The Bed Bug Chronicles Parte The Seconde

…in which we continue our woeful tale of The War of the Bed Bugs.bed-bugs

The Big Shot Professional exterminator made off with my infested camping cot and 200 shekels (approximately 65 US Dollars), leaving me with a completely empty apartment…or was it?  I strongly suspected that in folding up said cot, he had dumped some unwanted guests onto the quarry stone floor.  There were deep gaps between the quarries, which could harbor anything.

So I got out the bleach.  In Israel we don’t have wimpy 1% sodium hypochlorite bleach like we do in America.  We have 5%, which burns through rubber gloves, shreds clothing, and makes your eyes water as soon as you open the bottle.

I dumped enough into a bucket of water to kill anything, or so I thought, and swilled it around the stone floor, letting it fill the cracks between the stones.  Then I turned on the fan and got out of there.

After a severe coughing spell that threatened to activate my stress incontinence, I ambled over to my favorite coffee den in the Shuk to think things over and decide what my best course of action was.  Actually, my choices were few and none.  I couldn’t go back to Ron’s, seeing that he was also infested; and I really couldn’t visit myself on any of my other friends because of the risk of contagion: the little beasts conveniently travel in the seams of your clothes, the soles of your shoes–not to mention your luggage.  Damn, I was stuck.

I hit upon one good idea: the apartment came with a flat tarred roof that extended over three buildings.  I had access to it via an Arab-built wooden ladder that my landlord, a contractor, had doubtless saved from one of his many construction projects.  In Israel, the construction industry is almost exclusively run by Arabs. Instead of scaffolding they often use purpose-built ladders, which are abandoned, in many instances, after they are no longer needed.  They are sturdily built, reminding me of the ladders that the Pueblo Indians use for getting up and down the levels of their dwellings.  Mine was perfect for getting up to the roof.

There are two things that reliably kill bed bugs: dry heat above 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and prolonged freezing temperatures.  So after my coffee I went next door to the variety store and bought a bunch of black plastic bags, the better to cook bugs in.  I went home and loaded my clothes and anything else that could take high heat into these bags and hauled them up to the roof.  Also my luggage and my dog’s doggie travel carrier.  I must have made 25 trips up and down that damn ladder.  Let’s not forget that I was still suffering from the concussion I got from taking one on the chin, and it was becoming apparent that I had “done something” to my right shoulder in the same wreck, so I had to be extra careful on my excursions up and down the ladder.

Did I mention that the ambient temperatures were hovering around 40 Centigrade/104 Fahrenheit?  Well, they were.  Good for killing bedbugs, bad for people on Lithium.  I was feeling it.

Finally everything I owned was either on the roof baking or in the freezer freezing.  I wondered if my external hard drive would survive freezing, but since it certainly would not live through broiling I thought the freezer was the better risk.

As I stood there wheezing in the bleach fumes, it occurred to me that I no longer had a bed.  My Israeli mattress, a 3 inch thick strip of hard foam, was on the roof baking.  The Professional Expert Exterminator had pronounced that to be unnecessary, but I was taking no chances.

Under normal circumstances, I would have simply tossed the mattress on the floor until I could get some semblance of a bedstead; but Jerusalem quarry stones are not only very hard, but uneven and pointy in many places.  Not only that, but the proximity to my bleach job might melt the foam, and kill me via asphyxiation.

Then came one of those “lightbulb moments.”  Indeed, I did have a bedstead!

Three years ago, I was forced by family circumstances to give up my long-term lease on a beautiful house in the same neighborhood.  A very sweet couple moved in, and I had left them my bed; but they had their own, and they were storing mine–for when I returned to Jerusalem for good.

I called them, and within the hour had my old bed back.  Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes–or was it just from the bleach?

Nightfall, and I hauled myself back up the ladder for the last time that day, to fetch my mattress down.  Something nagged at me, paranoia perhaps, that I should run down to Davidka Square and buy myself a brand new mattress wrapped in plastic, but then again I had had the cover off of this one and inspected all the seams for signs of bed bug poo, and eggs, and all of the signs and symptoms of infestation, and found none.  I told myself firmly to have confidence in my own expertise, and plunked the mattress on my good old bedstead.

This wasn’t just any bedstead.  I had bought it in 1989, just after my ex-husband moved out and took every stick of furniture in the apartment with him (he was moving into an unfurnished apartment, you see), including the bed.  So I invested in this wonderfully simple bedstead made of hardwood slats, that came apart and went together in a few minutes’ time, perfect for the young upwardly mobile professional lifestyle.

The first night was blissfully bugless.  I awoke, anxious, and checked myself over for new bites; and finding none, rejoiced.  Even my dog was scratching less.  She is allergic to everything, and, as I found out later, bed bugs feed on anything with blood in it, including warm-blooded animals.   I took her food out of the freezer, and took myself out for Israeli Breakfast to celebrate.  If you haven’t had Israeli Breakfast, you haven’t had breakfast.  I will tell you all about Israeli Breakfast another time.

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that the third morning dawned with a peppering of itchy welts.  I freaked out.

I called Sammy.

Sammy showed up the next morning with a backpack sprayer and a respirator mask.  Now, I thought with satisfaction, we’ll get something done about this.  I stood guard over his van, which he had left in a tow-away zone, while he did his thing.  He came running out of the apartment followed by a noxious white cloud, coughing through his mask.  Jesus, I thought, what the hell did he spray in there?  I didn’t care, as long as it killed the damn bugs.

