Sunday, August 31, 2003

The Shelley Interview
(Not one of your run-of-the-mill fluff pieces!)

Hello Liz, you're quiz #2.Weehoo! A completely non-school related thing to do/procrastinate with!

Here are your questions. Let me know when your answers are online at your site, and I'll link to you.

Weehoo—or, erps!! I wasn’t thinking about that secondhand-fame factor. Now I better have something up here worth looking at.

1) I am so sorry about the losses you suffered this summer. How are you?
How was your trip? And are your half sisters okay?

Now that is a gigantic, hujambous, multifaceted comment/question. It may have to be answered in stages. Or perhaps just chronologically.

My original plan for summer 2003:

1. Complete schoolwork, gather data for thesis, write up stuff for mentor’s research, go to sister’s wedding, and pack for long-awaited Europe trip.
2. Run off to Europe for July, secure in the knowledge that I have finished everything possible and need not worry about catching up with a bunch of stuff when I get back, so I can just enjoy this trip we’ve been planning for 4 years.
3. Traipse across “the Continent” with a Eurailpass, staying with friends, or else in hostels when absolutely necessary, buying food from local stores and generally spending practically no money at all, other than that saved up for tickets. This will be a restful and pleasant experience.
4. Return home. Spend August at leisure, catching up on things such as writing, painting, and music, since I have had no noticeable break since this program began two years ago. Maybe fit in a few data analyses, develop some plans for running group therapy, etc.
5. Begin fall classes with a clean slate, refreshed and ready to go!

The actuality of summer 2003:

This is all so convoluted, it’s difficult to tease it apart into its components. I would start at the beginning, but that’s at least 35 years ago, as I understand it. There are so many different beginnings to recent events in my life, and they all start at different places and in different decades. So I will start right smack in the middle, and let the ends fall where they may.

I brought a brand-new blank book with me to Europe, thinking that I would feel inspired to write down things I thought of about my mom and brother, as well as every minute detail of whatever we were doing in Europe. So that I would remember everything forever. I am obsessed with not forgetting things, and retrieving as much lost information as possible: pictures, writings, family stories, whatever. I attribute this to having no particular hometown, or home I grew up in, having moved pretty much every year since I was born. (Even now, having lived in this apartment for just two years, I feel like I have put down roots here, and I’m sad about the idea that I probably have only two more years left in it.) I have lost so many important things in my life, that now I feel I have to make sure that anything I care about or want will not be irretrievably lost.

Well, the summer started off okay, with me feeling enthusiastic about school finally, and I got to go to my sister Martha’s wedding and even see my mom for the first time in 8 years.

Turns out she had finally begun to accept the things I had told her about my stepdad oh-so-many years ago, and it also turned out (of course) that he had been doing many of the same things—but getting worse as the years went by—to her and to his own kids. She was referring to him as “the Orc,” and wouldn’t sit at the same table with him at the reception.

I had a lot of conflicting feelings about having a renewed relationship with her (mainly all those times she blamed “the Devil” or my general “evilness” for my “not getting along with” her husband, instead of the abuse.) It really sucks to have no mom, especially when it’s her choice. So I was still going back and forth between feeling all the hurt that I’d put behind me for so many years, and on the other hand excitedly imagining her decorating my (potential) wedding cake and delivering my (potential) children. A couple of days after my sister’s wedding, my mom secretly went to a lawyer with the (borrowed) down payment to start divorce proceedings.

The very next day, she let my 16-year-old brother drive the car as they ran errands in town, and he turned left into the path of a semi going full speed on the highway.

When I heard Martha’s message on my voicemail telling me that Mom and Wolfie were dead, I had a brief, shiningly surreal moment of feeling that I could just forget about it, push the knowledge away, and go right back to my work. I waited for a feeling other than paralysis to beset me. Big shards of strange reality crashed down on me in bizarrely slow motion for the rest of the day, as my current life crumbled and fell away. I tried to tie up as many loose ends as I could, not knowing what would happen or what I would do—I mean, not even for the subsequent hour. The worst thing was hearing my little sister (on her honeymoon, of all the terrible things) sobbing incoherently as she tried to speak. My overwhelming feeling (besides the usual disbelief) was a strange, frustrated yearning, just like when you’ve been running for a train and you arrive at the platform and it’s already moving away: you can reach out and touch it as it passes, but you can’t stop it—it’s that same feeling, but on an unbelievably huge scale. I had seen them only days before! Stop! Turn it back: I can fix it, change it, something, they’re still so close, we could still catch them if only they’d stop for a minute!

