My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Brain Zaps

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So I thought after two weeks of weaning off the anti-depressants, I would be fine. Not so much. I had heard people comparing coming off my particular anti-depressant as similar to a junkie coming off heroine. My response to this was always, A) How do you know what a heroine addict feels? and B) Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration? What did I know? I’d never come off these anti-depressants before.

The first time I noticed something was on a walk with Nick. Each time my right foot hit the ground, I felt a little buzz racing up my spine and into my head. It only happened a couple of times so I assumed it was a pulled muscle or just plain tiredness.

The next day it got worse. I was getting weird feelings of electricity in my brain for a few minutes each hour or so. By the third day I thought I was going crazy. I felt like my brain was full of buzzing insects. After talking to my doctor, I learned this was part of the withdrawal from my particular anti-depressant. Apparently, most patients report these ‘brain zaps’ when going off the anti-depressants. The zaps themselves are harmless, if uncomfortable. It feels like a shock in the brain followed by dizziness and sometimes vertigo. The zaps get worse (at least for me) with sudden movement or fatigue. This issue can last anywhere from a few hours to a month. The only options are to wait it out or go back on the meds.

I’m waiting. I’ve been waiting for a week now. My withdrawal symptoms are mostly getting worse but I’m going to keep on waiting. I’m done with the meds. I’m healthy now and if that means I have to shake and sweat like a junkie for a bit, so be it.

So my withdrawal symptoms now include brain zaps, sleeplessness, fatigue, headache, dizziness, vertigo, and loss of appetite. Also, sometimes I cry for no reason, like at a cat food commercial that isn’t even sad. Even when I’m crying, I don’t really feel sad or depressed. It’s more like a hormonal reaction I can’t control. I checked with my doctor; all these symptoms are normal and relatively harmless, (although I haven’t been driving much or doing much heavy working out.)

I don’t even know if this post really described how it feels to have brain zaps. I’m going to include some reliable medical to further explain what I’m feeling:

Brain Zaps: Causes & Treatments For Electrical Shock Sensations

Head and Brain Zaps anxiety symptom

Fireworks or Brain Zaps?

As I have always said, please see your doctor before making any changes to your own medications. Also, even though I said these withdrawal symptoms are ‘normal’, if you are experiencing them, still check with your own doctor. Better safe than sorry! I will keep you updated as I continue to manage my anxiety and live medication free.

Life Hack: Cutting the Perfect Watermelon

I’ll be honest, life hacks are not really my thing. I find most of them unnecessary and sometimes more time-consuming than just doing things the regular way. However, I saw this watermelon life hack and it actually works really well so I wanted to share it with you.

You will need a quarter of a watermelon, a cutting board and a sharp knife, (something longer than a pairing knife.)

You will need a quarter of a watermelon, a cutting board and a sharp knife, (something longer than a pairing knife.)

Begin by cutting vertical stripes into your watermelon without cutting the rind.

Begin by cutting vertical stripes into your watermelon without cutting the rind.

Next, cut across the watermelon. I place my hand gently on top as I do this to prevent any of the top pieces from sliding out.

Next, cut across the watermelon. I place my hand gently on top as I do this to prevent any of the top pieces from sliding out.

It will look like this when you finish that step. Don't worry if your cuts aren't perfectly straight.

It will look like this when you finish that step. Don’t worry if your cuts aren’t perfectly straight.

Next, carefully cut along the rind, again gently holding the top of the watermelon.

Next, carefully cut along the rind, again gently holding the top of the watermelon.

Now your watermelon is ready to serve.

Now your watermelon is ready to serve.

Serve with forks or toothpicks. Everyone can just spear chunks of perfectly cut watermelon and enjoy.

Serve with forks or toothpicks. Everyone can just spear chunks of perfectly cut watermelon and enjoy.

This cuts back on a lot of the mess watermelon makes. And yes this works with any other type of melon you can quarter. Enjoy!

Breaking the Habit Week 2

So I’m into my second week of reducing my dose of antidepressants. Now I only have to take my pills every third day and if all goes well, I get to stop taking them completely next week! As I mentioned before, I am making this change in full consultation with my doctors and my family. Do not make changes to your own medications without talking to your doctor and your support system.

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Day 8 – No pill. I’m starting the week feeling a bit anxious. But I’m not too upset about it because any time someone makes a major change, there is bound to be some trepidation. I’m staying positive and looking forward to being drug free.

