all posts, mental health, miscellaneous

odd directions

I have a lot of weird stuff going on. It feels like ever since I fell off the beaten path, when my skin mutinied and declined to acquiesce to my request of behaving like normal dermal tissue, I fell down my own personal rabbit hole of weirdness and have just been grabbing hold of oddities on my way down.

If someone were to sit me down and be like, so what are you up to these days (and have time for a long-winded answer) this is probably what I would say:

Well -insert name of person inquiring here- , I spend a lot of time overthinking everything. But primarily I spend the majority of my time hanging with my delightful Figlet, witnessing her grow and become her own person, and trying to make sure I don’t fuck that up too much.

I spend a lot of time trying to learn things, lots of things, that I think add to my life in fun and important ways (more on that in a moment), and as a result I spend a lot of time trying to figure out when to read. I wile away the hours trying to figure out when and how to take care of my ever changing body, when to workout, when to drink water, what and when to eat, when to have other self-care items thrown in there. I’m not really good at that yet, but I’m working on it.

Now back to those things I am trying to learn. Well I am trying to learn about death, how it looks in our society, in the world, why we find it so scary, how it is monetized, how it is supported, how it is prevented, how it is avoided. I try to understand my own experiences with death and work to find my own way with it hopefully before it is my time.

In a related subset, trying to learn about being a mom and my own body/mortality has me studying postpartum care, breastfeeding, etc to understand what is happening to me, what dictates the decisions mothers make around their postpartum period. Does it give me all the answers? No, but I don’t think anything ever will. So basically it helps me learn to live with indecision.

I am trying to learn about herbs, partially for self-care, partially because we treat most herbs like weeds when they are abundantly available, healthy, and easy to eat. Like dandelion and plantains. Also one of my friends from childhood is jumping into the learning process with me so we will have a lot of external motivation getting one another to keep learning.

I am trying to learn about sustainability, and what that looks like as an individual, a culture, a society, and a species. I am trying to learn how to grow all my own common veggies, fruits, and herbs in limited space with less-than-ideal conditions, without pesticides or really anything that doesn’t come from the ground or a more traceable circle of life. I am learning how different houses can be made more efficient, through better insulation, maintenance, windows on certain sides of the house, water filtration and storage, available solar enhancements, how to decrease electric and gas usage, etc.

I’m learning about bodies broadly- different schools of thought on how to maintain them, but also keeping in mind goals for what one wants their body to do. What postures are natural for longevity versus important for crazy loads? What diets help what conditions or demands? What home adjustments create healthier lifestyles? You name it. One change we have done is that we now sleep on a bed that is 5 inches of the ground, on top of a fairly hard futon mattress. We decided to try this because we wanted to:

  • have more of a movement challenge waking up
  • have a mattress that didn’t sag and conform to our bodies but instead provided some resistance
  • see if it would help decrease our night sweating (it did!)
  • see if it would improve our sleep (maybe it did? or maybe Figlet sleeping through the night more consistently is the culprit)
  • see if it would decrease various joint pains we were having (it did!)

I’m one step closer to volunteering with hospice! I had my training this past weekend; next step is the mentoring. I’m excited but also have my reservations of working (for free) under healthcare (as all hospice volunteers are technically unpaid employees under Medicare. For a hospice organization to receive funding, they must employ volunteers). I’m hoping the people I visit are hyperlocal so I am able to walk to their residences, and thus visit for more time.

I am trying to write more (note the increased frequency of posts?!) for my own clarity of mind, and am still occasionally creating poems to capture the more intense feelings I have here and there. I am also reading more for pleasure and curiosity than pure intentional intellectual gain, which feels much more natural and enjoyable to me.

I think I keep circling back to this idea of my life going ferally because it feels like, though no parts of what I am doing are unique alone, the culmination of them is odd and uncommon. I find myself constantly trying to label myself (usually on instagram) to have some way of summing up all I am working on in my life in a concrete way. I usually fail miserably, and end up ranting like a loon, but the show must go on.

all posts, miscellaneous

on libraries

I mentioned this before but eczema has given me lots of time to read, partially because it keeps my hands busy to hold a book, and partially because when I have the worst of flares I don’t have the energy to do anything besides curl up in a ball on the couch with a blanket draped around me and turn pages while trying to minimize any movement of the rest of my body. Luckily the latter hasn’t happened in a while, but since I have gotten back into the swing of reading, I have renewed my relationship with libraries (pun intended). I had gotten my new town library card a while back but recently I have been aggressively making use of it. We’re talking 10 books at a time and steadily getting 1-2 more books each week (yes I have a problem).

