Author Archives: Arcati81

The Great Escape

Every year, so I have been told, I get a year older. It’s a pretty meaningless contruct in every way except for the obvious marking of the passage of time. I feel the same every birthday, the same as the year before, not one lick older. Basically, I have never felt like a Grown Up.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m doing a lot of grown up things because I’m supporting myself, have worked at the same company for ten years, pay bills, file taxes, have a mortgage, all that. But I’ve always felt like I was doing these things while being outside of the realm of adulthood.

Until now.

To celebrate my 34th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I took a couple of days off from work and did many fun things. I got a massage and ate delicious food and drank wine and expertly crafted gourmet cocktails. I wore a dress each day and waltzed around feeling pretty.

On Sunday night, I was curled up on the couch relaxing, centering myself for the return to real life the following Monday…

When I got a phone call. From the Collingswood Police Department. And then from Camden County Animal Control.

We are lucky enough to have a fenced in backyard at our house. We have a dog door that allows our little terrors to go in and out as they please. Unfortunately, we recently discovered that the dogs (especially the puppy) are good at leaping over short fences, ramming holes into older wood fencing, and getting out of the yard and running amuck around the neighborhood. Wes and I have been patching the holes as we find them, but ultimately we realized that we had to get new fencing installed.

I had already started the process of finding a contractor to do this for us when I got the phone calls from various county authorities. I was informed that Lola had gotten out, trotted all the way over to the vicinity of the police station, and gotten into a fight with some other dog around there. I was then informed that Lola had been taken to the Camden County Animal Shelter (henceforth to be referred to as Dog Jail) and would be spending the night there and that I could come bail her out the next morning.

It was then that I realized that I was a grown up. Not only was I attempting to find the best priced contractor for a vinyl fencing installation, but now I had to go to Dog Jail to bail out my hooligan dog (a hooligan dog WITH A TROUBLED PAST) after she’s spent the night in the, er, dog tank? To think about what she’s done.

I called out from work and retrieved the pooch. This is her in the backseat of my car that morning. I don’t think she thought about any of this at all at any point during the night:

Lola Dog Jail

I then called two more fence companies and arranged for consultations that day, went grocery shopping, did laundry, patched more holes in the fence, tripped over debris in the yard injuring my hand, went for a run, made dinner, and then fell asleep on the couch while attempting to watch a show.

Adulting like a boss.

I then realized that working myself to the bone with mundane adultness was perhaps not the kindest way to treat myself. And thus the sticker chart was born, to make sure I do things like draw and eat and all that.

Here’s hoping that the dogs stay out of trouble while we’re waiting for the fence project to be completed. Although, if they get “arrested” again, I might ask the shelter to take a “mug shot” of them. Lola has a great “Man, this is the worst thing ever” face.

“Because it’s there” or “Oh, my aching hip gosh darnit!”

Ten years ago I had the great fortune to go to Yosemite with my parents as a college graduation gift. It is a truly gorgeous and awe-inspiring place. Nothing at all could ruin its amazing vistas.

Nothing except for, perhaps, being completely out of shape and unprepared for Real Hiking. Most of the hiking in Yosemite is of the Ass-Kicking® variety and if you want to see the views that truly make the park great, you should not be faint of heart.

The trail head for the three vertical mile trek up to the top of Yosemite Falls is, no joke, boulders. You have to climb over boulders to get to the first steep path. Needless to say, I was feeling done for pretty early in the game, and then I remembered that I’d have to hike back down again. My mother, who has a runner’s lungs and heart, practically flew up the trail. My dad would have also if he had hiking boots on that actually fit him. His shoes made him hobble along and my inferior lung capacity made me do the same.

At one point, I got some stupid idea in my head that running up a few switch-backs would solve some issue I was having. It, unsurprisingly, didn’t, and instead it was the first time in my life I thought my heart was going to explode and that I was perhaps going to pass out and roll down the mountain, hitting every cactus and fuzzy marmot in my path.

marmot

I also somehow managed to yank something in my left hip, rendering me a limping mess for the remainder of the trip. Luckily, this hike was going to be the toughest we were planning on. Impressively, this injury still haunts me whenever I am super active (running, hiking, long walks, etc.).

Back then I said to myself, “Never Again”. Never again would I go to some kick-ass natural wonderland and not be able to fully enjoy it due to the shitty condition of my respiratory system!

Of course, that triumphant statement didn’t seemingly inspire me to actually get into shape. I went to Colorado and hiked (slowly and steadily) to the top of the Continental Divide and managed not to die and enjoyed the process somewhat, but I still was disappointed in myself for not finding the hikes invigorating, and instead finding them on this side of debilitating.

Which brings us up to now. Wes and I decided that we would go to Yosemite together next year to celebrate five years of Wedded Bliss. I think Amber’s going to come too, because hiking around and living in a sweet cabin for a week is much more her kind of vacation than Disneyworld. Wes and I want to hiking every other day with trips to local wineries in between.

Sounds delightful, right? Yes, it does! BUT it will only be truly delightful to me if I can enjoy the hiking and that means get my thirty-four year old ass into shape, once and for all. And by “once and for all”, I mean figure out how to do it, get there, and then maintain it.

To me, being in shape for serious hiking means having fabulous respiratory health and capacity, increased strength, and wicked flexibility. Respiratory health means not getting out of breath after getting over a couple of moderately sized boulders, and it means quicker recovery after harder parts of the trail. Strength means my muscles are prepared to hold me up and get me up those steep inclines. Flexibility means that if I do something weird, or fall, or whatever, I am less likely to get really hurt.

At least, this is my current theory about all this. I haven’t read any books on the subject and am kind of talking out my ass, but these fitness goals seem legit enough to try focusing on.

Yoga is my attempt at flexibility and it’s helping. My hip and other problem joint things feel much better when I’m practicing yoga consistently. The trick right now is to pick a schedule and stick to it. While I like the idea of going to a 6am class every morning and starting my day in such a positive way, it’s really rough to consistently get myself out of bed that early. The studio I go to offers tons of evening classes as well, so I just need to commit to when I’m going just like my art classes or work.

Yoga helps with strength building as well, but I think I also should work in some kind of weight training along with it. I don’t want to do anything super elaborate, but I should learn how to use dumbbells and all that. I have a gym membership that would be good for that.

Finally, Wes and I decided that the most efficient and effective way to get out hearts and lungs into shape was with running.

I’ve tried this before, but my experience has shown me that it is damn hard to get in shape enough for running to be enjoyable. I tried the Couch to 5K program but the fun to benefit ratio was just not good enough. Plus, I was doing the program myself so I had no one to commiserate with. Wes had similar experiences, but admitted that he never felt healthier than when he was running regularly.

And so it was that I found Up and Running. We’re almost done week 2 of their 5K course and it’s hard but better for a number of reasons.

  1. I paid for it, which holds me a bit more accountable to actually doing it. For the price, I get eight training plans, one for each week of the program. I also get access to the course blog, which has a lot of interesting and useful information. For instance, next week I will be learning about nutrition for the runner, and you all know how fascinated with that I am!
  2. Each week involves different warm-up exercises and approaches to the week’s running, so it’s easier to stay engaged.
  3. Wes and I are doing all the workouts together. We do them after work or on weekend mornings. We hold each other accountable for getting out and doing the thing. This is really the biggest motivator for me. We are relying on each other to not weasel out.

