Tuesday, April 16, 2019


In a bid to embrace the privileged urban middle aged white woman stereotype that I appear to be indulging of late, I've embarked on my most outré craft pursuit to date - spinning. Like with a spinning wheel. Like Hans Christian Andersen-y. Scott, who gets with my every creative endeavour has continued on his trajectory of support (he helped me to finish the pieces and he put the wheel together) but even he thinks I'm on the edge. Of course, he has to listen to me natter incessantly about this new pursuit; I don't really talk much but when I do I can't seem to stop and it's all about yards per pound and grist and twist angle. He advises that this is only slightly more tolerable conversation than that during the "giving up sugar" days of 2016.

While it may seem as if I conjured this up in a moment of wine-fueled joviality, I've been thinking about spinning for a long time. My favourite aspect of knitting is the tactile joy I obtain from fibre. I'm that person who researches everything about yarn properties and spinning mechanism (worsted vs woolen which I've recently come to learn take on the most amplified denotations in the spinner set). While I don't have much interest in dyeing anything (strange given my love of potions, I realize), I know all about the dye methods of my stash yarns. I'm that silly hobby-farm wannabe to whom they could market yarns from named sheep (as seen on the label!).

But I also love working with my hands. My hands are like my eyes, when I craft. I see with them. Brief sidebar: I've often looked at my hands with concern for their ever aging appearance and occasional, but significant, pain challenges. Let me formally apologize to my lovely, wonderful hands for this ungracious behaviour. They facilitate much of what gives me meaning in my life and I am eternally grateful for them.

At any rate, over the years, I've spent a strange amount of time on YouTube watching spinners in different parts of the world - each having a different lifestyle, background, fibre preference, drafting* techniques - spinning yarn on one crazy wheel after another. Those Saxony-style ones are wild! Given that I am working very actively to develop neuroplastic solutions for biochemical challenges, I'm amazed that it took me so long to realize that this could be my equivalent of a therapy animal. Moreover, though my body/mind is exhausted, my intellectual brain surfaces every once in a while and it needs something to which it may apply itself. Oh, friends, the topic of spinning is effing vast.

Spinning is political, social, economic, feminist, scientific, folkloric, mystical, religious. It encroaches ever-closer toward the beginning of the food and manufacturing chain of which commercial yarn is the end result. Just what it takes to scratch the surface about sheep, their fibre and animal husbandry is hours and hours and hours of internet "fun". Spinning technique is polarizing, in some ways, inclusive in others. It is a solitary endeavour in today's world, at least in person. You think it's hard to find knitting friends? Spinning wheels are rather an investment, so cut that pool by a factor of 100...

By way of deets: I deliberately bought a bobbin-led wheel. Not to spiral down the drain of spinning minutiae, but you know the tools make the artist. I wanted a wheel that would rely more on my emerging skill than the technical capacity (tensile mechanism) of the machine. Also, commercial spinning is bobbin-led. If it's good enough for them... I don't love fiddling with machines. I'd rather know my own capacity and achieve my outcome by calibrating my interaction with the wheel. The bobbin-led mechanism is good for beginners and good for experts. This wheel is one I can use indefinitely, skill notwithstanding.

I also prefer the compact-quality of a castle-style machine (one in which the bobbin/flyer mechanism is placed atop the wheel). Finally, I required a modern-wheel design to suit the style of my home and my own (strong) personal preference. Oh, and I wanted to buy something good - but to spend less than the 1200 bucks and upwards that the fancy wheels cost (to say nothing of the extra kit one must purchase to be set up optimally to learn this skill, see more below).

Meet my Louet S17. It's got the functionality of the pricier S10 but you buy it flat packed, finish it and assemble it:

For this effort, you save about half the price.

But you know I don't do set up by half measures. I've done as much internet research on spinning tools as I could undertake in 3 weeks - which is quite a lot, as it happens. And I determined that, in order to make 3-ply fingering yarn (my end-goal - and I'm happy to meander there as it's meant to be), in addition to my gorgeous wheel, I would require:
  • Stand-alone lazy kate
  • Extra bobbin (so I have 4 large bobbins)
  • Twist angle, TPI and WPI cards
  • Card tags (for sampling) / hole punch
  • Niddy noddy (for skeining and one of the methods for estimating yardage)
  • Magnifying glass (to see the angle of twist on tiny singles)
  • A subscription to Ply magazine. If you are thinking of spinning but haven't yet taken the plunge, invest in an issue of this mag. Just from ads alone it will point you in many interesting directions and it really is a fascinating publication. 
  • Combed top! (This is worsted-prep fibre). I got some super fun wools of different qualities - long staple, medium staple, low micron count (merino), higher micron count (BFL), dyed, undyed, etc. Peeps, this is the wild west of spinning. I note with interest that spinning high-quality fibre is as expensive as buying high-quality yarn - only you don't have to spend hours making the store-bought yarn?!
These are in addition to things I already own:
  • All the digital scales in the land
  • Swift
  • Skein winders 
  • A bobbin winder - cuz did you know a bobbin-led machine is also a bobbin winder??
  • A couple of good spinning books - just make sure you don't undertake this sport without Yarnitecture by Jillian Moreno 
  • A good clothing steamer
For posterity, allow me to advise that, as of this moment, I have no interest in preparing a fleece. That task is replete with bugs and grossness. Moreover, I currently have no interest in dying fleece. There are so many fantastic dyers out there - and they put together beautiful rolags (woolen-prep fibre method) and top (worsted-prep fibre method) that are gorgeously, expertly, dyed. The idea of bringing that degree of mess into my house (and potential for staining things) is not appealing.

