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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Up From Anxiety?

This past weekend’s issue of The Wall Street Journal featured a front page article by one of its own reporters, Andrea Petersen. I began reading with great interest since it was entitled “Up From Anxiety,” and I’m always interested in hearing how people recover from such a diagnosis. Ms. Petersen chronicles her early start with panic attacks and all the different therapies and medications she’s tried over the years.

While she attempts to be upbeat about her current situation, the conclusion of her story, the “up” part, broke my heart: she’s on Klonopin. “Klonopin can melt my anxiety and many of its annoying accouterments—racing heart, shallow breathing, twisted thoughts—in about thirty minutes. It can even derail a full-blown panic attack if I take enough. I don’t take it often, my life ‘before K’ and ‘after K’ is starkly delineated.”

Having just spent several years regaining the health of my brain after taking a very small dose of another benzodiazepine, Xanax, over the course of five years, I found her implication that Klonopin was the ultimate solution horrifying. During recovery I read hundreds of stories of people on a benzo recovery board, everybody suffering the tortures of the damned trying to get off of these drugs, most people feeling they’d give anything to go back and try to deal with their anxiety issues without drugs. The anxiety attacks for which they were originally prescribed the benzo are nothing compared to what they’re trying to survive now.

I’m finally well and I can look back and see how this worked on me. Yes, like Ms. Petersen, I found Xanax to be amazingly efficient. She’s not lying—these things DO calm anxiety. At least initially. But people build up a tolerance. They start having symptoms that are actually interdose withdrawal—the drug saying Hey, time to take more! Doctors who have originally prescribed the drug are loath to ascribe side effects to the very drug they’ve prescribed. Instead they’ll tell the patient that their original anxiety is just coming back. They will up the dose or layer on some different pharmaceutical until the person is what is referred to as “poly-drugged.”

I didn’t see the harm in Xanax either. I thought of it as a little something in my toolkit for dealing with life. A stressful situation? Yes, why not make it a bit easier? And a half a tab at three am reliably put me back to sleep. I never felt bad in the morning and God knows I was no drug addict type. Where was the harm? Like Ms. Petersen, I was saying, “I don’t take it often.”

Now, having suffered through withdrawal, I’m a person who conks out when my head hits the pillow and sleeps straight through the night. Who knew I was actually teaching my brain to NEED the drug to go to sleep? I’m now calmer than I’ve ever been in my life, free of drugs.

I feel terrible for Andrea Petersen and her family and I wish her the best. I don’t mean to be judgmental in any way of the fact that she’s taking Klonopin. I just don’t think it’s going to be good for her in the end, and I would hate to see anybody read her story and feel validated in giving this poison a shot.

I would like to give people the heads up I never got! Read More 
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An Anniversary Visit to Wake Robin Farm





Something quite lovely happened one day last week at Wake Robin Farm. I was working in my office, and when I heard a car in the driveway, I got up and looked out the dormer window. Not too many people show up out here on the farm, and unfortunately a high percentage of the ones who do are interested only in converting me to their religion. No, thanks.

But these folks parked their truck so deliberately in our two-space, picket-fenced “lot.” I considered just not answering the door, but somehow, watching the man and woman walking up the gravel drive, I impulsively decided to take a chance. I hustled down the stairs and opened the door.

“Jenny!” It was our tenant who’d lived in the other old farmhouse on our property many years ago.

“And you remember Rick?” she said.

Of course. Rick and Jenny had actually held their wedding in the living room of the old house Jenny had rented from us for several years. Now she said they had decided to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary by taking a nostalgic tour, and took a chance on checking out what had become of Wake Robin Farm. They weren’t surprised their house was no longer standing (it was starting to fall apart even then) and said they were just relieved the whole acreage hadn’t become a development.

Then Herb showed up from town and we all sat around the living room trading stories of the old days and how our lives had gone in the thirty-five years since they married and moved away. Jenny and I agreed it had seemed like Herb and I were so much older than them back then. The age gap between being a bride of twenty-five and a young mother of thirty-one was way larger than those same six years seem now.

We were all so happy to find out both marriages had survived the rough patches and that we were still hanging in there together.

For almost twenty years now the Millsaps have had a storybook house on a farm of their own up in Mulino, a country community outside of Portland. Jenny has a studio out back for creating her beautiful glass beads. They even have a willow tree just like the one that still stands by the old site of the house where they were married.

