Friday, February 26, 2010

Detox-ifying


I love my naturopath. Really, I do. I swear it. But I am, by nature, impatient. And when I went to see her in December about this skin condition I have on my scalp that was making me crazy and she suggested that it is likely the manifestation of yet another food allergy and we should do some more testing, I was deflated. This time I wanted a quick fix. Like, last week.

So I got the test kit and then I set about researching MDs in my area. I wanted to find one that loves my naturopath, too. Not someone who thinks that all NDs are faith-healing witch doctors, but someone who was willing to coordinate care with her and, sometimes, feed my need for expedience.

I got lucky on the first try. I found a clinic not five miles from my house that has two MDs, one ARNP, a naturopath, a physical therapist, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist and a licensed psychotherapist. Their philosophy is to team-treat all of their clients and provide a holistic health care service. What a concept! After explaining that I have a chiropractor, a therapist, and a naturopath I love already, they welcomed me with open arms to use which ever bits and pieces of their practice fit me the best.

After a thorough intake with the ARNP and a naturopath (they routinely treat patients simultaneously in order to have both perspectives), the ARNP asked whether I'd be willing to take a blood test on a hunch she had. Apparently, there is a gene mutation that occurs in some small portion of people that prohibits them from using B vitamins properly. In short, the human body has to add a methyl group to B vitamins in order to utilize them and, some people's bodies can't do that. What that means is that they can't get the effects of the vitamins (which include calming and detoxifying, among other things) and they develop skin conditions and anxiety disorders.

Let's just say I'm the poster child for this gene mutation. One week after my blood test I received a phone call from the nurse practitioner asking me to come back for another visit. I am an overachiever. I have TWO copies of this mutated gene. Where is my blue ribbon? Huh?

Now, the 'fix' for this would seem relatively simple. And, in one sense it is. You simply find folate and vitamin B-12 that already have the methyl group attached and take those. The hard part comes as you begin taking them. Because, in my case, I have 38 years of toxins built up in my body that will quickly begin running for the hills when the methylated B vitamins come after 'em.

We started slowly.

Apparently not slowly enough.

By day 7, my lower legs were on fire. I had what felt like the world's worst razor burn - sandpaper skin that made me feel almost orgasmic when I scratched it with both hands. I am not exaggerating. If it weren't for the knowledge that I would soon break through the skin and begin bleeding, I couldn't have stopped scouring my legs.

Day 8 came with plaques of thick, scaly skin on my scalp that shed blizzards of dandruff on my shoulders.

Day 9 brought the crazies. By this time I had made a follow up appointment with the nurse practitioner, but it would be another week before I could get in to see her. I ran directly to my ND's office and pleaded my case.

"You're detoxing too fast. You need to stop taking the vitamins now and wait until you can get a new protocol. Your body has all these toxins to get rid of and they can't get out fast enough, so it has to deposit them somewhere else. You'll likely get a bladder infection soon and it could cross the blood-brain barrier."

'Cross the blood-brain barrier?' That sounded ominous.

Indeed, it was. Although I immediately stopped taking the vitamins, by Day 10 I was a wreck. I was having panic attacks three and four times a day and my hands and feet were blocks of ice. By the time I got to the clinic, I sat in the exam room and sobbed for an hour before I could speak. The ARNP and the clinic's ND were tremendously kind, affirming that I was detoxing too quickly and they were wonderfully efficient at coming up with solutions for my anxiety as well as reassuring me that, even on a much slower schedule, I could expect to be 'mostly detoxified' within the next month or two.

