Thursday, February 27, 2014

Diet, Detox, and DIY Skin Care

On my wedding day, I noticed a rash starting to form in my armpits and beneath my breasts. It got really bad when I was in the hospital after Henry's birth (2 weeks later); the doctors tried to treat it, but nothing they prescribed helped, and some things made it worse.

Later I was doing research on gluten intolerance because I kept seeing people posting about it on fb and it got me curious; what I read explained my symptoms, so I talked to a nurse who suggested cutting out gluten to see if it improved my health. I've been eating gluten-free ever since and the rash eventually went away, but it took over a year to completely detox from gluten. Cutting out gluten also got rid of a lot of the body pain and sinus headaches I was having; it was fantastic to wake up and not feel like I'd been beaten with sacks of wet sand all night long.

Since then I've been thinking more about detox and my body burden, especially since I'm getting older and my skin (along with the rest of me) is getting more sensitive. I've also been cutting back on coffee (trying to cut it out completely) and drinking more herbal teas (especially ones designed to detox and strengthen gut bacteria and digestive health) and water with a bit of apple cider vinegar. I've been toying with the idea of going vegan, but I'm so not prepared to do that yet. Especially since I'm not even a vegetarian now (I started eating meat again when I got pregnant with Henry). So that's sort of a long-term goal I've got in my mind to do someday, which might be years in the future, like how it took me ages to get around to making my own shampoo and such (more on that in a minute).

One of my brothers asked if I wanted to be his detox buddy, but he is doing some intense (to my mind) fasting and I'm just not prepared to go several days without food while attempting to take care of a busy toddler. However, talking to one of my sisters about how she may have "leaky gut" led me to fast yesterday. I drank a load of water, tea, and some juice and had a foggy, aching head most of the day, which is a side effect of detoxing. I ended up eating some lentil & veggie soup I made in the evening, because I wanted to be able to sleep and I can't do that with a growling stomach. Overall, it was much easier than I remember the forced weekly fasting I remember doing as a kid, and I'm thinking I might try to do it once a week or once every other week and see how it makes me feel.

This past week I also got around to a long-time goal of making my own skin care products. My skin is so darn sensitive that I didn't want to put it off any longer, although I am still using store a bought lotion to treat some  spots of eczema I've developed ('cause I haven't found a natural replacement that works well enough in this weather).

I found the simplest recipes I could for DIY face and body care, because I wanted to be sure it was something I could and would do again. All of these were made with things already around the house, which was awesome.

Shampoo is 1 TBSP Baking soda to 1 cup water, and conditioner is 1 TBSP apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water. Shake before application and leave on 2-3 minutes for each. Using this has made my hair softer and more manageable, and my scalp is far less dry than it was.

Cleansers and toner were the easiest! Just honey for every day, plus baking soda for make up removal which is only then followed up with the toner. My skin is so sensitive that I'm only washing it with honey every other day, or else my t-zone gets crazy dry.

I didn't really like any of the body lotion recipes I found, so I made a test mixture of  equal parts coconut oil and aloe vera gel. It feels nice, but the consistency is odd. I think next time I'll try 1/3 coconut oil to 2/3 aloe vera or maybe I'll try equal parts of coconut oil, aloe vera, and olive oil.

I decided not to make a body wash product, because all the recipes were based on using the type of natural soaps I was already using to wash myself with, and I use far less of it as a bar than I do when I use liquid products.

Detox! Woo! My body feels like it's carrying a lighter burden already. :)

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Recurring Dream Theme

What some of the houses I've dreamed about might look like from the outside.
Image by Filip Dujardin (Source)

I had a crazy version of one of my odd architecture/chase/adventure dreams this morning, so it seemed a perfect day to talk about this recurrent theme in the dreams I've had throughout my life, as mentioned in my post about dreams from a couple weeks ago. A few people asked me to talk about that further, so today I'm going to discuss several dreams of this type that I've had over the years. My dreams are all in italics.