I was told to abandon the place for three hours, and then wash the floors very well.  VERY well, he said, looking significantly at Noga, my dog.  Sammy raises champion Pekingese, and knows what dogs can handle and what they can’t.

I left the apartment to air out for eight hours instead of three, just for good measure; then I went after the floors with a vengeance.  I washed them VERY well.  But I did NOT wash the bedstead.  I wanted anything lurking in there to be DEAD.  And so it was that as I was inspecting the bed, a very sick bed bug tottered out of one of the joints of the headboard.  It looked like its shell was melting.  Ugh, and GOOD.  Death to you!  Death!  And then another one, fat with my blood, dragged itself out from beneath one of the legs.  Oh. My. God.  Even now the hair stands up on the back of my neck to think of….what it…..had certainly done….

To be continued……

When Doctors Discriminate: Please Share!

I was denied pain medication after a major surgery (fusion of two intervertebral discs in my neck) because I wrote “Xanax” on my list of medications on the pre-op sheet, and it was assumed that I was a drug addict (a nurse told me so.) This was in 1987. Ever since then I have omitted my psych drugs when filling out a drug list, and have paid out of pocket for psychiatric care so it wouldn’t be on my records. Recently I stopped doing that because I take so many of them that it would be dangerous to mix certain of them with anesthesia drugs, and I have been treated markedly differently by hospital staff (“crank”) and doctors. In fact, doctors missed a major diagnosis, assuming that chronic diarrhea was “irritable bowel syndrome” when in fact I had none of the symptoms of that, and turned out (after I demanded genetic testing) to have a rare form of Cystic Fibrosis. I pick and choose which doctors I tell about my psych diagnoses on a “need to know” basis, because the stigma causes them to immediately assume that any symptoms I have must be “psychogenic” and therefore dismissed, or else I am denied pain medication on the assumption that I must be a substance abuser, which I am not and never have been.
There is a study (I don’t have time to search for it right now, but if you need me to I will) reported on Medscape for physicians documenting that people presenting to hospitals with chest pain received different care if they disclosed psych diagnoses than people who didn’t, had longer waiting times and increased morbidity and mortality as a result.

Making a Place Called Safe

“A Public Health Case for a Safer Injection Facility in San Francisco, CA”

This is a film that highlights an issue that most of us would rather not think about: the day-to-day lives and the moment-to-moment needs of intravenous drug users. In the film, we learn that drug users are people too, with their own set of special needs. The chief of these needs is a safe place to shoot up, without having to worry about unsafe conditions.

It tugged at my heart that many of the IVDUs (Intra-Venous Drug Users) who were interviewed voiced concern about shooting up in places where they might be seen by children, families, pregnant women….it affected me in two ways: first, that the IVDUs were really concerned that they might cause trauma or other harm to these groups that they identified as vulnerable. Second, it is clear that they feel that they are a potential source of contamination, just by seeing them, and that makes them a lesser person. They feel like lesser people who don’t want to contaminate the “professional people,” as one man said, simply by being who they are: junkies, crackheads, meth freaks…..PEOPLE. So there is a grass roots movement run by former and present drug users to create safe space for IVDUs to use their own drugs without haste, using clean equipment, in a respectful, nonjudgemental atmosphere. I’m for it. As one man in the film said, drug use is not going to go away. The “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure. I am SO on board with this. If my life circumstances allowed it. I would be right there, right now.

The Bed Bug Chronicles

Five years ago, if anyone had asked me what I knew about bed bugs, I would have shrugged my shoulders and stared at them blankly.  Now, unfortunately, that is not the case.  I’ve had much more experience with bed bugs than I can stand.  I know that others have had, and unfortunately are still having, far worse experiences than mine; but you have to understand that mental illness makes it much harder to deal with the anxiety and downright horror an infestation of these nasties can cause.  And there is plenty of reason to believe that if you don’t have a mental illness before you get bed bugs, you may very well acquire one.  There are numerous articles in the psychology and psychiatry journals speculating whether latent mental illness can be triggered by the severe stress and distress that bed bugs cause.

In fact, I just read a case study from the National Institutes of Health documenting the suicide of a woman with mental illness for whom a prolonged bed bug infestation was just the last straw.

Any of you who have had to deal with these disgusting creatures will agree: in the “gross!” department, it doesn’t get much grosser.  They bite you in the middle of the night, when you are asleep and defenseless.  You can’t even feel them biting, because first they inject you with a dose of local anesthetic so you won’t feel their proboscis piercing your skin.  Try to starve them by going on extended vacation; they laugh!  They can live up to a year without feeding.

I asked my rabbi who was responsible for the creation of bed bugs, anyway.  His response?




Oh man, do I agree with him.

My first bed bug experience was four years ago.  I was a patient at an Ayurvedic hospital in South India.  I was extremely ill with a digestive malady that turned out to be a rare form of Cystic Fibrosis.  I had lost 20 lbs because all of the food I ingested came right out the other end (sorry), and I was literally starving.  Regular medicine had decided that I was some kind of crank, so I was getting no care from that quarter.