So, that’s happening and I’m still slow and get winded easily, but I’m going to keep going! It also turns out that a lot of the feeling lousy issues I was dealing with had more to do with not exercising than what I was or wasn’t eating. Or, at least, if there are some food issues, exercise seems to keep them at bay.

I set some other goals for daily/weekly achievements and have a sticker chart. On it, I have things like eating a bunch of veggies every day and drinking enough water and also a list of household chores that I officially take responsibility for and trying to delegate everything else. We started getting help every other week from a cleaning service (so lovely…there are things I just don’t have to think about now) and we were introduced recently to FreshDirect for online grocery shopping. I “went” shopping this morning and we’ll be getting our first delivery tomorrow afternoon. I’m pretty sure this is completely amazeballs, but I’ll know for sure tomorrow. I’m excited about having ways to free up time for me to do more things like exercise, art, music, silly video games, an, you know, maybe sitting down sometimes.

Last night, Amber was like “did you schedule enough time for putting stickers on the sticker chart?” I told her that I CAN PLAY WITH STICKERS FOR AS LONG AS I WANT BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT AMBER. She asked snarkily, “Won’t that cut into something else???”

Whatever, Amber. There’s always time for stickers.

The Broken Record Files: Trying to Figure Out the Wellness of Me

[Content Note: Food Talk, Exercise Talk, Stress Management]

In January, I managed to start and keep up some great habits. Most weeks, I went to a morning yoga class four or five days a week. I was having an easier time with Whole30 eating and reaping more benefits. Basically, I felt great and enjoyed installing some more structure to my life.

totes amaze

Then I went to Disneyworld and was all out of whack by the time I got back. I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get out of bed for yoga. I haven’t been feeding myself properly during the day and am usually too lazy to put lunch together in the evening or any of that. I’ve been going out to lunch a lot and taking everyone out to dinner for food I want when I am stress eating. My non-savings account is negative, a thing I didn’t worry about at all in January.

Grumpy Cat

I guess I figured that would happen. But I didn’t expect to have my entire new program rewritten to the old one! Sigh. Living the healthiest, happiest life for me takes a whole lot of effort! WHO KNEW?!?

Everyone. Everyone knows this.

Anyway, I’m still in analysis mode, trying to figure out the best way to proceed and commit. And I am finding new things all the time that I have to pay attention to on the road to feeling well and energized every day.

I have started by identifying what about January I liked the most and how to best make those things permanent aspects of my life. I liked feeling awake in the morning, and sleepy at bed time. I liked all the stability I had going on, both emotionally and physically. I liked having money to save and to purchase things that were not food. I liked the general feeling of success I had, knowing that I was making kick-ass decisions for my own wellbeing. I liked that I was spending money on things that would last and added to hobbies I enjoyed. I was buying things I wanted to wear, or equipment for working out, or art supplies, or just silly toys that made me happy. I liked that I wasn’t just spending all of my money almost immediately.

In addition to all that emotional stuff, I have just not been feeling great. I assumed that it was because of sugar and bread, and I’m sure they don’t help. But I think this may be more due to very specific foods and activities.

I still got headaches during my Whole30. I’ve had frequent headaches throughout my life and ibuprofen is one of my BFFs. I assumed that having no processed sugar spikes would clear that right up, but I was still taking Advil every day. Granted, the headaches were less severe than I often get them, but they were still there. I assumed this was due to subpar caloric intake, since when you’re eating whole foods, most of which are vegetables and fruit, it’s easy to not actually get enough calories. I upped my fat consumption a bit which helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

When we were in Disneyworld, most days I took a few doses of Advil. We went through Advil like it was going out of style between my nagging headaches and the onset of Jessie’s cold. I assumed that my aches were due to the sudden change in diet, full days of walking around a lot, and all that stuff that comes along with vacation. Again, I’m sure that all contributed. But when I got back to work, I started having really bad headaches every day!

At first, I thought that it was sugar withdrawal, since I cut back a lot when we got home. But it was so persistent and relatively severe, that I started to think there must be something else going on.

Well, first, there’s always stress and I do my best to plow through, triumphantly bellowing “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” to remind myself that stress is temporary and can be handled in my privileged life. So same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

So, since stress isn’t new to me, there must be some other factors to consider.

Look, the scientific method is awesome, OK? I know you are riveted.  I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must care at least a little bit?

Today, I don’t have a headache at all. Thursday and Friday were nasty and Monday, I almost went home because it was so bad. What gives? Like any red-blooded American, I went to the internet and also consulted with Amber who knows a ridiculous amount about this kind of thing.

Long story short, I have a few things to look into:

  1. Dehydration – This is an ongoing struggle for me, so an uptick in water consumption is definitely needed. Amber has been adding fresh fruit to her glasses of water because it seemingly helps her body actually absorb it. Adding fruit means adding electrolytes and your body is all “hell yeah, I’m thirsty”, so the theory goes. I haven’t tried that yet, but I am intrigued.
  2. Exercise – On Thursday and Friday of last week, I got it together and went to yoga classes in the evening and in both cases, the yoga really helped with my almost ibuprofen-resistant headaches. I tried out Yin yoga on Thursday night and from a stress relief standpoint, it’s great. You hold sitting stretches for five minutes at a time and they are really easy and you can use pillows. It doesn’t do much for strength, but it’s definitely a lovely way to chill the heck out. Vinyasa is more effective for pain relief and has a lot more physical benefits, I think. It’s aerobic and strengthening. So I like having both of them in my practice. On Friday, I was in a miserable mood and an hour of yoga really helped and my head was fine. Then this morning, I shoveled a lot of snow for, like, 40 minutes. I never really consider these physically intensive things we have to do as grownups as exercise because they fall into the category of “chore” before “physical exertion”. But after several days of not getting any focused physical activity, I’m thinking that it really helped with my head.
  3. “Weird” Food Things – The common denominator, other than lack of consistent exercise was that I went back to having some Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar and nuts as the bulk of my breakfast. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, according to the internet, both cheese (especially significantly aged cheese) and nuts (especially almonds) are possible migraine triggers. My guess at the moment is that eating them both together could have given my body a double whammy (I also ate cashew butter and almond butter on the bad days) and make my head scream. I’m also guessing that nuts might be bigger culprit here since I didn’t eat any dairy when I was doing the Whole30 and still suffered pain. Apparently, another big possible migraine trigger is red wine (SAY IT AIN’T SO…just kidding, I have gotten tons of red wine headaches.)

So, given these hypotheses, tomorrow morning I am going to drag myself out of bed, hell or high water, to go to yoga in the morning and then, because I consider my body a science experiment apparently, I’m going to eat some almonds and see what happens. If nothing, then I will eat some cheese and see what I can see. And hopefully I will end this (possibly painful) experiment knowing more about the chemistry of me.

Going back to my original thoughts, seeing that I know that I feel better when I’m eating certain things and none at all of others, why is it so darn hard to only eat those things? Well, that all comes down to emotional eating!

I’ve never thought of myself as an emotional eater, especially because I don’t overeat easily. When I was a kid, I definitely ate out of boredom (this is one of the reasons I got into baking. The process of baking was fun and something to do, and I got a product from it). I don’t do that very much anymore. But I definitely use food as a coping mechanism and as a reward and that’s why my money disappears into the pockets of restaurateurs everywhere. So, no, I don’t overeat, but I definitely overspend!