In this latest dream, I was with my original immediate family (i.e. my parents and siblings) in a low-roofed country house that looked out over hills and mountains could be seen in the distance. We were in a large wood-paneled living room/dining room that was decorated with items straight out of the 70s and 80s, including a large orange couch with brown flowers. In my dream my siblings spent the whole time we were together complaining and finally I stormed out, telling them that I was sick of hearing their whining or something along those lines.

I went down to the basement of the house to look for an inflatable mattress for a childhood friend who was coming to stay the night, feeling a bit silly about my outburst. The basement turned into a series of underground rooms, all full of different stuff, some junk, some not. I  couldn't find what I was looking for, but suddenly I heard the noise of it inflating and I wondered 1) why it was on and 2) how much electricity had been wasted by it re-inflating itself down in the basement where no one was using it.

When I found the mattress, my younger sister and the expected friend suddenly appeared and we had a brief conversation about dinner and our sleeping arrangements before they left to go lie down. I told them I had something else to do before bed and I left the house. It is dark now, and the stars and moon are the only lights.

I was out in the yard, which quickly led to animal pens and giant farm sheds full of tractors, etc. I was wandering around making sure everything was ok when I found a space where a vagrant had started squatting between two sheds. He had marked "his" area with barbed wire and had two large dogs with him who would attack me if he let them. I was trying to decide what to do when a large monster - looking like a werewolf covered in black slime - attacked the man and his dogs, tearing the throat out of one. There was a tall wire fence between me and the house now, so I went around the shed to climb up it.

Suddenly I was at the top of the fence, trying to balance on the wobbly wire while holding on to a thin, shaky tree branch for balance, looking down at the monster who was looking up at me with the other dog in its hands/paws. It had just ripped the dog's throat out and I knew that he was trying to decide whether to kill me now or kill me later when I woke up.

I wasn't scared at all in the dream or when I woke up, which is something still new-ish for me. It's only in the past few years that these have started entertaining, rather than frightening me - though some of them can still be scary. These types of dreams always involve odd architecture of some sort, usually where the inside of a place is much, much larger than the outside. They also include characters I do not know. In this one it was just the vagrant, but usually the rooms of the buildings I dream about are filled with loads of people with whom I do not directly interact. I am always looking for something in these dreams - and I usually don't know what it is. And the final component to the dream is some sort of threat that I am trying to get away from, although usually in the dreams there's a lot more running around desperately. My dreams are always in full color, except when they are darker because it's night.

I remember the very first of these dreams was when I was 8 years old, or around there. I dreamed that a whole bunch of people were staying at our family home. They weren't related to us and I wasn't sure why they were there or how they all fit. But one of the guests was a witch who kept setting out delicious desserts for people to find. When they ate the dessert, they would find a piece of paper beneath it which said, "Now you will turn into a [insert random monster here]." Since the food was enchanted, the person would transform into the monster, chasing all of us around the house until we ran inside and locked the door, leaving the monster outside. As the dreamer, I knew what was happening, but myself as a character in the dream didn't, so I couldn't tell people what was happening. Eventually, I was the only one left, barring the door against about 30 or so monsters who were trying to kill me. That dream terrified me for years after I had it, and it's the first dream I ever remember having.

The only time this type of dream served as a type of warning was when I was just about to turn 21 and just about to move to Erie, PA to finish my Bachelor's degree at a university there. I dreamed that I was visiting the college I was planning to attend, and had a meeting with my faculty adviser there. I was in the hallway where his office was, and I saw a shadowy figure behind the frosted glass of his door, but I turned to look at the scaffolding set up in the hall where there seemed to be some roof repair happening (though not at that time because no one else was in the hallway). When I turned back around, the shadow was gone, but I knocked on and opened the door, expecting to see my adviser sitting in his chair, but instead he was on the floor in a pool of blood with a knife sticking out of his back. I ran away and climbed the scaffolding, very aware that the murderer was not far away and certain he was chasing me.

