Sunday, August 21, 2016

You'll Never Guess Where You Can Get a Migraine

A few weeks ago, I went to an Ear/Nose/Throat doctor on the advice of one of the other members of my Stable O' Docs. The ENT seemed a bit confused when I told him why I was there - minor sinus discomfort in my left sinuses and chronic migraines - because he'd never had someone come in to see him for migraines.

So he looked at my sinuses, and informed me that the inside of my sinuses was completely clear*, but they looked dry. So, no infection (which I'd suspected, because: no drainage). He sat and looked at me with his head cocked to one side, but instead of smiling (and resembling a dog expecting a treat) he frowned.

"Chronic migraines? Hm. I think you're having a migraine in your sinuses."

Wait, I'm what?!?!?!

Apparently, the trigeminal nerve (which is often incriminated in migraines) splits and runs down your face alongside your sinuses and into your jaw: thus the reason a lot of migraineurs have TMJ. But it can ALSO cause pain in your sinuses, and is, in fact, part of your migraine. Or, if it's a "mini migraine" day, it can be the whole migraine.

So you now know something else about migraines, which I apparently experience in my nose, now.

As a way of helping me, the ENT told me to go buy a product called Ayr, which is a gel made specifically for use in and around the nose. So I did, and now I clean my nose in the morning with a Q-Tip, then use another Q-Tip to apply a coating of Ayr inside my nostrils.

The first time I did so, I didn't really check to make sure I applied it carefully - it was more of a dab and dash kind of thing.

The second time, however, I checked before I left the house, and then before I went to run errands post-breakfast.

I had something gray-ish blue on my face. I wiped it off, and it was sticky and kind of... gel-y.

Apparently, the Ayr doesn't stay exactly where you want it, but will migrate around, a bit, leaving you with the appearance of someone who stuck blueberries up her nose and is reaping what she sowed (or stowed or shoved).

So that's a new thing to be aware of.


*I also have a seriously deviated septum, which explains why I assumed my right nostril was constantly stopped up, and will probably require surgery in the near future, and may be contributing to the pain in my left nostril/sinus because of the increased volume of air flow passing through that one nostril.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's One of THOSE Days

Today has turned out to be one of "those" days.

One of "those" days when nothing quite seems to go right, yet it isn't so horrible that I can justify sitting down in the middle of the living room in a huff and crying.

It's tempting, but not justifiable.


I had an appointment this morning at 10:30 with one of my legions of doctors, and since I typically show up in gym clothes (intending to proceed there immediately after my appointment), I decided I would dress nicely today: J. Crew blue-&-white striped shirt, skinny jeans, sandals, jewelry.

Casual, but nice.

My hair disagreed with my planned outfit, however.

I didn't wash it last night, and I didn't plan to wash it this morning, because if I wash it more frequently than every other day, my scalp mutinies, and I have to appease it with lots of Benadryl.

I hoped I'd be able to spray it with a little dry shampoo and get it to obey my will.


By the time I realized my hair was a lost cause, it was too late to wash it and blow dry it and style it if I wanted to be able to eat breakfast before my appointment. I tried on a baseball cap with my planned outfit, but it just didn't work.

So the cute J. Crew shirt was jettisoned in favor of a chambray maxi dress, hoping I could pull it off with the baseball cap.

Chambray maxi dress had stains all down the front, that I apparently missed during the last laundry blitz, despite the fact that I specifically checked the dress for stains.

Finally, I tossed on one of my husband's cast-off T-shirts (which I've claimed, and wear more frequently than formerly due to my, um, well, my little belly. And love handles. Yay).

So now my doctor probably thinks I just run around in super-casual clothes all the time, rather than wearing more civilized, ladylike garb.


I ran a few errands, post-appointment, and came home. I took off my baseball cap.

My hair looked perfect.


Time to do laundry, bake, monitor the crock-pot, pay off the rest of the taxes the IRS claims we owe them, but that Turbo Tax said we didn't, and work on my Mystery Blog (with perfect hair).

Several items in the laundry needed stain treatment, so I applied Shout spray like a mad woman, and made sure to add OxyClean to the load, as well.

The load of lights finished washing, and I pulled out the clothes to toss them in the dryer, being sure to check each and every garment that was spot-treated before tossing it into the dryer.

All of the garments looked great, except - of course! - my favorite shirt, a white J. Crew button-down identical to today's intended blue-&-white shirt, which is the inspiration for my house-wife "uniform".

Of course, the spot on my favorite shirt - iced tea, a little tiny amount - was darker. And bigger.

What. THE. HELL?!?!?!?!?!?!

Lots of angry fuming, cursing, and stomping around the laundry room ensued (it's a huge laundry room, relative to the size of our house). I tried spraying more Shout on it and rubbing it with a white cloth.

No dice.

I rinsed out the Shout, and poured liquid OxyClean on it, waited 15 minutes, and then rubbed it with a white cloth.


I poured a leeeeeeeeeeeeettle bit of full-strength bleach onto it and let it sit a few minutes, then rubbed it gently with a white cloth.