The Ayurvedic hospital was heaven on earth.  Located high in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, the hospital itself was situated in the middle of a vast tea plantation. Did you know that tea comes from a Camellia bush, Camelia Sinensis?  Well, let me tell you, when hundreds of thousands of Camellia bushes are all in flower, the night smells just like the fragrance the angels smell when they come out to sing in the morning.

But let’s get back to the subject at hand.

One morning I woke up with itchy bumps on my neck.  They looked like this:

My First Bed Bug Bites

My First Bed Bug Bites


Note the peculiar proximity to my jugular vein.  My first thought was, Damn, they have accurate mosquitos here.  Then I thought, Hmmm, it said in the brochure that they don’t have mosquitos here.  That’s why you don’t have to worry about malaria like you do everywhere else in India.

The following morning, my neck looked as if someone had taken a pastry wheel (the kind with sharp spokes, for poking holes in pie crusts) and run it up and down my neck a few times–and horrors! my pillow was covered in splats of blood, to match the holes in my neck!!!  OMG.

I ran down to the dining room to see if anybody there could tell me what this was.  A woman from New York gave me a knowing look and pulled some pictures up on the communal computer: yup, no question.  Those were bed bug bites.

I roared into my doctor’s office, panting, and blubbered out my story, spewing tears and snot.  He patted me on the hand and told me it was OK.  It was NOT OK.  I dragged him up the hill to my cottage and showed him the hideous pillow.  He yelled for the servants to come and give me a new mattress.  I barked orders to also clean the bed frame very well, very well.  The staff did not speak English, so I implored Doctor-ji to please, please explain to them.  I think he did, for they grudgingly took their pails full of water and crude eucalyptus oil (I was later to discover why they used eucalyptus oil) and swabbed down the bed frame.

I always travel with my own goose down pillows, because I have two fused vertebrae in my neck, and I have to have the right pillow in order to not be in agony.  So I stuffed my poor pillows into the washing machine (“for the convenience of the guests”) and set it on 90 degrees Celsius, which is just short of boiling.  I won’t bore you with the details of trying to get the pillows dry again, because “for the convenience of the guests” the hospital did not have a dryer, and it was monsoon season, freezing cold and raining most of the time.  Previously, I had thought it entertaining to watch the staff hanging the sheets out on the topiaries to dry, only to snatch them back inside the next moment because it had begun to rain again.  Needless to say, I no longer found that entertaining, now that I was doing it myself.

I fought the bed bug battle for weeks.  Changing the mattress changed nothing.  I moved to a new cottage.  They were there too.  Eventually I learned that  the locally made (and very crude) essential oil of eucalyptus repelled the little bastards, and by soaking the bed and covers every night before retiring, I could get a night’s sleep without worrying about waking up bitten bloody.  Reeking, perhaps, but intact.

Fast forward to August, 2013.  I have just arrived to Jerusalem after a two-month absence.  In June I had rented a tiny apartment, built entirely of Jerusalem limestone quarries, quaint but suitable for my needs. I come and go often, and really just need a place to land when I’m there.

The place came unfurnished except for a large wardrobe, so I brought a large and sturdy camping cot with me from America, to stand in for a bed.  It fit nicely into a golf bag that I used to have for the purpose of flying with odd size objects.

I stayed a few days with a good friend of mine who lives half a block from my new apartment, very convenient, and got everything set up before I moved into my digs.  I’ve stayed with him countless times in the past.  He’s a dear friend whose chief failing is that he is incapable of saying “no.”

And so it was that his good friend, we’ll call him Bob, arrived from a large East Coast city with FOUR enormous duffel bags packed with STUFF.  OK, I get it that he was moving back to Israel permanently, but he was also planning to stay with my friend who can’t say no, and there was simply no room for his stuff and mine.  So I pulled my belongings out from under the pile of his bags, and packed myself off with my few possessions to my little apartment down the street.

Two days later, my friend calls me and says, quite sanguinely, “Guess what?  A big fat bed bug crawled out from under my pillow this morning, full of my blood.  I squashed the sucker.”

I broke out in a cold sweat.  I mean literally, I was suddenly drenched in sweat.  My heart was racing.  I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.  I was having a Bed Bug PTSD flashback!  No, don’t laugh, I mean it!  I couldn’t swallow.  I felt like I was going to faint, or have a seizure, or a heart attack, or die.

“Fuck, Ron,” I managed to squeeze out.  “We didn’t used to have bed bugs at your place.”

“Yeah, I know.  I’m thinking Bob.  He lived in this fleabag room full of roaches and God knows what else.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Uh, what was the name of that exterminator you had over to get rid of the fleas?”   My apartment had been full of fleas when I moved in, so I got Sammy the Exterminator and he took care of it.  I gave Sammy’s details to Ron and closed my phone, still shaking.

Shit, all my stuff had been lying at the bottom of the luggage pile, literally, with Bob’s fleabag flophouse stuff on top of it.  Well, all I could do was wait and hope.

I didn’t have to wait long.  A couple of days later I woke up with bites.  Not only that, but my little dog Noga was furiously scratching.  God, I was hoping it was just the fleas again.

But it wasn’t the fleas.  The next day I found a big old bed bug dead between the camping mattress and the cot.  I picked it up in a tissue and put it in the freezer for evidence.

