Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

Forwards and Backwards (In the Cards)

Today’s card focused on two themes that I would like to explore: 1) the fears that are difficult for me to face and 2) the interplay of restoration and a fresh start. In seeking health and happiness, I think it can be useful to know what might hold me back from taking risks to obtain it. It is also useful to consider what in my life needs to be torn down and what might be salvageable.

I would say that I fear the unknown, but in reality I think my strongest fear is of what I’ve known. In being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the context of my family, I’ve known the possible depths of both direct harm and betrayal from a very early age. Perhaps the best way to put it is I fear being helpless again; losing my autonomy and having people who wish me ill control my means of subsistence. Mine was a friendless upbringing that I would do almost anything to avoid revisiting.

In fearing the known more than the unknown, I believe that I’ve resisted fashioning my life in direct opposition to that which I knew growing up, even though some of the outcomes of my choices would seem to contradict this. I’ve tried to make who I am and what I do a reflection of my core values, strengths and skills. I want to stand for something and not only against something, but trust me when I tell you I know my enemies.

One of my most passionate intellectual pursuits is questioning the frame–stepping outside of dichotomies to deconstruct the boundaries of inquiry and to critically evaluate the biases that lead to limited potential. In applying this line of thought to the issue of renewal versus change, perhaps there is renewal and rejuvenation through change and change through a retooling of what already exists. In reality, I’m more on the “burn it all down and start again” rather than the “save whatever you can” end of the spectrum of how one approaches problem areas, but I love the idea of reclaiming pieces of my origins and of generating new growth through the vestiges of what I’ve lost. Going back to go forward and moving ahead to find the past. I have no idea what that looks like as a lived experience, but it sounds more enticing than a linear journey.

To the extent that fear influences your life, is your fear based on wishing to avoid what you’ve already had to endure or is it centered on staying away from new dangers? Which appeals to you more–recharging the past or starting anew? How may these dual pursuits influence each other in your life?

One Side of the Nose Knows? (Today's Daily Presence)

My current illness has acquainted me more intimately than I’d like to be with how my nose is functioning. Specifically, I’ve woken up every morning this week with the sensation that I could only breath out of one side of it. As I sought out information about why this was happening, I was delighted to learn about an entire aspect of biology I’d been overlooking, which is called the nasal cycle.

Tissue within our nose is able to be “erect” and to constrict on one side at a time. This means that one side is receiving more airflow than the other. Our general preference tends to mirror our handedness, so left-handed people breath more through the left-side and vice versa. I’m right-handed and the left side of my nose has been the one that’s felt closed every morning, so it tracks with this. (Note that the second study I found showed the opposite pattern).

Our autonomic nervous system, which I’ve previously discussed, is what is responsible for the shifts that occur every few hours in terms of which nostril is taking in more air. The side that we lay on affects this cycle. We switch less frequently when we are asleep than we do when we are awake. I’ve been waking up at odd times for the past several nights since I got sick, which makes me wonder if my brain is trying to change over the left side, realizing no air is coming in, and then alerting me so that I will adjust my position.

One theory as to why we have a nostril taking in a lot of air and another that is taking in less air is that we are able to notice different aspects of smells depending on how the air is flowing through our nose. I feel like I’m only picking up the “loud” notes of the few scents I can currently detect, which seems to fit with this idea. It is thought that perhaps we need these differences in scent detection to sniff out happy smells like tasty food as well as smells that portend danger such as wild animals.

The speed of our breathing also affects how our nose works. I’ve examined the benefits of slow breathing and can now add that it has an impact on our nasal cycle. Breathing more slowly is linked with having a greater difference between the left and the right nostril airflow. Shallow breathing tends to cause the airflow to be more balanced.

Before examining the research on this topic, I did not know that my nose was shifting every few hours in terms of which nostril received more air. It’s frustrating that it took a bout of a respiratory illness to lead me to slow down enough to consider how this part of my body works, but I think I will now have more appreciation for simple joys such as actually being able to smell the food I’m eating and being able to breath in deeply through my nose without feeling restricted. How is your nose functioning? Do you have any sense of breathing in through one side of it more than another? What’s the connection between the rate at which you breath and your enjoyment of pleasant smells?

Creating Pup-Pie Treats (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been getting a little overlooked between my return to work and my illness, so I decided to make him some homemade treats today. I’ve never attempted to do so before, even though I let him have tiny “people-food” snacks far too often. I settled on a baked treat being the safest bet.

