Cosmic Horror, Pandemics, and Allergies

A few days ago a YouTuber Brian David Gilbert posted a video called Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan ’97, which I’ve embedded below. This video has been sitting with me since it came out. In the video BDG plays a father teaching his son how to use an “expensive” camcorder, it feels like a fairly generic period video. However, when Jake, which given the perspective of the video is the viewer, rewinds or fast forwards Father changes facial hair. Some times his affect changes, but most of the time he does an excellent job maintaining the illusion of the same repeated video, as if Father has forgotten that he already taught Jake how to use the camcorder, by saying the same things. Similarly, Jake follows the exact same actions. Eventually, Father talks to Older Jake, the viewer, directly through the camcorder asking him to stop, that he’s gone. Then the figure appears. It’s more of a negative of a figure. It’s an unmoving void of where a figure should be. Given the context it’s safe to assume this is a stand in for whatever killed Father. Later the Father screams at what Jake can only assume to be a stuffed bunny. Father eventually walks out of the room and then out of the house, ending the video presumably to meet his fate.

That figure and the impotence of the Father has sat with me. Partially, the whole creepiness of it. Will I open a door and that figure be there? However, that’s not really why I’ve been thinking about it. There’s an air of inevitability with the piece. It’s happened and seems to be still happening. It’s repeated so perfectly that it fits with how our lives have been during the pandemic. Personally, it hits even closer for me, though. Given my allergies and that every single vaccine has reported allergic reactions. Some severe. It’s always reported, to me anyway, jauntily, that despite the reactions no one has died. Yet.

There’s a dread that creeps in. That figure, that silent absence screams at me. I know I will have a reaction. It’s inevitable. The only question is what will that reaction be like? Will it be like the last time I had ginger? Where my vision constricted within a minute of eating it. Where I started to pour sweat out my pores. Where I could barely talk as I groped for my Prednisone. Eventually going to the ER for shots of Epinephrine and Benadryl.

Would be the tamer almost constant reactions I have to perfumes and chemicals like the Shea Butter lotion my wife used the other day that gave me a slightly tightened throat and a bit of a cough when I smelled it. Or will it be the last time I had Tooth paste where I had a tightened throat, swollen lips, and numbness in my tongue?

Regardless, that void of a figure will be there. I have to step out side to greet that emptiness that unknown. I know the pandemic, that lurking horror hiding behind the stuffed bunny just out of sight, will likely kill me if I get COVID-19. I’ve struggled the past year and a half to express how I’ve been feeling with these allergies during the pandemic. So, despite the horror and fear of my impotence of that empty figure, I must confront it. But like the father, I can do it on my own terms.

Grief, Depression, and Loneliness

When I was in High school, I was always drawn to The Offspring’s song Gone Away I never really understood why, considering I’d never lost someone the way the narrator had lost someone. Certainly not someone that was close enough to me that I’d want to switch places with them. In a similar vein, I recently read Gideon The Ninth and Harrow The Ninth both by Tamsyn Muir. The first book, Gideon, was suffused with a sense of loneliness, loss, and otherness. There was loss everywhere, it felt like the entire world was dying and decaying in front of the protagonists eyes. While in the second book, Harrow, a direct sequel, it was jarring because the narrator was so unreliable that it’s clear that they were intentionally disassociating rather dealing with her grief.

The music I’ve been listening to during the pandemic has a similar haunted feeling to it. Specifically, Riverside’s Lost (Why should I be frightened by a Hat?) and The Depth of Self Delusion both of these songs are sparse, mournful, and have a strong sense of loss about them. Other songs, like Turn by Magna Carta Cartel describe the anger the futility can days just slipping away.

I got to thinking about these things last night when I read an article in Psychology TodayThe Loneliness of Unshared Grief” which talks about the grief of surviving alone (even when you’re with your family) in the pandemic. The loss of the sense of normalcy. The loss of daily interactions with strangers and of other routines. These, as my therapist has pointed out to me over the past year or so, are normal things we should be grieving. We’re grieving the loss of who we were. In some cases we’re grieving people that we love and care about that we lost. We’re grieving the loss of a sense of safety.

It’s ok to grieve.

You aren’t alone in grieving.

I’ve been doing a lot of grieving myself. Not just from the pandemic, but also my allergies. I have lost most of freedom of movement because I don’t feel safe walking outside. Wood smoke sends me into anaphylaxis. I used to love to walk at night. The calm and quiet would let me work through whatever I was feeling. It was a way that dealt with some of my depression, my grief of nightly parental strife – that loss of emotional safety at home. When my nephew was living here, I used daily walks to help him work through his anxieties and stress from school and family. I can’t do that with him any more.

I am grieving over the loss of food. I have a diet of about 6 things. Well, I’m sure I can eat more than that, but I feel so unsafe eating them that I simply avoid them. I’ve learned that this is something of an eating disorder, I mention it in my Book Review: The End of Food Allergy by Kari┬áNadeau, I’m scared of trying food I used to love because it might “attack me.”

I’m grieving of all these things. I’m also grieving about the pandemic.

It’s cathartic to read or watch videos that make you feel grief. It might help you process your grief. To give a name to what you’ve been feeling. The reason why you’re angry. If you like video games I recommend playing Gris, because it’s definitely about a woman going through the stages of grief and is a gorgeous game.

Managing Self-Isolation

Since October, I have been in a form of self-isolation because of my allergies. Now, many of you don’t know me, but my allergies became very serious in October and I went to the ER for anaphylactic shock related to eating Ginger. Subsequently, I became so allergic to my dogs, that my throat would feel like it was closing up if I was around them for more than a few minutes. I became unable to walk them, as I’d accidentally put their dander on my tongue whenever I’d be trying to open a plastic poop bag. Which lead to an immediate allergic reaction and needing to use an inhaler.