I didn’t call Sammy.  I didn’t like how he had handled the extermination job at Ron’s.  I’m not going to go into the technicalities of bed bug extermination, but it’s a big, long, involved, labor intensive process, and Sammy hadn’t done any of that.  So I called a big extermination company that’s supposed to be the only outfit in Israel that really knows their bed bug business.

The guy showed up in a company uniform, very official.  He took one look at my stone cave of an apartment, and said, “You can’t have bed bugs here.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Because you can’t.  I’m a professional, and I say you can’t have bed bugs here.”

I showed him my bites.  I went to the freezer and got my frozen bed bug specimen out, but when I opened the tissue it fell apart.

“That is not a bed bug,” he stated triumphantly.

“Look at all the cracks between the stones!  Look at that old wardrobe!  Look, I found that bed bug (he snorted a snort of contempt) in my bed!”

He tore the covers off my cot and announced, once again, that I could not possibly have bed bugs there because he was a bed bug expert.  Then he took his little flash light and looked into the sleeve where the tube of the cot goes through the fabric.

“You have bed bugs,” he announced officiously.

“Where?  Where?  Show me!”

He pointed his flash light into the sleeve.  I peered.  There was a whole colony of bugs in there, big ones, little ones, cast-off molted skins….I felt both triumphant and sickened at once.

We had a quick huddle about what to do, and concluded that he would take the cot away and “recycle it,” whatever that means, because if we put it in the dumpster it’s certain that someone would take it home with them, even if we marked it “bed bugs,” because that’s how it is there.  So he folded the thing up, in spite of my fears that he would dump bugs and eggs and everything into the cracks between the stones of my floor, and took it outside, announcing that it would be 200 shekels for the house call.  I shelled out 200 shek.  He stuffed it in his pocket and stumped away with my former bed.

To be continued…..


Breaking The Silence of Stigma: Lunch Sketch

Today’s edition of Breaking The Silence of Stigma/Voices of Mental Illness is honored to have Jared of Lunch Sketch as our interviewee.  If you haven’t seen Jared’s amazing art blog, Lunch Sketch, I advise you to hop right over there as soon as you finish reading this wonderful interview!  So let’s dive right in!

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

LS: Almost 10 years now.

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

LS: Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Depression.

BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

LS: Almost 10 years ago.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

LS: I had a series of health scares, starting with Bell’s Palsy which I never recovered from and underwent many tests to ensure it was not a tumor. I then had a case of pericarditis misdiagnosed as a heart attack – this included prepping me with morphine drips and calling my next of kin (my wife who was 7 months pregnant with our third, Emma) up to the hospital. Next I saw a doctor about a lesion on my lip and was told it was cancerous and that I would need a large portion of my lower lip removed – fortunately family forced me to get a second opinion with a dermatological specialist who informed me it was (if anything) “pre-pre-cancerous” and nothing I couldn’t keep on top of with a tube of lip balm.

Haha. So special testing? Hmmm … maybe too much testing 😉

In addition to all of the above, I was constantly sick and tired. For almost a year, during all of this, I never wanted to go out, I would just go into our bedroom after work (spending no time with my family) and slept through most weekends.

I ended up crying in my doctor’s office like a little kid. I told her I was going to die!  I had a “Final Destination” style idea that all these near misses meant it was my time … and eventually something would stick. I distinctly remember sobbing, “I am sick and tired of always being sick and tired”. I think I remember those words best, because they are lyrics from Anastacia’s hit song and I was embarrassed to say them, but had no other words to describe my feelings.

My GP asked me a series of questions and then told me she thought I have health related anxiety, which was causing me to be depressed. I did not believe her and was frustrated she could not see I just needed tests to find whatever was going to get me next!

She gave me a book (Taming the Black Dog – by Bev Aisbett) and a video, insisting I read and watch them.  I did, and it did not take me very long to realize she was right. The book and video described “me” … even though I really didn’t want it to.  It was undeniable.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?

LS: No.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

LS: I was on fluoxetine for 12months and in that time really worked hard at getting my diet, mental health and physical health in order. I was fortunate enough to have work pay for a psychologist at that time and she helped me also with some cognitive training and other coping tools.

I was happy on the fluoxetine (after the initial nausea), but part of me worried that the medication was desensitizing me to health problems (lumps, sores, aches and pains) which I would get looked at if I wasn’t on medication. The worry grew and my doctor and I decided maybe now that I knew about my mental illness and had more training and awareness in managing it, I should try going without.

I have not been back on it since, but there have been times I considered seeing my doctor for another script. It absolutely does help and I would not hesitate to go back on it if I felt myself getting too lost for too long.

Not so much a stigma for me with the medication. It just increases my anxiety in a strange way, which I hope I explained well enough.

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

LS:  I eat well and exercise frequently. Not gym exercise so much (although have recently joined one), but outdoors stuff like ocean kayaking, bike riding, hiking and jogging. Knowing I am looking after myself physically helps me to rationalize risk with my irrational health anxieties.

To manage my social anxiety I avoid too much socializing. Being a fairly solid introvert who married a very strong extravert, we were going out and had people over almost every night and weekend. We no longer do this. My wife still enjoys a very busy social life with her girlfriends and we also go out together as often as we can. But she knows I cannot do too much in a row and will make sure a busy weekend is followed by a very quiet weekend (even if just for me). I am not comfortable in crowds and social environments. I get an overwhelming feeling of needing to escape (like how I imagine claustrophobia would feel).

