Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Gift of the Unexpected

I have withheld discussing in detail the health issues I've been facing over the last year or so on public forums (and even in many more personal settings, too, for that matter). However, after 6 months of visits to doctors and a surprising, unexpected, yet relieving turn of events, I am ready to share some of what my experience has been.

Over the last several months, I've undergone several medical tests to identify and diagnose the cause of a possible movement disorder. I started having jerking movements mostly in my legs probably about 3 or 4 years ago. At that time, it happened mostly at night while falling asleep and according to others, while I was sleeping. It didn't seem to cause much of an issue for me at that time. I thought I could attribute it to my Fibromyalgia (diagnosed 12 years ago), side effects from medications I was currently on, or that perhaps it was just "normal." Within the last year, these involuntary movements occurred more frequently until they were happening daily and during wakeful periods. My right leg and thigh are seemingly affected the most, though it occurs also in my other leg and in my wrists and fingers on both hands. My pain levels increased (which I attributed again to Fibromyalgia and the constant tics and twitching), my balance and gait began to suffer, and I experienced chronic numbness and tingling in my hands, arms, and sometimes face. Test after test came back normal, and this was in many ways reassuring. There was nothing structural causing my symptoms and therefore it was possible that with treatment my symptoms could improve. After months of working with my PCP, a neurologist here in Spokane, and consulting also with a neurologist in Boston, I had it "narrowed down to 2 categories." It was "similar to but atypical of" a tic disorder and Restless Legs Syndrome. My neurologist scheduled one final test to be done--a polysomnogram, also called a sleep study. If the movements occurred also during sleep, it would be a clearer diagnosis and classified as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Typically that also only occurs during sleep, but can be very disruptive. I'd been experiencing extreme fatigue and even had blood tests to check for Mono, iron deficiency/anemia, inadequate B-vitamin levels, Diabetes, etc., and all that came up was an abnormally low level of Vitamin D. If the polysomnogram showed evidence of movements during sleep, I would start on a low dose of Mirapex, a drug used in large doses to treat Parkinson's Disease and in lower doses for PLMD and RLS. I was discouraged by the thought of having to medicate at all as I had spent over a year decreasing, detoxing from, and eliminating the cocktail of pharmaceuticals I'd been prescribed as a teenager to treat a mood disorder that was later identified as an inaccurate diagnoses to begin with. I was still angry and frustrated with the effects of these drugs and now was faced with the choice to continue as things were or to medicate yet again and potentially for the long term. At the same time, I had reached a point of desperation. I was willing to try pretty much anything, which somehow felt like defeat in and of itself. I was feeling exhausted, unable to do things that once were easy and enjoyable, and much of the time, I was feeling as though I were at the mercy of these limitations. I do feel like I've stayed pretty positive and optimistic most of the time, at least outwardly. I found silver linings when I could, and when I couldn't, I tried to keep that to myself.

I met with the sleep physician for a consult on Tuesday afternoon. He talked to me a bit about my symptoms and what my neurologist had discussed with him. Most people who come in for sleep studies have concerns about sleep apnea, but he explained that it was very uncommon in females in their mid 20s. (I found out today he hadn't actually planned to go through with the test, but did and was glad for doing so.)
He checked my throat anyway and everything looked fine. I was set up to come in at 7:30 on Wednesday evening when I would be hooked up to several electrodes and straps to measure brain activity, breathing, eye movement, muscle movements, etc. I arrived a bit early, got hooked up and was ready to go to sleep by 8:30. The setting was new and the additional "accessories" a little uncomfortable, but I fell asleep by 10. At 1:30AM, the door opened and the technician came in. "Well, this isn't what we expected, but you actually do have sleep apnea. We're going to put a CPAP mask on you."
And I cried. Like a baby. My nose ran inside the mask which I needed help to remove; it was disgusting. Why? I had made it on my own to all of these appointments, through all the tests, all the potential diagnoses and prognoses, and never broke down (at least not IN the office). All I could say was "these are for fat, old men." In my mind, I imagined that Mr. Sleepytech here would be the last man to EVER enter my bedroom so long as I was hooked up to a Darth Vader mask. At 1:30AM, the unexpected is often hard to swallow. Additionally, I was judging myself based on preconceived notions of who gets sleep apnea.
I am not the only one with these preconceived notions either. In the days that followed, I have researched many online forums for sleep apnea patients and folks who use CPAP masks. While many of them are young like me and not obese or male, there were many non-patients who posted comments similar to this one, which I have copied and pasted from a blog/online forum for sleep apnea patients:

