31 October 2012

Muppet Wild Jester Hat

Because life's too short (and winter's too cold) not to wear a goofy hat.

28 October 2012

Dealing with Fear: Just getting through it

Continuing the theme of coping with fear and anxiety, sometimes, even after you’ve talked yourself through the fear as much as you can and you’ve taken your medication (herbal or prescription), you still don’t feel okay.

Maybe you lie awake at night, your body all wound up for no good reason. Maybe your mind keeps going in circles, and you can’t get get yourself calmed down.

You need to find a way that you can 'stay out of the stories' your body is telling you. Understand first that fear happens - it's a feeling, that's okay, it happens. Then look to see if it is telling you something useful: we don't want to never feel fear, or we won't run away from the bear on the hiking path! But if the fear is not telling you anything useful about the present, then maybe it is an old feeling, as it is with my PTSD, or perhaps it is something else that wants your attention for it's own reasons.

If the fear isn’t giving you a useful message about the present (no bears, no clear and present dangers in the environment) then you get to just deal with the frustration of the stupid annoying bodily symptoms that are trying to scare you. Well, they aren't trying to scare you, they are trying to get your attention. So, give them what they need - like fussy toddlers, they may tug and tug and whine which isn't nice - but seriously, they just need to be embraced and held, like small scared kids. You can embrace your feelings, accept them and say "yep, fear, I see you, how are you today? anything we need to talk about? no? Well, I'm gonna do some breathing - into the belly and all that - and if you need something from me you let me know." Then after five minutes of listening, if you're not getting anything you need to do ... start your prayers, your meditations, your coping and relaxing strategies, whatever those may be.

Random feelings of fear for no reason are frustrating in that you can't really trace it back to anything in particular. It's just, well, sort of like tinnitus of the emotions. Sounds with no relevant cause. But emotions don't take well to being shoved down or ignored - they ramp up the volume. Acknowledge the fear, do a quick check of the environment to see if it is a relevant message, and if not, ask your feelings: "Something we need to discuss here?" Wait for an answer. No matter HOW stupid the 'worry' is that bubbles up, ANSWER IT. If you get "did I turn off the stove?" Go check. If you get "what if I am having a heart attack?" answer with "you have been checked, you know that isn't what is happening, and this is a false alarm." If that doesn't stop the worry, go the next level "Okay, so what if I do have a heart attack? then what? Well, if I really do have one I'm sure the pain will wake me up and I'll be screaming in agony, and then we'll call 911 and they'll do what they do or maybe I'll die, and either way, I've already prepared for all those things so we're good." Then you can tell the fear you've given it every chance to convince you there is something you needed to do, you've done all the things it's prompted you to take care of, and now you are going to go to sleep.

Then you have to do the breathing / centering thing and find ways to self-soothe.

Something I learned from my acupuncturist will sound very weird, but it worked when I tried it and I intend to do it more. Bear with the weirdness:

Take a deep breath and "breathe into your lower abdomen" (if you have done yoga, you'll be familiar with these terms). You want to focus your awareness on the centre of your lower belly - and just ... not disconnect from that. Then say to yourself "I am willing to embrace the fear with loving awareness" - basically, you acknowledge the feeling and say "yep, there it is, it is part of me, I am not going to chase it away".

The more you chase the fear, the more tired you get. This is what I'm finding, anyway.

There are some good audio programs that can help take your mind out of the unhelpful cycle of worrying about things you can’t control or rehashing things that can’t be changed, and with a CD player, iPod, MP3 player or computer near your bed, you can listen as you fall asleep. I highly recommend the audio tracks from Health Journeys: there are guided imagery CDs for dealing with any number of issues from trauma to heartbreak to health problems to plain old insomnia. There is even a kid’s sleep CD called The Sleep Fairy that really works!

Also, I find repetitive prayers to be far more helpful than I would have anticipated. The repetition isn't because God doesn't hear me the first time - it's because *I* don't hear me the first time! Using prayer beads is not part of the traditions I was raised with, so it took me awhile to find my way to this form of meditation and prayer. I discovered that the physical action of running prayer beads through your fingers helps to anchor you in the present: very important when you are worrying about the future or remembering the past. You need to remind yourself that this moment, right here, right now, is where you are, not back then and not at some time in the future, you are right here right now. Focusing on physical sensations is how you can help anchor yourself in the present, and the texture of the beads in your fingers, moving constantly from one to the next, works really well to keep you from falling into that fear vortex.