What is appealing? Moving into the meditative trance that is spinning. You don't need to be able to make usable yarn to have an awesome time undertaking this activity. To date, I spin, learn and discard my handmade yarn rope.  It is every bit as gorgeously enjoyable as you would imagine having observed spinners on the internet. It really is magic. Also, bar none, it's the best biofeedback tool I've ever come across. There is a universe to understand in every draft and draw. I know that sounds extra, but I say it without hyperbole.

I have barely scratched the surface of my own entry into this topic - itself so vast that I have not the slightest idea of where I might find the next crevice, a foot-hold. One thing I did a bunch of research about (before determining that treadle spinning is where I'm at right now) - is the exciting world of e-spinners. These come in many price points and designs. They do not require treadling because electricity does that part for you. I opted for a standard wheel because, in treadle-spinning, mine is the energy - the current - imparted in the fibre. Having said this, I love the idea of electrical spinning too. The method is portable, exceedingly compact, requires less full-body coordination and it can make very consistent yarn, even as you lounge on the couch. Also, for people with mobility challenges, this may be a viable alternative when treadling isn't in the cards. Alas, I'm the kind of lady who will be inclined to purchase, should it come to pass, a fancy-ass e-spinner. Because, if I do end up buying one, it will be cuz spinning has taken as primary a role in my art. And, at that point, I'll buy the best - and most attractive - tool I can afford.

But today's questions: Do you spin? If yes, what's your wheel? Do you e-spin? If you do both, which do you prefer? Do you feel that you could not live without your flyer-led machine (Scotch tension)? What motivated you to choose the wheel you chose? Are you a "technical spinner" or an "intuitive spinner"? Note: I believe you can be both - this is more to ask about whether you do all the mathy things that come with spinning or just let yourself spin something, the details of which are not interesting to you. I wanna know! Also - what was the best piece of info about spinning that you learned, as a beginner? Oh, just tell me anything!

* Drafting is the art of lengthening the fibre (in accordance with the staple length) to ensure, along with treadle speed and twist, that the yarn is of the grist desired. Grist is a measurement of density / amount of fibre in a length of yarn.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

In Which I Describe How I Became an Artist

When I listen to music, I always find the harmony. It's a strange (and beautiful) thing that my brain does - it hears the alternate melody every time. To make matters more fabulous, I can sing the shit out of that harmony. When I listen to music, I'm confounded by the mystery of everything - as every musician is, I have to assume. Because everything is right there, being pulled from the ether by one's connection to subtlety. This is why music can bring you to the edge of all feeling.

Not to dwell - though if ever I were going to dwell, wouldn't this be the perfect topic, what with its innate optimism? - but when I listen to music I hear math. Never in a zillion years did I think I could ever make such a statement because, truly, I'm still so scarred by Grade 13 calculus that I swear to God, if you paid me, I couldn't tell you what one uses calculus for. I cannot remember a damn thing about it except that I cried through my entire exam. Quietly. And all of my classmates (all 17 of them) felt terrible for me because they couldn't understand how I could be so far from connecting the dots - interpreting logic. I couldn't understand it either.

When I learned to knit* (for the second time, 8 years ago), I started to feel math in my fingers. Allow me to restate this, to belay any confusion: I'm not that girl who grew up "getting" math and seeing numbers metaphorically scribbled in the air. I avoided math my whole life. Math found me and it found me in the form of art.

Admittedly, it muscled its way in there. My father is a math person. I studied piano, 'cello, voice - all numeric on some level. Cooking and baking are mathy arts (and I have never spent 3 seconds being concerned by this - if that's the price of pretty food, math away). I was always making things, things you could eat or read (ah, cadence). I wanted a chemistry set so badly - until I realized baking was a chemistry set you could use for eating purposes. I'm nothing if not practical. (Also, it didn't freak out my parents the way sulphur would have.)

When I listen to music, I'm enveloped in the vast buoyancy of the creative spirit. It's like when I go to the art gallery. I look at a painting and I feel the brush strokes as they were applied. Don't ask me how I know. I am frequently driven to tears, feeling what the artist felt in her fingers (esp when I listen to piano and 'cello), back-pedaling through the history of human emotion. You may say: Kristin, you have no fucking idea what that artist felt. I tell you, I do. Because it's not a timeline, it's mindline. We've just tapped into the same well, momentarily.

Artists connect with a place that's hidden from many. The reason I love The Mists of Avalon so much is because it explains my relationship with art as magic, magic being its own art. Artistry is a deep, remote plane. I knew I was an artist from the get go. Words would form in pattern. Textures would call to me in a strange language. It's what I imagine "healers" feel. They connect with a vast well of human reckoning. That's what I do, only the energy I reckon with is the beauty of form.

I was out for lunch the other day; you know that Scott is monitoring me carefully and we sometimes go down the block so that I can achieve my daily exposure to stimulus. We went to our place that doesn't stress me out, down the block, a place that we've been frequenting for 20 years. While talking with our server, the convo gradually turned to her life. She's a student at OCADU (our art university in TO), a painter, and she showed me some photos of her work. I was blown away, btw. She's got talent (and I don't go out of my way to say this). I'm going to buy one of her pieces, though I can't say when. Eventually, she asked me what I do. Natch, this is a strange moment for me to be confronted by that question, but - with nary a pause - I said: I'm a textile artist.

I don't where it came from but I was not horrified in the moment when I said this. It was the truth. I no longer feel that calling myself an artist is nervy. The universe has been holding a special space for me in the plane of art and I've refused to inhabit it because, on the one hand, how can I be something if I don't earn money doing it? On the other hand, artists are so very special. How can I put myself in that elevated domain?