I am astonished at how strongly this has affected me, and while I am in the throes of an anxiety attack, I am certain that I can't possibly go on. That this feeling will never end and is indicative of something 'broken' in me. Several hours later, when most of the traces of fear and self-loathing have left me, I am blown away by how powerful those feelings are. Every morning has gotten a little better, with diminishing anxiety throughout the day, but the notion that these toxins were laying dormant in me for so long is difficult to comprehend. I am looking forward to the day when I can feel confident that I have eradicated most of the evil that lurked inside my tissues and trust myself again. For now, I'm taking it reallllly slllooooowwwly.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Massage Wisdom


We spent two glorious weeks in Hawaii last October. The four of us read books, dunked each other in the pool, rode waves, and ate decadent meals. In short, we spoiled ourselves rotten. Bubba left his laptop at home and made us his work and it was better than perfect.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I found out that Bubba and the girls had scheduled a 90 minute massage for me on our last full day at the resort. The spa, as most of them go, was designed to be a world away from the busy pool and constant chatter of the hotel. I stood at the counter and completed the requisite forms, noting my propensity for tension in my neck and shoulders, swearing that I wasn't pregnant or prone to heart-attacks and the Barbie doll behind the counter looked up, her brow furrowed and one eyebrow raised.

"Is it okay if your masseuse is a man? We forgot to ask you that when you made the appointment. Some people prefer a woman for a full-body massage." It was clear that she was hoping it wasn't an issue for me.

"Nope. That's fine." I answered quickly, but the wonder rattled around in my brain for a bit. As someone who had been molested by a teenage boy, shouldn't I be uncomfortable with having a man massage me? Maybe, but it really didn't bother me.

Ten minutes later I was standing in a room that can only be described as warm. The floor was strips of mahogany bamboo the color of melted brown sugar. The lights cast gold upward on sage green walls and the massage table was covered in the fluffiest white terrycloth I'd ever seen. My masseuse was ageless. Shiny-bald and muscular, he wore shorts and a tight t-shirt, but his eyes were loving and grandfatherly. After asking me to stand straight and breathe deeply, he skimmed his hands down my sides, mapping the position of my shoulders and hips. He asked whether I had any lower back issues ('nope, just shoulder and neck'), let me pick the music and the scents I wanted, and left the room so that I could undress and get under the cloud-like blanket.

The first thing I noticed when I laid down was the lotus flower that sat on the floor beneath my head. What a lovely touch. Something to look at while he was working on me.

"I know you said you don't have any lower back issues, but from what I can tell, your pelvis is rotated and your sacrum is misaligned. I will concentrate a little more on your shoulders and neck, but I want to work on this area a bit, too. Is that okay?"

He began with my legs and feet and I settled in to that place between waking and sleep that I reserve for just these times. It was such a relief to be in the room with someone else and not be expected to talk.

As his strong hands pushed into tight tissues I reminded myself to breathe deeply to help relax the muscles. By the time he reached my lower back I was perfectly relaxed. As he began to work on the muscles surrounding my spine down near my hips I felt a clot build in my throat.

Breathe.

It continued to grow slowly like a tornado you can see coming from miles away.

Hot tears spattered onto the lotus flower beneath me. What the hell was going on? I have had dozens of massages before and never felt this way. I wasn't scared or uncomfortable. His touch was healing and warm and giving and...pure love. Why was I crying?

"You need to let go of whatever you're holding onto in this place." His words came in a kind, knowing wave. I don't know what he knew that I didn't, but he was right. What was I holding on to there? What had his touch released? In this room where I felt surrounded by warmth and peace I was exorcising a demon I hadn't known existed. I continued to cry silently as he worked on my back.

---------------------------------------------------------

Before I rejoined Bubba and the kids at the pool, I stole up to the hotel room to sit and think about what happened. Mixed with my sadness I felt relief at what had been released. Together, they clouded my brain with confusion. Where do I go from here? What is this thing? I grabbed a pencil and began scribbling notes.

I don't know how to let go of this thing I'm holding on to.
"You can't have this! You can't have this part of me! I'm not a scared little girl in your dark bedroom anymore. I'm an adult."
Can I imagine this as a weight attached to my sacrum? What if I lie on my back and imagine there is no space between my lower back and the bed? Can I squish it?
What if I unclip the weight? Let go? Drop it?

