Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Futility of Vanity

Doll Face, by Andy Huang

This is an amazing animation about what we will do to attain the ideals that are continually being programmed into us by media. It might make you cry.

Changing this way of thinking

As a sufferer of both asthma and fibromyalgia, I am well aware that many people seem to believe that these and other illnesses are the result of fatness. These people only see the fat; they do not know the internal workings of my body, nor do they know anything about my history. They are unaware of my skinny childhood body, which was active as can be (more so than today's overprotected, television-raised children), but afflicted with exercise-induced asthma. I instinctively would reduce my activity when I felt short of breath. I wouldn't become truly aware of it until high school, when cruel P.E. teachers would scream horrible things at me because I could not run a full mile without wheezing. I was screwing up their "presidential fitness test" score, or whatever the hell it was, by not running a mile. I would walk for a bit to catch my breath, ignoring the hateful words of the teacher, and the subsequent snickers of classmates.

I now believe that if these teachers truly cared about fitness, they would have recognized my situation and sent me to the nurse, which would have resulted in my parents being forced to get me treated. As it was, I didn't receive any treatment until I was old enough to take myself to the doctor (21 years old) and pay for it out of pocket. Also note that one of these fabulously healthy PE instructors, one that had called me names, died of a heart attack my senior year, while he was shoveling snow. Hooray for vigorous exercise.

At the time of these events, I was very thin. You could see my ribs and pelvis. I had a 24-inch waist. None of the aforementioned people would have attributed my asthma to my being fat at that time, would they? So why do they do it now? Asthma medications work in a number of ways; some are anti-inflammatory, while some are bronchodilators. None of them remove fat from your body! Asthma is caused by the muscles around the bronchi squeezing the bronchi, making them constricted, and by the bronchi being irritated and producing mucus. It is not caused by fat squishing the lungs. It is not caused by globs of fat accumulating in your lungs. Losing weight does not cure asthma. So let's stop this nonsense, okay?

Another example: I am very fair-skinned. I have mostly northwestern European heritage, and I burn to a crisp in the summer sun. Once the burn heals, I become pale again. There are some really lame people out there who comment on my fairness being a negative thing, but it's now pretty well-known that someone who is naturally pale can do serious damage to themselves by trying to become a shade of brown that they are not genetically programmed to become. One theory exists that being Caucasian is beneficial in northern climates so that we can do the vitamin D thing in reduced sunlight. Darker skinned people have lots of nice melanin to filter out the harsh rays of tropical locations. People developed different skin tones as adaptations to different environments. Why wouldn't we develop different body types too? Why do we all have to fit into the same medical criteria?

Here's the other thing: Diabetes and being fat. If you've heard of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), you might be surprised to know that the cyst part is actually a symptom of another problem, not an isolated issue. In a nutshell, PCOS is the result of insulin resistance, which also causes weight gain because the body's cells do not utilize glucose properly (so it gets converted into fat). Insulin resistance is also a precursor to type II diabetes--the insulin resistance itself creates the diabetic situation; the fat is a side effect, not the cause of the diabetes. Insulin resistance is primarily a genetic thing. Now, here's the question: Why would someone look at a syndrome that CAUSES weight gain by its metabolic effects and try to say that the syndrome itself is caused by being fat? This is not a chicken/egg situation, here. If A causes B, why would you claim that someone's B caused the A? I'll tell you why: Because it's one more effing excuse to justify the shitty treatment that is continually piled on fat people. It's one more shaky reason to support our twisted image of the ideal body.

But NO. STOP IT. Someone's genes flip a switch and create a health issue for them--asthma, diabetes, insulin resistance, what-have-you. Don't you think it's already hard enough without getting treated like some kind of moral degenerate for it? Before passing judgement on a fat person who has another health condition, bear in mind that you do NOT know their history. You do NOT know how their body works, what their DNA is, or any of those things. Treat the people around you like HUMAN BEINGS, regardless of their weight.

Friday, April 27, 2007

My weight loss suggestions

After some thoughts about the pervasive idea that the less you weigh, the better you are, I wanted to come up with a few sure-fire ideas for weight loss.

- Starve yourself. The downside is that it's really hard, and it's painful. The up side is that everyone will commend you on your discipline and willpower.

- Get Cancer. As your body slowly wastes away to nothing, people will admire your fabulous thinness. And really, isn't that what's important?

