Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Revenge of My Beautifully Broken Brain

"With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah 
Your head will collapse if there's nothing in it 
And you'll ask yourself 
Where is my mind?" - The Pixies

Where Is My Mind? by Pixies on Grooveshark

Stress and Anxiety are hellish things.  Those who are fortunate enough to go through life without having to deal with the constant insidious treachery these two demons bring to the lives of those of us who aren't so lucky cannot fathom the havoc they wreak: the mental anguish, the physical discomfort, the emotional turmoil.  You can try to ignore them; many of us do just that.  But they will not be ignored for long.  If they haven't been able to disrupt your world with their usual  incessant undercurrent of of bilious badness, they will temporarily retreat - just long enough to let you think everything is fine - and then they launch a salvo that brings everything crashing down horrifically around you.

I speak from experience.  I've been the victim of their salvos before.  About twenty years ago I began noticing areas of my body that were suddenly going numb: the heel of my left foot, a spot on my back, another spot under my chin, one on my arm.  All areas about the size of a half-dollar (those of you under age 30, go ask your parents what a half-dollar is), and each time dead numb.  Not foot-falling-asleep-tingly numb, but literally no sensation at all numb.  After months of test after frustrating test looking for everything from pinched nerves to Multiple Sclerosis, each test coming back normal, I asked my doctor in exasperation how I can be absolutely healthy on paper and yet be experiencing these very real symptoms?  And his response, indeed the final diagnosis: Stress. Anxiety.  These things can affect you physically, and yes their symptoms are very real.  You can, he warned, quite literally worry yourself death.  That experience was what initially spurred me to seek out therapy, which in turn introduced me to my personal demons, OCD and Social Anxiety.  I learned some coping skills and stress-relieving techniques, and after time, the numbness went away.

Some years later, having stopped therapy and living a reasonably happy life (or so I thought), I found myself dealing with intermittent pains in either my right side or my left shoulder and upper chest.  Again, a battery of tests quickly ruled out the expected causes.  One night I showed up in my doctor's office complaining of chest and shoulder pain, and my doctor was taking no chances.  Had the ambulance pick me up there and take me to the hospital cardiac unit - just in case.  After spending the better part of the night hooked up to monitors and machines and being given more tests, the word came back that my heart was perfectly fine.  Once again, the demons had struck a heavy blow.  Anxiety or panic attacks can often mimic heart attacks: shortness of breath, clammy sweating, and chest pain.  That, it was determined, is what this had been.  I had not been vigilant against my demons, and had allowed stress to build up until the dam finally burst.  A return to what I know works soon had me back to my "normal" self.

Now, I add a new chapter to the book.  My demons found a new way to express their rage and remind me that they are still (and always) very much with me.  And this time was the most frightening of all, because this time there was no slow build as there had been with the numbnesses, no series of preceding pains as there had been with my faux heart issue.  This time it was a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky.  No warning, no precipitating event, just a full-on attack.

My current job is in customer service, answering inbound phone calls.  On Wednesday, I was having a very normal day.  In fact, I remember thinking as I took my lunchtime walk around the office grounds that it was a good day.  I ate my lunch and returned to work.  Took a few calls as I normally would.  And then it all went to hell.

In essence, I must have blacked out, although my doctor is calling it an “amnesia event” and we don’t believe I ever actually lost consciousness, at least in the sense that I didn’t fall over or pass out. I was just suddenly aware that I was in the midst of a phone call talking with someone, but I had no idea who I was talking with or what we were talking about.  More unsettling was the fact that I could not make sense of the screens up on my computer.

After trying to regain a frame of reference and failing, I at least had sense enough to put the caller on hold and page my supervisor to my cubicle. I tried to explain what I was experiencing, and at this point I was physically shaking, more from being frightened by the event than anything. My supervisor had me transfer the call to another agent, then we looked at my screen.

I have no memory of actually taking the call, but when a call comes in we have to ask for either a Social Security number or a Member Number to find the person’s record in the system and pull it up. Obviously I had done that, although again I have no memory of it. However, I also had a second screen up of a completely different and unrelated person. I still don’t know why I had that screen up. I have no sense of time or duration of this event, although I imagine it couldn’t have been that long. I was, however, apparently functioning on auto-pilot.

