The 10-Minute Miracle

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I am a fairly proficient baker, but one thing I never knew is that there is a bit of science behind getting your baked goods to come out of the pan easily. Beyond non-stick spray, and sometimes flouring the pan (or using cocoa powder for a dark cake; it will show less and taste more yummy), there is a neat trick I just learned.

For some reason I never knew that it made a difference how long you let the baked item cool in the pan before you took it out. Well, it does. And the magic window seems to be 10 minutes. I have tried this on both cakes and loaves of bread and I am here to tell you that in both cases the items came out easier and with substantially less wrangling and breakage than ever before. I used to be a cool-completely girl, but I am a new convert. Unless there is a specific reason (like the recipe tells you an exact cooling time required), try the 10 minute rule, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

In honor of this, I decided to post a few recipes, which I had a request for, and I know I haven’t done in a while. I can’t remember if I’ve ever posted these before, but I hope you like them. Enjoy!

Miriam’s Holiday Cake:
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2 cups sugar
2/3 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 pkg (3-1/2 ounce) vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup amaretto

Preheat oven to 350. Mix everything together and bake in a bundt pan for about 1 hour.

Top when cool with this glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 TBSP orange juice
1 TBSP amaretto
1 tsp vodka

Yes, it is a lot of ingredients, but it isn’t fussy to make, and it is sooooooooooooooo worth it!
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Amazing Lemon Bars:
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Crust:
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Filling:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (yes, it really does make a difference to the overall yumminess if you use fresh versus bottled)
zest of 2 lemons
6 eggs
3 cups sugar
2/3 cup flour
1-3/4 tsp baking powder

Glaze:
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
about 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. Put crust ingredients in a bowl and mix into a loose crumb, which you will gently press into the bottom of your pan. My friend lines hers with parchment paper, but I just non-stick spray a glass baking pan. Try to get it even and level, so it will bake evenly. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Combine all filling ingredients in another bowl and blend. Pour filling over baked crust and return oven to bake for 25-35 minutes until filling is set in the middle.

While the bars are baking, make your glaze, using enough lemon juice to make it spreadable. Pour this glaze over the bars while they are still warm from the oven, and spread it around. Cool completely. You can cut it into portions and freeze them or leave it in the pan and serve it from there (this is what I do). Warning: this is very addictive…
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On a non-baking, but extremely comforting note, this is my most favorite macaroni and cheese recipe ever. I use more mustard than it calls for, and I think you should definitely put more salt into the recipe, but I will write it as it and you can adjust. My kids eat this with ketchup, which I think is a travesty, but no matter how you eat it, nothing says comfort when it’s cold out like something warm and cheesy…

Macaroni and Cheese:
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16 ounces (more or less) of any shape of noodles

Sauce:
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
4 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 cups milk
16 oz grated cheese

Cook noodles however you do. In separate pot, melt butter, add salt, mustard, and flour. Stir over low heat until thick. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly, until bubbles appear and sauce thickens. Add grated cheese, and stir until melted through and smooth. After the noodles have cooked, drain them, combine them with the sauce, mix them together, and take solace in the fact that sweaters are baggy and being warm and cozy is wonderful. Then eat a second bowlful :)

Mass For Shut-Ins

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When I was a child (in the days before the glut of information available at a moment’s notice on the internet), there were times that I was stone-bored. Some of these times made me very creative about inventing games, but others I invested time in things like reading the dictionary (I got up to the letter P before I got frustrated at how many words I couldn’t recall and I stopped.). We had a set of Time/Life Encyclopedias that I would browse, and some scattered science-y books around that I would attempt to decipher. When the boredom got super-bad, I would even read the TV Guide.

Every Sunday morning at 5 o’clock am there was a show on called Mass For Shut-Ins. Coming from the background I did, I had absolutely no idea what this meant. It was a mystery to me the first time I saw it, and then when I saw that it was a repeating program, the mystery grew. I had no context for any of these words, so I did my best to guess based on other similar words I did know. What could “mass” be? Was it like “massive”? Or did it mean mass in the sense of how big and heavy something was? Could it mean masses of people or was it more like the word “amass”, like one could amass wealth? None of these really made sense as a Sunday morning TV show, but I tried to puzzle out the rest.