Rick and Jenny—thanks for showing up! You made our day.




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The Understandable Panic of Those in Chronic Pain

An NBC online headline the other day breaks my heart: Chronic Pain Sufferers Are Scared by Ohio’s New Opioid Rules.

In a nutshell, the state of Ohio is trying to restrict the flow of painkillers in order to help fight the plague of opioid abuse. Those who take the pills for chronic pain are of course freaking out, blaming the government and people they see as the actual addicts for their dilemma.

I feel terrible for them, but this is a false construct, setting up the issue as a three-way fight between government regulatory agencies, the doctors, and the patients dealing with chronic pain. The government tries to stop the problem by turning off the tap of opioid drugs, the doctors fear getting in trouble with the government and try to develop strategies to defend themselves from “addict types,” and the people in chronic pain rail against everyone who they perceive as conspiring to keep their drugs from them, and this includes those they characterize as the “real” addicts.

Having suffered the difficulties of getting off of these drugs myself, I feel like a lone voice, crying in the wilderness. The question is not, are you an addict? It’s are these drugs you’re on helping or hurting you?

Of course those who are addicted (okay, call yourselves dependent if it makes you feel better, but your brain doesn’t know the difference) insist that they can’t even begin to continue with their lives if somebody doesn’t prescribe them these drugs. That’s right, because they’re addicted, and their brains, without the drugs, will rebel.

A crucial fact that nobody talks about much is something called Hyperalgesia. It means that while the drugs initially knock back the pain, eventually, the person taking them actually becomes more sensitive to pain. Got that? It makes the pain worse. This is why opioids are not considered a viable, longterm option for chronic pain.

All the energy that will go into these folks desperately trying to make sure they can still get their drugs should actually be applied toward figuring out a program of getting off of them. Rather than now shunning them as addicts, the doctors who prescribed the drugs in the first place should be helping them, not just sending them off to so-called “pain clinics.” A common line is, “I’m not comfortable prescribing these to you anymore.” Apparently they were comfortable enough with the prescription to get the person hooked in the first place.

I know about pain. I’ve lived through this. I’m not on any of these drugs anymore and I’m not in pain. If you want the gory details, it’s all in my book, Accidental Addict. I should warn you that one reviewer claims I’m not a real addict, I guess because once I went off, I never relapsed. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to hang in there and suffer through the months and months of withdrawal.

Also, check out Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, a group that has been trying to get to the root of the problem by getting doctors to understand that, despite what they’ve been told by the pharmaceutical companies, opioid painkillers can be highly addictive for anyone.

Do I have to remind you that the drug companies do not have our best interests at heart? They want us addicted. What better way to sell the maximum number of pills? Read More 
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Another Drug-Pushing Pharmaceutical TV Commercial

I was completely disgusted when I saw my first TV ad for a new drug called Movantik a few months back. It featured a woman of my general demographic who admitted to struggling with constipation due to her doctor-prescribed opioids. Great! First the drug companies convince the doctors they needn’t worry about addiction in prescribing opioid painkillers to their patients, then, once the patients are hooked, they’re right there to sell them another drug to deal with the side effects. But see, she’s a nice lady. Clearly not an addict. Nice people can take opioid painkillers. You got that message, right?

AstraZeneca’s newest commercial is equally insidious. It’s entitled “Frank’s Moment,” meaning the moment this completely healthy-looking construction foreman—ACTOR PORTRAYAL flashes briefly on the screen—gets the enlightening news from his doctor that his problem with OIC—Opioid-Induced Constipation—can be fixed simply by popping another pill! Yay for modern medicine!

The cynicism of the drug companies and these ad copywriters is breathtaking. They know that a huge percentage of middle-aged men who wind up on opioid painkillers arrive in this predicament by way of lower back pain, something that’s extremely common, especially among construction workers prone to “throwing their backs out.” So Frank’s world, the exposed floors, two-by-fours and staircases of a substantial new house going up, is familiar to them.

