Another small adjustment

I’ve been back to work for about six months now, and it has mostly been going alright. I still am experiencing the prickling, but it hasn’t reached the levels I was feeling before. My desk is ergonomically set up, and if I drift back into bad habits, like hunching forward to read on my screen or type, it definitely spikes the feeling. But now I can sit back comfortably and getting my spine aligned properly seems to make the prickling calm down.

My therapist’s suggestion to leave my desk every noon hour has been really important for managing it too. Luckily, with the nice weather, I have been able to go for walks. I’m hoping to increase that to going for a 30 minute jog on some days. I’ve also been getting off the bus one stop early and walking about 20 minutes home as often as I can. Some nights it isn’t realistic just because of timing (or weather) but I’ve been enjoying the wind down time, especially this spring. The route I take is lined with lilacs, apple trees and honeysuckle bushes. If anything can encourage you to breathe deeply, it’s those delicious scents. The walks also help my prickling calm down at the end of the day.

I am trying to follow my neurologist’s advice to focus on my mental and physical health right now. I’m counting my walking as physical activity (as I was finding my gym workouts were making me dizzy and nauseated, and feeling on the brink of fainting), and I’m focusing on eating proper, healthy food – good veggies, quality (pescatarian-approved) protein, fruits, water, good grains. I’m not specifically dropping any food group, but I am prioritizing plate space for colourful veggies rather than rice, potatoes or bread.

And I’m trying to approach my prickling feeling in a yogic way, almost as if I was meditating. Instead of focusing so much on the feeling, I’m trying to just notice it, take steps to calm it (as mentioned above), and then move on. I don’t want to drag it along with me anymore. I want to step past it, acknowledged, but giving it no power. This is, of course, a work in progress, because some days I just can’t do that. I’m not that much in control.

The final aspect, of which today is the first day, is that I’ve cut my work time down to 80%. Now I will work full days Monday through Thursday, and I will have Friday through Sunday off. My pay is impacted, of course, and my pension and all of that stuff, but with my previous two Leaves with Income Averaging, I’m used to my pay being lower by 20%. It’s just that I’m spreading the time off over the whole year instead of concentrating it into two months. My manager and I will keep up an open dialogue, because if it turns out that I’m trying to do 110% of the things in 80% of the time, that is counter-productive and I’ll go back to full time and try a different tactic.

So, what am I doing on my first non-work Friday?

I got up and did my morning yoga practice, ate my normal breakfast gruel (1 tbsp each of chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, and raisins, 1/3 cup of oatmeal, and a shake of pumpkin pie spice, soaked overnight in 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, and topped with a sliced banana and 1/3 cup of wild blueberries). I lay down for a bit on the couch, scrolling through Fazebøk, to let my breakfast settle, and then I went on a 6km (slow) run – my first outdoor run since last September. It wasn’t pretty and my fitness app isn’t even recognizing my speed as a “run” (according to it, I did a “brisk walk”… :P). I’ve got my novel open behind this browser window, because I’ve had a couple of ideas for it, and this is kind of the entire reason I’m taking this time. I feel like most nights, after fighting the prickling and trying to actually do good work, I don’t have the energy to stand at my easel for a few hours or sit at my computer for a few (more!) hours to work on my stuff. So, if I’m not doing my personal hobbies, how can I be de-stressing?

A couple of wise friends (plus my husband) reminded me yesterday not to overprogram myself, and to allow whatever takes up my time to take it. And not to stress out if I don’t actually add a page or touch a paintbrush. It will happen. I will try to keep that in mind.

So that’s my little status update, course change, micromovement – call it what you may. I’m looking forward to seeing how this changes my health and well-being. :)

Here’s the song I was listening to when I started this post. :) Hopefully I’ll be posting again more regularly (but I’m not going to make that a goal!)

A little bit of light…

That’s the way I was describing it in my head on my way home from work today. It’s like a little bit of light has made it past the blockage and my spirit is soaking it up like the trees’ tiny leaves are soaking up the sun right now.