I first measured and then cooked 1 sweet potato by cutting it up and boiling it in water. It came in at 260 grams, so I measured out equal parts of that in rolled oats as well as in dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. I pulverized the peanut-oat mixture in my Vitamix until it formed a loose paste. Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I used the Vitamix to puree it. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together along with two eggs. I then pressed the dough into a greased ceramic pie pan and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-five minutes.

After the initial cook time, I cut the pie into one inch by one inch squares, and baked them at the same temperature on a sheet for 10 minutes so that they would be as dried as possible. I think they could have gone longer but I was too lazy to experiment. Weirdly enough, I unintentionally created the start of a gluten-free biscotti for humans, were I to add perhaps coconut butter and a source of sugar. All in all, not bad for a spur of the moment experiment!

A white ceramic pie pan containing a light brown cookie with chunks of sweet potato. The cookie is cut into small pieces.
Mid-way through the bake process.
A small purple bowl sits empty on a couch cushion. In the upper part of the photograph, a blurry image of a Yorkie is visible.
The empty bowl after offering the treat.
A Yorkie dog is standing on white carpet eating a treat.
Nibbling away!

Lessons Learned (Today's Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?

Appreciating Health (Today's Daily Presence)

Well, I just typed and lost an entire post for the first time so here goes a re-write!

As I noted yesterday, I am feeling under the weather with some sort of respiratory illness. I’m coughing a lot and my voice sounds as though a frog is trapped in my larynx. I selected the teeth and jaw card from my Daily Presence deck, and was shocked to realize these areas of my body are feeling better than they normally do.

I’ve been diagnosed with both TMJ and trigeminal neuralgia. My trigeminal neuralgia has gotten better after having a tooth extracted last year, but a recent visit to the dentist showed me it is still active. She merely manipulated my jaw in her evaluation (no cleaning or dental work) and my pain starting spiking on my drive home.

Today, though, my jaw feels loose and my teeth do not hurt. Simply noticing this feels like a sign that I am living with more awareness. It has been easy for me to focus all of my attention instead on what is going wrong with my body. There are of course times where my pain becomes so severe that I cannot ignore it and during which I need to use additional resources to help myself cope. For me, living with chronic pain has been about learning to work with my body as much as I can.

As I grow to fully inhabit the landscape of my body, my attention has widen and my care for parts that are healthy has improved. This awareness has increased rather than diminished my ability to respond to what my body needs when it is ill. Which parts or body systems are working well for you today? How is your jaw and tooth health? How do you balance responding to your body’s needs alongside appreciating what is working well for it?

Sipping Honey-Ginger Milk Tonic (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I awoke to a sensation of having swallowed glass in my throat today; not a great start to the weekend! I am feeling quite under the weather and needed a pick-me-up to renew my day. To accomplish this, I decided to make my own spiced beverage concoction.

I brewed a tonic of water, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and dried lemon peel. Once it was hot, I mixed it roughly 50-50 with cold 2% milk and a teaspoon of honey. The result was a lukewarm beverage that was lightly spiced and very soothing as I drank it.

I’m pretty sure milk is not recommended for throat issues, so you could substitute a plant beverage such as coconut milk instead if you prefer. I think my throat is raw as well as inflamed, so the temperature and coating quality of my drink worked well for my needs. Next time I make it, I want to use fresh pieces of ginger and turmeric. Do you have a favorite blend of spices that you mix with milk/plant-based alternatives? Do you reserve certain combinations for particular physical aliments? What’s your favorite herbal drink in January?

Expansiveness (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I contracted myself into the smallest spaces into which I could fit, believing my happiness lay in being likeable.

When I found myself (in pieces), I realized how much room, mine alone to inhabit, I’d been conceding to others.

Now, I’m smacking the walls, splintering the frame, willing myself into the largest existence I can create.


No boxes. No binaries. No yielding my place of power.


Certain

days shrink me.

people coerce me into thinking these walls are made of granite.

experiences undermine my foothold.


But I am imminent.

My resolve will harden my shoulders and upright my posture.

Embodied and emboldened, I will demolish any resistance to the entirety who I am.

Refreshing My Wardrobe (Today's Simple Pleasure)

If you regularly take time to purge clothing and accessories you no longer wear and/or to add new items to your collection, do you first pause to consider your goals in doing so? I did in recent days and decided my first priority was comfort. After settling on this goal, I was then empowered to make decisions that fit for me.