Anyway, historically, I have always been a voracious reader. I have memories of being ten and sitting down under the playground reading fictional adventure novels while kids ran around me. This happened only if the book was magically compelling, and surprisingly lots of YA fiction novels are at that age.

I also distinctly remember the awkward moment when at a family reunion I was hiding away under a bed reading the newest Harry Potter book when someone sat on it. The mattress springs crunched above me uncomfortably, so I snaked out an arm and gently tapped the family member’s ankle, sending them into an understandable jump-off-the-ground-in-total-fear-mixed-with-surprise moment. I stopped hiding under beds to read soon after (partially because I grew too big).

I also remember years and years of trying to read during car rides while sitting in the back of my mom’s old Honda van on that way to visit some family, and feeling car sick from focusing on the words swaying about with the car’s inertia.

As I also love things that are free (catch me in my hand-me-down clothes even as a late twenty-something mom), my love for libraries is not much of a surprise. My earliest memories of libraries are glimpses of bright lig t shining through musly building windows and rows on rows of colorful books. I remember getting excited that I could pick out whatever I wanted and the smell of old books and how I loved feeling the pages of a wellworn novel. Those strong sensory experiences continue to evoke my love.

There are also unidentified memories of accompanying my Oma, my best friend’s mom, and many others to unfamiliar libraries on book returning errands, and memories of playing those generic learning games on those chunky monitors screens.

I remember as an elementary school student, that we had those book fairs (done by Scholastic Books I believe), which excited me to no end, and always happened in the library. I was one of those kids that liked to get some new books, and those cutesy erasers.

I remember as a teen, trekking up the half mile or so from my house to the local public library, often with my friend Julia, to see what books we could find next. We had voracious appetites for fiction and fantasy, and I remember ambling through the shelves often picking books to read based on their titles or their cover art when I had no specific “to-reads” in mind. When I moved back home with my parents after college, I restarted my walking sojourns to said library, mostly to resume my enjoyment of fiction novels in between work.

I remember in high school, after tearing my ACL and not being able to run track and field senior spring, I hung out in the library with my “potluck” friends (so named because our hangouts started via a potluck meal). My grades actually improved while there so I graduated with an even higher GPA thus avoiding the stereotype of “senior slump”. And it was there that I started Pet Sementary and had my first intro to Stephen King and to more adult horror books (I had enjoyed Goosebumps when I was younger).

In college I made myself a home at the science library (Cornell) on my free time, and started working their my sophomore year as a library assistant for work study. My now husband recalls always making sure to come chat with me when I was at the front desk as he was already crushing on me. I remember getting to work the closing shifts on nights and weekends and as a result, getting to be one of the last people in the library. I wasn’t a night person so that was often exhausting, but also a weirdly surreal experience as the  building that housed the library (called the science center) was generally emptied out on weekends at that point with most of the lights off. It was quite peaceful.

I remember my friend Becky and I staking our claim in a space and waiting it out in the college’s larger library (McCabe), working away until 10pm when they brought out the snacks. It was also a common library for group study as there were these study rooms on the upper floors if you wanted more privacy. I went back recently and some of the layout had changed (on the main floor at least) and it was so disorienting. Seeing a library change, even if it is for the better (which it was) is such a sucker punch to the memory.

For graduate school (MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston) I would hide away in this attic-esque corner of the library with my friends, where we would study and sometimes practice physical therapy techniques on one another on the floor, but more often than not we would chat and enjoy life while simultaneously complaining about the breadth of material to study.

I once accompanied Jake last minute on a business trip to Ybor in Tampa, Florida. While he was doing his work thing, I decided to kill time by investigating the local library (the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library). I had to walk about 2 miles to get there but it didn’t deter me. I always find it fascinating to see libraries in new states. I didn’t get a lot of time to explore it but I saw that it offers meals to those in need between 11:30am and 12:30pm and had different historical plaques and pictures about it like those below.

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I also worked in the Cambridge Public Library when I was volunteering for the Eradicate Childhood Obesity Foundation and got used to navigating around one of the biggest (and oldest) library establishments in the country.

And now I have my town library where I currently do effectively drive-bys: running in to acquire books on hold and returning the books I’ve read before taking the munchkin home. I also, on occssion, explore the small town libraries nearby, getting jealous at some of the beautiful redone buildings and children’s sections. Most of all I look forward to Fi getting older so I can instill my love of books in her, spread my love of libraries and share my memories made in them while we make new ones together.

