Sunday, March 10, 2013

Health, Wedding, Keeping in Perspective

I just wanted to give a quick update. I've been having a lot of health issues lately, which makes it very difficult to look forward to the wedding. In the past few weeks, I've been several times near tears when I tried to talk to people about how I feel about the wedding coming up so soon, and other times I do my best to be optimistic. I'm finally (I think) coming out of the other side of that tunnel, where my health is improving substantially and I'm having a handle on the situation. But, we will wait and see if this holds.

I had an acute eczema outbreak on my face in late January. It started out actually in the first week of January, when I started to have one puffy eye. I didn't know what it was so I went and bought some OTC eye creams to put on it. Within a few days, it got super red, tender, and much more puffy. I got scared and stopped the OTC creams. At this point, after doing some research on the web, I switched over to an all-natural eczema cream for the eye. Probably because of the contact with the OTC creams, however, the allergy opened up and oozed continuously for about two days (during my presentation at AGIS, as all poor timing goes). I kept throwing vaseline and the natural cream on it, and then it almost healed completely, except I got some strong soap in there on accident, and it opened up again and oozed for several days this time. The second time it almost healed, I was using a gentle face wash that Geoff normally uses for his sensitive skin. No matter, the whole thing opened back up, oozed for about 5 days till I got to a dermatologist, who prescribed me a total of 10 days of topical steroids. 3 days were with a strong topical steroid, followed by 7 more days of tapering with a weak steroid. As I applied the creams, obviously the wound quickly healed, but as soon as I stopped and got off the steroids, it came back with a vengeance, opening back up and oozing daily.

In the meantime, I had changed my diet completely, started a new "low histamine" detox plan, and have been religiously drinking herbal teas from my acupuncturist. The detox went well -- I had cut out all processed sugar, all night shade veggies, all citrus fruits, all processed foods, and was only consuming freshly cooked, high-fiber items with little seasoning. When I first got on the detox, my skin went wild. I started getting super itchy, bumpy spots all over my body, and my face was breaking out like mad. I did some emergency research on the web, and found out that this is a common reaction to detox, called "detox crisis." If your change in diet is very drastic, your body tries to expunge all the surface level toxins through your skin because it's unable to get rid of all built-up toxins quickly enough through other means, and so your skin reacts immediately in a negative way. Fortunately, this all resolved itself within a week, and now that I'm two weeks into the detox, I'm feeling much better and even my acute eczema has really calmed down. I find that everytime I "cheat" and eat something that I know I'm not supposed to eat, my body reacts vehemently in negative ways. It's a good evidence that for years, I was feeding my body things that I shouldn't have been, which manifests itself now as a food intolerance.

For example, last night was my Hen Night out with the ladies. They were fantastic -- they brought me curries, caipirinas, Baileys, and all kinds of yumminess to my house before we headed out for the evening. I decided that since this is once in a lifetime, I'd indulge in whatever they brought, and sure enough, a few hours into the evening, my face which had been doing well for two days, started to open up and ooze. sigh. This morning, it's doing better but I had a random, sudden swelling inside my mouth that later subsided after some minutes, which I think is related to the things that my body consumed and considered harmful last night.

At least I have it all narrowed down to food, which is something that can be controlled (although unpleasant). I've done extensive reading on the web, and I've decided that steroid creams are not the way to go. In fact, a lot of people who've used steroid creams on their eyelids, even for a short amount of time, had immediate "rebounding effects" that were like mine, which suggests that steroid creams could be the cause of the subsequent flare-ups and could be causing the condition to worsen. (There is also extensive reports out there for people who use steroid creams for longer, and they become super addicted topically.*) Fortunately, as an alternative I've found many all-natural creams in Germany that do agree with my skin. (Germans are all about the natural products. You can walk into any pharmacy and pick them up, without any prescription.) My favorite products so far are Dr. Hauschka Med, which is a medical-strength line of products developed all naturally with a special "ice plant" herb, that penetrates deep into your skin to offer moisture and protection. I use this on my body, and I find that within days it has made a huge difference in terms of how protected (not itchy) my body feels, and even areas that have not responded to any other ointment/lotion have changed in a short amount of time. My other favorite product so far for my eye is a Urea cream. Urea is the main ingredient in your urine, and urea creams draw moisture to your skin by combining with the hydrogen in the air. They're very gentle and so with my eye area, which is actively irritable, I find it to be the safest product. I alternate between using that and a weak antiseptic salve specific for eye area, depending on whether I am going to sleep or not. (Overnight, I prefer a salve because it's a thicker coating, therefore a better protection against environmental allergens like dust mites.) The herbal teas will also help over time; from my conversations with the acupuncturist and my own research on the web, I can tell that my liver and spleen are damaged from years of imbalanced diet, and they will need time to heal. My acupuncturist thinks it could be a matter of months before my liver/spleen return to good health (in which case I think I could start to eat a more normal diet again), but it's nothing that you can rush, really.