Since starting T, I have gained a bit of weight. As a result, some of my clothes have become uncomfortable. I wear a binder when I attend public events and at work, so I need the rest of my attire to be loose-fitting. I want to be read as androgynous which fits along with my physical needs. To achieve this, I purchased pants that are a size larger than the ones I had been wearing and have the old pairs set aside for donation.

Comfort, for me, involves selecting clothing that reduce my body dysphoria and that do not trigger my eating disorder. I am in the process of adding fleece pullover shirts to my closet. I own one of them currently and it is the coziest shirt that I can wear as “work clothes” that I’ve ever owned. I ordered a variety of colors and a few styles so that it doesn’t feel like a uniform.

Appealing to other people’s tastes and making myself look nice are not my top priorities in terms of what I wear. I want to appear well-groomed and to have my clothing be in good repair, but I do not need to have expensive, on-trend clothes to feel good about myself. Removing any requirements to attract the male gaze from my clothing choices feels freeing. I also love the idea that part of what it means to be free is to acknowledge that people can dress in whatever way matches their top priorities; their choices do not need to be about comfort first if that is not what they value most. If you want to look sexy, go for it!

The longer I consider the topic, the more I realize our style of dress is a weird tangle of our personal insecurities, the lived realities of the prejudices people in marginalized groups face, and self-expression. I hope for a world in which what we chose to adorn our bodies is a matter solely of individual and collective expression and not the result of discrimination and/or internalized norms that do not fit our truest being. I’m grateful to be able to make choices for myself in this area. If you could choose, what would you set as the goal for your wardrobe? What pieces would you toss and/or add? How much does the way you dress each day reflect who you really are?

Not Backing Down

I’m back at work and the misgendering is already in full gear. I also received several lectures about how asking people to treat me the same way I treat them (by gendering me correctly) is way too much to ask. It’s invalidation after invalidation. When I’m invalidated, I’m sent the message that I don’t matter and that the other person’s comfort is more important than the recognition of my full existence. The harm is multiplied when someone then goes into why what I am asking for is such a burden and so difficult for them to manage.

In sitting with these experiences, I feel prodded to share the pain that they cause me with the people who cause them. The issue with doing this is any guilt they feel will likely lead to increased defensiveness and additional invalidation. I do think that it is worth speaking about the dysphoria misgendering causes to a wider audience, as those who are capable of empathy and compassion will be motivated to stand in solidarity with trans people and to correct others who harm us.

One of the biggest costs I am enduring is increased isolation because putting myself in environments in which I know someone will harm and no one will do anything about it is Retraumatization 101 for me. My complex PTSD/dissociation issues are creeping into my experiences as an open trans person in that I am triggered by feelings of betrayal and elements of abuse when people carry on as though I am the binary gender I was assigned at birth. These same people ignore my mental health issues on the whole as well, so the layers of invalidation are starting to stack quite high.

As I sit with this experience for a longer period of time, what I realize is that the powerful vulnerability I set as part of my mission statement for 2020 has to be targeted in its application. I do not need to open up to the people who are hurting me. I need to open up to the people who can do something about it, namely to my HR department and potential legal resources at my disposal.

I don’t have an option to run away when my employment is at stake, so I need to assemble my game plan. What disgusts me in this is the fact that trans people can be stereotyped as being litigious, when, along with other marginalized groups, I’m coming to see the reason we may be viewed that way is that our attempts at soliciting respect through interpersonal means are completely disregarded. A person can only take so much mistreatment before they have to stand up for themselves. I have little faith in the legal system, but I know any progress I might make will pave the path for anyone who comes after me.

In considering what I am dealing with in the context of the many forms of oppression and marginalization that exist in American society, the commonality that I find is a commitment to responding to the whims and proclivities of those who already have a disproportionate amount of power. In my situation, those who are cis-het are sheltered from the consequences of their exploitation of those of us who do not or can not conform to their worldview. This toxic stew is further concentrated in the power of its poison for those who face racism, xenophobia and the like.

I feel so disgusted in knowing that the people who mistreat me have vulnerable young people who trust them and look up to them, ripe for harm as their unchecked prejudices and biases play out. As this feeling of revulsion rises in me, I always come back to the same thought: I can never slip fully into us/them; I am vulnerable to the same prejudices and biases and must be vigilant in my own inner work in this area. I must do better and I must do what I can to force those whose bias harms me to do better. We can only change ourselves, but we can seek consequences for bad behavior. If you are trans and/or non-binary, where are you at on a scale from acquiescence to riot in terms of how you respond to misgendering? Where have you turned to for support? How have you taken care of yourself in these experiences?