Friday, March 10, 2017

Isolationist, against my will

One of the hardest things about chronic illness is the isolation.

First of all, there's the emotional isolation.  This comes in all flavors.  The feeling like doctors and other medical professionals don't believe you when you try to communicate your symptoms, the constant implication that this is all psychosomatic at best or an attention grab at worst, the struggle against scripts (with their own undesirable side effects) to cover up symptoms rather than seeking the cause, the body shaming (if you're at all overweight, doctors will blame your symptoms on your weight and attempt to fat shame you into excessive exercising and weight loss pills)... I could go on here, but I won't.

There's the 'you don't look sick' phenomenon that permeates all of your social interactions.  Family, close friends, co-workers... you name it.  You don't look sick, so can what you're going through really be that bad? Cue the suspicions of psychosomatic illness/Munchausen syndrome.  We may be chronically ill, but we don't miss the side eye or even the thinly veiled comments.

The brain fog can trick you into thinking you responded to that email, or that you actually texted someone you meant to text, or that you sent that note (It's not just you - brain fog eats reminders about bills and appointments, too!).  The brain fog can also make you forget all the thoughts you had to reach out to people.  Your body is focused on surviving and it literally steals away the energy your brain needs to remember all the things.

And of course, there's the actual emotional toll that is taken by battling something physically all the time.  The mourning for the life you used to have, the life you wished you currently had and the future you may never get to experience.  Mentally bracing yourself for all of the interactions I described above.  The frustration that comes from exhaustion at the most basic of activities like vacuuming or folding a load of laundry.  The uncertainty of what you will or won't be able to do on any given day, because your body may not cooperate with your needs or your household agenda.  The feeling like you're letting down your family for not being able to do what needs to be done.

That's all internal and you'll just have to take my word for it (or the word of another spoonie, if you care to ask them).  Then there's the actual isolation.

When you don't have the energy to clean your house, or exercise (not even a walk around the block, let alone get to a gym), or shower (which happens - showers are EXHAUSTING), you don't have the energy to make plans, let alone keep them.  Or you have the energy to take a shower, but then have to sit down for the next half an hour before you can take the towel off of your head and get dressed.  Forget blow-drying your hair!  It's hard to get out for coffee or dinner.

And maybe the most frustrating part is that you need interactions like this to stay sane.  To not spiral into depression (a common complication of CIs of all types).  To try to focus on why you still go to the doctor, do your therapy, take the meds/supplements, live through the constant barrage of blood work and tests, to struggle with the financial toll all of the above takes.

It takes interactions like these to remember that your life hasn't always been what it is in this moment and it doesn't necessarily have to be like this forever.  And that's what your struggling toward: the return of some normalcy, even if just a little.

If you know a spoonie, I would ask this:  Text or email them.  Send a card, if you're inclined.  Make a FaceTime or Google Hangout date.  Let them know that you're still there for them even when they can't go shopping or run around town or take a girls trip.  It would mean the world to them.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What was old is made new again

This fall, I (finally) made time to wash, block, and de-pill all of my sweaters.  It took a few weeks to accomplish, between contact time and drying time.  This was long overdue and was well worth it!  It made me excited to wear my sweaters again... except one.


I made this shrug back in 2010, right around the time I learned to knit.  My job at that time wasn't a good environment at all.  The most obvious, and should have been the most easily addressed, challenge was the HVAC in my classroom being controlled by a poltergeist.  It would range from all-layers-off-hair-in-a-ponytail-sweating-while-sitting-still sweltering hot to wearing-a-coat-and-gloves-while-attempting-to-teach-and-play-the-piano cold.  No one seemed to care about this, until they cared immensely when I allowed the kids to 'break dress code' and wear their coats in class... I was wearing my coat as I had to spend 8 hours in that cold and wasn't about to wear my coat while they are sitting there shivering in their t shirts!  After I got a reprimand for 'being dramatic' by insisting to wear my coat in my 57-degree F classroom, I decided that I needed something as warm as a coat, but wasn't actually a coat.  I needed a warm garment, but one that didn't have sleeves so long as to get in the way of my piano playing.

I found a bulky weight shrug pattern on Rav and decided to go for it.  I didn't want acrylic - I needed something warmer.  Enter KnitPicks Cadena.  A bulky 70/30 wool/alpaca blend with nice twist that came in lovely colors (at the time - unfortunately, they only sell natural colored at this time).  I found a pattern for a bulky weight shrug and ordered up a ton of Cadena in a royal blue color called Tide.