So it's now sitting in a bucket filled with water and bleach, while I pray that my fairly expensive shirt isn't ruined forever.

I started working on my Mystery Blog, and was experimenting with different layouts/visual themes for the site. Unlike this personal blog, I want my Mystery Blog to be immaculately laid out and designed, because I intend to try to make money off of it, damn it.

I had one scheme I kind of liked, but wanted to look at another, so I wrote down what I thought was all the pertinent info, design-wise, and began monkeying with the font, text size, background color, etc.

At which point I realized I hadn't exactly written down all the pertinent info. Fortunately, I had taken a screen shot of the first design, so I was able to MacGuyver the information I needed, using PhotoShop and Apple Preview, but it was a tense few minutes, there, before I found the HTML color code converter I needed.


I also used a bit of Barkeeper's Friend to clean some rust of the washing machine interior (it's now going through its Clean Tub cycle to remove any residue), and I happened to get a tiny bit of the liquid cleanser on my thumb. No big deal. I rinsed it within 30 seconds.

But my skin doesn't care. My skin is angry. It is livid. Specifically, it is a livid shade of red, and it itches, because it's a primadonna.

And I haven't eaten lunch, yet.

So I'm going to go throw myself onto my sofa, now, with a slice of coconut-flour pound cake and a handful of cashews - which I'm calling "lunch" - and I'm going to watch Parks and Rec on Hulu while I finish my niece's Christmas stocking.

Because I'm obviously not meant to succeed at being a housewife today.

Unless that housewifeliness involves sabotaging my diet, because the pound cake turned out perfectly.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Life With a Little More "Life"

I've been completely off of opiate pain medications for a few weeks, now. So far, I'm happy about it. I feel different without the constant haze of brain-fug I experienced (unknowingly, mostly) for the previous four years of my life.

I wake up, now, when the sun's brightness wakes me up - usually around 7:30-8:00 - as nature intended, instead of sleeping until noon because my body responded to when the drugs wore off. I have a true circadian rhythm to my life that I previously lacked.

Wikimedia Commons
When I sleep, my sleep is more restful, and I'm dreaming more often - and remembering more of my dreams - and having more pleasant dreams, as opposed to nightmarish head trips that prevented me from sleeping soundly. Some of these nightmares were probably hallucinations, in truth, rather than me actually sleeping and dreaming.

You know those commercials for medications to treat opiate-induced constipation, known as OIC, apparently, because giving a disorder an acronym makes it less embarrassing? Yeah, so good old OIC is a serious issue for people on pain medications for chronic illness. Even more so when the migraines - for which you take opioids - is also a source of, um, "C" (see above OIC, and just remove the C, because: acronyms). Though it isn't exactly happening quickly, the gastrointestinal effects of constant opiate use are slowly working themselves out.

I'm not living in fear of the medication completely working its way out of my system all at once, leaving me with a shock of pain bad enough to make me writhe around, incapable of relaxing and resting. The anxiety of running out of opiates is also gone; the government's strict controls and occasional drug shortages rendered this a serious concern, especially if a new patient began filling a prescription for the same drugs and the pharmacy wasn't prepared for it.

Psychologically, I'm dealing with the migraines better. I'm taking very little in the way of medication, just some muscle relaxants when it's really bad, and maybe a couple of Tylenol. I'll also pop on the good old Cephaly if it's bad and I can stand to have something on my head. In Europe, the device is marketed as an "acute" treatment, instead of simply preventative, so it's worth a shot, right? And it did seem to help, that first time I tried it, when I caught the migraine early enough, so...

The only downside I've noticed so far has left me with mixed feelings.

I'm having difficulty with creative endeavors.

I used to write for an hour or two each day, most days, typically at night once my pain medications kicked in, or in the afternoon if I had to take them to get me through a particularly rough spot. About 30 or 45 minutes after taking the drugs, I'd feel a surge of creative energy and feel as if I simply had to write. Now.

That's gone, the creative urge evaporating into the ether, so to speak.
Or into a Photoshop gradient. One of those two, definitely.
Ever since I kicked the habit, the books I was working on - all those ideas, fictional and non-fictional - have dried up. I don't feel the same inspiration that I previously felt.

It's unnerving.

I used to believe that real artists didn't require chemical assistance to create masterpieces. I'm less sure of that, now, mostly because to accept that my writing was mostly the product of a opiate-induced fever-dream would force me to see it as less valuable.


For now, I'm trying not to think about the significant drop in "creating" that I'm experiencing.

To distract myself, I watch stand up comedians and comediennes on Hulu and NetFlix, or take quizzes on Sporcle, both very productive.

I go to Whole Foods and buy groceries to feed my husband and myself, because eating at home is healthier than eat at our favorite local fast food joint, El Rey (even though their Havana Plate is so f!&#ing delicious).

Bayou City Bites
I'm also mentally caching ideas for a new blog - one that would relate to my professional field instead of a personal blog - and trying to come up with a name for it.