Please note though, that Frank is the boss. He’s not carrying anything heavier than his laptop. He’s in a position of power. He points people here and there. But, hey, look what a stand-up guy he is, taking a coffee break with his underlings. Also—this is important—he’s ridiculously goodlooking and fit. Actor Mike McGowan, playing “Frank,” delivers his lines to perfection. Sure, these words flash briefly on the screen: OPIOIDS SHOULD BE USED RESPONSIBLY AND ONLY WHEN PRESCRIBED BY A DOCTOR. But anyone with half-a-brain can see that if a great guy like Frank has no problem taking narcotics on a daily basis, who are they to go beating up on themselves? Nobody’s calling our Frank an addict, right? Hard to picture him going home to a wife who nags him with her concern about his prescribed drugs.

Appealing, affable Frank displays winning comic timing, the way he winces in acknowledgment of the bad puns he has no choice but to deliver, inviting his TV-watching buddies to bond over the essentially embarrassing nature of constipation.

Stop! I can’t take it! Because, people, this is not about constipation. It’s about addiction, which is way more than embarrassing. It’s deadly. An ad like this is quite simply enabling; it tells the viewer that as long as their doctor is still writing their prescriptions, they’re safe.

But they’re not. Opioids are not a good solution for chronic pain, and Frank does not represent the reality of a guy taking opioids long-term. The real guys get fat. Or they waste away. What they don’t do is stay as fit and cheerful as Frank. They go on disability and withdraw from life. Through a phenomenon called Hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain) opioids eventually make their pain worse until their sole daily goal is making sure they continue to get their drugs. These are the guys who eventually contribute to the statistical uptick in deaths among white, middle-aged men in America.

Finally, here’s the real capper about this new wonder drug. Guess what one of the listed side effects is? Symptoms of opioid withdrawal! Isn’t that rich? In an effort to go to the bathroom oftener, you may experience sweating, chills, anxiety, irritability, nausea and stomach pain. Hey, here’s an idea: Why not just bite the bullet, get yourself through the horrors of withdrawal to come out drug free rather than suffering with these symptoms as you continue to layer on even more prescriptions?

I could go on, but I wrote a whole book—Accidental Addict—to explain how I lived through this myself and why I have the feelings I do on the subject. I’m starting to hear from people who’ve read it and who see parts of their own stories or their loved ones’ in mine. Please check it out.

Save yourself. Save somebody you love.

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Thank you to the marchers!

To anyone reading this who went on one of the marches yesterday, thank you! To show up in Washington, D. C., when it was first announced sounded like a great idea to me. And then, scaling back, I thought about traveling the two hours to Portland. In the end, I didn't do it. I stayed home.

But you all left your homes. You left your chairs in front of your computers, walked out the door, got on busses and showed up. You marched and raised your voices and refused to sit down and be nice girls.

I admire you so much, and I want to thank you for the inspiration and uplift the rest of us got from watching it all from afar. Read More 
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Happy Birthday Mary and Will (In Spite of the Inauguration!)

Thirty-one years ago, my darling twins first opened their eyes to the world in the early hours of January 20th. After nearly three years of infertility treatments and repeatedly failed cycles, I was too busy being thrilled with having finally won the big door prize of a boy AND a girl to even think about the date. In fact, it was years before it occurred to me that the Presidential Inauguration would always fall, for better or worse, on our kids’ birthday.

Eight years ago, the Obamas made it a great gift. This year? Ugh. I won’t even say his name. Instead, let me celebrate something that’s going right, two lovely young people walking this earth and making it a better place with their presence, Mary at the Reed College Book Store in Portland, Will at 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend.

At Cowboy Dancing recently, my husband and I learned the steps to a dance called El Paso, executed to a song by Jeff Carson. The first time I caught the lyrics they made me choke up, so happy and relieved was I to finally have recovered and reclaimed myself and to be out there dancing with my own sweet husband. The words seem appropriate here, now, as well:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Mary and Will.

Wherever you go, whatever you do
Don’t ever forget there’s someone who believes in you
When you’re lost and weary, follow your heart
‘Cause you have a gift, you’re one of a kind,
God put you on this earth so you could shine.
You don’t have to be afraid of the dark.

There will be days and there will be doubts;
There will be those who lie and let you down,
When you just have to rise above it all.
Over the tears, over the pain
Look for the rainbow in the pourin’ rain
Like a ray of sun at the crack of dawn.

Shine on!
Light up the world with your love
With faith and desire, you can build a fire
Shine on!
And let your dreams keep burning strong
Oh, shine on.

There’s a star in every one of us,
Just waiting to be born
Take a chance, dance the dance.
It’s what you’ve waited for.
Shine on!

