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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Better Living Through Chemistry

I want to take some time to talk about how much I love Xanax.

For so many years I have been resistant to taking medication to help with my anxiety, despite the multitude of people who told me it would help.  I suppose that's a hidden result of having anxiety, is that you are afraid to even take pills that will help you not be afraid, and you get so wrapped up in the "what-if's" that you end up bailing out on adventures that would have been amazing had you just taken the pill.

After just getting back from such an adventure, I can sort of reflect on the trip and how I got there - and home - with pretty much no stress thanks to my new friend.  Being in the beer podcast world can be unforgiving at times, with little pay, little appreciation, and even less perks (aside from the free beer).  Recently, I was able to go on a 4-day Caribbean cruise with 2,000 of my closest beer-loving friends and some amazing bands playing just for us. The shit-show for me was that we set sail out of Miami.  That's far.  That's 6 hours on a plane.  That sucks.

In the past, I would have passed something like this up based solely on the plane ride.  But I was determined to not let my brain stop me from enjoying this.  Enter: Xanax!  Eating Xanax is sort of like those film makers in the 30's using those diffuse filters for the close-up shots of actresses - things are clear but the sharp lines are fuzzed out just a bit.  You are clear-headed, everything is fine, but you just don't have the same worries as you normally do.  For me, it feels like it blocks my reactions to that little voice in there that tells me "Plane's going down.  Does that guy have a bomb?  Turbulence!".  So while I can think those things, my brain doesn't react to them and spin my anxiety out of control, so I'm actually able to cope with whatever is happening.  My flights in and out of Miami were full of turbulence - pushing and dropping us, then pulling us back up - and I was not out of control with my panic attacks.  I didn't enjoy it, but I wasn't sweaty or white-knuckling the arm rests, as in past flights.  Calm, even, and along for the ride.  And it was so relaxing to be able to sit there and just exist, trusting the pilot and the aircraft to get us to the ground safely and at a steady pace.

So if you are like me, and you are super nutty about taking pills, try Xanax.  It's like my saviour, because now I find myself wanting to go to other places and explore the world around me.  I could never see myself being on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean before.  Now that I can control my fears, I'm ready to go back for more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Changing your view

Anxiety can be a real bitch.  Or bastard, depending on how fluid you wish to make it.  Driving down Highway 5 late at night last weekend, that familiar tingle begain in the middle of my back - a feeling that usually means I'm about to spend the next 20 min. talking myself out of driving straight to the nearest hospital.  Which, ok sure, I'm so used to dealing with this that I can usually cope, and even though I will always think something could possibly be wrong with me, odds are everything is fine.  The bitch of it is, I wasn't even stressing out.   Usually, one thinks of anxiety as coming from stress, or some sort of stressful situation.  Granted, driving 300 miles down what is possibly the most boring piece of road in California isn't what I call fun, it's by no means a stressfull event.  The only thing I can think of as being a trigger in this situation is when I started thinking, "Hey, I feel pretty good right now" ...

What I don't understand about myself is why I sit and think about the absence of bad feelings.  Perhaps that in itself is my anxiety coming out - if nothing is wrong that means something is about to be wrong.  Right?  After all, axniety is pretty much your brain rebelling against itself. 

"Something bad is going to happen!"
 "Because it hasn't happened yet!"
"Oh shit!"

And you go around and around, work yourself up, and eventually it can manifest into actual physical sensations, most of which can also be taken as real medical emergencies - pain/numbness in your left arm, sweats, inability to think straight, long-lasting headaches, etc. 

As I'm catapulting myself down the road, I sat in the car and just thought about what I was doing at that time specifically, and how incredible it was.  "I'm driving a car down to see family, to go to Disneyland, and to have a great time with friends - what cool things am I going to do?" was pretty much the conversation I was having with myself.  I tried to focus on the fun I was going to have, and how privileged I was to be able to take this trip in the first place. I didn't try to ignore the feeling in my back or my arm (or head at this point), but simply acknowledge those feelings, and then shift my thinking to something that I knew would take up more brain power than driving in a straight line needed.  In otherwords, I out-thought myself. 