On Monday, I'll start doing a bit of contract work for my dad, editing photos of his products for brochures and website use. This will most likely take place at a Starbucks, because only suckers work from home when they can go to Starbucks and pretend to be cool, hip, self-employed graphic designers that totally have a thriving business and aren't just doing some work for their dads since they have some time on their hands.

And I'll mentally wrestle with whether I want to pick up my Montblanc, again, and continue writing that fantasy novel, or maybe start researching that history of the British in Kenya once more.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Get Your Trek On

It's 6:30 am on a Friday morning, and I have yet to fall asleep.

This happens occasionally - once every two or three weeks - and I'm fine with that. I will sleep exceptionally well, tonight - Friday night - and be ready to "go get 'em" Saturday.

The insomnia - being awake all night - is either a precursor to a developing migraine, or is the direct cause of a migraine. I tend to think it's the latter, due to the other migraine precursors that accompany it: thirst, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, etc.

For a couple of weeks, now, I've been trying to limit my caffeine intake. In some people, caffeine can apparently cause migraines rather than helping end them. Or so my migraine tracking/recording app tells me. So I've cut out caffeine: no iced tea , no coffee, no chai, no chocola-

Oh. I made pecan-flour brownies the other day. I've eaten one per day since Tuesday.


Okay, so after tomorrow, I'll be better about the whole "I'm not ingesting caffeine" trial. I promise.

Yesterday - Thursday, for those of you playing along at home - I began my application for government disability payments. Seeing as I'm unable to work, and my beloved husband is paying for everything, right now, including medical bills and student loans, money is growing ever tighter. At the least, I'd be able to pay down my loans and cover my own medical expenses, if I received Social Security Disability.

I'm conflicted about applying for benefits. On the one hand, my husband has a good salary. On the other hand, feeding both of us costs a lot of money, particularly as I can't just eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day. So food, medical bills, transportation to and from the doctors, etc., all adds up quickly, not to mention the joys of home ownership, where you "get" to pay someone to come repair your roof and a hole in the ceiling of the laundry room.

Regardless, it will be at least two months before my Disability Application is judged and either approved or denied.

In the meantime, I have a new device with which to experiment that is supposedly helpful for migraines. My dear aunt sent me information about a device called the Cefaly about a month ago, and I have since discussed it with my neurologist, who gave me her blessing to try it (she also gave me a prescription, because you can't just buy it without a doctor sprinkling the transaction with holy signatures and whatnot).

The Cefaly arrived last night, to my surprise - I thought it would arrive Friday - but I haven't tried it, yet. Its inaugural use will take place tonight, during which time I can role play a character of my own imagining from the Star Trek universe, because this is what it looks like:

That's just a couple of inches away from making the user look like Geordi La Forge's sister from another mister, right there. Seriously, lower it 2.5 inches, and BAM! Star Trek: The Next Generation, I'm ready for my walk-on role!

Supposedly, the Cefaly stimulates the trigeminal nerve running from your brain into your forehead, which decreases the number and severity of migraines. There's an electrode that's applied to the forehead before the Cefaly device is lowered into place. My electrodes are fancy blue hypoallergenic ones, because I'm a delicate flower, and also, blue is more futuristic and (I imagine) Trekkie approved.

There's a chance the thing might not work, of course, and if that's the case, I can return the device within 60 days for a full refund (except for the electrodes). It's a no-lose situation, the way I see it.

And maybe - just maybe! - this futuristic diadem will allow me to conquer my migraines once and for all.

Keep your fingers crossed, Dear Reader.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Drying Out

Houston has recently been inundated by sever storms, leaving parts of the city flooded. Three days ago, I watched on TV as civilians rescued their fellow Houstonians using their duck-hunting pirogues (flat-bottomed boats, for those not raised in the South).

I also saw the "most cowboy" thing possible for a cowboy to cowboy: roping a calf that was swimming desperately in deep water, pulling the calf into a boat, and hog-tying it so it wouldn't flail and capsize the boat. I tried to find video of the most amazingly cowboy thing ever, but failed. I have failed not only you, Dear Reader, but all the cowboys in the Houston area who spent the last several days roping cattle and horses in an effort to save them. They deserve to be viewed online and admired for their sheer... cowboyness.

Which is now a word.


I'm sure the OED will add it any day, now.

As the city of Houston attempts to dry out (hampered by the thunderstorm raging outside my house as I type), I'm also drying out, in a number of ways.

I'm drying out literally, because I had to take all of 6 steps from the car door to our front door in the pouring rain, after I went out for breakfast.

I'm also drying out metaphorically, because I've stopped taking the narcotic pain killers that have kept me going for the past few years.

About a year ago, I began thinking about it. I have a wonderful sister who is unable to take opiates (which we discovered after an emergency appendectomy back in 2008). They make her incredibly nauseated and ill. See as we have a lot of the same intolerances to foods, I began to wonder if, perhaps, we shared an intolerance to opiate pain medications.

"But, Ms. StrainedConsciousness," you say, "if you began considering this a year ago, why are you just now quitting the medicine?"