But they don’t stop.

At first, I bitterly resented every day that passed, because it was one day further from the time when they had been alive. How could I allow “Why, just this week, she kissed me and told me she loved me!” to become “It was x number of years ago that my mother and brother were killed in a car accident” ?

Funerals in general are strange. Death seriously messes with your sense of reality. More so than drugs, because it doesn’t go away after 24 hours. You wake up, and it’s still happening. And the death of a parent is one of life’s biggest emotional changes. But this particular funeral—knowing I would see the man who used to beat the crap out of me, and knock my mom down on the floor, kneel on her chest, and punch her in the face until it was bloody; someone who used to daily scream at her that she was ugly and stupid and fat and old and horrible—this funeral was just awful. The one good thing was, since my mom was dead, there was no one (important) to try to make me smooth things over with him any more. In effect, she was no longer protecting him, so the gloves could finally come off. Oh yeah. I did finally get to tell him off on the phone, for the first time in my life, which was probably a big shock for him.

So, yeah, watching him sobbing theatrically and telling each mourner in line for hours (it was a loooong line) “She was a good wife—oh, she was the best!” over and over and over again, made me just about puke. But seeing my surviving brother, who is now 18 and whom I haven’t seen since he was a child, weeping alone on a couch, broke my heart. And seeing my three little sisters sitting red-eyed and solemn in the folding chairs in their new little dresses (bought for them, as always, by someone other than their father, of course,) was the saddest thing I have ever seen.

It was really hard having to leave town, knowing the man they would be staying with. And of course, they just have to live way out in the country, so no one can see what he does. Their local social services contacted me, and I told them what I knew, but it’s been so long since I lived there, that they couldn’t really do anything—until he does something else to the girls that can be verified somehow, which is in itself a great thought. Basically, it rests on the girls themselves, which is far too much of a burden for children.

With all that hanging over my head, three weeks later I packed my bags, and went on the trip to Europe. Needless to say, I couldn’t exactly muster the excitement I’d had previously, but I was damned if I was going to stay home from this trip I’d been planning for 18 years, and furthermore had spent boatloads of money on all those non-refundable tickets, anyway. When I was a teenager and we had lived in Europe, my mom had loved it and had always wanted to go back, so I felt like I was kind of doing it in her stead.

The trip was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. Well, some parts were: pretty much everything was extraordinarily beautiful. But it was definitely the furthest thing possible from relaxing. And also the furthest thing possible from cheap! However, the sheer busy-ness of the trip distracted me from being overtly sad a lot of the time, while allowing me a big break from the intense mental labor of school. And I took 720 (seven hundred and twenty!) photos. It has taken me nearly a month to rename them all from things like “DSC 01321” to things that make sense, like “0702_London3.” I want to write a real travelogue about the trip, illustrated with the photos, naturally. (If you want to look at the photos by themselves, with no commentary, click here.*) I have a feeling that it may take another 21 days just to write about the 21 days we were there, so I’m not going to put the details in this entry. The journal I brought with me? There was never any time to write! Maybe on the trains, you would think, but being on a train meant valuable sleeping time. So I have a few full-length entries, then a couple one-paragraph entries, and then it’s all one-liners like “July 17: Venice, gondola, restaurant.” (That date is probably wrong, so don’t memorize it.)

Since I got back, I’ve been trying to get back into my previous enthusiasm for school. Or at least get some basic things done. It’s been pretty hard. I don’t feel like I’m horribly sad—except sometimes when something reminds me of my mom—I just feel like my entire life has been knocked out from under me. I just can’t seem to get into the role of student/therapist/researcher right now—it still seems almost irrelevant. I have been concentrating on getting back to taking care of myself, eating healthy foods and exercising, even when nothing seems to mean anything. And slowly some things have begun to mean something again.