I crocheted this shrug in less than 2 weeks, and that included waiting for a supplemental yarn order, because gauge....  (I was a newbie to garments back then... Concepts like gauge and drape were foreign to me at this point...)  Thanks to a sweet lady named Millie, who found me more yarn in the same dye lot!! While it never fit me well, it hung on my person or the back of my desk chair my entire last year of teaching.  It kept me (and several students who I was fairly sure didn't have lice, as those were always a problem in that building... *sigh*) toasty warm on the freezing cold days in my classroom or evenings in my freezing cold ghetto apartment.

But I no longer live in a freezing cold ghetto apartment or work in a meat locker, ahem, classroom.  This shrug does my figure NO favors, so I never wear it.  So, it's been at the bottom of Rubbermaid tubs, closet organizers and my sweater chest for nearly 6 years.  And yet, I never felt compelled to give it away or find a new home for it.

When I had washed everything else in the chest, it was time to fold and reorganize the sweaters in the chest, I told myself it was time to wash it & wear it or get rid of it.  It had enough bad juju that something needed to happen with it, but not enough bad juju that I was okay with letting it go.  It occurred to me that maybe this was a good candidate to rip out and repurpose the yarn.

I've never ripped an entire finished garment before.  I felt like if I was going to the effort to rip it out, it was prudent to find out if I could do anything with the yarn I had left.  After some quick searching using Rav's awesome search parameters, I decided that this shrug was coming out!

Deep breaths

All done - thanks to the hubs for his help!

I finally decided on Lemongrass by Joji Locatelli.  At such a large gauge, the knitting has gone very quickly.

Binge watching Outlander helped the time pass quickly, too.
This yarn loves cables!  The stitch definition is so crisp!


And now it's done!



Warm enough to wear outside in the snow, which made Karma particularly happy!


And I am particularly happy to have a new(-ish) sweater to wear, not just take up space!  I wore this yesterday and couldn't be happier with it!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Donita 2017: Maintain My Groovy Self

I had a beloved professor in undergrad who regularly told her students to "Maintain your groovy selves!"  or, once we knew her lingo, just "Maintain!" Just picturing her technicolor post-its and marker notes on assignments now makes me smile.

When I sat down to think about goals for this coming year and what theme to guide them, I looked back over the last few years' themes and goals.  Sometimes I need new, sometimes I need to keep on keepin' on, ya know?  After looking through everything, I really felt like I didn't need a new challenge for this year.  I just need to maintain my groovy self!

My hope for the end of 2017 is that I continue to become healthier and happier!  And since I feel like the last few years have moved me in that direction, I'm gonna keep the party going!  2014's theme was "Enjoy what you have."  I am still lucky to have the things that we have, and I need to focus on those, not the endless chasm of wanting more...  I'm sure there will always be things I would buy if I hit the lottery, but that shouldn't devalue what we've already attained/achieved/acquired. 2015 was all about "More of what makes me happy", which leaves less room for the things that don't.  Prioritizing things that are happy and healthy for us will continue to be a focus.  2016 was a year of self-care, which seems like a culmination of the last few years.  These themes all feed into each other.  And I want to continue to refine and re-prioritize our lives in this way, as it truly has made us happier.

There are a lot of repeat bullet points from the above, so I'm not gonna spell all that out again.  I've laid out a few basic, measurable goals for our finances, my personal growth, my physical wellness, and goals for our household.  And as I can, I'll share things that have worked for us.

Because I love bullet points about my crafting, here they are!

  • Spin for more large projects
    Enjoy the fleeces currently insulating the guest room closet!
  • Sew
    Enjoy the fabric stash and machine!
  • Knit more sweaters & socks
    Wearing these on the daily makes me happy & keeps me warm.  And I have plenty of yarn to do both in my house right now!
  • Knit an afghan or 2
    We love piling under all the blankets and the love will be only increased by handknit blankets!
  • Learn brioche knitting
  • Knit from:
    stash
    queue
    handspun
  • 20K in finished projects again!


Until next time, maintain your groovy selves!



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Donita 2016: Crafty recap

You know what's awesome?  When you are reevaluating basically how you do life, and your doctor/therapist/alternative medicine professional all ask you what you do to bring joy to your life and you tell them about your small obsession with fiber arts and they unanimously agree that you should definitely embrace that and do as much of it as often as you feel you can.

Seriously.  I did not make this up.  Holy-run-on-sentence-of-excitement-and-disbelief-Batman!

Who am I to question the advice of people whose previous advice is getting me better? Really?

