) I resisted upgrading until I absolutely had to. Which was yesterday.

So I did. I backed everything up a billion different ways, and I struggled with an anxiety attack all day. And then after the upgrade… the blog wouldn’t display. Nada. White page. This is so common, I later discovered, that it even has a colloquial term on the boards, “the White Screen of Death.”

Anywhats. I let it go, knowing that the upgrade had worked (mostly) since my dashboard and back end were all functional. I left a note on the support boards asking for help, and Meallanmouse sent me a message with a link to more common fixes and saying she’d try to help if I needed it, which was terribly nice of her. I couldn’t do anything overnight, so I let it go.

That’s huge for me, you know, not obsessing over something I can’t fix right away. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with anxiety lately, which was one of the reasons I’m back on medication. (Which, conveniently enough, addresses my fibro issues, too, so more bang for my buck. Yay for doctors who actually trust that I know what I’m talking about, and yay for being able to admit I need help!)

Anywhats, I delivered children and ran errands this morning (I am now well stocked with tea again, yay), and when I got home, I checked my messages. Someone had answered my board post with specific suggestions, so I ran a couple of those checks and found the error in a misbehaving theme. So voila, now the blog is upgraded, behaving, and displaying, in tidy new clothes. I’m leaving well enough alone for the moment; I’ll play dress-up with it sometime later. (I miss having a photo banner across the top, for example; I’ve missed it for years and years.)

So that’s where the wee blog owlies are at. If you couldn’t see them yesterday, that’s why. But now they’re back in line and hooting softly to themselves about their new digs. We’ll spruce the place up once we’re comfortable painting the walls.

Creative Activity Distracts The Brain (In A Beneficial Way)

I think this is incredibly fascinating.

Jacque Wilson’s article is called “This is Your Brain on Knitting,” but the observations extend beyond just knitting, of course.

Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging. […]
Our nervous system is only capable of processing a certain amount of information at a time, [psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ] explains. That’s why you can’t listen and understand two people who are talking to you at once. So when someone starts creating, his existence outside that activity becomes “temporarily suspended.”
“He doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel if he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears.”
The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation, says occupational therapist Victoria Schindler. Science has shown meditation can, among other things, reduce stress and fight inflammation.
Our bodies are in a constant state of stress because our brain can’t tell the difference between an upcoming meeting with the boss and an upcoming bear attack, Schindler says. The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that “fight or flight” response.

And this is why I’ve become so appreciative of fibre arts in the last few years. When I’m spinning or knitting, I’m focusing on something not-me. I distract my brain from observing how achy my muscles are, the pain in my joints, the effort it takes to think through a problem. Writing is hard on my brain (no, I know everyone says that, but it’s particularly hard for me, because I’m thinking through a fibro fog), and cello asks a lot of my back and hands, which aren’t always up to the task. I used to meditate a lot, but it started causing anxiety (ironic, that) because I couldn’t quell the “I should be doing something productive now instead of just sitting here” feeling. (Fibro has done a real number on my sense of self-worth as relates to productivity, let me tell you. Do I accept that my output is necessarily lower? Yes. Do I not worry about it? I worry about it all the time.)

The hardest thing about knitting is the decision paralysis that grips me while starting a new project. I can’t just grab a nice yarn and start something randomly; I have to calculate yardage and ask myself if I’ll actually use the finished product (or if I know someone who can/will), think over the yarn’s construction and figure out if it’s appropriate for the item, and so forth. And then I have to grapple with the whole “but what if I do it wrong?” panic. Once I’ve started, things settle down, but even working through those questions comes very close to fight-or-flight for me. It’s not limited to knitting, either; it’s the same with fibre. There is a lovely braid of dyed Polwarth/silk blend that Ceri bought for me. Is it gorgeous? Yes! Will I love spinning it? Yes! Have I spun it? No, because what if I spin it wrong somehow? What if I make pretty yarn that is utterly unusable for anything I might ever want to make? What if I chain-ply it and decide after it’s done that I should have done a traditional three-ply, or even a two-ply?

The entire article is interesting to read and makes several observations about crafting in general and its connection to dopamine release, the use of leisure activities/crafting in therapy, and the benefits of stimulating several areas of the brain simultaneously.

In general, this is what a lot of crafters — knitters, weavers, painters, miniature railroaders, people who build RC aircraft — already know on a subconscious level. It’s calming, it makes you feel good when you complete something, and it’s an easy way to give your brain a break. It’s just interesting to read about it in more scientific terms, and to see what therapists and doctors have to say about it.