That tactic isn't anything new, and it sure isn't something that I pulled down from the sky - it was my way of grounding myself and telling my brain to take a break.  Being several days removed from this experience, I have the benefit of being calm about the whole thing, but in that situation, it's sort of impossible to be rational.  Like that part of you just shuts down and heads to the bar.  Maybe practice makes perfect for this stuff.  Simply trying once or twice doesn't cut it, but maybe twenty times does.  Or thirty?  I can't say. 

I wanted to share this with you all because it's one of those times that anxiety can surprise you, derail you, or knock you out and steal one of your kidneys.  That is the most vexing part of this thing for me, because it doesn't seem like you can avoid it.  Like some much in life you just have to walk through it. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Overall Update and Announcement

Look, blogging is hard, ok?  I know I said I'd keep this as a record of my post-surgery life and all the complications and wonderful feelings that go with being cancer-free, but each time I think of a post to write, two things happen:

1) I talk myself out of it by saying nobody gives a shit.

2) The cancer I had was not really life-threatening, so there isn't much to say.

Sounds like I'm downplaying it, but each scan and blood panel I have done have been clean, and that sort of makes a boring post, yeah?  I mean, where's the drama?!   It was still a primary cancer, and impacted my life in a very real way, but that's about it.  I'll still give some updates here and there, but for the most part I'm shifting to another problem area in my life.  Anxiety.

For those of you who like reasons and lists, here are both as an explanation for me doing these things:

1) I enjoy writing.  Though my vocabulary is fairly limited, and I over-use commas and hyphens, doing so helps me get my thoughts out.

2) My real hope here is that I can help someone else out there who may be dealing with these same issues. 

To that end, I thought it would be a great use of the small public forum I have carved out for myself to talk about my issues and experiences in case I can help someone else realize they aren't alone.  That there is a light at the end of the anxiety tunnel.   Not that I'm an authority or have all the answers - we are going through this together - but sharing a journey can be pretty good medicine.   It's helped me at times, maybe it can do the same for you.

I suppose I've always been concerned with small, mundane things in my life, but that personality trait went unchecked and somehow developed into a problem that has prevented me from really living life to its fullest.  I've held myself back from doing things I want to do, avoided certain situations, and in general just became a miserable person at times.

Anxiety is a tough thing to describe.  It's not like a broken leg, where it hurts, and people can see that there is something wrong, and we all know how quickly it will heal and how soon you'll be back to normal.  Having anxiety is more like ... holding in a giant fart in a room full of supermodels.  Single ones.  Ones that are there specifically to meet you.   Well not really, but it's close.  You have this uncomfortable feeling inside - this pressure - and you can't let it out.   And it spreads.  From your chest, up your trunk to your neck, maybe your head.   Sometimes the side of your head can feel numb.  Sometimes your arm.  Oftentimes both.  Then real panic can set in and you worry about all the things these feelings could be symptomatic of.  Heart Attacks.  Strokes.  Permanent, life-altering shit.  So the only thing you can do is return home and try your hardest to wait for it to pass. 

Sure, that's a dumbed-down description of a pretty serious problem, but it's the only one that comes to mind right now - with my love and over-use of analogies, I'm sure I'll try again.

Recently, I started seeing a therapist for my anxiety, and even though I've only had one session with her, it's been a pretty big relief.  I've always been a believer in therapy for everyone, actually, but especially for people who are sort of silently suffering with things like anxiety.  In order to solve that knot of an issue, you have to find the root cause of it, and that's best done in the comfort of a therapists office.  These people are trained to sort out your bullshit from your problems and help you smooth out your life. 

At any rate, that's my big intro to this new direction.  I've mentioned my anxiety issues before on the various podcasts I do, but not in this way, and for sure not with as much honesty.  While this isn't a coming out or anything, it's pretty huge for me and represents and culture shift within my own mind.  My plan is to write about what I'm feeling, what I'm going through, what my breakdowns feel like - all the gory bullshit that one goes through.

Do you suffer from Anxiety as well?   Hopefully this clumsy blog will help in some small way.  


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Low-Iodine Diet

UPDATE: Taren just found this great website that lists all the companies that use non-iodized salt in their foods!  Go to page 12 if you care.  If not, go straight to the hot place ... you'll know it when you get there.