It’s not to say that I’ve been stumbling around in the dark. I’ve just been looking down for so long recently, I hadn’t realized that my field of vision had constricted to grey asphalt and keeping on going.

I had a good weekend, mostly free of the ongoing pins and needles feeling in my face. I spent time with my family, laughing and talking. And then, this morning, I put on a new dress that I’d bought a few weeks ago and it was so comfy. I was happy.

I was also letting other people’s positive words sink in a little further, reinforced by my family reminding me of other kind words.

Not everything going on right now is going the way I hoped. I’m still waiting on payroll to get to my files. I’m still waiting for a decision from an internal department on teaching yoga to my colleagues. Today is definitely one of the first days I’ve felt normal (i.e., positive and happy and energetic) in ages. But my life is still good.

Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been trudging along with my head down for a while and I didn’t really have much to say. Hopefully this feeling will continue for a bit.


Here’s a picture I took over Easter, of a bumblebee visiting my mother-in-law’s redbud tree. :) It’s good to have light again.

Back

I did my gradual return to work over a month and a half and now am back full time.

And today I am at home, sick with a virus that someone brought into the office. *sigh* I don’t even know if I have the sick time to cover this, but I can’t spread this further.

I’m still experiencing the prickling but my desk is being set up ergonomically, so hopefully that helps. I’m trying to follow the recommendations of all my health care providers and move, refocus my eyes somewhere more distant than my screen, set healthy boundaries (for myself and others), walk away from my desk every noon hour.

But I always have that internal critic, sniping at me and making me feel like I have to justify myself, and that drawing boundaries is “letting myself off easy”. But I can physically feel that the boundaries are necessary. When I turn off my computer at night to go home, it’s because I have to. I need to do something other than my work. Sometimes I barely have the energy to make a decision about what that will be before my alarm goes off, signaling the beginning of my medicated time, and the rapid approach of the end of my day.

I don’t know where I picked up this sickness – perhaps I could blame society or some aspect of a work culture. But it is a sickness. I remember feeling so righteous in my overtime. Moments that disappeared into the void of a “good job” given with a quarter of that person’s attention, because they were so busy being busy. Or perhaps not even a thank you. Which led me to believe that this was what was expected of me in that job. Sacrificing moments of my life to ensure that something was flawless.

But nothing is flawless. And to chase down every obscure flaw provides diminishing returns. At some point, you’re just driving yourself into the brick wall for your own ego’s sake. A man on a flying horse isn’t going to notice, as my grandmother said. Good enough.

I have a couple of personal projects that I want to do. They are at the top of my “things to do when not at work” list, but they take effort. And effort is something I haven’t felt like I have a whole store of. I was hoping the medical leave would have helped to refill that, but maybe I’ve been running on fumes for so long, I didn’t realize that my tank was that empty.

So right now I’m working on a work project that I was asked to do just before I had to take my medical leave. And I’m trying to keep track of my symptoms daily to try to describe the patterns.

And I’m trying to live healthily. I’m incorporating more exercise, and I’m eating well, I think. I’m enjoying some deep breathing exercises and keeping my mind mostly clear. I’m playing piano and playing some video games and reading. I am watching shows and movies with my husband. I occasionally even socialize.

Some days I’m okay. Some days I feel like a shadow of who I was. I don’t know if people notice. I don’t like the side effects of the medications that are supposed to be helping me. I’ve been on most of them for over a year now and I’m still experiencing the same symptoms. 

But the world shows its beauty and I am grateful to witness it. I try to keep my head up and ears open. Slowly, I am determined that I will be back.

Okay, owning it

Hey y’all. It’s been a while.

I’m sitting on our new couch, in our new place, listening to disc 1 of 4 of *one* of my Ella Fitzgerald collections, thinking about the calls and paperwork I have to do today but I’ve been promising myself all week that I was going to make a blog post. It’s Friday, I’d best get on that.