Anyhow, this is really helping me to keep everything in perspective. As we approach the wedding, I just have the hope of being healthy, going on vacation, getting married. I've inadvertently lost a lot of weight over this issue (over the stress and also recently over the detox, I'm sure), so I'm not sure if I'll look as great in my final wedding dress as I had hoped, but as long as I am feeling healthy on the big day, that's the most important part and I know that Geoff'll be happy as well.

Everything else just fades away in importance.

And, as I said, I think I'll get there. I'm already miles ahead of where I was a week ago, and now I have an entire arsenal of natural products, and my detox is going strong (last night notwithstanding). With any luck, we'll get a little bit of sunshine around here that will help my skin to heal. (I hate to say this, but not getting any natural Vitamin D when you live in Berlin is really detrimental to your skin health. I'm not surprised that my doctors and my acupuncturist have all commented on the frequency of acute eczema outbreaks this year, given how terrible the weather has been since AUGUST.)

So, here's to health, to marrying a good man, and to good friends who will take care of you when you are down both physically and emotionally.

*Here is a chronicle of someone's journey in overcoming steroid cream addiction. Go look at the pictures. There are lots of people like him, who suffer repeated, cyclic outbreaks of eczema when they're under steroid treatment, but whose outbreaks become much less frequent (eventually non-existent) over time when they allow their bodies to heal naturally. I'm not anywhere near this, obviously, but I have to be careful because I have taken steroid inhalers in the past for my asthma, and all of those things add up over time... This is the reason that after one visit to the doctor and trying the steroid treatment, even though the next doctor also prescribed me steroid cream, I opted not to use it and to resort to natural products instead.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Independent Theatre in Berlin

I recently went to a cool little theatre event at the English Theatre in Berlin. (This was only the second time that I have been there. The first time, one of our friends was in a play about the woman who had discovered the double helix structure, Rosalind Franklin.) They're having a festival of theatre in which everyday for two or so weeks, they put on a different set of shows. The festival ends this week, so I decided to organize a little group to go on Thursday night to check out a series of short plays.

The lineup had about 10 or so acts, and I had thought that we would arrive at 8pm and then sit through 10 very short plays. Not so! When you arrive, you get randomly assigned a colored ticket, whose itinerary has already been pre-determined for the most part. Because they have a variety of things going on and the theatre is small, they had to be creative about how they used the space, and plays were going on simultaneously in all parts of the facility.  Everyone started off watching a play in the main theatre space, about a woman who had gone crazy. And then after that they sent us off in all directions.

Actually, our friends group got further split up into two smaller groups (they numbered us off, 1, 2, 1, 2...), at which point my friend Elsa and I went together to see a modern version of Joan of Arc. The J of A play we saw was very interesting and it was a two-part play, each part occurring inside a small office space in the back of the theatre. When we sat with "Joan" in her office, we could only hear her side of the phone conversation, and then when we went to the other room afterwards to see the other half of the play, we got to see the other personalities (the two counselors who were putting Joan on trial), in their office. It was really interesting, and we really liked it.

Our other friends, however, weren't so lucky. They were sent off to see a play about child molestation. (Yikes.) So, we decided to leave at 10:30pm, when they said that Elsa and I needed now to switch with Max and Mateja's group.

But, anyhow, the format was really interesting and unique. I really liked it, and thought that was very Berlin!


Recently I went to another theatre event with these guys. It was also on a Thursday night, I think, and it was called Haus Theatre. As the name suggests, we showed up and it was someone's house! The play took place in a living room, and that (regular-sized) living room had a natural sort of stage layout. All 30 or so audience members sat in rows on one side of the living room, and the actors were on the other side, using an archway connecting to the adjacent room as a way to enter and leave the stage. That play was about friendships, and it was pretty good -- intense but still quite funny at the same time, with a lot of comic relief. The three actors each had a big role, and although they were non-native English speakers (I think they were Spanish, German, and Italian), they were able to interpret those roles brilliantly! The story was about what happens when you feel that your friend has made a mistake (by spending 50,000 Euros to buy a painting that looks just... like a white canvas). Super interesting as the story unfolded and you saw all these opinions they had always had about one another. Afterwards, you could just hang out and mingle with the actors, which was the whole idea. They said that this was the first in a series they planned to do, but they would always look at the space first and then choose a play that fits that space.

Berlin is great!! I love this independent art scene. I'll definitely miss this city.