Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Skills. I haz em.

tule mat

Tule mat I just made, even though it hurt like hell!

Hi There! You haven’t heard from me in awhile. That is because I’ve been busy getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology . Now I’m done. You may have noticed a change in the subtitle of my blog: I decided to add Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to the list of topics. Over the years I’ve written about my health here and there, but I’ve recently come to the decision to incorporate more writings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into my general repertoire. A lot of this comes as a direct result of my academic studies. One reason is that I feel it is important to advocate for the disease itself, which is grossly misunderstood and something most people simply don’t know much about. Labels can help and labels can harm. The name Chronic Fatigue Symdrome itself is problematic, as it lacks gravity, and comphrensiveness. Fatigue is only one of numerous symptoms.  Nevertheless, for me it has helped tremendously. People categorize things. It is how they communicate. It took me 10 years to accept this label, and my decision to become diagnosed was a deliberate one, and I now bear it with pride.

I’ve spent so much time experimenting with different treatments, that I often thought of creating a second blog, something like trackerofhealth, but decided against it because although it helps to express feelings and organize thoughts, dwelling excessively on the subject can be painful, to make a whole site about it would be a big commitment. So duh, why not combine the two which is a more authentic representation of my life to begin with!

I hope I can be a positive role model  (even though I may sometimes have “dark” thoughts on the subject) for other people with CFS, connecting them with my wildish interests, and for other rewilders suffering invisible, chronic, stigmatized disease who feel alienated from the community at large. The primitive skills scene, and most other DIY scenes, though they pride themselves on providing alternatives to modern society have a long way to go in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and I hope to make inroads into changing this. The American ethics of hard work, rugged individualism, and materialism are still very much evident in our attempts to break away.

I envision starting with something simple, support group workshops,  moving up to perhaps a horse packing trip for women with fibromyalgia, up to a whole civilization rehabilitation center for learning and healing (hopefully I will find a healthy, energetic partner to help with this!). Many internships, gatherings, and wilderness programs are  unsuited to people like myself who cannot carry a pack, eat a starvation diet (or a pasta and oatmeal based diet for that matter), or work 10 hour days 7 days a week. Pioneer heros, TV shows, and even Tom Brown Jr. stories can glorify the single-man survival style. For some people this is just not as possible and practical as it is for others. On a philisophical level I believe our culture will continue to create outliers who force us to acknowledge such problems, until a better balance between individualism and communalism can be struck. When marginalized people can’t “pull their own weight”, we must examine what weights they ARE pulling and why. What burdens and wisdom are they holding for the rest of us?

Bengay

A girl’s best friend.

In the field of wilderness therapy most existing programs, though communal, are oriented toward backpacking and short term survival rather than long-term, hedonistically cushy  simple living, which is what many of us rewilding types are all about anyway. While this may be appropriate for rebellious teenagers who thrive on stretching their comfort zone and testing their abilities, it is not neccesarily appropriate for those who have been “broken” by this world, those who have already undergone underworld initiation by any number of difficult and traumatic experiences and need or desire slightly more accomodating accomodations. I already know I can walk 30 miles in a day even with my condition, because I’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean its a good idea. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself.

The world of primitive skills gatherings is also highly communal, but in this craft-based culture a person is often evaluated by what they can produce, or can teach other people to produce. It seems to be less satisfying when, for example, you don’t make a hand drill fire all by yourself. But should it? When friends visit my house, they look at my things and ask, “Did you make this?” And who wouldn’t? That’s what people do. But if I, not even trade for, but just plain buy my hides, or pack basket, or a bow and NEVER make one, am I going to be viewed as less authentic? I don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that because of my pain, it is difficult for me to complete most crafts, some like hide tanning require physical endurance and a certain measure of strength, but perhaps even worse for me are those that require sitting on the ground and engaging in hours of small repetitive hand motions such as loom weaving, basketry, and beading. I’d rather dig ditches any day. Admittedly, most all of the projects I have ever completed have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

chronic fatigue syndrome

Another reason I am choosing to write about this topic is to give those around me a greater understanding of who I am personally. I am very independent and stubbornly capable of just about everything a normal person is capable of…for a short time. I am tanned, toned, and let’s face it, sexy as hell. I smile and laugh (though I never feel it in my core). I run and dance (though my joints ache, and I get nauseous if I stay up late). I travel alone and lift my 70lb tipi canvas onto its frame. I may come off as shy and skittish, doe-like. I am. People see that, but because of these other things most people don’t know I’m quite ill, and even those who know me well don’t understand the extent of it. You cannot judge the health of a person with chronic disease based on what they do, as this does not take into account the strength of their will, nor can you judge based on what they say, since you have no idea how accurately they are portraying their condition in proportion to the amount of suffering they are experiencing. I would hazard a guess that a good number of people who are accused of negative thinking, actually spend a good deal of time hiding, or skimming over unsavory details as it is not socially appropriate to continually answer the question “How are you?” with “Fucking terrible, and yourself?”