So. Sometimes I like to think that I’m fairly intelligent and body-aware and all that jazz (see what I did there – ha). Then sometimes my body has to scream at me, especially when my stubborn, head-down, plough-through attitude is over-talking the gentle “Dear, stop.”

After two one week vacations this summer where I finished them off with a night where I kept myself from sleeping due to the anxiety of returning to work and all that would hold. Given my current medical mystery, the things I was anticipating were great – such as the feeling that I’m wearing a mask of pins (to clarify, pointy side down towards my skin), that feeling creeping into my arms and legs on a really bad day. Not to mention the dizziness, feeling like I have blisters on the underside of my eyelids (I don’t as far as I can tell), and a brain that constantly was feeling like I was trying to run an electrical current through porridge (usually how I feel post migraine).

It took me hitting the verge of tears at my desk, and a friend who also was telling me about her struggles and shrugging off crying at her desk as a part of a normal workday until someone convinced her that wasn’t right, to have me make the call.

I can’t do everyday work right now and try to fix whatever is wrong with me.

And I’m sure a lot of people around me sighed in relief, glad I finally came to the conclusion they’d known for months. Those people include my husband, who bears the brunt of it and only gets frustrated at my stubbornness occasionally… All the way to my RMT, who has felt like we were in an episode of Groundhog Day since I began seeing her in January, I am sure.

So I went to see my GP, and she wrote me a note of medical leave until “at least December 1st”. Thanks to a supportive manager and a workplace advisor, I’ve been navigating the system since.

I had another neurologist appointment a couple of weeks ago, and she has ordered an MRI. We’re playing with my meds again. I’m in another experiment right now – I’ve added the new medication two weeks ago, and tonight I’m supposed to increase the original medication again on top of that. But my neurologist had mad respect for the treatment my RMT has been doing (and that I’ve been undergoing it – TMJ massage is not for the faint of heart, or the easy gag reflex). And the good news was that the difference of one week on the new med (which I don’t think can be a forever medication) is a drastic reduction in the tension (therefore pain) in my jaw and face from two weekends ago to last weekend. So much so that we bumped my next (weekly) RMT appointment back another week to see how I’m doing.

It didn’t help that we moved house over Thanksgiving weekend, shortly after I officially went on leave. It didn’t help that I didn’t have any more sick leave because I’ve had to be away so much (and my previous job had me so stressed that I basically was sick every month with a new cold or flu – stress does depress your immune system). I’m on leave without pay right now, trying to get a bit of coverage. That’s the paperwork that has to happen today.

So when I didn’t perceive any prickling yesterday, it was awesome. I have some today – right now pins are prickling my cheekbones, the outer corners of my eyes and a bit on my top lip. It’s been pretty light this week, though I’ve still been having headaches.

One of the pieces of advice I got from my therapist, who has been trying to help me work through all of this, was to go for walks so that I actually leave my house. I’m not super great at just making them walks and not multi-tasking. But I have been able to take some photos of the beautiful, colourful autumn we have been having.


I’ve also been able to get together with a friend who is off on maternity leave, and have lunches or tea and we both are less isolated.

I still think about work. I wonder how people are, how my stuff is going. But I’m trying to do things that will make me healthy again and I’m trying to be mindful so that I can accurately report to my doctor what I’ve been experiencing.

So that’s where I’m at. I feel like I’m not really interesting right now but I’m doing what I can to try to heal myself. I thought for a moment about doing NaNoWriMo but that gentle voice said “No, dear. Not this year.” And I listened.

I’m going to go and make those calls and do paperwork now, and maybe play some piano for a bit. Then, I’ll go for a walk to drop off some dry cleaning and try to take another few photos of something interesting.