In Which She Shares Her Excitement Regarding Processing Fleece For The First Time

I’m going through a rough fibro patch. Everything is achy, my hands can’t grab things correctly and I have reduced sensitivity in my fingertips, and my energy levels are about equal to sitting in a chair and not doing much else. There are other crappy things going on, and I’ve had to drop cello lessons and stop going to orchestra for a while as well, so I don’t get my one evening away from the house. I’ve just handed in another work project that was fun but draining, since it was a book of home DIY renovation projects and all the measurements needed checking and formatting, and I have been handling a yucky sinus cold through it, too.

So I thought I’d share some of what’s been interesting me lately.

Last fall my friend Stephanie bought a couple of fleeces at a fibre festival, and asked if I wanted to share some. I bought a pound of brown Corriedale fleece and some white Lincoln locks as well, and she shipped them up to me in November. They sat in their ziplock bags till this month, when the Ravellenic Games launched in concert with the Winter Olympics.

As you know, Bob, The Ravellenic Games are a fun event where you challenge yourself to do something fibre arts-related between the opening and closing ceremonies of whatever Olympics are being held. There are fun categories for knitting, crocheting, spinning, and weaving, and permutations thereof, and the point is to really challenge yourself somehow: do colourwork for the first time, teach yourself a new skill, or plan to do a huge project in only two weeks. My online knitting group of mums decided to call ourselves Team Coconut Two-Sters this year (long story, but the name partially came about because one of our awesome mums is a graphic artist, was bored at work one day, and started doing deliberately bad Photoshopped images of our two-year-old kids in coconuts), and this is my team avatar!

One of the events is the Fleece to FO (finished object) Long-Track, where you spin your yarn and then knit it into something. Stephanie and I decided this was a great occasion to each process some of our fleece and do something with it. Since the timeframe was limited, I decided to spin a bulky yarn and knit a pair of mittens. (Since I’m knitting mittens, they also qualify for the Mitten Moguls event, hurrah!)

Processing fleece means washing and prepping it for spinning. The fleece I started with was exactly the fleece that had been shorn from the sheep, greasy and dirty. I started with a cold water soak to dissolve most of the basic dirt, which sank to the bottom of the dishtub I was using. Check out that dirty water. And this is just a water soak, no soap! The silt at the bottom of the dishtub was icky.

Then I did a hot water wash, with original Dawn dish soap. (It’s a classic for washing fleece, because it really goes to town on the lanolin and grime.)

I did two washes, and I think I either washed too much at once or didn’t let it soak long enough, because after the fleece dried it was still somewhat sticky. I wasn’t sure this was wrong, though, since this was my first go, and I carded up a bit and tried spinning it longdraw from a wee rolag. It didn’t draft well, and I didn’t know if this had to do with the stickyness of the fleece or my carding technique. Figuring a second wash couldn’t hurt, I gave it another soapy bath, and when it dried it was much softer and fluffier.

Here’s what it looked like as I began to separate out the locks from the dried fleece.

I carded about two-thirds of the clean fleece in the week leading up to the Olympics. Since I don’t have hand carders or a drum carder (someday, someday) I used a pair of dog slicker brushes. I left a lot of the nepps and second cuts in, because I wanted a tweedy, rustic yarn. (Also, I didn’t want to lose any more weight/fibre.) I picked out a lot of the vegetable matter as I carded, but I’m only human and some got left in, to be picked out as I spun.

I had a pile of rolags, ready to go on the day of the opening ceremonies!

I spun two bobbins’ worth of singles, and plied them that first day. It turns out spinning bulky yarn goes really quickly! I’d done some sampling before I began and I’d originally wanted a bulky single, but that wasn’t working well for me, so I spun slightly lighter singles and did a two-ply yarn instead. When I measured my yarn I discovered I only had about 60 yards instead of the 100 I needed, so I spun up the rest of the rolags over the next day, realized I’d need even more fibre, and spun the rest of my clean fleece. I didn’t want to waste time carding them, so I just teased the fleece with my fingers till it was loose and even more fluffy, and spun right from handfuls of that.

It worked just as well, and I got the added bonus of the yarn having tiny little bits of curly crimp popping out here and there. I was done spinning by the second evening, and cast on my mittens the next day.

