Archive for the ‘Diet and Nutrition’ Category

Food for Thought. Or Thoughts for Food. Or Some Arbitrary Combination of Both Foods and Thinking.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

If By Yes received her goodies! Yay! Thanks to your sincere and earnest voting efforts, she is now the proud recipient of a shocked giraffe and a chocolate bar. Or the recipient, at least. With full honesty, I can’t say that I am certain she’s proud.

And aside from the fact that she apparently may or may not have eaten the sketch and have a chocolate bar mounted on her fridge, she seems to have received them smoothly.

As for me, I just found out some information that may or may not shed some light on why my body went so crazy when I tried to eliminate the common food allergens, and potentially even why it’s been SO much worse about hating the things I eat for the last couple of years. And why it hates my favourite juice.  Maybe not related, but worth investigating further…

See, as the urban cowgirl recently reminded me, I have a mild kiwi allergy.  I never knew this growing up, because both my sister and mother (my only immediate family)  also have a mild kiwi allergy.  So you know when you turn to anyone in your household and say something like “Hey, that fuzzy feeling on your tongue when you eat kiwis is really weird, eh?”  Well as it turns out, they are supposed to say “What fuzzy feeling?  FREAK!!” not “Yeah!  Kiwis taste fuzzy!”  It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I had any idea kiwis tasted like normal fruit to other people.  Blew my mind.

I’ve never been one of those allergy-prone people.  I didn’t know of any other allergies.  I do fine around shellfish, and weeds, and animals of all sorts.  Soap makes me sneeze like crazy, but I feel like that just makes me more of a mutant than an allergic person.  But anyway, a similar thing to the kiwi happens when I eat overripe melon or papaya.  When a melon is just about to go bad but hasn’t yet, I can tell, because it makes my tongue fizz like it’s covered in pop rocks.  Still tastes exactly like it did the day before to my husband.  Just tastes like melon.  But there is a definite and definitive line for me where it also tastes like fireworks.

Which yes, makes me kind of a freak.  But that isn’t the interesting part.

What’s piqued my interest is that today on a whim I decided to see if there was a connection between overripe melons and kiwis, and I found a whole list of foods (and latex, apparently) that I might be extra sensitive to.  Foods that I was eating TONS of in my attempt to limit potential allergens and up my healthy food intake.  I-ro-ny.

So as mentioned, maybe not related, but definitely interesting.  Particularly because a lot of those foods were ones that I seemed to be reacting particularly badly to and had me totally confused because they are NOT supposed to be common allergens.  When one eats shellfish and avocado with a bad reaction, it is not the avocado that one starts to suspect.  So possibly at least worth some further consideration.

Weird.  So maybe I’m a little allergy-prone after all.  And here I thought my geek credentials were incomplete in that area.  :)

Five Question Friday – “Goodbye Elimination Diet, Hello Chocolate!” Edition

Friday, March 11th, 2011

It’s that time again…

I have now given up trying to isolate the foods that I was still eating that were causing me difficulty, since pretty much every single food I tried (with the exception of maple syrup, apples, and rice cakes) seemed to set off my system.  So in lieu of eating nothing but maple syrup, apples and rice cakes for three weeks so that I can reintroduce the other foods and gauge my reaction to them properly, I’m falling off the wagon and just getting the expensive-and-not-as-conclusive-but-potentially-less-rice-cake-intensive food intolerance blood tests done.  Well, not so much “falling,” maybe, as “hurling myself bodily with and with enthusiasm.”  It was not a fun wagon.

We will eat well these next few weeks, despite the fact that my body may hate me a little for it.  They actually encourage you to be eating a variety of foods before doing the testing, so I can hardly protest, right?  ;)   I will eat chocolate for science.  And in the mean time, my doctor is testing the levels of some of my digestive enzymes and has ordered an abdominal ultrasound.  Sucks having to pay for the allergy test out of pocket, but there seems to be just WAY too much that’s a problem for me to figure out on my own.  Hopefully the results will help give me back more direction.

Though I have the sneaking suspicion that the test results are going to come back with nothing but giant font across the page that says “DO NOT EAT FOOD.”

Ah well.

On to the questions!  As per normal, questions come originally from Mama M, were introduced to me via the lovely Spokeit, and contain both consonants and vowels, including the sometimes y.  Also, your own answers or comments are most welcome.

The Questions:

1. Do you know what your REAL hair color is?

2. Do you plan ahead for summer, or fly by the seat of your pants?

3. What is your favorite meal to cook?

4. Do you get offended by not receiving thank yous?

5. How did you meet your best friend?

My Answers:

1. Do you know what your REAL hair color is?

Yes.  It is currently on my head.  …At least the top few inches, anyway.  The rest has a tiny extra sheen of reddish dye to it still.  It is brown, with reddish undertones.  In the sunlight all the red really comes out vibrantly and it looks like somebody else’s hair entirely.  But in a good way.  I like it.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been inspired to colour my hair a few times with temporary colour just out of the need for something different.  I don’t do it often, though.

Just in the past few months, I have actually started to get gray hair, though.  Not the one or two white hairs that I have had for the years before, but an actual, sort-of-noticeable collection of them.  What’s that about??  Now I feel sort of like I should have kept and enjoyed my natural colour while I could.

2. Do you plan ahead for summer, or fly by the seat of your pants?

Fly, I guess?  Sort of?  What do people normally plan about their summers?  I think I’m missing something.

Of course, I tend to have a plan for pretty much everything anyway, so even missing the point of the question I may still qualify as having a plan.  :)

3. What is your favorite meal to cook?

I’m not a huge lover of cooking in general, so often my favourite meal is one I’m not cooking, but I guess I would choose stuffing, for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I like being able to play with it, and experiment with different variations, and it’s fun to feel like I’ve created something really good.  It’s the one thing I cook that was an unequivocal hit.  …Provided it doesn’t instead turn into a pile of inedible mush like it randomly did that one time last year.

We won’t talk about that.