I made crafty goals for this past year simple, because we knew life was going to happen in a big way in 2016.
  • Knit more.
  • Spin more.
  • Sew more.
  • Design, if I feel so compelled.
How will I know if I've met these goals?
  • 20,000 yards in FOs (one of these days, I'm gonna hit that goal!!)
  • More sweaters & socks
  • Work from my queue
  • Work from my stash
  • Work my hand-spun as I finish it (don't save it for the queen!)
Knit more:  Yup!  I knit 14,975 yards of finished objects last year. A little less than 2015, but the serious uptick in spinning balanced this out.
  • 11 hats
  • 9 pairs of socks, including the hubs' first pair
  • 8 cowls and shawls, including a handspun/handknit cowl for the hubs
  • 4 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of mitts
Not my greatest garment year - more sweaters will be a goal for forever, I think.  Same goes for socks! I did knit up quite a bit of stash and knocked several projects out of my queue, so that's a win.  6 of my FOs were knit with my handspun, a good percentage!

I can't decide which of these ridiculous pictures of this cowl makes me happier...
... but it is warm and cozy! Even if I kinda look like a nun here.

Spin more: Yup! I spun 6,872 yards of finished yarn, including my first sweater quantity of handspun yarn!  Compared to less than 1,000 yards the previous year, I'm calling this a serious win.  Spinning is a legitimate mindfulness practice for me and when I spend too long away from the wheel, I feel it.  Spinning is also one of the only ways to relieve a headache for me (pain killers are an exercise in futility), so I don't deny the compulsion when the headaches strike.
  • 12 braids
  • 1 sample
  • 1 sweater quantity!!!
I'm so stinking proud of this yarn!
The links above go to search results for this year's FOs on Rav, if you want to look at all the pretty pictures.

If you're following along with the math above, I worked 21,847 yards of finished projects/yarn last year!  That's over 12 miles! I finally managed to hit that 20K goal!!! happy dance

Sew more: Nope.  With all the remodeling, moving, doctor's appointments and not knowing where my machine was in the basement for half of the year, I just haven't been able to get back into this.  I hope to get back to my machine in 2017.

Design, if I feel so compelled: I didn't feel compelled, so I didn't. I'm okay with that.  Creativity has to find you working, but when you're too tired to work, the creativity seldom comes.  And I'm not gonna beat myself up for that.

All in all, a good year, especially considering all the strides that were made in other parts of our life!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Donita 2016: Self-Care for the win!



The theme for Donita 2016 was Self-Care.  We made radical changes to our household during 2016 to allow me to prioritize truly taking care of myself for the first time in a long time, maybe ever.  That's not to say I never did things for myself, but I made a conscious effort to say 'no' when it was the right choice for me and my health, not always considering the needs' of others first.  That's the right choice for me in this season of my life and I am in a much better place now because of it.

So what exactly changed in 2016?

On the health front, I reduced my work hours, at the recommendation of my PCP.  What a difference that made! Instead of 4-5 headaches a week or a headache lasting 4-5 days at a time, I'm maybe experiencing 1-2 headaches a week and I haven't had a migraine in months (knock on wood!).  I'm so thankful that my employer was able to accommodate this recommendation from my doctor and our company had some changes right around the same time that made this arrangement beneficial for all involved!

For the first few months, I would literally hit the couch and sleep hard for hours every afternoon, either being woken up by dogs who were hungry for dinner or the hubs coming home from work.  My system was truly just exhausted on every front.  I was on empty.

I had a lot of change in medical professionals this year.  In the spring, my long-time PCP left private practice.  This was sad, but I think I've found a new PCP who is respectful of my personal health history - we'll see if that continues to work out.  I auditioned 2 rheumatologists, but didn't feel like either was a good fit.  One was clearly not inclined to work with a fibromyalgia patient and the other, the fibromyalgia 'specialist', had less than zero bedside manner, didn't respect me, implied that my weight was actually the root cause of my fatigue, told me to fill out a mental health assessment designed for a doctor to complete and left me there for nearly an hour so I could 'truly evaluate my situation', and as it turned out, gave me a lot of advice based on debunked research that would have made my health worse (including a study on CFS as this doctor told me that CFS and fibromyalgia are the same thing... just stops on a continuum.  Which I can't find any research to support.  Anywhere. :side eye:).

Since I wasn't having much luck with the traditional medicine side of things, I looked for alternative options.  I increased my level of massage therapy (what has turned out to be a temporary improvement, but without lasting effects, sadly).  I tried acupuncture, which did help with my inability to sleep (worth it, even if only temporary!).  And, as my new PCP put it, 'went full naturopath' by consulting with a nutritional therapist.  Lydia and I started with Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and learned that I had some serious deficiencies and imbalances in minerals and nutrients that affect how my nervous system functions.  Since research suggests that CFS and fibromyalgia are both rooted in nervous system dysfunction/hyperfunction, this was the first thing we decided to address.  I have been following her recommendations since the summer and the difference is wonderful!  Even the hubs can tell!  I'm not 100% yet by any stretch, but the soul-killing fatigue is easing.  This test also showed what my body had been telling me all along: I didn't have enough gas in the tank to start the traditional fibromyalgia 'treatment' plan with graded exercise (the more, the better, up to 2 hours a day! O.o).  Had I listened to the 'specialist', I would have only made my situation worse, chemically and mentally.