Here’s what the yarn looks like! I love how the paler tips of the locks contrast with the darker fleece from closer to the body of the sheep, and when spun it creates a beautiful variegation. That’s a bulky yarn at 4 WPI (wraps per inch, as marked on my handy little WPI tool, there).

I’d decided to knit mittens because I’d never tried before, though I’ve knit socks and so I figured the sock-knitting basics would carry me through the cuff and hand of the mitten, and only the thumb gusset would be new. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s processing fleece for the first time, carding it for the first time, and knitting an item I’d never knitted before in a limited timeframe. Optimistic!) I found a pattern and began, frogged it and tried again, then found a different pattern because it still wasn’t working for me. The second pattern was wonderful, and I knit the first mitten in two evenings, and the second in another two evenings. And I used just over half the yarn I’d spun; I’d panicked for no reason after all.

So then there I was, halfway through the Olympics with my goals reached, and this extra yarn. I should use that up, I thought, and looked for a hat pattern on Ravelry that used less than 100 yards of bulky yarn. I found one and cast on. The brim is knit separately on straight needles, then seamed together to make a tube, stitches picked up along one side, and the crown is knitted in the round from there. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Part of that big brim gets flipped up and pinned in place with a brooch or a button.I have the perfect button for it, I think. If I finish in time, this will qualify for the Hat Halfpipe event.

Knitting bulky things goes quickly, so this should be done by the closing ceremonies, no problem. Mittens are easy, I have discovered, and I will knit more. (Not right now, of course, but in the future, certainly.)

So that’s my adventure with processing my own fleece and working with quickie handspun. I can’t get any closer to doing it all myself unless I actually shear the sheep.

Stuff I Did In 2013

Wow. Busy year.

Knitted two and a half pairs of socks. No, actually, if we’re adding up individual socks I knit three full pairs, because I knit three for Sparky’s Gryffindor socks, two for my slipper socks, and one so far for my own pair of regular socks. Ha ha! Six socks! (Too bad that’s not how it actually works. Sigh.)

I knit a complete child’s pullover sweater. How crazy is that. It was also my first test knit for someone.

I knit one and a half cap-sleeve sweaters for myself. The half is because I had a half-done one languishing in my cupboard since something like 2006, I finished it, realized it wouldn’t fit, frogged it all, and reknit it. It’s technically finished, but I need to undo the bindoff and add an inch to the bottom. I should add that I made some original modifications to the neck and sleeves that actually worked. I think I’m getting this knitting thing.

I knit a lot of blanket squares for my friends in my online mums group. And then I seamed two of those blankets together and knit the borders on each from yarn spun especially for them.

I spun twelve ounces of yarn for a friend’s project. I spun a similarly crazy amount for my mother’s stunning cabled wrap, and then dyed it, too. And I wonder why I don’t have a lot to show for my spinning time this year. Most of it belongs to other people!

In other areas of my life, I switched the bread recipe I use, and I’m liking the more artisanal loaf we get from it. I also started making my own yogurt, which is a big thing because I loathe yogurt. HRH and Owlet adore it, though.

I stopped using commercial cleansers and moisturizers on my face, observing how much happier and healthier my hair and scalp were when I quit using sodium lauryl/laureth-laden shampoos and silicone-sibling conditioners, and thinking that my face would probably react in a similarly positive fashion. Turns out my face is much happier not being stripped of everything (good and bad) and then having stuff smoothed back on to rehydrate it. I’m using the oil-cleansing method, and my tricky-to-handle, acne-prone face has never been happier. So happy, in fact, that I only have to do it every two days. So yeah, colour me impressed. (Also appalled at the ruthlessly-strip-then-requires-deep-moisturizing-with-unhappy-stuff-that-needs-to-be-stripped cycle that our consumer society has tricked us into repeating endlessly.)

I cut my hair, a lot. I’m hacking off three-quarters of an inch every four to five weeks. It’s nuts. I thought a couple of times that I’d grow it longer again, but I look so tired when it’s shoulder length that snip, off it comes, and I look so much healthier and brighter with it at about chin length again.

I was pretty healthy overall, the trip to the dermatologist and his concern over one of my moles aside. (That’s being taken off and sent for analysis next June. It’s difficult to reconcile “concern” with an eight-month wait for removal and analysis, but whatever.) The other health scare that had me sent a specialist also ended up fine, so another deep sigh of relief and hurrah for that. (Also, I now have a gynaecologist who is awfully nice.) I went back on my fibro medication this summer, and after a two-month period where it felt like it wasn’t doing anything, things suddenly clicked into place and the pain is manageable and energy levels are more consistent. Sleep is less of an issue, although still a big sensitive spot for me.

