Sunday, August 23, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 3: The House of the Rising Sun

Pre-pandemic, on a typical morning, Dot would awaken and head straight downstairs to break her fast as soon as possible. At that point in the day, cortisol is the highest, and cortisol happens to be the root cause of most illness. In fact, Dot owns several books about how cardiovascular disease is not related to cholesterol in the way the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe, but rather is predictable by stress hormone levels.


Dot found this out the hard way when she was in the midst of one of her biggest battles with Zuul. She and Bert had just moved from their new house in a small town in Southern Colorado to a small apartment in a larger town in Northern Colorado. The apartment had a fresh coat of paint and new carpet, and was about 700 square feet in size, about the same size as Dot’s childhood home until her parents put on an addition. There were two bedrooms - one which simply contained a king-sized mattress on a box spring, and a small dresser. There was about one foot of walking space on the right side of the bed, and three at the foot by the door. They all slept together in the bed, Bert, Dot, Lily, who was two at the time and still nursing, and her brother Henry, who was just five. Henry got the nickname “H-Man” because he had the special ability to attack the kidneys of two adult human beings simultaneously in his sleep. Lily had the super special ability to detect, in her sleep, the disappearance of Dot’s nipple, which means that Dot had to get comfortable sleeping with a nipple out at all times, just so everyone could sleep.


The second bedroom was used for storage of the boxes containing most of their household belongings for when they finally found a new home.


The small bathroom was carpeted, as was the small galley kitchen. The kitchen is where Dot spent most of her time, cooking, shopping for houses and learning about nutrition on the internet. The kitchen looked into the tiny living area, where they had a card table for dining, two adult-sized recliners, two child-sized chairs, and their large entertainment unit with a 28” cathode ray tube television on which the children watched hours and hours of PBS while Dot stood in the kitchen. Just off the kitchen was the utility and laundry room, with a stacked washer and dryer unit. When they weren't hanging out in the living area in the small apartment, they were making trips to the park, grocery shopping, and house hunting. It was a pretty simple existence.


During this time, the kids left a lot of food on their plates. Dot actively avoided shaming them for not eating, because she learned that was predictive of children developing eating disorders and Dot sometimes wondered if her reading was disordered from her mother ranting about how she needed to clean her plate because of the "starving kids in China." Her mother had grown up poor and so waste was a big concern. They were already on such a limited diet because of the food intolerances. Both the kids had reflux as babies, but it wasn’t until Lily came along and nursed that the need to restrict Dot’s diet became apparent. Dot had read quite a bit about the factors that underlie eating disorders, and was cautious to not call foods “healthy” or “unhealthy” at that time, or tell the kids to finish their food and interrupt their connections to their own satiety mechanisms. What this meant is that because they left so much food behind, Dot stopped making herself plates of food and just ate whatever the kids hadn’t. While doing this, and nursing 2 year old Lily, she lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time.


What also happened is that Dot started having deep depression and memory lapses. She found a new holistic M.D. to see, who suggested that she see a shaman. She was curious to see the shaman, but it was a 45-minute drive (one way) and she had to find someone to watch her kids in a new town. So, the therapist had actually been Dot’s compromise. She found someone with a Ph.D. because she wanted to have a therapist who would understand her need to research things. Plus, the therapist she found was only 10 minutes away from their apartment, and so Bert could come home and watch the kids on his lunch break.


The therapist practiced Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. It was the first time Dot had seen a therapist since she was a teenager, and even though she was a psychology major, she didn’t understand that therapists are all different, or that there are different styles of therapy. She just wasn’t that kind of psychology major. Her studies had been on physiological and sociological psychology, not clinical psychology. So, it happened that the therapist would explain that EMDR involved making a list of one’s past traumatic experiences, and then she would help Dot go through an eye movement exercise which would desensitize her to the traumas, one at a time. But when Dot started making her list of past traumas, she realized there were a lot! And two of them were near death experiences from brain trauma.