What could a “Shut-In” possibly be? Like a shutter on a house? That was the closest I could come to anything reasonable. Shut-In didn’t sound even remotely like any other word I knew, so I was kind of at a stand-still on that one. I knew what it was to shut something obviously, but shutting something in didn’t make any sense. And it certainly didn’t go with any of the definitions I could come up with for the first word (Mass). So I was just stuck.

As an adult, I finally learned about Catholic Mass, and at some point I heard the term “shut-in” used for a person who was homebound due to illness or injury. It was a big Aha moment for me, and things finally clicked into place that the TV network was offering a televised church service for folks who couldn’t get out of their house to attend worship. (Why it was at 5 am I still don’t know, but okay, that isn’t my problem…)

Recently I had another Aha moment, but it was less of a Wow moment and more of a Oh, Dear moment. I realized that I have become a shut-in myself. And while I don’t need televised church services, I took a mental inventory of all the things I do need to support my life as a homebound person and it’s a little alternate universe-twilight zone. I was speaking to a friend from Detroit who was running errands and I was very nostalgic, and she was asking me where I get this and that in Seattle and I was like, “Uh, nowhere because I don’t really leave the house…” She was kind of incredulous, and she was reminding me of all the things I used to do in Detroit (in spite of being sick) and I said, “Well, it isn’t really like that for me in Seattle.”

I had to do a real self-assessment to figure out if I am sicker or just a malingerer. Am I worse off or just being a drama queen? What changed since we lived in Detroit that made me a homebound person when in Detroit I was, at least sometimes, functional?

After a lot of reflection, I will tell you that it is a true and real thing that my life is smaller here than it has ever been before. That isn’t a bad thing; it is what it is. A lot of people are horrified: Don’t you go stir-crazy being at home??? Well, the answer is no. I enjoy being at home, and I’m quite happy within my four walls. I do get frustrated by the amount of things I am not able to do on a day-to-day basis, but I am not inherently bothered by being a homebody. Perhaps if I felt better I would be more on edge with excess energy I needed to burn off by getting out and about, but for now when I feel mediocre on a very good day, I am perfectly happy to take it easy and try to just manage my home to the best of my ability.

One of the things I do miss, though, is being an interesting person. When people are out in the world, they encounter other people and sights and sounds that spark their imagination. They see and do things that have the ability to inspire them and make them think about things in different ways. At home, I am me, myself, and I.

HOWEVER… I realized within the last few days that I have been selling my life short. When my mental acuity is present and accounted for, I can listen to lectures online. I can read articles and look things up. I had forgotten about all of this, because I have been feeling so crummy for so long that my mind has been preoccupied with things like keeping down food and staying calm around my kids. When your body is in survival mode it is really tough (read: not possible) to dig deep enough to find extra resources to expand your mind or increase your intellectual pursuits. But now I feel like I am (hopefully) climbing out of the hole a bit. And I am hoping to take advantage of this newfound state of grace to make my life a bit more rewarding. I am also hoping that will translate into me becoming a little more interesting.

I guess the proof (or lack thereof) will be on this page, so stay tuned…

;)

Medical Failure

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I went to the pain doctor today, and had a somewhat unreal experience. In spite of preparing for the visit (I wrote down what I wanted to discuss, made a list of my new medication dosages, and printed out something to give to her, but I still stumbled through the visit like a blathering idiot. I’m not sure what it is about this particular doctor that renders me so inarticulate, but for some reason I am pretty confident and self-assured with my other doctors, but turn into a “pain patient” in front of this one.

It is no fault of this doctor. She is gentle and kind. She is unhurried and does her best to make me feel heard. But for nothing I can put my finger on, inexplicably I become dumb in her presence. It has something to do with the volatile mix of trying to seem ill enough to be taken seriously while simultaneously seeming not so sick that I don’t look like I am trying too hard and faking anything (which I am not). I need to recreate for her a sense of what my pain was like when it flared, even though it is not flaring in her office (or I wouldn’t be well enough to come to the appointment), yet still appear put together enough that she understands that I can be trusted to manage my condition and my medication (some of which are dangerous in the wrong hands and under the wrong circumstances).