I kept up with Downton Abbey and Sherlock, we discovered the My Little Pony reboot, and I dropped Game of Thrones because the level of depicted violence and sex turned me off. I know, I know; I’ve read all the books. But the way HBO is portraying it is different, and it’s not enjoyable to watch for me. And life is too short to make myself read crappy books or watch TV that I don’t enjoy. I’m getting very good at cutting stuff like that out of my life.

In fact, I’ve looked back over the past couple of years, and I’ve done a better job at releasing toxic friendships and limiting contact with people who stress me out. I have a limited amount of energy to keep myself going. I need to protect it. I’m doing a pretty good job at saying no and focusing on the most important things in my life.

I’ve done some editing work that I’m very proud of, both private and through the publisher I work with. I’ve had the privilege of reading some great stuff before its release and helping to make it even better. I love my work, even when it drives me to excessive chocolate consumption like the most recent ones did. (Oh dear gods. You will never know, because the resulting books have correct facts and dates and are stronger in general. That’s what I do, and I’m fine being anonymous.)

I didn’t have a lot of time for cello, but I seem to be doing okay in that area. Just getting out once a week and carrying through on the orchestral commitment was a priority. We played some great stuff in orchestra, and I’m proud of my Suzuki work, too.

I read much less than I usually do (hmm, I should start including the books I edit; those totally count, why do I not do that already?). Although “usually” has taken a hit these past threeish years, so maybe this new lower finished frequency is the new normal. Standouts for me were the second in Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky trilogy and Kerstin Gier’s entire Ruby Red trilogy. I finally got around to reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which was lovely. And courtesy of Tamu, I got to attend Neil Gaiman’s only Montreal book signing/reading tour stop ever (it’s hard to believe, but his previous stops here have been con-related, and he retired from touring after The Ocean at the End of the Lane one ended).

Music-wise I discovered The Doubleclicks, who should adopt me, because wow, it’s like they know everything inside my head. Also, cello.

November

I am just back from DavidsTea, where I bought three teas I did not expect to buy, and none of the ones that were actually on my list to pick up. Shiny things! Let me smell them! Ooh, I’ll take 25 g of that, and 25 g of that… shopping list? What is a shopping list? You mean, this thing in my hand that’s in my way of picking things up and looking at them? This thing that reminds me of the favourite teas that I am out of or running low on?

Yeah. But I got some of the new White Chocolate Frost, so that makes up for a lot.

I am late on Owlet’s 26-month post, I am late on any kind of an October roundup, and I am sadly delinquent in any kind of note-taking here. I blame a lot of it on October, actually, which was full of deadline kitting, travel, sunshine, and back-to-back work projects. I am also delinquent on a fibro post, but here’s the essence of it: Going back on my medication seemed to be a good idea, except it didn’t do much for the first couple of months, and I began to wonder if something had changed and I needed a different kind, when suddenly everything settled and I felt better than I’d felt in a couple of years. My doctor was very pleased, told me again that she didn’t know how I’d managed everything while not taking medication, and happily extended my prescription for a year. And then November hit.

Ah yes, November. October is all sunshine and coloured leaves, and even the rainy parts are okay. It’s Thanksgiving, and it’s the smell of dusty, smoky, early decay, and it’s really nice. And then you flip the calendar page, and it’s like a huge dark wall slams down, imprisoning you in a horrid grey cell that is damp and cold, and you can never get warm, your tea goes stone-cold in half an hour, and you burst into tears because you can’t fold a bloody bed sheet properly, for goodness’ sake.

Yeah. So that’s where I am right now. I am the ‘nothing going right no matter how hard I try’ stage of things. Cello? Pointless. Reading? I can’t get into very much. Knitting? I’ve frogged the same blanket square five times this week. I’m between work projects, which is good in one way because I am pretty fried, but worrisome in another because in a month my last freelance cheque will arrive in my mailbox, and then there will only be the echoey sound of crickets in my bank account unless I land more work.

So I’m going to go make more tea, because this cup is stone-cold, and do some deadline spinning, and try to get half a blanket square knitted, because someone is having twins they only discovered were twins at 29 weeks (!), so suddenly a second blanket has to be made. It’s very nice to have hobbies when they are a rest from work, but when they become the thing you’re working on, they’re not as much fun.