Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not Dead ... Only Resting

Sorry it's been a zillion days since I've posted anything. For the past week, I have been in the worst pain cycle I've had in months The hard work leading up to Rosh Hashana, and in fact, some of the celebration, pushed my body over the edge. I was back on narcotics round the clock and everything. Yuck! I'm feeling better after a restful shabbat, and plan to write about vampires soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Feldenkrais Evangelism

My friend Sandra says that everyone who does Feldenkrais is evangelical. I think she means it pejoratively, but I don't, when I count myself among the zealously converted. Even though I still struggle with the after-effects of my devastating Lyme Disease infection, I have had some dramatic healing the last couple of months since working with Steve Shafarman, an amazing Feldenkrais Method teacher who lives nearby.

I have always experienced all movement, including walking, as awkward and uncomfortable. Even when I was four years old, I had these special shoes to correct some kind of walking problem. As an adult, I blamed my unease on my obesity. Losing 94 pounds made moving easier, but it still felt forced and awkward. So David and I have always known that I needed some kind of movement re-education, but we couldn't imagine who did that kind of therapy. I first heard of Feldenkrais Method (hereafter called Feldenkrais) while reading up on Fibromyalgia when I was diagnosed with that pain condition in 2004. Simply put, the goal of the modality is to use gentle movement to increase awareness of one's body to learn how to move it optimally.

Feldenkrais was born out of Moshe Feldenkrais' need to rehabilitate a sports injury, and was inspired by watching how young children in his wife's pediatric practice organically learn to move comfortably and efficiently. We all started out with the flexibility and curiosity of babies, but as we grow up we pick up bad habits and settle into ineffective and uncomfortable ways of moving. Can you remember the last time you thought, "I wonder if there's a way I could do [fill in the blank] that would exert less energy and be more comfortable than the way I do it now?" I certainly didn't think about this until I started working with Steve, whose version of Feldenkrais is called FlexAware.

FlexAware exercises are designed to be playful and simple, but if you have images of mindless exercises, think again. This work has been far more challenging than I thought it would be, both somatically and cognitively. My body tires from using under-used muscles. My brain gets a workout as I connect how a slight change in my positioning makes movement more or less efficient, thus learning to erase decades-old patterns of tension and unskilled motion.

I actually have a 10-minute old example of how FlexAware is making a difference in how I feel. I just got home after being out for five hours. Since I ran out of time to do so this morning, I sat down to meditate and my lower back and neck were stiff. When I got up from my zafu (meditation cushion), I knew exactly which exercises I needed to do to make myself feel better. I tell people that my body now "talks" to me since doing Feldenkrais; it's more accurate to say that it has been talking all along, but I haven't understood its language. Now I do. I spent a few minutes practicing some exercises that I do standing up that have been marvelous for everything from my neck to my lower back, and followed it up with a few more exercises I do on my yoga mat. There is a lot of emphasis in FlexAware on working with gravity -- not wasting energy fighting gravity by holding your body up in some artificial position -- and on breathing more fully and comfortably. When I got up to come write this, everything felt nicely well-adjusted. This reminds me that I haven't seen my chiropractor, whom I used to see at least once a month, since I started working with Steve. FlexAware exercises essentially let the body become self-correcting, which is saving me time and money. Hooray!

I've noticed that in bodywork, even more than in medicine, the quality of your practitioner or instructor makes a tremendous difference in your experience. I saw another certified Feldenkrais practitioner, "Jill," for a few sessions, and sought Steve out because although Jill was pleasant, I felt like something was lacking in our sessions. However, since I had never done Feldenkrais with anyone else, I had no basis of comparison, which is why I decided to book one session with Steve. Within an hour, I knew that he was totally the person I needed to work with.