That's a good question, Dear Reader, and the answer is: fear.

I've been taking them because I feared pain, and was scared that quitting the pills would lead to an automatic resurgence in pain.

After a full year battling migraines, sciatica, and neuropathy stemming from the chemotherapy I had as a teenager, I decided to suck it up, and I found myself discussing the idea of quitting pain pills with my Pain Management doctor a week ago.

As a result of our discussion, she wrote me a prescription for 10 pills (as opposed to the usual scrip for 84), and told me how to wean myself off of them.

For the past week, I've decreased the amount taken: 1 pill per day for 3 days, then a half pill for 4 days, and finally, Tuesday night, no pills at all that day.

Before quitting the narcotics, I was typically taking a full pill every night before bed, and then sleeping for 9-11 hours. I'd wake up groggy, and usually fall back asleep for a couple of hours after 30-45 minutes of perusing the internet.

For the past two days, after not taking any pain medication the night before, I've awakened after 7-8 hours of sleep feeling refreshed and awake.

It's amazing.

I feel more lucid during the day, and I fall asleep more easily at night.

I'm still using muscle relaxants to help with spasms in my neck, shoulders, and piriformis, but mostly extended-release ones that don't make me groggy. Before I go to sleep at night - and if I have a migraine during the day - I'll take 1-2 of the "acute" muscle relaxants my doctor still prescribes (these render me unable to drive, as I'm considered impaired, so I try not to take them during the day, if I can help it).

The weather this past week has been a real challenge to my migraines, since rainy weather and high humidity tend to set them off. Despite the pain (and the fact that there isn't an acute migraine medication out there that works for me), I've managed to survive without taking pain meds during the day.

So far, so good.

There's the possibility that the withdrawal symptoms can continue to rear their ugly heads for the next two months, but I'm being vigilant, and also listening when my body says, "You know what? I know you really want to go for a walk with your husband and dog, but you can't. You're dizzy and your blood pressure just dropped. Go home, while you still can."

So for now, I'm waiting for my body and the weather to stop freaking out.

Hopefully sooner, rather than later.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A New Experience

On Sunday, April 3, 2016, I did something I never thought I'd do in a million years.

I went to the WWE's 2016 Wrestlemania in Arlington, TX at the AT&T Cowboys Stadium.

It lasted almost 7 hours.

It was pure insanity.

You might be thinking how I survived it, what with my migraines and all. I wondered how I'd survive it, before I went in. I imagine I lasted as long as I did because I was completely hopped up on adrenaline, the way I imagine soldiers are going into war. Also, I had pain medicine with me, so that had some bearing on the fact I'm not dead.

Since that occasion, my husband - without whom I wouldn't be interested in Wrestlemania in any way, shape, or form - have discussed why it is we weren't immediately agoraphobic upon entering the stadium, given that we dislike places like amusement parks (shudder) and rodeo fairgrounds. I finally settled on this answer, though I'm not sure if I should share it with the public:

The fans at Wrestlemania were "our people."

They're the same otherwise mature, responsible adults, who watch Monday Night RAW. They have decent-paying jobs (otherwise they can't afford the tickets) and enough to pay to travel to Arlington, Texas for a weekend, and most likely miss work on Monday.

I admit, I was nervous going into the whole thing. I considered claiming a migraine and not going. But I felt pretty good the day of the event, so I sucked it up and went. With a couple of pain pills in my pocket just in case all of the pyrotechnics took their toll. Which they eventually did.

Among the amazing, unexpected things I saw at Wrestlemania were:

Shaquille O'Neal wrestling in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (he didn't win).

Joan Lunden appearing, because she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Because of COURSE she was...

The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) came out to interfere in a brouhaha, ripped off his pants and shirt (no complaints here!), and wrestled a bit.

Three guys jumped out of an enormous cereal box while wearing unicorn horns on their heads.

Stephanie McMahon (Chief Brand Officer for WWE, daughter of WWE founder Vince McMahon, wife of Triple-H (HHH), who is the COO of WWE) appeared in what I like to imagine is her typical office attire. It involves a mask and a leotard...
Stephanie McMahon

Also Stephanie McMahon

Stephanie McMahon's husband, HHH, in typical office attire

The usual sort of thing you expect to see. Especially from multimillionaire business executives.

Around 9:30 pm, the large quantity of aforementioned pyrotechnics took their toll. I downed some medicine, along with a bit of cotton candy and some water.

Overall, it was more fun that I'd expected. I'd been anxious about wandering a stadium where grown men are dressed as deceased pro wrestlers, but it was amazingly entertaining. I walked behind one fellow dressed in full Macho Man regalia, and every fifth person shouted "Oh, yeah!", which earned an identical response from the costumed carouser.

