Mindful Doodling

I feel like a kid showing mom her artwork. Nope, a 50-odd year-old woman showing her mindful doodling! Here is the thing. Sometimes, when I am triggered, overwhelmed or have cognitive fog, I have a hard time with words. It is super hard to write let alone communicate. Like many, I get irritated when I cannot communicate. The act of writing when I am like this is brutal and I learned one-month into my daily journaling activity that having a creative thing to do meant that I kept up with the “daily” part of the bargain if I could not communicate with words.

As I said before, my daughter and I used to try to do these 30-day challenges together. One of us would usually stop and then both of us would. While learning how to try to help with my cognitive functioning issues and to help find ways to manage my cPTSD, I stumbled upon journalling and sketchbook/creative activities/doodling as a super helpful tool. Ok. What is mindful doodling?

A daily sketchbook is just like keeping a daily journal. It is for you, it is about exploring whatever comes to mind, it is not intended to be perfect, and it is not necessarily intended to show anyone. Some people create for 20-30 minutes and then write for 20-30 minutes. Some just draw. It is super unique to you and how you want to express yourself.

A few things seem to be pretty consistent.

  • Use whatever materials that you have to start. You don’t have to go out and buy anything fancy.
  • Ink is a great way to start. I started to include watercolour later, but coloured pencil, charcoal, pencils, etc are fine too. With ink, it allows you to keep going and not put a lot of thought into erasing or fixing what you did. Fixing isn’t the point, doing is.
  • When I did not know what to do, I would make shapes (boxes or circles above) and start with lines. For variation, use different directions or spacing. You can also look at Pinterest or search “sketch patterns” and you can always print a couple samples for inspiration.
  • I put a timer on for 20-minutes. This allows me to focus on what I am doing and not the time.
  • It can be brutal to keep up with the “daily” part of this in the beginning. Be forgiving. It takes me about 6-8 days to fall into the routine and start to be ok with making “mistakes” and just going for it. Also be forgiving about not doing it for a day. Just start it again the next day.
  • If you have not been doing art for a long time, this doodling brings you back to the fundamentals you did in middle school art and you will appreciate those lessons. With time, you will get more pen control, remember how to use supplies and media again and will improve with time. There are also loads of social media accounts devoted to showing you how to do things. Sometimes watching them is relaxing. Ha!
  • I find that I am more likely to do this daily if I do it first thing in the morning with my first cup of tea. Later in the day, you may have plans, be tired, distracted, or just have this task weighing on your mind and it no-longer seems fun. I would half-ass it and then be annoyed with what I did or be super disappointed with myself when I didn’t do it. Doing it first thing makes it fun.
  • Writing is optional. I prefer to keep that in another journal. Most of that is about my health journey, but you can do this however you want.
  • Keep it loose. Loose watercolour, abstract designs and shapes, ink drawing of something in front of you, a cartoon that talks about what is frustrating, ink drawings of all of the zoonosis that can kill or maim humans… whatever, but do NOT fret about details or being perfect. It may inspire a piece of art later, but this is about exploring whatever is in your mind at the moment.

I hope this helps someone. Honestly, those straight lines were a mad challenge in the beginning of this journey. I would literally have a headache, blurred vision or get nauseous. As I reached new benchmarks in my healing, I found that it was easier, and I also have better pen control. Be careful with yourself, go slow, and breathe while you do this!

Long Term Antibiotics

fermented foods
Stock Photo of Fermented Foods

Thanks to chronic Q-Fever, I have to take Doxycycline for 2+ years. Also, Hydrochloroquine. Fun. I have alarms I set to let me know not to have dairy within 2-hours of taking these meds because absorption of doxycycline in the stomach and small intestine is reduced significantly if you do. Sweet. Cheese and cultured dairy products are primary food groups for me, but I have been trying to respect this.

Since I have been on these pills and not farming, I have lost muscle mass and have also gained a lot of I don’t know what this is. Water weight? I am also getting headaches again and just in general, I feel off. I am trying to do my PT daily and walking longer and more consistently, but it is not the same as hauling 5-gal pails of water, moving miles of temporary fence or bales of hay.

Infectious disease Dr. reminded me that many over the counter probiotics have dairy in them. I knew that. I reassured her I was familiar with fermented foods and what is and is not effective in pill form. I started out being rather good about my kvass, kombucha and kefir intake and I admit, my digestion was better. Something changed and I slowly stopped or was erratic.

Narrator voice: Don’t stop silly.

I have been pretty dysregulated mentally this week for various reasons and while trying to find something for a colleague of mine, I stumbled across my Sandor Katz bible on fermented foods. A healthy digestive system is like having healthy soil. You can’t expect to grow yourself if you aren’t eating well or right. I knew that when she first gave me those meds. I need to take care of my microbiome or I am not going to heal.

