Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: taiji

The more things change…part two

In part one, I talked about my frustrations with things that do not change over time. In this post, I want to talk about the things that have changed without notice from me. I’ve mentioned some of them in the past such as my sleep. To summarize briefly, when I was in college, I rarely slept more than three hours a night. Then, when I went home on breaks, I slept for fifteen hours the first night. Partly because it was my sleep deprivation catching up to me and partly I would get sick, but fight it off until I got home. In my late twenties, I slept maybe four hours a night. I will say I have thyroid issues, but at that point of my life, I had hypothyroidism and not hyper, so insomnia should not have been a problem. If anything, it should have been the opposite. I got my thyroid destroyed when I was fourteen (radiation), so any insomnia before hand could be attributed to hyperthyroidism (well, at least partly), but afterwards, it should have course-corrected.

I also learned yesterday that having vivid dreams is a symptom of not getting deep REM sleep. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I used to have very graphic and disturbing dreams all the time when I was sleeping four hours a night. I woke up after two hours, usually in a cold sweat because of a weird and intense dream, and then I’d drift off into another uneasy, unsettling dream before waking up again. I knew I wasn’t getting REM sleep, so it was weirdly validating to read that I wasn’t just imaging things.

In the time I’ve been studying taiji–over ten years–I’ve slowly started sleeping more and more. I’m up to six hours on a good night, and I rarely remember my dreams any longer. If I do, they’re anxiety dreams. While not great, they’re much better than the murder dreams I used to have. Six hours is a huge leap for me, but it’s hard not to get fixated on the fact that I’m not getting the requisite eight hours unless I’m sick as I am now. Currently, I’m going from five hours in one night to nine hours the next. That’s how I know I’m sick. It’s actually one thing I like about being sick–I actually get a long chunk of sleep without disturbance. Other than that, though, it pretty much sucks.


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Being challenged physically and emotionally

Day three or four of waking up with a migraine. I’m lucky in that I can stand reading and writing when I have a migraine, but I have to keep all the lights off and any sound I have on low. Even then, I have a low level thumping in my brain and a general queasiness. Still, I consider myself very fortunate that I can function at all when I have a migraine; I know many people can’t. I just went to the store to stock up for Snowmaggedon (current prediction 7 to 12 inches, but it’s been all over the place), and I’m exhausted. That’s the downside to trying to operate while migraining–it takes everything out of me. Again, I’m lucky that I can function at all, but now I’m down for the rest of the day.

Is this my life? For the past few years, I feel as I’ve been operating at 75% or less* more often than not. I have a few days or weeks of feeling good, and then it all comes crashing down around me again. I know I need to get a thorough slate of tests, but I’m just…so tired. Going to the doctor is an ordeal for me in the best of times, which this is not. Why? For a plethora of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that I had thyroid troubles since I was young. I was hyperthyroid, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just new I was hot and cranky and couldn’t sleep. There were other reasons for it, of course, but the big one was discovering I had Graves’ disease when I was a tweener. Back then, it wasn’t really well understood (this was in the mid-eighties), and they treated it by shoving pills down my throat. I’m not sure what they were, exactly, but I was taking 27 pills a day. Nine pills three times a day. That didn’t work because my whatever levels were extraordinarily high. They decided they needed to go to the nuclear option (literally?) of radiation. They were quite forthright about the fact that they were giving me their best estimate, but that radiation wasn’t precise. Most likely, they were going to give me too much and destroy my thyroid. This is exactly what happened, and now I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life.

During that time and thereafter, I had to get my blood drawn quite often. It was on a monthly basis for a while, and I have terrible veins. Again, this isn’t something I knew before I had to have my blood drawn so regularly, but I came away from it quite wary of anyone poking me with a needle (except my tattoo artist). I have many negative memories of that time, including the (male) nurse who insisted he could find my vein from inside my arm and kept wiggling it. It hurt like a motherfucker until I wanted to punch him. He kept saying he wanted to not poke me again (to prevent further pain), but at that point, I would have welcomed a thousand extra pricks. I mentioned that he’s male because the other time I had a really difficult poker was after I was in a car accident. The person doing the MRI was a man, and he was pissed that I hadn’t been poked already before I got to him. He was grumbling the whole time he poked me, and I ended up bruised and sore.

