• When side effects stink

    Back in January, my doctor decided that the medicine I take for my anxiety/depression wasn't doing quite as well as I thought it was, so she upped the dosage.

    Things have been great since. Sort of. When I'm actually awake and not groggy enough to do things, that is.

    Medicines come with side effects. Who hasn't heard the myriad of potential side effects in the background of a pastel cartoon commercial with a butterfly floating through the air?
    "Side effects may include heart attack, heartburn, fainting, dizziness or even death. Please consult your doctor before starting ...."

    For me, it's sleepiness, or, more accurately, "I cannot possibly sleep enough at night and I think I need a second nap today." It was annoying on the lower dosage, but it's downright bad on the increased dosage. Late last week, Matt asked, "How have you put up with this for so long? Why haven't you made an appointment by now?"

    It sounds obvious, doesn't it? Why would someone in their right mind put up with feeling like a zombie for three months when it can, and should, be corrected by a doctor?

    The truth is a little more benign than you might think.

    Until this month, our insurance was a local Michigan company. So, since Matt hadn't moved yet and I was already going to be in town for a convention, I scheduled a physical with my Michigan primary care doctor, which is when they changed my dosage. When I got home from the trip, I figured that I was exhausted because train travel is, in fact, exhausting.

    I then figured that I was so tired because it was winter. Then I figured it was because I took another train to go fetch Matt and bring him back to Virginia.

    While it popped up as a possibility in the back of my mind, I shrugged off my sleepiness as one big life event after another, with no time to recover in between. It's only been fairly recently that I've fully realized that no, it's not because I stayed up too late last night - I can usually bounce back from a sleepless night pretty quickly - I'm tired all. the. time.

    Now that we've secured new insurance, a new doctor, and figured out our travel plans for the near future, I can deal with this responsibly.

    The problem with side effects is that they're not always glaring red flags. Unless they're very sudden and dramatic, it's not always easy to pinpoint. Be aware of what you're taking and what it could cause. Play detective with your health and be vigilant. You're worth it.

  • Breathe Deeply

    I assumed that everyone's chest burns and clamps down like a lead weight when they run. As a child, I had no reason to believe differently. It wasn't that I didn't like to run around with the other kids - but I got winded quickly, I couldn't keep up, and so it just wasn't worth it.

    As I learned about weight and fitness, I came to believe that my problem was just that I was out of shape. Feeling ashamed of myself made my desire to participate in sports-like activities even less. It became part of my identity - fat girl who was unathletic. In a way, I owned it. With a wry smile and a shrug, I'd explain that I didn't get my dad's athletic genes, and that was the end of it.

    But I've come to realize that most of this self talk has been just that - excuses. I can be athletic. I can run. I may not have gotten my dad's ability to run fast, but frankly, I've never tried, so I don't know.

    Just when I was starting to feel pretty good about myself, learning to run on a regular basis, my breathing problems got a lot worse. I gagged and wheezed and had a barking cough, all in addition to the burning and the brick on my chest.

    I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, and that was a bit of a blow to my ego. On the one hand, I was relieved for a name to the feeling. However, it's not like I wanted some reason for exercising to be more difficult. I was really trying - couldn't the world just cut me a break for once?

    No, there is no break. See, I also have mitral valve prolapse - a benign but mildly annoying heart condition. In addition to a tendency to feel the effects of caffeine, medicine, and sugar rather potently, MVP carries with it fatigue and breathlessness while exercising.

    On the character sheet of life, I have a -2 penalty to my constitution.

    It's nice to know, at least to some degree, that not everybody has to struggle with the same problems I do. Running and exercise isn't this intrinsically awful thing - it's just more difficult and irritating for me. It's some consolation anyway, even if it means that I might never be able to enjoy cardio activities the way other people do.

    An inhaler helps. That helps take care of some of the asthma problems, but doesn't do much for the MVP. The best I can do for that is to build my exercise tolerance, keep hydrated, and just understand that some days, my body is just going to struggle more.

    To be honest? It's frustrating. I want to run and take deep breaths and enjoy the process - or at least not feel like keeling over on the elliptical. But, I've been enjoying weights quite a bit, and being able to do that proves to me that not all exercise needs to be agonizing. I may just have to focus on what I can do well, and try my best to make up where I struggle. I may never actually run a marathon - but if I'm diligent, maybe I can huff my way through a 5k. It just won't come easily.

  • Gwen's Scars

    Gwen's Scars

    I'm enamored with this little cat. She's five and a half pounds of love and sass.

    There is no doubt that tiny Gwen loves her humans. She talks our ears off all day with her trills and chirps. She appears to be testing the waters of lap cat, hopping on the couch now and then and sitting near us. Even if she doesn't sit on us, she is almost always near us, sometimes climbing on Matt's pillow in the wee hours of the morning, or sitting next to me on my desk.

    Gwen is also more than happy to gnaw and lick fingers on a regular basis. She is a very affectionate cat, in her Gwennie way.