Let me tell you how. I work constantly on my art. It starts off mediocrely. I improve it via research and reading and deep observation and becoming, on some level, its form as I make it. I start with an idea and I refine it into an object. I feel it in my fingers before it becomes something. It is a part of me and a part of something much beyond me. But when I make it, for a brief moment, I touch what's beyond me and it fills me with spectacular joy.

I have no idea of what to make of this, but when we talked, we talked the language of art and I was authentic. I will leave parts of myself behind in my work as the women of Shetland did. I will continue to cast spells in all of my garments as I have since the beginning. I will continue to sing the harmony.

* In a huge irony, the woman who taught me to knit when I was 12 - my next door neighbour Judy - was a brilliant high school math teacher?! She also happened to teach at the school where my (longest-standing) friend Hilary's mother taught drama - all the way on the other side of the city. Judy told me about Hilary before I met her at French summer school (our public school learning on the topic was not adequate and we were both joining SCS in Grade 7, so extra school it was). While intense education upended my knitting options in adolescence, I have so much gratitude for Judy who, in retrospect, taught me much more than I ever could have imagined at the time. In another irony, I found myself working with her daughter-in-law 10 years ago - the partner of the baby I looked after in my teens. And this was determined, bizarrely, because my name was written on a piece of paper than France (the DIL) brought home from work and Judy saw. I haven't seen Judy in 30 years. This is what I mean when I say TO is a village!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Why I Don't Like Knitting Top-Down Sweaters "In the Round"

Unless you're new to knitting sweaters, you've probably considered multiple reasons why the seamed versions may be preferable to the ones one knits in the round - particularly the top-down raglan kind. Having considered all of the factors, you may still prefer to knit a lot of top-down raglans in the round and, if that's the case, round-away. Every time I knit one though, it does not spark joy (and btw, neither does that stupid term that is now so deeply embedded in my mind, I appear to use it conversationally?!). It actually sparks irritation. Like, from beginning to end. So why have I just done it again??

Allow me to elaborate.

For starters, I think we can agree that knitting any sweater is a worthy project and one should feel very good about giving it a go and learning and completing it and wearing it and taking all the credit while wearing. However, I do believe it's clear that the knit-in-the-round sweaters (KITR from here on in) are technically "easier" than the worked-flat sort, all things being equal. FWIW, no one is going to argue that knitting any sweater - even the chunkiest thing, done in the round in stockinette with no embellishments of any type - is a quick win. For a new knitter (or one who loves the fit and style), KITRs are great. But in my personal experience, things generally look complicated when they are complicated.

Here's the thing - I do like complexity and I cannot lie. I don't think I've ever made a KITR that I've worn in the end. I've given them away or ripped them back to reuse the yarn. As I rarely make sweaters using needles that are thicker than 3mm with any yarn above sport-weight (and that's slim yarn, for the non-knitters who may be reading), that means I have spent a considerable amount of time in my day making sweaters that I then rip out. And, yeah, I do feel bad about having wasted hours and hours of time.

Moreover, here's what I generally dislike about the KITR:
  • In its standard format, it's a "one size fits all" construction methodology, assuming that the body is equally dimensioned on the front and back.
  • In order for the neckline to sit well, the front body needs to be "lower" than the back body, which requires short-rowing of the sweater just below the ribbing. It's super hard to do this well when knitting stockinette, IMO. German short rows (or maybe Japanese) are the best way to go...
  • I like seams! They give structure but they also delineate the garment. The KITR feels a bit like an eel when you wear it (to me). Where are all of the lines?
  • KITR construction is boring. Even when you shake it up - and I've thought long and hard about how I'm going to do my next KITR (yeah, I'm not going to pretend it'll never happen again - these patterns are popular!) such that the angle of the raglan sleeve will be very acute. It's still apt to be a massive amount of stockinette (not that it needs to be, I suppose). Knit stitch forever is not as fun as breaking it up with lace or cables or colour work or even a freakin' increase/decrease every once in a while. I didn't think I'd ever say this but, there you go.
  • Depending on whom you talk to, the raglan sleeve calls attention to a proportionately large bust. I actually believe that a raglan worked well need not do this, but I agree that the "standard" raglan proportions can have this impact. Changing the angle of the raglan can mitigate this, as can knitting the body at diff inc ratios than the sleeves. But then this method becomes less simple.
  • I have slim arms. And proportionately large breasts. The kind of raglan that fits me is so "unequally worked" that I can only increase evenly (aka 8 stitches per row) for part of the time. Add in the fact that my shoulder to armscye dimension is very short (6.75") and it's a bunch of crazy going on that I could totally avoid by using just about any other sort of sleeve construction. If I'm going to do math, why not go fancy?
You can see where I'm coming from.

I made my most recent raglan (the Party Top) because I was in the mood for a palate (palette?!) cleansing quick knit with a fun painted superwash yarn that's reminiscent of Madeline Tosh. Yeah, it did occur to me that I should find a raglan-sleeved pattern for fingering-weight yarn but the DK-weight party top seemed (dare I admit it) faster.

If you don't like "robust" yarn for a slim-lined sweater, don't freakin' use it (says Kristin to herself, having used it). Note: While many will suggest that DK-weight is fairly slender yarn, those who hang out in Thin-Fingeringland tend to disagree.

