Return of the Frog Queen

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Madison, WI

I was living in this house when I was 21 years old. My roommate from college took this photo a few days ago when he was visiting Madison, Wisconsin and posted it on Facebook. I was slapped in the face with so many memories: lying in the dark back room in the summer, the only room with air conditioning, listening to music; drinking Mickeys and playing Tetris wars; breaking plates and smashing the Atari in a collective rock ‘n’ roll meltdown; smoking cigarettes all night on that tip-top balcony outside my bedroom, having conversations I thought I’d never forget. I lived there with 5 or 6 men — boys, really, we were just kids — I think I scored the best room because I was the only girl. That school year (1994 to 1995) and the few years afterwards were the most emotional of my life. I can’t really think of a better word to describe them. It was the loneliest and saddest time of my life before this chronic illness, but also the most memorable, the most adventurous, the most creative years I’ve experienced. And all of it is inextricably entangled with music. I’d once made a sign for my Mother’s kitchen wall that said (it was multi-colored like this): NEVER BE WITHOUT MUSIC and I never was. I have an obscenely bad memory, but everything I remember from those years has a soundtrack. I think maybe the only reason I remember any of it is because there was music playing during each scene, searing them into my mind. 1995 was also the only time I experienced depression before becoming housebound and I truly, un-dramatically, credit certain bands with saving my life.

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CD bliss, 1996

I’ve tried to listen to music a few times over the last four years, but it’s been difficult. First, because I was just too sick and was always striving for the closest thing I could get to silence. Background sounds are still difficult on a too-much-stimuli level, but as my headaches got better, I started to dabble in a song here and there and discovered that, even if I could handle the noise, the emotions unleashed were too much, like a tsunami against which I’d have to quickly close the floodgates for fear of drowning. Memories of sad times making me sad for who I was, memories of good times making me sad for what I’ve lost, regrets about past situations, gratitude for past experiences and abilities — all of it makes my chest start to heave and my breath catches in my throat and I go, “Oh, no way, not going there” and quickly switch to watching happy elephant videos. What I’d give to luxuriate in my old albums, in the memories they bring up and in hours of sobbing! And it would be a luxury — it would be cathartic and fun on some level to reminisce, but the indulgence would be far outweighed by the payback. My life is about equilibrium now; I try not to rock the boat. Plus, it’s really not as fun to go down Emotional Music Memory Lane without a bottle of whiskey.

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Kristin Hersh

Having said that, 15 months ago, my brother in Connecticut told me that one of my favourite singers, Kristin Hersh, was going to be in Seattle. I thought it was kind of funny (and kind of sad) that my brother on the other side of the country had to tell me what was happening down the road, but I never look at local listings because it’s a bit torturous to see what I’m missing. I decided to go. It was a solo show in a small, mellow venue where you could sit down and eat while watching. Seemed like the perfect way to test the live music waters. And it went well. It was utterly surreal to be in a public place, especially at night. I felt like one of those animals allowed to walk outside on grass after spending their lives in metal cages. I was unsteady, gripping my husband’s arm, looking uncertainly at the steps, the ceiling and lights, eyes darting around at the crowd uncomfortably, hoping not to be seen in case one of them noticed the outsider and stood up, pointed at me and screeched like that scene in the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was a wonderful night, the hardest part was gulping down the sneaker-wave of tears when she opened with probably my favourite of her solo songs. Again, that unreliable floodgate. It was the music, yes, but so much more. I was out at a show — out at anything, actually — for the first time in two and a half years. I was normal. Or, at least, doing a good job of feigning it.

Tonight, I’m trying again. Jeremy Enigk is playing a show in Seattle and my sister has connections, so she’s going to set me up in the VIP or ADA section. I’m so excited. I had seen Kristin Hersh live probably half a dozen times before, so last year’s venture was noteworthy, but not a bucket list item. But tonight… Enigk’s band Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album Diary was part of the constant soundtrack in that Madison house 22 years ago, so it’s fitting that that photo showed up on Facebook a day before I found out about this show. I took it as a sign. I doubt I would love that album as much if I were introduced to it now, but back then there wasn’t much like it and these guys were college students around my age. And … THAT VOICE. It ripped my angsty heart out.