Apparently it is common for people with mirror touch synesthesia to have had near death experiences. Mirror touch synesthesia is a state of increased empathy, causing the person with the mirror touch to “feel” what another person is “feeling.” It can be extremely overwhelming. Dot knows now this is a facet of her clairsentience. There is hyperconnectivity in the white matter of the cortex, meaning it can be really difficult to get one’s brain to turn off. It means it’s always wanting to work on something - to chew on some sort of problem. So, mirror touch synesthetes worry about and notice anything and everything, and in that way, they become expert fortune-tellers, because they can easily see others’ patterns that others can’t see themselves. It’s a blessing and a curse, but mostly a curse!


Dot understands all this now, as a mirror touch synesthete, but the reason Dot was open to seeing a shaman is because she is and always has been highly spiritual because of her near death experiences. They opened her to her clairvoyance. It means she has a different view of death; to her it looks like a comfort. Because she has been so close to death, she is less concerned with personal achievement. When she does things for herself, she does them so she can be a better person, so she can be a help to others. She understands that it’s not how much money you have, but who you are to others that matters. She thinks love has the power to heal, too. But it’s exceptionally rare. It’s rare because it has to be unconditional. Most people don’t know how to communicate unconditional love.


*****


The holistic M.D. ran some tests, including a CT scan of her head and found her progesterone to be low, but also her cholesterol was only around 160 mg/dl. What she learned from the research she did at that time is that low cholesterol (under 170 mg/dl) increases death from all causes significantly more than what is considered “elevated cholesterol.” She also learned that what is often considered elevated (say between 200 - 275 mg/dl) are actually the levels associated with the greatest longevity, especially in women. Cholesterol is an important component of brain tissue, and it turns out that risk of death by suicide and accident is highest at levels under 170 mg/dl.


Every day, Dot was learning more about nutrition on the internet. She learned about the importance of the different vitamins, especially for neurological health. She referred to the Linus Pauling Institute’s website a lot, and she sees that they have been updating their information in the years since. So Dot started taking a coenzymated B-vitamin complex, niacinamide, methylcobalamin, magnesium, zinc and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2, and she started feeling better.


Consequently, the EMDR kind of went on the shelf.


Plus, their old house sold, so they ended up being able to move into a “new to them” house. She looked at a lot of houses during the process, and it was a buyer’s market at the time, so there were a lot to look at. They ended up choosing a neighborhood which rarely had houses come up on the market. The house payment was a smidge more than they wanted to pay, but well within their budget. They had managed to keep their mortgage payment about the same since they purchased their first house in California, and it would be a little more. When they first got married, Dot’s father had counseled her not to spend more than 30% of her monthly income on a house payment. They had kept to this rule with their first house and calculated the 30% based on Bert’s salary alone. Bert got a raise when they moved to Colorado, but they made sure to keep their house payment the same until this house. But this new house has plenty of room for each of them to have privacy as the kids got bigger, and a yard that affords them just enough privacy from their neighbors, with well established trees. They have beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, and there is no HOA, but everyone still takes care of their property.


Bert and Dot did have a problem with weeds in their driveway. Dot is on the Pesticide Sensitive Registry for the State, and gets calls when her neighbors are having their properties sprayed. Over the years she ttried cooking vinegar and salt to get rid of them, and just pulling them, but the truth is she just hated having to think about it. They tend to be at their wildest when her health is at its worst in August. Much of what grows is purslane, which is edible, but not considered pretty by most gardening types. She had heard that concentrated vinegar would work and looked one summer to find it locally to no avail. But because of the pandemic she ended up finding it online, and it solved a long battle! She still doesn't think that stuff is important, and is a pretty big waste of time to people who do not find joy in it. Battles with nature are usually of the losing variety.


After a little while in the new house, Dot began having episodes every time she did the laundry or ran the dishwasher. It took a while to see the pattern, but then she realized that when they moved out of the newly-painted and carpeted apartment, they discovered that the dryer had been venting right into the utility room and kitchen, and not the outside of the apartment.


A switch of dish and laundry detergent to something more natural, plus supplementation with progesterone eliminated her episodes rather rapidly. There were a few times that they got hand me downs from a friend that she would feel the strange migraine come on, and the mood drop. Dot discovered that it took ten washings in various combinations of borax, baking soda, and vinegar to get the feeling to go away when she smelled those hand me downs. She could also get the feeling walking through the neighborhood on a laundry day or walking through the detergent aisle at the store.