Day 9 – No pill. I feel good today and I’m glad to say I have nothing else to report.

Day 10 – Pill. I’m starting to feel stronger and more like myself each day. I was tempted not to take my pill today but I want to stick to the plan I’ve made with my doctors.

Day 11 – No pill. My body is starting to feel a bit worse the day after I take my pill. I take this as a sign that I’m getting ready to be done with antidepressants. I just have to power through to the end of the week.

Day 12 – No pill. I’m feeling calm today. The end of the week is in sight and I’m making good progress.

Day 13 – Last pill! Other than my stomach being a bit upset, I noticed nothing from this pill. This was my last day. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Day 14 – No pill. I made it! This upcoming week will be my first antidepressant free week in over two years. I’ll make sure to update you on my progress in this first week of my new drug-free habit.

Homemade Root Beer

This is so much better than the store-bought stuff. It’s easy to make too because you make the root beer syrup and then whenever you want root beer, it’s ready to go.

I ordered the root beer concentrate from Watkins.

I ordered the root beer concentrate from Watkins.

Step one - Make the syrup according to the recipe on the back. Once it's cool, I store mine in a squeeze bottle in the fridge.

Step one – Make the syrup according to the recipe on the back. Once it’s cool, I store mine in a squeeze bottle in the fridge.

Then all you need is a glass, some ice, one can of club soda and your root beer syrup.

Then all you need is a glass, some ice, one can of club soda and your root beer syrup.

Combine the ice with 2-3 tablespoons of the syrup and the whole can of club soda.

Step two – Combine the ice with 2-3 tablespoons of the syrup and the whole can of club soda.

You can add more or less syrup depending on how sweet you like your soda.

You can add more or less syrup depending on how sweet you like your soda.

This is a much more traditional tasting root beer. Plus it has less sugar than the store-bought stuff. Enjoy!

Breaking the Habit Week 1

So as I mentioned in a previous post, I am starting to reduce my dose of antidepressants so I can go off them. I thought I’d keep you posted on how it’s coming along.

Day 1 – No pill. I went to take my pill three times this morning. I actually had to remind myself not to take it! I didn’t notice any difference today but it will take more than one day to start getting the antidepressants out of my system.

Day 2 – Pill. Today I woke up with an upset stomach. I took my pill but I was a bit touchy all day, (similar to mild PMS.) I just took it easy today so my body can adjust to the new dose.

Day 3 – No pill. I’m starting to find myself a bit more nauseous, especially on days I don’t take my pill. Luckily, most of my symptoms are minor physical ones rather than emotional. I can’t wait until this transition is over.

Day 4 – Pill. There is even more nausea today. I’m having some trouble sleeping as well. That makes sense since one of the side effects of these antidepressants is that they can cause sleeplessness. Now that I don’t have as much of that effect, I’m sort of sleepy all the time. Still nothing emotionally worrying, so I’m hopeful these minor physical discomforts will pass. I think I’ll go to bed early.

Day 5 – No pill. I’m feeling a bit better today. I got some extra sleep and went for a massage after work. I’m really trying to take care of myself and I’m still feeling positive as the end of the week approaches.

Day 6 – Pill. I think I’m starting to turn the corner. I’m beginning to feel better and better on the days where I’m not medicated. I’ve also been feeling better after a good workout so I’m hitting the gym or doing yoga every day. It’s boosting my mood and soothing the physical symptoms. I also had my counseling session with Dr. B and got some more good news. Since he and Dr. V agree that I’m doing really well, I get to accelerate my weaning. So next week I get to take my pills every third day and the week after that I might get to be off them completely.

Day 7 – No pill. I’m treating myself to a quiet day around the house. I’ve done really well this week so I’m indulging in yoga, some light gardening and catching up on some of my favourite TV shows, (Orange is the New Black season three!) I’m also planning a BBQ chicken dinner followed by some homemade frozen hot chocolates for dessert for Nick and I tonight. It has been a good week. Wish me luck in week two.

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Weaning

As a preface to this post, do not begin or stop taking medication without the advice of your doctor.

For those of you who have been following me for a while, you know I take a daily antidepressant for my anxiety disorder. I also see a counselor once a month. It’s finally time; my counselor and my GP agree that I’m well enough to stop taking my medication.