One evening recently when visiting friends – my wife was not ready to go, but I was – I left her the car and walked the 1km trip home (with my youngest on my shoulders). My wife understood, but I am sure our friends thought I was odd … “can’t he just wait another 30 minutes?” No I couldn’t!

I guess for us it has been about understanding and balancing our needs.

For my depression I ensure I get enough sleep (but not too much).  But I also sketch, write and have lots of “me” time. Sketching calms me and focuses my mind on just one thing. I find sketching particularly good for me to process feelings at times. I can spend hours and hours on a single piece related to a feeling I am trying to process and the time sketching is uniquely therapeutic … almost like an acceptance or deeper understanding of myself and my thoughts, without all the negativity and depressive thinking and behaviours that would otherwise result. I hope that makes sense …

I don’t do any social media except for my WordPress blog. No FB, no Twitter, no Instagram. Yet over the past 2 years I have discovered a sense of community here. Becoming one of the authors for Canvas of the Minds has furthered this sense of belonging and made me not feel so alone and strange. Not just the other authors on that blog, but readers also have helped me immensely (some who probably will never know how much they did). I guess for now, that is my “Group”.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..

LS: Negatively in all areas (except substance abuse) I would have to say.

Job: I could get so much further in my career and would pursue such a path if I was not aware of my limitations and the effects of additional stress on my mental health. I am content to just hold my own in my current role. Our CEO recently mentioned to me that he thinks some of the Managers are point scoring because they want to be his successor. I told him to count me out, because I am not interested in his job at all. Again, he probably thinks I am lazy or lacking ambition, but I have been learning to care less about the judgments of others.

Education: A few years ago, I attempted an MBA whilst working. Got through 3 subjects before realizing I could not do it. The study was taking up what time I had left and needed for “me” to cope. Work needs me, my family needs me, and in between those I find and need time for me.

Relationships: The doctor visit I mentioned above was a week after my wife said she could not cope with me anymore. I reached a point where I was disconnected from her and our kids. I was always down and took them down with me. So yeah … had I not been diagnosed and treated accordingly … they may not be with me now as I type this … or to be even more brutally honest I may not have been here to type this … I considered suicide several times, but never went beyond ideation.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

LS: I guess I discussed my self-imposed denial of job opportunities above. Have not had to deal with direct disparaging comments … but am frustrated every time I hear people at work and socially refer negatively to what they see as depressive or bipolar behaviours in others.

I think it is the dismissiveness of insensitive people that bugs me the most. There is no care in the words of someone who says things like, “I dunno, maybe she’s depressed or something weird like that” … or … “God! It’s like he’s bipolar or something!”

If she is depressed … if he is bipolar … they need your friendship, understanding and support … not your sarcastic wit!

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

LS: Get support. Whether it is just one person or many people … do not go it alone.

Read good literature and learn as much as you can about your illness. Understanding my personality, my past and the nature of my illness has been so important in holding my ground and even gaining some ground over time.



What. A. Day.

To most of you, having to be somewhere at 10 am might not seem like a crisis.  Far from it.  Many of you have “real jobs” and have to be there at 8, or even 7, in the morning.

I have never been a morning person.  If I’m up at 7, it’s because I’ve been working since 4 pm the day before.  I have always crafted my jobs that way.  Since I don’t sleep anyway, it works out for me.

But.  The “not sleeping anyway” part turned out to be part and parcel of my bipolar, so in the end it contributed to my professional downfall and eventual total disability.

Now I do sleep, thanks to the handful of drugs I take at bedtime.  And those drugs take at least 12 hours to wear off.

I have also developed a strict program of sleep hygiene.  I take my drugs at 9:30, am asleep by 11, and wake between 9:30 and 10 am.  Works for me.

But today I had to see the orthopedist about the crunching noise and pain in my right shoulder, due to the fall I took on September 9 in Israel.  The shoulder bit was part of the damage incurred in the fall that also gave me a nice concussion and a scar that runs from my elbow to my wrist.  Very nice.

So I managed to drag my sorry butt out of bed at 8, and got to the orthopod’s office right on time so I could wait another two hours during which I could have been asleep in my cozy bed.

Once again, I chose not to disclose my mental illness or medications on the intake form.  It has been my unfortunate experience that once the medical personnel see that one has a mental illness, they immediately assume that one is a drug-seeking crank.  So I have adopted the policy of disclosing on a need-to-know basis, and they didn’t need to know.  So much for abolishing stigma in the field of medicine.

The ortho examined my shoulder and of course cranked it in a way that caused me to say (actually scream) bad words, but judging by his non-reaction I guess he hears a lot of that.  He confirmed my impression that something is going “crunch” and “clunk” in there–never a good sign.  Then he proposed injecting it with steroid.  I proposed that we get an MRI before performing any interim treatment measures.  I hate to deprive him of an extra procedure charge to Medicare, but hey, I didn’t go to med school for nothing.  My motto is “first diagnosis–then treatment.”

So he good-naturedly signed me up for an MRI, to be carried out sometime in the next few days.  And he wrote me a script for some pain medication that is way, way too strong for me.  He was astonished when I asked for a specific med that is much less potent, and hesitated to write it for me because he thought it wouldn’t be strong enough.  I told him that if it wasn’t, I could always take a Tylenol with it.  So much for drug-seeking.