There are prayer beads for any number of religious traditions, not just the Catholic rosary or Buddhist mala beads, and you can create your own easily enough. Just find or write the prayers that speak to you, and create or buy a set of beads, or dig through the jewelry box to see what you have that might serve (I keep thinking that those Pandora bracelets look like prayer beads). If you are Catholic, you probably have a rosary in your house already and know how to use it, but those from Protestant traditions may want to check out the  information on Anglican prayer beads. For a wide range of information on prayer beads from different religious traditions as well as information on how to create your own prayers and beads, check out Karen’s Prayer Beads page.

Go to a safe place, get yourself comfortable, and breathe, deeply. Sit with your fear, breathing through the tumult of emotions. It will pass, if you let it pass over you and through. Don’t fight it, let it come. Then you can turn the inner eye and see fear’s path: where it has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

24 October 2012

Pharmaceutical Interventions for Fear and Anxiety

Continuing with the theme of coping with fear and anxiety, I want to talk about pharmaceutical options for increasing your coping abilities.

ALWAYS get the advice of a mental health professional before deciding if meds are or are not appropriate in your situation. In my particular situation, they are not appropriate … at the moment. That could change. Everyone who takes care of me (my family, my therapist, my doctor) is on alert to watch for changes that might signify it is time to get out the meds. I am at high risk from taking medication (if there is a side effect to anything, I’ll have to deal with it, I can’t even handle children’s cold medicine) so it is lower on the list of choices for me than it would be for someone who tolerates medication better. Also, my anxiety symptoms (chest pain) are tolerable most of the time: I’ve had to use Ativan on occasion, but once I learned that the pain is not an indication of a pending heart attack and that although it hurts really badly it will fade if I just rest for awhile, I stopped trying to use the medication to make the pain go away. It didn’t really work anyway, I just had severe chest pain *and* I was sleepy. However, Ativan did help me get through a rather unpleasant hour in the dentist’s chair, so I’m glad I have a few tablets just in case.

Antidepressants can be very useful with chronic pain, with anxiety, and with several other issues. Don’t feel like you’re a loser if you need them: if you needed insulin, you’d take it, if your brain needs help balancing the chemicals, take the help. You’ll be very glad you did. St John’s Wort might be worth a trial. It is well tolerated by most people, and for me it starts making a difference in less than week (YMMV). TALK TO YOUR PHARMACIST before taking it though, as it may interact with other medications you are on, and absolutely never take it with other antidepressants. You won’t feel much different on medication, usually, you just manage to cope better with life. Side effects are real problems, though, so be sure to work closely with your pharmacist and doctor to find a medication and dosage that will make your life better and not worse.

If your body is giving you trouble with physical anxiety symptoms (panic attacks and so forth), getting those under control will allow you to do the mental work of resolving the underlying problems … harder to do when you can’t shut the body up long enough to think straight. With anxiety, it’s important to understand that just numbing the symptoms is not going to make the cause of the anxiety go away – you have to do that work yourself by changing the way you think (which will almost certainly require professional help). The anxiolytic medications are ‘compassionate measures’ that make life bearable and give you the ability to think clearly while you work on addressing the cause of the fear. If you’re terrified of going outside, for instance, the Ativan will make the shakes and queasiness and overwhelming feeling of panic go away, but you’ll still be scared to go outside the next time you try. It’s like taking painkillers when you have a broken arm: the morphine will take away the pain, but the arm still needs to be set and cast and taken care of so it can heal. Ativan is a painkiller, not a cure. Nothing wrong with painkillers though, so long as you are also treating the underlying problem!

For insomnia, be very careful with sleep medication. It has it’s place, believe me, but be careful as it can cause worse problems and is not safe for everyone, depending on other conditions (blood pressure issues, sleep apnea, kidney problems, etc). The first thing to do is get rid of stimulants in your diet: no caffiene, not at all, not even in the morning. Do all the things you’re supposed to do to have a good night’s rest. If that’s still not working, try some herbs. In order of increasing effectiveness in my opinion: Sleepytime Tea (which we can get at the grocery store and is safe for everyone, even children), catnip (yes, it’s a sedative for humans and makes a decent tasting tea), valerian root (get it in capsules, it tastes VILE, like someone’s old hockey gear or something), wild lettuce tincture (wild lettuce is legal in Canada and the US, you can get dried stuff from Richters’: soak in vodka or something similar for a few weeks, storing in a dark place and shaking daily, then strain and take one to three tablespoons at bedtime … it also tastes vile but it works without a hangover). You can also check at the health food store or the herbal aisle of the drugstore: London Drugs has a “Sleep Relax” mixture in capsules that works quite well, and is a mixture of several of these herbs plus chammomile and other relaxing things. These herbs are all believed to be safe for everyone (barring allergy to the plants involved), though pregnant and nursing women should exercise caution and speak to a health care professional before using them. Prescription or OTC sleep meds might be useful if the herbals don’t work, but unless you’ve been awake for weeks despite practicing good sleep hygiene and trying all the herbs you can think of, I wouldn’t try it. Too many risks involved, including dependency.