"So the bottom line is, lose weight. Our population is so obese that we are literally suffocating our fat selves to death. Stop eating so much. Do you think they are wearing CPAP machines to force air into their fat chests in Nigeria? How much is all of this costing the nation? Now kids are on CPAP. Sad."
But here is the truth: while losing weight can help some sleep apnea patients, it is not necessarily a cause of sleep apnea. Additionally, because the body perceives these apneas (not breathing) as a threat/stress, it holds onto fat and slows the metabolism. Many (but not all) sleep apnea patients are overweight because they are unable to lose it regardless of diet or exercise.
What I also learned is that not all sleep apnea patients have a snoring problem. On a scale of 1-10, my "snoring level" was at a 1--very low. Additionally, apneas (cessation of breathing) and hypopnias (shallow breathing) are measured on a scale of number per hour of sleep. Between 0 and 5 apneas per hour are considered "normal." Anything above that meets the diagnostic criteria for sleep apnea.
I filled out a survey in the morning after the test in which I was asked how many hours of sleep I thought I'd had. I answered a total of 6 or 7. Before the CPAP was installed, I thought I'd slept about 4 hours. I had in fact only slept a total of 2 hours and 27 minutes and in that time had an average of 30.4 apneas per hour. That is diagnostic criteria for severe sleep apnea.

So back to my snotty, soggy, pity party. Here I was, all choked up (pun TOTALLY intended) because in my exhausted and poorly oxygenated brain, I was blaming myself. Truthfully, I'd blamed myself for poor health throughout this whole process. My "logic" was that:

I am young and should be able to control my health and body. If these functions are out of control, there is something I am doing or not doing to contribute to that.
This unhelpful self-talk was not made any better by the early experiences I had with doctors as a teen and young adult. Once I was diagnosed in my teens with a mood disorder, it was hard to feel heard any time I did have a physical concern. Even my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was a long time in coming by because doctor after doctor told me: "you're just depressed," or "just anxious." The problem with language like that is that not only does it lead to the patient feeling completely incompetent and unaware of anything going on in her own body, but it devalues the actual depression and anxiety that can and does occur when we are physically ill. I saw my physician in Couer d'Alene, Idaho back in 2007 or so because I constantly felt short of breath and had chest pains. Inhalers were not helping at all. He told me: "It's probably just anxiety. You should work on that." When I told him that I don't feel anxious during the time of my symptoms he responded: "Well, it could be something more serious, but you don't want to worry about that, do you?"

No, I don't.

So, I will wear a CPAP mask to sleep every night, all night, for the rest of my life. Without it, my apneas will immediately return. It may not be the most attractive aspect of my pajamas, but it sure beats the alternatives. When you are not getting oxygen to the brain, neurological symptoms can result (i.e. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder--and this was occurring during sleep concurrently with every apnea). As you become overloaded with toxic carbon dioxide, risks of stroke and heart disease increase. People with sleep apnea deal with chronic fatigue because every time they do have an apnea, they are jolted from a deep state of sleep to a light state of sleep if not completely woken altogether. Headaches, especially in the morning and at night are common. (Maybe I won't even need those overpriced migraine pills anymore!) Other common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include waking up with feelings of shortness of breath and chest pain, sleep sweats, having to urinate frequently at night, waking with a racing heartbeat, and chronic sinus infections. Many patients who have sleep apnea also have chronic nightmares, sleep terrors and sleep starts (all of which I've dealt with from childhood). Mood disorders, depression, and personality changes can also occur due to lack of sleep as can accident proneness. It is no surprise with all of this that people who have sleep apnea have difficulties with job performance, academic performance, and within their relationships.