    And yet, sweet as our little sasspants is, it's easy to see that she's been through things - and not just by her little visible scars. (Such as the one on the bridge of her nose, above)

    Some of her actions are subtle; she is a lot more cautious about jumping and walking on things than Aeris is. Things still get knocked over periodically, but I've watched Gwen double and triple check where she's about to jump. Generally, she won't jump on anything that she hasn't seen the top of and knows is safe. I think the only exception is my office window, and I think the only reason she tried that out is because she watched Aeris do it safely a number of times. Aeris, who has never truly known harm, is willing to fling herself at anything. Gwen is a curious girl, but very cautious.

    But hey, her cautiousness keeps her off of the counters. I appreciate that.

    Gwen's largest baggage is that she doesn't exactly trust Koo and Aeris. I think she would be perfectly content if she were an only cat, but that ship has sailed. On the one hand, she can sleep a few inches from one of the other girls, and she's fine. She'll even creep up on them while they're sleeping from time to time and try to give them a good snif. But as soon as she gets caught, she gets defensive and growls. She doesn't mind when the girls walk by her (for the most part), unless they look at her. Every once in a while she'll be a little bit playful with one of them, but she has to instigate it.

    Even when Gwen gets upset with her sisters, she clearly isn't out for harm. Aeris has learned to give as good as she gets from her scrappy sister, but nobody uses claws, and when the spat ends, they're happy to sit a foot apart and sleep. I genuinely think that the other girls make Gwen a bit nervous - she's probably encountered her fair share of unfriendly animals in her life. Koo and Aery, having lived in comfortable and loving environments their entire lives, don't know what Gwen's problem is.

    That doesn't mean that they don't love her ... mostly from afar. I can't remember what started it, but the other night, Gwen was really upset at something (I'm thinking Koo), and sat huddled on the floor, growling. Aeris came out and crept up as close as she could without setting Gwen off, and just sat there with her until Gwen calmed down. Today, Gwen leapt off the desk without looking as Aeris was walking into the office, and collided head on. She wasn't particularly happy about it, but she just gave an annoyed growl.

    I don't know if they'll ever be best friends - I think the trust that Aery has with Koo is unique to the fact that she was a teeny kitten when they were introduced, and Aery believed Koo her surrogate mama - but I hope that over time, Koo and Aeris will show Gwen that they can be trusted, and she'll let them into her bubble.

    Either way, I strongly believe that little Gwen is one of the best cats in the world, and every day, I find myself extremely lucky to be on the receiving end of her gummy nibbles.

    I love my trio of troublemakers.

  • My First Terry Pratchett Book

    My First Terry Pratchett Book

    I hate to be one of those bandwagon betties, but alas. I didn't pick up my first Terry Pratchett novel (not counting the fact that I read Good Omens a few years ago) until after his death last month. It's not that I hadn't wanted to read a novel of his, but I didn't know where to start, and I just hadn't gotten around to it.

    I'm not here to leave a book review - I'm sure there are enough of those out there.

    Guards! Guards! was really, really good. It was surprisingly funny and deep, and the perfect distraction. It was one of those most engrossing books I've read in quite a while.

    If you haven't read anything by Terry Pratchett, look up a guide to his Discworld novels and pick a starting point. Guards! Guards! isn't a bad place to start.

  • Gwen and the subwoofer

    Gwen and the subwoofer

    I'm not sure what the attraction is, but Matt and I both have the same speakers, which come with a subwoofer. Gwen has claimed both of them as her mini perch.

  • Remember me

    Remember me

    Let me tell you a little bit about the animals I grew up with.

    Max was pretty much a saint. He chewed up a deck of Garfield cards when he was a puppy, but I'm not sure if he ever did a thing wrong before or after. He was such a good dog that he wouldn't leave the yard, even though it wasn't fenced in. Once, my dad forgot that he was outside with him, and left Max outside. Max walked around the house and plopped himself on the front stoop to wait.

    Maggie May was a stray found at my Aunt's house. She broke her leg, and upon paying the vet bills, my parents decided that we were keeping her. Maggie was incredibly patient with me, more so than any animal should have been. She ran to me when I cried, something I was all too happy to exploit, but she was my cat and comforter her entire life.

    Hannah was less full of antics than the other two. She had the loudest purr of any cat I've ever met, which I likened to race car. She was a true mama cat, and gave Mikenna several groomings while they were together. Being held in place by a cat may have been the only time Mikenna stayed still as a puppy, but Hannah made sure to slick down every hair on that puppy's head.

    They were my companions throughout my childhood, one of the few things that remained the same as we moved around the country.

    I don't know why, but it just occurred to me this week that I didn't have to remember them only in my mind, or look on their photos briefly and then pack them back away. Just because they're no longer here doesn't mean that I can't keep them with me.

    And so I will.

  • Pee Wee

    There was a cat who caught my eye when I was visiting kitties at the humane society a couple of months ago. I knew who he was because I'd seen his photo on the website - Pee Wee. He was an older kitty - his exact age escapes me, but I want to say at least 13. (Not incredibly old for a cat, but old enough that age will deter rescuers.)