Above all, DO NOT MIX MEDS … if you take anything regularly, ask your pharmacist before trying anything, even “natural” stuff. Just because it grows on a plant doesn’t make it harmless … foxglove grows in the garden but it’ll kill you if you eat it.

23 October 2012

Living with Fear

I’ve been involved in a few conversations online recently about ways to cope with fear and anxiety. As a person living with PTSD, fear is part of my life … every day, I feel worried, though unlike most of the fear I’ve dealt with in my life, this has no name or shape, just a vague feeling that is really tough to grapple with because it’s not a response to anything in the present, it is an echo from the past.

Still, I’ve learned a few coping strategies, and the people I’ve shared them with found them helpful, so I thought I’d explain some of them here as well, in case what I’ve learned can be of use to someone else.

My personal philosophy has been heavily influenced by science fiction, so I have some odd ideas. This one comes from the Dune novels. There is a poem that is frequently repeated by some of the characters when they are frightened, called the Litany Against Fear. It goes like this:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me, and when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see fear's path.
Where it has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

I took the time to memorize this, and I repeat it to myself when I am scared. I face my fear: I look right at what I'm scared of and I name it. It is awful when you are just scared and have no words. Words help to corral the thing and give shape to the fear. "I am afraid that my loved one will die." "I am afraid that my boyfriend will dump me." With the floating leftover echoes of past fear that dog me these days, I can say "I am afraid that this feeling isn't going to go away."

Once you have named the fear, you permit it to pass over and through. To me, this means imagining what will happen if the thing you are afraid of comes to pass. This is the hard part, but really, when you are afraid it boils down to something like bad things will happen if this occurs. What is really frightening is the consequences of the event. "If my boyfriend dumps me, I will be sad. Maybe nobody else will like me ever again. Maybe I will be alone for a long time, or always." When you list them out, making an explicit list of what it is that you think could happen, you can get a better handle on it all. When it’s just a vague sense of “bad stuff”, well, you can’t plan, or mitigate, or cope. You just go in circles, the fear getting bigger and bigger until it overwhelms you. The little death that brings total obliteration.

But if you make the effort to list the consequences, you are facing your fear fully. Carry it all through to the logical conclusion, no matter how silly the original statement might seem. No talking yourself out of it with “oh, that’s so unlikely” or “that’s a stupid thing to be afraid of”, you just say what you think, and then process it as a thought experiment. Like this: “If my boyfriend dumps me, I will be sad." And then what? "I will cry." And then what? "I will get angry." And then what? "I will write a letter to him telling him exactly how I feel, and then burn it." Okay. What else am I afraid of?  "If this relationship doesn’t work, nobody else will like me ever again." Is that realistic? "Maybe not but I'm afraid of it anyway." Okay, so what if nobody ever likes you ever again? "Well, I guess I can eat cereal for supper and nobody will chastise me, and I can dress any way I like and be the crazy cat lady at the end of the street." Could that be fun? "Yeah, maybe."

You get the idea. The key thing is to remember that even if the thing you are afraid of comes to pass, when the fear has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see fear's path... where it has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain. No matter what it is you are afraid of, on the other side of it, you'll still be there, making the next decision, and the next decision, and the next decision. (This is slightly different if the fear is "I am afraid I might die", because well, we all die eventually, and it's best to be ready for that no matter what, because when it comes, it comes, and that's all there is to it. In this case, the best thing is to say "and if that happens, what would I want to have had done/settled first?" and make sure all that is done so you are always ready for today to be the last day. It's actually a very freeing way to live, always being ready to go.)

This is a constructive way to look at fear: fear is a message that something is coming that requires your attention. Give it your attention, don’t try to run away and avoid it, put your energy towards facing the fearful thing and being proactive: do whatever mitigation or pre-planning you can, think through some possible coping strategies and get things ready for ‘just in case’ if you can. When you've done all you can do, stand bravely knowing you are ready for what is or might be coming.

At that point, get out your knitting.

