Sunday, December 29, 2013

Any dream interpreters want to take on this challenge?

I finally had a new kind of dream last night! And what a relief! You see, my whole life I've had the same sort of dream--always running away from something dangerous or through a stressful scenario on my way to pursue an impossible job or goal.  For example in my weeks before becoming a teacher, I had all sorts of dreams where I had to park a mile away from the school on the first day and run through a very crowded Countyfair that had been set up next to the school only to find out that my photocopies were not ready so I had nothing to teach. In one case, I had to fight huge crowds going up and down a series of unlabeled escalators to find my new classroom since it had been moved into the nearby shopping mall. And in another, I had to take people with me to a party supply store across town to bring back supplies for my first day's lesson because I had shown up late and unprepared. 

I had dreams like this as the kid too, and they all had that similar feeling of needing to escape or break through something. In my earliest one, and I think it was about 7 years old, I looked out my window one night to see that my front yard was swarming with animals and one especially huge lion. I needed to go outside for something but when I tried, the fear was overwhelming and the lion came right at me. In another one from around age 9, I was taking a shortcut home from school (a shortcut I was not supposed to be taking through a neighbor's yard) and two "bad guys" started chasing me. I tried running but the faster I ran, the heavier my legs felt and the more slowly I moved, so I walked as quickly as I could. When they caught me, I told them I would scream (something I was kind of infamous for in my younger, louder days) but all that I could do was whisper because anything louder made my voice shut off. I'm guessing that all these dreams had something to do with feeling stressed or trapped in someway but I've never really sought out an official psychological interpretation because quite frankly, it seems a little crazy to admit that this is all I have ever been able to dream--or at least able to remember. But last night I had a whole new sort of dream!

Last night's dream had a few stressful elements but a whole new interesting element was present: chaos! Random, curious, hilarious chaos. Aaron and I were moving to a city that felt like a mixture of Portland and L.A. and he had signed the lease for our apartment before I traveled down there to meet him. The new apartment had some pretty great things--like a jacuzzi tub AND a hot tub (although the hot tub was in the living room...) and it had the great big bay windows which I love! It was also in the same building as a local dance studio! However there were some unusual, amusing things about the apartment too. Like the fact that all the curtain rods were broken or missing and we weren't allowed to put up window coverings, and there was a commode across from the hot tub in the living room, and the carpet was literally thrown down on the floor or held together with caulk to hide damaged floor below it. And there were two refrigerators in the hallway, but one was full of milk and cat food because we had to share our kitchen with the adjacent humane society and about thirty cats. I'll give the landlord a little credit for his creative use of holiday spirit though: since curtains weren't allowed, he had placed a Christmas tree between the hot tub and the toilet to give a touch of privacy. Even in my dream, I was struck by the balance between appreciating that my husband had worked so hard to find an apartment that he thought I would like and laughing at how unbelievable the apartment turned out to be an real life. 

In the next stage of last night's dream, I told the landlord I wanted to have a walk-through of the apartment so I could discuss my concerns. He nervously agreed but scheduled it for a time when I was supposed to be helping my younger sister take her seven-year-olds to their first dance competition. Now, in real life I'm pretty positive that neither of my sisters have ever considered owning a dance studio, but in this dream, Megan not only owned a dance studio, she had flown her students all the way to where we were for a prestigious competition so that I could help her with them that day. Several scenes of my dream included me trying to wrangle a bunch of hyper seven-year-olds (who I had never met before) down to meet my landlord and keep them entertained while we discussed the goals of our upcoming meeting. Then I corralled them back upstairs to the competition area where I said goodbye to them and good luck to my sister. But I didn't go to my meeting yet; I went to teach dance camp for my high schoolers. And since I'd arrived during the lunch break, I had a momentary lapse in judgment when I thought it would be okay for me to ride with my mother to the nearby shopping complex for lunch. Halfway there, I realized this would make me late for dance camp and I jumped out of the car because my mother wouldn't take me back. Then, reminiscent of my childhood dream where I couldn't run any faster, I tried forcing my legs to carry me back to the school as quickly as they could go. As I was running, I couldn't stop picturing the random craziness of my new apartment which had probably been taken over by cats and seven year olds by this time. 

Finally, the trajectory of the dream started to feel somewhat familiar, and I managed to wake myself up. This might have been the first time that I ever woke up from a dream where I was actually laughing and not clenching my teeth or my fists with anxiety. If only I had better drawing or painting skills, I would love to recreate the apartment from my dream because it was about the funniest thing I have ever seen. Anyone want to try interpreting my new dream now?!?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Spreading the good (gluten free) news

When I went gluten free in June of 2012, I spent a LOT of time researching everything related to gluten allergies and intolerances. By the holiday season of 2012, I had adjusted pretty well. And by "adjusted," I really mean "found a way to completely cut gluten out of my personal diet." But during the holiday season, I realized that although I had fully adjusted, my loved ones were still new to the burdens of accommodating gluten free living. It was a tough season together, to say the least. This year, however, friends and family have been eager to share the ways they managed to adjust their holiday plans to include me.  After last year's tears, it's been especially sweet to see how much effort my loved ones have now made on my behalf. 