Now, for the first time in a long time, I can sit back and breathe--literally! I can let go of the negative notions of fault being involved in my state of un-wellness. I can forgive the "professionals" who, years ago, treated me with heavy doses of medication and even heavier doses of disregard and dehumanization. It is not my fault and further more, had I not pushed through the fear of self-advocating and finally finding doctors I feel comfortable working with, I would continue to (not) sleep every night away, slowly--or potentially more quickly--risking my health and life.

The Gift of the Unexpected may come in an ugly package (really, that CPAP looks like a plastic elephant trunk!), but nothing is more beautiful than peace of mind and finally becoming well.

Additionally, looks aren't everything. That being said, I am totally knitting up some CPAP tube cozies with my Knifty Knitter. After all, if my CPAP did not coordinate with my bedroom decor, I'd be completely unable to sleep at night!

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's Friday! This Moment: I'm Gonna Let it Shine

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Because I Needed Yet Another Crafting Hobby...

Shall we call this How-to Thursday?

I was recently window shopping and saw some adorable plush vegetables. I think it may have been our freakish winter warm spell that got me thinking vegetables are adorable in the first place, but needless to say, I just LOVED them. I did not, however, love the price so much or have any way to justify buying plush vegetables at all. Suddenly, I remembered seeing some handcrafted play foods on a few blogs I read and the pile of craft felt I had sitting at home in my craft bin. I can certainly justify taking on a new crafting hobby, especially when I already have all the materials I need...

...So I entered the grips of the World Wide Web and did a Google sear
ch on free felt play food patterns. I came up with a plethora of websites and blogs containing printable patterns, photo and video tutorials, not to mention other great project ideas! After collecting quite a few ideas, I decided to move forward with making a carrot. I adapted my idea from this online tutorial, but did not include the stitched detail on the orange part and added a face.

Meet Bet A. Carotene!

I loved the turnout of this project right away. I already had plenty more ideas, but it was late and I needed to go to bed. Today I continued on with a felt pea pod. I adapted my pattern from two websites. I used the felt peas tutorial on a blog called bread and buttons to get the basic idea for the pod. I wanted more of a refined edging on the pod, so based on the photo shown on The Wool Food Mama blog, I sewed a blanket stitch along the middle edges of the pod. I still liked the idea of having a face on the peas (as shown in that same photo), and decided to use a lighter shade of green felt to make the peas and marker on the face just as with the carrot.

2 Peas in a Pod

I realized it was likely I would soon acquire a collection of these, and they would need a place to be stored, which is when I decided to make a felt Brown Lunch Sack. You can click the link to learn how to make your own felt lunch sack.

Note: I did not take this photo, it is from the tutorial mentioned above

Perhaps now you would also like to fill up that fabulous felt lunch bag with some healthy produce. So, in the spirit of How-to Tuesday on a Thursday, I will share directions for making your own felt carrot and peas in a pod.

Bet A. Carotene

Orange craft felt (less than one sheet)
Dark Green craft felt (less than one sheet)
Light pink/beige/cream craft felt for face (less than one sheet)
Dark brown or black fine tipped permanent marker
Poly Fiber Fill (or cotton balls work if you don't have poly fiber fill on hand)
Needle & thread (I sew by hand, but you could use a machine if you prefer)
*I also used white thread, but if/when I made additional carrots, I will try using orange thread

  1. Cut out one triangle from the orange felt and two leaf shapes from your dark green felt as shown on the Felt Carrot Tutorial Pattern (pdf file). Cut out a circle/oval from the light pink felt and use your fine tipped marker to draw on a face.
  2. Fold the orange piece in half lengthwise and sew along the side seam. This is the "wrong" side. Now turn your piece right side out and stuff it firmly leaving about a quarter of an inch at the top.
  3. Sew around the open end of the carrot using a running stitch and gather it in to the center.
  4. Attach the leaves to the top. I folded one around the other and stitched them on at the same time, stitching once straight through the leaves to secure them at the center.
  5. Stitch on the face piece.
2 Peas in a Pod