- Smoke cigarettes. The stimulant effect of the cigs will help you burn calories, and you can just ward off hunger with a smoke. Plus, running outside to light up will give you exercise. Don't forget to take the stairs!

- Develop a cocaine habit. Like with cigarettes, the stimulant effect will burn more calories, plus it suppresses the appetite!

- Infect yourself with tapeworms. It's like having a pet, but on the inside! What will you name yours?

- Amputate something non-essential to life. You'll certainly weigh less without one of your legs or arms. Get your appendix, gallbladder, and anything duplicated (lung, kidney, ovary) removed. You don't need them, and why carry around extra weight? It's quick, but expensive. People already get their stomachs removed for this purpose; why not take it a step further?

- Die. As decomposing organisms devour your body, your beautiful, thin skeleton will be left clean, shiny, and perfect. Isn't that what we're all striving for? As thin as possible?

These solutions don't make sense, but neither do many of the bizarre weight loss regimens out there. Some other thoughts I have:
- Why is horizontal growth the only type that we abhor? We can limit a person's height through malnutrition. After all, excessive height is associated with heart problems--people with acromegaly (Andre the Giant, Matthew McGrory) often die young of heart failure. Extreme examples, yes? But so are the examples of large people that are often used in obesity scare tactics. Someone who is 500+ pounds is NOT comparable to someone who is 200 pounds.

- Why is it that we only advocate limiting calories for weight loss? Oxygen is needed for metabolism as well. If we limit our oxygen intake by inducing asthma, surgically limiting, removing, or obstructing the lungs, or by using devices such as corsets, I bet we would lose weight! The need to breathe is natural, and we would not consider interfering with that to lose weight. So why on earth do we view the signal to take in calories (hunger) as a bad thing to be obliterated, or nobly endured?

This hasn't been a terribly coherent entry, but it contains some of the scattered thoughts and notes that I have had the past few days.

A few notes about Fibromyalgia

I received a comment asking for me to post some links about the neurological research into fibromyalgia. The Fibro Research blog does it better than I ever could:

Some highlights:
- Fibro sufferers treated for cervical myelopathy (a spine problem) had a reduction in fibro symptoms after the treatment (surgery).

- Fibro patients appear to have accelerated loss of gray matter (the type of loss generally associated with age)

- Post-traumatic stress disorder affects the way the brain processes pain

- Patients with fibromyalgia have significantly reduced dopamine synthesis in multiple brain regions

- In a French study, "Fibromyalgia patients...had significantly increased blood flow in regions of the brain known to be involved in the sensory dimension of pain processing, and significantly decreased blood flow in 'areas assumed to be associated with the affective-attentional dimension.'"

- In another study, "patients with chronic low back pain had 'microstructural changes in their brains.'"

Saturday, April 21, 2007


So, I'm doing my water change, having pulled out all the decorations and rocks, and I try to spot the "hard to find" fish in my tank while vacuuming. I see one, two, three ropefish, all accounted for. Black spotted eel, check. Spiny eel, check. Grey leopard pleco (L264), check. Synodontis ocellifer (juvenile), present. Asian bumblebee cat...Asian bumblebee cat?...there you are. Brand new baby goldy (sunshine, L-14) pleco who was my birthday present? Hello?




We combed through the gravel, no luck. I picked up my 14" Hypostomus hypostomus and closely inspected the tank (he gets in the way, and doesn't mind being picked up when it's necessary, and it was hard enough with my huge Synodontis eupterus and Synodontis angelicus in the way, and the three adult pink tailed chalceus freaking out), and there was no little goldy. So each decoration, which had been out of the tank for probably 15 minutes at this point (no problem for a pleco, thank goodness), was inspected closely.

My stupid log decoration (above) had a little dead-end side branch. It's that piece sticking out of the top. If I tilted it just so, I could see yellow spots and yellow fins all the way at the end. I gently nudged him with the forceps I had lying around (they're for feeding snakes), and he gave me the little squeaky pleco noise that says, "Go away!"

I had to determine whether he was actually stuck, or just happily holed up. I poked around gently with a cotton swab (highly recommended over metal pointy things when dealing with stuck fishies), and I quickly determined that he had gotten himself into a stuck situation. Sometimes they do this in hard resin decorations; they expect it to be organic like they'd find in the wild, and be able to push their way out, but this stuff is unnatural in its rigidity.