When I’m celebrating, I always think of food I want first and want to take everyone out to get some. The same exact thing happens (much more often) when I’m feeling emotionally crappy and/or stressed. I want comfort food and I want everyone to come with me to eat it. This is a really unhelpful habit, as you might imagine. When I drink wine as a response to stress, I hardly ever just drink one glass. I usually have two or more without really thinking about it. It’s not really because I’m looking to get drunk (red wine instantly calms me within the first couple of sips). I think I just have some subconscious response that says “What a crappy day. More wine. DO IT”.

I’ve been looking into ways to break this habit by finding better ways to soothe stress or reward myself. There are a lot of options. The key is to figure out how to make those things my go-to things, thus relegating wine drinking for when I just feel like having a tasty glass of wine here and there (like when Wes and I go wine tasting, which I really enjoy). As for comfort food, well, that will be relegated to the sometimes also and if I commit to Whole30 eating for a more extended period of time, it is likely that I will find foods that serve a calming purpose that are also beneficial in other ways.

What are these options, then?

  1. A hot shower or bath, having fuzzy PJs to get into, and trying new and delicious teas.
  2. Evening yoga! This actually feels more treat-like than the morning sessions because I go after a day of work, where stress levels likely increase. It serves as both a stress reliever and a reward because I know I’m doing something good for myself.
  3. Online Shopping! Shopping at malls or other brick and mortar stores isn’t usually all that fun for me. When I go to a mall, it’s because I have something very specific that I need and I plan to go right for it. Big stores tend to tire me out quickly and bring on stress. But browsing dresses on Modcloth or putzing around on Amazon for things I’d like to have is a fun little activity and, since I save so much money not eating out because I’m eating properly, sometimes I can buy one of those things I want.
  4. Art time! Making the conscious decision to set time aside for me to sit at my neato drawing desk and work on a new piece is great. To make it even more special, I often get some kind of aromatherapy candle to have burning while I work and other things to make it cozy.
  5. Television and movies with the Fam and hanging out with my silly dogs!
  6. Hanging out in Amber’s Room! She has a silly cat who amuses me greatly. Also snuggles. Also an array of hilarious objects she has collected over time. Also cuddles.
  7. Crossword puzzles and Candy Crush and other silly games.
  8. Cooking delicious food and knowing that it’s as good for me as it is delicious.
  9. Playing my guitar! I am happy to put this back on the list. It’s been off it for too long.
  10. Personal dance parties in the kitchen or wherever good times (and music) are had.

So there are ten things I can do that don’t require booze or non-homemade food to soothe and celebrate (and really, there’s only tea drinking and making home cooked meals on there that even have anything at all to do with food). So now, I need to just commit to the goal and start the process of rewiring my brain and body to go for those things first.

Does this mean I’m giving up anything for good? Not really. I mean, if I find out specific things make me sick, then yeah, those will generally be avoided…even if it’s cheese. At the very least, they will be consumed occasionally knowing that they may bring on the pain. But I need to learn moderation better in my “old” age. No, 34 is not old but it’s old enough to notice more about how your body works and the better my habits are now, the better they will always be.  I think that figuring how to replace booze and shitty food with fruity water and food that makes me feel like Popeye are good general goals.  Having some stuff (in moderation) at a party is great.  Indulging when I really want to indulge is great.  But the norm, the vast majority of my time should be spent not indulging in things that do me good only for a moment or five.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Yes!

But…I Really Love Baguettes, Guys

[Content Note: Food Talk, Mental Health, Illness]

OK, guys. I know in my last entry I sounded all “Zen” about everything (I think I did anyway), but as the week has progressed I am not feeling at all “Zen” about anything.

For instance, I went on a diatribe to Wes, Jessie, and Amber about how I now understand my work difficulties and simply didn’t know how to solve them (because I feel that I have done about all I can). While I believe this to be true, I found myself in the throes of questioning all of my decisions and trying to make some grand plan for the future where I would be my own boss, being one of the few extremely successful sellers on Etsy.

(I also used to have the delusion that I would totally survive the apocalypse because…I’m awesome or something.  I didn’t really have any argument to back this up.  My survivalist resume is pretty lean.  “Knows some relevant science.  Cooks well over campfires.  Tends to be badass when there is no other choice but to be badass.”  Yeah, I know, I would be dead within the first 5 minutes.)

Again, all of these ideas are ideas that I have, even when I’m feeling stable, but on days like today, I was so in a whirl that the idea of making rash decisions seemed like a great idea and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire I perceived. Wes pointed out that he knows that these things I feel are based on facts, but also that I have felt like this before and was happy that I didn’t do anything rash. I couldn’t quite see it until I thought on it longer, but I was definitely going sailing in and through a mental storm, the likes of which I have been desperately trying to disappear forever through hard work and food/medication chemistry.

(The spiral also manifested in my engaging in massive word vomit, talking about everything that bothered me about my situation.  This went on for a long time and then I felt bad about it and started apologizing for being a pain in the ass.  These are all things that I rarely do anymore without good reason.)

I have made a tremendous amount of progress on that front. These spirals happen rarely, and even when they do happen, I can see them happening a little more clearly and they don’t last as long. I find now that I only experience this kind of spiraling…

When I eat crap and don’t drink enough water.

Hence why I’m not feeling all that “Zen” right now. I know I said in my last entry that I was just going to have to accept that I needed to eat a certain way for the long term to feel consistently well. But it’s easy to say such a thing. It’s different when you have to face it and say “um, most of the stuff you normally eat makes you feel a little batshit”. Like, you have to actually accept that you are not well if you eat things not on the Whole30 plan regularly.

Basically, what I’m saying is: GOD DAMN IT. You go decades through life having nary an allergy or physical ailment and then you start caring about whether you actually feel well and happy and sane…and then you find that a bunch of shit is making you sick. I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to eat whatever I want and not being difficult to feed.

And no, I’m not equating this with allergies and syndromes. I can eat some sugar, have a slice of bread, and drink some wine once in a while and be fine. None of this stuff is going to land me in the hospital or hugging a toilet (unless I gorge on it, of course).

But mental clarity, general calmness and rationality, and overall wellness is extremely important to me these days. Happiness and being able to address issues with a clear head and pass through them without much drama is pretty much my goals every day. I need to be able to provide honesty without fear and have confidence without guilt. Trading all that for too many donuts and too many baguettes or too many glasses of wine too many days a week doesn’t really seem all that worth it, does it?

I know I sound like a whiney jerk here, but this realization is just straight up frustrating. I have gotten quite used to being able to eat whatever wherever and that’s just not the case anymore. CAN I eat that way? Sure. It won’t kill me. But it’s definitely not the right choice for me, not by a long shot.

Incidentally, this is how I felt about polyamory. When Wes and I first talked about it and made the decision to give it a go, I was all “sure, that makes a lot of logical sense. Easy peasy.” But it’s easy to see the logic and benefits of that particular relationship philosophy when you thinking about it in the abstract. It’s quite another thing to practice it and deal with all the reality of what the decision means and what you have to learn about yourself to make it work for you. The decision requires growth to practice.

Taking care of yourself physically also requires this kind of introspection and growth. It’s like when I finally made the choice to give up caffeine (for the most part…I still have some coffee or black tea from time to time). I wanted to believe that I wasn’t adversely affected by it, because that seemed silly. Don’t ask me what my logic there was, other than the idea that nothing I consumed ever adversely affected me in any obvious sense. But finally I saw that I was way more irritable after multiple days of caffeine consumption than when I cut it out completely. Evidence is evidence.