4. Do you get offended by not receiving thank yous?

I might be a bit offended if I went way out of my way for somebody and didn’t even get a verbal thank you.  As far as a more formal thank you goes, not in the least.  I find it a strange tradition that people feel obligated to send a little card with a thank you on it for certain things.  I dislike that people should feel forced to do that – it seems insincere to me.  If something I did actually sincerely inspired someone to be so overcome with gratitude that they wanted to write to tell me, that would be amazing.  But I wouldn’t expect it to happen often, and certainly not for picking out a mundane wedding gift for them.  And if they weren’t naturally inspired, it bothers me that I should still expect a note.  Not that I’m not pleased to receive a card from someone for that type of thing, it’s just that the fact that they felt obligated to send it bothers me on their behalf.  I would rather get fewer thank yous, but more meaningful ones.

5. How did you meet your best friend?

My best friend is my husband, who I met through a mutual group of acquaintances.  We were clearly meant to be best friends even if we had never become romantically involved.

Outside of him, I have a few different groups of friends that I see a lot of, but none of which really fills the role of a “best friend.”  I did not phone those people when my cat died or when I’ve gone through really hard times with my health.  They are the sort of people who I will fill in about some of it when I see them next.  The kind of people who I’m sure would help me if I asked for it, but whom I probably wouldn’t ask.  It probably doesn’t help that none of them live particularly close to me.  Sometimes I wonder how our relationships would be different if more of my friends were nearby.

Many of them I met in high school (mostly though the music department, or mutual friends.  One of them I dated), the rest during my University years (housemates and friends of friends).  Don’t think I’ve met anybody particularly noteworthy from other places.  I have acquaintances at work, but no real friends.

Of course, you all are a great source of friendship as well.  You crazy Internet People. ;)

Techie Humour

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

My husband and I were completing a crossword puzzle together today. Clue: “King’s domain”

Me: Kingdom? Castle? Chess board?
Husband: www.royalfamily.com?

I  love that man.

Digestive issues continue to be…issue-like. Though I am now making some progress in at least identifying the food items that might be responsible.  Not the ones like dairy or gluten that I originally cut out to test for, but the ones that were left in the rotation after those ones were gone.  I can’t say anything definitively yet, but by eating certain food products on their own as a test, I at least have some idea of which components might be the ones still making my body unhappy. I’ll tell you, though. Diligent science is painful. Especially when it involves things like tall glasses of unflavoured brown rice protein powder mixed in nothing but water, or tablespoons of straight olive oil. Blech.

(seriously, plain protein powder in water is maybe the most disgusting thing I have ever consumed. Fine in smoothies, distinctly NOT FINE on it’s own)

I poured my husband and I a champagne glass of sparkling water with a splash of apple juice this evening. Sometimes he makes dinner, and I sit on a stool nearby and we chat and have a glass of wine. I like that. I didn’t want to lose it just because we can’t actually have the wine right now.

It wasn’t the important part anyway.

I Feel Like Such a Downer.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Why are so many people suddenly searching for “egret”? Is this a spring thing?

Stomach continues to be nutsy. I am trying to eat things mostly in isolation so that I can try to pinpoint the problem. I’m pretty sure meat was a big part of making me exhausted and uncomfortable, but I don’t know yet whether it’s all meat, or all proteins, or just some of them. And I’m relatively certain given the things I’ve still been reacting to, that there is still more going on than that alone.

Sucks that once my stomach reacts strongly to something it tends to be off for the rest of the day, because it means I really only get one solid test per day. But hopefully soon I will have enough data to do some kind of elimination diet within my elimination diet. Sigh.

Mood is still majorly messed up as well. I am a cranky pants. And I recognize this. Also, if you call me a cranky pants, or I think you may want to call me a cranky pants, I will immediately start to cry a lot (Partly because everything makes me cry a lot right now. You could show me a pair of mittens and I might very well cry on you). Partly because I am not trying to be a cranky pants. I am just in self-preservation, automatic defenses mode. I am worried. All the time. Like, more than normal, which is saying something. I no longer feel confident that I can handle the things in my life. And I’m finding it difficult not to think about death. Not in an “I want to die” sort of way at all, just in general. Like, when my husband is leaving for work, I will wonder if he will come home again. But vividly. And I realized that I should update the emergency contact card in my wallet so that if I die soon somebody will think to tell my mother. Stuff like that. I think about this stuff anyway over the past years, to be honest. I always make sure I hug him goodbye, just in case. And you will note that I need to “update” the contact card in my wallet, not make one. But the past few weeks it has been in the forefront rather than a background thought. It has been concentrated, and I know that’s not a good sign for me.

I also KNOW that it’s related somehow to the diet changes. I am quite certain with the way it all happened. I just have no frigging clue exactly how they’re connected. Am I somehow messing with the serotonin in my brain by having digestive problems that disrupt the serotonin in my gut (that is where most of it is located, I guess)? Is the extra demand caused by my issues down there limiting the blood flow to my head (it could happen – blood flow is one of the reasons heart-attack patients are at risk for depression)? Was I somehow self-medicating with dairy products previously? Is it the lack of bacon? It must be the lack of bacon.

(Actually, I don’t even really like bacon. Shhhh. Don’t tell. I know. And you thought that I was crazy before!)

This is not the post that I had intended to write when I sat down here. Possibly because it doesn’t, you know,…say anything. But this is the post that came out. So I guess I’ll go with it.

Elimination Diet Complications

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

So the elimination diet seems, in short, not to be sitting well with me. Or needs some modification for my particular system, at the least. For the first few days, I thought maybe I was just having some normal adjustment issues. Most sources tend to say to expect a little hardship (fatigue, minor headaches, etc.) during the first week. And to be fair, I am not yet past that first week.

But holy heck, is my body unhappy with me.

So beyond the fatigue and the slight queasiness and the car on my chest and the angry lemur hugging my head (which I have accepted as probably a natural or expected part of the week one experience, and well worth it when things start to actually improve), there is this gaggle of other things that are definitely getting progressively worse rather than better and seem like they may or may not be likely to improve.

Like that my digestion and stomach issues have been WAY worse than they’ve ever been before. I’m back to inflating like I’m seven months pregnant after lunch and dinner, and only a bit less the rest of the day. And falling-down-tired for hours and hours after eating. Plus I have a pile of acid in my throat after every meal with any kind of meat in it (which is new). Not pleasant.