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my own private Idaho, 1995

I wound up fleeing the midwest in 1995. I drove alone across the country to Seattle (actually, to Bainbridge Island) during what would turn out to be one of the best four days of my life. No company, no mobile phones or internet back then, just me, a camera and my music. A year later, still lost in so many ways, I found Enigk’s solo album, Return of the Frog Queen, and, again, the timing was right and it became one of those keep-me-alive CDs.

So… tonight. I’m going to my second live show in almost four years and this time I have months of improvements under my belt. I haven’t slept well and I have a pretty bad headache (which is rare these days), but I’m not going to stay home to “be safe.” I may not know anything that he plays — I may not even like anything that he plays, that album is twenty years old, after all — but I’ve never seen him live, don’t even really know what he looks like and, if his voice can still do that heart-tug, stomach-clench wail, I might even let myself swim in the emotions for a change.
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LIVE UPDATE: He’s playing some songs I know, I really like the stuff I don’t know and his voice can still hit the sweet spot. I’m floating (not drowning).

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Jeremy Enigk

Title Credit

Photo update because I don’t have the energy to write a word update and I’ve been snapping random pictures for the last month and thought I would share. :)

I’m still having a hard time finding the energy to write a post. I’m doing okay- it’s mostly because I am feverishly researching all the things my doctors want me to add to my arsenal (methylfolate, methylB12, carnitine, Zyrtec, Zantac, Cromolyn, Baclofen, Valium, Prednisone, Medibulk), as well as what I want to add (CoQ10, D-ribose, bread, cheese, Toblerones :-)).

So, my precious few computer hours are used up on research, emails, doctors, insurance, bills, and more research.

But, if you would so indulge me, I can post some photos of the things going on in my life (of course, with my fun anonymizing effects).

Visitors!

A visit from Baby A. and her Mama….

… my friend, Z.! (and that’s my “little” dog)
This photo was a BIG DEAL: I put on jeans and boots (my first flat pair of boots EVER) for the first time in 17 months. Literally. I have only worn leggings/yoga pants and Uggs/runners every day for 17 months.
Of course, as soon as Z. left, I went back to my PJs, but it’s the effort that counts!

A visit from my mother AND brother!

A visit from my mother AND brother!
Yes, I am standing up and smiling and tolerating photos! Amazing.

Winter Wonderland!

A rare few inches of snow.

A rare few inches of snow.

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FOOD!

Egg challenge. It didn't go so well.

Egg challenge. It didn’t go so well.

Plantain crackers: click image for recipe.

Plantain crackers: click image for recipe.

Grass-fed organic lamb shepherd's pie with cauliflower-sweet potato mash: click image for recipe.

Grass-fed organic lamb shepherd’s pie with cauliflower-sweet potato mash: click image for recipe.

Spice blends from Practical Paleo: click image for link to book.

Spice blends from Practical Paleo: click image for link to book.

An incredible batch of granola for Z. that I couldn't taste because I'm not eating oats at the moment.

An incredible batch of granola for Z. that I couldn’t taste because I’m not eating oats at the moment.

My husband makes me meals and freezes them, like this beef stew. <3

My husband makes me meals and freezes them, like this beef stew. ❤

Breakfast: butternut squash, asparagus and grass-fed beef hash, with a side of apple sauce.

Breakfast: butternut squash, asparagus and grass-fed beef hash, with a side of apple sauce.

A bit of craic, sure.

A bit of craic, sure

Animals? 🙂

Anna's hummingbird outside my window.

Anna’s hummingbird outside my window.

Bowie in the cemetery last month (I haven't been able to leave the house in the last 5 weeks, but I hope to get a February cemetery visit in a few weeks)

Bowie in the cemetery last month (I haven’t been able to leave the house in the last 5 weeks, but I hope to get a February cemetery visit in a few weeks)

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The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl! But Bowie was not a fan of the celebratory fireworks and backed himself into my lap in fear. 😦

Morning spooning.

Morning spooning.