Parting note: if you are someone that wonders how libraries will stay relevant in a society where most everything is accessible online and via our phones, you should read the book Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey. Palfrey explains multiple reasons that libraries are important, besides just to borrow books. There are a few other books I’ve read about libraries and their history and/or significance that I’m happy to talk more about if asked.

all posts, eczema

there are germs on my skin! part 1

A few years back I read a book called Farmacology by Daphne Miller. Miller is a physician who travelled around the United States to study farm practices and connect what she learned to how our bodies work as well as how the farming practices affect our health.

From that book I was inspired to learn more about sustainable habits and understand the complicated relationship between us and our land/food. I thought more about dirt and how we as humans wash and bathe excessively nowadays to kill all the germs, when some are not germs at all, but friendly non-harmful bacteria.

In 2013 I had a bad flare of eczema, and also got a staph infection. From thinking about the book again I realized that all systems have ecosystems of their own, including our skin, and that maybe the reason I had gotten a skin infection may have been because my natural skin cultures were not balanced (or in other words I had more of the bad kind of bacterias than the good). Studies are saying now, when you have a healthy mix of bacteria, they balance one another out and keep the “bad” bacteria in check, and as a result you get a strong skin barrier. When you lack the bacterial diversity, that’s when things go bad, and usually you’ll have an excess of Staphyloccocus aureus, which makes you more likely to have a skin flare. A study in 2013 showed that Staph a. makes a toxin that cause a release of other molecules we know are involved in the dysfunction of the skin in people with atopic dermatitis. It has become clear that unbalanced skin microflora can have particularly devastating consequences.

I’m going to briefly go into a little bit more about the skin and the skin biome. My information is coming from various articles including this one by NIH.

The job of our skin is to keep foreign organisms, dirt, etc out of our bodies. It has its own ecology with millions of diverse micro-organisms, some of which help the immune system learn which similar organisms are detrimental. As I said before, in healthy skin there is a balance of micro-organisms but when that balance gets disrupted it can result in infections or other skin issues.

Healthy skin is usually acidic and dry, and a cool temperature. Areas like the arms and the legs tend to be drier than other skin areas (like the groin, armpits, etc) and so they experience more temperature fluctuations. The acidity prevents certain bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, from colonizing the skin.  Other ways the skin fends off bacteria like Staph a. include using the hair follicles. The follicles have sebaceous glands that make sebum, a fatty substance that helps protect the skin by coating it with an acidic and antibacterial shield. Interestingly enough, in my experience, when my flares have gotten bad, I notice my hair (specifically on my arms and legs) falls out.

The skin is made up of multiple layers including the epidermis, which has a top layer called the stratum corneum that’s made of something called squames. Squames are the bits that are shed from the skin after about 4 weeks. I’d bet that the rate of squame shedding is what increases when someone has eczema, and the reason we shed so much when flaring/coming out of a flare.

Everything from clothing, antibiotic use, soaps, moisturizers, age, sex, exposure to environmental bacterias (like dirt and animals), and more can affect the micro biome.

A company that came up on my radar was Mother Dirt with their research partner AOBiome (I have no affiliation to either but I do think they are interesting!). AOBiome study chemicals in our modern skin/hair products and how they mess up our skin bacteria diversity. In particular, they look at a bacteria called Nitrosomonas that was on our skin before we used soap and detergents that messed up the bacteria’s ability to survive on us. AOBiome correlates that the decrease in this nonharmful bacteria is related to the increase in inflammatory skin issues.

Therefore, the goal of AOBiome is to create products that allow Nitrosomonas to live on our skin again, and at the same time help reduce skin inflammation. They are also researching eczema and how their products may be able to help (though according to their website they are still between phase I and phase II of 3 phases of product development). They are definitely a company to keep tabs on for the future.

 

REFERENCES

“AOB, Inflammatory Conditions, and Systenic Effects.” AOBiomeTherapeutics, https://aobiome.com/aob-inflammatory-conditions-and-systemic-effects/. Accessed 27 Sept 2018.

Grice E & Segre J. The skin microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Apr;9(4): 244-253.

Kong HH, Oh J, Deming C, Conlan S, Grice EA, Beatson MA, Nomicos E, Pollet EC, Komarow HD, Murray PR, Turner ML, Segre JA. Temporal shifts in the skin microbiome associated with disease flares and treatment in children with atopic dermatitis. Genome Res. 2012 May;22(5):850-890.

Nakamura Y, Oscherwitz J, Cease KB, Chan SM, Muñoz-Planillo R, Hasegawa M, Villaruz AE, Cheung GY, McGavin MJ, Travers JB, Otto M, Inohara N, Núñez G. Staphylococus delta-toxin induces allergic skin disease by activating mast cells. Nature. 2013 Nov 21;503(7476):397-401.