I'll say one thing for Wrestlemania: it's a spectacle.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review: The St. Simon Trilogy and a Feminist Rant

I was in my early teens - possibly not even into the technical teens, but what is now referred to as a "tween" - when I first read the St. Simon trilogy by Eugenia Price. The first volume, entitled Lighthouse, tells the story of James Gould, a young man who leaves his family in late eighteenth century Massachusetts, and travels to Spanish Florida to make his fortune. The spell in Florida, traveling to Baltimore, and a stopover in Georgia are all steps on the way to James achieving his dream: to build a lighthouse.

As a youngster who was beginning to understand what architecture was, I was enthralled by Lighthouse, and the way that the author spoke about James's struggle with proportion and materiality. (Later, I would learn that the most accurate portion of the novel is actually the bureaucratic entanglements and unreliable contractors.)

In the years since I first read the novels, which were originally published in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they remained in my imagination as the pinnacle of architectural romanticism, if that makes any sense. In my early 20s, I read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, and briefly fell in love with Howard Roark, before deciding that the whole "screw everyone else, just worry about yourself, and the others can all go to hell" idea was callous and selfish and inhumane.

But I digress.

After my love affair with Ayn Rand came to an end, my passion for the Lighthouse novels was rekindled, and I decided to reread them, after twenty-something years.

I ordered the books on Amazon - all three of them - and eagerly awaited their arrival two days later.

The books arrived, and I withdrew from the cardboard box the pastel volumes with their impressionist portraits of anonymous ladies in white tea dresses and straw hats. The fact that Lighthouse - a book set in the late 1700s to early 1800s, I remind you - was adorned with an impressionist portrait of a woman in 1890s-era clothes on the cover should probably have been a tip-off.

Either my memory was sorely damaged, or my taste in novels has changed entirely since my tween years.

I was a die hard romantic as a young girl - I mean "sweep me off my feet", "tall, dark and handsome", "night in shining armor" romantic. As I've grown up, I've learned more about what it means to be controlled by men, and how important it is to NOT be controlled by men. I was raised to question everything I was told, to think for myself, and not to be afraid to ask "Why?".

For those reasons, the books are now almost impossible to read.

Almost, I said. Because I will force myself to slog my way through a book, even if I end up writing notes on the book's shortcomings on the fly leaf to keep me sane.

The women in the books - who are not the main characters, despite the prominent pastel wasp-waisted women on the covers - are insufferably meek. The author seems to think that the ideal woman is child-like, incapable of thinking critically, and in need of a man to tell her what to do.

In the second book, New Moon Rising, the protagonist's sister is held up as a paragon of womanly "can-do" spirit, because she runs a plantation single-handed. And yet, despite the fact that she undoubtedly has to make decisions about her land and crops based on the national and local economy, she still has to ask her brother, Horace, for his advice at every turn. When war looms (we're in the mid-1800s now, folks), she questions whether the South will really go to war with the North.

Honey, the South has already shelled Fort Sumter and captured the Federal Navy. Yes, we're going to have a bloody war.

In Lighthouse, one of the secondary characters - a woman, of course, because women are second-class citizens - has a husband who is constantly chasing "big ideas" that invariably lead to their financial ruin. He's a terrible businessman with little intellect, but a ton of bravado and a pretty face, so he's likeable. He makes his wife's life a living hell because he won't go find a job working for someone else.

And his wife just says, "Oh well. I love him, so I'm happy."

She's just blissfully happy while her children are malnourished, and under-clothed, and sponging off of her poverty-stricken mother. Because a wife shouldn't stand up for the physical needs of herself or her children if it might embarrass her husband. No, it's the wife's job to support the husband no matter how selfish and inadequate he is.

One of the biggest things about the St. Simon Trilogy - and I mean, something that really sticks in my craw - is its treatment of the slaves held by just about everyone in the South.

Every slave in the books, with one short-lived exception (he gets mentions on 5 or 6 pages, tops), is a "happy darky" caricature. They are all grinning, happy, contented people, who adore their masters and don't want to be freed. The author, Price, writes her dialogue in dialect, but only when the slaves are speaking. And though I myself write in dialect when I compose dialogue for my characters (who none of you have encountered, because I'm a closet novelist), the way she writes her slaves' spoken words upsets me. Example:

Horace (white slave owner): Are there any more hot biscuits?
Larney (slave): Yes, sir, Mausa Horace - jis' one minute! ...Larney's boy wants more biscuits, an' dey ain' nobody gon' stop 'im- an' ah's got another pan ready to put on de fire.

There's reams of dialogue written in the slave's dialect, and I feel slightly queasy every time I read it. There's something about it that's just so... patronizing. Condescending. Maybe it's the fact that everything they say adds to the depiction of Georgia slaves as happy children who need to be taken care of by their white owners.

Add to the blackface atmosphere (the slaves literally sing and dance for the reader's enjoyment, in dialect, of course) the fact that almost all of the slaveholders depicted don't want to own slaves, and it's all a little too saccharine sweet. The men who are slaveholders are good men, because they don't want to own slaves, but they have to, you see, or they can't compete economically with their neighbors. And they only bought their slaves because they felt sorry for them, in the first place.

No, really.