But this story ends up well. While I may eventually rip back this raglan pullover in DK-weight yarn, I've learned a LOT:
  • Tubular cast off!!! It's so easy and so fun. I will never bind off a hem without it again. Note: My first attempt isn't perfect but my improvement ratio gives me lots of hope. There are a zillion tutorials for 1x1 rib tubular cast off - or 2x2 for that matter. Find one and try it out. I swear, it is in no way scary.
  • No part of this sweater has escaped being ripped back at least once. My willingness to do this has yielded some great fit - even if the overall construction doesn't thrill me.
  • I hate twisted rib. In the round it's bad enough. Knit flat (I did knit my sleeves flat so that I could diminish the too-large upper arm circumference optimally quickly, while trying to avoid too much fabric under the arm) it's a misery. I'm done with twisted rib in any volume because it causes me wrist and thumb pain.
  • I have really slender arms in the scheme of things. I've got to stop making sleeves an inch to 2 inches too big in diameter, simply because the pattern ratios call for it. The thickest part of my bicep is less than 10" in circumference. Most raglans assume that one has arms of a certain girth when one has boobs of a certain size. This ain't the construction method for me (unless I want to fuss - and who wants to fuss with a purportedly unfussy construction method that isn't even that cute or structural in the end).
  • I don't actually like the look of any of the hand-knit raglan "shoulder seams" that one can devise - they all seem kind of homemade to my eye.
  • Should I do this again, I've got some tricks to try that I believe will improve the angle of the raglan (to better suit my frame), change the shape of the neckline and provide a less-chunky-feeling outcome (this involves a raglan made with lace-weight yarn?!!?).
I'm starting to understand that the sweaters I enjoy making are complexly patterned and either thicker than or thinner than DK/sport-weight because, for me, the neckline and shoulder fit are PARAMOUNT. Truth is, if I want a slender, fitted knit, I'm better off buying some jersey and sewing a top OR going to a nice store and spending on a machine knit of slender-gauge.

But enough about me. What's your perspective on this? Do you like the top-down raglan knit in the round? Do you prefer another construction method? Do you like the skinny yarn best? Do you, by any chance, have proportionately slim arms and big boobs but still find raglans attractive? Let's talk!

Monday, February 18, 2019

From Pain to Equilibrium: Resources

I've been working my way up to posting a huge tome about best-practice methods for managing chronic myofascial pain but, truly, it's a massive topic that's so close to home, once I'm done living it, I'm scarcely motivated to continue the conversation.

Having said this, I've written at length about this sort of pain, over many years, so I would recommend - if this post is resonant - that you use the handy search field at the top of this page and type in your subject of note. Chances are high that I've spoken about it (at some length) before...

At the end, this post includes a repository of those methods and mechanisms for peeps who are interested to learn about what works best for me. The potential benefit here, from the perspective of one trying to understand how to manage his or her own chronic pain, is that I've tried just about everything - and many things I'd never be able to come up with on my own - to move the yardstick from pain to "normal". So there's a lot to go through in this blog. If I haven't covered the subject - the internet is vast and I recommend that you put on some good music and get googling :-) because knowledge is power, my friends!

Here's the thing: there is no one definition of chronic pain. What it feels like in my body - and what triggers it - is unique. It's that way for us all, though few practitioners will disclose this (they do need a raison d'etre) - and, statistically, few support practitioners wade through the chaos of chronic pain in their own lives. So the first thing I have to say is that your only way out is YOUR way out. While they may support in many meaningful contexts, it's very unlikely that your sports med doc and your GP and your rheumatologist and your psychiatrist (these peeps do know drugs) and your physiotherapist and your massage therapist and your pain clinic and your cardiologist and your acupuncturist and your yoga therapist and your INSERT NEXT DOCTOR HERE are going to provide you with the answer. Just ask anyone with chronic pain.

To drive this point home again... Put 2 people in a room, both suffering from the after-effects of a concussion, and you will almost certainly find yourself looking at 2 totally different presentations of pain and other symptomology. It's just that way with all chronic pain - myofascial, fibromyalgic, neuropathic and so on. What's the common denominator? A dysregulated central nervous system. As a macro, this intel is very useful. On the micro-level, it's almost meaningless.

I will also disclose, at this juncture, what with my being a fully-formed middle-aged person who can no longer be bothered to hide behind social mores, that I have experienced so many bizarre symptoms and forms of pain at this point, I scarcely know how to quantify them - except to say that I hid many of them from most of my medical practitioners for years because - you heard it here first - those symptoms freaked me out so significantly.

I think you'd agree, I don't come off as the kind of person who hides things cuz they're too scary to think about.

Chronic pain is also, 9/10 times, accompanied or defined by a series of co-morbid conditions that overlap - again, cuz central sensitization occurs at the centre - the CNS - spiraling out in a series of metaphoric floral motifs (what? I need to find some creativity in this topic). We might as well call it "one really nasty outcome of CNS dysregulation" because it never is one thing - it's everything. Which is why you can't fix it like a UTI.

But back to my special format: myofascial. In layperson terms, a swirly vortex of pain likes to inhabit various different zones in my body, almost like a poltergeist. That pain can be extremely intense, coming on like lightning and lasting mere moments to weeks, or dull and systemic, also lasting moments to weeks. It can be notably neuropathic (migraines, "sciatica") to utterly muscular (that phenomenon I refer to as "turtling" where every muscle within a certain zone becomes observably as hard as steel). Sometimes it tangos, elegantly, with SVT, producing an otherworldly sensation. I've also got some joint pain due to that lovely, early-onset osteoarthritis and all of the inflammation it brings to the fore. In some ways, the most problematic sensation isn't full-on pain but mass inflexibility. Though no one would define me as anything other than physically flexible, I feel internally stuck in a way that makes me want to tear at my skin so that I can be liberated from its confines.