So, keep on shining, Mary and Will.
Shine on, all of us. Let’s see if we can let love prevail.

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In the Wake of the Disheartening Presidential Election

I have always loved this quote:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
¯ E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

Nowhere in my life has this sentiment had more application than to my dear friend, award-winning writer Theresa Nelson, who took the time from her mother's bedside to pass on this encouragement from E.B. White. Although written in an earlier dark time, the inspiration is welcome once again, and since I am at a loss myself and have no heart to even write the name of the President Elect, I will borrow and share these words, which are apparently making the rounds in the children's book world.

In 1973, E.B White wrote the following reply to a man asking White's opinion on what he perceived as the bleak future for the human race.

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,
E. B. White  Read More 
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Post-Election

Words fail me.
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Presidential Debate Day Rant

I don’t usually get into politics here, but on this day of the final presidential debate, I feel like speaking up. To maintain some connection with literature, here’s a nursery rhyme that, while reading to my grandson, reminded me of a certain despicable person:

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

I thought I had disliked politicians in the past, but the loathing I bear for Donald Trump makes what I felt for Richard Nixon, for example, seem, in retrospect, more like benign disapproval. (He did go to China, after all.)

This isn’t even about politics anymore. It’s about being a man. About being a decent human being. This crybaby’s not fit to be allowed on the same playground as the rest of us. He’s the very epitome of the kind of guy I would have nothing to do with in college. I would never date a frat rat, but likening Donald Trump to members of a fraternity is not fair to them, just as calling him childish is not fair to children, just as calling the appalling trash that comes out of his mouth “locker room talk” is not fair to athletes.

Seriously, he’s in a horrid little class by himself. And most people I associate with seem to agree on this. Unfortunately, it also seems fashionable to follow the expression of such sentiments with a pouty, “But I don’t like Hillary either.”

As if there’s any comparison!

So I want to state for the record that I like Hillary Clinton. I love that her classmates voted her the first student speaker at their commencement and predicted, in writing, she’d be the first female President of the United States.

And I identify with her. Just a year after she took an argumentative tone with Wellesley’s administration in that standing-ovation speech, I myself got into a verbal spat with John Howard, the President of Lewis & Clark College. A handful of top freshmen had been invited to an honorary dinner where we sat around a big round table with this guy. At some point I made the remark that for me, the high cost of tuition at this spendy private school (My parents could hardly scrape together that one year’s tuition, and were relieved when I elected to transfer to the more budget friendly U of O) would be something of a waste if I didn’t do something other than become a housewife. In this spring of 1970 I had no idea what that would be; I just knew I had a horror of 100% housewifery, thanks to having just read The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. (Oh, good, another literature connection!)

President Howard asked how women expected to get along with their next door neighbors if they didn’t take classes in international relations, and another girl who’d also apparently earned stellar grades sniffed that she just couldn’t see any higher calling in life than marriage and motherhood. I cannot recall the rest of the exchange, but I’ll never forget President Howard’s closing argument:

“Frankly, I just couldn’t ever imagine being married to someone as unfeminine as you.”

Say WHAT? His personal assessment of me as wife material had WHAT to do with this debate?

Storming back to the dorm, I came upon the guy I’d recently been dating, sprawled on the lawn in his usual 501 jeans. In a huff, I dropped down to my side on the grass beside him and propped my cheek on my hand.

“So,” I said. “Do YOU think I’m unfeminine?”

My future husband clearly did not see any problems along these lines. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m pretty sure its memories like this that make Trump’s comments push my outrage buttons. No, I was never groped (and THANK YOU, all of you who were and are now speaking up) but I’ve had to endure this nasty business of men trying to take us down by letting us know how unattractive they consider us smart girls. Like we’d even consider for one minute getting in bed with idiots like you, Donald!

So, yeah, I’ll be rooting for Hillary big time tonight. Trump’s over-the-top vocabulary of outrageous hyperbole is so limited, during the last debate I was thinking what a great drinking game it would be if we all did shots each time he used a certain word or phrase—disaster, tremendous, I’ll be honest about this. (Right—liar, liar, pants on fire.) Trouble is, select any one word and the whole country would be passed out drunk in the first five minutes.

I guess folks at the Wall Street Journal thought better of this idea too, and this morning ran a series of stress-relieving yoga poses we could all do instead.