    He sauntered around the room when he climbed out of his bed. He didn't have the time or the energy to play like the youngins around him. "Pet me if you want," he seemed to say, "I came out because there's food."

    He had been a handsome cat at some point, with a bright white coat and a few grey spots. But he looked so thin, and didn't seem to be grooming himself. Maybe he didn't feel well. Maybe he didn't care. I didn't know.

    I gave him a few gentle, respectful pats, and wished him the best. My heart sunk a bit - I just had a feeling.

    Yesterday, I learned that he had died of renal failure. I'm not surprised, but I'm saddened that he didn't have a loving, comfortable home in which to spend his last months. He could have been spoiled, pampered, brushed, and slept in patches of sunshine.

    But, the truth is, people don't want to adopt older cats for exactly this reason - they don't want to open their hearts and homes to an animal that will only be with them for a short amount of time. I can't cast blame - it's an awful amount of heartache to ask of people. (Never mind the potential vet bills)

    There has to be a way though, right? Surely there are people out there who can take on that burden so that someone else can feel loved. I hope so, anyway.

  • Job Interview!

    This interview I have a job interview, and I'm excited.

    It's a job I very much want and believe that I would enjoy. It's what I would describe as 'meaningful work', which is important to me. I know not everyone gets the option, but I would like to have a job where I feel like I do something that matters for someone. I haven't had that feeling since my first job.

    The hours are part time, three days a week, which sounds perfect for me. I function best when I have some structure, and this would give me that without taking away my time for writing and other projects.

    In other words, it seems just about perfect.

    I don't know that I'll get the job, and yes, I'll be disappointed if I don't. But I'm thrilled to have gotten a chance to interview, and I really want this place to hire the best person for the job, even if that isn't me.

  • Gym Rat

    Right after Matt moved out here, we did something that I never thought we would do - we joined a gym.

    This, for me, is a big deal, because I am so self conscious. I'm afraid of being judged - oh, of course the fat girl is out of breath, she's so out of shape. (Partially true, but last year I also learned that I have exercise induced asthma!) I don't even exercise in front of Matt, and he is probably the person least likely to judge me. He's too much of a sweetheart.

    So the idea of exercising in front of strangers was intimidating. Thank heavens for anxiety medicine, because I don't think this is something I could have gone through with a couple of years ago.

    We've had a very positive experience so far. The owner of the gym took us under his wing at first and showed us how every machine worked, how to figure out our settings, and gave us advice on how to best work out. At first, I didn't like him there, but the owner was so encouraging that I didn't mind it.

    After we were comfortable that we could manage things on our own, we started going to the gym fairly late at night. Most of the time, there's one or two other people there - occasionally it's just us, and that's nice. What I've come to realize is that everyone is just there to work out. They're in their world, and I can be in mine - no one has to interact with each other! Plus, anyone at the gym tends to either be working on their cardio or using the free weights. Matt and I are left to our own devices.

    I've found that I really enjoy the weight machines - and I never would have guessed that. Lifting dumbells or doing bodyweight exercises has always annoying, so I didn't think I would enjoy this. But I do. It's just the right amount of challenging for me, and yet, I still feel progress.

    As we settle into a rhythm, I would like to add more cardio to our 3x weekly gym trips. Maybe work up to running again on my 'off' days, because I've missed that. At the very least, I've found two different bikes that I enjoy. The elliptical? That, I detest. Yes, it's a great workout, but it easily tags my asthma, and makes my body feel worn out a lot faster than I'd like. I want to feel challenged - but at this point, the elliptical just makes me feel defeated.

    So, here's to healthy habits, and discovering things that you never thought you'd enjoy.

  • Beauty from pain

    Music has to connect with me on one of two levels. Either it has to "sound good", in that inexplicable way that makes me feel like I'm bursting with life while listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony...Or it has to connect with me lyrically.

    There's this old Superchick song that is the latter and something I still think of when things hurt more than I can comprehend.

    Some days, it's a motto to cling to like a life raft. There will be beauty from pain, because I can't bear the thought that this pain have no purpose, or continue forever.

    Other days, it's a more of a battle cry. There will be beauty from pain if I have to drive around the world and find it myself.

    This song popped up at a really rough time for me. In the space of about 18 months, I lost one of the most important people in my life to ALS, and all three of the animals I had grown up with. I know to some, the animals would be inconsequential. But they're what I had in lieu of siblings. I was also a teenager, so there was also the normal teenage heartache and drama that makes everything feel so very hard.

    I still appreciate this song.

    Here I am at the end of me
    Trying to hold to what I can't see
    I've forgot how to hope
    This night's been so long
    I cling to your promise
    There will be a dawn

    After all this has passed
    I still will remain
    After I've cried my last
    There will beauty from pain
    Though it won't be today
    Someday I'll hope again
    And there will be beauty from pain