Today we had a conversation that went something like this:

Doctor: So tell me what the pain in your shoulder feels like.
Me: Um, well, I think maybe I am a hypochondriac and it used to be less and now it is yogurt circus dogs dancing swingset upside down…

Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, but my answer was almost that nonsensical, and I gave her information that was almost as useless and I have no idea why. Instead of realizing that I was getting off-topic and trying harder to nail down what I wanted to say, I just rambled farther afield, and it derailed an important issue even more. Needless to say, we didn’t address a crucial issue on this visit, and although we talked about other important things, I still feel at loose ends about what to do about this horrible pain all over my right side. Ugh.

She was checking something on my lower back and asked me, “What are these scars?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t have scars on my back. It must be marks from my skirt being wrinkled.”

Which in hindsight (meaning after I was home and had a chance to reflect) sounded kind of like when I used to be looking at crayon drawings on the wall and say to my little kids, “Who drew on the wall?” And they would say, “Nobody drew on the wall.”

Because if a doctor is looking at your back in real life and is seeing scars, it is pretty stupid to tell her that there are no scars there. But then it got worse because in a quasi-panic I started going through my mental roladex and asking her any possible thing that may have caused me to have scars: “Could it be from an epidural?” No. “How about cortisone injections?” No. So truly I have no idea what is on my back, and if it is like scars from a chainsaw attack or a ladybug bite, but apparently I have some scars that I don’t recall getting, and she suggested I ask *h to take photos of them and show them to me so I can figure out how I became disfigured without my own knowledge. It’s not like I lent out my body, right? So, in theory, this is kind of something I feel like I should be on top of, and she could tell I was coming unglued over it, so she said it wasn’t that important and we should just address the problem we were talking about, which was very rational. But I’m not a let-things-go kind of girl. So here we all are…

I asked her a bunch of questions, lots for the sake of due diligence: Does she think I could be helped by hypnosis? (No) Acupuncture? (For some things maybe a little bit.) Massage? (Um, maybe. Here I feel like she was being kind and throwing me a bone. After all, who with any compassion would tell you NOT to get a massage if they think you are asking for it? Which by the way I was not. Actually the idea of having any appointments that take me out of the house make me want to cry right now…)

She is such a sweet doctor, and I want so badly to be a star patient. I want to get better and make her proud- for the same reasons I used to be a straight-A student. I printed out one of my blog posts talking about experiencing pain, in the hope that she will understand that perspective of a patient, moreso than I can explain it to her when I am not eloquent in her office. But now I feel like dork for doing that- like a lovesick boy who writes a poem for his crush and then slips the note into her locker and regrets it afterward. It’s too late now to do anything but hope that something I wrote will resonate with her, and oh well if that isn’t the case.

All in all, I would say the appointment was not a smashing success, but it was not a colossal failure either. I am hoping for the best, and that the pieces of my medical situation will sort themselves out. I’m not sure why I get my hopes up, but I still do. I guess that’ a good thing that I haven’t given up yet, and that my doctor hasn’t given up on me. I suppose that as long as there is room for improvement I still have time left on this Earth. That should be happy news for my kids ;)

And other than that, I don’t have too much to report. As always, I hope all of you will wish me luck and keep me in your prayers.

The Inelegant Disabled

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I just watched a documentary about adults who have deformities due to their mothers taking thaldimide during pregnancy. For those of you who have never heard of this drug, it was given to some pregnant women to calm them down, and it was popular during the 1950s and into the early 60s- even after it was known to be dangerous and cause birth defects and deaths of babies.

So there are adults now who have almost no arms, and some with little to no legs. At the time of the filming of the documentary (within the last few years) the company who made (and profited from) the drug still had not apologized for keeping a drug they knew to be harmful on the market. The people on the film live in Germany and England, so they get some government funds for their disabilities, but they still have not received any compensation from the company for their injuries.

But my problem with this whole thing had nothing to do with the injustice done to these people or their families. My beef was completely with the spin on this- and almost every other documentary I have ever seen about disabled people. Person after person was asked, “If you could change your condition, would you?” And every one of them said no.