If the worry comes back, repeat the process. If you start going in circles, try writing it down (I often go over and over and over things if I haven't written it down, but if I write it down, then I say "it's on the list" and can carry on). I recite prayers, memorized ones that are repetitive, not because God didn’t hear me the first time but because I need the repeated phrases and assurance that I’m being heard to help me stay calm. These are particularly helpful when I can’t sleep.

Through it all, I remind myself that no matter what may come, I am held in the hands of God, and I am perfectly, utterly safe. The part of me that is me cannot truly be harmed, not ever, and all the rest is just the journey I am on while I am here.

Socks and Mitts

My wonderful in-laws came for a visit this past weekend, so I was able to give my MIL her socks in person.

The mismatched socks didn’t *quite* fit, but they were pretty close … I was able to modify the toe on the one that was too long, and a trip through the washer and dryer ought to snug them up enough to fit well. I traced her feet so that the next pair I make should be a better fit, too.

As soon as I finished the socks, I found myself without an active project on the needles (gasp) and immediately cast on for a pair of mittens for my father in law. He’s got size 13 feet, so he wasn’t getting socks on short notice!

I had the first one worked as far as the fingertips by the time they arrived, so I was able to measure against his hands and make sure they would fit. I discovered that he’s got huge hands as well as huge feet! With some dedicated knitting time though, I got the pair finished before they had to leave.

Growing up, my father in law lived on a farm and went to a one room country school (when he could be spared from the farm work – he missed a lot of school because he was needed at home). He rode a horse to and from class, and since he grew so tall so quickly, most of his jackets had sleeves that were a smidgen too short: they’d pull up and leave a couple of inches of wrist exposed to the elements between the end of the sleeve and the top of the mitten, especially when he reached forward to hold the reins. Mittens like this, he said, with extra long cuffs, were just what he needed back then and he sure appreciates them now!

It’s so much fun knitting for people who grin like that when you hand them the finished item. :)

I sure do love my in-laws, they are such marvellous people, so warm and welcoming. They truly are all I could’ve hoped for!

16 October 2012

Mismatched socks for mismatched feet

I started a pair of socks in self patterning yarn oh, three or four years ago … and quit partway down the leg of sock two. They got put away for a loooooooooong time and I unearthed them just before we went on our summer vacation to The Reluctant Farmer’s parents’ house. I thought, ah well, I’ll have to frog that when I get back, there’s no hope of making them match now.

While we were sitting out by the fire pot one night, I happened to mention something about my mismatched socks. “Well,” said my mother in law, “I have mismatched feet!” She has post polio and one of her feet is a size six, stabilized with a foot and ankle brace, the other is a size eight. The one sock I’d already finished was too big for me … about a size eight. And they are in her favourite colour, green! Clearly they were just waiting for me to clue in and knit the second sock to match her other foot.

So I came home and knit the second sock in a size six, with a different heel (garter stitch heel, thanks to the Knit Better Socks blog instructions). I’m hoping it’ll hold up better with the wear of the brace, and also it makes it really easy to see which foot is which, without having to measure them.

One slightly too big for me, one slightly too small:


14 October 2012

socks, done!

I had the luxury of being a passenger during a day run to Jasper this weekend (many thanks to my friend who did the driving!), and so I got the second sock done very quickly.

They’re somewhat different than the pattern though not much … I did only two repeats of the cuff patterning as the yarn was hiding the stitches, so there wasn’t much point doing more. The ribbing is great, makes for nice shaping and stretch through the sock, and I love the toe design … easy to do and very simple and smooth when finished.

Pattern is Spey Valley, from Nancy Bush’s book Knitting on the Road.

10 October 2012

Finished sweater!

The Iced cardigan is done! I had forgotten how much bulky knits stretch in blocking, so my sleeves were a couple of inches too long. No problem, I just pulled out a few rows and bound off again - no garter stitch on the sleeves, as it doesn't seem to be curling and if it does, I'm okay with that. One of my favourite store bought sweaters had curled hems and cuffs.

Here it is, modeled with my new five yard black kilt and kilt hose ... Perfect winter wear! My kilt arrived just in time: we had our first serious snowfall today, and I am glad of the warmth and comfort!

Now I need to knit some fancy stockings ...

05 October 2012

Visible Progress

After finishing Diablo’s Ribbons (lace weight alpaca on 2.75 mm needles), I really (really) needed to work on something that went quickly.

I cast on for Iced, using Universal Yarns Deluxe Chunky Tones in Hawaiian Sunset on … get this … 8 mm needles!

Evening One: after about two hours of knitting, I’ve got fabric.