I am still trying to figure out what to do with this newfound knowledge. Tomorrow I'm going to get another massage. I'm hoping that this new masseuse possesses some of the wisdom my Hawaiian masseuse did. I'm just raw enough right now to want to try some more letting go.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When Black is White


I read this book when I was in high school during a moment of weakness. My mother loved her romance novels and always had some lying around. I resisted them for the most part, but every once in a while, when I was at a loss for anything to read and the teeny tiny library in town didn't offer anything good, I was forced to pick up one of Mom's books to entertain myself.

I don't recall much of the book except that all of the dysfunctional behaviors the main character displayed might as well have been a giant neon arrow pointing at my head. The premise was that she manipulated situations in her life in order to place herself in the position of being indispensable so that nobody could kick her to the curb. Who can get rid of the one person they so desperately need, right? As I made my way through the book I can remember the increasing heaviness that accumulated in my chest with the realization that, despite her uncanny ability to predict the needs of others and meet them, she was a very sad woman that was never loved the way she wanted to be.

"Need is such a tenuous tie, hon," Bubba pleaded. "It's a transaction. Want is so much stronger than need."

I had to stop and re-evaluate. It is? Really? I have built my position in this family so carefully, certain that if I just work hard enough, stay alert enough, juggle everything so with such adeptness, that Bubba and the girls will realize they can't live without me and I won't be replaced. Or left behind. The trouble comes when I get tired. When the week ahead seems so filled with responsibilities and to-do lists that my chest tightens and my heart races at the mere thought. The notion that I might drop one of the flaming balls of fire I'm keeping in the air sends tremors of fear through me.

"I don't need you, babe. I haven't ever needed you."

His words slice through me. What? I've worked so hard for nearly 20 years to show him what a good wife and mother I can be. I have demonstrated in so many different ways the things he needs me for. What is he saying?

"I am a pretty self-sufficient person. Pretty independent..."

HAH! I want to scream. HAH! Who raises your children while you're away 65% of the time on business? Who feeds them, shops for them, runs them to piano lessons and helps them with homework? Who does research on the best schools for Eve to go to? Who takes the dog to the vet and does the laundry and cleans out the garage and puts in the vegetable garden and changes the light bulbs on the porch? What do you mean you are self-sufficient? My internal tirade is interrupted with his next gentle words and the warm, soft hand he places over mine.

"I'm not here because I need you. I'm here because I want you. I always have. That's more lasting than need."

I can't breathe. I don't know why he wants me, but the fact that he does has to be enough for now. I thought that all this time what I wanted was to be needed. But being needed is exhausting and it's a never-ending uphill struggle to prove myself. As Bubba said, it doesn't breed loyalty. I have to keep working at it. For my entire life, I was certain that if my family needed me, I'd be set. If they couldn't do without me, they would have to keep me.

Work to do. Much work ahead.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Holy Jumping Up and Down Martha!


Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I am a person whose emotions run high. I have a tendency to jump up and down, yelling and waving my arms for attention whenever I feel stressed or threatened. This behavior goes back to my earliest days when I felt as though I had to make a scene in order to get a response from the adults in my life. Mine was not a family that discussed anything. We maintained appearances. We pushed through life with smiles we pasted on at the front door and ignored conflict in an effort to make it disappear.

Even as a child, my exaggerations and histrionics rarely elicited anything but anger from my parents. They weren't ready to handle a child who so desperately wanted everything out in the open. They didn't want to acknowledge problems and, initially, I was pushed off as a worrier, an over-reactor. My stress was minimized and even laughed at.

"Get over it."
"This is not a big deal."
"Honestly? Give me a break!"

For a time, my Chicken Little behavior increased, but all the while I began wondering whether my view of reality truly was skewed. Was I really making something out of nothing? Did everyone else simply not feel as though these things were important? My parents switched from minimizing to punishing to simply ignoring my anxiety.

In Bubba, I found a guy who simply doesn't worry. A spouse who has an uncanny ability to temporarily separate emotional reactions from the equation until he has a handle on the facts. I have, for nearly 20 years now, revered him for that, counted on him to do that for our family, wished I could be more like that. But from time to time an issue comes up that places me squarely back in 1978; the little girl terrified out of her wits who feels like she needs to find an ally and quick. Bubba's reaction to my heightened anxiety is to race as far as he can for the opposite end of the spectrum. I suppose that, for him, it seems as though I'm stuck on one end of a see-saw and in order to balance things out, he has to get on at the other end.