And I am suddenly and dramatically being overcome by the same stuff I was struggling with when I was medicated for my depression and the results were going horribly awry. On day two, I met with a friend and had to stop myself from crying in the middle of the Starbucks. …For almost no reason. The next day I wasn’t able to restrain the tears anymore, and freaked out on Dr. Douchecanoe when he made a comment about what I will do if my health situation turns out to be “normal”. Which I would have been angry about regardless, but in my usual state these days I would have been able to make my indignant arguments without bursting into tears, or raising my voice. By yesterday, I was breaking down into tears several times every half hour or so. Every half hour. Over nothing. Not good.

Plus, my thinking is seriously foggy. And not “foggy” like a driving annoyance, but “foggy” like when you can’t see the taillights of the car two feet in front of you anymore. Trying to reason through even basic things is hazy, and frustrating, and just as crazy difficult as it’s ever been. And more so now because I know a week ago I wouldn’t even have noticed that these things required thinking about. The effort would have been so trivially negligible. It took me more than two hours to write out a quick and almost entirely pre-determined shopping list to e-mail my husband yesterday. More than two hours. And significantly enough more that I don’t want to type it here because it is that embarrassing. And not because I got sidetracked or distracted, but because I could not keep track of what I was doing at any given moment. “Okay…I need a vegetable…One of these two vegetables…Maybe sweet potato…Could that work with quinoa?…Okay, picture quinoa…Having trouble picturing quinoa…Why am I picturing quinoa again?…To see if it goes with something…With what?…” It’s kind of a sad process. I feel like someone should just give me a box of crayons and maybe a flower or two and put me out of my misery.

So anyway, in total I’m not sure whether something about what I’m doing is putting more strain on my digestive system rather than healing it. And I’m not sure whether something is bringing on the same type of crazy ass depression symptoms that some of the SSRI’s did. I’ve been careful to get enough calories (the same as I was eating before), and protein, and to keep my blood sugar as stable as possible. But clearly, something is OFF.

And yes, maybe any sane person would just put the elimination diet on hold for now and test for food intolerances some other time or some other way. But I never claimed to be sane. I want to be able to find out if foods are responsible for some of this. Or if they’re not, I want to be able to take that off the table. So for now, some temporary changes to try to pinpoint and resolve what’s going on, and fingers crossed that the situation improves.

In the mean time, until my brain figures out how to think again and I stop seeing the world through crap-coloured glasses, I can tantalize you with half written posts about search terms, and soon-to-be classics with titles like “Vision. …And Crotch Movies”.

Five Question Friday – “Allergen-Free Haze” Edition

Friday, February 25th, 2011

So in an attempt to identify some of what is going on with my digestive issues, fatigue, etc., I’ve started an elimination diet.  …Which for those of you who haven’t ever been on one pretty much means that I’ve cut out all of the most common allergens (dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, nuts, sugar, yeast, corn, additives, etc.) as well as a few other things that can also cause problems (alcohol, caffeine, beef, citrus, etc.).  The goal is to eat like that for a while (in a very nutritionally balanced, well-researched, perfectly safe and healthy way, of course.  This is me after all.  Do you have any idea how many hours I’ve spent now trying to plan out this shit?  A lot, my friends.  A lot) until things calm down (at least 3 weeks) and then go crazy with a single food item for a day and see if react in ways that make me want to gnaw off my limbs.  No limb gnawing = probably okay.  Extreme limb gnawing = probably a food intolerance.  Moderately gnawed limbs are probably a bad sign too.

Though that last statement could probably be applied in general.

At any rate, I’ve been at this since the beginning of the week, and am currently feeling somewhat like Hell warmed over.  I am also beginning to think that maybe my only food problem is meat, and I am going through all of this for nothing, but that’s another story.  Anyway, the raging levels of fatigue and mental fogginess are making it difficult to get much of anything done these days (seriously, talking to me in person right now is probably HILARIOUS.  …And by hilarious, I mean very, very frustrating.  I can’t seem to speak to save my life.  On a completely unrelated side note, I am going to be haggling for a car tomorrow).  On the plus side, my back has finally started to get back to closer to normal in the last couple of days.  I think it just felt sorry for me.

Sucker.

So on to Five Question Friday!  As per usual, questions come originally from Mama M, were introduced to me via Spokeit, and contain various alphabet letters and punctuation marks.  Also, I would love to hear your answers.

The Questions:
1.  Can you drive a stick shift?
2. What are two foods you just can’t eat?
3.  Do you buy Girl Scout cookies?  What’s your favorite kind?
4.  How do you pamper yourself?
5.  What is your nickname and how did you get it?

My Answers:

1.  Can you drive a stick shift?
Nope.  My very first time trying to drive was with a stick shift, but it didn’t last long.  I did drive a tractor pulling hay rides for a summer, though, and it had a clutch.  Does that count?  I think hay ride tractor totally counts in the same class as sports car.

2. What are two foods you just can’t eat?
1) Ham (like the brown lump kind…you know what I mean?  I can tolerate thinly shaved lunch meat).  Hate ham.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.
2) Caviar (with fishy fish a close third).  I really like certain kinds of sushi roll, but if there’s even a single fish egg hiding on there somewhere, I can taste it, and it’s overwhelming.

Pretty much anything else I would eat just be polite if it was served to me, but I couldn’t choke those two down.  Thankfully no one has yet greeted me at the door with spam covered in fish eggs (that I’m aware of).

3.  Do you buy Girl Scout cookies?  What’s your favorite kind?
I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a Girl Scout come by to offer them… I used to love those plain white ones with the vanilla cream, shaped like shamrocks.  Yum!  …Not as big a fan of the new generation (mint ones and stuff).  And I haven’t actually purchased a bag of cookies like that in at least two years now (single cookies, now that’s another story).  If they are in the house, I will eat them.  All of them.  Probably at once.  I have learned this now.

I’m also becoming progressively more yucked out by all the nasty processing and preservatives and stuff in things like that.  I’m turning into a total food hippie.

4.  How do you pamper yourself?
This answer used to involve cat snuggles.  :(

A glass of wine and/or
Pedicure not done by me and/or
Yummy, yummy special food (usually either a treat, or something that feels classy) and/or
Temporary removal of pressure and expectations.