So here’s the deal, you can’t just stop taking antidepressants. The withdrawal for various antidepressants can range from mild discomfort to symptoms as serious as heroin withdrawal. As I said above, always consul your doctor before changing your medication.

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So my doctor, my counselor and I came up with a plan to support me weaning myself off my antidepressants. First, I had to go one year without a major incident of anxiety and depression. Next, the best time of year to go off medication is the Spring or Summer. Winter and Fall pose too much of a risk of relapse due to cold temperatures and less sunlight. While I’m reducing my dose, I also agreed to see my counselor once a week instead of once a month, just to make sure I stay stable. My schedule for weaning is to begin today by taking my pills every other day for one to two weeks. Then I switch to one pill every three days for another one to two weeks. Then I stop taking them.

This is a big step for me. I have been on antidepressants for two years but I can’t wait to not take them. I’m so happy I don’t need them anymore. Wish me luck. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Art Assignment 30: Boundaries

For this assignment, I began to think of my iPhone as the boundary between my art and all of you. Most of what I have done for The Art Assignment I have photographed or filmed using my iPhone. It acts as my camera and I count on it to take care of details like focus and aperture, which I would manually have to manipulate on a traditional camera.

So then I began to question cameras as a boundary and ask myself what is one thing that I can use to manipulate it, (the iPhone as a boundary.) The answer was water. My phone isn’t waterproof and I didn’t want to use a waterproof case for this assignment as I feel that’s been done already. Instead, I wanted to use items such as water, glasses, windows and food colouring to change the way my phone records. I recorded these new boundaries and you can view them below.

Boundary Red – This was my first attempt. I find it beautiful but a bit claustrophobic. The water launches directly into the view of the audience. I’m glad I kept the audio as you can hear how the water and the drops of red food colouring change the iPhone’s ability to record sound. I’m especially impressed when the microphone occasionally picks up the “plink” of the food colouring hitting the settled water. By the end of this piece, the red colour has swirled and settled and it reminds me of a long hallway with misty figures in the distance.

Boundary Blue – For this piece I used a glass with a crack in it, (I checked to make sure it wouldn’t leak first!) I poured the water and blue food colouring more quickly and was impressed with the circular movement this achieved. Also, because I placed the crack in the glass directly across the camera’s viewfinder, the phone couldn’t actually focus fully. For me, this piece created the feeling of descending into dark blue seas. Some of the swirls of blue could even be strange sea creatures in the distance.

Boundary Green – This one might be my favourite attempt because of all the layers I employed. Since I was shooting into my front garden from my dining room, the window screen is the first boundary. I considered removing it but I like the texture it added. Then I added a drinking glass. I loved how much the curve of the glass bent the street in the background. Then I added the water and watching the wavering disk of water crawl to the top of the glass was mesmerizing. Finally I added drops of green food colouring. As it swirled and darkened, I thought about how I was layering green over a view already heavy in green; one natural green saturated with a human-created green dye.

Boundary Opaque – Here I used the cracked glass again and the same background as in Boundary Green. The view through the glass was less clear because of the unusual shape of the glass and the crack in the side. Once I added the water and drops of red, green and blue food colouring, it was obvious that this boundary was going to be the most opaque. As the colours mixed, they reminded me of a lava lamp. However, once everything was blended it came out somewhere between purple and black. If you watch and listen closely, at the end of the video, two women chat as jog by my house. The women appear on the right of the screen and then disappear as the glass obscures them, their voices drifting out of nowhere. Then you can see them briefly on the left of the screen as they jog away. This wasn’t planned but I liked the effect so I kept it.

#theartassignment

Silence

Imagine me at six years old, sitting at my desk with my fingers in my ears. The students chatter around me as I immerse myself in a story-book. The school called my mom because the teacher observed me doing this several times when the classroom was noisy. My mom explained that I just needed a little quiet time.

When is my day silent? Not often. Not often enough.

Being a teacher is a noisy business. Teenagers are generally loud and they love to talk constantly. I spend as much time listening as I do talking in my classroom. Add to that bells and noisy halls and I often go to bed noting that my ears are ringing.

How can I create silence? Sometimes I use sound-cancelling headphones to block out the buzz of the day. Nothing is playing through them; just blissful quiet. I don’t do this often enough.