I continue to feel driven by my newly intense, simmering fury towards my mom’s should-have-been-ex-husband—who, by-the-by, has already been looking for a “new” wife online (It says, “Widowed: still looking for the right one” —what, still looking?! After TWO MONTHS? Boy, he shore works slow, don’t he?) It tells something about him that he didn’t even consider that a person (ahem) might think to look him up and discover the crap he wrote to lure some other unsuspecting woman into his creepy lair of religious/military weirdness and violence. It makes me ponder closely the legal limits of Internet deception… and it makes me think that women who look for dates online are really taking their lives into their hands.

The important thing, however, is to keep in touch with the kids, because they won’t be under 18 forever (including the one who is, in fact, now 18.) I know how hard it was to have no one who believed me, or would help me, or knew what was going on.

I have dreams where my mom is getting her stuff ready to go away, and she is leaving her responsibilities to me.

2) Describe your happiest day. (It can be a memory or invented.)

Well, I’m torn between several memories, of such disparate kinds of things!

The first kind of thing is family reunions. Now, you might see it on Jenny Jones, but until you meet a relative that you didn’t know or thought you would never see as an adult, there is no way to describe that feeling. When I was about 25, I met my full sister Lisa, who was given up for adoption as an infant. That day was just unbelievable. I thought she would be a stranger, but she was so obviously my sister that I felt I had always known her, even though I hadn’t even known of her existence until I was 22.

Then, about a year ago, I discovered that my half-sister, Martha, had been looking for me since she grew old enough. (Not surprisingly, no one had told her that she could have just asked our grandma or other relatives.) Martha was born when I was 13, and I took care of her a lot. I felt like she was my little baby. It was terrible to leave home at 18—without her—so it was really wonderful to find that she had been able to ignore all the warnings about how “evil” I am, and look for me anyway. (And by the way, I really don’t think of my siblings as “half”—they seem whole enough to me!)

3) If you could choose to be reincarnated as any person, thing or animal,
what would it be and why?

The problem here is, I think this has already happened. And I'm pretty sure I was living some really boring life, and I said, "you know, what the heck, just give me one with everything!" So here I am today, with this life of really extraordinarily great stuff and really awful stuff, often both at the same time. I'm afraid to ask for any particular life now, because I might get it!

...Okay, maybe a squirrel. Keep your albino panthers and flying horses, I'm going to be a damn squirrel. Hmph.

4) What object(s) from your childhood do you wish you still had?

This is kind of pathetic, but I wish I had my original birth certificate—the fant-see one with my little feet-prints and the name of my real birth father—and also all my baby pictures. I haven’t seen them in years. I used to be kind of okay with that, since at least my mom had them and I might be able to get them some day, but now? Now the stepmonster has them (though he probably hasn’t even thought of that,) and I doubt I’ll ever see them again unless he suddenly ups and dies, too. Now the only birth certificate I can get is a nasty boring plain ol’ typed-out one that has his name on it. (Age: 10! Boy, did that cause consternation at the passport office.)

I also wish I still had some of my weird books, like this entire series of kids’ (or I guess it was probably specifically boys’) mysteries, with this detective-boy named Jupiter Jones. Really nerdy smarty-pants kids solving mysteries with science! It even had its own little wooden book rack. And I also miss a 1977 planner featuring unicorn-painting prints by various artists that my favorite teacher gave me in 4th grade. I dragged that thing around until I was probably 27 or so, but then there were a couple times I had to store all my earthly possessions at friends’ houses, and that’s when things always get lost or thrown out or molded on, or maybe even pilfered when the friends have a party. Darn it. A lot of my other childhood books I was able to find again, once they invented the Internet, thank heavens. There is nothing like having something back you haven’t seen for half of your life. I had tears in my eyes when I got that used copy of “The Golden Treasury of Poetry” from an Amazon shop.

I also desperately wish I still had this silly cassette tape that my best friend and I made when we were 10, featuring a spoofy news program (D-O-R-K-Y-N-O-S-Y news), a few silly skits we made up about the three bears and somebody’s wicked mother-in-law or something, and some songs that we liked from the radio. The most lo-fi thing you ever heard. And a fossilized crinoid (sp?) from a walk I took with my aunt when I was about 6. It looked like a one-inch corn-on-the cob, but made out of rock. Oh, and a tiny plastic toy car and and wagon with moving wheels that I got out of a Cracker Jack box, back when they still had actual prizes instead of pieces of colored paper garbage.