She began to make her own all-purpose spray and glass cleaner. She had never used air fresheners, because she had never been able to tolerate places in the mall that sold smelly things like bubble bath and candles. For years she avoided even essential oils as research had shown they could cause feminizing effects in males. Plus there was the whole misogyny of how multi-level marketing companies (including essential oil manufacturers) preyed on housewives. She is not sure if she needs to be worried about essential oils now, and she uses them sometimes.


She saw alternative health practitioners and discovered many non-western treatments that were effective for her symptoms. And when she says that, she means she saw energy healers. The difference between eastern and western medicine, at the root, is seeing things from an energy standpoint, vs. seeing things from a pathology standpoint. They have different answers regarding what can be changed and what must be accepted. Eastern medicine is more focused on prevention, targeting disturbances in energy before they manifest as pathologies, ideally. There is a lot of power in complementary medicine which combines the two, and is where Dot sees the future of medicine. Effective healers know that there is not one right answer for all people. A person is a unique product of many environmental factors. It is going to take any healer a long time to see the whole picture. This is why we must learn to heal ourselves, and we must do it by really knowing ourselves.


It’s not an easy task!


*****


Things went on like this for a while, with Dot visiting alternative healthcare practitioners. She had a chiropractor who also did acupuncture. She also tried a type of energy medicine, coupled with digestive enzymes, to relieve food intolerance, and she also tried classical homeopathy. Everything she tried helped on some level. Those, coupled with the nutritional strategies she was trying increased her energy a lot! Around the time of ovulation, she became a lot more interested in sex than usual, and so she became nervous that she might get pregnant.


So, she decided to get a copper intrauterine device (IUD). It seemed like the safest thing, because she had experienced a lot of health problems after taking various incarnations of the pill. Plus, she even knew a woman who had a stroke in her 30’s from taking it. Later on she would read about the history of the pill and its earlier versions’ direct associations with uterine and ovarian cancer, and later versions’ associations with stroke, and decide that it was the biggest lie that had been sold to women. In fact, there is a book about it entitled The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, by Barbara Seaman. Women essentially end up trading their health for their freedom! But little did Dot know that the copper IUD worked in the same way - it just caused endogenous estrogen release by generating abrasion on the uterine tissue, rather than releasing exogenous estrogen. Furthermore, it was not a good solution for uterus-owning people with nickel allergies, which Dot is, because the device is made of copper-coated nickel. And within a year of having it put in place, she was realizing it was time to take it out. Besides a lot of her symptoms coming back, she lost her libido, anyway. Being bloated, achy and grouchy will do that to a person.


Consequently, she had the device removed, and over some time she began to feel better again without changing much else.


But then she got greedy. She felt like a million bucks, and she wanted to look like what she thought a million bucks looked like, too. So, she threw caution to the wind and went on a very restrictive diet.


*****


It seems appropriate now, since Dot has just returned from upstairs where she whipped up a bowl of mashed potatoes quickly for a “linner” or “lupper” or whatever you want to call it - “foursies?” - to talk about the wrongly maligned potato. Eaten for centuries by the Irish, and such a staple of their diet that a blight on the crop caused famine, the potato contains 7.5 g protein per serving - a sixth of the daily allowance. Moreover, it contains about half the recommended value of vitamins C and B6, as well as potassium. It contains a fifth of the daily allotment of niacin, folate, magnesium and phosphorus. The people of Scotland and Ireland lived almost exclusively on potatoes, oats, and seafood for centuries.


Because she was finally feeling well a while after having her IUD removed, Dot decided to go on a very low carb diet and live without potatoes for a year. Yes, one could probably argue that the other carbohydrates she gave up were not as good for her. But that was before she understood the importance of carbohydrates in metabolism.