Now these are people who can barely live their lives. Some of them have managed to find partners or find hobbies, but a few were desperately lonely. Their day-to-day existence was fraught with torturous work-arounds for things most people take for granted, like lifting a cup to their mouths to drink, yet each person said they would stay the same if given the chance to have a “normal” body.

Sorry, but I call bolshevik on that. I can tell you that, at least in my own life not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was well, and you may say that means I haven’t accepted my condition, but in truth, why should I? Why should I accept that I have a substandard quality of life and if there was a magic pill to take that could fix that it wouldn’t be an awesome idea to take it? Why is it that people think suffering is inherently noble and that being at a disadvantage but then pretending you like it that way and it’s to your benefit is a good thing?

I would love to hear a disabled person say, “Honestly I would love to _________________________ (hear, see, walk, think better, not shake, whatever…), but I try to make the best of the life I have. Really this is hard stuff, but I don’t want to complain all the time.” Because I feel like that’s real life. That’s the truth. Is it true that some people wouldn’t feel like themselves without their hearing aids or their arm braces? Sure. and I know that in some communities where there are surgeries to correct certain things (like cochlear implants for some kinds of deafness) it is very controversial. But as a person who faces obstacles that are beyond my control every day, I will tell you that it’s awful. And if I could be better, I would feel like a better version of myself. Not like a sellout to who I am meant to be. Deep down, I don’t feel like I am a hero for staying in a compromised position. And I am not persuaded that I should.

I don’t understand at all why the only acceptable version of a disabled person is the one who smiles and sucks it up and tells you how A-okay they are with their lot in life. Please forgive me for this comparison, but it reminds me of the very old depictions of black people in movies where the only “good” black person was subservient boot-licking yessuh, nossuh… with no free will and no ability to voice discontent with their position in the world.

Forgetting for a moment how disabled people are treated by others in society (sometimes better, sometimes worse- often depending on how “ugly” their disability is), I am more concerned right now with how I, as a disabled person feel in my own skin. And I feel horrible.

I feel guilt and shame and disgust and sickness and pain and discomfort and any number of other unpleasant adjectives that people don’t like to discuss because they would rather see the sanitized movie version of the disabled hero who can climb the mountain in spite of being in a wheelchair (currently there is a commercial for a granola bar featuring a man climbing a mountain with his daughter and hanging over the edge appreciating nature. It’s all very breath-taking considering- as the commercial tells you- that the man is completely blind…), or be an Olympic swimmer in spite of having no legs, or doing some other fantastic feat that would be beyond the ordinary even if the person was able-bodied. But now it’s not enough for us people with disabilities to make it through the day- we also have to do it with a perfect 10 in gymnastics and wearing size 2 jeans. Oh, and we have to have a super-positive attitude while doing it too.

Sorry, but I don’t want to play that game. It’s hard enough to just be a person in the world with all the baggage that attaches to that. I don’t need every documentary about disability to also tell me (never outright, of course) what an abject failure I am for not embracing how fabulous it is to be disabled. Yeah! It’s the best thing ever! I wouldn’t give it up even if you paid me!

Oh, please.

I don’t know where I’m going with this post, except to point it out and to call it out for what it is. Accepting yourself is great. Failure to embrace real people is a failure of us all. I think it’s important to be aware of the subtle messages we get so we have a choice to accept or reject them in a conscious way. This one, I reject.

Lettuce Take Advantage of Your Ignorance

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Saturday night I went with *h to the grocery store. Among the rows of beautiful produce I saw something which gave me such pause I actually had to call over *h to take a look: something called living lettuce, priced several dollars per head above a regular head of lettuce!

What was so great about this lettuce? What was so full of life-i-ness? So full of implied nutritional bounty that it merited extra hoopla, extra shelf-space, and extra extra extra price?

It had a clump of dirt and some roots attached to the bottom of it.

Now, I’m no soil expert, no botanist, and no master gardener, but I can tell you this with a fair amount of certainty: once a vegetable has been picked and it cut off from its life source (meaning the ground from which it receives nutrients), it is dead. And since the sun does not shine in the produce aisle, and no hydroponic waters flow into the plastic in which the lettuce is encased, that expensive lettuce was anything but living.