Dark green craft felt (less than one sheet)
Light green craft felt (less than one sheet)
Poly Fiber Fill
needle & green thread
fine tipped black or brown permanent marker

  1. Cut 2 crescent shapes of the same exact size out of your dark green felt. This is most easily done if you fold a piece in half, thus cutting two at the same time. Cut 2 circles (about an inch-and-a-half in diameter) from the light green.
  2. Place the 2 crescent shapes, one on top of the other, and sew along the outside. This is the "wrong" side. Now fold it right side out and carefully snip the ends with your scissors as will stick out a bit.
  3. Stitch about an inch in on both ends of the pod leaving the center open. Using green thread and a blanket stitch, sew a finish along the edges of the open part of the pod.
  4. Use a running stitch to sew around one circle, and placing a small chunk of fiber fill in the center, gather the felt around it into a ball. Stitch up the bottom and you're ready to place your first pea in the pod! I stitched it into the bottom for extra security. Repeat with the second light green circle. Now you're ready to draw on some adorable faces!

Don't forget your lunch!

I particularly enjoy crafting with felt in this way because it provides instant gratification. None of these projects take very long to make, and even sewing by hand, they are pretty fool proof. Additionally, it is a cost effective hobby! One felt rectangle purchased at a craft and hobby shop runs about 25 to 30 cents. You will have enough felt left over from each color to make multiple projects. Fiber fill is usually under $5 for a 20oz bag, but with such small projects, you could even use unraveled cotton balls for the filling. Even if you do go the fiber fill route, you will get many projects out of one 20oz bag. These little guys would create wonderful gifts for any little chefs or gardeners you may know--and some "big" kids would like them, too!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review & The Very First Blah Blah Blahg Give-away!

Recovering from a virus and having very little energy can be quite a drag. Add some pretty cruddy weather to that, and you've got yourself some quality time alone at home. I am now feeling completely recovered and, believe it or not, it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon, melting nearly all the snow we accumulated last week! During my respite, I did enjoy some good reading and am excited to share about the fabulous book I just finished.

Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
by Jenna Woginrich

After being initially struck by the title, I became further interested in reading this book after seeing that the author had started off on her homesteading adventure locally in Sandpoint, Idaho. Aside from that, I had no idea what to expect. Ms. Woginrich tells her story candidly--with humor as well as poignancy. I had never really heard of the word"homesteading" in modern terms before reading this, but it apparently is an all-encompassing description of my dream lifestyle--living as self-sustainably as possible. Homesteading today holds an ideal of getting "back to the land." However, as I understand it, growing your own food in your garden, sewing or knitting your own garments, buying secondhand/vintage items, composting, canning and preserving--are all aspects of homesteading and examples of living a self-sustainable lifestyle.
Upon moving to Sandpoint, Idaho, Ms. Woginrich kept her day job out of necessity. She returned home each evening to her rented farm property where she tended to her laying hens, bee hives, vegetable garden, and Angora rabbits. During her time in Sandpoint (she has since moved to the east coast and you can follow her journey via her blog), she experienced the trials and triumphs of farm life. I, like most other people I know, am not ready or able to go off grid and rough it farmhouse style just yet. I do, however, like that the book includes recipes, project patterns, and a plethora of ideas and resources for simplifying my lifestyle as it is right now. I am inspired, especially in this time of creating more warmth, comfort, and efficiency in my own home.

You can purchase a copy of this book at by clicking here. Remember, buying used books is not only better for your wallet, but also better for the environment! An even *better* eco-friendly idea is to pass along a great book to a friend! If you'd like to win your very own copy of Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, here's your opportunity. I loved this book so much I want to share it and pass it along. In my very first blog give-away, I invite you to comment below on your favorite thing to make from scratch. I will put the names of all participants in a basket and pick a winner on February 1st, 2011. I will announce the winner that day and collect her/his mailing address privately via email. (Please do not post your address in the comments section!)

It's Just Another Mindful Monday! ...And a Beautiful Day for a Staycation...

en you're out and about, is your head tucked in your feathers?