A note to people reading this: You may be tempted to offer helpful medical advice and suggestions. Thank you. Don’t. Almost all people with chronic disease suffer from an overload of “maybe you just need to…”. Most likely they have internalized these messages about what is wrong with them and now feel that they can’t do anything right, can’t eat right, can’t sleep right, can’t exercise right. I have not given up. I am currently undergoing treatment. If you have an herb or supplement I just need to try, I will give you my mailing address and you can send it to me, because I am not buying anything else, nope, not even digging it up. Same with services. You want to come to my house and give me a massage? Sweet. If you want to offer words the best thing to say is something like, “That sucks. I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. Let me know if you want to talk about it more.” If you would genuinely like to help, this is going to take offering real energy, not just ideas. My favorite thing is food and one thing I have a hard time with is feeding myself. Making me food is the number one best thing you can do for me. Contributing energy to helping me finish projects is the next best thing. Cognitive issues like concentration and motivation are huge with this illness so just having someone around helps keep me on task even if I end up doing most of the work myself.

Side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome often include pillow hugging, making frowny faces, and looking hot:

chronic fatigue syndromechronic fatigue syndrome chronic fatigue syndrome

Film Review: Under Our Skin (2008)

Have you ever been told “it’s all in your head”? Under Our Skin, a classic big-pharma conspiracy tale, is the story of what some call an epidemic of misdiagnosed and undiagnosed Lyme disease in America. It follows the lives of several Lyme patients as they seek controversial treatment for their illness by a few doctors whose livelihoods are continuously under fire for believing in the existence of chronic Lyme.

You would think that as someone who spends large amounts of time in the woods, I would be worried about contacting or having Lyme disease, but I never have been. My interest in this film came from my interest in medicine in general, especially those mysterious conditions which baffle  modern medical doctors including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and even Autism. Lyme, often confused with or concurrent with other diseases, seems to fall into the same category as these, having widely variable neurological and immunological symptoms often written off as psychosomatic. As an attractive woman with chronic back pain, I particularly related to the female characters in the movie whose pain was discounted and difficult to convey because they “looked good”.

Much like Autistic Parents have organized around DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctors, Lyme patients have organized a list of LLMD’s (Lyme Literate MD’s).  I was surprised however that the film focused almost entirely on conventional medicine for Lyme which includes ongoing doses of antibiotics. For an example of an alternative protocol see Steven Harrod Buhner’s book Healing Lyme.

The movie seemed to insinuate global climate chance might be the culprit behind the rising incidence of Lyme. I find myself more concerned with increasing environmental toxins which overwhelm the immune system’s ability to cope with additional invaders and are implicated in many of the diseases discussed above.

Legal Sticky Buds!

salve.jpg

cottonwood salve

On Friday I went with my friend Jana and her son Jackson to Powell Butte Nature Park in southeast Portland to harvest black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) buds for salve.

Powell Butte, an extinct cinder cone volcano, rises near the headwaters of Johnson Creek – an urban creek with remnant populations of native salmon and steelhead. The park is comprised of 608 acres of meadowland and forest.

Cottonwood is a new tree to me. I never once saw an eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides) in my area of Pennsylvania although quaking (P. tremuloides) and bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata) were quite common. Any of the Populus genus will have the resinous buds needed to make this salve, though some trees are much more sticky and fragrant than others, even among the same species. Winter and early spring is the best time for gathering, you’ll know if it is the wrong time, of course, because instead of buds you’ll find flowers or leaves!

The names, both common and scientific, of plants often offer clues to their uses and characteristics. The name “cottonwood” for example derives from the white cottony seeds produced by the female trees, though the wood itself is also soft and light, good for carving or making burn bowls. Balm of Gilead is another common name for some members of the cottonwood tribe and alludes to their healing resins. The true biblical Balm of Gilead, however, comes from an entirely unrelated kind of tree found in that part of the world, and this name is also applied to several other resinous trees. Too, I’ve been told that poplars “pop” when you chop them down. I doubt this is the origin of the name, but it’s a helpful reminder of the wood’s qualities nonetheless.

As a member of the Salicaceae family, which also includes willow, the poplar/cottonwoods contain aspirin like substances called salicylates making this salve ideal for anti-inflammatory purposes. I took my cues for this herbal project from Michael Moore. No, not the documentary filmmaker, but the author of Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. According to Moore, the salve is useful for sprains, arthritic joints, burns, and hemorrhoids. In addition to their antinflammatory properties, the buds are antimicrobial, increase blood flow to the skin and promote fast would healing, acting as a kind of primitive Neosporin. In particular he recommends a base of animal fat such lard or clarified butter. Lard is cheaper than olive oil anyway, so I was happy to oblige.

salvelard.jpg

Materials: Buds, Lard, Pot, Jar, Cloth.