Suddenly the dream shifted so that I was outside of the building on the campus, but all the buildings looked like classical Greek architecture and everyone was wearing togas, myself included. I wandered around the campus, which turned into an ancient Greek city in which every building was made of white marble. I was still trying to get away from the murderer, who was chasing me and cutting long slits into my arms and legs every now and then. My voice had left me, so I couldn't ask for help with words, and everyone who saw me coming at the all bloody and scared just thought I was crazy so I couldn't get any assistance. I eventually woke up after watching myself lose more blood than I would've been able to live with loosing.

It was only years later that I realized that dream was a coded warning about the relationship I had with my ex-husband, who I met the first day of class and who manipulated me into giving more credence to his criticism of myself and my writing than I did my faculty advisers, inflicted deep emotional wounds, and shamed me into silence about the emotional abuse I experienced in that relationship.

All of these dreams I've shared so far have been the few exceptions that include a fair amount of time outdoors, so I thought I'd recount one that is more typical of how the setting tends to be inside a single building (though it's usually a residence of some sort). This past fall, I dreamed that I was in a large government building with lots of offices as well as rooms used for other purposes. I was there, dressed in a purple and pink formal gown, to help with some formal event or ceremony. I took a rack of dresses, like the one I was wearing, to an empty room where other women would be changing later on. As I left the room, closing the door behind me, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a masked man in a tuxedo walking towards me. I felt a wave of menacing feeling come at me from him, and I knew that if he was close enough to touch me, he would murder me with a weapon he was hiding somewhere on his person. So I started to run/walk the other way, planning to find help in a busier part of the building. But when I arrived near people and started asking for help, I found that my voice was gone, and I could only mouth silently. The people didn't understand me, so they just looked at me quizzically until I ran away because my pursuer was gaining on me. I was certain that he would not hesitate to kill me even in front of witnesses. So I spent the remainder of my dream running away, impotently trying to ask for help.

I thought my dreams were rather peculiar until lately, when I discovered that it's quite common for children to dream of being chased or attacked and for those dreams to continue into adulthood, especially for persons with sensitive and/or "artistic" personalities, such as myself.

Related posts:
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Love and Civil Rights

...there's no better Valentine America could give itself. :)

[Images via Human Rights Campaign]

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

What's In a Dream?

I was excited to see "What Dreams Are Made Of: Understanding Why We Dream (About Sex and Other Things)" by Francine Russo for TIME Magazine pop up on my FB feed this morning, because I've been slowly reading my way through Our Dreaming Mind: A Sweeping Explanation of the Role that Dreams Have Played in Politics, Art, Religion, and Psychology from Ancient Civilizations to the Present Day by Robert L. Van de Castle Ph.D., and I was excited to see some current dream research to add to all I've been learning about dreams from that tome. I'd like to share with you some of the history of dream philosophy and research I learned from Van de Castle, who published his book in the mid 90's, before I go on to talk about Russo's article.

Dreams in Distant History
Van de Castle begins his survey of dreams with a section about famous dreams that have changed or could have the course of history before moving on to discuss how ancient civilizations viewed dreams. The first recorded dreams we have are from Sumer, are written in cuneiform, and describe dream visions in which a deity communicates messages to royalty and their priestly advisers. Egyptians were the first to have professional dream interpreters - oracles of Serapis the Egyptian god of dreams - and they also typically practiced "incubation" in which a dreamer, specially prepared for the task, would sleep in a temple and perform rites to ask the gods for messages in their dreams.

Egyptian Dream Incubation (Source)

"Chou Kungs Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious Dreams" from China, approximately 1020 B.C.E., classifies dreams in 7 different categories including: heaven and weather; animals and birds; clothing and jewelry; and houses, gardens, and forests, etc. The ancient Chinese also practiced dream incubation, adding a political twist: high-ranking officials were expected to pass their first night in a new city sleeping in the temple of that city's diety to obtain the wisdom needed to judge that particular place.

The ancient Greeks believed that all dreaming was a passive experience in which the dreamer was merely an observer. They also believed that "a real god made a tangible visit in a recognizable physical was thought that the deities entered through the keyhole, delivered their message while standing at the head of the bed, and then exited by the same keyhole." (pg. 61) The early Romans based their dream knowledge on the Greeks and also practiced dream incubation, although dream interpreters were not necessarily respected.