Dot should have known this. She should not have gotten swept up in the rantings of New York Times-published writers who fancied themselves authorities on metabolism, but she did. So she went balls to the wall, because she can be kind of like that. A little more than a year went by, avoiding even fruit, and her hair was falling out and she became depressed again. Her doctor was at a loss, because she appeared to be physically fit and her laboratory results did not indicate that anything particularly concerning was going on. But when the nurse drew her labs, her blood was thick and brown, which was something she read could happen with high estrogen. She also found some information online that said a low carb diet could slow down metabolism. Sure enough, when she went back through basic metabolism - specifically, the mitochondrial processes involved in energy production - what she had studied in graduate school - it all added up. A low carb diet was bad for metabolism. Specifically, it triggers the type of metabolism - oxidation of fats, rather than carbohydrates - that is the root of both diabetes and cancer. Well, actually, in cancer, cells will use whatever is available for fuel. Fat does just not burn as cleanly as carbohydrate, and creates toxic metabolic byproducts like aldehydes, alkanes, ketones, formaldehyde, and oxalates which further slow mitochondrial activity. So one will have to eat more with a high carbohydrate diet as mitochondrial function improves.


Type of fat also has great influence on metabolism. Tropical oils, which are low in volatile polyunsaturated fatty acids and higher Vin saturated fat were initially used in the US with the intention of fattening cattle to marble the meat, but were found to do exactly the opposite. Vegetable oils were found to be more effective, and are high in polyunsaturated fats, which because of their proneness to oxidation can interfere with election transport in mitochondria. This is also true of the much praised omega-3 fatty acids. Population studies of the Inuit who consume large amounts of "brain-healthy" salmon show they have one of the lowest life expectancies on Earth. The deposits left in the brains of dementia patients are largely composed of "age pigments" like lipofuscin which are complexes of oxidized polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol and minerals, much like those found in atherosclerotic heart lesions. Research has shown that omega-3's like those found in fish oil promote growth of individual adipose cells, and omega-6's in vegetable oil cause increased adipose cell population growth. It is thought that our adipose cell number is largely set, so this may be the primary reason for America's obesity epidemic. It turns out it was the kranch all along!


Fortunately for Dot, Bert, Henry and Lily, when Dot’s online warehouse order was being filled for their self-imposed quarantine, her orders for the processed carbohydrates they had become dependent on when they were busy couldn’t be filled because the store was all sold out. Dot had communicated to the person doing her shopping that she and her family had a medical condition that required more carbohydrates, and the wonderful person who had a significant physical limitation of her own suggested two bags of potatoes as a replacement. She and Bert both independently thought to plant them, but haven't gotten to it yet. Dot had done this once before as an experiment with some health food store purple potatoes, and they had lovely crops of purple potatoes for a few years after.


Luckily, they also purchased 25 pounds of rice fairly recently. Lots of people around the world have to live on rice every day, without much else. Making up caloric needs with rice helps the other food go further. Dried or canned fruit and tomatoes are good sources of vitamin C. Dried mushrooms are a good source of ergocalciferol, the plant version of Vitamin D, and are antiestrogenic. Not everyone can convert this form of Vitamin D efficiently, though. Canned tuna is a good source of protein, and oysters are the best source of zinc, which is an important cofactor for many processes in the nervous system. Liver and egg yolks are important sources of B vitamins, but one could get some B vitamins from yeast and yeast extract. Yeasted breads and beer would count for this, too, but might not work for everyone. Gelatin is a good source of anti-inflammatory protein, low in the anti-thyroid sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine which are high in muscle meats. These amino acids interfere with the conversion of the inactive T4 version of thyroid hormone into T3, or tri-iodothyronine. Longevity studies in mice continually point to stress, malnutrition, and dietary methionine as factors which significantly decrease lifespan.


Dot has a theory that a certain ubiquitous herbicide that is basically an augmented glycine molecule may interrupt glycine metabolism and cause a lot of the eosinophilic disorders that seem to be so common now. There has been at least one study to that effect. Dot is mentioning this now because some people find themselves sensitive to gelatin and collagen, and glycine is the major amino acid component in gelatin, and it is also the parent molecule for heme. It is important in single carbon metabolism, meaning folate metabolism. This may be an important part of some folks', excuse Dot, MTHFR-ing problems (snort!), which may be at least in part worsened by the ubiquitous use of this particular herbicide. And people don’t really talk about drift, but it’s a thing.


From her educated standpoint, organic is best, if one doesn’t have a source that is close to organic. And mulching that garden with grass that has been treated with weed-and-feed doesn’t count as organic.