I think it’s the same with processed sugar and all the grains. They don’t do me any favors. I’m sleeping like crap and feel worse now than I have in weeks. I have headaches every day and dragging myself out of bed in the morning in general has been tough, and pretty much impossible to do at 5:30am (when I have to get up to go to yoga). Is eating a bunch of apparently inflammatory lousy things with reckless abandon worth this? Not really.

So I am coming to terms with the fact that a lot of things that I really enjoy consuming are now relegated to special occasions. I feel lucky that I can have them on special occasions. That is a privilege.

And I also must get back into the swing of consistent yoga practice because it’s really good for me and generally encourages me to eat what I should be eating. I always eat better when I’m exercising in some way regularly and unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

I (always) have more to work on and (always) have more growth to accomplish. There are things in my life that are not ideal and I need to figure out how to make them better. But eating stuff regularly that obviously leaves me on the unpleasantly unhinged side of wackiness is just pointless for me. The joy of feeling stable and productive far outweighs the momentary pleasures of candy or bread or booze whenever I want it.

So back to meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats (all things coconut).

Onward and upward, ey?

Backed Up Plumbing Brings On the Tears and Other Anecdotes

Well, friends, it’s February and daylight savings is just around the corner (March 8th this year!). I just got back from a lovely Disneyworld vacation and am trying to get back into the swing of healthy living and getting back to those neat-o goals I set at the turn of the year.

As you’re aware, I did an entire Whole30 for January. I managed to stick to it until about 8pm on day 30 when Amber offered to make me a BLT…with cheese (because that’s how she rolls)…on bread. I gladly accepted the offer because whatever. I had made it and needed to pack for our trip to Florida the next day. It was one of the most delicious sandwiches I had ever eaten.

And thus began my descent back into eating whatever I wanted. At the time, this was a freeing exercise, mainly because I so terribly missed Tex-Mex cuisine. I missed cheese, and refried beans, and corn. It felt good to not have to worry about what was in everything, to be able to eat with abandon as my privileged, non-afflicted physiology allows me to do. In Florida, Wes and I split pretty much everything (which was a very good call and we should continue to do this pretty much forever when we go out together), and I drank fruity drinks with funny names and cheap wine at every amusing location.

We came home on Sunday after a Saturday evening of seeing what the Magic Kingdom is like when it’s becoming “on season”. It was crowded and aggravating. Getting anywhere was a battle of wits and agility and finally, when we had had enough, Wes and I had to get out of the park while the (first of the night) electric parade was happening. Jessie, having been back at the room all day nursing an illness, stayed at the park a bit more to go in search of caramel coated apples and to watch the fireworks. Needless to say, I was pretty tired when we got up to get to the airport.

I was tired because I hadn’t slept all that well the entire week and this was likely directly correlated to eating a bunch of things that I hadn’t been eating the month before. I didn’t really notice the effects until Sunday when I was more agitated than I had been in a long time. When we landed in Philly, I was aggravated by how long it took for our bags to get to us. All I wanted to do was get home. I was snapping a bit and Jessie luckily figured out that I was just in a mood and showed me pictures of dogs getting stuck in couches. It was very effective.

We got home and were greeted by two very excited dogs…and the news that our plumbing was completely backed up. The shower in the downstairs bathroom had 4 inches of water in the bottom and the toilet had coffee grounds in there. This had happened once before, three Thanksgiving weekends ago when we were hosting people at the house. It was a nightmare for various reasons (not the least of which because it was my 4th day ever on Zoloft and I was dealing with brain chemistry like whoa) and the memory of this sent me into a panic that felt very much like the all-day anxiety ride I had been on all that time ago. I guess it was a trigger of sorts, not helped by the fact that I hadn’t slept properly or eaten as I should for 7 days. I found myself alone at some point sitting with not only memories of the relatively silly anxiety associated with backed up toilets, but also being once again haunted by everything that has happened. I was remembering how for at least a year of my recent life was spent in an almost constant state of anxiety, sometimes with moments of straight up fear of emotional and verbal battering and, in the end, fear of violence.

The worst part of the entire thing was sitting there having a sort of conversation with myself where I acknowledged all the things I was remembering and how it would take time to not ever think about those things anymore and to be patient with myself while also echoing some opinions of others who thought I should just get over it already and how I should be better than this. After all, no one except for my qualified mental health professional should have to hear about such things and honestly, she probably doesn’t want to hear about it anymore either. These two warring opinions just swirled around in my head until I let the tears come, knowing that this was a temporary moment of remembrance and that I just needed to ride it out. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
I chilled myself out and then within a few minutes, I wasn’t alone anymore, now being sandwiched in a hug from Wes and Amber. Then we all went grocery shopping for vegetables because we all needed some brain food.

While we were out, the plumber came and Jessie showed him where to start searching for the problem. Dude had a metal detector to locate pipes. I can honestly say that this was the first time I had ever seen someone using a handheld metal detector to do an actual job (other than people roaming the beach in search of gold doubloons and…bottle caps more likely). He was a wonderfully nice guy and had the whole mess fixed by 9:30pm.

Relieved, I went a got some laundry started and starting cleaning up the mess and tried to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I ended up taking Monday off too in an effort to get life and mind in order before returning to the office. It was a good decision.

This morning I woke up anxious and groggy and once again failed to get out of bed in time for yoga. I did make it to work though, so that is definitely something. In between bouts of organization and communications of all things work related, I contemplated why I still felt crappy.

And it dawned on me that I have been in complete denial (again) of food’s effect on me. Sure, doing the Whole30 was ultimately boring and frustrating near the end of that strict period, but I felt even keel the entire time. My blood sugar was completely stable, never suddenly dropping like it does often when I’m eating “normally”. My mood was stable (I was generally calmer and depression was linked to specific events, not just a state of being). And I had a lot more energy and that energy level was more stable. Getting up for yoga was not generally difficult for me to do and I would go relatively strong throughout the entire day.
For a person like me who has never really had any need for dietary restrictions (I don’t have any known allergies or syndromes), I haven’t wanted to own up to the “truth” about how I should be eating. Regardless of whether or not the way I feel eating “off-plan” foods is due to some undiagnosed allergy or whatever else, the evidence is abundantly clear that I feel significantly better when I keep the added sugar, grain consumption, alcohol consumption, even maybe dairy and legume consumption down to minimum. So I think I need to generally follow the Whole30 idea long term, but allow myself to have those off-plan things as treats a couple of times a week.

This fits in well with Wes and I deciding that the money we save cooking at home most of the time is worth finally making a commitment to, well, cooking at home most of the time. I’m a very good cook AND I generally enjoy doing it. We order out or go out a lot though when I’m tired because it didn’t occur to me until recently that a better alternative was to simply say “I don’t feel like cooking. Anyone else want to?” And…someone else has always been willing! So I’m practicing doing that more often because no one declared that it was my responsibility and mine alone to make sure everyone is fed.

Also, no one makes tuna salad as good as Amber’s and no one makes grilled cheese sandwiches as good as Jessie’s and Wes makes a mean pile of bacon and excellent panini, so I am perfectly content to sit down for a delicious plate of any of those.

Trying to eat a specific way helps me stick to not-going-out goals and I was very pleased with the amount of extra cash I had for savings and whatever else during the month of January. So that needs to keep happening.