One of the characters buys something like fifteen slaves, and since it's illegal to free them in Georgia, he just decides he has to keep them. Aw, shucks. Because it would be impossible to take them to - just spitballing, here - Massachusetts, maybe, to free them. You know, send 'em up to his relatives who live in the northern states and free them.

Just an idea.

Another thing that's driving me nuts about these books is the fact that the characters are all fairly static and lack depth. They're all too perfect, from the strong, handsome manly men, who know how to operate sawmills and plantations, and can capably manage "poor white trash" employees, to the sweet little wife, whose highest ambition in life is to pop out a baby each year, like a pre-antibiotic version of the Duggars (but not as creepy). All the women - even the intelligent ones! - are written as "dumb bunnies" who worship their husbands unquestioningly and live only for baby-making. And if there's a gal who doesn't meet this cartoonish standard, she is immediately portrayed as a virago who makes her husband miserable, or she's ugly, and therefore unworthy of either the characters' or the reader's attention.

Since I first read the books, my spiritual outlook has changed. Sort of. It had nothing to do with the books, this change, but it has altered my viewpoint of the books.

I didn't remember the St. Simon's Trilogy having such heavy-handed Christian undertones, and though they probably didn't rankle as a tween, they sure do, now.

[EDIT: Okay, they're not undertones, by the third book, they're the whole story, essentially.]

Up until I was in high school, I struggled with my faith. I was confirmed in the Methodist church as a 12 year old, but I didn't exactly believe everything I professed at the confirmation ceremony.

I don't know many 12 year olds who will stand up to their parents and say, "Hey, guys? I know you believe this, and that's great, and I respect your beliefs, but I'm not sure I buy this. Can we wait a few years to have me join the church? Until I've really had time to figure this out?"

Heaven knows, I didn't say it.

I felt guilty, up until my final year of undergraduate education, because I didn't feel the whole "Christ is Risen!" hallelujah thing. I wrestled with my spirituality, sometimes deciding I could maybe force myself to believe, or at least to pretend, and other times realizing that I would be lying to myself and to everyone around me if I claimed to be a Good Christian.

As a 12 year old who was frequently exposed to Christianity (church and those confirmation classes, all of my friends at school being either Baptist or Catholic or Nondenominational aka Southern Baptist), I probably went right along with the Christian messages of the books.

That Christian message is that, if you believe in God and Jesus, then your life will all get fixed up, somehow, and you'll be happy. Believing in God, in the Lighthouse universe, is literally a deus ex machina: when the male protagonists turn to God, their problems are solved almost immediately.

The "god from the machine" is literally God, you guys!

And it's never the women who doubt God. [EDIT: In book 3, it's a woman. Mea Culpa.] No, women unquestioningly believe that God will save them, no matter if the hurricane just destroyed all the cotton, or the Indians near the sawmill are scalping and burning settlers.

But it isn't enough for the women to believe, because ladies aren't strong enough to flag God's attention with our feeble little arms.

Lady arms are made for holding babies, not signalling monotheistic deities.


No, our big, strong husbands/brothers/fathers have to believe that God will save us, otherwise nothing will happen.

Because God is a misogynist.


I'm almost finished with the second volume, and I was wrestling with whether to read the third volume or not. I've decided I will read it, despite my reservations.

That is, if my feeble lady arms can support the volume's weight.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Wide Awake

It's a little before 1:00 am on a Saturday morning, and I can't sleep.

I've never been "a good sleeper." As I've aged, the insomnia has only worsened. In theory, there's a physiological reason for it: a calcified pineal gland, preventing my body from properly synthesizing melatonin. So I take melatonin at night, so I can sleep.

Tonight, however, my insomnia is super awful. I'm wired. I need to be making, or doing, or something, but I don't know what I want to make.

I tried reading, but I'm not 100% into the book I'm reading, and I couldn't force myself to continue slogging through it in my current frame of mind.

I tried writing, but I've been bogged down lately on that, and am having trouble pushing myself forwards in my story. I don't know how George R.R. Martin does it, frankly.

I tried to order wedding photos online, but had trouble with my account, so that failed, too.

And I'd love to be organizing our office, re-styling the bookshelves and cleaning out the boxes of wedding ephemera that will go in our album (once I succeed in ordering photos), but that would be noisy, and my exhausted husband has long gone to sleep.

In all probability, the insomnia is a forewarning of a migraine to come. It's common for me to have a night of awful, restless insomnia, and to have a full-blown migraine, next day.

Or, the inability to settle myself down is a symptom of my anxiety and depression, which can also cause migraines, which then cause anxiety and depression and insomnia, and...

I'm still having migraines and am unable to work, and I've made a decision about my treatment: I want to cleanse myself.

I've been on so many drugs for so long that I no longer have any idea what it's like to just feel like myself. Back in 2010 - or possibly 2009 - my neurologist/best friend took me off of everything, so we would know what my baseline was. Since then, I've been on oodles of medications for various reasons: antidepressants and antipsychotics to prevent migraines, pain medicine for sciatic pain, muscle relaxants for muscle tension due to migraines.