A dead dirty root ball does not a living vegetable make, but that didn’t seem to deter the grocery store from thinking there is a willing customer base for this exotic item. Now, I feel like I don’t need to tell any of you this, but it should be rather obvious that *h and I don’t exactly shop at upscale places. It’s not like we were on 5th Avenue at some boutique-y shoppe that caters to the elitist eaters on the planet. So who the heck is paying multiple times the cost of a single lettuce for the privilege of eating one with dirt on it?

I wonder, is this some new yuppie craze or do I really just not leave the house enough? Do people actually believe this food is somehow more nutritious? Here I should probably also insert the fact that this was iceberg lettuce, probably the least nutritious substance known to produce, so much so that I almost feel like it should be located next to marshmallows in order of bang for your food buck. Iceberg (which I think is yummy, by the way) is so poor a food that when we had a buuny we were warned not to give it iceberg since it contained approximately 0% nutrients, and when we had chickens, we were told the only reason to give it to them was to provide extra water. Humph- that’s “food” for thought…

But back to my grocery store rant. At a time when more of food is getting plasticy-er and faker, you would think that at least veggies might be safe. Or at least that if you go to the trouble to really try to suss out something with some value to it that you would be rewarded for your efforts. But for all of you who want to live large by eating (possibly/probably pesticide-laden?) dirt, here’s a thought: buy regularly priced produce and take it home and smear some of your own dirt on it. It’s cheaper that way, and probably just as healthy for you. And that way you won’t have to pay extra for the packaging.

Just a thought.

I Love The Seattle PD

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In the last few weeks in Seattle I have heard two different news stories about how the Seattle police have dropped the ball on investigating a crime. In one case, a woman was groped by a man as she walked into a store, and resolved that, if she saw him again, she would call him out on his bad behavior. She did in fact see him on her way out of the store, apparently waiting for other women to grope, and she took his picture with her phone and walked to the nearest police station to report his pervy actions. The police there were unmoved, and when the woman offered to show them a photo of the man who had grabbed her, they said a description would be enough. She got a pretty strong impression that they had no intention of following up on this violation, so she tweeted not only the photo of the man who had groped her, but also a few choice words about the police who had been so cavalier about not protecting and not serving. Unfortunately for them, the groper turned out to be a level-3 sex offender on the loose, and since the woman’s tweet about a dozen other women have come forward because they were also assaulted by this man (same area, same M.O.). In the end, a detective recognized the man from the tweet and scooped him up, but not before the Seattle PD got a big black eye and the sex offender got a lot of handfuls of women…

A few days ago I heard another story similar to this one. Again the Seattle PD was asked for help, again they were lukewarm, and again they dropped the ball. If all I knew of the Seattle police was what I heard on the radio I would be pretty afraid to live in Seattle.

But in real life, I’ve had a few interactions with the Seattle PD and all of them have been positive. They have always been polite and courteous, and always gone out of their way to be more helpful than they needed to be in a given situation. I have met police in completely neutral situations (a neighbor called them when someone was stealing mail from my mailbox, so they came to my front door to chat with me), in very volatile situations (at a political rally where tensions were high and things could very easily have been nasty or unpleasant), and with a friend who is a prosecutor (where, granted, maybe they were nice to me because I was with someone who was their buddy). I have been in courts and police stations (not as the accused this time- hurray for Seattle!) and at no time did I ever see anyone being treated in any way other than dignified (even the dirtbags).

This is not to say that I doubt the stories I heard on the news. I am certain that those things really happened; there would be no reason to make up any detail of those stories. I’m not saying that there aren’t burnt out people in every profession. But in an age where, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and we always hear about the downside of everything and the scummy side of everything, I just wanted to give a shout out to the cops here and say, Nice job!”.

We live close enough to the sketchy area in Seattle that we hear gunshots on a fairly regular basis. And since I’m not the one who is out there busting up the gangs, or responding to auto accidents or helping people in need, I can safely assume it is the police who are handling all of that so I can sit comfortably at home in my jammies enjoying my tea. Even if there are a few legitimate cases of folks who have dropped the ball (and I don’t want to minimize the experience of the people who suffered because of that), overall, I would give high marks to the police in my new home town. They have a really tough job and they get a lot of grief and aggravation- often for a lot less pay than they deserve. I think it is very en vogue to dump on cops these days and act as if they are some loose cannons out wild in the world just waiting to prey on innocent people. I just want to be one person who can stand up and say that is not my experience.