Oh yeah, and a couple of things my mom gave me, like a porcelain Madame Alexander doll (even though I’m not a big doll person) and a blue-and-green flowered blouse she made for me that I wore to shreds. And my microscope! Yeah! That was cool. I think somebody at our church got it for me. And I also had this great screwdriver set, which sounds like a strange thing for a kid to like, but it was great. In a little translucent plastic case were several tiny screwdrivers with multicolored handles that looked like Jolly Ranchers (the stepfather immediately broke them, of course. And while I’m wishing, how about that $100 savings bond I won in a reading contest and saved for years, that he immediately took without even telling me, as soon as he married my mom?!)

…My friends from the various places I lived, though of course they’re not actually objects.

The one thing that I maddeningly can’t seem to find even on the Internet? The theme song from that ‘70s detective series, “The Streets of San Francisco.” My mom would always watch that show just as I was going to bed, which of course made me want to stay up and watch it. I haven’t been able to remember how that music goes for about 25 years, and it drives me mad—mad, I tell you!!

[Later: for those who have sent me links of where this can be found, thank you! I did look for it after I put this up and discovered that it has been posted all over the internet since I last looked. Yay!]

5) If you had your own personal theme song, what would it be?

(Well, probably not “The Streets of San Francisco”!)

Can you doubt, with my Wonder Woman outfit, that it would have to be the theme song from the Wonder Woman series?! But kind of in the way of, “if I have this theme song and outfit, then I darn well better be taking care of all this crap I have to do,” so it’s more an encouragement than anything else. Otherwise, I might crouch in my closet all day, muttering “Can’t ever possibly get done all the stuff I have to do! Can’t do it!”

For a (relatively) updated background of why I'm so darn bitter, click here.

*If you click over to the Europe photos, don't be tempted to look at the main page. Or if you do, then don't click on the red button that says "CLICK". Or if you do click on it, then don't be scared when a bunch of crazy crap pops up and looks like a virus. It's not. It's to scare my stalker, who is still checking in at that page, nine months after I took it down completely. Whatta loser. My sister Lisa made the fake-scary page.

I still need three more interviewees so's not to Break This Chain of Love. Ha.
So email me. You must have a website. (Of which I at least marginally approve.)

Friday, August 29, 2003

Although lately I have a heck of a time staying awake past 10pm (it's not age! It's my schedule, dangit!) last night I went to the observatory on campus to join with other nerds and view the mystic specter of Mars.

The best part was probably just the atmosphere of excitement, and being outside at night on the roof in the summer. The astronomy club had, in addition to the main scope at the observatory, several smaller scopes (they brought from home?) set up on the roof. Deck. Whatever it is.

I looked through most of them, and one of the smallest ones had the best image, even better than the ginormous one poking through the roof.

However, Mars still looked like a little glowing peach-colored blob, with a light spot on it. It felt momentous, but you wouldn't know it from what you saw through the telescope. Unless you do that sort of thing all the time, then you'd definitely know something big was going on.

Mars links

Malin Space Science Systems Image Index

Kids' Page of Mars . (They always explain stuff better for kids!)

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Mintbug update!

I ended up sending some specimens of those bugs to an entomologist at MSU. He replied with a detailed letter that identified it as a Cottony Cushion Scale insect. He also requested that I call him because it is really strange to see it in Michigan, and is normally a tropical bug. I was going to post the contents of the letter, but I don't have it with me. Oh, well.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Because my mom moved so many times when I was growing up, I lost track of many people who were part of my childhood. I don't even have a specific house I can point to and say "There's where I grew up!" It makes me feel my childhood has disappeared.

Since the advent of the Internet, I have frequently remembered this or that person with whom I used to be friends in elementary school, or who taught music, or was a neighbor, or whatever. Some of these people I have been able to find, which pleases me no end. With others I have had little luck. Often there are many people with their exact name. So I am going to post the names and a brief description of some people I still wish I could get in contact with. I know I have looked myself up online from time to time, and maybe someday they will too!