I carefully broke off the branch. It snapped off very easily, and I could clearly see my poor little pleco wedged inside. The whole time, we were dipping him in the water as often as possible, so he was doing okay. Now, here is the part you can learn from. I've had to rescue fish from resin decorations before. The trick is to get a pair of pliers, grip the decoration, and break off a small piece at a time, pulling away from the fish, until you get the fish free. Trying to break it in half or cut through it near the fish is going to kill the fish. I broke off bit by bit until I got just over his little head. Now, this is where needlenose pliers work best, but I didn't have any. I grabbed my cuticle nippers to do the very fine work by his head. Tiny piece by tiny piece, I gently removed the decoration from one of the "stuck" points.

Goldy wiggled free, dove into the tank, and hightailed it for the nearest corner.

I finished my tank maintenance and put everything back together. Goldy's amazingly no worse for the wear. The decoration looked pretty decent after that branch was snapped off, so I tossed it back in there. One of my brichardis likes it, so I didn't want to have to replace it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tell me how I feel, because I'm too stupid to figure it out for myself!
"There is much debate about both the usefulness and safety of opioids as a medication for fibromyalgia sufferers. Many health care professionals and researchers feel that there is little evidence that opioids actually provide significant pain relief for fibromyalgia patients. Others are concerned about the potential for tolerance and addiction associated with long-term opioid use. Yet, many fibromyalgia patients find that opioids are highly-effective pain relievers, and work to relieve persistent symptoms of widespread pain and muscle stiffness. "

Okay, how do the "health care professionals" say that there is little evidence that they provide pain relief, when the people who are FEELING THE PAIN and therefore the relief thereof are saying that these medications DO work for the pain? Can anyone explain this to me? Because it doesn't make any damn sense.

And this:
Furthermore, dependence on painkillers, including opioids, may directly inhibit the learning of self-efficacy, which allows patients to take control and significantly reduce their own pain and other symptoms.[20] Unfortunately, for too many today, "taking a pill is easier than building the necessary will," a socio-cultural reality contributing to our national problem of prescription drug abuse...

Am I reading that right? Did this author just suggest that chronic pain sufferers should just suck it up and suffer nobly instead of getting their pain treated with medication? Of course, the rest of the article is fraught with misinformed ideas about fibromyalgia being the result of psychological stress, which the very latest research has shown is not true. In a nutshell, fibromyalgia sufferers in Washington, D.C. were participating in a study where they were reminded to record their pain levels five times a day by a beeping palm pilot. On September 11th 2001, their pain levels were no different after the crisis than they were before. And any fibromyalgia sufferer can tell you, they can be having a wonderful day with happiness and joy all around, but not have the physical ability to enjoy it. It upsets me that this author is trying to paint a picture of us as a bunch of sad sacks who have nothing better to do than whine about being in pain all day.

Let me tell you, I do have a pretty full life. I work long hours, I have a fantastic relationship, I have a lot of things that I like to do. This illness isn't caused by my life being sad and miserable. On the contrary, I have to fight pretty hard to keep the illness from taking away from the joy and awesomeness that is my life. I've never been happier before in my entire life right now. Brian is a big part of that, but also, I enjoy being an adult. I enjoy being able to make my own decisions. I love surrounding myself with the things that fascinate me (fish, snakes, etc). I have more friends than I ever had before--and they're better friends than I've ever had before (trustworthy, caring, generous, all that). I love my job (even when my boss is difficult)--I have fulfilling relationships with many customers, I get to take care of interesting creatures, and I learn new things almost every day. I have awesome coworkers, too, who are smart, hardworking, and fun. I feel like there is this lurking illness reaching up to try and drag me down, but I've got too much to keep me afloat.

Sometimes, in order to do the things I love to do, I take medications that quell the agony I suffer on a daily basis. These medications work. The pain I have abates when I take the pills. I am able to stop hurting and work, be with friends, take care of my snakes, and go out and do things. If Dr. HeadUpArse wants to claim that the medications can't possibly work because "they work on different pathways" yadda yadda, I honestly and truly wish this illness on him so that he can understand HOW IT WORKS. Everyone's body is different anyway; those who know me very well are aware that benadryl doesn't make me tired at all, valium has little effect on me, and I've tried three different muscle relaxers that did absolutely NOTHING--no relaxing muscles, no sleepiness, nothing. The opioid that I occasionally take to relieve my pain doesn't even do normal things; most people get drowsy on it, while I get a stimulant effect (mild).