Side note: I am keloid. This is yet another thing I learned through experience. This means that I scar twice as bad as other people, and any time I got my blood drawn, I ended up with a massive bruise that lasted several days if not a week. I still have to get my blood drawn every year, and I tell the phlebotomist to use a butterfly needle and take it from the back of my hand. I don’t know when I learned this was a thing, but when I did, it was a life-changer. I remember a feeling of awe as my blood flowed with ease from the back of my hand. And, the prick was nothing–I barely felt it at all. I still have a few phlebotomists who insist on doing it the old-fashioned way first, but they always come around to the butterfly needle in the hand trick.


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Finding my way home

Today is gray and drizzling out, and we need the rain. I like gloomy weather, but it doesn’t do much for my depression. Which I still have right now. It’s not as bad as it was on Friday, but it’s still (ma)lingering. Friday was the worst I’d had in quite some time, and it freaked me out. I could barely get through the one day, so how the hell did I used to do this on the daily? I passed much of my twenties in this fashion, and I’m amazed I made it to the other side. There were days when I considered it an accomplishment that I brushed my teeth. That’s how I felt on Friday. I struggled to get anything done, and I’m feeling it a bit today. The last few days, it’s been difficult to get my writing done. I’d write a sentence or two, then stopped. My head felt heavy, and my eyelids kept closing against my will.

Today, I’ve had to push myself to get my shit together. My taiji routine should take a half hour to forty minutes. I’ve stretched it to ninety minutes before by reading my phone as I was stretching. Today, since I wanted to go to Cubs afterwards, I managed to do it in forty minutes. My routine now consists of 10 minutes of stretching, 10 minutes of warm-ups, 10-15 minutes of weapons, 5 minutes of Solo Form, 10 more minutes of stretching. As I was doing my morning routine, I thought, “I don’t have to go to Cubs. I can go tomorrow.” This is one of the more insidious aspects of my depression–I can talk myself out of doing anything. Now, granted, I didn’t *have* to go to Cubs today, but it would have been a lean day if I hadn’t. Nothing wrong with a lean day, but I probably wouldn’t feel like going tomorrow, either. I made myself go today, and now, I can eat fairly well (given that I don’t cook).

I’ve been exhausted since my parents left. I can barely keep my eyes open, and all I want to do is sleep. Yet, when I try to sleep, I can’t. This is per yooz for me, though. I can be falling asleep every minute of the day, and then when I actually go to bed, I’m wide awake. I used to get frustrated about it, but I’ve accepted it as a way of life. My weighted sleep mask has been a god-send for keeping me asleep (except for the bizarre fact that it doesn’t have a fastener, but merely a slit to pull one end through, so it falls off. I should sew a button on or something, but, that’s probably not going to happen), but it doesn’t help me actually fall asleep.

I’m really tired. So tired that my brain is refusing to brain. So, for today, I’m shutting it down. Here’s Vienna Teng’s Lullaby For a Stormy Night. I may need to take a nap.

 

I got my weapons on my mind

Let’s talk weapons. Not the gun kind that has been making the news with distressing frequency, but the kind that doesn’t shoot projectiles at a high velocity. We’re talking swords, sabres, canes, and fans. We’re also talking escrima sticks and karambits. I mentioned this before, but I want to delve more into it.

I never wanted to try weapons when I first started taiji. While I was all about the martial arts application, I thought weapons were…uncivilized. More than that, they scared me. I was a ball of rage at that time, and I felt if I did weapons, I would just beat the shit out of everyone with said weapons. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I kept a tight rein on my anger, but when I slipped, it exploded all over the place.

I’ve told this story a million times, but I fobbed off my teacher every time she brought up weapons for an uncomfortable amount of time. It was only when she put a wooden sword into my hand that I realized what the fuck I had been missing. The second I closed my fingers over the hilt of the sword, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It felt like an extension of my arm, and I bought my stainless steel sword pretty soon after.

I would like to say that I practiced diligently once I started learning the Sword Form, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and I didn’t experience a radical personality change. I still dragged my feet, but I *did* enjoy learning the Sword Form more than I did the Solo Form. I learned it fairly quickly, and I loved every minute of it. When I was learning the Solo Form, there were several times I questioned what the fuck I was doing and why the hell I was doing this thing called taiji? I don’t mind saying (and my teacher doesn’t mind hearing) that I resented the hell out of taiji, and one of the reasons I went to more than one class a week is because I didn’t practice at home at all.

Side Note: I have a new classmate who is challenging to me for many reasons. The one I’m going to focus on this right now is because she’s so gung-ho about taiji, especially weapons. I am the weapons person in my class, and it’s a poke to my ego to see her learning them before knowing the whole Solo Form. Back when I started taiji, my teacher was told by her teacher that weapons could not be taught until after the Solo Form. That is no longer the case, and while I think it’s a good change, it’s hard for me not to feel resentful. I know I sound very much ‘back in my day’ about it, but it doesn’t help to hide it. I try not to have attitude around her, but it’s difficult.

