Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria – the journey back to wellness

Last night was my first solid night of sleep in three months.

Three months.

Seriously, let that sink in. I’ve been tossing and turning (and itching) every single night for months. Layers and layers of antihistamines and mild sleep aids did nothing to help me fall asleep, and I never slept more than 2-3 hours in a row (and those were mostly after several days of sleeplessness in a row).

So, what’s changed?

Let me start at the beginning. In October, I started getting this itchy rash on my thighs and hands. Already on Singulair and Claritin, I added Benadryl to the mix and saw my doctor. She gave me steroids and a few blood tests for food allergies; the steroids reduced the spread of the rash, but the tests had nothing to tell me. My arms fell victim next, and the doctor gave me another round of steroids, a script for Zyrtec to replace my Claritin, and a referral to a dermatologist.

Getting an appointment with a dermatologist is a joke! The first referral offered me an appointment for the end of January, which was two months away at that time. Thankfully, the second referral got a more serious response and an appointment that same day. I rush to the dermatologist’s office for help.

There was good news. I didn’t have shingles or scabies or anything contageous. I was given a steroid cream this time, to apply wherever I had the rash. She also did a biopsy, giving me my very first stitch after taking a little piece of my arm. The results came back as hives (in fancy science speak – urticaria) with an unknown cause.

Chronic hives (urticaria lasting more than 6 weeks) are stressful. Aside from the lack of sleep, I was an anxious basketcase when faced with an unexplained attack from my own body. I had minor hysteria when I watched new patches forming on previously unaffected skin. Needless to say, depression is greatly affected when you feel like a leper tied to an anthill; I didn’t want to do anything, period.

My medicinal regime turned into: Zantac, Benadryl, and Clobetasol Propionate (cream) in the morning; Benadryl throughout the day, almost ever 4 hours, to stave off some of the itch; Zantac, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Singulair, and Clobetasol Propionate (cream) at night. In addition, I used an eczema-friendly lotion after the cream each morning and night; the cream itself smells like burnt rubber and stings, but it kept things from getting worse.

My next appointment was scheduled for a month from the biopsy visit, to allow the medicines time to work before trying anything else. They didn’t work, at least not really. I wasn’t sleeping, even as I tried removing caffiene from my life and adding chamomile tea (and recently melatonin as well).

I did lots of research. My brain is in a constant chemical fog, but factual actions (research vs creative writing) still work just fine. I found lots of people who were put on the same stuff, with the same (lack of) results. There was Doxepin mentioned, an antidepressant that also helps skin… but carries a side effect of major weight gain; I’m already overweight by a long shot, so I’d rather not add another 10-20 pounds.

I knew there had to be something I could try. Oatmeal and epsom salt baths hadn’t helped beyond the soaking time; as soon as I was dry, I was itchy again. Refusing to give up, I found four more things to try (that weren’t another steroid or noxious cream):

Vitamin D – Apparently many people are low on vitamin D, especially if they don’t go outside much. In scientific studies, high-dose vitamin D helped some people with chronic hives.

Vitamin C – Another vitamin suggestion, vitamin C is supposed to help balance the skin or something. I enjoy vitamin C (sour! yay!), and it’s also good for your immune system in general.

Vitamin E (Oil/Lotion) – Some people have an allergy to vitamin E, but I’ve used it before when I had a pizza-face full of acne (middle school… *shudder*). It has healing and soothing properties, so it’s suggested to slather on the oil and/or take the pills.

Probiotics/Prebiotics – Many health problems can be traced back to the gut and failed/incomplete digestion. Prebiotics will feed the good stuff in your gut, while probiotics help beef up their numbers.

Thus, my appointment approaches next Friday, and I’m armed with questions and research.

Where does the sleep come in?

Well, I’m not the most patient person. I happened to have a bottle of vitamin E oil at home, so I took a chance this past Tuesday and slathered it all over my rash. The areas stung like a bad sunburn later that day, but I was at work and unable to do anything about it. When I got home, I reapplied the oil after realizing that it stung as if dried out… but it didn’t itch!