People from Urbana, IL, ca. 1970s:

Jennifer/Jenny Savage
--Leal Elementary, and our moms were friends. I saw you again around 1991, when we were both around 22 or so. Last I heard you were in Seattle, but there seem to be a lot of Jenny Savages out there now.

Stephen/Steve Bodnar
--Leal Elementary. We both planned to be scientists when we grew up, and spent a lot of time at the library together. You had a house with a pond, and we looked at mosquitos under my microscope.

Jeff Shanholtzer
--We went to church together and also played army, looked for UFOs, and went to the antiques store down the street, where the owner gave you a toy gun for free.

People from Harbor Beach, MI, ca. 1980s:

Jennifer Booms
--We were "smart girls" at Harbor Beach high school--how uncool! I went to Norway as an exchange student our senior year. I think you went on to become a physician, maybe in California?

People from various countries, ca. 1980s:

Gabi/Gabrielle Arndt --Weddingstedt, aus von Heide, Deutschland
--We rode the bus together to Heide. You had a German Shepard dog named Timo, and your dad was in the military. We talked about boys a lot!

Val/Valerie Keen -- Sula, outside of Langevaag, Norway
--You were an exchange student from New Zealand, and I was an exchange student from the U.S. You gave a me my first (and last!) surprise party! You made a Pavlova the first time Mimi and I came over to visit you. The last I heard from you, you were

Mimi/Marian(Marion?) Marie Stryker
--You were an exchange student also from Michigan the same year I was. I have looked for you at various times, but it seems you've moved almost as much as me!

Maggie Haase--You were also an American in Norway, but you got married and changed your name really soon after. I have no idea where you went!

Anyone! -Who was involved in that whole Rotary thingummy...

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

For everyone whom I’ve somehow failed to keep updated with for the last few…weeks? Months? Maybe it seems like years?!
Well, anyway, here’s the blow-by-blow account of what’s been going on, keeping me from contacting you! (For anyone considering grad school, let this be a shot over your bow.)

Before this semester, I was doing at least some of my schoolwork in advance, that is—longer than 24 hours before it was due. Sometimes weeks before it was due! This is mainly because the kinds of final projects we do now take me so unbelievably long, like 20-30 hours or something, that there is no way to even fool myself that I can do them all during the last week of the semester, especially since other parts of my workload are still going full blast. (Oh, how lovely it was in undergrad, when there was only full-time classes, and part-time work, not full-time classes+practicum+research+clients.)

So anyway. This past semester began with a workload trauma at my practicum, which made January and February a nightmare. I mean, I was literally having nightmares, it was so heinous. And of course, there was no “wiggle room” as far as the other elements of school—I still had to do all that other stuff, too. Since UM had a different week of spring break than we did, I also worked over my “spring break.” Luckily for me, my grad advisor was merciful and let up on me a lot. Pretty much all I did for her was grade undergraduate papers, so at least my GA component was tolerable.

March might have been okay, except I had a boatload of paperwork to catch up on from the “nightmare” period. Classes, and my practicum, ended on the 27th of April. That meant that I had three weeks in April to do all the final work for everything: 5 papers and reports and also a couple presentations, the HSRC application for my thesis, and closing out all the files and paperwork on about 25 clients, as well as grading undergraduate papers. If you know long it takes me to do reports and papers, you may begin to get an idea of how long this was all going to take. (I even had to skip my “one-afternoon-a-week” that I usually see Dave, once or twice!) I remember going into my “office” at school (i.e. tiny windowless concrete cinder-block hole inside a hallway maze on the 5th floor) just to sit there and cry from stress for a few minutes, because there was just no other relief!

So here’s how April went:

Week 1: I make a giant strip of paper that stretches across my livingroom floor as a calendar of April, because I have so much to get done I have to actually look at the tasks laid out in a row of squares or I will forget to do them from sheer quantity. Work on the projects I begin takes, of course, about three times as long as I generously estimate. Like, 30 hours instead of 10, for example. Let me tell you, thirty hours on one subject in front of the computer over two days—trying to figure out really complicated crap and not just typing or surfing the internet—is @&%@#& tiring. And there are no days of rest in between! I am really desperately looking forward to the 1-week break between spring and summer classes, particularly since I didn’t actually get a spring break this year. I feel like I haven’t had a break since last summer, since over the winter break I was so exhausted all I did was sleep that week, plus I was at someone else’s house.