*****


Dot made the difficult decision to get some plants from a friend for her indoor garden just before the quarantine. She was really nervous about this because previous experiences with many people over the years, especially during the holidays when people were tired and starving for connection, taught her that she couldn’t always trust people to be honest about how they were feeling. Maybe they just didn’t know. But she and her friend arranged a front porch trade, and this friend had showed equal concern, so Dot was able to drop off a bottle of wine for her friend and pick up the plants without coming into contact with her friend. Dot sprayed the plastic cups the seedlings were in with alcohol in the garage when she got home, and waited for a minute before wiping them. She made sure not to touch her face, and she carefully washed her hands when she returned home. This was the process she was using at that time. Now she wipes items down with soapy water or leaves them in the sun. So that leaves just the problem of having to disinfect non-porous items in the winter on cloudy days. Smaller items, depending on material, could be done in an electric pressure cooker.


Dot had started wearing masks in public in mid-February. As a biologist, she watched what happened in China and knew there was no way that testing was going to be able to keep up. She knew that a single positive test result actually represented dozens or even hundreds of actual cases. She knew that supplies for testing were probably in very high demand, too. She was having tremendous difficulty communicating this to Lily, who was rightfully feeling robbed of her independence. They now at least understand each other's perspectives, but that had been a bumpy road. The virus had really highlighted a lot of ageist tendencies in their family, but they were actively trying to identify and work through them.


She was on occasion going around and disinfecting the light switches and doorknobs in their home with soapy water. They had only been quarantined, technically, since March 20th, because that was when Dot and Henry had to go back to the University to empty his dorm room. How strange to be a college student right now. There were strict procedures in place for getting moved out. No more than 49 people could be in a building at a given time, and each student could only bring one helper. The whole place was like a ghost town, save the few cars parked on the road with their lights flashing, and a few maintenance workers, and a graduate student from Asia. She wondered if the grad student had been persecuted. She wondered if he was separated from loved ones suffering from the virus.


When Dot and Henry went back to the University to get the rest of Henry's belongings, they wore gloves and masks. Henry’s roommate lived up in the mountain resort where the virus was most rampant, and was planning to come empty his part of the room in two days so they wanted to v be sure they got into the room first since they had no known exposure. They brought a dolly and got it all in two trips. They left most of it in the car for a few days in case of contamination, but disinfected the items that needed to be brought in right away.


Being ill in the time before the pandemic actually prepared Dot quite well. She had already had to order groceries online, for one thing. And, she had been forced to slow way down, so their consumption had, too.


The monster she really had to tame was her constant need to do things.


For this, she needed the Tarot, meditation, and lots of cannabis.


She still needed those things.


*****


At precisely 7:00 am, a week after Henry had moved home, Dot’s phone blared a reminder that there was a “stay at home” order.


There had been notifications over the last day; the first one had come just as she pulled into the driveway from picking up plants and seeds from her friend via the “milk box swap.” It was the first time she had left the house since helping Henry retrieve all of his belongings from the University six days earlier.


She had tried earlier in the day to get Bert interested in sex. She knew the dopamine and oxytocin would lift their spirits. Normally, he doesn’t have any problems, which she understands is rare for a man in his 40’s. Under the circumstances, it was understandable. She was an expert for herself, however, on how to get in the mood, because as a woman in this world, you either figure this out, or you don’t. Not figuring it out has some of the more saddening sequelae of life. The top reasons people get divorced are problems with sex and money, so Dot was really mindful of those things.


There had been some challenges in those departments over the years like most people have, all on her end, not his, but they were able to navigate them creatively, and with a little patience. When the kids were small and shared a bed with them, they actually stayed in bed once they settled down for the evening, rather than crying or having trouble staying down. The whole family would lay down together in the big bed in their pajamas and either Bert or Dot would read a story. Then they would turn out the light and fall asleep together. It was very much a ritual of love, helping the kids to fall asleep safe and sound all together. After some time, when the kids were in a deep sleep, Dot or Bert or both could slip out of bed and go to another part of the house, and the kids very rarely noticed.


They used this time for all sorts of things. Bert would play online games with his family and friends. Dot would do things like quilt, read books, or binge-watch TV shows. And of course, occasionally they had made love. Over the years, through chatting with her other mom friends, Dot figured out that she and Bert had a more active sex life than most people.