Anyway, after the Sword Form came the Sabre Form, and that was a rocky road. It was nothing like the Sword Form, which shocked the hell out of me. Ignorant me thought, “Hey, it’s just a slightly bigger sword. It should be a snap.” It was not a snap. Not a snap at all. It was the opposite of a snap, and it upset me. There are very few things I’m proud of when it comes to myself, and one of them is that I learn things quickly*. Whereas the sword instantly felt at home in my hand, the sabre was just…dead wood. It never came alive. It never sang to me. It never thrummed with excitement, and I hated it.

I can say that now because I am past that hate and the resentment. Way past it, but I’ll get to that in a second.


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Falling in love…with my sabre

The first time I learned the Sabre Form, I was high off learning the Sword Form, which is my favorite thing in the world. Well, at least in the top three. The sword was like an extension of my hand, and I naively expected the sabre would be the same. I mean, it’s a sword, but bigger, amirite? I dove in with enthusiasm, only to find it wasn’t the same. At all.

I struggled with it. I can admit it now. The sabre felt clunky and unwieldy in my hand, and I was instantly disappointed. Let me tell you one of my biggest flaws: I will quit something that I am not good at in a heartbeat. I don’t like to look stupid, and I get embarrassed beyond all measure when I’m flailing about. There is also some childhood background on this. My parents were typical Asian parents in that they were way more apt to harp on my mistakes than to praise me for something well done. An example. I graduated magna cum laude from college. Not bad, right? My mom immediately says, “If you had done better in your first semester, you would have been summa.” Years later, when I confronted her about it, she denied saying it. Then, she added if she *had* said it, she meant it to comfort me in case I was upset about not making summa.

Well I wasn’t until you mentioned it, Mom, but I am now, thanks! That’s my mom, though. She has selective memory (putting a rosy tint on everything), and she allows her anxiety to overcome her common sense. I actually understand the latter because I have anxiety as well. I just learned to keep most of it to myself.

Anyway, I didn’t feel as if I couldn’t do the Sabre Form. One of my assets (which is also a flaw) is that I learn things really quickly. (That’s one reason I give up easily if I don’t catch on right away. Like badminton. It’s also one reason video games have been good to me. All the games I really like are ones that had steep learning curves.) The first time with the sabre, I learned the postures, now movements, easily. There are six rows, and we got to the end of the fourth row. I didn’t sweat the postures, but I felt as if I were doing them by rote.

The sabre never felt alive in my hand–it felt like dead wood. With the sword, I felt as if I were dancing with a partner. Every cell in my body would sing as I moved it around. Or let it guide me around. My teacher was asked by one of her classmates about if the sword should lead or the person should lead the sword (in the context of a certain movement). Her response was that there is a movement called ‘Step Forward to Unite With the Sword’. It’s in the beginning of the form, and she explained it’s meant to bring the two together so they work as one. Her classmate did not appreciate the response, but I did. It neatly summed up my feelings for the sword, and it was sorely lacking with the sabre. Granted, that movement isn’t in the sabre, but I still wanted it to feel the same way.

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I am done with sleep

My sleep has been shit.

I say this as if it’s news, but it’s not really. My sleep has been shit all my life for varying reasons. I had gotten into a semi-regular sleeping habit recently of going to bed by 2 am and getting up around 8:30*. Then, I got sick again as is my wont and my sleep schedule got all fucked up again. The sleep time started getting pushed back further and further until I found myself going to bed at 5 a.m. Then, two days ago, I could not stay up past 11:30 p.m. I crashed, but kept waking up every few hours. I finally got up at 6:30 a.m. or so, and I felt shittier than if I had gone to bed at my regular time.

If I could have one wish come true, it would be that I could get a solid eight hours of sleep a night. That I could sleep without tossing and turning for a half hour first. That I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding uncomfortably fast. That I wouldn’t have nightmares, or more recently, anxiety dreams. That Shadow wouldn’t be in my face howling when I woke up in the morning/afternoon. That I would feel actually rested when I woke up. That my immediate response wouldn’t be, “God, I wish I could sleep forever.”