Furthermore, because of all my food allergies, I couldn’t eat out. I’d have a reaction to almost every food except for breakfast food. I’m allergic to Citric Acid, which is in just about every food known to man. I also had to avoid touching my wife because she often kisses the dogs and eats foods I’m allergic too. This creates an additional barrier that you may have to deal with if you actually get sick.┬áI was, however, able to go to work and the grocery store (in fact the latter had cleaner air than either work or home) so I wasn’t entirely self isolated, but basically was isolated.

Here are some of the things I experienced that you should expect the longer you’re in self-isolation:

  1. Loneliness
  2. Depression
  3. Stir craziness
  4. Frustration
  5. Anxiety

Here are some tips on how to manage these:

  1. To combat loneliness I would play video games with friends. I’d talk with them using Discord. I strongly recommend getting on the phone with people on a regular basis. It will help. You can’t get them sick over the phone and they can’t make you sick. Plus, you’ll be helping other people deal with their loneliness in a way that they may not realize they need.
  2. Meditate – I use an App called Headspace, there’s a 30 day trial. I recommend using this to help deal with some of the anxiety, frustration, and depression that comes from being self-isolated. I’ve talked about how I’ve been using it for close to 2 years in other blog posts to fight depression. Ironically, it can also help you feel less lonely (there’s a program on dealing with loneliness in it), because you aren’t mediating alone. You can literally meditate with others remotely in the app.
  3. Make a comfortable space. You’re going to be stuck in your home for a while. make sure that you are going to be comfortable. I had a comfortable chair and my computer in my office. I had an ottoman and side table as well. This allowed me to read, listen to music, and drink coffee/tea/alcohol in my place of self-isolation. Make sure you’re able to distract yourself and/or keep yourself busy.
  4. Find a hobby to spend your time on. I had two hobbies that have helped keep me sane. The aforementioned video games and writing. In the immediate aftermath of my ginger reaction, I wrote about 200 pages in a book I’ve been working on for about 2 years. I was able to finish it. I was focused alone and dealing with some shit. Putting that down on paper can help you process what’s going on around you. If you want to write a book, I suggest Scrivener. If you want to blog, setting up a free WordPress account could be perfect. Otherwise, pen and a notebook work just find. My wife has jumped into doing more art stuff. Most of these things are fairly cheap and can keep you busy for a long time.
  5. Change up your routine. This one is tough, but making slight changes to your routine can help keep you busy and reduce anxiety from being isolated. I suggest watching videos for a while, then switching to something else, like a book or articles, then moving on to one of your hobbies. This way you keep your mind occupied and from getting stuck in a rut of the routineness of whatever you were doing before.

I hope these ideas help you with your self-isolation. I still combat my own depression over my self-isolation with my allergies. So this list is far from perfect. I know some people are going to be hit really hard by the self-isolation and will have serious financial concerns on top of the above symptoms. It’s important in those cases to find inexpensive types of entertainment. Regardless, you must do self-care and meditation is a cheap easy way to do that.

Be safe out there. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Wash your hands.

Allergies are Terrifying

As some of you may know, I’ve had issues with gluten for a while. About 8 years ago, I had to cut it out of my diet. I had expected that to be the end of things that I’d have to cut from my diet. I’m still not entirely over that loss. It’s hard to constantly fear what should be a nurturing substance. At restaurants, I’d always second guess what I was put into my body. I’d generally adapted to it, but there would be times when it’d get the best of me. Like when I’d be at a conference and all the food, including the salad, would have wheat in it. I’d get frustrated and in some cases my blood sugar would drop, because I’m also hypoglycemic.

Sadly, that wasn’t even the first thing I had to cut. I figured out I was lactose intolerant 14 years ago. I’d have horrible reactions to it. I also figured out that cheese wasn’t the best for me, but I still kept eating it because of how good it tastes and how it’s on just about everything.

More recently, I’ve found out why I should be avoiding cheese. I’m allergic to basically the entire world. I’m allergic to beef, dairy (no butter for cooking either!), lamb, flowers (like chamomile, hibiscus, elderflower), all environmental allergens, almonds, hazelnuts, ginger, juniper (no gin, boo), kiwis, citric acid, and probably more. I learned all this in the past two-three months. Now, going out to eat is even riskier.

To address this, I’ve started immunotherapy. This is the process of introducing you, gradually, to an increasing amount of the allergens. The goal is to desensitize you to the allergens. The process is a series of increasing dosage and/or molarity of the allergen in a shot. I started that about 2 weeks ago. However, since the third round of these shots I’ve been on the edge of serious allergic reactions. The slightest thing has made my throat tighten, sent my heart racing, and increased my blood pressure.

On Friday, I reacted badly to ginger. I ended up in the ER because of it. I was treated an released after a couple hours with additional care instructions. Since then, I’ve been dealing with reactions whenever I’m outside walking the dogs.

If you know anyone with food allergies, please make sure you take them seriously. If you see them taking something while eating, check on them. If they look flushed while eating check on them. If they seem slow to respond while eating and seem loopy, check on them. Then take them to the hospital.

To help with my reactions, I’m making business cards to give to servers at restaurants. This will help ensure that I tell them all the allergies I have and they don’t have to remember them. They can give the list to the chef and hopefully, will be able to find me food that I can eat.

I don’t really think all the loss of the foods has sunk in on me yet either. I think that’s mostly because I’ve been just responding to my body. Not really dwelling on this. Given the seriousness of my reactions, I suspect this will be easy at first to deal with. Hopefully, it won’t be permanent and I can resume immunotherapy.