Their lives continued like this until Bert’s family moved back from Colorado. Initially the interruption started with phone calls before 9 am on Saturdays. This is when Dot and Bert would have otherwise woken up slowly and had a morning conjugal visit. Over time, they stopped connecting in this way except once in a blue moon.


Gradually, many of their weekends became dedicated to spending time with extended family. The extended family liked to spend their time trying different wines. Initially, Dot began to find that after visits to her inlaws’ home, she would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. Otherwise, Dot was a great sleeper. She found that this greatly impacted her energy levels.


Dot may have developed a subconscious block around scheduling anything with friends or community on the weekends, because she never knew when they were going to get that 8 am Saturday morning call. This had the effect of eroding her connection with her community. Because her in-laws didn’t have a connection with the community, either, the pressure became greater and greater to spend time with them. This had a terrible effect on Dot and Bert’s sex life, and their trust of each other.


Bert worried about his mother a lot because she was so solitary. They didn’t know why she was so afraid to go out and make friends.


When Bert’s parents would leave town, Dot and Bert’s relationship was great. They started feeling more rested without the early morning phone calls and pressure to visit. The whole family got along better. Bert’s parents left town a lot, so it was easy to see the pattern. Bert’s parents liked to think of themselves as footloose and fancy free, but they still came back for holidays and birthdays. It seemed sometimes like they were only around for the good times, and that when Bert and Dot had struggles, they were nowhere to be found.


None of his family members ever asked her what was going on in her life.


Moreover, her sister-in-law said things over the years that made her feel she was resented. Any effort on Dot’s part to protect her own energy or health was seen as malicious. She didn’t know if she didn’t matter in Bert’s mother’s or sister’s eyes because she didn’t bring in a paycheck, or because she wasn’t related by blood. It felt a little bit like Game of Thrones. Dot feels guilt for having purchased a larger home and contributing to the confusing values.


Bert himself had given up on religion, and all faith. Dot never gave up on faith, but stopped praying.


Every Christmas became increasingly more stressful. Dot just couldn’t seem to catch a break. It didn’t matter that they were non-believers. The family was still expected to take part in the holidays, and their scheduling preferences were not considered. Dot remembers one Christmas when she was in the shower around 12:30 pm thinking she had a few hours to get ready for dinner, when Bert knocked on the door and told her his parents were expecting them at 1 pm. Seriously, this was how the holidays went. Most events were planned by Bert’s mother and sister, and seemed relatively inflexible, even though they said they were flexible. It was probably just a matter of the two of them being so close that nobody else could really be included in their relationship. Sometimes they talked in disappointing ways about other family members who struggle with substance abuse, but never recognized the part that family and conditional love play in the addiction cycle.



It was a real energy and libido killer.


*****


So, Dot and Bert have a chance to get their family back on track. They have a chance to find themselves and figure out what they want to do with their lives. Balancing college and family life had been really challenging for Henry. Neither of Bert’s parents had gone to college, so they did not understand how much time and energy studying took.


Bert never could have taken the path Henry did, because his parents always had an agenda for him regarding their remodeling projects, and those things took precedence over his studying. It was the American Way, or so they thought.


Bert’s parents used to love watching The Apprentice, and they loved spending time with Bert’s conservative aunt and uncle. Dot, Bert and Bert’s liberal siblings were all confused about why Bert’s now supposedly liberal mother would work so hard to maintain the relationship with her conservative brother, and she had explained that it was because he had brought her groceries during her divorce. Bert’s parents’ friends over the years had all been conservative, owing to his parents’ connections in the real estate business and old churches they attended. But they had moved around a lot, and changed a lot in all those years. They had even expressed that there was less and less they could talk about with their conservative family and friends since both of Bert’s siblings were married to immigrants, and one sibling was even gay.


This dynamic made Dot question everything about family structure and hierarchies. It helped her to see that worship of matriarchs and patriarchs keeps people locked into old value systems concentrated on intolerance, wealth, pride, and power.


It certainly made her wary of her kids feeling like they owed her anything in her old age. She didn’t want them to feel kept like Bert and Dot did.

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