Week 2: More stuff is coming due, and I’m feeling frantic, because everything is taking me so damn long! MMPI paper, grading, Rorschach report. I’m still following the practicum schedule of: leave home at 8 am, get home at 9 pm. And Wednesday is still filled with classes basically from 9 am to 9 pm. So that leaves Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and maybe a couple hours of Monday to do the 30 or 40 or…50 hours of work I’m talking about. My dishes go undone, and there’s no time to even buy groceries any more. My lower back is starting to hurt from all this constant, intense sitting, but I hardly have time to shower or eat, let alone go for a walk or whatever. I learn that my practicum supervisors wanted me to stop seeing clients before my last week there, to finish up paperwork, so the upshot is that now I will still be going there during my “break” between spring and summer, dammit!! The one thing that is moving me forward is the thought of our Europe trip this summer, and I have gotten the tickets and begun to look for places to stay.

Week 3: Okay, all the final stuff is due this week, and I also have to terminate therapy with several long-term clients. This is not some sudden thing, it’s gone the way it was supposed to and they have all done well, but the stress and exhaustion makes me even more emotional about ending relationships with people I’ve grown attached to. There’s a party for the interns who are also finishing their turn at the same practicum, and ostensibly for me too. I feel it mainly points out how isolated I’ve felt there: partly because I was the only practicum student, and also because right when I was beginning to feel comfortable in my role there and wanted to reach out to people and make friends, was exactly when I had the nightmarish client overload and became a de facto recluse, seeing others only in the halls. I mainly feel lonely and exhausted, and my back pain has become so bad that even a client could tell that’s what it was, during his final session. I turn in the class projects I have finished, without even the solace of feeling I did them well, even after taking 30 or 50 hours or whatever, because there’s simply too much going on to do a good job on stuff. I have a couple meetings with my advisor and some of her other assistants about beginning new work on her research. I go out on one night with some of my cohorts, which is fun, but somehow makes my back worse instead of better. Vanessa visits on Saturday, and we spend the day mostly walking around Ann Arbor and shopping, which hurts my back even more. I am still assuming my back thing is some kind of muscle spasm and fixable with a martini, or maybe a massage and some yoga.

Week 4: Classes are over, for the next week. However, instead of having a week to lie in bed like a lump, as I really need to, I must go in to my practicum for about 25 hours. Of sheer sitting and furious typing. My back is really bad, and I have decided it’s time to finally fork out the $200 and go to Dave’s chiropractor. I have an appointment for Friday. All I really do this week is be at my practicum and be in pain—oh yeah, and I did the dishes finally, and some laundry. My stepmother calls and wants to arrange a time to come and visit me and have Christmas, since no one really did that this year, so I suggest the following weekend, before my classes start up again.


Week 1: Appointment day arrives. I can barely drive the car or walk into the chiropractor’s office, let alone turn over on the squishy table. I get X-rays and everything, the whole deal. It takes 2 hours, mostly examination. Turns out I have an inflamed disk from sitting so damn much! Imagine that. My lowest vertebra is tilted forward a bit, from some childhood instance of falling on my behind most likely, so sitting a whole lot is apparently even worse for me than for most people in general. The adjustment comes last, and the crunching part is kind of fun and doesn’t really hurt any more than it already did. And I liked seeing the X-ray of my spine. The only part of it that hurts is trying to turn over. And then—trying to get up. The doctor has to bodily pick me up into a sitting position. Since the vertebrae right around that already inflamed disk have now been moved around, this is amazingly agonizing! My hair stands on end, and I am shaking so much from pain that my teeth are chattering. I can’t relax my arms, since they are holding my body away from the table. Standing up is absolutely out of the question! It takes me a while to even get out of the office. Driving hurts like crazy, as does…everything, really. It ends up taking hours, after I finally get home, of lying down and taking Advil and icing my back for the pain to subside somewhat. It hurts every time I move any part of my body. The doctor wants me to return for a follow-up the next day, but I have a 12-hour Saturday seminar on group psychotherapy that will require—you guessed it—constant sitting >sigh<.