I went back into my store of neglected fermented foods and took an inventory of what I have, tossed out ones that started talking to me or looked like psychotrophs were a potential issue. I then noted the growing season and what we have for local veg so I can make some natural pickles and krauts. I texted a couple people for a kombucha scoby and kefir grains (sorry kefir that spoke of their displeasure that I neglected them).

To add to this blog, I will add a fermented foods category so that you can also explore what we have available locally or how to make them yourself. Microbiome stuff is actually rather interesting and may also be helpful and I can try to explain some of this. Cheesemaking was a very mindful activity and probably saved my life during a toxic marriage. Making fermented foods may help someone else on their journey, so I am glad to share my knowledge.

“But you Look Fine”

"But you look Fine" meme

Boy does this meme relate to a lot of people. I am sharing it because it relates to me too. For a long-time I thought I was presenting a normal human and going through all of my texts, emails and loads of papers over the last 3-4 years I see the progressively declining health, both mental and physical. It is a lot to process.

I have become more of an introvert and have been ghosting people who mean a lot to me because I am not always sure how I will be and for how long. I will admit I am struggling and after seeing how bad it has been I am trying to not only process all of that, I am also trying to work on my physical and mental health. When I make a mistake and am an emotional hot mess, I see this now and am deeply embarrassed. I cannot bear to hurt people and it reinforces my desire to be alone.

It took about 6-weeks of doxycycline and hydroxychloroquine to see the first lifting of symptoms. When you improve, you have hope and being bullheaded, I try harder and more. The problem is that it makes me worse. There is no pattern and for someone obsessed with pattern and pushing myself mentally and physically this has been absolutely brutal. Add trauma responses to what Q-fever did with the added bonus of the fall in October I am surprised I am functional at all).

While I can be articulate, back of the house I have to reread what I wrote and take notes on verbal communications. To use a food safety saying, “If it isn’t written down, it did not happen.” I can go for a 2-3km hike and comment on plants and wildlife, but I take a lot of photos to remember what we saw and sometimes it takes 1-2 hours for me to have blurred vision, cannot stand when my eyes are closed, tinnitus, and overwhelming fatigue for a 20-minutes to 2-days. This varies and I can be fine or there is another mix of symptoms. I cannot predict anything.

I have had improvements monthly. Physical therapist called them benchmarks. I can turn the light off in my bedroom at night and not immediately lose my ability to stand. I can do my vestibular exercises and when I close my eyes, not fall over. I may just have blurred vision, but I am not a shaking mess when I leave.

The things that have helped are the medicines I am on and walking on hiking trails and logging roads alone doing my exercises. It is quiet, kind of dark because tree canopy, I can focus on bird sounds when my mind races and it calms me. The sound of the water (especially when rocky shore or a steam/brook going over stones) helps me focus on something other than my body or the racing thoughts.

I am starting to reach out to people. I am not doing it well, but I am learning and trying to be better about communicating where I am. I am also triggered a lot because I am physically overreacting to things – comments, a photo I just saw, making a mistake because of a physical or brain misfunction, an intense conversation, someone asking me to hold their emotions during a hard thing like I used to gladly, a demand for something out of my control, or grief.

One step at a time. I will get there.

Daily Reminder

I need reminders. I always have a check off list or do certain things a certain way every time so that I do not forget things. With Q-fever and the concussion, I did not realize how many work arounds I came up with to make sure that I remembered things. I’ll go into more detail later.

This “Daily Reminder” thing is basically scoffed off of Pinterest. In Food Safety plans we have this thing where we look for critical control points that we monitor and then have a corrective action that we recommend that you implement if it is outside the parameters we define so that you can be sure that nobody becomes ill. We use the same process thinking in conservation planning and in I like to use them when I look at existing businesses to see what they are doing and then outline various things that can be done to make it “better.”

What were some of my daily “bottlenecks” that prevented me from being able to function? This list in that picture hit on my Top-5. It also had suggestions to help me settle those feelings so that I can function. Awesome. To remind myself, I made a few of these “Daily Reminders” and put one on my small monitor. I put another one heading out of my bedroom. Sweet, I have an implementation plan that is short and simple!

What do I write? Just brain fart it. Write it out for 3-pages or 20-minutes. Then leave it and walk. We have a 0.8km neighborhood block that is a great quick way to move. Wave to people in that polite New England way that suggests you are welcoming but does not mean that you have to talk beyond that gesture.

Read for me also means audio books or podcasts because sometimes if I tip my physical/mental stress into vestibular places, I have a sensitivity to light and reading physically can give me a mad headache. I have learned to control that some by going into a dark room. I wish I learned how to control it this winter because driving with that dappling from winter trees super messed me up.

I was fascinated with “move, walk and exercise” as recommendations for so much regulation. When I was operations manager at a couple creameries, I found that my staff tended to focus better, and we seemed to get through a lot by walking while we talked. I did a lot of thinking when I dug out bedded packs or hoed my garden. Before the hip injection and PT, I was a mess because chores were done but not without an insane amount of pain. How do I “move, exercise, walk?” Now, I am carefully working on increasing strength and endurance. It is not without setbacks, but I keep trying.