In reviewing the second through the 16th centuries, Van de Castle briefly touches on the "non-Christian world"view of dreams, stating that Muslims, Jews and Asians continued to hold dreams and dream interpretations in high regard. He went on to focus on the effect that Christianity had on common views about dreams. Early Christian philosophers believed that dreams were either demonic attacks, or divine manifestations. Saint Thomas Aquinus declared that divination was "unlawful and superstitious" because one clearly needed the help of demons to decode a dream. During the Dark Ages, demons became more and more feared, giving rise to reports of succubi and incubi as well as the viewpoint that all dreams were demonic in origin. Father Gracian, the confessor of Saint Theresa, went so far as to say that "it is a sin to believe in dreams." (qtd. pg. 83)

 "The Nightmare" by Fuseli (Source)

Dreams in Modern History
Attitudes began to change in the seventeenth century as Decartes' theory of dualism, itself inspired by dreams, changed the way that people saw themselves and the world. He posited that one's body functioned in an animalistic way but one's mind operated on a nonphysical or soul way. This led to thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes to say that dreams were caused by "distemper" of the body, while others, such as the moralist Owen Feltham, believed dreams to be "notable means of discovering our own inclinations." (qtd. pg. 86)

In the 19th century, Romanticism, which "encouraged emotional expression and reverence for nature, the soul, and the unconscious" brought mysticism back to the fore, and paved the way for the theories of Freud and Jung. Freud, of course, believed that dreams were disguised sexual wished relating to one's childhood, while Jung posited that dreams were how one connects to the collective unconscious of humanity, encountering archetypal characters that embody "typical modes of apprehension." (qtd. Van de Catle, pg. 148) Jung said that dream symbols cannot be fully expressed in words or rational terms, whereas Freud saw all dream symbols in terms of human anatomy and sexuality.

Freud and Jung (Source)

Other dream theorists in the 20th century generally agreed more with Jung than Freud, many emphasizing the self-help nature of dreams to problem solve interpersonal problems. All of the theorists held in common the presumption that "dreams reflect unconscious needs, conflicts, and desires and therefore, if interpreted correctly, reveal much about the personality structure and character of the dreamer." (pg. 208)

Dreams and Scientific Inquiry
With the 1800s came scientific experimentation with dreams and dream stimuli. Researchers experimented with exposing or covering parts of the body, introducing scents,  music and other physical stimuli (often on themselves) to see what effect it would have on dreams. A study that I find fascinating was undertaken by J. Leonard Corning, an American neurologist to investigate musical stimulus as a form of dream therapy. Corning exposed his patients to music with a great many arpeggios and minor chords "in the drowsy state before waking and sleeping" which produced "pleasant and transcendent dreams." (pg. 216) He later added a visual component using a stereopticon with two different colored glass disks that spun to produce kaleidoscope-like pictures. He recorded that his experiments helped to relieve depression, insomnia, and bad dreams, sometimes after only one session.

Corning's experimental therapy (Photographed from original illustration, pg. 217)

The first dream experiment to use objective measurement was by NYU psychologist Louis Max in 1935. He used electromyographic recordings to study hand and arm muscle movement on 19 deaf-mute persons. When dramatic arm muscle movements were recorded, the subject would be waked and asked if s/he were dreaming. They nearly always had been. Conversely, when no arm motions were recorded the awakened subjects reported the had not been dreaming. He went on to study and record eye movement in dreamers, a precursor to REM studies.

Contemporary Dream Research
Rapid eye movement (REM) was first discovered by Nathaniel Kleitman at the University of Chicago in 1953, and was tracked along with brain waves, heart rates and respiration patterns.This began the era of REM dream research. In 1957 Kleitman co-authored an article that reported four observed REM sleep periods, ranging from 1 - 72 minutes, occured in normal adults during a 6 hour sleep period. This article proposed a classification for stages of sleep, including 4 stages of non-REM sleep and 1 stage of REM sleep (see image below).