Step 1: Melt lard.

Step 2: Add buds. One part crushed buds, fresh or dried, to two parts lard by volume. I crushed the buds individually by hand, though I’m sure there is a faster and less messy way. My fingernails are still coated with resin.

Step 3: Cook over very low heat for at least 3-4 hours. I found the lowest setting on my stove was still too hot to avoid smoking, so I altered the directions heating the mixture, letting it cool down, and reheating it several times. You could also keep it warm in a low oven.

Step 4: Strain through cloth into jars.

salvepot.jpg

That’s not all our generous lady cottonwood and her sister aspen have to offer:

-According to Urban Scout, cottonwood is the perfect bowdrill material. In particular the dry uprooted cottonwoods found in log jams provide naturally split roots for fireboards, smaller roots for spindles, a tough rounded outer bark for handholds, and light fluffy inner bark or the cotton for tinder.

-At Rabbitstick I was told that the white powder picked up by running your hands over the bark of the younger trees can be used as sunscreen.

-An article on aspen from Wilderness Way magazine concurs and adds, “The white powder found on the outside of the tree contains a good quantity of naturally occurring yeast. A sourdough bread mix kicked off with this powder will add some leavening and a great flavor to bread, pancakes, and other baked goods. Try scraping off a few teaspoonfuls, and add it to a soupy mix of flour and water. Throw in a tablespoon of sugar for good measure and wait a few days, stirring each day. The mix should begin to foam and smell ‘yeasty.’ “

-According to Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Pojar/MacKinnon, among other things, the Nuxalk used the bud gum of black cottonwood for baldness, sore throats, whooping cough, and tuberculosis. The Okanagan/Stl’atl’imx used it as a glue for securing arrowheads and feathers to shafts. Meanwhile, bees collect the resin, which is an anti-infectant for their hives and seal intruders such as mice in the resin to prevent decay and protect the hive!

-I find that if you bite a cottonwood bud your mouth will taste like perfume for about an hour as if you had just been necking with an elderly woman. Speaking of which the salve would probably make a good perfume if you’re into that kind of thing. I personally get a headache from the overpowering scent even without the oral exposure.

There are so many more interesting things about aspen/cottonwood than I can cover here, so I’d like to ask my readers what is YOUR favorite? Do you have a firsthand experience with one of these trees you would like to share? I’m also looking for folks to try out the finished salve and tell me how it works. I can even trade you some if you think you have a use for it.

Carrots Gone Wild-The Video!

My blog’s statistics indicate that “wild carrot” is one of the number one search terms leading people to my site. This video is for them. At the end of the video you will see a shot of our meal: balsamic glazed wild carrot and stir fried wild pea tips over rice.

First Fall Mushrooms!

Time to gear up for mushroom season. I found these babies outside of my apartment in Portland. I believe this to be a Prince mushroom, Agaricus augustus, based on the scaly, yellow-staining cap, combined with the strong almond-like odor of the flesh, and shaggy stalk among other features. David Aurora writes in All that the Rain Promises and More…, “One of the very best! The sweet fragrance and flavor are a real treat.” Looks like I’ve got a plan for dinner tonight.

Steampunk’d: Rewilding and Steam Technology

Steampunk is a science fiction genre and an aesthetic subculture typified by neo-Victorian design elements including brass, leather, polished wood, clockwork gears and goggles. Popular movies depicting steampunk style include 1999′s Wild Wild West, and Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.

Does steampunk technology have a place in the rewilder’s vision of the future? Well, sure, some elements might, but I don’t see the return of the sternwheeler or steam locomotive as a step in the right direction. While that melancholy train whistle may sound romantic, these modes of conveyance used shitloads of wood (presumably the most readily available post-apocalyptic source of fuel, although coal and fuel oil were also used) causing massive river bank deforestation and erosion. For example, Flyer, a steamboat built in Portland, Oregon burned 24 cords of wood a day. Most steamboats on the Columbia burned an average or 4 cords of wood an hour, traveling at perhaps 4 miles per hour. For reference a cord of wood is 4 x 4 x 8 feet and the typical amount of wood used to heat a family home is about  3-5 cords per year. The fact is that while they were used for pleasure and travel, as well as commerce, steamboats, and other steam-powered engines would be largely unnecessary in a non-industrialized society.

I did find a fine description of a turkey trap while reading Cutting Wood for the Mississippi Steamboats:

They found a supply of ear corn and they would shell off a few handsful of corn.  They would dig a trench that got a little bit deeper and deeper along.  And then over the end of that trench they would build a house of saplings, just little sticks cut and laid across each other to make a house big enough to hold a turkey or two at the end of this trench that they’d dug.  And as the trench deepened, the turkeys — they would string the corn, one kernel at a time following the other and the turkey would begin eating and would eat his way down to the end.  And when he reached the end where there was no more corn, he’d raise his head up in the air and try to get out.  He didn’t know enough to duck his head down and go out the same way he came in.  And he was trapped inside of the little homemade trap that had been made which was nothing more or less than saplings criss-crossed and made into a little house.