And I think I know what is going on here. Because there are some bad apples abusing opioid medications, there is pressure to find excuses not to prescribe them. But you know what? Some people use knives to stab people--That doesn't mean that knives should stop being used for good purposes. Maybe you can come up with complicated alternatives for knives (there are lots of them--mandolin slicers, those tomato wedgers, etc), but the fact is, knives work, they're versatile, and I can honestly do a better job chopping things up with my awesome chef's knife than some of these complicated gadgets that are expensive, break easily, and are a pain in the ass to clean. I think that this is an apt analogy, really.

The bottom line is, it's the height of arrogance for these "health care professionals" to tell ME how I feel, and try to deny me (or others like me) the medication that allows me to live my life on the basis of "well some people are abusing it." For the record, I take vicoprofen, which is hydrocodone with ibuprofen. I think that the ibuprofen helps more than the tylenol in regular vicodin, and it's easier on the liver.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The anti-fat hysteria that is currently manifesting in an all out "War on Obesity" is weighing heavily (no pun intended) on my mind.

I've been keeping up with the Junk Food Science blog, which very logically picks apart the media hype, leaving behind the science of the situation. You can draw your own conclusions after reading the blog, but the gist is this: Fat isn't killing us in droves; cancer, heart disease, and the like are mostly the result of your genes. Dieting is damaging to the body. Diets don't actually work anyway, if you look at long-term studies (people gain the weight back plus some in five years or so; most studies don't go past the two year mark).

The "war on fat" is harmful and deadly, especially to women, in several ways:
- Doctors overlook real problems because they are fat-focused
- Some doctors are so averse to fat women that they actually will avoid doing exams (including pap smears) on them
- Because a moral judgement is often made on fat people ("You have only yourself to blame"), they often don't get proper treatment for unrelated health issues
- Harmful and potentially deadly weight-loss measures are pushed on fat people (bariatric surgery, drugs, diets)

Furthermore, the "kids are fat and going to die" hype is overblown and based on some very skewed statistics. I am not going to rehash everything on Junk Food Science, because Ms. Szwarc is far more eloquent than I am, but there is one awful correlation that is being blatantly ignored by the media: Eating disorders are on the rise. The bombardment of fat-hatred coming from all sides--television, government officials, doctors, school officials, and others--is driving more people, especially young people, to anorexia and bulimia. The fashion industry couldn't dream of having this kind of effect on youth. Thin is just not "in", it's trumpeted as healthy, life-extending, and, dare I say it, moral.

The message I am seeing is this: "If you get fat, it is because you cannot control your disgusting self, and you will be punished by horrible diseases and DEATH." Who needs religion when we've got the fat police to control our behavior? No need to threaten people with damnation; just convince them that they'll never die or get sick as long as they're thin. It's frighteningly powerful.

I'm going to make a scary admission here, and some readers are going to be utterly shocked and dumbfounded by this. I ask in advance that, if you are upset by it, please don't treat me any differently than if you had never known. It's hard to say this, and I'm really nervous about the consequences. When I was younger, I managed to fit into the doctor's chart for "appropriate weight" for my height by not eating. That's a roundabout way of saying it, but I can't bring myself to be more direct than that.

Young people who starve themselves are not doing it because they are stupid; they do it because they are ill. They can't just snap out of it. They aren't making conscious, rational choices. If they recover, it will always be there. It's a piece of them, lurking, popping up every now and then. You can learn to compartmentalize it, squash it a bit, make it less powerful, but it's there.

When I am at a restaurant, it rears its ugly head sometimes. I don't want people to look at me eating, because that little voice is telling me that other people are judging me. They think I shouldn't be eating, because I am fat. It doesn't matter what the food item is; even eating a tomato would make me feel that way, but if it's something like cheesecake, I feel even more self-conscious. It's almost like the sick part of me is reading the minds of other customers:
"Look at her, what does she think she's doing? She shouldn't eat until she is thinner."
"Look, she's eating a salad. Isn't that cute, sweetie...but it probably won't do you any good. Why are you bothering?"
"Maybe she should pass the plate to the skinny boyfriend, she certainly doesn't need it."
Worst of all:
"What's a guy like that doing with a pig like her?"