I’m so far failing at my “read more” goal, but I still have time to remedy that since it’s merely February. Of course, I need to watch how often I say that before I find myself being all “I haven’t really read anything new, but it’s merely December”. I have a pile of books, I just need to choose to read them when I have free time. Sounds easy enough but reading has never been a big hobby of mine. But it’s a hobby I’d like to get more into, so here’s hoping I can get myself to do it. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin often talks about how it’s easier to do something every day rather than every few days, and that might be the approach I need to take here. Read a little every day and it will become a habit.

I started that digital photography class I mentioned before but after 4 classes, I have decided to drop it. I wanted to like it, I really did but to put it simply, the teaching style was way more laid back than I wanted it to be from 6:30pm – 9:30pm on a Thursday night. When I was taking the screen printing classes, I enjoyed having something like that to do on a weeknight because it was such a hands on class. Other than the first one or two classes of my first class, I was basically paying to have a screen studio with much appreciated guidance from a great teacher. I got to play with ink and make screens as I wished and got to just come in a do art for 3 hours. I enjoyed it so much that I am determined to snag a spot in the class for Spring semester.

This photo class was trouble from the start. Though the teacher is very friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, time management and engagement wasn’t a strong suit. They were going through some life circumstances that caused them to be seemingly more distracted than usual, but the lack of focus presented itself in ways that can be really infuriating to me.

In short, because this post is already pretty long, there was no time management or respect of anyone’s time in the class. Class started extremely late every single time. Stuff got repeated constantly for people who either didn’t show up to class before or got there even later than the really late time we started. And we didn’t really do anything until the last hour of class and when the class is for 3 hours after a full day of work, that is painful and not worth it. I also learned what I really needed to learn to go off on my own within the first two classes (more of a refresher for what I used to know when Kelly and I would take pictures with her film camera).

My classmates did not appear to be frustrated with this at all and it was then that I realized that, well, this just wasn’t the class for me. I was so bored that I almost left during the class to go take pictures of something, anything. Or go find a photocopier in the building to scan pictures of my butt or something.

So yeah, I made the decision to not go back because each class I went to made me angrier.  So I’m going to go to a different style of yoga class on Thursday nights instead and then come home and mess with my camera. A much better use of time and I don’t have to cross the bridge to do it.

So that’s what’s going on with the progress of Gina’s Goals 2015. I’m learning a lot and figuring out next steps, so I’m pretty happy. Tonight we’re going to see Jupiter Ascending because all the reviews says it’s so bad that it’s amazing. Just my kind of film! Possibly my own review to come!

TIGER BLOOD

[Content Note: Whole30, food talk]

Well, folks, it is day 16 for me on this go around of the Whole30 and…I feel great. Truly. I even pull some little muscle or pinched a nerve in my upper back and I’m all “whatever” about it. It hurts when I laugh, which is funny, which makes me laugh more. It’s a vicious cycle…OF HILARITY.

I owe this, at least in part, to starting a yoga practice. I have been taking morning classes regularly since the start of the month and it’s amazing. I now can see that my day is infinitely better if I make the effort to drag myself out of bed by 5:40am to get to the 6am weekday class. I didn’t go yesterday and was all cranky. Like, I was in a meeting and was totally that “I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS AND THAT. THIS AND THAT IS NOT MY JOB!” asshole. (Granted, I had some founded reasons for being miffed, but not indignant and inflexible). I leave class feeling awake and ready to take on the day with finely tuned productivity and smartness attacks.

I realize that I am swiftly becoming a white, middle class stereotype, and I think I’m fine with that.

Stuffwhitepeoplelike

Anywho, now that I am pretty much accepting that this way of eating is way better for me, I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do after the strict month is over. I know, I know. I’ve been here before. Before it was about caffeine. I had confirmed three different times that daily caffeine does me no favors (it takes me from bouncing off the walls to HULK SMASH in a few days of regular consumption). For some reason though, I thought it was tooooo haaaaard to avoid it, on account of my love of seasonal lattes.

Yes, I know. I’m doing nothing to break that whole stereotype thing. I also frequently cook with sea salt. SUCK IT.

pumpkin-spice-latte
But I figured out at some point that I don’t even love lattes that much (I do love vanilla chai lattes however, and their caffeine content is low in comparison) and they should be a treat anyway. A decaf peppermint mocha is awesome…every once in a while. I think it became easier once I also figured out that the sugar in these things, or in coffee that doctor on my own also made me feel like crap if I had them often. When you get to the point that you understand that pretty much nothing about a specific food or beverage does you much good, it’s easier to relegate it to the realm of “special occasion”.

This has been what I have long wanted to do with crusty bread, all things containing substantial amounts of added sugar, all things grainy…but setting this intention is harder because these things are EVERYWHERE. I feel great right now, but it takes considerable effort to eat this way. In talking to Wes yesterday, we agreed that limiting grains and added sugar was the best way to move forward. I’m great with that because I discovered zoodles (noodles that are just spiral cut zucchini) and I really enjoy them with pasta sauce. He also shared an article with me showing a bunch of interesting and delicious-looking things I can do with cauliflower and I will try them ALL.

The other big reason I want to keep on this way of thinking is because I cook a lot more and bring lunch to work and haven’t been resorting to getting take out for dinner. So there is the added bonus of saving a crap-load of cash. I have…SAVINGS. I could, like, actually save up for some pricier things I want like traveling or a new acoustic/electric guitar or moon boots (or whatever the kids are buying these days). This is more exciting than I expected it to be and I really want to keep the trend going. I want this energy. I want this discipline. I want this focus moving forward.

I would just like to eat a piece of cheese or some refried beans here and there. Basically, I want to be able to eat Tex-Mex food again because omg yum, ok?
Of course, one of the other reasons I have been doing so much better with this round of Whole30 is that I found better recipes and have been enjoying the process of cooking. Dinner generally takes me an hour total to prepare (including baking time or whatever) and that’s fine for me. I have gotten into a weeknight routine that ends up with me cooking a healthy meal and cleaning the kitchen up intermittently. And now I have all this energy, nothing seems all that hard to maintain. I have also been cooking things that everyone in the house seems to like, taking that entire stressor out of the equation. Not everything has been universally liked, but in those cases people took care of themselves and I let them.

So, what I’m saying is, I’m way happier right now and that makes everything infinitely easier. I’m happier because of all the healthy things I’m doing for my body, but I’m also significantly happier now that I finally understand what people have been telling me about not worrying so much about everyone else all the time. That part of my ego has deflated and stopped tormenting me. I am doing things that benefit me and the improvement to my wellbeing is huge. I don’t worry about everyone else being happy because I can see that my being happy makes everyone else happier (that’s a Happiness Project thing, and a Wes-ism…I finally get it).

I have still been working hard at home, but I do it gladly, without resentment, and am finally back to a place of really digging my home and the people in it (and the people who visit). Sure, I’m still on antidepressants. I might be on them my entire life because depression isn’t just about things not working in your life. There might also be a chemical component to it. I might never be balanced well without it. BUT I also can’t (and wouldn’t) deny that I have made a bounty of positive changes and finally am feeling lasting positive effects of those changes on my addled brain.

I’m still sort of addled. I have been known to get distracted by the dogs while trying to do too many things at once, subsequently forgetting what I went up to the attic for in the first place, amongst various other stupid human tricks. But that’s just me. I’m also not angry, hate-filled, and heartbroken anymore. I also feel like I can do so many of the things that used to bring me joy but stopped because I simply couldn’t spare the energy.

I got in contact with my “old band” (we haven’t played together in a year or something) because I suddenly realized how much I was missing music, our music, in my life.