Oh. My. Gods!

Last night, I repeated the process (actually applying the oil twice that evening, once after dinner and again right before bed). I still took Benadryl and all that other stuff, but that usually means nothing for the itching and insomia. And yet… I closed my eyes at 10pm, and I found myself waking up to my alarm the next time I opened them!

I still have to medicate with Benadryl pretty much on-the-dot every 4-5 hours if I want to be itch-free, but now the Benadryl is actually capable of covering the level of itch left after the vitamin E oil has its go. Vitamin E lotion isn’t acting as effectively today, so I’m itchier but still way more relieved than previous weeks of hellishness.

I’m going to grab a bunch more vitamin E oil from the store tomorrow, because the bottle I have is small and won’t make it beyond the weekend. But for the first time in three months, I don’t feel hopeless and helpless. I plan to ask the dermatologist about the high-dose vitamin D option as well, because I’d like her opinion (and to verify that there’s no interaction with the handful of pills I take each night).

Hope also stems from the cascade effect of finding some relief. The vitamin E oil hasn’t instantly cured me, but I can sleep now. Sleeping means I’ll be a little less stressed (physically) each day. Less stress on my body leads to less stress on my mind and less of a trigger for my depression. Less stress and depression leads to less of a trigger for the hives. Less hives means more sleep, and so on.

Beautiful, no?

I’d like it if I could be urticaria-free by my birthday next month. It’d be a wonderful birthday gift from the Universe. Just sayin’…

Feminist Science – an experiment

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I’ve started an experiment that’s going to take six months (or more) to complete, and I’m actually using the good ol’ Scientific Method from high school to put the experiment together. My calendar has reminders for me once a week to make notes on my experiences and thoughts as I go, to keep the data flowing in for future analysis.

So what’s the hypothesis?

Shaving serves no purpose, and not shaving will provide benefits in addition to removing a step from hygiene routines.

My original thoughts on shaving were related to various articles and blogs about women who chose to stop shaving their armpits, or who didn’t shave for religious reasons. It got me to thinking…

Why did I start shaving, and why do I continue to do so?

It’s all trained habit. I don’t feel a need to have prepubescent legs, armpits, or pubes; however, I’d been shown at an early age how to remove “unwanted” hair (especially with how dark my Filipino-Mexican body hair can be). Everyone on TV is hairless, as are porn stars and other women I see on the streets. Even other pagans are hairless, for the most part (and I’ve attended “clothing optional” events, so I know this as fact).

But why? Why shave? What’s attractive about making ourselves look like children again? I happen to like being a grown woman, for the most part. I don’t feel sexier hairless; I feel itchy and then prickly only a couple days later! Men walk around hairy without an issue, and we don’t consider them gross or dirty for doing so.

I had a long, philosophical talk with friends and then my boyfriend. He said it was sexy when a woman was confident enough to own her body and do whatever made *her* feel comfortable and sexy. That was the last encouragement I needed. At the very end of June, I shaved my armpits and legs for the last time.

And so… it has begun!

I have a notepad with the various pieces of this experiment outlined. Essentially, I’m not shaving anything on my body for the next six months. I’ll make notes of how I feel, how my body feels, how others reaction, and anything else I experience in the process. In the end, I’ll decide if it’s going to become a permanent change or not.

I already have interesting data!

For example, I hadn’t realized how hard it would be psychologically to get past the habit of shaving once my hair was visible. I’ve nearly grabbed a razor several times, just out of reflex! I had to move my razor out of the shower (and out of sight) to remove the instinctive reaction to my dark fuzzies growing in. I’m wondering how long it will take for the reflex to fade.

Another random lesson: not shaving has lowered my body order levels. Seriously! You’d think it’d be the opposite, but I’ve found my armpits are less pungent in this wonderful Texas heat than they ever were as naked patches. My natural body chemistry generally leads to quite and annoying body odor in the summer, regardless of deodorants applied; I look forward to seeing if this trend of non-stinkiness continues.