It's there, and I push it away, but every so often, I'll somehow feel full after only a few bites. Almost nauseated, even, because I'm self-conscious, disgusted with myself for just eating, and feeling guilty for not having the self control to starve myself. Yes, I KNOW it doesn't make any sense. It's completely irrational.

I've visited the "Pro-ana" communities because I had to see for myself that people were glorifying a mental illness. I couldn't look for very long, because that sick part of me was starting to feel validated. "See, all these girls are managing to control themselves and be thin, what happened to YOU? You used to look like that, you pig." I talked back to it. "They're sick, and some of them are going to die young because of it. Some of them HAVE." And I clicked away to something else.

I'm worried, because this is something that is so deeply rooted, so insidious, and it's being programmed into the minds of every child and teenager today. Generating paranoia about fat and eating is a foolish and cruel thing to do, and I am truly sorry for all of the young people that are going to suffer for it. Those who have the nerve to starve themselves are going to do it, and those who don't will hate themselves for it. Utterly abominable.

For the record, I'm fat now. I don't know if it's genetic (I generally look like my father in facial features and body shape), or the result of damage to my metabolism done in those miserable teenage years, but here I am. My doctors have declared me wonderfully healthy*, with great cholesterol scores, excellent blood pressure, and all that nonsense. My tall, thin significant other, however, who eats the same stuff I do and in about the same amounts, has tested high for "bad" cholesterol. I used to blame my vegetarianism for my good cholesterol and blood pressure, but I guess it's all genetics, baby.

* "Healthy", but fibromyalgia-stricken. They've figured out that fibro's a neurological thing, so my fatness isn't to blame for that either. My brain works great for thinking and stuff, but not so great for sorting out false alarm pain signals!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Learning the ropes

I have a particular fondness for eel-like fishes, possibly because of their resemblance to snakes. I also think that, because they are able to move their heads more independently from their bodies, it gives them more body language and therefore makes them more interesting (even though our interpretation of that body language is generally flawed and processed through an anthropomorphizing filter). It goes without saying that I find ropefish very enjoyable to watch, but I had not ventured into ropefish-keeping until I started my current job.

Other stores would get maybe one ropefish in every few months. They were high-priced, and about half the time were found dried up on the floor. A dried ropefish is a very sad thing. Their little faces are human-like, and it hurts my heart to think of what they experienced when they unwittingly played a nasty trick on themselves. Contrary to what most people seem to believe, fish that jump or slither out of their aquariums are not "committing suicide" or even "stupid". In the wild, fish that find themselves in a shrinking or stagnant puddle of water can often jump out and land themselves back into the main part of a stream, either directly or by flopping around, letting gravity take them to the water (water flows downhill, after all). Ropefish, eels, lungfish, and other similar creatures take this to another level by being able to direct themselves out of their current body of water, not having to rely on gravity and desperate flopping. They move through wetlands that might be a centimeter deep or even less; the small amount of ground moisture being just enough to keep them hydrated as they search for a suitable place to hang out.

In captivity, these creatures are engaging in their natural behavior, but they are in a very unnatural situation. Evolution prepared them very well for life in streams, lakes, and ponds, but not for life in a box of water, four feet off the ground, with the surrounding area dry as a desert. Some fish crawl or jump out to escape foul conditions in the aquarium, while others simply have an instinct to roam. Either way, keeping these fish alive means doing everything possible to seal up the tank. I suppose keeping a shallow pan of water on the floor for wayward eels and ropefish might not be a bad idea, either.

Long story short, my current workplace tends to get not just one ropefish at a time, but ten or so. A tank full of ropefish is an impressive sight; all those little heads peeking out of their hiding area is adorable and amusing. Having ropefish eat frozen bloodworms from my fingers makes me all giddy, too. Their movements are so graceful and deliberate; when they are searching for food, they appear to be very intelligent, looking all around them, carefully inspecting every crevice, and moving slowly and carefully.

We started having problems with the ropefish soon after I started the job. I hadn't realized that they'd had these issues before I came to work with them as well. They would get an illness that would eventually kill every single one within a week. The deaths were protracted and horrible, and none of the medications were working.