Arcati Crisis

I think I’ve picked up my guitar twice in the entire time we have been on “hiatus” and that’s super weird after years of playing it a little every day. I’ve barely sung, except a few times at karaoke and sometimes in the car. I’ll be playing with Peter next week and I’m really looking forward to it and after that I’m hoping to work with everyone to find a way to do that stuff without it becoming too much for me. Of course, I feel like I have infinite ability again, but I know I don’t actually (and I don’t want to have too many nights where I’m not cooking at home). But, honestly, we’re an amazing band and I think I want to be part of that again in some capacity yet to be determined.

I don’t feel that way about everything, of course. I’m pretty much over theater for the most part. That might change, but a series of unfortunate theater experiences over a number of years “cured the acting bug” I guess. I could see doing a project here and there, but it’s really not my artistic priority anymore. I’m glad, then, that I decided to be a chemist instead of an actor because man would I be pissed now. I feel similarly about burlesque. I would probably enjoy doing a show every so often during the year (APW I’m looking at you!), but it’s not what I want to be doing with my time anymore. It served its purpose for me and then became linked with memories of a lot of people and events I don’t want to give energy to anymore. It was a good time and now it’s over in the capacity that it was happening in the past.

So yeah, I’m feeling good and for the first time in a while I can see that feeling lasting. I’m doing what I want, what I need and it’s awesome.

No matter how white and privileged it makes me. I know, OK?!?

Anyway, next time I’ll geek out about how cool cameras are.  Stay tuned!

January: The Month in Which I Feel like a Superhero

So, I know it’s only 7 days into January, but I’ve got to say that I feel like I am kicking its ass.

Admittedly, the metaphor of beating up a unit of time is pretty stupid, and now I’m just trying to imagine what January’s ass looks like (whatever…don’t act like you weren’t doing the same thing), but it’s the most concise way of hyperbolically stating that I’m doing really well with my goals.

My experience so far with the Whole30 challenge is way better this time. Again, I know that I am only 7 days into it, but last time 7 days felt like an eternity. I was dealing with a lot of stress from other sources at the time and I just didn’t have it in me to not run back to the standard foods and drink I classically crave when I’m stressed out.

Frenchman

That picture is basically a stressed out me, sans the mustache and goatee.

This time though, I have enacted a few pretty important emotional changes that are keeping my stress quite in check. Sure, I have spikes here and there, being human and all, but they are short lived and generally require me to stop and think for a minute how to fix whatever the problem is. The biggest and most important thing that I’ve really started to do is consider my wants and needs first when considering an entire situation. I still consider everyone else, but I am getting better about making decisions that are good for me, even if they might be inconvenient or whatever for others. This likely sounds trivial, but I have pretty much never done this except in particular situations decisive action was required for maintenance of my own sanity. Now I’m trying to do this for everything and I’m finding that this way of taking care of myself and paying attention to myself has led to me actually being able to relax often because I’m starting to do what I actually want or need to do.

So yay for that! And eating whole foods and paying attention to vitamins and such is both good for me and fascinating. For instance, do you know how incredibly easy it is to get a full day’s worth of vitamin A and vitamin K? Eat a cup of spinach and you will have well over 100% of each. Eating part of a sweet potato will give you like 300% of your daily vitamin A. It’s SO easy to get enough that it’s also easy to get too much of, well, any vitamin or mineral. This is why you shouldn’t just eat sweet potatoes and kale all day every day. It will make various systems in your body start to malfunction. Amber and I were talking about the early expeditions to the arctic and how people were dying or getting ridiculously ill from eating polar bear meat/liver. It’s pretty much all vitamin A. Like anything, moderation is key. Vitamins are healthy until they’re not!

polar bear

If you run with the skeptic crowd, a popular thing to illuminate is that multi-vitamins are crap, and that often supplements of any kind are grouped in with that. I think it’s definitely better to get your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat (your body employs that better), but if you’re simply not getting enough of certain things, or if you have absorption issues, supplements are great. For instance, me and my vitamin D supplement are BFFs. I’m a pale white girl who doesn’t go out much in the winter and wears sunscreen in the summer and I don’t really drink much milk. Taking the supplement vastly improved my life. I no longer fear falling asleep at the wheel EVERYTIME I drive and I stay awake through movies and plays out on the town. Sure, I still fall asleep watching stuff sometimes, but that’s usually because I’m tired from my day.

Speaking of which, I started a daily yoga practice at a local studio. I’ve been flirting with the idea for a long time and this particular studio has a Vinyasa class every weekday morning at 6am. I thought it was a joke to think I’d actually want to do that but I went ahead and gave it a shot this week and this morning I did my third day of class in a row! In short, I love it. I do best with guided exercise and having a welcoming place to go and get an hour workout first thing in the morning is wonderful. I used to take pilates classes, and while they were great for my abs, there was an aspect of the class that felt like it was OK to push yourself too far. I could only afford one class a week and I found that I left feeling more stressed than when I arrived because I couldn’t do what everyone else in the class could do (and everyone else came 3 times a week I think). I was skeptical about liking a yoga class because I feared that there would be too much spiritual mumbo jumbo for my liking but this studio is really great for that too! It has meditative aspects to it, but I have been wanting to get into that and they aren’t about karma or chakras. Yes, chakras are mentioned now and again, but always followed up by talking about actual parts of the body. What I really like about it is that it’s definitely not easy…at all…but the instructors teach with the idea that getting “good” at yoga is a years long process and on some days you can do more and on some days you do less. Today, for instance, I was in child’s pose a lot because my legs were like “go to hell”. I did what I could do, tried things that seemed hard and when they were too hard I took a break. Just that alone is very relaxing.

It’s such a great way to start a work day. I come out of there feeling great and ready to take on the day. I have been more productive at work and generally more positive. It’s a happiness boost for me to have accomplished a workout first thing.

Of course, I have to get up at 5:30am to get to the class so I’m tired after dinner and have been getting to bed at 10pm (and sometimes I fall asleep on the couch before that), but there’s something really satisfying about that too. I’m now getting tired in time to get a full night’s sleep. There’s still time to do fun things or whatever, but I’m structuring my life more around things that make me feel good and healthy. And that’s pretty fab. Doing unhealthy stuff that I enjoy should be a time to time thing, not the norm. So I’m happy to be making a positive shift.

Tomorrow I go to my first digital photography class. I’m looking forward to learning a bunch of stuff and being able to take fabulous photos. I’m hoping that I can get into the Spring screen printing class again, and this time I hope to have super cool pictures I took myself to Andy Warhol-ize (or something).

So there’s a lot of good stuff going on that I hope to sustain and I’m really happy about it. I’m feeling creative and I’m feeling like my life has become simpler, calmer, and more satisfying.

Also…24 days until Disney. Yessssssssss!

Happy Frikkin’ New Year!

I usually don’t think much about New Year’s resolutions. The date is somewhat arbitrary and I often set resolutions other times of year (like September, for some reason…probably because I still haven’t grown out of the school schedules that had everything start again after a long summer break). But this year, I’m trying to think of them in a positive and fun way because 2015 is going to be amazing, damn it.

2014 had a lot of low spots, but I think I’ve had enough of all that and instead am thinking about what I liked about 2014 and what I’d like to be doing more of.