Evening two, after several hours with a good audiobook, we have a bolero:

Evening three, we have a full body and the start of one sleeve.

Evening four, we have one full sleeve and the second underway:

Days five and six had minimal knitting happening, but here on the evening of day seven, the collar is underway:

All this despite frogging the bottom six inches of the body (because I wasn’t happy with how some of the joins worked, and wanted to change where the garter stitch began) and attempting to put buttonholes into the collar band, then changing my mind and removing them. It’ll probably be done tomorrow or the next day.

I love the bright colours, the easy fit, the ability to try it on as I go and decide “yep,that sleeve is long enough”.

Can’t wait to see it all done … hmm, wonder what I’ve got in the button box?

Knitting is love in stitches

I have had a couple of wonderful gifts show up in my mailbox in the last little while … one of which I gave you a sneak preview of in an earlier post, as it was the backdrop for the photograph.

I received a wonderful random act of kindness gift from a spindler I know from Ravelry:

It contained this wonderful shawl, knit from Noro Silk Garden in bright and cheerful colours. I have worn it nearly every day since it got here – it just makes me so happy! It’s got the wild crazy colourful gypsy thing going on, and it is the perfect weight and warmth for our inbetween kind of weather, so as I head out the door I’ve grabbed it and tossed it over my shoulders and felt loved. The other really neat thing in this box was a hand carved spindle and dish – the spindle is called a phang (pronounced “fohng”, like song not like fang) and was whittled and woodburned entirely by hand.

Of course I had to spin on it right away!

What a marvellous gift.

I also received a parcel from someone I know from Homesteading Today, a knitter who loves bulky yarn (and I mean really bulky – he knits with six or eight strands of yarn held together at once) and does all his work without patterns – he designs out of his head. He’s recently taken up spinning, and I knew that my Indian Head flyer (meant for making bulky yarn) would be far more likely to be put to use at his house than mine, so I sent it off to him in the mail. In return, this showed up:

That’s the heaviest sweater I have ever seen, and it is WARM! I love the colours – multiple shades of blue, with a bit of purple in there as well, and it’s wool and mohair blended together, at least six strands from what I could find and count. If you look at the ribbing on the hem you can see how huge the stitches are – that’s 2x2 ribbing, each stitch is over a centimetre wide!

One just can’t help but feel special when you wear something that was knit for you.

I intend to pay it forward, you bet. :)

The trip

I showed you my travel knitting, but never did tell you about the trip.

We went to Saskatchewan to see The Reluctant Farmer’s parents, whom I adore. (After the last set of inlaws, really, anything would’ve been an improvement, but I really, truly, honestly love my husband’s parents and think they are fabulous people, I really couldn’t have made a better trade-up.)

Here’s The Reluctant Farmer with his stepdad, outside by the fire pot:

The fire pot – made by my father-in-law from an old washing machine drum, it is gorgeous in the dark … the firelight shines out all those tiny little holes, making really lovely golden sparkles. And yes, that’s a sock in progress.

They live right on a lake (which is filled with fish!). This is the view from the deck … honestly, any day that looks like this has to be a good one.

The lake level was down too low to get the boat out of the boathouse, so we fished from this sand bar.

I caught my first walleye:

We fished every single day we were gone, except the first one which was occupied with the long drive there.

On our way back, we swung south through the Cypress Hills. I had no idea landscapes like this still existed anywhere … there were vast areas of land with no sign of people at all except some fences and the odd Texas gate to keep the cattle in. No power lines, no houses, no barns … it was disconcerting, though beautiful. It just goes on and on and on and on:

I was actually quite relieved to get back to the landscapes I know, with trees and hills. You just shouldn’t be able to see that far!

We stopped at a really nice fishing spot by Drumheller on our way home and caught a whole bunch of big jack:

Including my first “respectafish” (respectable-sized-fish):

I’ve only been fishing for a couple of years, I had no idea I’d enjoy it as much as I do but I really do love it. Every cast is a chance to do better, a chance to have a different outcome … and bringing in a big fish takes some effort and skill, so it’s a fun way to challenge yourself. I don’t eat fish (never have been able to handle the taste) so we just catch-and-release (though we save the occasional trout for my husband), and enjoy being out in the sun doing something we enjoy together.

It was nice to spend every day with my husband, no obligations, no deadlines, no schedules. The Boy kept things well under control back home, the Small People were busy with school and staying with their Mom, and we could keep in touch with everyone by phone and text message and email and Facebook – modern technology is wonderful that way.

It took me about a week and a half to recover from being away, but it was definitely worth it. I had fun.