5.  What is your nickname and how did you get it?
Too many of my nicknames over the years have been related to my first name, which I try not to post here so that nobody reads this insanity who then has to look me in the eye on a regular basis (by the way, last week I had a raging yeast infection!).

The name that I go by is a nickname, I guess, though not a very original one since it’s just the first four letters of my full name.  Nobody calls me by my full name except health professionals and salespeople, though.

I had a friend in high school who to this day still calls me Cartel (like a drug cartel…because he connected drug cartels to a city that sounds like my name, not because I was a drug mule or anything.  That anyone has ever proven), which is amusing because I was a very straight-laced kid that way.  He also sometimes called/calls me Tical (which you have to say with a particular tone of voice), which was a Wu-Tang-Clan reference, I believe.  I also could not name you a single Wu-Tang-Clan song, by the way, although I’m sure I’ve heard some.

Other nicknames have been generally temporary (1-2 years or so, I would say), and person-specific, and have included:

  • Sunshine
  • Lil’ Sherman (after the tank)
  • C-Dawg (because it sounds like sea dog, and that’s fun)
  • Mouse (which is weird, because that is totally my mom’s lifelong nickname but the person didn’t know that)
  • Calligraphy
  • Assorted others I can’t think of at the moment

There is also a collection of terms of endearment from my husband (he calls me My Dove a lot), and some from my mother, though hers were mostly a collection of random vegetables (which I thought was TOTALLY NORMAL for most of my life).

Has anybody ever called you a vegetable name?

How To Swallow Pills Without Gagging

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Okay, so I know this isn’t much of a life update, but I had to share this because it’s so freaking cool. And yes, given my usually sarcastic nature, this post could very well have been an amusing-to-everyone-but-me anecdote about how I projectile vomited all over my living room ceiling this morning, but it is in fact actually directions on how to swallow pills without gagging! …Novel, I know.

1) Take pill as normal, except when gag reflex starts to kick in (or before, to prevent one)…
2) Tickle/stimulate/pull/massage one ear with your free hand (not inside the canal or anything, just the big outside area).

So simple, and yet, so cool.

**

Edit: Okay, I have been getting a LOT of hits on this post, from people like me who have a lot of trouble swallowing pills without that gag reaction, so I have decided to update/expand this with more detail about what I do that now works for me… If you have a different technique that’s been good to you, or if you find any of what I write here particularly helpful, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.  It’s tough to know what will strike a cord with others, and what’s more unique to me.

And, of course, I am not a doctor.  I am sharing my own personal success and experience, but this is not a formal medical opinion of any kind and should not be taken as such.  If you try to swallow a pill and end up injured because you have some kind of strange leprosy and shouldn’t have been touching your ears, please do not sue me.  I take no responsibility for your actions.

First off, any technique takes some practice to get just right.  …Which sucks.  Because there are few things more unpleasant than the sensation of gagging.  But if you don’t get it quite right, do keep experimenting.  Becoming aware of all of the little nuances and muscles involved so that you can manipulate them takes time.  I have one heck of an active gag reflex and used to think no matter what I did I was screwed, but eventually I got the hang of things (though even now, every now and then I still gag a little…but not often, and if you’re anything like me, you know what an achievement that is. :) ).

My sister has a technique that she swears by in which she takes a little water in her mouth, then rests the pill on top of it, tips her head back, and swallows, letting the pill float down her throat on the water like a little canoe.  That sounds like it has potential to me.  But, by the time I heard about it, I had already spent countless mornings perfecting my own system, and don’t want to start retraining from the beginning with all the gagging involved in trying to get it right.  So.

What I do:

  1. Take a small sip of water to moisten things up.
  2. Ensure as much as possible that my thoughts/anticipations aren’t causing my stomach to churn before I even get near the pill.  Swallowing pills unsuccessfully is not fun, and sometimes the body starts to ramp up the gag reflex before I even have a chance.  At a time like this, I usually need to either accept that I will gag, or wait a bit for things to settle down before trying.  I haven’t found a good way around the body when it’s in a crazy hyper-vigilant state.  Often sincerely distracting one’s thoughts can help (focus intently on the feel of the floor beneath your feet, or try to do very challenging math problems in your head, etc. Something you have to think so hard about that there isn’t room for anything else).
  3. Place the pill far back on the tongue, and quickly push it a little if necessary to get it positioned just on the brink (this takes some practice), so that it is still in the mouth, but just about to fall into the throat (though not so far back that it falls by itself before you’re ready – err on the side of caution.  And take extra care with those gel-encased pills like omega 3′s or vitamin E.  They can be slippery little buggers).  If I place a pill on my tongue, my tongue goes into these crazy convulsions to flip it back out again against my will.  This far-back positioning prevents the clever tongue from being able to work against me, and is one of the key parts of what made pill-swallowing possible for me.
  4. Take a gulp of water, and swallow it.  If the pill is close enough to the opening of the throat, it should fall down along with it.  This was all that I did for a long time.  I still gagged often, but at least the pills would get down, which is more than I could say before.  However, there are two other steps that, when added, have beaten the gag.
  5. Key #1: As described above, massage/pull/tickle/stimulate one ear with your other hand as you swallow and potentially before (the big outside cartilage bit – don’t stick your finger in the canal or anything).  It may take some experimentation to figure out exactly what technique is most effective for you with this…might be a light tickle, might involve only certain areas, might need a firmer touch, etc.  For me, sometimes I get better results if I pull it out a bit and move it around so that I can feel my ear canal opening/stretching slightly.  This sounds weird, but serves two very real purposes.  One, touching your ear stimulates the throat muscles to spasm a tiny bit, which should prevent coughing.  Two, the stimulation also provides a sensation that is stronger than the feel of the pill, which means that it is harder for the less conscious parts of your mind to pay attention to what is happening in your throat and thus easier to sneak the pill down unnoticed.
  6. Key #2:  This part had a huge impact, but took me a long time to be able to do well, so do keep trying.  It will get easier with practice, I promise.  The goal while you are swallowing, and before, when you have that pill balanced on the back of your tongue, is to keep the back of your tongue as far away from the top of your throat as possible (or, to make the space at the back as big as you can).  It takes a lot of practice to be able to tune into the muscles and sensations involved in this, but your awareness really will improve with time.  This is not an area that your brain already has much wiring for, because it’s rare that you would need it.  But the more times you pay very close attention to the sensations there and move things around, the more new connections will be built to make your perceptions in that area more refined and more accurate.  Truly, this is the way the body/brain works (and there is some very cool, totally-unrelated-to-pill-swallowing research out there on the topic if you’re interested.  It’s neat stuff!).  Anyway, the point is, if you can’t tell what’s going on in there very well at first, don’t be discouraged.  This is also a step that you can practice a bit without any pills in there, so with no discomfort or gagging if you fail. When I do this, I think about lowering the platform that is the back of my tongue, holding it as far down as I can (and keeping the pill as far down away from the top as possible).  The front of the tongue doesn’t move much in this, but the jaw opens some to make room and the back of the tongue maybe flattens some, or at least tenses.  Try opening your jaw, and note what happens to the distance between your very back molars.  Notice that if you just move the front teeth as far away from each other, the very back ones seem to actually get closer together.  Now instead try focusing on getting those very back teeth as far apart as possible.  This is more of a straight up and down pressure – the top level needs to be pulled up, and the bottom needs to be dropped down.  In doing this, it seems like a nice tennis ball sized space opens up right at the very back, in that space where the throat and mouth would “intersect” (it isn’t nearly this big in reality, but the sensation of a nice round empty space is a good one).  There will be a tiny bit of space between all the upper and lower teeth as the jaw moves to accommodate this, but the important key is that sensation of lowering the back of the jaw area (or even further back than that). Practice opening up this space as often as you can when nobody is watching, until you feel like it is nice and open and secured.  The muscles involved will strengthen as you practice, and you may find that you start to have some control over subtleties you weren’t even aware of when you started.  There is muscle tension involved in this to get the very back part of the tongue area down as well.  For me, when I do this right, there is also some sensation of pulling the front of the throat away from the back (like you were holding the passage of your throat in your neck as open as possible by force).  There are definitely muscles involved in this.  It isn’t a relaxed movement when I do it – there is active tension there, though not straining or clenching (just a light, firm, muscular activity).  It’s like relaxing the space as far as it will go, and then pulling it just that extra tiny bit further.  I’m not sure exactly which muscles are really doing what when this happens (it may be some sort of specific tensing of the neck muscles), but the sensation is one of making the space in the throat passage just a touch wider and holding it there.  Either this is actually expanding the space enough that the pill has just that tiny bit more space in which to slip down without triggering things or is held away from the places that trigger that gag reflex, or the act of having the surrounding muscles tensed like that prevents those sensors from firing properly.  Either way, once you have a firm grip over the area and can push it that extra bit wider than it would naturally be, the gagging just doesn’t happen.  I know this step is harder to explain than the others, and may take some work to get just right, but let me assure you that it is worth it.  This part has made a bigger difference to me than anything else I’ve ever tried, and is the only thing that has met with 100% success when I do it right.  As mentioned, practice the feeling of getting the space as wide as you can with no pills involved, and then just check your success with the pill when you think you’ve got it.  Saves you the gagging trial and error.

I sincerely hope that this helps.  I don’t know that there is actually a quick fix for any of us who have truly struggled to learn to swallow pills successfully.  If there were, I think we surely would have found it already.  Maybe to other people, this opening at the back of the throat comes naturally.  I don’t know.  But I know that experimenting with this and being persistent about it changed everything for me.  I was someone who truly thought that I had tried everything and would never be able to swallow pills.  Then I moved to someone who thought I would never be able to swallow them without gagging.  I can take my pills now without my husband having to listen to choking noises as each one goes down, and without having to pause between pills to allow my stomach to settle.  I hope that this makes the same difference for you.

**

I take a lot of supplements right now. It’s costing us a fortune, but I’m not in the best of health, and since we still don’t really know what’s wrong, I figure it’s probably better to do what I can to eliminate any nutritional component. I’ll do pretty much anything at this point to try to give my body an edge. For many people, I think extra vitamins do lead to really expensive pee, but for the rare people who are sincerely lacking in something, I think they can be well worthwhile, and I am definitely not a “normal, healthy person.” I know that I’ve been low on various things (VERY low on a couple, according to my blood tests – potassium and B12 in particular). They still don’t really know why, so getting a little extra until things are settled out can’t be a bad thing. And it would suck to get the rest of me back on track and still feel like crap because something else in my system wasn’t letting me get enough building blocks to make what my body needs to feel okay. I would rather provide it with lots of raw materials, and then even if it’s not manufacturing at peek efficiency, maybe I’ll still be okay.

Anyway, as I get exposed to more information, the pile of pills gets progressively larger. I’m not crazy about high doses, but it adds up to a lot to swallow. I split them up as best as I can for maximum effect. I take them in three major chunks over the course of the day, and try not to mix anything that’s supposed to interfere with anything else. I try to take them so that they will work well with what I’m eating at the time. A couple I take on an empty stomach. I have not one but THREE old lady pill containers now so that I can have my breakfast, lunch, and dinner pills separated. I am one step away from Suzanne Somers and a pile of supplements larger than my head (though I am also a good researcher, get regular blood tests, and am extremely cautious with anything that one can overdose on).