So, kudos to the Seattle PD. Keep on keepin on :)

The Only Thing To Fear Is Pain Itself

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As the years pass by and I am still a chronic pain patient, I wish I could say that I have become more stoic about pain. Rather, I feel like I have become more and more apprehensive about any type of malaise, to the point where as soon as I start to feel worse than normal, I flood with fear in addition to whatever other symptoms I am experiencing.

What is funny to me is that around other people, invariably if the topic of pain comes up, the other person will almost always say, “…but my pain is nowhere near as bad as yours…” Now I have no idea if that is true or not. Pain is one of those things that is impossible to measure. It’s very subjective, and at the end of the day, who’s to say whether one type of pain trumps another or one person’s “toughness” is more than someone else’s? All I know is that pain hurts. Being in pain is a pain. It’s a drain on your life and your resources on every level, and if you have pain, you suffer. It could be that my pain is really mild and I am just a big baby. Maybe I just talk about it more than other people. But the bottom line is that I am in a place with it right now that I need to get out of.

For the last few months, I have been reading lots of chronic pain blogs and books. I was looking for camaraderie, but I also wanted to see if there were any answers out there that I had overlooked. Maybe someone else had new ideas that I could benefit from. As much as I want to just accept that my circumstances are permanent, there will probably always be a part of me that can’t settle with not hoping for a miracle cure. It’s a tough balance to live in the present and not spend all my time chasing medical interventions, but still keeping my brain plugged into the developments out there that could really help me one day. But all of this reading has made me feel very anxious. Instead of feeling better that there are so many other people out there suffering along with me, I have started reliving my medical procedures and hospital stays right along with the people I am reading about. With each crash I am having in real life, I have dozens of voices in the back of my mind reinforcing that this type of situation is desperate and awful. Yes, I know it’s time to quit reading, but the problem is that I can’t quit being sick.

So laying in bed feeling horrible isn’t just horrible because it objectively is, it’s horrible because I know it will be like this for multiple days, because I know there are no medications I can take to make it better, because I know I don’t have a doctor who really understands what I am going through- and even if I did they couldn’t help me anyway. Instead of toughening me up toward pain, every spike weakens my resources for dealing with the next assault. Sometimes I have time to catch my breath between crashes, and sometimes they overwhelm me and drown me like waves in a stormy sea. Sometimes I feel like there are sharks in the waves in addition to the choppy water. Sometimes I feel like I can’t catch a break.

On the other hand, I am so blessed that I have many more resources than lots of other people with chronic conditions. I have a supportive family, with wonderful kids who help a lot and an amazing husband who always wants to do what he can to take pressure off me and make me feel better (a Sisyphean task if ever there was one). We can afford to order certain things online so I don’t have to go out to stores, and we can get convenience items that make life easier (I am currently feeling very spoiled that I have a canister of lysol wipes in every room). I have friends who drive carpool for me every single day (yes, this is a recurring theme that driving is a big trigger for some of my symptoms). I want to focus on gratitude, but I am too bogged down by PTSD.

So, what’s a chronic sicko to do? The fact that I am tormented mentally is not the same as saying that my pain is mental, although many people confuse these two premises. I am terrible at mind games like meditation or relaxation, but I am always open to trying something that I haven’t heard about before. Someone on an older post mentioned massage (maybe MelissaJoanne?), but I’ve gone a few times and it just made me sore- so if you know about this modality, what should I be asking for that I’m not? If you know of books or websites or blogs that you find uplifting, please let me know; I’m not at saturation point yet with information. And if you can pick up on something I am missing, please bring it to my attention. One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is all of you, who are always there, having my back, being great resources, and staying strong for me when I am crumbling.

Right now I’m holding my own, but I would love for you all to weigh in on this one before I crash again.

If you comment on this post, hug yourself for me! :)

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