My first step was to ban copper-based medications and aquarium salt from their tank. They improved somewhat, but not enough. This last batch was going downhill fast, and I couldn't stand to see it happening. My personal ropefish at home was thriving; he has been with me nearly a year now. I decided to take the remaining fish home and see if I could reverse the illness with some intensive care.

First, they received a dip in penicillin, and the entire tank was treated with a food that contained penicillin (I also have several sickie refugees here that the boss was going to euthanize). I added Maroxy, Melafix, and Pimafix to combat the bacteria and fungi, and I added two powerheads, each spewing a steady stream of bubbles, to circulate and oxygenate the water. Dried foods were suspended in favor of frozen bloodworms and plankton.

The two ropefish that I brought home are 100% better now. They are happy, healthy, eating, and exploring the tank. A big change from the illness that caused the other fish at the store to go from "okay" to "massive internal hemorrhage" within 24 hours. These two were showing the beginning symptoms (skin patches, lethargy, gasping) when I brought them home; the others were already on the brink of death when I made this decision.

I have a couple of products on order from Seachem that I believe will help the next bunch of ropefish. I blame myself for these guys' deaths, though, because I did not catch the signs soon enough. That, and we lost one to the floor; people keep leaving their canopy open. I am learning as I go how to give these guys the best possible start on captive life, but it has been at a very unfortunate cost.

When I get some photos of the ropes in my aquarium, I'll post them. They're extremely difficult to photograph, though, as their heads are very small, and they move quite a bit.

Mart Cart

For almost a week, we had really needed to go grocery shopping. Each night, however, I found myself simply unable to face the prospect of expending the energy to do so. There was one night that was an "almost", but the drive home from work sapped what little strength I had left. Even though Brian does the driving when we go places together, the car ride there, the walking around the store, and the thought processes involved were too much for me to handle.

Friday night, I called Brian just before I got off work to let him know that I thought it would be THE night. Coworker Nancy had brought me a fish refugee from her tank (a one-eyed OB peacock cichlid that was wreaking havoc), though, and as I drove home, I couldn't face the prospect of going up the stairs to the apartment, putting the fish away, then going back down to the car. The very idea of it was just exhausting.

Brian was waiting outside for me when I got home. He must have anticipated that I wasn't up to going up the stairs and back down. I resigned myself to the shopping trip and had him run the fish up and put it in the aquarium (no acclimation is really necessary; these fish are strong). I was shaking with fatigue when we got to the store, but I figured we could just get a few things and get out of there. That's when Brian suggested I try one of the motorized scooters.

I had a mental block against the things. I guess some of it was not wanting to give in to that step, admitting that I was in bad enough shape to need one of those, but to be honest, I'm tired of nobly suffering for some false ideal of independence. The real mental block, I think, is not wanting other people to think I'm lazy and worthless. I understand invisible disabilities, but I hear people complain all the time about how they see "fat people using the scooters because they are too lazy to walk", and "if they'd just get off their lazy asses and walk, maybe they wouldn't be so fat".

*I* know that kind of thinking is ignorant and hateful. I know that most people using mobility aids aren't lazy, and that if they are overweight, it is not the cause of their mobility problem. It's often the result of the problem. That large person you see on the mart cart may have arthritis, balance problems, or other issues that you cannot see. It's the hysteria of the "obesity epidemic" being slammed down our throats that is poisoning people's minds against the overweight disabled. Next time you feel tempted to judge a fat person using a mobility aid, you may want to just be thankful that you are not in their position.

I think people have a psychological need to assign blame to those who are suffering or disabled. If the person is responsible for his or her own predicament, after all, then it is believed that we are not obligated to expend ourselves being empathetic or even polite to them. If we accept that a person is disabled due to happenstance, then we are not only obligated to be compassionate, but we must also face the possibility that it could happen to anyone, including ourselves.

And so, I decided to face being thought of as a fat, lazy, good-for-nothing so that I could shop for groceries without pain, without shaking, and without having to focus all of my energy on simply walking around.

I discovered that this was a very good choice! I have previous experiences with Brian pushing me in a wheelchair, first at the Toronto Zoo, then at the NYS Museum. In both cases, while it was still exhausting, I was able to enjoy and appreciate those places because my mind was not tied up fielding pain signals and requests from my body to "sit down, stop walking around!" In those cases, I felt protected by Brian, validated even. Surely if this nice gentleman is pushing the lady around, at least one other person besides herself has decided that she needs help. It's difficult to really explain how it felt, but that's as close as I can get.