Yes, I’ve used steroids.

Every time I try a new drug, I first get ready for the hospital. I have lived under the specter of anaphylaxis for 13 years and, in the last 2 years, the knowledge that many drugs – even ones I have taken often – can crush my lungs and shut down my airways. There’s also the fact that my autoimmune urticaria and angioedema manifests itself as tongue swelling. My allergist said, “Some people get hives, some people get puffy faces, unfortunately for you, your tongue swells and that can be life threatening.”

So, today, before spraying a new powdered corticosteroid up my nose, I ate something, drank a lot of water, locked the back door, made sure the dogs were inside, took off my pjs and put on black yoga pants and a sweatshirt (this is “dressed” in my world). I also put my phone by my purse and made sure my husband was reachable.

But let me back up. I saw an ENT doctor on Tuesday. I made an appointment on Monday with the only doctor near my house that had an opening. I really liked his bio on the hospital website, too, and I wasn’t disappointed – he was very nice and thorough. I drove myself, which was fine, but his office was down a very long hall and I was once again confronted with how hard it is to navigate the world as a disabled person. I walked that hall, but what if I couldn’t? What if eventually I can’t? You need a strong, able-bodied caregiver, a wheelchair and much more time.

I haven’t been using my CPAP for about a month (which wreaks havoc on my sleep and health) because my sinuses have been too swollen. A few weeks ago, I decided to try irrigating them with a saline solution, since everyone swears by this (I used the squeeze bottle instead of the neti pot). I felt water in my ears and it came out my mouth and eye (seriously!), as well as the other nostril. It was thoroughly unpleasant, but I persevered twice more – until the water in my ears was bad enough to stop my insisting it was healthy. Over the next week it grew more and more uncomfortable and I was forced to make the appointment after pain radiated into my eye socket and cheek and jaw bones.

The ENT doctor looked in my ears (no infection) and rummaged in my mouth and pressed on my jaw (TMJ problems, which I knew) and asked if he could spray a decongestant plus lidocaine in my nose. I explained my sensitivity to drugs and asked him if the outcome would change his course of treatment and he said probably not, but he’d like to scope my sinuses. I told him, Bring it on! We don’t need no stinkin’ lidocaine! One side was easy, the other was much more swollen and his wee camera had a tough time getting around the corners. At one point, I thought he might puncture my eyeball. That wasn’t too fun.

He offered a five day course of prednisone, which I declined and he offered to inject my sinuses with steroid, which I declined. He said the swelling seems to be allergy-related and said I should try different steroid sprays until I find one that doesn’t give me migraines and, if none of them worked, we could consider other options. So, off I went with 4 samples to research and worry about. I eliminated the steroid + antihistamine because there seemed to be a tendency to lose one’s sense of taste, I eliminated the spray with the highest incidence of headaches in the clinical trials and my final pick was based on user reviews. Of course steroid warnings are scary for someone like me: you can catch things easier because your immune system is suppressed; don’t take if you have adrenal insufficiency; it can make viral/bacterial/parasitic/fungal infections worse; tell your doctor if you’ve never had chicken pox or measles (I’ve had neither)… And then, of course, it can cause nose bleeds, holes in the septum, headaches, allergic reactions and anaphylaxis. Joy.

A few minutes ago, I sprayed Zetonna up my nose. Because it is a metered spray, I can’t try a small dose like I normally would. I use what the rest of the population uses: one spray up each nostril, once a day. At least with my antihistamine nasal spray, I only took one spray once a day when the adult dose was two sprays twice a day. So, I wait and hope that I have no instant hives or swelling, no trouble breathing in an hour or two, no rash tomorrow, no migraine in a week, and no virus or bronchitis in the months to come. Oh, and that it actually works and the swelling goes down and I can sleep and breathe properly again. Wish me luck.

Gratitude for the day: I got to see my big brother yesterday, who was here on a layover (he’s a pilot). I was shaky, hoarse, headachy, exhausted and couldn’t do much but recline on the couch while we visited for a few hours, but that was enough to raise my spirits and calm down my crazy, agitated, insomniac nervous system. Love you, bro!!