My next stop was the Subaru dealer.  Ever since my car was stolen and wrecked, careening into four other cars before running off the road, and despite the extensive repairs that had it in the shop for over a month, the steering has been squirrelly.

In the US, I live in a mountainous area.  Squirrelly steering is just not OK here.  In fact, it could mean the difference between staying nicely on the road and plunging down a rocky ravine.  So I took the car to the Subaru dealer where I bought it, on the advice of the insurance adjuster who has been allegedly supervising the resurrection of my 2011 Subaru.

The dealer’s mechanics also thought the steering was squirrelly, but they refused to fix it because they were not the ones that did the original work.  The shop that did the original work is a body shop 2 1/2 hours away, that deals in American cars, not Subarus.  Why the body shop was allowed to do the mechanical work (the entire front end was caved in in the wreck), I will never understand.

So I asked the service manager at Subaru to please call the insurance adjuster and tell him that they also thought the steering was squirrelly but that they refuse to fix it because somebody else did the original work.

The insurance adjuster called me and said that he saw no reason why they shouldn’t fix it, since they are a Subaru dealer and all this and that.  I told him I thought the same but since I seem to be powerless in this situation that I would let him deal with it, since he is the insurance adjuster and all this and that.

So now I am faced with a fair probability of needing surgical repair on my bum shoulder, and further surgery on my bum car.  Quite the pair, we are.

And just to sweeten the pot, I got a summons for jury duty.  What a day.

Ana Gets Wrecked

I’ve wavered between telling y’all more about my horse-life, or more about my life-long struggle with anorexia….and decided that I’d give Ana one more round for today, and then on to more horsey adventures!

After we moved too far away for me to get to the stables, I fell into a deep depression.  I wrote maudlin poetry, drew frightening pictures, and read dark books like The Death Ship by B. Traven, all of Herman Hesse, and anything I could find to satisfy my morbid fascination with concentration camps, which had burned up most of my ancestors.

I took long walks in the fields with my dog Honey, and would lie on my back in a grove of pine trees for hours, listening to the sigh of the wind in the branches, inhaling the resinous fragrance, losing myself in the sensation of floating out of my body in trance.

On Saturdays, I went to art class at the important art college where my dad was a professor.  Since the age of five I had attended Saturday Class.  It was Mandatory. The only allowable excuse for not going was to have a fever.  Otherwise, I went.  On one hand it was part of the culture of my family, to be immersed in the arts, and on the other, I think it may have had something to do with my being out from under my mother’s feet.

As a fourteen-year-old, I attended the Teenage Class, which encompassed the entire high school age group.  This was both good and bad.  There were many older kids who came with enthusiasm for art and an ambition to get into college-level art school at the prestigious institution where we studied.  Then there were others whose main ambition was looking to pick up chicks.

I was so naive, I couldn’t tell the difference between a lamb and a wolf, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Pardon the cliche, but it was true.  I knew nothing about sex beyond Caroline’s parakeets and what I had seen the cows and bulls doing in the pasture next to our house .  It was horribly bestial, and I ran off whenever I heard the bellows and hootings of the bovine mating ritual.

So when Richard, a lanky seventeen-year-old with shoulder-length honey-colored hair and a shaggy beard approached me, I thought he was just the coolest thing. He talked sweet and said I was beautiful and went on about all kinds of high-falutin’ philosophical bullshit, and asked me out.  My mother said no, but he could come over to the house if he wanted to.

He wanted to.  I don’t know what was going on in my mother’s head, but she allowed Richard and I to visit in my room, with the door closed.  Years later, looking back, I see the scenario and admire Richard greatly for having the self-control not to pounce on me like a cat on an unsuspecting mouse.

But he did have something up his sleeve, and that something was a joint.  Oh boy!  What a thrill!  I had heard all about pot from my dad, who regularly cussed out his students for coming into the studio stoned, and I was dying to see what all the shouting was about.

We lit some incense–a lot of incense, like four sticks–to cover the smell, and then we lit up.  It was good stuff.  I coughed my brains out.  Richard laughed.  After I recovered, he gave me another hit.  And another.  Pretty soon we were both giggling uncontrollably.

I’m wrecked,” I said, nearly choking with hilarity.  Richard exploded into laughter and lost his hit, spluttering.

I’m hungry!” I said, puzzled at the sensation and the thought.  I wasn’t hungry.  I was STARVING.  I had to have something to eat.  NOW.   I got up and ran downstairs to the kitchen, leaving Richard upstairs to finish the joint.  I opened the fridge.  AHA!  There was a container of cold spaghetti and meatballs from last night’s dinner.  I grabbed it, got two forks, and ran back upstairs.

We giggled and gobbled spaghetti until it was gone.  Still hungry, we both tromped downstairs to raid the kitchen.

My mom was lying on the couch reading.

“Glad you guys are having such a good time!  Help yourselves,” she chirped.  I guess she was happy to see me interacting with another human being, and apparently enjoying it.

We went for the ice cream, took it out to the back stoop, and polished off a half gallon of butter pecan.  By then my stomach, unaccustomed to being so stuffed, was complaining loudly.  It was time for Richard to go, and I was glad, because I was really afraid I was going to throw up.