For me, right now, fascia - that lovely layer that covers everything in the body, so it's got real estate - isn't functioning "normally". The fibers are unyielding, so replete with nerves that, for the "right" person, alighting the nerve response is like shooting fish in a barrel. Hilariously, I'm hyper mobile in certain ways. For example, in my years of fancy-ass yoga practice, I managed to bypass all of the myofascial triggers that warn me of an impending pain flare. And I suffered. Just cuz something looks pretty doesn't mean it isn't causing harm. And natch, just because it causes harm in one person in one time period, doesn't mean that it will in the next. Note: My yoga practice, in as much as it's brought on pain, is likely the thing that's saved me from the very ebb - so nothing is simple.

Believe it or not, while age has given volume to the pain, my management plan is so utterly sophisticated at this point, I'm faring far better than I did a decade ago. Of course, a decade ago, I wasn't having to manage it as constantly or fervently. And a decade ago my life had not spiraled into the complex landscape that it is today.

As I re-read this post, I imagine that you must be thinking: Lord, Kristin must be freaking out about the unknown end state of all of this. In case that's crossed your mind, let me assure you that I am not. I don't have that luxury and - mercifully - I don't have that mindset. Miraculously, I'm able to view this through the prism of experimentation. I believe absolutely in the power of my mental flexibility. To me, everything is a game, a puzzle. Pain management is how I occupy my time when I'm not doing all of the other things (or in lieu of, on occasion, suboptimally). Say what you will, I am incomparably fortunate to have this natural propensity. Other than money and my awesome husband, this is my strongest protective factor. These three things are a worthy triumvirate.

But other things also help immeasurably (and in no particular order):
  • MELT Method (a type of myofascial bodywork done with a special roller)
  • Yoga / Bodywork: For me it's traction and therapeutic, for the most part, these days (Note: I'm a teacher with 30 years of experience. Don't try this at home if you don't know what you're doing. Just look up by a couple of paragraphs and you'll see why.)
  • Acupressure mats and pillows: I call these my head and bed of nails
  • Body scrubbing: for those with fucked up fascia, this is way more useful than you might imagine. It takes a while though and it requires a certain amount of flexibility.
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture: combined with massage, this is extremely effective in a time-limited fashion
  • Nutrition: I follow a Primal Lifestyle diet and avoid all grains, processed foods and sugar. We're all unique but this particular diet-style seems to work for lots when it comes to pain management.
  • Supplements: You should talk to your naturopath about which ones are best for you. Magnesium glycinate and vit D are usually good for everyone.
  • Sleep: improvement by whatever means necessary. Arguably, this is the most important one of all if you read through the studies.
  • Extremely moderate exercise: (Is that even a thing?) Walking, but not as much as you'd like. Yoga or cycling - but not so much that you hit a limit. Managing pain is all about understanding the parameters. This has been my biggest challenge because I'm not moderate. People have been telling me for years to do weight work. Every time I do it, I end up in pain. For me, the optimal weight work is in using my own body in certain modified yoga poses I've spent years honing. Peeps with chronic pain often produce that pain with exercise not because exercise is bad but because those peeps have a dysregulated CNS, symptomologically exacerbated by certain exercise. Remember, everyone is unique.
  • Meditation and CBT: At some point, you're going to have to wade into the depths of grief caused by pain that doesn't appear to be going away according to your timeline (or that dictated by your sanity). You're also likely going to be awake for that dark night of the soul. Learn these by whatever means possible. Bonus: Everyone should be doing this so you'll just be extra-sassy and ahead of the curve!
  • Any functional neuroplastic method you can find or make up: And yeah, you can totally make it up. Seriously, if you can fake knitting, you can fake neuroplasticity until you get there!
  • Pharmaceuticals: Ain't gonna wade into this topic, which is vast and laden with landmines. But if you've had chronic pain, chances are you've gone down this path. For myofascial pain, muscle relaxants that work on the brain (i.e. cyclobenzaprine) can be very helpful, if they work. Drugs can be long-term or short-term. Aim for short-term because the consequences are usually more tolerable.
  • Medical cannabis: Another vast topic... One day I'll start a blog on this topic. Note: Most doctors don't know what the hell they're doing on this topic. I have to assume this will change.
  • Trigger avoidance: Alas, you need to know what these are in order to utilize this method.
  • Getting the co-morbid conditions under control: For example: If you have anxiety disorder that's contributing to your CNS dysregulation, consider an SSRI. Or, if you have structural TMJD, get a mouth gizmo. If you can't sleep, you MUST figure that shit out. Nothing will improve till sleep does.
  • Learn by books and blogs: I won't lie. There aren't a ton of good pain blogs out there. This cohort isn't at its snappiest much of the time. I only hope that, if we consider mine a pain blog at this juncture, it isn't boring and it is helpful. There are a lot of studies out there to become acquainted with. Painscience.com speaks of them at length. (This blog is sometimes useful but often strident, be warned.) Also, there's a great book that provides tremendous insight and practical support re: the relationship between CNS dysregulation and pain: The Fibro Manual by Ginevra Liptan. You don't need to have fibromyalgia to benefit from this book. It pertains to all pain and sleep disorders. It's also written by an MD who lives with fibromyalgia so it's got some street cred. It's neither allopathically nor "alternatively" focused. It takes a multi-pronged approach, really, the only one works. I also recommend Healing through Trigger Point Theraapy: A Guide to Fibromyalgia, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction by Starlanyl and Sharkey.
  • A collegial relationship with as many of your doctors as possible: Note: When you need them most, that's when your ability to maintain and develop collaboration will be at its weakest. These people need to see you in good times and in bad.
  • DNA testing, but not if you aren't one of those peeps who likes to learn about gene-coding and then to figure out science.
  • Friends / Family / Pets: (though not if you need to care for these on your own) Don't discount the magic of community. When you can do nothing else, you can accept love and support from those who care about you - and give it when you see pain in your midst. Pain's one optimistic trait is the compassion that it brings to the fore. May we all leverage this to our advantage.
  • Knitting: No joke, I am currently sane because of yarn an needles (and not just the acupuncture kind). You can swap in anything that brings you tactile joy, that soothes your soul, that creates beauty and that can be done anywhere. And then do it cuz it doesn't work otherwise.
It's amazing to me that this is just part of the daily regimen that helps me and is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I've tried to date - or will try in the future. Hope it provides a starting off point for anyone who may be able to benefit from my insight thus far.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fascinating Question, Fun Game

