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.