Jill also is certified in The Alexander Technique, which is often compared to Feldenkrais. I've done a fair amount of Alexander both with Jill and my old cranial-sacral therapist, and although Alexander can feel good, I think there's no competition between the disciplines. I perceive Feldenkrais as so much more robust, cognitive, and nuanced than Alexander. Feldenkrais focuses a lot on the pelvis, since it's the center of gravity and the largest part of your body. Alexander focuses mostly on the head and neck, so Jill pushed the Alexander Technique on me because of my serious neck problems resulting from my Lyme infection. I've found that Feldenkrais more than adequately takes care of my neck problems, and because Steve teaches me exercises I can do at home, I don't have to wait to be manipulated for relief.

Steve continues to coach me to move gracefully, an adjective that I can't imagine could apply to me, but I persist. And I'm determined that one day, it will feel truly natural to walk.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Warning, contains spoilers. Thank you to Alisa, for the entertaining photos she took on a recent trip to Forks, Wash., where the Twilight series is set.

This shabbat (sabbath) I finished "Breaking Dawn," Stephenie Meyer's last book in the Twilight Saga. I picked up "Twilight" in the library earlier this year, way behind in the fad, which is why I could get it at the library at all! I was very contemptuous of the novel, assuming that anything that had teenage girls so captivated just had to suck. For the two people left on the planet who don't know the premise, it's that Edward Cullen, a teenage vampire, falls in love with a mortal girl, Bella Swan. I had an instant aversion to Bella in the first 70 pages of Twilight, then light dawned on my marble head: the reason this girl is so whiny, self-centered, and obnoxious was because she is 17. Meyer is accurately portraying a teenager.

Edward's attraction to Bella presents a problem, because she's technically his prey. But the Cullens are "vegetarian" vampires, subsisting on animal blood and abstaining from hunting humans. Edward has to go through an incredible acclimation to be able to be around Bella at all. This is where, bizarrely, I got very interested. My friend describes "Twilight" as "abstinence porn," and I think he's totally right. Most of the novel is a painfully slow ramping up of Edward and Bella's emotional and physical relationship. Basically, it's one very long tease, and I found it titillating, to put it mildly. I'm not sure what it says about me that I was drawn to teasing, teenage lust, but I'll leave that to the professionals. When Edward finally kissed Bella, I distinctly remember sighing aloud, "Thank God!" and feeling a palpable sense of release.

"Twilight" and the two books following it, "Eclipse" and "New Moon" are mostly fluff fiction. Here, I need to diverge: it has become apparent to me living in D.C. for 15 years that people here are as snobbish as they come about literature, with the possible exception of the New York City intelligentsia. For example, take Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love." I thought this book was hilarious, moving, and enlightening, as did the millions of other readers who have kept it on The New York Times Best Seller list for multiple years. The general impression among my friends ranged from incredulousness (with a strong undertone of jealousy, I think) that Gilbert got an advance large enough to travel for a year around the world and write this book. They seemed to allege that this somehow made her experience less credible, which I disagree with. Then there were the snarky comments about Gilbert's "Oprah-esque" spirituality. I've seen that sentiment about "Eat, Pray, Love" echoed in popular culture.

I don't think "Eat, Pray, Love" was fluff. But the older I get and the more complicated life gets, the more good fluff appeals to me. Reading is a much healthier escape than television, drugs, or food, right? What's wrong with writing fun books that people want to read? James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens might be brilliant writers, but no one other than my father-in-law wants to read their work! I feel the same way about Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Again, people were so down on this book. I'm not usually into the thriller genre, but I found "The Da Vinci Code" a really fun, fast-paced read. This book isn't as pure an example as "Eat, Pray, Love," because a lot of the heat surrounding it came from Dan Brown's stalwart defense that the sordid secrecy of Opus Dei that he alleges in the novel is real.