Today marks the first day in my two-week preparation for the radioactive iodine therapy that will, hopefully, ensure I am truly cancer-free.  At least, for now.  I need to reduce the iodine I consume so my body will better absorb the radioactive stuff, and result in a more effective treatment for me in my post-surgery, pre-mutated state.

Like most diets you are forced to go on for health reasons, you never really know how much of whatever-it-is-you-can't-eat is in food.  To clarify, low-iodine is NOT no salt.  As I learned, some salts have iodine added to them, so when shopping for foods, you have to look at the ingredient list for the specific type of salt used - can't be sea salt, and if the list does not say specifically kosher salt ... you can't eat it.  Think about that - salt is in everything, from breads to peanut butter.  Just looking for tortillas at the store was a 5 minute chore (in case you were wondering, corn tortillas have no salt in them, but who likes those?).

Meats are a bit easier to deal with, except for chicken.  Much of the chicken you buy in the store has been dunked in some sort of brine.  A key ingredient of brine?  Salt.  So needless to say shopping has been taken to a whole new level in my house.

What's on the "No List"?  Fish and anything with sea salt, which is kind of a no brainer really.  Some types of beans, spinach, egg yolks, dairy, chocolate, soy ... I think that's everything.  Not that I eat this stuff all the time, but fish?  Cheese?  Chocolate?  It's gonna be a rough two weeks.  Oh, I also had to stop my vitamin supplements - one was fish oil and the other has soy in it.

So for lunch last night we had tacos.  Actually I'm not sure you can even call them tacos in the traditional sense.  No cheese and no sour cream.  They were ... they were fine.

Anyway, that's my food plan for the next two weeks.  I think much of this diet is geared for folks who eat out all the time, or get their dinners from the microwave.  My diet was pretty good to begin with, the only offenders being cheese and fish, so I think it's ok if I have some iodine-ladden foods from time to time.  The important thing for me to remember is this is a Low-Iodine diet, not a Non-Iodine diet.

Then on May 12th and 13th I get my shots, the 14th I get mutated!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A better update than the last garbage

First off, sorry for leaving this blog to gather so much eDust - especially with a soul-crushingly depressing post as that last one.  It's not my style to let that much out at once and have it just fester there, oozing emo vibes.  I'll do my best to at least wash that stuff down with a faster, happier set of words in the future.

Ok, here's the update:  My Endochron tested my Thyroid levels and they came back fairly normal, but due to my dark moments, she decided to bump my dose from 175 micrograms to 200.  The change is literally like night and day.  It took a couple of weeks, but I feel more together, more energetic, and much more creative.  I'm sharper mentally and I'm fairly happier than I have been in awhile.  That slight tweak to my hormone level did things to my brain that I never knew could be done.  I feel like a 16 year old in a whore house, discovering new and amazing things!  My metabolism has bumped up a bit, too, and I've lost about 4 pounds over the last three weeks.  Not amazing, but noticeable.  Thinking back on how I felt in February and how I feel now, I wonder how many people who suffer from depression would benefit from a pop in their Thyroid levels?  I'm not sure if it would work for everyone else, but it pulled me out of a real dead end, I tell you what.

The next step for me is to get a nice dose of Radioactive Iodine.  To do that, I will be injected with two high-doses of synthetic thyroid hormone first, in order to get my levels really jacked up.  The RAI targets any remaining Thyroid flesh, and the hormone will stimulate any Thyroid tissue still possibly left in my neck, which will in turn better absorb the RAI.  After that, any Thyroid left will be nuked, and will no longer be at risk of growing new cancer cells.   During this time I will be secluded in my home office, having no contact with anyone - cats included!  Survival will be hard, and I'm not sure I can make it without cats.

In order to have this treatment be as effective as possible, I'll need to be on a low-Iodine diet for the two weeks leading up to the RAI treatment.  Which is apparently real shitty, but will make my body crave the iodine and lead to a more beneficial result. So long fish, hello unsalted nuts.  Awesome.  The good news is I'm not allowed to plant seeds in anyone for a year after the treatment, for fear of them turning out with webbed feet, or a tendency to vote Democrat.