Currently I chow down on…

1) a multivitamin to cover my bases (which I would probably do regardless of my health situation. Not as good as food, but might help a little when something gets low)
2) Vitamin D (important for everyone not in regular sunlight, I think, and has links in particular to neurotransmitter production and energy/mood/seasonal-affective-disorder)
3) Omega 3 (links to depression/anxiety)
4) SAM-e (precursor to happy neurotransmitters, and potentially good for mood and energy in some people with symptoms of depression…seems to have helped me, though there has been a plateau)
5) B12 and folic acid (important to take with SAMe since it will use up more of the body’s supply and can turn into something harmful if there isn’t enough to go around. I’ve been prone to low B12 for a number of years anyway, so I’m careful with this one)
6) B Complex (leeched by stress and important for energy and adrenal hormone production which has been a verified issue for me)
7) DHEA (this is one of those adrenal hormones, and tested quite low for me so I’m on temporary short-term supplements to try to get the levels closer to normal)
8 ) Adrenal Pro (this is a collection of herbal stuff that is intended to help encourage my adrenals to do a better job of producing and balancing my hormones on their own. Longer term than the DHEA supplements, but not intended to be long term either. Hopefully my body will get the idea soon)
9) Calcium (which is probably important for most women. …Also does noticeably good things for my weight loss when I take it regularly, which I won’t sneer at either)
10) Magnesium (important to balance out the…um…poop-related effects of the calcium, and helpful in balancing out my sodium intake so that there isn’t too much strain on my potassium levels)
11) Potassium (I need to take this since my levels were inexplicably low. This is a tough one and one that I need to get tested frequently since either too low or too high is VERY bad)
12) Vitamin E (has been linked in some credible studies with treatment of the kind of hearing loss I’ve encountered. If there’s a chance that taking it will help there or make future loss less likely, I’m in)
13) Vitamin C (my immune system sucks. Seriously. Always has. Anything I can do to give it an edge is good in my book. Plus, I really don’t eat enough vitamin C rich foods)
14) Sometimes beta carotene, other antioxidants, or other supplemental things (depending on how my diet’s been, I will sometimes throw in something else. If there’s a chance that they can help ease the inflammation going on in my digestive tract or help the Vitamin E in its protective role, I figure it can’t hurt)
15) Apple Cider Vinegar, Digestive Enzymes, and a Probiotic (these three are supposed to be making progress with my stomach issues. …No luck so far)

Makes for a pile of pills, given that with many of these I am supposed to take 2, 3, or 4 pills per day. And getting back to the point of this post in the first place, this becomes more daunting when I say that I am TERRIBLE at swallowing pills. Terrible. Always have been. I have vivid memories of a caregiver who refused to believe me and tried to force me to swallow a Tylenol when I had a fever. I threw up all over her bed. Sort of thought it served her right, though. Anyway, I have tried every method I could find. I have experimented. I have given it a very sincere effort and been wary that I might be psyching myself out. I employ a lot of mind over matter. But I still have a very sensitive gag reflex. Currently the most successful option is to push the pill almost down my throat with my finger and then use a little juice to slide it over the edge. I have a talented tongue, and it is capable of crazy acrobatics to maneuver a pill back to the front of my mouth if it makes accidental contact. Still, I regularly choke and gag on my daily pills. It’s a normal sound around our house.

BUT!

A few days ago I happened across an article about weird body phenomena, and how the nerves in the outer ear can trigger involuntary tiny spasms in the throat. …And that they can stop a throat tickle. So I thought, if a tickle, maybe another kind of sensation? Like a gag perhaps? And so far it’s working. Perfectly. I look like a total freak, I’m sure, but if I sort of tickle my ear while I’m taking the pills, it seems to totally cut off the gagging feeling. Sometimes it starts, I tickle, and it’s gone, allowing me to get the pill down successfully. I had never heard of this method. Even the article I was reading didn’t make this connection. I claim to have invented it.

Anyway, preliminary trials suggest that as long as I give myself a freaky ear massage, I CAN SWALLOW PILLS!!

You have no idea what a difference this makes in my life.

And my ears have never been more relaxed.

Do you take a billion supplements like I do?  Do you feel like a crazy old lady/man when you do?  Can you swallow them without sounding like a cat in the process of hairball formation?  …Just me, eh?

Five Question Friday – Dopamine Helps Us Play Edition

Friday, November 5th, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about low dopamine and burnt out dopamine receptors. I stands to reason that mine have seen better days (they say pretty conclusively that both stress and depression have this effect), but I wonder now how much that’s at the heart of my current problems.   Since beginning to pay such close attention to my moods and behaviours, I am definitely aware that I engage in certain behaviours for addiction-related reasons (and addiction is apparently often a matter of seeking a greater dopamine response).   I am under control.  I can resist, if I push, but the draw towards certain things is not pleasure after a point. It is urge. Need. Addiction. Dopamine-seeking. And while it’s normal for everyone to feel better when engaging in these kinds of activities (dopamine is a happy chemical after all), I seem to take it a step further. And whether or not I can resist the urge, it is telling to me that it’s there.  Many of my go-to coping strategies also seem aimed towards dopamine-release.  Breaking down and eating one of those damned leftover Halloween chocolate bars was an inevitable invitation to the burning urge for MORE. My body says I MUST EAT MORE. Even when I find the flavour unappealing. When I’m down, my instincts scream at me to GO TO THE STORE and BUY SOMETHING. Even household items if I have to. I perk up much more than seems standard when presented with mental challenges, or when exploring somewhere new.  I crave that.   And the only three things I can think of so far that have the ability to temporarily eliminate my depression all together are strong feelings of being in love, Ritalin, or a cup of coffee. But all three of those do so brilliantly. All of these things point to a dopamine issue. Too bad the Wellbutrin, Ritalin, and I didn’t work out (and too bad a single cup of coffee leaves me dryer than the Sahara).

The caffeine connection I just learned about today. I had wondered if the fact that a cup of coffee seems to temporarily cure my depression might be useful information to the right person. Appears that it might. Now if only I could find that person… Makes me SO badly want to research the heck out of all of this stuff and become that resource for other people.

I think the dopamine side of things bears investigating further. Maybe there’s something I can do with diet or supplements to specifically target that. I’ll ask my naturopath as well. There seems to be much more focus on the serotonin connection, but history seems to suggest that may not be my primary problem. I’m big on anything I can do to potentially give my brain a boost in general anyway, so it can’t hurt to focus in on that in particular for a while and see what happens.

Anyway, coffee good. Dopamine better. Questions forthcoming below.

As always, questions come originally from Mama M, were introduced to me via Spokeit, and I would love to hear your take on them in the comments (sincerely – sharing releases chemicals too. :) ).

The Questions:

1. If you could have any talent and turn it into an occupation, what would it be?
2. Would you rather have a house at the beach or a cabin in the woods?
3. Is there any meaning or reasoning for the names you chose for your child/children?
4. What is your guilty pleasure?
5. Do you live in a house that is deep cleaned or straightened?