In addition to the naturopathic plan, I've continued practicing yoga and have started working on a body-centered inquiry form of yoga called yoga nidra.  This practice is intense, but rewarding.  You can look into yoga nidra or iRest yoga nidra if you're interested.

It became clear to the hubs and I that we needed more control over our living environment to reduce or eliminate the constant drain on my immune system.  I've had issues with mold in the past and despite the existence of a simple urine test to evaluate for mold toxicity, I can't find a doctor who is aware of it.  Since it requires a doctor's order, that makes it difficult to get.  sigh  After finding mold in our current rental (and confirming through home testing that it was indeed black mold), we decided that it was time to look for a home to purchase.  Unfortunately, mold is an issue in nearly every rental I've ever seen, and the 'solution' of painting over it is only a cosmetic fix.  The spores still enter the air and can still make you sick.  What we needed was the control to remediate the mold, which only comes with a deed (or a lawsuit and I definitely don't have spoons for another one of those!).  Thankfully, we were able to purchase a home in the spring, replace the HVAC system, install a whole house water filter and confirm there is no mold in the house.  We replaced the flooring on the entry level with a durable, hard surface floor to allow for easier cleaning and fewer allergens.  We are continuing remodeling work on the house and starting to work to make it ours, but not being constantly introduced to more immune threats can't do anything but help!  Also, in the last few years, our office has been completely renovated and there was substantial mold and rot in our old roof.  Between painting all the surfaces (sealing in the years of cigarette smoke from former tenants who allowed smoking in the office), replacing the carpets and removing all the rotten, moldy roofing materials, I've seen a significant reduction of symptoms while I'm at work, too!

Epsom salt baths aren't an indulgence - they are a necessity!

All this has resulted in a better level of functioning for me.  I'm still not able to do as much as I used to; I still have bad days; I still just want to sleep for 14 hours at a time sometimes.  But it is better.  I am able to help a bit more around the house and generally feel like much less of a leech/sloth that I had before.

And I'm happier.  Before all this, I felt like a ghost of my former self.  Not only had my personality changed, but I no longer had the energy or desire to do the things that made me ME.  I am starting to feel like myself again and I finally have the energy to start thinking about what I want for my life and our life together.  And that gives me hope for 2017 and beyond.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Give me clean rinse water or give me death!

After all the hours spent attempting to citric acid fix the dye on this yarn, and without any response from Regia on the matter 4 days later, I decided I had nothing to lose - and I was curious just how much synthrapol it would take to get this water to run clear.


Using hot water (as directed on the bottle) and again, laying the yarn on top of the water to avoid agitating it, I let it soak for the recommended 5 minutes, then rinsed in cool water.

Amazingly, the purple rinsed clear!  I was thrilled!



Sadly, the pink didn't.



Neither did the blue.



I followed the synthrapol washing process again, this time, leaving the bowls of hot water & detergent sit with the yarn for several hours, until they had cooled on their own.  Then I ran cool water over each of them for 5-10 minutes each.




Marked improvement, but... I just don't trust it.

After sitting on the fence for quite some time about what to do with the freshly purchased 10 balls of the lovely main color, I had my choices in front of me:  return it (with the help of LoveKnitting's seemingly amazingly easy return policy) or find another pattern to knit with that amount of yarn.  I have to admit, after all the hours of frustration & spending over $30 in chemicals to finish their job for them, I wasn't too keen on giving Regia another dime of my money for this yarn.

After searching my favorites and queue and a bundle of KAL options with no luck, I remembered to search my LIBRARY.  (Hello!) And there it was: Blank Canvas.

A pattern that's been knit hundreds of times, that has been well-edited, from a designer whose patterns I've knitted before, that I can easily knit with the amount of yarn I already have - and the kicker: knit at the EXACT gauge that I already had.


And it will look lovely in gray.  Kicker: the ball I already had (purchased 2 years ago from an LYS that has since gone out of business) is the *same dye lot* as the bag I just got from LoveKnitting.  So I have an extra ball if I get into trouble.  Seriously?!

Maybe the universe did want me to knit a sweater out of this yarn - just not the sweater or in the way I originally thought.