Richard very kindly left me a couple of joints for my solitary smoking pleasure.  And that was the beginning of my dope-smoking days, and the end of Ana.  Sort of.

Bringing up Mum.

A forthright and sensitive article from a woman who, as a young girl, had the difficult role of caregiver to her very ill mother who suffered with bipolar.


Stigma, secrets and separation: the truth about life as a young carer.

It was about 3am on a school night and I had woken from a nightmare. Like most 12 year old’s, I ran to the comfort of my mother. She took me over to the window and looked outside; I assumed this was to reassure me – like when parents search the contents of a wardrobe in order to show there are not any monsters inside. My mother simply said, ‘MI5 are after us’.

At first I was not sure if my mum was being serious or not – she could be quite silly at times, so I humoured her and let the James Bond themed game play out. Sometimes it comes to a point in games, as I am sure many of you are aware, when someone goes just beyond the boundaries of ‘fun’, which makes you feel…

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Riding For My Life Part Three: Wimpy

In a fit of irony, the stable owner named my bucking bronco “Wimpy,” after the very first Quarter Horse sire to be registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in 1940.  “Wimpy” was anything but wimpy.  As we saw in the previous installment of this series, Wimpy II was happy to bite, kick, and generally try to kill me in any way he could dream up in his horsey mind.  My personal mission in life was to gentle him.

After the backward crash incident, he suddenly gained respect for me, a little creature one-tenth his size, and decided he’d better settle down and go to work.  When I had his walk, trot, canter, and gallop under control in the ring, and had taught him to change leads and side-pass, I took him out on the trail.

Oh boy, that was some fun.  As soon as I got him on the trail and headed into the woods, he took off like a cannon ball galloping full tilt down the trail, the bit between his teeth so I that I couldn’t control his wild career.  Wimpy, my foot.

Tree branches whipped me in the face.  My glasses flew off.  By some miracle, I raised my left hand and my glasses thwacked right into it like a scrub nurse smacks the handle of an instrument into a surgeon’s hand.  I didn’t try to put them back on, but hung onto them for dear life until Wimpy wore himself out and slowed to a respectable trot.  I rode the son-of-a-gun all afternoon for that, till he and I were both exhausted and dripping with sweat.

“That’ll teach you,” I muttered as I untacked him and rubbed him down.  His muscles quivered with exhaustion, and I was afraid he was going to “tie up.”  Tying up is when a horse’s potassium or other mineral levels get out of balance from over-exercise or other stress, or else their muscle cells start leaking, and their muscles start contracting out of sync.  They fall down writhing and are in danger of their kidneys shutting down.  It’s a very dangerous condition and can be lethal.

I stayed with him a couple of hours, until I was sure he was going to be OK, then wobbled my way home on my bike.

I was starving after that adventure, but by force of will ate as little as possible at dinnertime.

“You’re looking really good these days,” bubbled my mother.  “It must be all the exercise you’re getting, riding your bike and the horses.”

I do believe my mother has an eating disorder.  “Looking good” in her lingo means “You lost weight,” or at least “You’re thin.”

I reveled in her approval.  Getting Mom’s approval meant everything to me.  It took a lot to get it.  Good grades were expected.  Making good art was expected, since both my parents were artists and I had taken Saturday art classes since I was five.  But “looking good” was a big step up from “fat ass,” and I determined that I was going to look really good.

We moved again that year, and the stable was too far to get to by bike.  Both of my parents worked in a town far away, so they didn’t get back until after six in the evening.  It became my job, at age fourteen, to prepare supper.  I didn’t mind it, since I love to cook.  Fortunately they were so grateful to have dinner waiting for them when they got home that they did not complain when I created experimental dishes such as spaghetti with raisin sauce, or egg foo young swimming in a sauce created from random liquids found in the refrigerator door.  They ate it without complaint.

I didn’t eat it, beyond tasting while cooking, and spitting the food out after tasting.

That year I was a freshman in high school.  Having started the year skinny, I garnered the respect of the girl population and the lust of the boy population.  I was invited to join the cheerleading team (Cheerleading!  Me?), which I declined.  I wasn’t the cheerleading type, and I hated the snotty girls on the squad.

I found, though, that the hypoglycemia that accompanied the anorexia caused my brain to be fuzzy–not good for Advanced Placement English or Latin Three, my favorite classes.  So at lunchtime every day I picked up a chunk of peanut butter fudge in the cafeteria, and nibbled on it all day to keep the brain fuzz at bay.

At last I reached my weight-loss goal: seventy-eight pounds.  I could wriggle in and out of my size one Junior Petite jeans without unbuttoning the top button–but I couldn’t stop.  My brain knew I was thin enough, but every time I looked in the mirror, all I saw was fat.  So I kept on with my rigorous weight-loss program, and joined the Cross-Country running team at school.

My mother looked at me with admiration: “Boy, you’re sure looking good.”  But now, I didn’t feel like it.  All I felt was fat.

Riding For My Life, Part Two: Hello, Ana

That fall Caroline’s big sister went off to college.  Caroline had to confine her voyeurism to her mating parakeets.  The big Thoroughbred went to a new home, and I was horseless all that winter.