If I hadn’t been anticipating this seminar for months (and even gotten a scholarship to attend it) I absolutely wouldn’t have gone. But I do go, with an ice pack, and a lot of Advil. I lie down on the couches in the lobby during the (few!) breaks. It really makes the whole experience extra weird and surreal, to do all this extremely personal intellectual and emotional work, in front of a room full of complete strangers, all while my back is in terrible pain. The next day (Sunday), my family visitors arrive. Luckily, they don’t get here until about 2 or 3, so I have time to do the dishes and straightening that I have been forced to neglect. (I take a lot of half-hour ice-pack breaks.)

The back thing hurts like crazy for a long time. Basically anything that’s not lying down: such weird activities as “sitting,” “standing,” and “walking” allow the weight of the top half of my body to crush down on that poor little disk. And you can just forget such exotic activities as “carrying stuff, like textbooks,” “washing the dishes,” or “taking out the trash.” Which makes the next week very annoying:

Week 2: Classes begin again. (Oh, yay, sitting!)

So, there you have it. Every wretched detail I forgot to tell you or just didn’t have time to email because there was so much going on! (Kinda glad you didn’t get to hear about it as it happened, aren’t you?) Yes, my back is incrementally better every day—as long as I don’t spend too much time putting weight on it—and I have another appointment on the 17th. I look forward to this getting better so I can get back to what puny amount of weightlifting and yoga I was doing before all this!

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

UTI (AKA bladder/urinary tract infection; cystitis; "honeymoon" cystitis)

*This advice is not meant to substitute for the care of a physician* ...should you be among the lucky few who still have health insurance in the first place....>sigh<
Of all remedies I have compiled, this is by far the most often requested and used by others, apparently with success.

If you've had one before, the symptoms are unmistakable. The medical description of "burning upon urination" doesn't do justice to how it actually feels, and also doesn't mention that a) instead of peeing (and burning) a few times a day, you are suddenly hitting the restrooms several times an hour, and b) that agonizing "burning" doesn't stop in between, either! (It's one of those things that pretty much takes up all your attention.)

You may also experience lower abdominal pressure or pain, changes in odor or color of urine, and various other symptoms. (If you really don't know, go look up the symptoms on Google and then come back here for the remedy.) The first time I had this kind of infection, I didn't know what it was and ended up at the ER only a couple days later, passing a lot of blood and passing out.

Why did you get this? Main reason: you are run down or your body is chronically stressed for some reason, maybe pregnancy. Secondary reason (if you are a woman, which is more common), there is a much shorter distance from the outside world of bacteria to our tender little bladders than there is for men, if you think about our different anatomies. Tight pants, synthetic-fiber panties, thongs, all that stuff contributes, too.

The important thing with a UTI is to immediately treat it. That means if you have symptoms in the afternoon, none of this "I'll see if it's better in the morning" business whereby you fool yourself into imagining it may remit on its own. You go that night and get the stuff. If you have symptoms in the morning and you are at work, do not wait until the end of the day to take care of it. You have to go out on your lunch break and get the stuff and start treating it right there at work that afternoon. Do not wait to treat this!!

Going to the store may seem like a hardship because chances are, you are exhausted and overworked and have way too much to do. Well, that's how you got the thing in the first place. So now you have to earnestly help your body out of the trouble you got it into by neglecting it. Leaving a UTI untreated is dangerous business: a bladder infection is bad enough of itself, but it can crawl up into your kidneys just like that, and then into your liver. Nobody likes nephritis or hepatitis. So to use an adversarial metaphor, you hit it right away, and you hit it hard! You hear me?! Alright, then. Here's the deal.

This is a three-day treatment (three full 24-hour days), beginning (of course) the day you first notice symptoms. If you do not show marked improvement by the middle of the next day, then you make an appointment to see your physician (or campus clinic, Planned Parenthood, Redi-care, whatever) ASAP. (Otherwise you may end up in the ER anyway, which costs a heck of a lot more than those things.)