I called my mother to come pick me up from work, then called my doctor. He couldn’t see me until 7:30 that evening, but because by the time I got home I was feeling fairly normal (other than being badly shaken up and feeling horribly embarrassed), the nurse didn’t feel it was an emergency situation. But, she told me if anything like it happened again before my appointment, I should have someone take me to the hospital.  My doctor gave me a thorough once-over, and said I looked OK – not ashen or flushed or pupils dilated or anything. He said it could have been anything from a sudden drop in blood sugar to a seizure, or – as my wise mother had already suggested – my old friends Stress and Anxiety. Of course, the doctor wanted to rule out the big stuff quickly (seizure, brain tumor, aneurism, etc.), as well as check my blood sugar levels and make sure I wasn’t anemic. So it was over to the hospital for a full blood work and a CAT scan of the brain. Because he asked for those two tests to be done “stat,” the hospital would keep me there until the results came back and he could talk with me about them. So, at 10:45 Wednesday  night, there I was sitting in the emergency room waiting area on a portable phone with my doctor, only to learn that, in typical fashion, both tests came back...wait for it...absolutely normal.

We’re not done with tests yet. I’m waiting for a pre-authorization from my insurance for two more tests: an EEG and a 24-hour Holter Monitor. Then I must schedule them and also schedule an ultrasound of my carotid arteries. Bets on the results?

So, its back to the coping skills and stress-relieving techniques.  Maybe it's time to get back to therapy.  Has there been a lot of Stress in my world lately? Oh you bet.  Being unemployed/underemployed for two years will bring the Stress in a big frightening way.  And, as I have mentioned in previous posts, those demons are cunning and wait until your defenses are completely down before they attack.  I am still processing this event; this post is part of that processing.  This was the scariest storm I've been through to date, so I think I'll be processing this one for awhile.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Amy Gore & Her Valentines: "In Love"

This is the time of year when those of us who tend to create such things begin to consider which albums will be making the cut for the omnipresent year-end "Best Of" lists.  2012 has been a damn good year for music, so it will be interesting to see how varied the lists will be this year, but only those without a lick of actual musical taste will leave Amy Gore & Her Valentines' debut In Love off their rundown of the best recordings of the past twelve months.

While In Love is a debut for this particular assemblage, Amy Gore is no rookie.  She already has three albums of killer garage rock under her belt with The Gore Gore Girls, as well as an EP of powerful bubblegum punk with Gorevette (her collaboration with Nikki Corvette).  Echoes of both of those bands are evident here, but In Love is more straightforward rock and roll than anything else, with occasional countrified tinges and power pop riffs surfacing throughout.

The album kicks off with last year's outstanding single "Drivin' Around," and builds on that foundation from there.  Amy's Valentines (guitarist Jackson Smith, bass player Leann Banks, and drummer Joe Leone) are tight and talented, and the songs are strong and catchy.  From tough rockers like "Baby In Your Arms" and "Static" to emotionally charged cuts like "I'm Addicted" and "Remember Me," there isn't anything here that you might call "filler."  The winning track here for me, though, is "Cadillac."  With it's insistent opening riff and earworm-ready chorus, it's the song that jumps out from the pack on first listen; the strongest cut among a consistently strong set list. Throughout, In Love brings to mind a cross between Lone Justice and The Pretenders. Gore's voice especially has notable resemblance to Chrissie Hynde's.

The album exists thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed the band to record without artistic restriction or record label politics.  Hopefully, the same grassroots support that got the project funded will help to spread the word about this incredible album.  This is definitely one not to be missed! For a taste of their sound, here's the video for the second single, "Fine Without You." Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Things to See and Do

So I'm working a lot lately.  Glad of it, don't get me wrong, but it has cut severely into blogging time.  You may have noticed...  Anyway, been meaning to put together another post sharing with you some of the nifty gems I've found online and elsewhere. So here's another handful of goodies - the things that I've been seeing, hearing, reading and doing lately, and think you should too:

Bitchin' Kitchen
Being a typical guy, two of my favorite things in the world are beautiful women and delicious food.  A beautiful woman who can cook delicious food is, therefore, an awesome thing in my book.  If she's funny and has a bit of a sarcastic edge to boot, well, that's, what's the word I'm looking for here?...ah yes: bitchin'!  Coming across as equal parts Riff Randall and Julia Child, and armed with the most unusual accent you'll hear all day (Italian/French-Canadian, for the record), Nadia Giosia made the leap from web show to big-time network TV with her program Nadia G.'s Bitchin' Kitchen, an amalgamation of cooking, comedy and rock 'n' roll that has become must-see TV around these parts.  With an outstanding supporting cast that includes the forever henpecked Panos the Fish and Meat Guy, The Spice Agent (whose name Nadia keeps on a handy recording so she doesn't have to attempt to pronounce it), and the slightly creepy Hans, as well as an assortment of her own Italian-slang interjections and catch-phrases, Nadia's kitchen is a damn cool place to hang out. Let's plate this dish.