I was just lamenting, in email, the ways in which my life is not analogous to Mimi Thorisson's. I've been vaguely obsessed by the idea of going to one of her cooking weeks in Medoc, for years. There's one that's all about drinking wine - no joke. She doesn't even try to make it seem "pairing-oriented", just about getting one's wine-on at 10am. I appreciate her honesty.

She's also 40-something with 8-ish kids (many of which she's birthed), 100 dogs and a kitchen with a massive hearth. She looks twenty-something with the figure of a sexy elf and her house has bones, people. Like, it saw action in the second world war and the first world war and the revolution.

Effectively, I read her cookbook when I want to feel bad about being me, I mean, be aspirational.

So my smart friend, replied to my envy-laden email, with something to the effect that I don't like children, I don't like taking care of anything living, I don't like to leave the house in bad weather (and let's face it, Medoc ain't known for its sun) and I can't stand having my photo posted unless I'm in control / may choose from 100 versions of my profile, but then I'm also too lazy to go through this process.

And I was like, OMG. That is beyond true. Even if that woman is living the dream (her husband is Icelandic in a hot way), she has to deal with more children and dogs - even if she has lots of help - than I could possibly get with. Even more than you could get with. Be real. Can you imagine how many creatures are touching the walls in that chalet?!? I'd be losing my shit.

Then my friend asked me to consider, if I could twitch my nose and have all the money I would ever need and more, how would I actually change my life. That's a strangely fascinating question. And it's not that hard to answer.

Here's what I came up with:
  • I'd quit my job. Not because I don't love many aspects of my career (and I do) - and not because I don't love having a job to go to, with so many amazing friends and colleagues - but it's a vortex of stress by anyone's standards and it's probably the most implicated factor in my pain condition challenges.
  • I'd buy a couple of apartments out of Toronto - one as a base in Europe, the warm and sunny part, one in Mtl. I'd have them renovated perfectly but I'd have money to throw at those renos. I'd have people for that shit! Of course, I would keep my TO home. There are few more fab places to live between June and October than Toronto.
  • I'd give fun gifts to everyone I know or to people I hear about who need some TLC. You tired? Have a week in Barbados. Wanna see Easter Island before you die? Check. Is there a cashmere sweater you can't walk away from? No need to. Wanna eat the best meal ever? So do I! Note - I'm adequately selfish to do this on my own terms. Peeps aren't going to bamboozle me.
  • I'd give money to all sorts of causes - including chronic pain researchers and those who work to make the world safer for everyone.
  • I'd have an entire room dedicated to the best yarn - like my own shop (and I'd give yarn away to those who need it which, let's face it, is everyone!) - and I'd have a super-modern spinning wheel that's utterly chic and I'd have my own alpacas on a farm that sends me the roving and photos of my cute alpacas and when I chose I would visit them.
  • I'd have in-home saunas everywhere - the custom kind.
  • I'd have a housekeeper and chef and body work therapist of choice, onsite at whenever I need them, but they wouldn't be in my space or cause me anxiety. (I'm pretty sure you can buy this, somehow.)
  • I'd go to health spas whenever I felt like it. The kind in Germany that double as fancy spas.
  • I'd have a good wine cellar. I'd fully give into my snobisme du vin. There would only be "weekend" wine. (Hell, there's only weekend wine now. This is a no-brainer.)
  • I'd travel first class. Everywhere. Not business class. Not private plane. I want first class and I regret to tell you that it's because I'm so small-minded that I LOVE to be the first on and the first off and to be sure that there are no double-bookings of my seat and to have access to the washroom that 800 people with a cold aren't also eligible to use. And to have glasses and dishware that isn't plastic. And to be able to use the fancy lounge at the international airports. And to get ice cream mid-flight. OMG - and I'd book the first 3 rows of non-first class so that I'd be sure no babies would be allowed anywhere near me. (And then I'd give the seats away to those who had been overbooked on the flight - as long as they don't have small kids. Sorry people with babies on a plane. I'm not your friend. But if you want a good bottle of wine...)
  • I'd start a couple of "foundations" aka Kristin-funded projects that are enjoyable and that improve the world (IMO): One would be a bra-fitting and sourcing outfit (pun intended) where those who need gorgeous bras but can't afford them could go to learn more about fit, and/or gain access to good products. I'd have one rule - everyone gets matching sets and I would ensure that my fave vendors got tons of press (Broad, I'm looking at you.) The other would be a medical cannabis network wherein I could use my years of experience (and I'm not overstating it when I say that I know more about this topic than just about anyone else I've ever met), both cannabis- and pain-related, to give people actual, discrete and detailed info that may improve their lives. Cannabis doctors are a bizarrely uninformed lot and I am a bizarrely data-oriented pain-haver. I've got charts.
  • I'd run knitting retreats for people with chronic pain, teaching them how to knit ergonomically and with a yogic/meditative philosophy. There would be sheep on hand (but in a barn!). There would also be indoor pets (that are perfectly clean at all times) for people to cozy up next to that would be walked magically, and not by me.
But never mind me. I'd love to know what you would do to change your current life if, all of a sudden, you were financially all set. You get to choose! No rules! Please come up with some fun tales because I'm in the mood to imagine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Perhaps you can relate to this: a scenario in which there is much to say but no earthly way to say it in a blog post (or a memoir, frankly). I've hesitated to write because there's no sassy vignette to relay, just the deeply chaotic part of transformation. It's dull on paper. It's brutal to live through. What I can say is that, if you are (un)fortunate enough to meet your limit, chances are your identity is swimming in the dark realm of Hades.