My Answers:
1. If you could have any talent and turn it into an occupation, what would it be?
Is “author” not on the list of every blogger out there? Clearly we all enjoy writing to at least some extent or we wouldn’t start doing this. And who wouldn’t want to make their living doing something they like? While we’re at it, let’s add “blogger” to that list as well. You all just let me know when you’d like to start paying me to tell you what’s wrong with me that week. ;)

Beyond that, I’m not sure. Unfortunately most of the things I would love to be more talented at (singing, dancing, theatre, photography) involve working a lot of nights and weekends for most people, and many, many talent-based careers (including author, and definitely blogger) come with some degree of exposure. See above where time with my husband helps to keep my depression at bay. Also past posts about how much I completely suck at handling criticism.

2. Would you rather have a house at the beach or a cabin in the woods?
I think I am slowly becoming a cabin in the woods girl. I’m not big on insects, but also not big on heat, and I sunburn even slathered in SPF Silly. Just typing that sentence is leaving red marks. And I like trees, but not the kind that tend to grow on beaches. Plus, what better place to write my highly-talented-author novel than from the porch of my woodland retreat? I’ll take a lake, though. Call it a compromise.

3. Is there any meaning or reasoning for the names you chose for your child/children?
No children yet. Still fence-sitting on that one, and beginning to find that fence posts are not overly comfortable to sit on for extended periods of time. Particularly the pointy kind. Anyway, no kids means no kid names. I am not someone who has had my future children’s names picked out since I was twelve. I can’t see them having any particular significance beyond my preference for them, though. I’m doubt they’d be named after anybody else or anything, and I’m not quite geeky enough to call my daughter pi.  I will likely end up picking something on the fringey side of mainstream (not in any way typical, but not completely made up either).

4. What is your guilty pleasure?
Reality television. It embarrasses me sometimes how much I actually enjoy some of those shows. Even the ones filled with idiots. Sometimes especially the ones filled with idiots (though in my defense, if there’s a clever person amongst them, I root for them every time without fail). I don’t watch them for the idiots, but I can tolerate a lot to get my fix. Often I want to watch other things. Witty, intelligent, well-crafted things. But sometimes I just want to see the pretty pictures that the models took.

But I’m too much of an intellectual elitist not to give myself just a little bit of a good-natured hard time about it.

5. Do you live in a house that is deep cleaned or straightened?
Straightened by me, deep cleaned by somebody else. Straightening things up doesn’t really bother me, but I am not a fan of full scale cleaning. I like things to be clean. I like things to have their place and stay there. Clutter bothers me a lot. But I would MUCH rather work my tail off spending extra hours doing other things to earn the money to pay someone else to break out the bucket and sponge. Hate it. Don’t know exactly why, but it is definitely on my list of Things I Like Doing Least In The World (along with “being screamed at” and “eating things that move.” …Although eat a spider vs. spend three hours cleaning? I would probably eat the spider. Unless it was a particularly ugly one). The husband cares slightly less than me on both sides (not as adamant, but not as bothered by mess either) . Consequently, our old apartment was sporadically cleaned at best (honestly, it usually it got a good overhaul when company was coming over, and we lived with it pretty much as-is the rest of the time). And even then, we VERY rarely got to the deep cleaning stage. Superficial stuff took long enough to use up our very limited supply of cleaning-related mojo. I hated it (mess seriously stresses me out), but I hated cleaning even more. Hiring someone to come in now and then is one of the best investments we’ve made. If it says anything, we will actually have lengthy conversations with each other about how thrilled we are by it. Frequently.

Naturally Speaking

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Had my first appointment with a naturopath today.  My doctor actually recommended that I see her (and by which I sort of mean ran out of answers and desperately pointed at somebody else).  It makes sense, though, as I now seem to have conventional medicine thoroughly confounded.  Really, I’m now dealing with my depression pretty much exclusively through alternative medicine anyway as well, so it probably makes sense to have a “professional” looking over that too.

I love how having to recite my history to people draws into focus how completely loopy it is, though.  I went through the same thing in relation to my personal history when I was seeing various therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. for initial appointments.  I swear to god, I never once realized that my history was unusual before then.  Nothing draws attention to abnormalities like having to repeat the same descriptions four times in a row while four pairs of different eyebrows do a little dance for you.  It’s not as crazy as some people’s.  And that’s pretty much my yardstick for a lot of things, I think.  Somebody else’s is weirder, so mine must be perfectly normal.

At any rate, my new naturopathic doctor wanted details on any significant physical issues I’ve been experiencing.  I actually started trying to type out some semblance of how our conversation progressed so that you, too, could share in the absurdity, but quickly realized I could be here all evening trying to transcribe it, and without all of the details, it isn’t nearly as comical.  We would basically be talking about one issue, and then it would somehow tie in to something else that was also wrong, but totally different.  Again, and again, and again.  And her eyebrows just kept getting higher and higher.

I will summarize.  It began with:

“So what brought you here?”

“Well, I’ve been having what appear to be some digestive issues of some sort, and my family doctor thought that maybe you could help me figure out what’s going on.  My stomach sort of inflates like I’m pregnant at random times after eating.  I’ve pretty much been wearing nothing but maternity-style shirts to cover it.  Originally, the doctor thought it could be a food sensitivity thing, so I’ve been logging what I eat that brings it on, but it seems to be totally random.”

[I shuffle through my papers and start reading random items off the list]

“Carton of milk – really inflated.  One grapefruit – really inflated.  Piece of toast – really inflated. …Oh – here’s one where I just had a glass of water.  Really inflated there.  …This one I had just woken up and hadn’t actually eaten anything yet…”

[Naturopath has somewhat pained expression]

Touched on:

“Oh, and I had really low potassium for a year.  Yeah.  I know that’s not supposed to be possible.”

“Oh, and I used to get sick all the time. …No, like at least once a month and really sick.”

“Yeah, I was sick all the time as a kid too, but mostly then I just threw up a lot.”

“Oh, and I’ve got pretty bad fasting hypoglycemia.”

“Oh, and my liver was registering as damaged a couple of times.”

“Oh, and I have sudden sensorineural hearing loss.”

“No, they say that’s not related, but I have relatively frequent adult ear infections that have ruptured several times”

“Oh, and I appear to be growing a beard.”

“Oh, and my body reacts in weird ways to a lot of medications.”

Mixed in a lot of:

“No, I’m the only one in my family who has anything like that.”

“Yes, I’ve been to a specialist and tested for that.”