Happy Friday, everyone. :)

Another round of gratitude 

I’ve been quiet lately, I know. Partially, summertime doing stuff quiet. Partially, doing the experiment on myself and nothing to report. Really. I’m up to the highest dose of the overnight muscle relaxants. This coming week will be the real data point. But I had prickling this week, and my jaw was still tight. (And I woke up with muscle spasms/charleyhorses two nights in the second week of the second highest dose.)

I took this week off, as one does. In hopes that just relaxing and doing fun “me” things would help. See above. But I did have more good days than prickly this week.

I also spent some time going through my keepsakes and old photos. I was scanning them in, as we’re going through another bit of a cull, to try to reduce the stuff in the office/studio. 

In my pile o’ stuff, I found many old cards that I’d saved. I habitually saved cards from my childhood, not for any particular reason except it seemed wrong to throw away sentiments like those. I was able to scan these sentiments in as well, and was able to be reminded of my grandmother’s love from her cards and letters to me.

I also found more recent cards – birthday cards given to me by my husband during our first year together (super mushy, so cute), the many cards of sympathy I received from friends and colleagues when my father passed away, and birthday cards from friends and colleagues.

In particular, my friend K’s birthday card to me really struck me yesterday and I read and re-read it, marvelling at the sentiment and then my mind turned the wrong way.

Instead of internalizing the beautiful sentiment and feeling the warm glow of “hearing” how someone holds me in high regard, I wondered whether I had ever told her in what high regard I hold her? How I think she is one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing? How I think she’s beautiful and sweet and intelligent and thoughtful? And funny?

And then I wondered about all the other cards lying in my stack – had I ever adequately let those people know how they are wonderful and important and that they are one of those important puzzle pieces in this big jigsaw puzzle of my life? That they mean something?

Have I ever told you that you matter to me? Does that mean anything to you?

After that unfortunately not-as-brief-as-it-should-have-been foray into self-flagellation, I emerged and realized that I should take those really amazing words and see that *that* *is* how K sees me. And I am so grateful to see myself through the eyes someone so wonderful in my own estimation.

And I should also thank my husband for his insight as well – that I shouldn’t worry that I’m not as good of a person as I think I should be because that’s kind of an indication that I’m not a jerk – because I worry about hurting people’s feelings, and disappointing them, and not being there for them. And basically, you know, what I had been worrying about before – that I had been taking all these wonderful people for granted and not letting them know that they are wonderful.

So, thank you. I’m so grateful for you. For K, who I haven’t seen in a while as she was off raising a very lucky baby to have her as a mom. For N, who checks on me when we cross paths in the building. For L, who I’ve known for many years and we’ve been there for each other. And for my sister, who sent me so many awesome packages and letters and I hope I sent her enough back but I fear I didn’t.

There are so many of you who have shared stories, wisdom, laughter, recipes, concern, pints, stones, emails, brief messages, hugs, support, tears, walks, advice, swear words… Who have picked up whatever baton I couldn’t keep carrying and who helped me cross that finish line, whether that was phone calls or emails of bad news I didn’t have the strength to do, or files I was too overwhelmed to be able to give time to, or just the reality check I needed to sit down and stop because I was hurting myself.

So, thank you. I am so grateful for all of you. I’m writing this with tears of gratitude streaming down my face because I heard it, I felt it and I remember.

You are all so wonderful. Thank you. I hope you all know that it means a lot to me.

A reprieve

I was quietly enjoying a vacation day earlier this week when I received a call from the neurologist’s office, offering me an appointment 18 hours later – a cancellation they had. I eagerly took it, informed my boss and drove out to the country hospital the next morning. The irony of both the neurologist and me driving from our city to a hospital in a small town south of the city to meet was not lost on me.

She asked me for the history of my prickling-tingling sensation, my family medical history, habits, and impressions. Then she ran some tests on me – balance, vision, body weakness. She pricked me with a pin, and brushed me with a tissue.

I don’t have multiple sclerosis.

She poked several spots on my neck and face and back. That was… Uncomfortable.