This dynamic has helped us to function for many years, but we've hit a critical point of late. I am that little girl, jumping up and down, waving my arms and yelling for help all over again and instead of shutting down, I need him to inch closer to my position. It took a stranger to convince me that I am not over-reacting and to tell Bubba that he needs to start reacting. He has become so inured to my emotions that it is hard for him to know when to come running. I have become so tired of being ignored that I'm beginning to question myself again. I need to stop jumping up and down and head for him. He needs to take his hands off of his ears and creep toward me.

Seems we have some coming together to do. The first step is to get off of this damn see-saw.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Measuring Up


Over the past several months I have had many occasions to think about public education in the United States. Each time I do, I have a tendency to feel confusion, frustration, and ultimately, defeat. I don't know the system well enough anymore to feel as though I can offer any brilliant alternatives to the way things work now. Unfortunately, I know only enough to feel as though we are in big trouble as a nation if we continue down this path.

As a nation, we have always been fascinated with standards and measuring. We love to devise ways to assess ourselves, the GDP, inflation, unemployment statistics. Many years ago we introduced standardized testing in to our schools as a way to objectively measure how well our students were mastering the materials we presented to them. Over time, those measures morphed from a tool into something else. Something bigger than they ought to be. Stock markets rise and fall according to the economic numbers - numbers that tell us what has happened, not what could be ahead. Teachers are rewarded based on how their students did on the tests last year which only spurs them to teach the test materials to the exclusion of all else.

I can recall cramming for standardized tests as a child. I can recall the answer sheets with their computer-generated bubbles and the pair of freshly sharpened #2 pencils I lined up just so beside them. What I can't remember is the vast majority of the information I put into my short-term memory so that I could purge it onto the test page. I know virtually nothing about important historical dates. I couldn't name the states in alphabetical order or each of their capitals if you paid me. But I passed each and every one of those tests with flying colors because I learned how to study and regurgitate with ease and purge my memory banks in order to move on to the next subject.

In Eve's school, each grade level has its own objective. First grade is for learning to read. Second grade is when we work on math concepts. Third grade is spelling and book reports more than anything. Fourth grade is for the WASL, our state's answer to the concept of 'No Child Left Behind." Fifth grade is for teaching the kids to be organized and juggle multiple subjects. Each grade is distinct and separate from the others and the culture of the school itself hinges on statistics. Every quarter our families receive a glossy, professionally printed booklet that details our students' achievements with respect to standardized testing. There are graphs and pie charts, accounts of money spent in various areas of the school, and a feel-good letter from the principal, touting our school as a blue-ribbon school, an example for other schools in the state.

I don't feel good. Kids are leaving our school like rats from a sinking ship. Enrollment in private schools continues to be up despite the recession. Applications for alternative/charter/choice schools that are publicly funded are up over 100%, and only one child in every three or four is chosen for admission because the competition is so fierce. Collectively, our parents are not worried about how our kids are doing on standardized tests. Overall, our local elementary school is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to that. We are concerned that our kids are learning short-term facts instead of strategies for learning. We want our children to come home from school energized and excited about their studies. We want them to truly understand and master the materials they are given, not wave a test score in our face that they wouldn't be able to reproduce if the same test was given in a month.

In my neck of the woods, there is an ever-increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. I shamefully agree that I am contributing. Next year, Eve is departing our local "blue ribbon" school for a private school whose emphasis is on the joy and passion of learning, whose staff are themselves excited about teaching these kids to learn. We don't know yet which one, but the three on our short list have something in common. They have opted out of the standardized testing world and, instead, focus on understanding. The students are expected to master materials to the point where they can teach them to the rest of the class, a vitally important concept we like to call "stand and deliver." The kids at each of these schools are joyful. They have lively class discussions and, indeed, the students themselves often help design the curriculum as they ask questions the teachers haven't yet considered. The staff are compensated based on their ability to help their students learn, not on their ability to force their students to regurgitate predetermined answers.