“No, they have no idea what caused that.”

And ended with:

“Oh, and by the way I’m off on medical leave right now for depression.”

The poor woman.  I was reminded of a bit of stand-up I had seen once (it’s here, around 3:57 – 4:25).  In the end she was just sitting there, staring at this pile of notes she had taken, with an expression on her face like I had just walked in and birthed a live wallaby, then asked her what she was going to do about it.

All in all, I was pleased, though.  At the very least she seems willing to persist in trying to get to the bottom of things.  And really, as long as it’s not particularly risky, I’m willing to try just about anything these days.

Like typing “Optimus Prime d” into Google to see for myself what the autocomplete suggests.  Which is pretty darn funny, by the way.

The Pay-Rant Trap

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I need to vent some ire for a moment.  There seems to be a movement happening these days towards more healthful options available for purchase.  And I love this.  I think it’s great.  I’ve done a lot in the last few years to try to improve my health situation in general, and the more I find out about all the crap that’s out there and how nasty it can be for you, the more I sort of shudder at how long it’s taken us to realize that.  I think there’s a kind of complacency in numbers.  …We all kind of figure that if everyone is doing it, it really can’t be that bad, right?  And surely if it was somebody would have caught on to that and stopped it.  Like smoking in the 50’s, I guess.

Anyway, new products good.  But I have reached the stage where in addition to reaching for the “healthier option” products, I then turn them over and take a glance at the label.  And holy crap do I want to strangle merchandizing executives sometimes.  The number of things out there that are clearly designed to appeal to the health conscious but are completely devoid of any redeeming qualities is disgusting.  I feel so sad for all of the people who are buying this stuff, clearly because they care about their health, and are getting taken.  Bah.

The first thing to really steam me up was lip balm.  I am a chapstick addict.  I will admit this.  I have been through twelve step programs, in which I spend the first six steps breaking free of my dependency, and the following six running right back.  I have a tube within reach of pretty much everywhere I figure I will ever be.  There is one in the living room, one in the kitchen drawer, one in our entry way, one in the office, one in the bedroom, several in the bathroom, two at work, and at least one tube in every purse or handbag I own.  And if I’m leaving the house without a purse, the one thing I check whether my husband has with him is lip balm.  I have varied through different brands in my time.  Sometimes my lips will start to build up a resistance to my current favourite, and I will have to change in order to get the same effect.  You know.  Like crack.

Anyway, unfortunately for me, a while back I happened to catch part of a TV show on the negative health consequences of beauty products.  And in addition to avoiding face powder like the plague except on special occasions… Well, okay, in addition to now cringing a little on the rare times that I would bother with face powder anyway (the newer minerally ones have got the same tiny particles in there as the stuff miners wear masks to keep out. …Because otherwise they’ll develop severe lung damage. …Like the kind they’re starting to find on women who’ve been using this stuff for a while.  Ack!), I had my stomach turned a little at the image of exactly how much petroleum the average lip balm or lip gloss wearer is swallowing every year.  Picture a giant tub of petroleum jelly.  Like that.  Ick.  That can’t be good.

So I immediately went to the store to replace my stuff with the natural, non-chemically versions that are supposed to be okay to eat. …If one wanted to do that.  And I was totally disgusted.  I flipped over package after package that was boldly labeled “NATURAL!” or “ALL ORGANIC!” or “MADE FROM REAL BEESWAX” or had pictures of leaves or hemp or recycled products, or something eco-friendly on the label.  And the first or second ingredient in all of them was petroleum.  Often the ingredients list looked exactly like the other stuff, except the very last ingredient would be token amounts of beeswax, or rosemary, or some plant oil, or whatever it was they were claiming the product was based around.  Even “Bert’s Bees” was actually made of petroleum.  WTF??  In the end, I found only two products that seemed to actually be as natural as they appeared to be from the outside, one of which was manufactured by a major company (which surprised me), and the other that was on clearance because it had already been discontinued.

The other thing that really gets me is some of the “vitamin waters” out there.   …Which seem like a really good idea until you flip over the label.  Some of them seem to be moving towards more transparancy (in information, not colour. …which I don’t have nearly so many strong feelings about), which is great, but others not so much.  First off, they apparently don’t actually have to list the calories like every other beverage because they’re calling themselves a “natural supplement.”  Which is shifty because they’re super sweet and probably more calories than the cola beside them.  What really gets me, though, is that some vitamins just don’t taste good.  They don’t.  In fact, some of them taste downright nasty.  And the manufacturers have discovered this.  But rather than leaving those vitamins out, they’re putting in completely negligible amounts of them and brandishing the contents across the label.  On the last road trip I took with my husband, we stopped at a gas station to pick up drinks, and I flipped over a bottle designed as a supplement of B6, B12, and potassium.  I’m kind of low in both B12 and potassium, so I figured I might as well get a little extra where I can.  I take a B12 supplement every day.  It has 1000 mcg of B12.  This bottle listed something like 20.  Alrighty then.  The B6 was even more pathetic.  Which makes sense, because B6 tastes like shit.  But just leave it out then.  Don’t put in the tiniest amount possible and then proudly say it’s in there.  The only thing it had in it in high quantities was potassium.  In fact, it had seven times the maximum amount of potassium that a multivitamin is allowed to contain.  Because too much potassium can kill you.  But it tastes okay.  Great.

Which brings me to this morning, when in a moment of kitchen-related boredom, I flip over the box of green tea bags I bought and read the ingredients.  The box is plastered with its flavonoid content and stuff.  Clearly they’re trying to appeal to the health-conscious.  First ingredient green tea (I hope so).  Second ingredient corn maltodextrin (…the fuck??), followed by….sugar… (there is sugar in my teabags??), followed by maltitol (which I have never heard of, but sounded shifty. …A quick Google search tells me both that it’s a sugar substitute, and that there are some issues with it), and then the flavourings and fruit-related stuff.  Seriously?!??  In a TEA BAG???  I checked the other flavour I purchased, and it seems just fine.  So do my other teas.  But seriously, I never would have guessed that I needed to check the label on a teabag.  I will apparently be doing this from now on.

In the mean time, at least I know what I’m getting into with this Lipton Superfruit green tea.

Yeah.  Malodextrin in my teabag.  Super.