Well, I already did my yoga first thing as usual, so, instead, I’ll be doing the handstitching on my grandson’s new quilt. The one I made him before he was born with Chinese children flying kites didn’t really do it for him, turns out. He wants John Deere tractors. This kid’s daddy was savvy enough at the age of ten to draw horns on a picture of Donald Trump and paste it in a scrapbook. Not yet three, our grandson has been spared the worst of Trump, obviously, and is simply relieved to be reassured this man lives all the way across the country from us.

He piped up a reference to Hillary Clinton yesterday as “that other grandmother.”

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The Return of an Old Friend Bearing Memories








The first good thing about going public with my story of inadvertent addiction to prescribed drugs in Accidental Addict was reconnecting with my childhood friend, Kathy Hendrix Burke. She’d moved to California after high school and we had all but lost touch until she read my website and contacted me.

We began a feverish catch-up correspondence, and it took no time at all to be reminded of why we’d hit it off so well in seventh grade. We still love all the same things! She sent a picture of herself dressed for a wedding, and her embroidered shawl was just like what I’d worn at my son’s wedding. Turns out we both both like the Johnny Was line of boho tunics and sweaters. She’s also into real estate and remodeling houses, favoring, as I do, craftsman style. We each consider choosing colors to be our strong point.

When she started writing about the dolls she’d outfitted with trunks of handsewn clothes and donated to charity, my husband was suspicious. “Are you sure this person isn’t stalking you? Have you written blog posts about all your doll projects?” No, I hadn’t. I agreed it was uncanny, but assured Herb my long-lost friend was for real.

Kathy and I agreed our fixation about dolls with trunks of clothes must have come from our mutual favorite childhood novel, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, in which Sara Crewe’s wealthy father, returning to India, parks her in a stuffy school for girls with a doll and extravagant wardrobe as solace. I remember discussing with Kathy in high school how much fun it would be if our school would put on the theatrical version. Kathy generously allowed me the part of Sara in this fantasy since she wanted to be Sara’s loyal friend in poverty, the little cockney scullery maid, Becky. Of course neither of us dreamed I’d wind up with the last name Crew, and I must say here that I have always wished my husband’s family had that “e” on the end!

I wrote Kathy, though, that I had a vague memory of another book, a mystery, about a missing antique doll and trunk that had stayed lodged in my brain. I could still remember the descriptions of all the lovely miniature accessories which were reportedly in this trunk which the little girl longed to find somewhere on the family farm.

Kathy shot right back with an Esty listing. “Could this be it?” It was! The Wonderful Fashion Doll by Laura Bannon. Kathy remembered it too, as did a number of grown women posting wistfully on Amazon of the wish that this book be reprinted.

Well, nothing would do but for me to grab that rare copy so Kathy and I could share it and rediscover what had so captivated us when we were little. It was all there, the doll and trunk as I remembered it, but more, I was struck with the love of history and antiques the book conveyed. I would have first read it sitting in my parents brand new subdivision house with its boring sheetrock walls, and the scenes of pulling off seven layers of wallpaper to reveal stenciled walls beneath must have stuck with me since that’s what interests me now.

Of course, in the book, after chapters of suspense, false leads and disappointments, the little girl, Debby, ultimately finds the doll. Reporting on this book to my mother when I read it around the age of ten, she told me that her mother had been given a beautiful doll she named Lovey Mary (after a character in yet another book) and that the wardrobe sewn for the doll had won a prize in a contest and been displayed in a window in Meier & Frank in Portland where my grandmother grew up.

So where was Lovey Mary? Where were those beautiful clothes? Who knows? Not in my grandmother’s attic.

Thus one of my earliest lessons in an annoying truth: real life doesn't always live up to the books! My mother’s family weren’t savers, and she herself didn’t save one doll from her childhood. Probably why I’ve gone so far overboard in the other direction.

A few years ago, I tried to fix the longing to find Lovey Mary by researching what manufacture of doll she’d probably been and having as close a match as possible sent from a shop in New York City. I enjoyed the project, making several elegant dresses, for which my new Lovey Mary would of course need a trunk!

I hope I’ll find new excuses for more projects like this. Inside, you see, I’m still ten, with the thrilling hope of finding that long-lost doll lodged forever in my little girl heart.  Read More 
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