Our working diagnosis is tight muscles in my neck and face that are pinching the nerves, causing the prickling sensation. For the time being, we’re increasing my muscle relaxants over the next eight weeks and I’m to increase my yoga and meditation, and keep getting massage therapy. If that doesn’t help, I’m to call her and we’ll see what other tests we can do.

Thankfully, the stars aligned and I was able to get in now. When I had called her office to follow up on my family doctor’s referral, they were saying I might not get in until November. That gutted me. But because I called, the admin knew I would take any cancellation and make it work. It really does pay to be your own advocate, despite being tired and overwhelmed. 

A reprieve for part of the summer. A plan and an assurance from a neurologist that it isn’t something scarier. I’ll take it.

And try to relax…

To Nantes

I was fortunate enough to be sent to the SETAC Europe conference in Nantes, France, the week before last to present some of the Arctic work from the past two years to about 2000 scientists. I was definitely the odd man out, being one of the only people presenting human related data but it was definitely a fruitful conference for me both personally and professionally. 

Not to be confused with “without negative impacts”, mind you. It was a lot of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone in terms of overcoming my introversion to make connections. I tried to approach my presentation of my poster in a “me” way, being open, available for discussion, engaged and interested in creating a further network.
However, there were 2000 people at the conference and I had a claustrophobic moment on the first day of sessions that made me change my approach to moving about in the conference. And I’m definitely still suffering from introvert exhaustion.

Nantes itself was lovely. I wouldn’t mind going back to be a tourist there sometime.


First day, after checking into my hotel, I walked in the sun to try to get my body clock turned around. This is a part of the cathedral, and where a tower used to be in the city’s ramparts, except that they pulled parts of them down to make a grand boulevard (which is to the right).


Hanging out in the sun in the “moat” area of the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne on Saturday afternoon (the first day).


Sunday – I picked up my registration package at the conference and since I hadn’t signed up for any of the short courses (which would have made my conference fee even higher), I again wandered to try to adjust my body clock. I toured the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne and learned about the history of Nantes. The castle has undergone many renovations and styles have been mixed.


Unfortunately, Sunday was pretty rainy (downpours with hail). Fortunately, Les Oubliettes restaurant at the chateau was open and I got to eat delicious galette and a crepe caramel beurre salé maison with café creme during this particular downpour.


I went for a small walk after a lovely dinner at Sale e Pepe on Monday, and enjoyed the canal and its inhabitants.


Tuesday, once I was finished talking to people, I went into centre ville and had a fabulous dinner at Le Fou du Roi. On my way back, Le Miroir started doing its cycle of fun fountain stuff.


On Wednesday, after the conference, I tried to make it to the Musée d’Imprimerie and les Machines de l’Île before they closed and failed. But I did get to see this awesome carousel. I also got to see the end of the run for the Grand Elephant.


Wednesday night was the conference banquet, which my colleague termed her worst nightmare – to be stuck on a river cruise boat filled with people she didn’t know and not to be able to leave when she wanted. I lucked out with my table mates and the cruise on the Erdre was pretty. This is the major chateau we passed.


Thursday was the day that the greve was happening and my concierge recommended that I stay put at the hotel. The conference was done at 3:30 so I ran across to the boulangerie to grab a snack since I hadn’t had adequate lunch (a running theme problem for that conference – certain days, I just went and bought lunch from a nearby place because the conference offerings were insufficient), and then went to my room and had wine and baguette. The riot police had been standing across the street from my hotel with their shields and helmets on looking serious.


On Friday, I had to go to the airport. The protesters had blockaded the road so I was dropped off on the off ramp from the highway and I trundled my suitcase 2.4 km through two blockades to get to my first flight. The protesters didn’t interfere with me and one lady at the second blockade assured me that no one would. I was glad to get to the airport though.


The flight back across the Atlantic was pretty easy. And off the coast of Labrador, we saw the ice breaking up and blowing out into the ocean. It was really cool.

I am glad to be home though. :)