Some of that has to do with depression, of course. I don’t want to be alive, and that makes it harder to get up and go about my day. There was a program on MPR (or perhaps NPR) about suicide and how to talk to someone with suicidal ideation. The doctor said you had to first find out why the person was feeling suicidal. She mentioned there was a difference between someone who coped with the thoughts on a daily basis and someone who might have those feelings in response to a bad situation. She said in the former, it doesn’t help to tell them it’s going to be ok or to look at the bright side. She said it made them feel more isolated and as if nobody understood them. I wanted to shout an ‘amen’ from the rafters because fuck that bullshit.


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With age, hopefully, comes wisdom

 

but not when i first wake up.
All of this looks soooooo good.

I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I learned as a kid that are not relevant to me now. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to stick with the ideas related to health, mental and physical.

1. When and how I eat. If you’re around my age (late forties), I’m sure you were taught the four food groups, how much you should eat of each, that you should eat three square meals a day, and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that all of this is different now. Some of it is just science. There are now five groups (fruits and veggies got split up), and in the old days it was 4-4-3-2, that’s the way to eat for you (or something like that). I don’t remember which number goes with what group, but that was taught to me as a kid. Now, it’s ounces/cups per day, and the amount of each group has changed. I don’t have an issue with that. Things change over time.

When I should eat has always been a struggle for me. I don’t like to eat when I first awake, and usually it’s more than an hour after I get up before I’m even remotely hungry. In addition, I take a medication that requires that you don’t eat for an hour after you take it.

Side note: It would have been nice for my first doctor to tell me that when I was fourteen–which was when I first started having to take this med. He didn’t, though, and he was a bad doctor all around. Then again, he might have said it and I didn’t listen because I was overwhelmed with the new information and was exceedingly depressed at the time. Either way, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that my (new and great) doctor told me that I wasn’t supposed to take the medication with an hour of eating.

Anyway, I sometimes don’t eat for hours after I awake. It just depends. I have a history of eating disorders, so I’m trying to honor my body by eating only when I’m hungry. It doesn’t work all the time (or even most), but I’m working on it. As for the three square meals thing, I’ve found that I feel better if I eat a little bit several times a day rather than a lot three times a day. I think it makes more sense, too, to keep my hunger at a reasonable level, rather than have a feast or famine mentality. When I go out to eat, I never eat more than half, especially if I order an appetizer and/or dessert. I don’t like feeling stuffed, so it’s easier for me to eat many times a day.

I also have to take into account all my sensitivities. I’ve been gluten-free/dairy-free for almost two years, and I’m currently troubleshooting what else is wrong with me. Food-wise, I mean. I thought it was nuts, but now I’m finding it’s not. It might be hydrogenated oil? I’m not sure. I haven’t had a serious stomach issue in a week or two, which is nice, but I would like to pinpoint what made it happen.

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Just fuck everything, but snow?!?

To no one’s surprise, I have a fucking cold. Warning: I will be fucking sweary in this post because I am so fucking sick and tired of being, well, sick and tired. A deep hacking cough, a stuffed nose that simultaneously feels as if it has pine needles jabbing into it from time to time. Add chest congestion to that, and you can understand why I’m irritated. Not just irritated, but downright pissed off. I have been sick on and off for the past few months, and every time I feel better, something else happens to me. It’s not as if I’m in the public all the time, a lot, or much at all. So why the hell am I getting sick? It’s a question for my doc the next time I go, which will be soon because I have to get my annual thyroid check for my meds.

Speaking of docs….Every year, I have to deal with my insurance, and I thought I set it last year so I wouldn’t have to do it again this year. I got a notice saying my insurance would end because I hadn’t re-enrolled, and I found an earlier letter with the re-enrollment form. I filled it out and sent it in with a brief explanation of what happened. I sent it in before the end of the month, and then this week, I got a notice that my insurance had ended last month. I thought about checking my mail today before I called the insurance office, but I didn’t because I’m lazy. I called, resigned to wait for over an hour as I had to do the other times I called them (this is a governmental office, so you know how that goes), but I got someone within five minutes. She told me there was nothing wrong with my insurance, and I had her double check and read it to me exactly to make sure. Afterwards, I went to check the mail because I was going out, anyway, and sure enough, there was my health plan letter. I had to laugh, but I’m relieved that it ended well.


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(Un)Healthy, (not) wealthy, and (un)wise

I’m feeling better today, which is a relief. I dragged myself to taiji yesterday, despite feeling like crap, and did just enough. I had a private lesson with my teacher, and near the end of the class, she asked if I wanted to do some Solo Form or some Sword Form. I said, “This will surprise you, but let’s do the Solo Form.” Surprise because I love the Sword Form and still merely tolerate the Solo Form. But, the Sword Form is a weight-bearing activity, and I was simply not up for it. The Solo Form, on the other hand, was gentle (especially the first section, which was what we did) and easy on my aching body.