I’m also making an effort to make my home more of a sanctuary. When I get home Nick is still at work. I turn off all the electronics in the house and put my phone on silent. Mostly, I read or putter around the house. Probably what I should do is use that time to meditate or contemplate quietly. That would certainly introduce more peace in my life.

So now I’m looking for more suggestions. Leave me a comment telling me how you introduce silence in your life.

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On Reducing Stress

I once saw a fellow teacher write on a Post-It “Reduce stress by giving less of a fuck.” It’s actually not bad advice. You can word it any way you like, but we should all work to reduce our stress in some way. A big part of it for me is not caring about the petty, little parts of life. When I start to feel stressed, I have begun to ask myself, “Will this matter to me in one year; in five years? Will it even matter tomorrow?” If not, it’s time to let it go.

While reading the blog Her 30s, I came across this post On Reducing Stress. I was struck by how much this blogger’s stress reduction list echoed my own.

Conscious ways to reduce stress

  1. Stop multitasking and focus on one activity at a time. I am getting better at this.I’ve never been very good at multitasking to begin with so this was fairly easy to release.
  2. Stop carrying the phone around with me in my hand. I check the time, my email, my calendar and lists too much. I have dedicated no phone time. When I’m teaching, exercising and in bed, my phone is somewhere else. I also regularly turn off my phone when I need some me time to read, take a bath or just space out.
  3. Limit the amount of driving I do. I drive stick and even though it is fun, hills and LA traffic still stresses me out. I drive only as much as I need to and when I do I listen to happy music, comedy programs or audio books. The news is out except for the traffic report. I just find it too depressing.
  4. Meditate, stretch or do yoga in the morning so that I start my day off slowly and in a focused manner. I do 15 minutes of yoga each morning before I do anything else, (except for drinking water.) It keeps me centered and reminds me to breath deeply for the rest of the day.
  5. Do what I do to the best of my ability and stop trying to control the outcome. I work on this one every day. When I get there, I’ll let you know how I did it.

I’m going to add to this list to make fewer lists. Sometimes it’s nicer to just be without having to check things off on some list, be it written or floating around in my brain. So, what’s on your list? Or what are you taking off your list?

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Art Assignment 29 Make a Thing

I love Nyan Cat!

I love Nyan Cat!

For those of you who haven’t experienced this adorable meme, click below and enjoy.

In fact, I have some experience being a Nyan Cat.

Here I am as Nyan Nyan Kitty for Halloween.

Here I am as Nyan Kitty for Halloween.

And here are my cats exploring my costume.

And here are my cats exploring my costume.

My students loved this costume but that was a previous art project so I wanted to do something new for this art assignment. I’m making a Nyan Cat fridge magnet.

I used Sculpey, a printed template, rainbow ribbon and magnets to make my nyan cat.

I used Sculpey, a printed template, rainbow ribbon and magnets to make my Nyan Cat.

Sculpey is easy to use. Here are the instructions that come with the clay.

Sculpey is easy to use. Here are the instructions that come with the clay.

First I chose my colours.

First I chose my colours.

Next I rolled each ball of Sculpey to warm it up.

Next I rolled each ball of Sculpey to warm it up.

I rolled out the clay using my kitchen rolling pin and chopsticks to ensure the clay was the same thickness and would bake evenly.

I rolled out the clay using my kitchen rolling pin and chopsticks to ensure the clay was the same thickness and would bake evenly.

I used my template to cut and smooth the edges of each piece.

I used my template to cut and smooth the edges of each piece.

I made all my pieces and trimmed them with a sharp knife.

I made all my pieces and trimmed them with a sharp knife.

Then I began to assemble my kitty.

Then I began to assemble my kitty.

Once my kitty was ready I baked him at 275F for 25 minutes. As the clay colled, it hardened further, making a perfect magnet.

Once kitty was ready I baked him at 275F for 25 minutes. As the clay cooled, it hardened further, making a perfect magnet.

Once he was cooled, I glued on the ribbon and magnets. I also added his face details with a permanent black marker.

Once he was cooled, I glued on the ribbon and magnets. I also added his face details with a permanent black marker.

I added a bit of magnet to the end of the ribbon so nyan cat can even fly around corners.

I added a bit of magnet to the end of the ribbon so Nyan Cat can even fly around corners.

Now he hangs out on my fridge with Hello Kitty.

Now he hangs out on my fridge with Hello Kitty.

I think he looks pretty great.

I think he looks pretty great.

#theartassignment

 

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