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and though most schools, public services and federal businesses are closed, I had still planned to go to work this morning. I surprisingly ended up with the day off and decided to take advantage of the unseasonably mild weather and go for a walk downtown with a friend--somewhat of a Staycation, if you will.

I've lived in or near Spokane, Washington since September of 2008. For the 5 years prior to that, I lived in Couer d'Alene, Idaho, just outside the state border. Today as I was walking with my friend through Riverfront Park, I remarked that after all this time, I still felt like a tourist in my own hometown. It occurred to me that much of my time when I am out on the town is spent focused on accomplishing some task. I am running errands, getting to an appointment or meeting, getting home. Even if I am walking for leisure, I have failed to notice so many of the beautiful aspects of downtown Spokane. I can only imagine that I am missing a lot of my surrounding environment wherever I go!

My realization on this Mindful Monday is that I am so lost in thoughts of who-knows-what while I am walking around town, that often I end up lost in my own neighborhood!

onday Meditation

As I walk down the sidewalks of my home town, I allow myself to adopt the mindset of a visitor. I notice the simple and the ornate details that have become familiar as though I am seeing them for the very first time. As I bring the background into the foreground, I embrace my ch
ildlike sense of curiosity and wonder. I quack with the ducks, jump over puddles, and tightrope walk along garden walls. I do not need to travel far to feel as though I am on a vacation--I need only to walk with open eyes and an open mind through my very own neighborhood.


Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Friday! This Moment: Snow Day

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How-to Tuesday: Setting Up a Space for Serenity

When I am attending a Yoga class at a scheduled time in a scheduled location, I am very likely to follow through with my practice. After all, I would not get to the gym or studio and not participate. However, it is more difficult to keep my practice going when I am at home and not in a group setting. Part of that is the fact that my mat, props, books and DVDs have been neatly tucked away in their respective bags and shelves. I have been to homes where entire rooms are devoted to Yoga practice. This is a nice thought, but living in an apartment does not provide for that kind of space. I can, however, devote a part of my living space to Yoga and meditation practice. With my mat unrolled and out, my blocks and straps accessible, my DVDs and books all together, and a little bit of creativity, I can create a space that not only gives me the physical capability of doing asana practice, but is also inviting and emanates a feeling of calm.
Even if you do not do Yoga or meditate, having a Serenity Space (as I call it) can be very beneficial. Perhaps it is a corner of a room, or a chair, your desk or a hobby/craft area. Even if the space is not yours alone and you share it with roommates, family, partners and/or children, it is a space that is specifically for the purpose of enjoyment, peacefulness and relaxation.
Think back to when you were a child. Did you have a special spot you frequently went to when you were feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even just for play and fun? Maybe it was a spot in your yard. Or maybe you enjoyed using cushions and blankets to create a fort or tent.

Hey, remember doing this as a kid?

As a child, I had that innate ability to create a Serenity Space in pretty much any location using (or not using) pretty much whatever was at hand. Now as an adult, I have fallen victim to the pressures of materialism and the chaos of the resulting clutter. Filling up my apartment is no problem, it's delegating the space and creating any sense of serenity in it that is a challenge. In this process of simplifying and balancing my life, donating and upcycling some of the materials I have acquired in the last 7 years has become an exercise in both creativity and letting go. Lucky for me, I consider myself a creative person! I like a challenge, and I love a nice arts & craft project.
Here are some of my personal pointers for creating a Serenity Space in your own home. The aim is to make use of what you already have. Challenge yourself to think of new ways to use old things. No matter how large (i.e.: a whole room) or small (i.e.: an old lawn chair) the space you have to work with, may you come to sit comfortably in that space and in your own skin.