After class, I picked up a few things at the co-op and then went home. I crashed in the early evening, but I still felt better than before I went to class. Actually, I felt shitty upon awakening (around seven-thirty), and then improved throughout the day. That’s why by noon, I felt (barely) good enough to go to class. Bottom line is that taiji is good for me, but it’s just a matter of having the energy to get there.

When I’m sick, it’s the worst when I first wake up and right before I go to bed. Unless I’m really sick, I generally can maintain throughout the day. That’s why I think it might be allergies along with whatever else I’m fighting. I’m tired of it, so I will actually see a doctor when I can get the energy. This week, next week at the latest. I’m skeptical that she’ll be able to find anything, but ruling out possibilities is just as valuable as finding the actual cause. Or if not as valuable, at least it allows me to focus my worry. Some ideas. It’s an immunodeficiency problem, iron deficiency, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia. It could also be a problem with my thyroid medication, but I get that checked every year, and it was stable the last time I checked.

I just did a quick Google, and I’m more convinced than ever it’s allergies. I’m allergic to everything. I’ve recounted before that when I take the allergy test where they put all the allergens on your thigh, my entire thigh swells up like a balloon. My brother and I were talking about the allergy shots we got when we were kids, and all I can remember is how miserable I was after each shot. My arm would swell up and be hot and itchy. My brother couldn’t even get the shots because he didn’t reach the threshold for getting them. The last time he tested for allergies, he got hives.

I’ve cut out dairy and gluten because of my sensitivities. I know they don’t reach the level of allergies, but it’s still not fun to spend a half hour on the toilet every time I eat either. I don’t use any scented products because of allergies, and I can smell most people’s perfume/cologne/body wash from ten feet away. I don’t like how Americans are so obsessed with covering natural smells. I much prefer the smell of of an honest sweat than of the crap people used to cover it up. I don’t use deodorant, and I’ve never had a complaint about it. I also don’t take a shower every day or wash my hair every day.

I recently learned that there are corresponding food allergies to pollen allergies (from the Mayo Clinic). It was an eye opener, and it immediately made sense. I’m allergic to every kind of pollen known to womankind, so if there’s a pollen-food connection, then it makes sense that I’m finding myself increasingly sensitive to different foods. The most frustrating part is figuring out which ones are causing the reactions. I need to do a more scientific study, but I get tired just thinking about it.

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Trade-offs health-wise I’m willing to take

I think I’m being hit with round 2 of the crud, and I’m fine with it. Wait, Minna, I can hear you say (or make you say in my mind). How can you be fine with it when you hated it so much the last round? I’ll tell you, and thank you for asking and setting me up so nicely.

Let’s backtrack a bit. I was sick for a long time as is my want. I have this loop of getting one thing–say, chills and fever–then getting something else–like sinus problems–before slowly recovering, only to be hit with a third thing–persistent, hacking cough. Then, when I’m finally over it, I pray to the cold and flu gods that I don’t get it again.

That’s what happened this time. I got over the last thing, then felt decent for a week or so, then I was incredibly tired last week. I mean, I’m tired in general most of the time, but I was at the ‘I literally can’t keep my eyes open’ stage for all of last week. For those lucky duckies who’ve never felt it, it’s when you’re doing something innocuous like watching a video, and then you come to with a start and realize you haven’t seen the last ten minutes/half an hour/hour of the video. That kept happening to me, and one particularly bad night, I passed maybe three hours that way, waking up every ten minutes to ever half hour.

Speaking of sleep deprivation, The Try Guys did a series of videos about driving while under the influence in four different ways, including not sleeping for thirty-six hours straight. They have a doctor in each video explaining the ramifications of driving under that particular influence, and in the sleep-deprived one, he said that people who were deprived of sleep for twenty-four hours, they had nearly the same impairment as someone who blows a .1 on a breathalyzer. His advice was, “Don’t drive when you’re sleep deprived.” He also said most people need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I laughed, albeit it bitterly, because if I followed his advice, I would never drive. I venture that many Americans could say the same. Also, getting seven hours of sleep in one go is not gonna happen for me unless I’m sick. Which, incidentally, is another reason I know I’m getting sick–I slept nearly seven hours (total in two separate chunks)last night after going to bed around midnight.


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