I call this Feminist Science, because feminism is about equality and choice. Looking at societal beauty standards, I don’t see the fairness in making women remove hair and appear like children (a little pedophilic) while men walk around in their natural hairy glory. Sure, some women like being hairless, just like some women like makeup and high heels. I’m not one of them, though, so this experiment is perfect for me.

Have you ever reconsidered a habit after failing to find a good reason for it to exist?

The First LARP Experience*

*Note: My first official LARP experience is described below. However, as a child we often played games where we ran around with weapons, fighting foes and saving damsels. We even had a merchant to visit for supplies before our journey(s). If that’s not LARPing, I don’t know what is. For some reason, though, we don’t call it a LARP until there are adults involved.

 

My first LARP hinted at a future addiction.

I played Othala, a newly Embraced vampire (2 weeks old) attending Court with a distantly related vampire from my own clan. I was essentially me-turned-vampire, except that Othala is a vet tech and I’m a college employee. Unlike those who escape into someone completely new while roleplaying, I enjoy gaming the best when I’m playing myself with minimal changes.

Immediately upon entering the Court, I had a vision (that was cool!). I was shown a set of pictures to memorize or take notes on, and I had the option of sharing (or not) in character as the game progressed.

I met my clan mates and found myself taken under the wing of an Elder vampire. I survived an attack from our enemies and a long stay in hiding. I even made a few tentative contacts that may help Othala as she grows into her vampire-ness.

All in all, I had a great time!

I told Sarah all about the game when I got home, assuming she’d definitely be disinterested by the amount of time we spent sitting around in character and chatting (about an hour while in hiding). However, the opposite happened. She’s creating a character for Court next month, eager to join in.

Here’s where the future addiction comes in.

I want to be Othala. Even though my interaction with others was limited to more of a witness than a participant, I found myself complete immersed and intrigued by the vampires around me. It took a while for my friends to adjust to me-vampire instead of me-human, because the difference is almost non-existent; I had to emphasize that I was asking questions in-character unless otherwise noted. After that, it was like actually visiting a vampire Court for the first time.

I want to grow Othala into her new self. I don’t want to rewrite my character as someone a few decades old or someone with magic running in her veins. I want to slowly age into vampire society, and I want to learn magic the honesty way, from the ground up. The age factor is a little funny; I mean, it pretty much makes me a newbie indefinitely, since I can’t play Othala for the decades required to turn her into an “adult” vampire. I would forever be under the guidance of others, barring a character rewrite or a miracle. But I don’t mind that idea.

I want to be others, too. There are other local LARPs for werewolves, mages, and changelings. That’s just in the World of Darkness; there are dozens of other LARPs around my state, from medieval events to faery courts to steampunk cities. I enjoy the way it feels like an immersive version of Halloween (my favorite holiday).

However, to return to Othala…

I’m still working on her specifics. I didn’t want to dedicate too much time or effort into her for the first game, because I wasn’t sure if I’d (still) like LARPing. Now that I know I do, I have all sorts of plans. For example, from now on she’ll always wear something with animals or animal print on it, because she’s a vet tech, a pagan, and a Gangrel. She’ll constantly take notes on people and things she’s experiencing, including visions, impressions, and the like. She’s an academic loremaster, so studying stuff is her thing.

I can’t wait until next month’s Court! Do you LARP?

Ramblings: Cloth Diapering

Today’s random topic is cloth diapering. The news is boring, so I started thinking about my baby making plans next month and the things I need for parenthood.

We plan to cloth diaper, because I said so. Actually, almost everything about my future child is because I said so; I’m queen bee over my household, fully in charge.

Anyway…

I’ve found interesting details on types of diapers, covers, and other mixed-media options. I’m far more confident about my choice now than I was, say, an hour ago. Knowledge has a way of easing worries.

Notes to myself include: Look for Snappi’s as fasteners, because pins really suck getting stuck with (baby or mommy). Flats can be made from t-shirts. Seriously, JD’s stupid keep-them-they-might-be-useful thing might *actually* be useful! The internet is your friend! There are so many resources! Don’t be intimidated, and don’t give up!