I prefer to use a combination of allopathic (western medical) components and naturopathic (traditional) components. So far, I have never had this not work (i.e. ended up at the doctor) since I started using it, even if I omit the allopathic components. Typically my symptoms remit by the first morning.

The naturopathic elements may be in the form of teas, juices, capsules, or (if you're lucky) fresh leaves. If they are not to be used in teas, then make sure you are also drinking three or four glasses/cups of fluid at each administration (preferably water or juice).

Allopathic over-the-counter components:

• Cystex (methenamine & sodium salicylate) antibacterial
• Azo brand UTI test strips
• Vagisil (for external symptoms)

Naturopathic components:

• Emergen-C fizzing vitamin C drink packets (approx 1000mg each)
• Dandelion root
• Burdock root
• Nettle leaves
• Echinacea
• Cranberry (unsweetened juice if at all possible)
• Tea tree oil soap (for external use)

• (optional: live-culture plain yogurt, chickweed )

Typically, I go by the following schedule:

• 4X daily: Cystex, dandelion, burdock, nettle, echinacea, cranberry. Since many of these come in tea or juice form, I drink the teas/juices and use them to wash down whatever's in capsule form. At least three glasses or cups of fluid should be included each "dose." Keep flushing your system out!

• Morning and evening: wash externally with tea tree oil soap, use Vagisil if desired to relieve any external itching. (You can also apply plain yogurt or buttermilk externally to help your bacteria balance. Eating yogurt or buttermilk is not a bad idea, either.) Then put on clean, loose-fitting cotton panties.

• Morning of the day after you first notice symptoms: start using the UTI test strips. I prefer Azo, which seems to detect the infection despite all the vitamin C (which can mask results in UTI test strips). Test for several mornings thereafter.

• Increase sleep! This is important for fighting off any infection. Don't tell yourself you can do without. This is not the time to push it.

• Sorry, but no sex of any kind for a couple of days. (This is often one of the main vectors for the bacteria in the first place.) Less tissue irritation is the goal here.

If you don’t get any results on the test strips the first morning, that’s great—now keep up the treatment for the full three days. If you had symptoms, something is going on with your bladder, and it’s better to nip it in the bud then let it get out of hand. It is also possible you flushed out the main infection in the first day, but if you stop treating it, it could grow back quickly. It is further possible that you are getting a false negative due to the vitamin C (also in fruit juices), so don’t get too overoptimistic and bail. Stick with it!

Chevallier, A. (1996). The encyclopedia of medicinal plants. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Duke, J. A. (1997). The green pharmacy. New York: St. Martin.

Weed, S. S. (1986). Wise woman herbal for the childbearing year. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree.

Weed, S. S. (1989). Wise woman herbal healing wise. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree.

Weil, A. (1995). Spontaneous healing. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

White, L. and Foster, S. (2002). The herbal drugstore. New York: Penguin

Saturday, May 03, 2003

These bugs have been appearing on my household mint plants since I moved in. They suck out the juice and kill the plants. They're about 1/4 inch long, and don't ever appear to move. From the side they look a lot like little scrubbing bubbles. WEIRD.

A side view:

Friday, May 02, 2003

One lovely summer a couple of years ago, I desperately wished to go to a summer fair. I kept missing the ones I tried to go to, for some reason. My roommate Janette and I decided to drive around and find one, since I had a vague idea that one was going on south of town. Unfortunately, when we got there, the field was mostly bare except for a few closed-up snack stands that were being hitched up to be towed away.

By way of consolation, Janette drew me an eloquent picture of the kind of men I could expect to be accosted by at a fair. I saved it a long time, and finally had the chance to scan it and post it!

Here, for your entertainment, is the picture:

I got the photos of my spine and pelvis from my chiropractor today. He has a very cool in-office file systems in which the x-rays are made into jpgs.

You can see that my spine is actually crookedy because my right leg is shorter than the other. The lines drawn on the pelvis x-ray are the level lines where my hips should actually be going. Apparently, this is the case for most people! Who knew? (Probably other chiropractors.)

There is also a problem with my lowest vertebra. It's tilted backwards or forwards or something, but you can't really see it in these pictures. That is actually the thing that has been giving me all the trouble, however.

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