I’m not the first to question the eco-viability of the steampunk movement. Jacob Corvidae waxes philisophical on the romanticization of the steam era while pointing out that perhaps,  “it’s an attempt to reunite our modern technological lives with a crafts-based, hands-on engagement with the materials of our lives”.  Perhaps so, and I have no problem with designs based on the recycling of steel and other non-stone age remnants of civilization, such as the steampunk treehouse below, but have yet to see many practical steam punk inspired items that could be manufactured and used if the entire gas-electric grid were to collapse tomorrow…as it should :)

Designed by Sean Orlando and company, photo by Zachary Wasserman

haha, “donkey puncher”

Traditional NW native canoe building: How’s this for steampunk?

Wild Carrot: Rewilding’s Mascot?

Daucus Carota

The other day Rebecca Lerner and I were prepping for one of our Urban Foraging 101  walks when I spied a regular carrot in somebody’s sidewalk garden.  Domestic carrots will rapidly interbreed with wild carrots. Saving carrot seed involves vigilantly eliminating nearby wild carrots (aka queen anne’s lace).  I said, “Maybe we can point this out for comparison to wild carrot.  You know, if you leave the domestic carrots alone they just revert to their wild state, like, really quickly…hey maybe that is a metaphor! Becky helped me figure out exactly what the metaphor might be which is this: The instinct for rewilding is within each and every one of us. Think about it: Why do we like grilled meats so much? Why do children build forts of sticks and dirt? Why do millions of Americans go camping on vacations? Why do most of our hobbies involve pursuits like hunting, fishing, gardening, and making crafts? If left alone, unconstrained by laws that prohibit wild living, schools that break our spirits, and brainwashing by the media that tells us we need to purchase more consumer products, how quickly might we too begin to revert to a more wild state?! If you have any more ideas about the “rewilding instinct” please share them here.

Rewilding Ritalin…A Walk in the Park

A study by the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that for kids with ADHD a 20 minute walk in the park improved concentration with effect sizes (the relationship between two variables) comparable to Ritalin. The walk in the park beat out a downtown walk, and a neighborhood walk.  Children also rated the park walk as significantly more fun than the other walks.

One basis for this study is Attention Restoration Theory which was developed in environmental psychology to explain why people report feeling restored after spending time in wilderness. The theory maintains that natural environments are restorative in part because they are “gently absorbing” or hold effortless “soft-fascination”.

The researchers in the walk in the park study explain that:

…ART, which is based on work by William James, posits that attention draws on two different mechanisms: one for deliberately directed, effortful forms of attention, and another for involuntary, effortless forms of attention. The notion of two mechanisms underlying attention may partially explain why individuals with ADHD can routinely sustain focus on tasks they find interesting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on involuntary attention) but are unable to do so for tasks they find uninteresting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on effortful, directed attention).

In other words, ADHD is probably a result of the things you are required to do being freaking BORING… like HOMEWORK! Duh. Unfortunately rather than the blatantly obvious critique of compulsory education that I read between the lines, the authors of this study conclude that hopefully in the future nature may be used in “doses” to help us do better on homework.

In earlier work on the subject of directed attention, researcher Steven Kaplan implies there may have been historical benefit to the less directed style of attention:

It might seem peculiar that a mechanism so intimately involved with human effectiveness would be so susceptible to fatigue. Yet, in evolutionary perspective, this apparent limitation might have been quite reasonable. To be able to pay attention by choice to one particular thing for a long period of time would make one vulnerable to surprises. Being vigilant, being alert, in one’s surroundings may have been far more important than the capacity for long and intense concentration. Further, much of what was important to evolving human-wild animals, danger, caves, blood, to name a few examples-was (and still is) innately fascinating and thus does not require directed attention. It is only in the modern world that the split between the important and the interesting has become extreme. All too often the modern human must exert effort to do the important while resisting distraction from the interesting (emphasis mine). Thus the problem of fatigue of directed attention may well be of comparatively recent vintage.

If I may paraphrase, I agree with Kaplan that modern life is rather sucky. Yet, if anything many tasks of paleolithic living such as hide tanning, acorn grinding, and basketry, are incredibly slow and tedious, and would seem to require directed attention. Are they the equivalent of primitive homework? And if so, is that ability to concentrate restored by practicing more scout-like skills which require a more the ADHD style of attention!? And doesn’t “gentle absorption” or “soft-facsination” sounds a lot like being in wide-angle vision!?