Before you begin...
  • In creating a Serenity Space, the first order of business is to think about what that means. What will the space be used for? Reading or writing? Creating music or listening to music? Art? A hobby? Yoga, meditation, or prayer? It could encompass some or all of these things or any other ideas you may have.
  • Will the space be yours alone or a space that is shared?
  • What types of things create a feeling of serenity for you? For example: Certain photos, pictures, paintings can encourage positive thoughts or memories. Perhaps a certain scent makes you feel peaceful. Maybe particular textures and colors create a feeling of warmth and comfort for you.
  • Depending on how you intend to use the space (i.e., meditation versus reading or writing), what kind of light will be necessary?
Creating the Calm...
  • Prepare: For me, since my space was rather cluttered, my first step was to clean it up! Bagging up items I no longer had a use for to send to donation was incredibly liberating. Because my clutter was creating a feeling of inner (and outer) chaos, I wanted my space to be more simple and sparse.
  • Fabric: The use of fabric in my space has created both visual and physical warmth. Extra throw blankets and pillows/cushions make for a cozy sitting space and great props when I am modifying poses in my Yoga practice. I used an old sarong and an old shower curtain to create a double layered "curtain" to cover my bedroom window. The sarong is navy blue and helps the space transition into a dark room for sleeping. However, pinned up during the day, the white mesh shower curtain provides an element of privacy and warmth while still letting some natural light into the room. In the past I have struggled with a terrible habit of collecting what I called UFPs--Unfinished Projects. The worst case of this habit has been my collection of UFPs that are actually USPs--Un-started Projects. In that, I have a lengthy collection of fabric (pun intended) both new and secondhand that has never been turned into a blanket, skirt, apron, or you name it... I took a large strip of a colorful cotton batik I purchased at Goodwill once to make who-knows-what, and using some thumb tacks in matching colors that I had on hand, I attached it to my bedroom ceiling. I'd never thought of using fabric on the ceiling before, but it softens the space, draws in a sense of warmth, and was a great way to cover up some non-glow-in-the-dark stars a former resident had painted up there!
  • The Walls "Help, there are walls in my apartment!" I feel like that every time I move into a new space. There is that period of time after moving in that they are completely blank and naked. Then there is that awkward period of time when I cover them with EVERYTHING and ANYTHING to get rid of the blankness and nakedness. And Then I find my balance and middle ground. For me, less is more. Hanging a few of my favorite pieces of art is about as much as I am willing to commit to on a semi-permanent level. As for the rest, I am LOVING the removable wall stickers that have become widely available. I found some great ones at a dollar store of all places--and they really are removable! (I know this, because being indecisive and slightly obsessive, I have already removed and moved them around several times--all without any damage to the paint, wall or sticker.) With something like this, if you are like me and have trouble committing to one particular theme or color scheme for a room, you have the leeway to make each wall unique, to change what you decide five minutes later you don't like, and not to have to worry about how much money and time it cost you to paint that wall electric lime in the first place! If even this level of commitment to decor feels too permanent, my next favorite idea is to hang up a bulletin board. You can either purchase a framed board or cork board or even build your own depending on how handy you are. With cork board and tacks, 2 weeks from now when you decide that hanging your entire collection of fortune cookie papers wasn't such a great idea, you won't have such a hassle with getting them down and starting fresh!
  • Gadgets, Gizmos and other Chatchkes As for the accessorizing process, I still feel best when I keep it simple. Having less to create clutter with better ensures that your Serenity Space won't turn into a Clutter Cavern. Those sets of fold-out tray tables that are often sold in drug stores and secondhand shops are very useful. I've had a set since I first rented my own apartment in 2005. They are rather weathered, but reusing an old cloth place-mat or fabric covers that up in a breeze and they are a great environment for holding some special photos, candles, vases, etc. Another great fixture is the ever-useful, always popular basket. They are great for storing smaller items (straps, blocks and small Yoga props, pads, notebooks and writing utensils, etc.).
  • Sit back, relax, and Be My first evening in my Serenity Space involved a PM Yoga practice and short meditation. It was my first venture back into Asana practice and my first day of the 21 Day Yoga Challenge. Of course while I was sitting there, thoughts crossed my mind of what I would like to add or change about that space. I welcomed and observed those thoughts. The beauty of this being my space is that like all things in life, it is impermanent and can change and adapt.
* Sadly, my little camera seems to have met its early demise so there are currently no photos of my Serenity Space