I wish I felt as though I knew enough to change the system. I wish I felt as though I wasn't simply leaving behind a mess for someone else to clean up. I believe that changing the system will require a massive culture shift from objective measurements to something more personal, more holistic. Instead of measuring outcomes, we need to be looking at the here and now. We need to be ensuring that our children are learning for the sake of learning, for the thrill of discovery as opposed to a set of numbers on a page. We need to know that our teachers are teaching not for compensation or competition, but so that their students can light up with knowledge and understanding. I do not mean to disparage public schools or their teachers as a whole. I know that, within the system, there are many tremendously creative and exciting teachers and I applaud them. I only worry that maintaining that creativity and passion for teaching in such a culture of measured outcomes and strict curriculum rules will prove too difficult and these teachers will burn out and leave.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Looking for the Lesson


The theme this week is driving. It's a good thing I like my new car because I'm spending an inordinate amount of time in it lately. And I don't mind, but I realized last night as I detailed my trips to Bubba just how much back-and-forth I've been engaged in the past few days.

Tuesday afternoon I picked Lola and one of her friends up from school. Her friend's mother was home sick and asked if I could run her daughter to choir practice at 4:30, just around the corner from Eve's practice. So the three of us left Lola's school and headed for Eve's, where I picked up three more passengers - Eve and our two neighbor kids that we carpool with. Five kids packed in like sardines chattering eagerly about Valentine's Day and mid-Winter Break. Two miles home to drop off the neighbors, get my two and Lola's friend in to the house for a quick pee and a snack before heading out to choir. Eve got dropped first, then back into the car for Lola and her friend to drive a quarter mile to the other choir practice. Now, we had just enough time to drive back to Eve's school gym where Lola's basketball practice started at 4:45. There until 5:30 when we got back in the car to drive back past our house to get Eve from choir practice by 6:00, stop off for a pre-made dinner from the grocery store, and home. Finally.

Today was shaping up to be another one of those days. The outline looked like this: take Eve to visit a private school at 8:00, back home to get the dog to the vet by 10:00. Needed to be in the city by noon for a doctor appointment and back to get Eve by 2:30, Lola from school by 3:15, home for a snack and back to choir practice by 4:30 for Eve. Thank goodness Bubba is home and he offered to pick Eve up at 6:00 and bring dinner home! But, as we all know, the best laid plans...

Lola coughed all night long and was in no shape to get to school today. So Bubba offered to stay home with her until I could get back from dropping Eve. I cancelled my appointment in the city, but had to keep the one for the dog. I dropped Eve off at 8:15 (whoops!) and headed away from the school, mentally leapfrogging my way through the rest of my day. Clearly, I was not paying enough attention to my route since I quickly found myself in the cloverleaf lane for the on ramp of the freeway heading the wrong direction. It was too late to turn around and I knew once I got on the freeway I was irrevocably headed into the city with no exits for at least three miles. Of course it happened to be rush hour, so while my trip west was fairly quick and easy, by the time I got turned around, the line for the on-ramp heading back eastward stretched for miles. Miles. Miles.

Furious with myself, I tried to keep breathing and combat the verbal abuse I was heaping upon myself. At least Lola was home safe with Bubba and the vet appointment wasn't for another hour, so I had plenty of time. Twenty minutes later, as I had moved just about one mile closer to the freeway, I was still trying to breathe.

I was alone in the car. That's a bonus, right? If only because it means I get to listen to NPR instead of Avril Lavigne.

Despite cancelling my appointment in the city, it appears I made it there anyway. That's funny, right?

Nobody had to know about this unless I told them. Probably nobody would ask, right?

In all, it took nearly an hour to get back to the site of my error. Another twenty minutes home. Lola had to come with me, but we made it to the vet on time. Just.

Eventually I calmed down and found a way to laugh about it. I was finally able to admit that it was a mistake easily made and it doesn't mean I'm stupid. But I've gotta say, I'm still left looking for the lesson here...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Cry!