Okay, I’m done rambling.

Curly hair, or WTH?

26 years.

I’ve had straight, can’t-hold-a-curl-to-save-my-life hair for 26 years.

Perms don’t stay in my hair for long, leaving frizzy and dried out hair in their wake. Attempts to curl my hair with a curling iron and hairspray end up being a crunchy mess of limp waves. With lucky, my long ponytail sometimes resembles a loose “s” shape.

And yet…

my curls??!

BAM! Curls?!?

I’d noticed the change a month or so ago, but I ignored it. Mostly, I saw curly bits when I flipped my head over after a shower to wrap my hair in a towel. Between brushing my hair and letting it dry in a bun, I just never noticed how much of a change I’d really experienced.

Yesterday, I got a wild hair (hehehe) up my bum and decided to check on the curly factor I’ve gained. I used some water and gel to scrunch my hair, only to be pleased with the defined waves I found. I took a shower after that, washing out the gel as well as my sweat from gym class. The picture above was the resulting curl I found when my hair was freshly washed and wet.

Holy crap!

To think, I paid money to get kinky little crap curls… and now I suddenly have loose, big spirals like I always secretly wanted! Thanks, genetics! but why the delay?

Now I just have to find white girl natural hair products to make… *scampers off to search Pinterest*

Oatmeal, please save me!

 

If I skip a day of co-washing, I get an itchy and red scalp.

If I use shampoo a bit (once a week on Sunday), I get an itchy and red scalp.

If I use no-poo “shampoo” and “conditioner” (i.e. baking soda and vinegar), I get an itchy and red scalp.

If I use normal shampoo regularly, I get an itchy and red scalp.

If I use fancy organic shampoo, I get an itchy and red scalp.

If I just shaved my head bald, I could slather it with bodywash and lotion. I’m sure that’d be easier than finding a balance that works for my scalp!

Oh, and then there’s my face.

If I use acne medicine, I break out.

If I use soap (even the one for sensitive skin) daily, I break out.

If I only rinse my face and avoid washing it, I break out.

Oil cleansing works a bit; it helps to not cause more acne, but it doesn’t really help heal what’s there. It also feels gross, especially on workout days.

AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I’m BEYOND frustrated with this skin. It seems like the older I get, the more my skin rejects anything I wouldn’t eat. Cleansers, lotions, shampoos, topical medicines. Every few months I find some new change in what I can and can’t use (the last change being my skin’s negative reaction to Neosporin).

My next experiment in my search for a solution is based on some basic science. Oatmeal legitimately soothes skin; there are chemicals, and blah blah blah. I just spent a couple hours pouring over the science of oatmeal bathes and skin treatments. That said, oatmeal contains saponins, which happen to act as a gentle (natural) cleansing agent.

The plan is two-fold:

Face – I’m going to mix powdered oatmeal with powdered milk. To wash my face, I add a bit of water (or oil, or whatever liquid I please) to a tablespoon of the mix. It’s supposed to mildly wash and exfoliate your face, and it is listed as a daily-use recipe.

Scalp/Hair – I’m going to go all-in and make some oatmeal milk (soaking oatmeal in water, then straining out the solids). It should cleanse my hair, and it will definitely work as a conditioner (I speak from experience on that front). If it doesn’t cleanse, it should still soothe my scalp; I’ll just have dirty hair and be forced to switch to an oatmeal rinse after regular shampooing. We’ll see.

At minimum, I expect my inflammation, itching, and dryness to be healed away. At maximum, I hope for my hair to look clean and healthy, and my skin/scalp to be clear and smooth.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Vegetarianism: the Cons

Boyfriend: “I want to become a raw food person.”

Me: “You do realize that means you’ll never cook anything, ever? That the whole point is not to heat up your vegan meals in fear of losing nutrients?”

Boyfriend: “Hmm… well, then I want to become a vegan. That’s very healthy! You can get all of your nutrients from a plant-based diet.”