BTW, no one has accused me of being light-hearted these last few months. To give a brief overview of the situation, I've been on medical leave since mid-October for a variety of reasons, the prominent ones being arrhythmia and horrendous pain. The arrhythmia is now under control, though it took a good month (fwiw, I barely leave the house, so loath am I to encounter stimulus). The pain has thrown me for a loop (not that I have that degree of flexibility lately).

You will rarely find a person having chronic pain that doesn't also have a very high pain tolerance because the pain is untethered. Centralized, chronic pain is a different beast than the standard-issue (also potentially intense) acute variety. I think we can all agree, what with science confirming it in recent years, all pain comes from neural interpretation. And when your brain decides to turn everything into a platform for pain, well, it can be torment. The very instrument that defines me, that creates and justifies my identity, seems intent on driving me to near madness. Actually, I don't think it cares if I come near the madness or surpass it. It has a mind of its own which I am handcuffed to. That mind is called fear. Don't kid yourselves, fear is to pain what munchies are to the stereotypical pothead.

What I've learned this time around - and it's taken me almost 3 months to get to this stage (three months of navigating the health system when I could barely function), is that there is no way beat central sensitization without becoming someone new. And it's very hard to become someone new at the best of times, much less when you can't think straight - literally. My very way of being predisposes me to live with something untenable. My style has always been to power through - to be bigger than the discomfort - because, frankly, that's how I define used to define capacity. But that response is as culpable for pain's entrenchment as my genetic make-up or the chance-y spin of the wheel that makes me all of the things I am.

Not to dwell on my symptomology because it's both boring and quite enough to fucking live it, but I manage a variety of co-morbid conditions, which is proving to be a serious pain-provoker in concert with my ruminative brain. On any given day something is bound to hurt - that's just how it goes. But nothing has ever hurt like the pain I started to experience about 6 weeks ago. (Not even broken bones or traumatic childbirth with no meds.) Mercifully, while doing everything non-medical to move out of this phase, I'm on a cocktail of drugs that's masking the pain* but every once in a while it breaks through, even as I sense the inflammatory cycle is running its course. What is left in its wake is fear. Fear of pain that I will not be able to manage, though ironically it's likely the inability to manage fear that's amplifying pain.

This bout has been partly neuropathic, partly muscle-based. Bizarre muscular contraction sensitized nerves which then gave ballast to additional muscular contraction. While in spasm, my left upper leg feels as if it's being stabbed with a knife, routinely. I'm not being dramatic. Note to all: I am also using every non-drug methodology at my access - which is really where I excel in pain management, but Lord, this run briefly brought me to my knees. Fear is the ego of the autonomic body. It will be heard at unspeakable volume, if that's what it takes. And till you dig through the debris of fear, the pain has free-reign. FWIW, this moment is likely being "caused" (inasmuch as chronic pain has known cause) by those delightful osteophytes that line my spine - those unattractive little bone sprus that, statistically, half of you have too, to some degree, by the age of 50, and that you don't even know about because you've never experienced pain as a result.

I recently read the comment of a chronic pain-haver, on describing her unending conditions, symptoms and reasons for said misery, as giving her "pain street cred", a term with which I can relate all too well. I'm kind of an expert so I recommend that you listen to me when I say this: There is no exit until you can identify in what way your bodily pain is the biophysical interpretation of everything, including perceived** (if not actual) non-physical trauma - because your body's perception is all that you require to put you in this dubious club.

By its own estimation, my body has been running daily marathons for years - hypersensitized in just about every way because my inbred response to any fucking stimulus (for example: someone walking quietly into a room where I am sitting) is over-activation of my central nervous system. And just about nothing in my life (which I have created - it's on me) is "stress-lite". You can't hope to eradicate perceived trauma until you can observe it consciously and physical pain is a worthy distraction, in addition to being a learned, ruminative, biochemical response. It's my job to find some way to make it clear to my body-mind that perceived trauma transmuted into pain is no longer a necessary, nor is it a desirable response. I really don't like to admit this. I don't want to believe that my physical pain has any psychoemotional subtext because I'm fucking strong. My brain is powerful. I accomplish.

Pain makes me weak because it scares the fucking shit out of me. It's the final unknown, like death - but probably worse because death is a moment in time. Pain is the encroachment of death in the form of fear. I say this not to clinically depress us all, but to remind my potent sensitivity of its culpability in this cycle. I'm not casting blame, though I definitely judge myself and, yeah, I know that's counterproductive. I'm reminding my sensitive self that its biggest obstacle is also its greatest strength.

I've said before on this blog, generally when referring to New Year's resolutions, that I'd be wise to cultivate some compassion. It's like I didn't get that chip when they constructed my emotional motherboard. Instead, I got a triple of the critical eye. My ability to criticize, specifically analytically, is pivotal to the work I do professionally. It's also pivotal to the way I conduct myself everywhere cuz girl likes her groove.