I no longer know what it feels like to be me, without any chemical alterations.

For years, between the end of my chemotherapy and 2011, when a doctor put me back on antidepressants, I had very strong emotions. When I was happy, I was amazingly happy. When I was sad, I was completely devastated. But my emotions were true, and they were mine. I feel, these days, like I'm completely numb. I don't really feel, anymore. I try to, but really the only thing that gets through is sadness and anxiety.

I don't know if taking myself off of my medications* will make a difference. I don't know if I'll feel happier again. I don't know if my migraines will grow worse, or better, or stay the same.

But I do know that I'm tired of not feeling.

*taking myself off of my medications under doctor supervision and with their blessing, because some of this stuff will f*&$ you up if you just stop taking it

Monday, February 1, 2016

Smart Phones and Credit Card Fraud

About six months ago, I was perusing the Cracked website when I came across an article in their "personal experience" series. The personal experiences range from being a professional dominatrix to what it's like to have a hand transplant (that's rejected).

Six months ago, the personal experience series was about a guy who spent $9,000 playing Game of War, famously advertised using the breasts of Kate Upton and Mariah Carey.

And can I just say that it's awesome that they're using Mariah Carey as a sex symbol? I mean, aside from the whole "objectifying women to get money" thing, she's 46 (or 45, depending on who you ask), and she totally rocks that metal bustier. Look out, Wonder Woman, she's gunning for you!

More to the point, though, I thought that someone spending $9,000 to play a game on their phone was absolutely stupid. How the hell could someone sink that much money into their phone? I thought there was no game on earth that could make me drop that much cash - or, you know, credit - on a silly game. That was what happened to people who had no self control.


No, I haven't lost $9,000 to an iPhone game, but I did spend about $50 over the course of 3 days, without even realizing it. I was playing Bejeweled a lot, and kept seeing ads for Township, which seemed like a more involved version of the Farmville game that initially launched on Facebook 8 years ago (and which I enjoyed playing for a while). I thought, 'That would be a nice change. Something I can dip in and out of periodically throughout the day." I downloaded it. It was free, after all!

Within about three hours, I was out of the valuable T-Bills (not treasury bills, but Township bills) that are required for... everything. Almost everything. I'd misunderstood how they were used, and only realized my error when they were all gone.

No worries, I thought. I'll just buy some more, just this once. Two dollars later, I was charged up, again. Easy.

But things have a way of snowballing, don't they? Instead of checking it occasionally, the game is timed so that some things are ready to be harvested after 1 minute, and some after hours have passed. So if you didn't constantly check in, you might miss the harvest, and with it the opportunity to earn more coins - not T-Bills - that were needed to do... stuff.

You could pay to build a market using the coins, but when you don't have enough building materials at the end of construction - and no contractor to chew out and threaten with a lawsuit - you have to use the T-Bills to buy materials.

And they go quickly.

One building required 100 T-Bills to complete, because the damned train kept delivering the wrong materials. (100 T-Bills is about equal to $5.00)

Fortunately, despite the fact that I eventually spent $50 on the game, I stopped myself after only three days. Three obsessive, can-hardly-watch-Sherlock-because-I'm-playing-the-game days.

This morning, I deleted the game - and the 1500 citizens for whom I'd worked so hard to create a lovely town. I'd started thinking, the night before, 'I need to delete this app. It's a money pit." But I didn't, because then the money I'd already spent would be wasted.

But I decided to drop the game at 6 am, after suffering a night of severe insomnia, possibly (probably) worsened by the game that had become somewhat addictive.

And then it happened.

At 9 a.m. I received a phone call from my credit card company, alerting me to possible fraud.

'Oh, good grief!' I thought. 'This is just what I need!'

Can you see where this is going?

The credit card company had noticed two suspicious transactions from 'a record store' (also known as the iTunes App Store), close together and for larger amounts than were typically charged 'at that location.'

So this afternoon, after guiltily informing my husband that the app had been deleted, and looking sheepish when he said, "It's not like you spent $20 on the game, or anything, right?", I called the credit card company and said, "Nope, that was me."

Except I said it to an automaton, not a real person.

Granted, I downloaded Tetris for my phone, but that doesn't require in-game payments to get ahead, just quick fingers.

Hey, a girl needs some variety in her digital life, right?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Just Okay" is Sometimes Awesome

One of the things about being chronically ill is that I have a lot of bad days. There are a lot of days where I'm stuck in bed all day, feeling as if a vise is squeezing my temples, and the pain medicine I take only gives me so-so relief. And don't even get me started on migraine medications... Triptans are useless.

So when a day like today comes around, and I'm headache-free (knock on wood), and my neck is only hurting a little bit, it's an okay day.

Before this all started - AKA 6 years ago - if I woke up bloated and hormonal, with two or three zits sprouting on my forehead, it was disastrous.

Now, if I wake up bloated and hormonal, with a single zit on my forehead (being Paleo means I rarely break out, now), some slight back/neck pain, and sore legs, that's an okay day. It isn't great, but it's okay.