Firstly, I decided that I read way too much negativity in the form of blogs. Be it a few personal blogs that don’t do me any good to read or the copious amounts of social justice and political blogs I’ve been reading, I have to say that I need to step away for a while and get my head back into gear seeing the positive in the world. Everybody needs a break. I acknowledge and have extreme distaste for all that injustice, but I have been inundated by it by my choice of reading material to the point of near madness…and full on exhaustion. So I went into my Feedly account and replaced all of the blogs I was reading with humor, photography, and science. I’m stepping back from being “in the know” about all this stuff for at least January, maybe longer depending on how much better I feel.

Secondly, I’m taking another crack at the Whole30. No, I don’t believe in all the stuff they claim BUT I went and read some article about someone who half-assed their first one and then whole-hogged their second one and the difference was huge. I want to see it through and see the difference. Also, January is a good time to do it this year because we’re going to Disneyworld on January 31st which means reaping awesome health benefits during the month and then one big awesome reward at the end! I tend to eat terribly on vacations, so while I will not be following the rules down in Orlando, I hope to be in a place where I easily make better choices. Our schedule while we’re down there is packed and I want all the happiness and energy I can muster! But I think it will be easier to make it to the end of the challenge this time because each day of the Whole30 is a countdown to a vacation I’ve been looking so very forward to for months.

I’m also taking this month to finally figure out a regular workout schedule and schedule my life around it, not it around my life. I want to get into yoga and meditation this year because I need ways to move through waves of anger and grief I still experience and will likely continue to feel because I’m human. In addition, I just want to finally get into decent shape, especially because trips to the Colorado Rockies and Yosemite have been discussed for a few years from now and I want to get into habits that bring my baseline level of fitness up so that training for awesome, challenging hiking won’t be this huge endeavor that I will invariable fail at.

Next, I set a reading goal on Goodreads. My book reading track record has been abysmal over the years, to say the least. I decided that 15 books for the year was a good and attainable goal. A little more than one a month. I ordered three books from Amazon that I will likely read rather quickly because they are bound to be hilarious and I’ve been meaning to read the one for a long time. I’ve got a copy of Neil Patrick Harris’ “Choose Your Own Autobiography” on the way, as well as Jenny Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and the Hyperbole and a Half book. I want to start the year off with entertaining reads! I preordered a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before”, a book about good habit forming (something I need help with definitely!) and I’ll have that in March. Other than those, I have several books around that I started to read and liked, but never finished because reading used to immediately put me to sleep. As it turns out, this had a lot to do with that pesky vitamin D deficiency and I think I’ll be able to do a lot better now! Also, Amber and I are going to have reading parties. I think that just means lazing around and reading in the same room, but that sounds pretty awesome.

I want to do lots of art! I did lots of art in 2014 and it greatly added to my happiness. I just want to keep that going and explore different media and get better. I sold a piece last week and that was pretty awesome. Maybe that is a trend that will continue! I also want to set up a screen printing space in the basement (and get down to our friends’ house and pick up all the screen printing stuff they have graciously offered me). I am still thinking about doing a stained glass class because I draw everything like it’s stained glass already and would love to do that! I think I found a good one, but I’m still looking around.

In addition, I want to learn how to take fabulous and artful photos with my fancy pants DSLR. I already take OK pictures with it, but I want to really learn how to use it because I currently use it mostly as a point-and-shoot. And I want to get a really great zoom lens for it or whatever kind of lens helps you really play with depth of field and all that. My friend Kelly taught me all kinds of stuff about F stops and all that years ago, but I have forgotten it all and have never truly learned how to use the thing. I want that to change! So I’ve signed up for digital photography at my beloved Fleisher!

There are various other things that I want to do, but those are all pretty big and good ones! Here’s to a healthy, happy, and kick-ass year. May it be a year of excellent decision making and of healing and positivity. May I grow to feel well enough to be my best at home and at work. Sure, these are lofty goals, but whatever. That’s what January is for!

Adventures in Therapy: Hulk SMASH

As you recall, I decided to try adding Wellbutrin to my brain meds to see if I could deal with some increased depression I had been experiencing.  The first couple of days were me being kind of high and feeling a little jumpy.  Then I stopped feeling those ways and waited for the actual effects of the drug to take place.

After a few weeks, I wasn’t really feeling any better but was still giving it a shot thinking that  it might change OR that the dose I was on was too low and that I would get it increased this week.  However, on Friday night I decided that I was going to stop taking the Wellbutrin because I finally noticed an important correlation between taking the drug and getting pissed off all the time.

See, I noticed that I not only felt a little more depressed, but also that the depression was now combined with simmering frustration and anger.  This is a pretty nasty combo because if it is due to meds, it could be lying and this combo tends to make you really question your life decisions.  The depression makes you feel despair and the anger makes you want to rashly do something about it, regardless of the facts.

At least, this has been my experience.  I know I’ve said this a bunch of times, but it bears repeating: mental disorders like depression lie because the chemicals in your brain change your perception of reality.  Medications change the cocktail in the brain.  If you get the right thing, it raises or lowers the offending chemical to improve your outlook and ability to cope.  If you get the wrong thing, it can drive you further into the hole.  Depression lies and medication can lie too.

As I’ve mentioned, it helps me a great deal to think about my mental health in terms of chemistry and this has been no different.  But I don’t always notice the overall trend right away.  After two weeks of being on Wellbutrin, I found myself getting really frustrated over small things.  There were then enough small things that I concocted an entire tale of woe that was about how I’m in the wrong job, wrong house, and wrong part of the country.  I was constantly screaming in my head that SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!  I would stomp around about trashcans being left out after trash day.  I would be fine and then would become frustrated for no real reason.

angry hulk

At some point I started communicating out loud that I was frustrated or angry and that it wasn’t making sense to me.  While out with Wes and Amber on Friday night, I said a few times, “Ugh, I’m just angry all the time.”  Wes said I was like Bruce Banner in The Avengers when he was like, “my secret is that I’m angry all of the time.”  It was relevant because despite being generally more angry and short tempered than usual, I was doing a relatively good job not taking it out on everyone, except when I failed to do that.  I was isolating myself more and was thinking that becoming a hermit in the woods was once again a good plan for me. By the time I got home that night, I was smoldering over nothing and finally remembered some of the message boards I read when deciding to try out Wellbutrin.  A lot of people said it was great but a significant number of people reported having trouble with rage while on it.  Finally this thought crept into my mind and I put it together.

After reading about how best to decrease the dose, I saw that generally a doctor will have you decrease it 100-150 mg a week.  Since I was only at 150 mg, I figured it would be safe to just stop taking it.

The difference after a couple of days of not taking it has been impressive.  That smoldering rage has left and little things haven’t been getting to me.  Our bodies are so whacky and fascinating!

I’m happy that it didn’t get worse and that I didn’t do anything rash like quitting my job, moving out and revisiting my old barista career.  I’m glad I have patient people around me who trust me to get through these strange changes in my mental weather and support me in trying to get down to the bottom of what’s going on with me and help me figure out what’s internal and what’s external.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.  After stopping the Wellbutrin, I feel better than I did before I began.  It still might be time to up my dose of Zoloft to get the best benefits, but I’m not super worried anymore.  Keep moving forward, right?  Right.

bruce banner

Wherein I Talk Too Much about Art Supplies

When struggling with physical and mental illness, work and home frustrations, and still healing from the difficulty whirlwind that has been 2014, it’s good to stop and take notice of little bright spots when you can. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of bright spots in the year, but now that winter is setting in and darkness arrives each day so much earlier, struggles are often amplified and it’s important to give yourself a break from the bleak every now and then.