I am working constantly, on this leave of absence, aka the least fun I've ever had in my life, to become neurochemically and behaviourally different (thanks meditation and CBT and 'script cannabis and traction yoga and pharmaceuticals and supplements and acupuncture/cupping and cold-pressed juice shots and my GP and the specialists I've been seeing and my husband and my mom and my friends and lots of books on the topic and bad Netflix which is sometimes the only thing that keeps anyone going, let's get real). I have no manual for this - engaging with myself under new parameters, working all the angles to find compassion for myself - my original victim - so that I can let go of the relentless grip. I'm hovering in the stratosphere of fear, where the air is paper thin. But I'm also at a moment of great transition, an opportunity for nervous reconstruction - an overhaul. I'm to be reassembled without instruction but according to a noble plan. And as always, my money's on me. I'm a worthy project.

*Alas, these are not drugs that one can take indefinitely. My work these last 6 weeks has been to find a way to decrease the pain (via non-drug formats) while tapering the medication. Note also that I have never before inferred that pharmaceuticals may be a desirable long term solution - which is evidence of the degree of pain I have found myself in of late.

** There are many who have experienced actual physical trauma or who have been harmed by internalized psychological trauma but I use the term "perceived" deliberately. There are some who have lived through war and abuse who do not have chronic pain, perhaps because they haven't somatized it - probably because that's not how they're wired. Or perhaps, credit where it's due, because they've done some hard fucking work.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trigger Warning

No one is ever going to accuse me of being hardy. (Note: I routinely spell this word hearty, which is a delightful pun as I grapple with the existential meaning of arrhythmia.) If I were an artist, I'd be a consumptive poet (long have I felt this deep within). If I were a bug, I'd be of the potato variety, stuck on the rigid shell of my back, flailing my legs. If I were a flower I'd be night-blooming jasmine, fragrant but consigned to the time when everything sleeps.

I've spent my whole life grappling with my differentness - how I think, how I feel things, how I struggle, how I excel. And yet, I pass. I mean, in every way. I'm a person of Puerto Rican and Italian heritage who's as WASPy-looking as they come. (Actually, ask anyone and they'll tell you that, if I were a cultural sterotype, I would be a WASP.) I'm an introvert who somehow manages to present (as if without effort) like Auntie Mame. I'm a person who feels physically bereft at the sight of clouds, living in a place that (admittedly due to climate change) comes off like a cross between Ireland and Vancouver but with ice storms and bitter, damp cold - and without any of the charm or good geography. I love, love, love people and community and I am all too often limited in enjoying these things up close and personal - though as infrequently as possible - because the constant stimulus can start to feel like the singe-ing of hair on the back of my neck. Weird sidebar: I used to have the worst time having my hair cut because I could feel the energy of the scissors (and the holder of the scissors) tickling me and poking at me, even while each was still a foot away (and even if I didn't even know they were behind me).

But my most masterful play, dare I say it, is in my very normal affect given that I am often in excessively irritating to utterly extreme physical pain which (mercifully) cycles from place to place. Let's not dwell on diagnostics here. They don't matter.

Make no mistake - stuck with pain and given the choice, I would much rather appear entirely unphased, totally healthy, robust, energetic and carefree. But I imagine it's challenging for people to understand how, given that I always finish the job on time and generally with a smile, I'm nonetheless on one specific plane falling apart. Lord knows I've been wondering this for as long as I can remember. And the bitch about planes is that they all end up intersecting at some point.

It's never been an easy time to be a sensitive person, but I do think today presents its own array of terrible obstacles - particularly if you live amongst millions. I'm not here to define sensitivity. It's everywhere - dust in the corners. It's as you see it, as you feel it. Some people - we might call them lucky - can push it away at will. In my anecdotal experience, those peeps seem very hardy. They're the ones who can, unhindered, run marathons, lift heavy boxes, work 20 hours straight. The stimulus bounces from them (likely ricocheting to me!) Some even thrive in the fray. Of course, in my anecdotal experience, I don't know how many of these people are also passing, but I've done my "research" (via a casual little conversational questionnaire I've devised) and most of the ones I see as hardy actually are. Or they're lying. These people can push themselves to the physical limits without pain, not that they necessarily do. When a noise goes off without warning, they're not the ones who jump a foot and then spend the next minute doing self-devised, vagus nerve stimulation exercises.

I've been given the opportunity (and I'm not being entirely glib) of pain for years, in all kinds of places, pain that comes and goes like the cycles of weather - but less predictably. Why? Because it has revealed to me that sensitive people of a certain sort have limited filter separating sensation between body and mind (that's a hardy person thing) and you can't begin to manage things if you don't see them. Spoiler alert: Most likely, management doesn't involve powering through which is rather unfortunate since, to date, that's been my primary MO.

I love to compare things. Everything. It's the basis of whatever envy I have, my natural curiosity, my pattern-seeking way. But I'm not here to compare the hardy to the sensitive. We look the same but we might as well be dogs and cats. The world doesn't show itself to us equivalently. We live harmoniously in the same domain but we are not in the same place.

I am not inferior because I am physically weak. I am physically weak because I'm intercepting every fucking feather-brush of stimulus in my proximity. My brain gives me something that others don't have. Sure, most wouldn't take it, but it's still a grand experience - the beauty and depth of which they may never be able to appreciate. By my nature, IMO, I'm also expressing generational epigenetics - and probably actual crap genes. This is neither science nor magic - it's the convergence of the two.

In the way we are physically changed by music when we hear (or better yet play) it, by the patterns of numbers in code, by the stitches of fabric being formed, I am changed by the slightest flutter. I'm your canary in the coal mine. I have something big to give. I just don't know how to do it.