Chemical Warfare

A few years ago, I grabbed a few balls of this delightfully bright Regia Active 6-ply.  I had thought it would make great socks with contrasting toes and heels, and originally bought some gray as for that purpose.  But DK weight socks are so thick, it can be hard to wear with shoes... So these went back into the stash of unassigned yarns and one of the balls of gray became a hat for my dad.

One night as I was falling asleep, I realized that these colors would look awesome together in a colorwork sweater.  Specifically, they would look awesome as a Polar Dip, a pattern a gal from my knitting group put on my radar.  I made a note in my phone and went to sleep, dreaming happy "I can do this!" dreams about color work.  The next day, I did some researching and found that while the yarn that is recommended is classified as a worsted weight, the gauge is very much a DK gauge, so my yarn would work!  I tracked down how much yardage I would need of the MC, found the yarn at LoveKnitting and scooped up another bag of the gray, and for a really good price!

I was so excited to get this going, I swatched the next day with the partial ball of gray leftover from the hat.  Perfect gauge on the first try, AND the same gauge flat and in-the-round?!  It was like the universe was whispering in my ear, "Knit the sweater, Donita!"

I was so eager to tackle my first color work sweater, I nearly cast on then and there.  It was New Years Day, I had decided to knit all the sweaters I've got yarn stashed for, and it was bright and cheerful, which is much needed in the middle of this brown Ohio winter.  But, cooler heads prevailed and I remembered an Instagram post from Jasmin of the Knitmore Girls about pre-washing yarns before you knit color work.  Better to find out now if they have a little extra dye in them that needs rinsed out before I knit the sweater and it ends up all bleary, right?



I patiently ran my wash water how I wash my garments: warm water and Unicorn Fiber Wash.  I gently laid the yarn, which I had wound into a hank to facilitate washing and drying, on top of the bubbles and ignored it for an hour or so.

When I poured off the wash water, there was a concerning amount of color in the wash water.  Sometimes, that can happen.  But, this should be easily fixed - thanks again to the Knitmore Girls.   After the yarn was fully dried from the initial washing, I found my wee baggie of citric acid that I have for this purpose and set about following the great directions in this tutorial, which I have used several times with great success!

I followed the contingency plan for what to do if the water still isn't clear until I ran out of citric acid (1/4 c - only using 1/2-1 tsp. at a time).  And still, color in the water.  Amazing amounts of color in the water.  CONCERNING amounts of color in the water.  I shared some frustration on Ravelry, in one of my favorite forums that happens to have active members who actively dye for business or personal use, looking for next steps.  I got some wonderfully honest & helpful recommendations from these gals and ordered more citric acid and synthrapol (just in case) on Amazon.

When the citric acid arrived, I was ready - GAME ON.


Armed with suggestions about amount of heat and length of exposure to said heat, I was ready to do this and get started with this sweater.  After all, the universe wanted me to knit this sweater, right?

All the yarn went through the citric acid process and after increasing the amount of time it was exposed to heat, the 'jelly rolls' of plastic wrap, inside their plastic bags, went into a cooler to hold the heat in, to help the chemicals continue to do their jobs.  This worked really well; the yarn was still a bit warmer than body temperature the next morning!  I left the yarn in the cooler until the next day when I got home from work.  I spun out the remaining moisture and laid the skeins on the drying rack to air dry.

Just to give me hope, the water that spun out had MUCH less color in it.  Maybe the citric acid had finally worked!

Once the yarn had fully dried, I rinsed it all in cool water.  This is what I got.



Remember how the water is supposed to rinse clear?

... yeah... sobs just a little

So much for the universe wanting me to have this sweater.

I was so frustrated at this point - none of this should be necessary.  As a knitter, I should NOT have to buy citric acid to finish bonding the dye.

(Is it worth it to be sure that poorly processed yarn doesn't ruin hours of work on a handknit item? Absolutely, but not my point.)

As a knitter, I should NOT have to research and buy professional grade detergents like synthrapol in order to use this yarn.

With the amount of dye coming off of the yarn, what would happen if someone got caught in the rain while wearing this item?  Blue skin? Blue streaks in blonde hair?  Ruined clothing?

Completely unacceptable.

So, I vented a bit to my group on Rav and let blood pressure return to normal.  After the initial disappointment passed, I realized that this yarn may never work for this project.  And I accepted that.  However, Regia should not accept that.

I contacted them through the contact us link on their website on January 10, 2017.  At the time of this posting, I haven't gotten a response.

At this point, I felt like I had nothing to lose, so when the synthrapol arrived, I didn't hold back. More in my next post.