Really this post is for me to wax poetic about the art supplies I have waiting for me when I get home. I’ve been tracking the shipment and just saw that my stuff has indeed arrived! Oh dickblick.com, how I love thee.

For those of you who don’t know, this year I discovered the wonderful world of high-end markers. I’ve always liked nice pens and markers in general. I doodle a lot and as any “serious” doodler knows, satisfying doodling is all about the feel of the pen on the paper, the flow of the ink, and the boldness of the color. I was, however, only acquainted with the likes of Crayola and Sharpie markers and had largely ignored them as an artistic medium once I hit my teens.

Back then I painted with acrylics and slowly graduated to the optimized dry vs. blendability speed of alkyd oils. I never really dug linseed oils because OMG HOW LONG DO I REALLY WANT TO WAIT FOR THESE THINGS TO DRY?! Then I drifted more towards colored pencils and water soluble crayon. Then I was doing straight up graphite pencil drawing.  Like these:

bowl sweet bowl pitcher plants

Then one day this year, I wandered into Staples.

Staples was having a mega sale and I was able to buy two big sets of multi-colored Sharpies for $20. I started playing with them and realized that markers were the perfect medium for the kind of style I really like. Basically, I like to draw everything in “stained glass” style, with dark outlines and bold solid coloring. I also found that I liked the way shading looked with markers because you could see the gradient as a series of lines. Here’s an example:

A Squid At Home

Within a few weeks, I had filled a sketch book with abstract drawings and had killed many of the Sharpies. As it turns out, Sharpies aren’t really built for heavy ink coverage.

By then I was hooked and decided that I needed to go to the next grade of art markers. This meant grabbing a set of Prismacolor markers. These were definitely way more expensive than Sharpies and they seemed to be worth it. Their colors were super saturated and vibrant. My complaint however is that these markers are expensive and not refillable and don’t last any longer than Sharpies do (for the type of art I do).

And so it was that I went in search of a higher echelon set of markers. Art supplies are one of those categories of materials where you really do get what you pay for. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t care that much about. If it’s cheap, it’s cheap and I can make it work or I find something that works really well but is lower cost because it lacks a bunch of unnecessary features. But artistic media quality is directly proportional to its price bracket. And that’s how I found out about Copic markers.

I had noticed Copics while on Amazon looking for Prismacolors. The price difference was pretty huge and I wasn’t ready to make that kind of financial commitment. After the Prismacolors died in a disappointingly short time, I decided to look into these fat cat markers and see what all the hub bub was about.

The main advantage that I saw from websites was that Copic markers are refillable. This is huge. Sure, one marker costs $8, but a bottle of refill ink costs $8 and is good for 5 or 6 refills. The nibs on Copic markers are also replaceable. Basically, Copic markers appeared to be a true investment with good returns. To me it looked like the price was about the endurance and longevity possible with them and since this was my number one complaint, I knew that I needed to try them.

So I went and bought myself a $400 set of 72 markers for my birthday. The ink flow is lovely and the colors, while not quite as vibrant as Prismacolor, are quite satisfying. But here’s the most impressive part: I bought those markers in March and use them often and none of them have run out of ink. Talk about quick return on investment!

Now, the longevity of these markers is likely also due, in part, to the paper I use now. Did you know that there is special marker paper? I didn’t until I was farting around on the internet. Marker paper is just absorbent enough for quick drying of the ink, but it doesn’t allow the ink to bleed through. This is likely due to a very high quality clay coating on the paper’s surface and some kind of proprietary method of something or other in the paper fibers. I tried to look it up on the internet and it’s just a bunch of ads for “revolutionary blah blah blah”. But regardless of the possible advertisement smoke and mirrors, marker paper is really fab stuff. Because it doesn’t soak up so much ink, way less ink is required for uniform coverage. I particularly like Bee brand because it has some heft to it. Copic makes a pad too, but the paper is super thin and, while I am impressed that the markers don’t bleed through the stuff, I don’t like how flimsy the sheets are.

In addition to discovering the wonder of Copic markers, I also discovered the awesomeness of paint markers. I have always liked paint markers, but I didn’t really have an application for them in a lot of my work. Or, more to the point, I hadn’t really embraced mixed media yet. But when I started playing with all this stuff, I happened to have a silver metallic solvent-based paint marker and was amazed at how much it added to my pieces.

I went on a hunt for a rainbow of “true metal” looking colors and have been strangely unsuccessful in finding what I want. There are a lot of sets of cheap “metallic” markers that achieve a pastel metallic look using pearlescent pigments in the inks. This is a cheat, really, because metallic = sparkly, right? But it doesn’t. Metallic is shine. Metallic is high reflectance! The pearl markers have their place and are perfect for certain accents, but when I want metallic blue I want it to be ultramarine and look like I could color a Schwinn with it. There is seemingly not a market for “true metallics” other than silver, gold, and copper. I have a “red” one too, but it’s more of a rust color. I, of course, appreciate that because rust is oxidized metal, so the color is at least thematic.  The closest thing I have found recently is this metallic paste that you can rub into paper.  It’s interesting, but I’m still learning what it can do and it seems kind of limited.  Here was my first attempt:

metal tree

OK, so this post really shows that I’ve been working with the printing industry for a long time. I don’t really talk about doing art in flowery ways anymore. It’s been replaced by the practicality of image production. There is plenty of creativity but I generally find talking about the artistic process pretentious and boring (this goes for every kind of art I do, whether it be drawing or acting or playing music). What I really enjoy thinking about is how to physically get different aesthetic results and I really REALLY enjoy seeing how different materials work together. As it turns out, this is quite a large part of my job. Every day, I guide customers through their desired printing/coating process. It’s commonly called technical service, but it could easily be construed as an aesthetic enabling. The best looking/performing print jobs require the optimum combination of appropriate equipment, paper, ink, and coatings and there are just so many options out there that I have learned a ridiculous amount about how to make printed media look good. Apparently, this type of thinking comes home with me every day too.

A few years ago I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Blue Beard, a fictional autobiography of an abstract expressionist who hit his stride in the 60’s. There’s a lot of great stuff in the book but one of my favorite parts is about the artist using a new brand of paint for a whole series of huge paintings. Something was wrong with the paint though and after just a few weeks, all of the paint on the canvases was bubbling and flaking off. I always enjoy when the scientific reality of art is highlighted. Art oft becomes science and science oft become art.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this thing, I ordered some stuff from dickblick.com and it’s totally waiting for me on the porch. What did I get? Thanks for asking! I got a fancy case/binder thing that can hold all of my markers and also a sketch pad. It seems to be compact and has a SHOULDER STRAP. I’m excited about this because it allows me to keep everything in one place and should be compressed enough for me to more easily bring the whole shebang traveling with me. Do you know how hard it is to just pick a few colors to take with you when you have a whole 72 to choose from? I also got a few metallic acrylic paint markers (blue, green, and black) in a brand I haven’t tried before. I also got a smaller pad of Bee brand marker paper (to fit in my case thingy!) and a totally different kind of paper called Graffiti paper. Apparently, it is made to accept all sorts of media include, as the name suggests, spray paint and such. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like. There is little that is more fun to me than nerding out over art materials.

So…there’s a review of some things. It’s true that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately, but I keep trying to find ways to cut through it. Good tools and creation of art that doesn’t require an audience to enjoy are good ways. Sure, I like showing my art off, but it’s one of the few things I do where the process of creating is more satisfying than the “public” reaction.

Is it time to go yet? I’d like to art please!