Daym Drops
Speaking of folks who bring the food and the funny, that list must include Daym Drops.  With his YouTube series of Super Official reviews (canudigitbaby?), Daym has become something of an online sensation and, in a just world, will be next in line to make the jump to the mainstream.  He's a modern-day food critic, but he is no nose-in-the-air epicurean snob reviewing haute-cuisine in four-star restaurants. No, Daym Drops is a regular joe like you and me, reviewing drive-through fast food from the point of view of a guy who loves the stuff and knows he ought to be eating healthier but damn, it's just so good!  I discovered Daym through his hysterical review of Five Guys Burgers (which has since been brilliantly songified by The Gregory Brothers); if you haven't discovered Daym Drops yet, it's a good place for you to start as well:

Cake & Polka Parade
Do you like odd? I mean really, truly odd? Do you enjoy the looks of bewilderment and horror on your friends' faces when you play a Residents album for them? Do you pine for the days when every other album was recorded entirely on a Moog synthesizer? Are you fond of singing along loudly with Wild Man Fisher? Then friends, the Cake and Polka Parade podcast is right up your alley!  Your host, Fatty Jubbo, takes you on audio tours of the twisted obscurata of the music world.  Like a dour Doctor Demento he curates some of the most wonderfully weird music that is likely to reach your ears any time soon, with enough of a knowing wink to keep the balance just this side of the sane/insane line.  Courtesy of the good folks at WFMU.  Go on, give it a listen!

I am, as you know, a proponent of grassroots indy music distribution.  Which is why I have become a huge fan of Noisetrade, a site dedicated to bringing together those who create music and those who love it, without thought one given to music as a product or - shudder - a business.  Artists can sign up and upload their music, and fans can browse and download what they like, all at no charge.  The theory is that fans will share the music they find that they like (the opportunity is there to share each download via Facebook, Twitter or email), the artists will reach new fans who otherwise might never have found them, or might not have spent the money to take a chance on an unknown entity, and everybody wins.  Fans can also "tip" artists they like - up to $100 if so inclined.  I've discovered a few fantastic artists through Noisetrade already, some of which I'll be sharing with you in an upcoming Now Hear This post.  Spend some time at Noisetrade and see what goodies you find!

Troma Films is the purposefully shlocky, intentionally low-budget production house that brought us such classics as The Toxic Avenger, Class Of Nuke 'Em High, and Surf Nazis Must Die!  Now they have set up a YouTube channel stocked with over 150 flicks from as far back as the 1930s, some of which are Troma Films creations, but all of which could have been.  From classics like White Zombie, The Ape, and Africa Screams to more recent titles like Rabid Grannies, Space Zombie Bingo, and Blood Boobs And Beast, there is hours of viewing enjoyment.  Gather the family and pop the corn...

Top Documentary Films
Truth is, so they say, often stranger than fiction. which is why a good documentary can capture my attention and fully drag me in, especially given the right subject matter.  I was therefore overjoyed to find Top Documentary Films, a website that hosts a veritable treasure trove of free-to-watch documentaries that can be viewed online. The documentaries there range from 30-minute amateur YouTube shorts to full-production theater-quality films, and cover just about any topic you can imagine from 9/11 conspiracy theories to scientific discovery to serial killer profiles to historical reenactments - and beyond! It can all be found here, and you can spend hours watching before you even realize it.  Bookmark it!
Real Actors Read Yelp
High on the list of Things I Wish I Had Thought Of is this series of videos from a group calling themselves Gotta Kid To Feed Productions.  Real Actors Read Yelp is exactly that:  professional actors from film, TV, and Broadway giving dramatic life to the words of actual reviews taken from social user review site  Yes, it's an old concept (those my age and older will recall the great Steve Allen reading real letters to newspaper editors with great feeling and gusto), but it's done well.  The actors are chosen well, and are skilled enough to mix overwraught scene-chewing with truly touching moments of emotional focus, allowing you to feel the reviews viscerally. Or something like that. 

Now that should be plenty of fun to keep you entertained for awhile, I would be truly interested in your feedback, and maybe your suggestions of things to see and do.  Speak up, friends! And, as always, enjoy!
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