Anyway, back to the Twilight saga. I didn't enjoy "Breaking Dawn," as much as I enjoyed the first three books. Partially because once Edward and Bella are fornicating regularly, the tease and the details were gone to keep it salable to a teenage audience, and the other literary tension of if/when Bella is going to be turned to a vampire is resolved early in the novel. I am a slow reader, but I flew through the first three books. I read "Breaking Dawn" much more slowly; partially because I wanted to savor it since it's the last book of the series, and partially because I didn't find it to be the page-turner the earlier books were. However, I gained a whole lot of respect for Meyer as an author who could write more than just fluff. I thought she spends way too many pages on the unplanned half-mortal/half immortal daughter of Edward and Bella, Nessie. But this is where Meyer's writing shines; she aptly captures well the fierce, maternal protectiveness moms feel for their kids that I can only imagine from the 1/100th of a percent that I feel this way about Kacy, my dog. I can't help but stroke her as I write this. Meyer could easily stay in realm of intense emotion, but she puts Bella's devotion to the test by having her emotionally and practically prepare to send Nessie away and never see her again.

Something else that gave the Twilight series depth is Meyer's exploration of what it means to be a family, exemplified by Garrett's speech on the last paragraph of page 717 to the Volturi, kind of the martial royal family of vampiredom. I might have just invented a word! This notion of family was especially interesting in the context of vampiredom, where at best most vampires live in covens, not families. I'm not suggesting that Meyer has written some brilliant social treatise; only that there was some depth in this ultra-popular series that made it more than great fluff.

My next post will be an exploration of the unintended consequences that Twilight might have on adolescent girls' expectation about male sexuality. Good night, or more accurately, good morning!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ticked Off: Installment II of my Lyme Disease Journey

The Diagnosis Continues ...

In March 2003, my neurologist was open to anything being wrong with me. The MRI of my cervical spine didn't show any orthopedic problems, so my doctor zeroed in on other things known to have detrimental effects to the nervous system, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, syphilis, diabetes, etc., and Lyme Disease.

This is really, really important. If you ignore anything else I ever write (probably a good idea), you should commit this to memory: If you ever have a Lyme Disease test, insist that your doctor follow it up with a Western Blot test, which is an analytical technique designed to test for specific proteins in blood or tissue samples. This test will find things that the regular Lyme Disease titre will not catch, because the Lyme test has a 50% false negative rate. Think about that -- half of all people who are told they do not have Lyme Disease, really do, so it goes untreated. To put this in perspective, can you imagine a pregnancy test on the market with a 50% false negative rate? No one would stand for it.

You might think that doctors would automatically know to use the Western Blot test, but you'd be mistaken. Unless they are experienced in diagnosing and treating Lyme, most doctors don't know how unreliable the regular titre is. The Western Blot is what confirmed my Lyme diagnosis. Thank God my neurologist did his residency at Yale, near Lyme, Conn., so he was a pro.

When we got the result from the blot, pieces began to fall into place. As I foreshadowed in my first installment , I experienced neurological problems in 2004, after I was plagued with aches and exhaustion starting shortly after I bought my house in 2003. I was in so much pain, I essentially took two months off work to rehab. I was ultimately diagnosed with fibromyalgia when the Lyme Disease and other tests came up negative. This is purely conjecture, but my neurologist and I believe that the 2003-4 event probably was my initial infection with the Lyme bacteria. My doctor at the time did not understand the terrible handicap of the Lyme test; it is especially unreliable if you're newly infected, which I presumably was.

Lyme is a tricky bacteria. If you catch it quickly, a 30-day course of oral doxycycline -- an innocuous antibiotic commonly prescribed for acne and periodontal infection -- can nip it in the bud, and you might get a yeast infection, but be no more worse for the wear. If left to do its thing, however, Lyme takes its time invading your tissues, which is why it can wreak havoc on all of your systems including your neurological system and gastrointestinal tract. Have you ever heard about syphilis making people crazy? It's true that it can, and the bacterial species that carry Lyme are most closely related to the bacteria that carries syphilis. In fact, much of what researchers have learned about Lyme has been gleaned from syphilis research.

The mysterious pain and exhaustion I had experienced for three months apparently was the result of total systemic breakdown due to Lyme Disease that had gone untreated for years.

I have more to say, but no more time or energy to say it. So, good night until next time. I'm about to finish the last book in the Twilight series, and I have a post brewing on that, and I'll certainly have something to say after the finale of season 2 of True Blood. And a rant about manners/bad parenting. Good stuff!