Other than that, things are progressing nicely.  The neck is healing just fine, and I'm able to drive again.  There is some stiffness still, but that is fading.  Good news!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Low Thyroid Hormone: or Why Am I So Confused

The thing about depression is, you just don't care.  Well, I shouldn't say that - it's not that I don't care, it's that my brain won't let me care.  The impenetrable wall that has been chemically formed prevents my brain from focusing too long on tasks. I'm frustrated with pretty much everything right now.  Angry that I can't get my ass in gear to work.  

You know those commercials on TV, where the depressed person is living with a scribble cloud over their heads, like some new-age version of Pig-Pen?  While I don't quite feel that way, I can relate a bit more now.  For me, it's as if tiny little soldiers with spears are preventing my thoughts from going anywhere.  I am confused more easily, too.  Granted, I have never considered myself sharp (except with comments and humor), but this last week has had my brain in a swamp.  

My doctor said it would take some months for my hormone levels to change and for us to dial in my synthetic Thyroid, but I never expected this level of blah.  To the point that even doing nothing irritates me.  I'm 14 and angsty again.  Angry at the drop of a hat, frustrated, depressed.  On other days all is well, which is the fucky thing, right?  That further confuses me - if I have low hormone then it should stay low, right?  What's with the ups-and-downs bullshit? 

On March 3rd I go in again and get checked, so hopefully a few days after that I'll start feeling better.  The scar is healing nicely though, and I should be able to drive in the next few weeks here.  So that's good.  

Not a very interesting post, but it's honest, and that's really the point. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It's been about a week now since I was let loose from the Hospital.  Things are still going well.  They could always be better, though they could always be worse, too.

This past week was spent in a sitting position on the couch.  We - and by we I mean Taren - rearranged the living room so that I could lounge around and still watch TV, which is about the only activity I could muster any energy for.  When they tell you "recovery is hard", it really is.  There is so much passive energy required to mend you that you just feel tired all the time.  But it's not the sort of tired you get when you are sick or just haven't slept well the previous night.  It's less physical and more mental, if that makes any sense.  Your mind just starts to shut down, redirecting it's efforts into making you sleep.  It's auto-pilot for your brain, really.  And it's near impossible to fight off.

I had to spend my nights on the couch, since that was the only way I could sleep in a position that put the least amount of pressure on my neck.  Having a neck wound is interesting, in that it's the only way to truly understand just how much your neck plays a role in even the tiniest of movements (something the doctors tell you nothing about). Reaching up, lifting, pushing, pulling, sitting up, sitting down, reaching out, turning over, etc. All now limited for me until further notice.  Thank The Lord I stocked up on plenty of Taren before going into surgery.  Yes, Taren - the do-all, be-all for todays fashionable invalid!

Another thing you don't hear much about is pain medication and it's related side effects.  Mainly constipation.  I'll be as brief on this subject as possible, but it's a very important one for Todays Invalid to know about.  I got sent home with some Norcos - essentially Tylenol with pain killer added.  The first few days were fine, so I didn't really need to take them, save to get some decent rest. As things start to come online, I was taking 4 a day there for about 3 days.  Then I realized I was pregnant.  At least, I must have been, because my body was trying its best to give birth to something.  Something foul, and unpleasant.  Something ... dangerous.  And softball-sized.   Needless to say I got very far in my book that day, sitting there waiting to pass this mass.  I haven't taken a NorCo since.

I'm still not to clear on how much of my neck will regain feeling.  All the work was done on the left side of me, so most of my neck in that area is without feeling.  Which is a total misnomer, because there is SOME feeling there.  Or at least a perceived feeling.   Maybe my nerves are just sensing the pressure of my finger on my skin and I'm interpreting that as feeling.  I dunno, but it feels weird.  Sort of like when you sleep on your arm and then wake up and try to move it, but without the pins-and-needles feeling that goes along with it.  Dead skin but with some life to it.  Makes shaving very hard, actually, because you have no idea how much pressure to use with the razor.  It's literally like shaving someone else's face.

So, back to the cancer.  I have no updates on that front, but I should have something more to say about it in two weeks when I see the doctor again.  For now, my life is just about trying to get back to normal with work and coping with the new and odd sensations as my neck starts to come back online.

I miss the zipper scars of days gone by ...