Me: “Yes, you can. But nutritional yeast is gross, I love cheese, and it’s too much work to remember all the ingredients with secret non-vegan origins. I’ll pass.”

Boyfriend: “Ugh! I want to eat healthy! How about vegetarian?”

Me: “Eh, fine. Lacto-ovo vegetarian, so we can eat cheese and keep our breakfast smoothies.”

This is the conversation that led to me becoming a vegetarian again. I talked my boyfriend down from psycho-health-nut level to moderately-health-nutty goodness. Keep in mind I insulted his feeble mind, bruised his ego, and argued for about an hour to get him down to lacto-ovo vegetarianism.

I feel like no one ever bothers to cover the cons of eating vegetarian. Since I’m tired and worn out, let’s take a look at them now:

  • Everything’s a side dish. No meal ever feels complete, because it’s always missing something we grew up with (i.e. protein from flesh).
  • There’s too much prep. Veggies don’t wash, peel, slice, shred, and cook themselves. Every meal, even a salad, involves tons of steps to complete. It makes me think fondly of mixing tuna and mayo in a bowl, slathering it on bread, and calling that a meal.
  • Everything’s the same. Vegetables don’t have a lot of range in their flavors (sorry, but they just don’t). So if you made Italian green beans and Italian carrots, the main difference is color and texture; you’re eating the same Italian flavor twice. It makes meal planning hard, because I feel like I’m always eating the same thing (even when I don’t double recipes or do leftovers).
  • Meal planning goes out the window. If you’re trying to go with fresh produce, meal planning is a bust. Unless I take an extra trip to the grocery store to check their stock before making my meal plan, I have to cross my fingers and hope that the eggplants aren’t all moldy this time or the bell peppers aren’t sold out. This has been an active problem, and extra trips to other stores or to pre-plan are just cumbersome.
  • It’s hard to stay full. Even if you try to eat fiber-full foods, they just aren’t heavy enough to keep you from getting hungry again. My stomach growls (loudly) by the time the next meal has arrived, whereas my non-vegetarian days have mild hunger between meals without the noisy belly. I have to ensure there are decent snacks around all day, since I’m not home with my fridge of veggies.
  • Fresh veggies go bad faster. As a meat eater, you mostly eat flesh that’s been frozen until used; that means there’s less stuff going bad from lack of use. On the other hand, vegetarians not only eat veggies, but they try to eat them fresh; that means using them before they mold, whither, and rot. It gets frustrating when your asparagus starts to turn into green slime, or your strawberries all decide to grow mold three days after you buy them.
  • You don’t necessarily end up eating healthier or losing weight. This is a myth. There are always days when doing all that prep (see previous con above) is too much and you swing by Taco Bell for bean burritos instead. Forgetting your breakfast smoothie at home, you might buy a few donuts to get you through the morning. It happens with regularity to normal-people vegetarians (i.e. not the health-food junkies). And some of us just don’t lose weight without exercise, even if we suddenly remove 500-700 calories from our daily diet and start eating more fiber and less fat.
  • You become inconvenient. You know how your friends used to all go out for lunches on Fridays? Well, you’ve become the inconvenient one to plan around. Deciding where to eat turns into a who-has-meatless-options game. If you’re lucky, you have one or two friends who are also vegetarian (or at least enjoy vegetarian options regularly). If not, you get to go to the sushi bar and order cucumber rolls while drooling at the sight of your friend’s tiger eye salmon roll. So lame!
  • Your fridge is a mess. This one assumes you don’t live alone (who can afford to anymore?). You already have the normal fridge contents like condiments and standard staples (eggs, cheese, milk, etc.). Being vegetarian means you cram almost every inch of space with fresh fruits and veggies. Those bins in the bottom don’t even begin to contain it all, and you suddenly get very afraid of checking the back of your top shelf… because it’s been a couple months and you don’t remember ever eating that asparagus. Crap!
  • Breaking up with bacon is hard. It’s 500% harder when you make bacon jam, only to turn vegetarian a couple days later. So sad…