One of the affects of REM sleep is a change in spinal fluid pressure and spinal reflexes. "As a result, major muscular movements disappear, which makes it impossible for sleeping individuals to physically act out the activities imagined in their dreams. (pg. 235) REM sleep is also associated with genital arousal in both males and females (male arousal has been far more thoroughly studied), although the physical response is not necessarily linked to any erotic dream content.

 Common sleep cycles (Source)

In 1962, David Foulkes published a sleep study proving that people dream outside of REM sleep, which was not believed possible until then. Foulkes reported that "non-REM [dreams] seemed to involve more recent events or daytime concerns of the subject without too much distortion," while "REM [dreams] were longer, displayed more intense visual imagery, and showed a higher degree of integration and continuity; specifically, the dreamer often engaged in physical movement, several scene shifts occurred, and the dreamer displayed more emotional involvement." (pg. 265-6)

Understanding Why We Dream

Despite the great deal of data on REM sleep, it does little to answer the question of why we dream. There are two main contemporary hypothesis concerning dreaming: continuity and compensation. "The continuity hypothesis is that dreams act as a mirror to reflect our waking personality; the compensation hypothesis is that dreams show the reverse of our waking personality." (pg. 251) While neither hypothesis has been definitely proven, studies have shown that "if need gratification is obtained in a dream, there may be less need to gratify that need in waking life" - which supports the latter and not the former.

Which leads us up to the recent article "What Dreams Are Made Of" by Russo. She reports that brain imaging and "big data" are currently transforming the way we examine and understand dreams.

More detailed and timely snapshots of the brain at work, combined with the information researchers amassed about dreams from experiments in sleep labs, is gradually peeling away the mystery of dreams, and revealing their meaning.

...[B]rain imaging holds the promise of being able to help scientists “see” what until now could only be reported by subjective, possibly inaccurately recalled, dream accounts. For example, in research with rats trained to run through mazes to get rewards, investigators were able to record neuron activity in sleeping rats and determined that the rats were running the same mazes in their dreams.

In other experiments with humans, scientists monitored volunteers who slept inside an fMRI scanner while hooked up to EEG electrodes that measured brain wave activity. When the EEG indicated they were dreaming, the participants were awakened and asked what images they had seen in their dreams. The investigators were later able to match certain patterns of brain activity to certain images for each person. “There’s a crude correspondence between the brain scan and the image. “From the scan, you can guess it’s an animal with four legs,” says Barrett. Despite the primitive state of this dream decoding, the ability to actually glean content from a dream is getting closer.

Mining big data bases of reported dreams holds another kind of promise. Until now, researchers have been working on relatively small samples of dream accounts, usually fewer than 200 per study. But new dream websites and smartphone apps like DreamBoard and Dreamscloud are encouraging thousands of people to report their dreams into larger repositories so researchers can finally answer their most urgent questions. McNamara, for example, is excited to study dreams from different countries to see whether there are cultural differences in what people’s brains do when they aren’t awake.

The data bases also provide an opportunity to investigate the intriguing but under-studied realm of sex dreams. Until recently, says McNamara, they represented only 10% of reported dreams, likely because people are not eager to share this type of content with researchers in white lab coats. But self-reporting via the apps and websites, despite its potential biases, may provide more information on these types of dreams. “This is a wide open area crying for investigation,” he says.

McNamara is also eager to study individuals’ dreams over time to observe differences and changes in emotional tone, colors, words and other significant patterns and connect these to events in their lives. That would bring him closer to answering whether dreams are, in fact, prophetic — it might be possible, for example, that certain kinds of dreams precede getting the flu, or that other other dreams are more associated with happier events. (Source)

I am excited to see what new theories come about from this type of research, and I might just have to get on one of those dream websites, because I love hearing about other people's dreams and I'm much more open about sharing mine than I once was. In fact, I'm thinking about doing a follow-up post to this one, describing a type of dream that I've had for as long as I can remember, and how working with my dreams has helped me to grow as a person - if anyone is interested, of course. Let me know in the comments!

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