Driving home today I passed a young mother who was walking in the cold, plastic Safeway bags dangling from each hand and her infant strapped to her chest in a front-pack. A smile of melancholy came to my lips but as we came closer, I realized the infant was wailing. A stocking cap sat low on his forehead, his arms and legs were bundled into fleecy pajamas, so that the only skin visible was on his pudgy little cheeks, red bump of a nose and his wide screaming mouth.

The corners of my mouth turned instantly down and I heard myself say, "Oh, poor baby!" Just before my car passed the pair I noticed that his mother continued steadfast in her trek, forward march.

Without judging, I wondered. Had that been my infant, I surely would have dropped my groceries to the sidewalk, pulled the baby out of the carrier and turned it to me. Cuddled the baby close and rocked it in an effort to get it to stop crying. Her calm demeanor struck me. The remembrance of the panic that struck me every time my daughters cried as babies assaulted my gut. I was so desperate to fix it, stop the sadness or fear or discomfort. Despite the knowledge in calm times, that my infant's only method of communication was to cry, I still felt a momentary sense of alertness and desperation every time one of my babies cried. I always felt as though, were I 'doing it right,' my babies wouldn't have to cry.

I think I understand the way Bubba feels when I break down. I think he must have that same feeling of helplessness and longing to remedy the situation on those occasions when I begin to cry. Eve and Lola, also, despise it when they see me sad or frustrated enough to cry. When my father died, I felt as though the nicest thing I could do for everyone would be to shut myself in my bedroom until I was done sobbing. It turns out that, while I sympathize with their desire to do something, there are times when I just need to cry. I am not necessarily crying for help. I am just crying. Sometimes it feels good to cry.

As an adult, I often feel the need to hide my tears or stifle them. If I am in public when I get a piece of bad news or I'm feeling particularly upset, my first instinct is to run to the nearest restroom until I've cleaned myself up. Not because I'm ashamed of my tears, but because I don't want strangers asking me if they can help. I want to be left alone with my tears.

I do wonder why our most immediate response to crying is one of springing into action. I am curious whether it is learned or innate and, indeed, whether crying itself starts out as an innate act and becomes learned as a way to get what we want or need.

Hmmm..............

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Tired


I know I'm in trouble when I start second-guessing myself. When I am immobilized by the simple notion of whether my child is sick enough to stay home from school today or not. When I talk myself out of being concerned about something that has its roots so deep inside me I can't separate them from my intestines. When I'm not certain that quitting something that makes me feel bad every single time I do it is really the right idea. That's a warning sign. It means I'm tired and I need to stop trying to be everything to everyone.

Last Friday morning I hit that point where all I wanted to do was get in my car and start driving. I asked Bubba if I could move out for a few days. His eyes bulged for a second while he tried to decide whether I was joking or not. I don't think I was but I also knew it wasn't gonna happen. He was leaving that night on his second business trip of the week.

So I stayed. I cooked and shopped, chauffered, cleaned and tucked in. Mediated arguments between Eve and Lola, did laundry, played board games, soothed worries and along about Monday morning Uncertainty showed up on my doorstep with her bags. She was planning on staying a while. She stayed. She didn't cook or shop, chauffer, clean or tuck in. She didn't do a damn thing but nag me all day long, reminding me that every decision I made with my kids in mind was an important one, indeed.

This afternoon, I uninvited her. A dear friend reminded me that there is no such thing as the perfect parent. That even though it's not sexy branding, "good enough" is really just that. And if I mess up today, tomorrow I can come up with another plan and try again. And in the meantime, I ought to kick Miss Uncertainty out and slam the door in her face. Tonight Bubba's home. Tomorrow, I'm dropping the girls at school, walking the dog and having a massage. I'm coming home to shower in just enough time to go sit and have coffee with a good friend and I'M NOT COOKING A DAMN THING FOR DINNER. I'M NOT DOING ANYONE'S LAUNDRY.

Now that's a decision I won't be second-guessing. That's a decision I'm sticking to. That's a decision I feel good about.
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