The name-calling and mocking continued unabated at home, and since I really was a bit pudgy, the kids at school were relentless.  Twiggy made a splash as Model of the Year: “Thin was In.”  I stumbled through that school year by immersing myself in Latin.  I took a bullying beating for that one too (“Egghead, Dork, Brain), but I didn’t care because I knew they were just jealous.

By the time school got out that summer between Junior High and High School, I resolved that things were going to change.  I would not enter High School pudgy.  I would be Thin.  Very Thin.  I hatched a plan.  Half a piece of toast with butter, sugar, and cinnamon for breakfast, with black coffee; a blob of peanut butter for lunch; and as little for dinner as I could get away with.  The latter turned out to be easy, since my mother approved of my efforts to lose weight.

Since I had lost “my” horse, I looked to the nearest horse-source: the riding stable in the center of town.  It was around five miles from our house.  I mounted my Schwinn three-speed and pumped my way mostly uphill to the stable, marched in, and announced to the owner that I would be willing to clean stalls and tack in exchange for an hour of riding a day.  He almost fell over backward with joy.

I started that very day, mucking out stalls, tossing the manure and soiled bedding into a wheel barrow and toting it to the manure pile out back.  It was back-breaking labor, but I counted the seconds until I had finished and would get my first ride.

The owner looked at my sneakers and clucked his disapproval.  I flushed, knowing that sneakers were not only inappropriate, but forbidden, because one’s foot could slide through the stirrup and get caught, leading to a bad accident.  He pointed me to a pile of cast-off riding togs left by disaffected (and wealthy) pupils.  I found a pair of tall boots only two sizes too big, and a pair of baggy English britches to go with them.

He nodded his approval and pointed to a ragged-looking, skinny nag.  I eagerly took up a rubber curry, brushes and mane comb, and soon had him looking as presentable as he was going to get.  I tacked him up with saddle and bridle, led him out into the arena, and clambered onto his back via the mounting block.  The owner watched as I steered him around the arena, demonstrating my expertise at posting to the trot.  The poor old horse could barely manage a canter, so I didn’t press him.  My hour passed before I knew it, and I led my mount heaving and steaming into the barn.  His name, I found out, was Kelso, named after the great race horse.  I wondered if that was someone’s idea of a bad joke.

Kelso and I became best friends that summer.  I was soon allowed out of the arena with him, and we wandered the wide network of trails that sprawled behind the stable.  With care and patience, Kelso soon filled out, and became sleek and fast.

As Kelso was filling out, I was, to my great satisfaction, shrinking rapidly.  I learned to recognize the dizziness of hypoglycemia as a welcome sign of becoming thinner.  I abandoned the noontime peanut butter in favor of spending more time working and riding.  My English riding britches started falling off me, and I had to dig through the cast-off pile for a smaller pair.

I noticed that as a thin person, my mother’s rants meant less to me.  They lost their sting.  I was Thin.  I was In.  I forged ahead with my campaign, determined to get as willowy as possible.  What was possible, I didn’t know.  I only knew that for the first time in my life, I felt in control of Something.  And that Something was Me.  My life.

In the meantime, the owner of the stable got a trailer load of horses in from Out West.  “Green-broke,” he called them.  As I later discovered, “green-broke” meant that someone had been on their back before.  It did not mean that someone had stayed on their back.

He called me over and pointed out a fine-looking gelding, about fifteen hands high (a “hand” is four inches).

“Think you can ride him?” he asked casually.

“Of course!” I snorted.  What a foolish question.

“Tack him up, then, and take him out in the arena.”

He was a little skittish in the cross-ties, and shied violently when I tightened the girth.  He clamped his teeth firmly when I went to put the bit in his mouth, and bit me good when I used the horseman’s trick of sliding my thumb into the space behind his teeth (called the “bars”) to make him open his mouth.  That just made me more determined, and we had one hell of a fight, until I had saddle and bridle both properly on, and lead him out into the arena.

He wouldn’t stand next to the mounting block, so I pulled him up to the fence.  No sooner had I got one foot into the stirrup and the other off the ground, preparing to swing into the saddle, when he commenced bucking.

Well, there wasn’t any choice at that point but to swing my leg over anyway and try to get as much purchase in the saddle as I could, given the commotion that was going on underneath me.  I managed to catch the other stirrup on the fly, and remembering my riding master’s chant, “Keep your heels down, keep your heels down,” I kept my heels down and stood up in the stirrups, hanging on to a piece of mane, until my wild one wore himself out and stood heaving and snorting beneath me.

“That’s a good boy,” I said, trying hard not to shake.  I turned his head and walked him gently around the ring counterclockwise, then turned him toward the fence and rode him clockwise.  Then I urged him into a trot, but when I began to post he stood straight up in the air, teetering.

By the dictate of what instinct I know not, I stood up in the stirrups, keeping my heels down, and sprung off backward, keeping hold of the reins.  The horse crashed down on his back and I let go and jumped out of the way.  He thrashed in the dust of the ring and struggled to his feet panting, his eyes showing white with fear.

I walked up to him, talking to him gently, and took the reins.  The English saddle on his back was smashed.

I led him around the ring until both of our jitters calmed down a bit, then turned and headed for the barn.

The owner was standing there grinning.  I was petrified: a good saddle smashed, a horse nearly killed.  For myself, I thought nothing.

“Well,” he said around his cigar, “You’re a good little rider, aren’t you?”