Eventually, I found it so normal to maintain a gluten free home that I settled into my own gluten free rut. So this winter, I wanted to start branching out and trying new recipes and strategies for the holiday season. I went on-line and searched for "gluten free holidays" and found some sites that I wanted to record for my own easy access. Then I thought other people might find these references helpful too. So here's what I've narrowed down as  holiday how-to of gluten free celebrations.

Learning to bake gluten free: 

A professional blogger's advice: 
(Gluten Free Goddess is one of my all-time favorites.)

Holiday preparations for a gluten free friend: 

What to do if this is YOUR first holiday going gluten free: 

Helpful holiday insights for us all: 

Above all, I hope this encourages people to see that going gluten free doesn't have to ruin any of our favorite holiday celebrations. After all, although American holidays often center around food and drink, the real focus should be that we share joy and gratitude with those we love. 

P.S. I want to offer a special thank you to those who have made the effort to adjust for me, and to make me feel like you don't mind doing it. It's nice to feel like we can really enjoy the holidays together again this year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What if stubbornness is closer to weakness than to strength?

It's Saturday at 7:30AM  and I can't go back to sleep.  My neck is bruised and a little swollen from yesterday's steroid injections and my stomach still feels the queazy warmth that knocked me down after the shots hit my system. Instead of rushing out of the house to a coffee shop to push through my homework today, I'm laying in bed eating dry, gluten free toast with butter, and surrounded by two half-empty cans of 7UP, two prescription bottles that I haven't touched in days, and a vase of flowers that my husband gave me because he knew I needed the encouragement even though I hadn't asked for it. As per the doctor's orders, today, I'm taking it easy.

I normally pride myself on my ability to keep functioning, or keep up a good front, while dealing with stress or pain, but as I answered the doctor's questions yesterday, I felt more stubborn or foolish than tough or responsible.
"So, your neurologist wants us to administer an occipital nerve block. It should help us diagnose, and treat, some of your pain.  And you've have had these intense headaches and dizzy spells for how many years?" He asked with polite surprise.
"They started about three or four years ago."
"Well, we should be able to help today, but you'll have to return every few weeks to get it under control.  If it's gone on this long, there's no way it will disappear after one treatment. Why has it gone on so long?"
I justified my answer: "I've gone to a bunch of different doctors and they all had different thoughts on what it could be.  Some of the symptoms went away when we discovered I had a gluten allergy last year, so I was just grateful that things were getting better.  But some of the symptoms only kind of faded, and they've come back with a vengeance in the last few months." I realized that ultimately, the justification didn't matter.  The now undeniable fact is that healing will take longer because the problem has gone on so long.

Why has it gone on so long? In the last 4 years, I've seen over a dozen doctors, and I always wondered why they couldn't help me find a solution more quickly. What clues were they missing? What specialist should I have seen earlier?  I know that some of the delay was due to the fact that there were several unlikely causes all working against me at the same time, and causing confusing overlapping symptoms. Then again, since I kept pushing through and trying to "tough it out," I guess I shouldn't be surprised that even my doctors didn't realize how often I was in excruciating pain.

Whenever a doctor asks me to rate my level of functioning, I always feel this pulling inside between what I AM functioning at and what I SHOULD be functioning at in lieu of the pain.  Hobbling through my dance lessons with a fractured foot for four months, teaching from a seated position through four years of dizzy spells, two years of rushing to the bathroom between classes to deal with flu-like symptoms before the next class began, squinting through the piercing lights and blurred lines of my homework to hopefully make out what words are saying...None of these count as "not able to complete my work." So I usually say "it is often difficult or slow to complete my work."  But I guess I shouldn't have been so stubborn that I kept up those actions either.

And it's the same in all areas of my life, so what is it about us stubborn people? Why can't we just call in sick when we need to? Or call an expert before we break what we were trying to fix around the house? Or leave a toxic relationship before it tears us down? Or end a stressful conversation before we find that elusive resolution? The focus on how life could be at the end of that stubborn road seems to eclipse the fact that we're sending ourselves down a painful road just to get to the end that we think we should find.  As if that ending would bring things back in line to "the way things should be." But I always seem to forget that the ideal ending will likely be tainted by the pain I put myself through along the way.

Call it what you want--perseverance, strength, resiliency, stubbornness--I'm realizing that it's not always the ideal solution I once thought it was. Now my problem is how to go about changing it.  How do you begin to change the your inner wiring? How do you change your lifelong habits? How do you change the expectations that people have of you? And since, I don't have much practice at choosing when to be strong and when to give in, I guess I also have to ask...How do you know when to stay strong and when to bow out?