Last week, I was getting triggered a lot. Things often build and build, and it gets to the point where I am in survival mode. I honestly cannot tell you what feelings or where I am, it is like hunkering down to walk during a central NY winter from the house to the barns where you would have a strong wind with all of the possible forms of precipitation hitting you and all you thought about was getting to that door. I frantically asked for more tools in my mental health toolkit. What do I do when I feel ALL THE FEELINGS? If someone said breathe exercises or meditate, I would have thrown something in their general direction (in disgust, not in harm).

I literally looked at art and drove listening to an audiobook to calm down. Walking to the Smith College Art Museum and then various galleries and the Guild Art supply shop were my go-to after divorce court take things down 16-notches move. I am trying to come up with a stay at home version of that.

I then started to break things down in a spreadsheet. I broke it down into:

  • Feelings
  • Physical Responses
  • My Impulse
  • Thoughts (I call them my “inside voice” meaning they are loudly screaming inside my head – a take on inside voices being quiet… Anyhow)
  • Helpful Action Items

My next therapy meeting, he gave me some worksheets and it felt good to realize we were both on same page re: tracking things and seeing how this all works for me. After that, I broke it down into physical and mental monitoring with some more variables from his sheets. I need to work through how to validate how these Action Items helped manage the rest and then start to think about positive things that will happen as I go along, but this is a start.

Chronic Q-Fever

The diagnosis came in March 2022. I almost didn’t go to the appointment. It was made a couple months before and like many things now, I forgot about it. I thought the vertigo, nausea, cognitive issues and all were post-concussive syndrome (with the torn labrum) from the fall in October. Insurance covered it and why not go?

I am very glad I did go. I am glad I saw the Dr in Infectious Disease that I did see.

While the fall did leave an impact on my brain health and my hip it was something, many somethings, that were really doing a number on me. I faintly remembered it from pathology and general animal science classes. It is on a list of zoonosis you can get drinking raw milk. Many doctors remember it from similar courses a long time ago and never had someone come to them *with* Q-fever. Veterinarians never suspected that is what my problems were with the cattle and goats after spending a fortune to find out what was going on.

Like PTSD, I could not go for normal straight up Q-fever (acute). That could have gone away on its own without showing symptoms. I may have thought I had a bad cold, flu or COVID. No, I had to have chronic Q-Fever. I am glad it did not do anything to my heart. Men tend to have it settle there, wreaking havoc. I wasn’t jaundiced. I do count those blessings.

The symptoms you get are very patient specific with ranges from mildly disrupted to cannot function at all. For me, this fun little bacterium (Coxiella brunettii) affected my vestibular and cognative functioning.

I did have periodic bouts of high fevers, mad headaches, muscle weakness, absolute fear of falling (it was winter, I was alone in a barn where it could be dark), exhaustion, vertigo, confusion, groggy slow brain, forgetful (often froze hose when watering), stomach discomfort, etc. I had a few of those symptoms or all of them on and off since at least 2019.

I got it from cattle and goats. Most likely came from a group of cattle from TN to a farm I was renting in VT or from the cattle in VT that my landlord kept bringing (illegally) from NY. The cattle I had this winter totally have it. I had been dealing with symptoms of this for years. I have paid thousands of dollars for vets here to misdiagnose. I miss the VT and NY vets they knew the head from the arse end of a goat unlike some here. Treatment for them is not super hopeful.

I am on Doxycyclin and Hydroxycloroquine for the next two years and maybe more. I went from a prefer no meds thank you, maybe a Tylenol for pain only to having a pill organizer. I went from working 5:45am to 11pm on the regular to if I do too much, I am physically a hot mess for a day to a week. Fun trying to find where that sweet spot when there is no pattern and by nature I physically bull through to get things done.

As I go through records, papers, texts and messages, emails, just everything I am in shock. These bacteria if left to go without treatment can kill. For me, it destroyed a lot of things greater than my physical and mental health. Q-fever was my brick wall.

Therapy yesterday struck me. I get frustrated easily when I cannot do things mentally or physically like I used to. Anxiety can go from 3-30 in seconds. It is a PTSD trigger for sure. The thing is that I never stopped to think about the idea that I am grieving for how I used to be able to think before. Healing from brain truama (physical) can be a long slow process, just like healing from mental trauma (past physical and emotional pain).

Even therapy for cPTSD is about giving space to grieve. I have never been good about death. I only recently started to parse out what feelings are again and put emotional and impulse responses to what those mean. I don’t think I fully understand how to process all of this (arms and hands waving about suggesting all the things!!).

Writing and art are my only outlets… and pushing it too much physically and mentally while I try to recover. I don’t have my old ways of processing trauma. My old daily rhythms are gone.