The cart was different. This was me, controlling my own movements, with no one to vouch for me but myself (Brian was there, but he didn't have to be). It maneuvered very easily, and my only problems were getting things out of freezer cases (the doors are a pain!) and higher shelves. I had the lovely gentleman do those things for me, and we were able to finally get in a decent shopping trip. Additionally, we were shopping in the late evening, so I wasn't obstructed by or creating traffic jams in the aisles.

Now that I have crossed this mental barrier, I am confident that I can do this again. If anyone gives me lip about it, due to my age ("You're too young to use those! Stop fooling around!") or weight, I will calmly educate them about invisible disabilities. Now that I realize just how much clearer my head is when I'm using a mobility aid, I understand that my use of them is valid and necessary.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lucius the Lovely

"He needs to find someone else to bite!" read the ad on A picture of a beautiful sub-adult yellow rat snake accompanied the ad. The snake, named Gamma (because gamma radiation penetrates the skin), was a foul-tempered picky eater, and his owner was just tired of the abuse.

How could I resist? I contacted her, and before long, a small white box of snake was headed my way.

"Sometimes, when he's HANGING from my nose like some piece of malicious jewelry, it's all I can do to pry him off and put him back in his enclosure!" she wrote. I couldn't wait to meet him. I can't explain my attraction to the snappish ones. Gregor, whose story will come another time, was love at first bite. The nippy gopher snake in the herpetology lab at school was my favorite.

The box arrived while I was teaching a program at the museum. It almost killed me to keep teaching for another twenty minutes, but I managed. As soon as the kids filed out of the room, I used my keys to cut the tape on the box, opened it up, and pulled out a snake bag.

I carefully untied the bag and pulled out a pale yellow creature who was about three feet long. He curled around my hands, looked at me for a while, then settled down and stayed put. No musking, biting, or tail-buzzing. I figured that maybe he was just chilled, so I put him into a container and gave him a heat pad while I finished the rest of my work day.

I took him home, and over the next few days, he did not react with fear or aggression when I changed water, spot cleaned, or otherwise invaded his space. To this day, he has not bitten me or behaved aggressively. He was named Lucius, in keeping with my Roman Emperor rat snakes naming scheme (we have Julian, Marcus, Cornelia, and Claudia as well).

So what was Lucy's problem? Why was he so angry and ill-behaved for Ms. S.? Do I have some kind of magic snake-whisperer ability? I don't really think so. Prior to his life here, Lucius was kept in a sweater-box type enclosure. Many snake breeders use racks with translucent sweater-boxes as a matter of convenience. Usually, the snakes don't care.

Lucius, though, is different. We use glass enclosures here, because we like to watch our snakes. And, it seems, sometimes they like to watch us! Lucius spends a lot of time looking at the people in the room. He watches me most of the time, and he explores his enclosure, looking all around him. He's a very visual creature, and I think that he was possibly driven mad with boredom being stuck in a translucent enclosure.

He also has roommates here. He lives with Cornelia and Julian, and they spend a lot of time curled up together. Ms. S. had mentioned that he was less aggressive when housed with another snake, so perhaps he just needed some company.

Lucius is a beautiful, adorable creature, and he has the happiness he deserves now that he is with me.
Lucius is the one in the bowl; Julian's on the edge of it.

Aquarium Store Life

I currently work in an aquarium store*, where I have a variety of duties. The saltwater department is entirely my responsibility, due to my experience, but I am involved with every other aspect of the store as well.

This is the sixth such store at which I've been employed. It is, thus far, the best one. High end fish, big tanks, and good products--the store owner does not blink at making sure we have the best and brightest in the region.

Prior to this job, I had worked at a museum, where I was the aquarist. I took care of a river exhibit and worked in the animal room, which was full of reptiles. I loved the work, but it was a difficult social environment. I don't enjoy playing cliquish games and insincere, backhanded compliments. I got out of there before I lost my mind, but it hurt terribly to leave behind the creatures I loved.

I have a sizeable menagerie at home. Many snakes, a few turtles, several felines, and a silly little pac-man frog named Blinky. Blinky lives on my desk, and he's watching me right now.

I don't know if I'll have anything interesting to say, but I'll give it my best shot.

*This status has changed as of May 3, 2007. I am currently doing part time work cleaning aquariums when my health permits.