Okay has become, for me, the new great, is what I'm saying.

Okay is when I have the energy to go to the grocery store by myself, to put a roast in the crock pot, to clean out my car, and work on our taxes.

I need to take a moment to just process the fact that I'm filing an income tax return with a husband this year. Ack!

The thing about being "okay", though, is that I still have to pace myself. When I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the car, my plans to take the groceries home and head out from the house again had to be cancelled. I realized I needed to rest, lest I work myself into a migraine, so my trip to Williams-Sonoma would just have to wait.

So, today was "okay", and I'm fine with that. I'm fine with the burning in my back muscles and neck from leaning over a pile of papers that desperately needed to be filed properly.

I'm fine with the fact that cleaning out my car left me winded - despite the fact that I sat down the whole time.

I'm fine with the sore legs, and the puffy stomach that's retaining water.

I'm fine with it all.

In fact, I'm more than fine: I'm great.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Role in a Jane Austen Novel: Bedridden Lady of Leisure

I'm lying in bed with my dog, Frederic, curled up next to me. In a few minutes, I'll be working on a story I've started - for the tenth time, actually, but I think I really have it, this time - and drinking water.

I'm married, now - Frederic is actually my step-dog, I guess - and my husband is in the living room of our tiny three bedroom house in Houston. I can hear the narrator of Ken Burns' "Civil War" faintly, and last time I peeked into the living room, my beloved husband was working on a needlepoint project: a pillow with "Home Sweet Home" in blocky text at the top, with two palm trees flanking a smiling Predator below.

It's amazing.

No, he didn't know how to needlepoint before he met me. He learned about two months ago, first starting with a kit geared towards 5-year-olds that depicted a dog. The dog is named Toby, and will eventually be framed. The Predator is named Theodore, because we have a thing about naming stuff. (Frederic's current favorite toy is a stuffed fabric bone that has a handle for playing tug-o-war. It's named Bonaparte, because it's a bone that comes apart).

The last time I wrote was about a year ago, I think. Maybe a little less. I was still planning a wedding, at that point, preparing for the best day of my life.

That day has come and gone, and I still feel amazingly blessed. Even more so than I did before.

Our first 6 months of marriage haven't been easy. I was suffering chronic migraines - still am, actually - and my doctor at the time had decided I was faking it, seeing as she couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I guess she thought struggling to live on the 60% pay that came with my short-term disability insurance while paying $500 per month in medical bills was a walk in the park.

I (and my migraines) went back to work, and I averaged 3 days per week, for a while. Then that dwindled to two days per week. I was struggling to make the 30 hours per week I needed to keep my insurance.

I have since found a doctor who believes me, but we aren't any closer to my migraines going away. I was able to take Family and Medical Leave for three months, but when those were up, I ended up resigning my position, with support from my husband.

I have mercury toxicity, which could be contributing to the migraines, and I've since quit eating fish - unless I know where it comes from - and had the mercury-containing fillings in my mouth removed.

Despite all of that, I've had no relief. Occasionally, I'll feel awesome, but if I'm not careful, awesome can turn really quickly into just-kill-me. So I tend not to get out and do much. I'm afraid I'll be thirty minutes from home in my 10-year-old Civic and not be able to get back to our little bungalow.

I'm also seeing a new neurologist, whose office is five minutes away from Chez StrainedConsciousness. She specializes in headaches, unlike my old doctor who treated headaches alongside other neurological illnesses.

So we're still trying to figure out what's wrong with me, and hoping we'll find out sooner, rather than later.

And if that's "sooner", then my old job is still waiting for me. My wonderful boss told me, the day I cleaned out my desk, that the firm wants me back, once I'm healthy again. Even if it's just part-time, at first, I have a place (barring some economic catastrophe that wipes out all of the company's work).

I'm incredibly lucky that my boss is a kind, caring man, who I believe truly cares about his employees. It probably doesn't hurt that he has a daughter my age, either.

While I've been home, I've done a lot of reading - lots of different genres - and a lot of writing. I want to simultaneously write three different stories, but I don't know if I'm capable of that. I'm afraid I'd have difficulty maintaining the individual "voices" each book requires, because one is a young-adult fantasy book, one is an adult fantasy book (but not, you know, bow-chika-bow-wow adult), and one is historical fiction, set in the 1910s-1950s.

I've also considered opening an Etsy shop - don't laugh, now! - to sell embroidery. Not needlepoint, because I doubt people would want to pay $400 for a Christmas stocking, but simpler embroidery that could be framed. I'm still considering it, though my sister's voice is in the back of my head reminding me that I have yet to finish the needlepoint stockings I'm making for my niece and nephew.

So there's simultaneously a lot going on, and nothing going on. Lots of different stressors, but not a lot to do.

So if you have any ideas for what I could do without having to stare at a computer screen, all day, and also ones that I can do while completely horizontal (because sometimes, just sitting up hurts), I'd love to hear them.

Hopefully, they'll give me more to write about than just, you know, whining about my health.