Home/Body

TV

My apartment is pretty small – just a little over 400 sq. ft. It’s still the perfect size for me, even though having the three cats makes me fidget a bit. They have plenty of surface area to explore, though, which gives them considerably more “floor space” than I have. They can climb anywhere they’d like, and they take turns sitting on the fridge and looking out the window, or sleeping on top of the kitchen cabinets, or exploring the shelves in the closet. I don’t mind, and let them go where they will. The only reason I’d ever want to move into a bigger apartment would be to give them more room to roam, so to me, allowing them free reign to explore every level in the apartment is completely worth their mental and physical health. One day we’ll move into a place where I can build them all sorts of tunnels and trees and hopefully an enclosed porch where they can watch the birds of a morning.

But this post wasn’t meant to be about their health, though it is entwined with mine, for better or worse. I came here thinking about interior design and modern living. I came here to talk about turning my living room into a home gym.

When I moved in a little over three years ago, the apartment was partially furnished. Straight away, I got rid of anything that looked cheap or was a space-waster (with the landlord’s permission, of course). The only things that I kept, out of necessity, were the mattress in the bedroom and the couch in the living room. The mattress is its own post – I dream of completely revamping my bedding and turning my bed into something akin to a spa experience – but today we’re going to talk about that damned couch.

The living room is minuscule, and the couch is HUGE. It’s a three-seater, deep and overstuffed, and takes up most of the only full wall in the room (the other three walls all have doors – the front door, French doors to the bedroom, and the walkway into the kitchen). With the doors being where they are, the layout of the room is rather forced. The couch takes up a wall, and I set up the television and media center just under the lip of the kitchen counter. That means that I don’t get to add seating to the kitchen counter, which is OK, but not ideal. There’s very little floorspace still available, which is pretty annoying.

When I had a boyfriend, this setup seemed necessary, though I often dreamed of selling the television and having a TV-free home. I never felt comfortable telling him that, though, because as a writer, for him TV was life. This is not to say that I don’t also enjoy watching television – I get caught up in binge-watching shows the same as the next person. And I love my horror movies, and my BBC, and documentaries, and movies about food and traveling. It’s just that I’ve started to realize how much of my real life is being stolen by screens. I am hooked up to a computer for 8 to 16 hours a day at work, and I write this blog on a computer, and when I don’t have a computer open, I’m on my phone or a Kindle or watching Netflix on my television. It’s just daunting. I want out.

And what’s funny is that I’ve turned on the television twice in the last two weeks, or however long its been since we broke up (three weeks? I’d be a shit annal-keeper, though I guess that’s what I am, in a way, the Annals of Anna, as predictable and bland as they might be). I’ve been reading, working, sleeping, and hanging out with my cats. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been planning. Now it’s time for action.

Bottom line is that the couch has to go. I don’t have the strength of will yet to toss the television to the curb, but I can very swiftly turn my living room from a TV-watching station into a gym and craft room – a place to inspire me to be myself, rather than to cater to the whims of others. I want to imbue it with feminine energy, and intensity befitting of my true personality, the one I seem to keep constantly tamped down.

Long ago, I worked for an interior designer who explained to me that the living room used to be centered around the hearth, for warmth, for community. Now it is centered around the television, which provides no warmth, and essentially allows us to pretend we’re part of a community without having to engage in any of the messiness of actually talking to one another. I’m tired of having the television be the center of my home – so I’m going to move the idiot box over to the corner. I’ll get a futon that takes up less space and allows for guests to stay with me more comfortably. I’ll install bar stools, and use the kitchen counter as a craft station. I’ll use the floor space for a new elliptical (I’ve been dreaming of a replacement for my old Tony Little Gazelle for years now), and a yoga mat. I’ll still be a homebody, but I’ll be bringing magic and intention back to my sphere.

Cinnamon Girl

I really like cinnamon toothpaste. Cinnamon and clove, cinnamon and fennel, double cinnamon, whatever – I just feel like my mouth is cleaner after I use cinnamon toothpaste. I’m also very particular about my toothpaste, but you’d never know it. For some reason, when I’m in a relationship, toothpaste is the first line of defense to fall.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s not like there’s ever even a skirmish over it. Basically, as soon as someone writes their name in my dance card, and I just naturally assume that they will hate cinnamon toothpaste, and go out and buy a decent, respectable mint toothpaste that very day. Mind you, I keep some things sacred – I prefer a paste to a gel, wintergreen to peppermint, no weird colors, lots of scrubby texture and/or special whitening power promised on the box. Yes, I am a toothpaste snob. But, as I’ve realized this week, I naturally assume that my tastes in pastes will neither be appreciated, nor tolerated, by someone who wants to brush their teeth at my sink now and then.

Isn’t that sad? Not only do I willingly give up a thing that I typically find considerable joy in – I give it up without asking, and with no idea of whether I’m right or not. I automatically assume that my choices are invalid, and that I should make way IN MY OWN HOME for the obviously superior (and completely imagined) tastes of my visitors. My head is reeling at this. It’s one thing to be amenable to others, another to be a good hostess, another to take the desires of those we love into account. It’s something completely different to assume right out of the gate that you are absolutely in the wrong and must change a fundamental portion of your hygiene routine (something that wasn’t broken) to suit someone else’s tastes.

Ugh. So. I didn’t realize all of this last weekend – not yet. I just woke up with a mad desire to go and get new toothpaste, even though I still have half a tube left of some pretty decent mainstream mint. The urge to get new toothpaste grew over the course of the day, until I couldn’t really concentrate on whatever else I was supposed to be doing. So I dropped everything, went to the co-op, and bought the exact thing that I’d been dreaming of – cinnamon and clove toothpaste, with activated charcoal and bentonite clay. It’s black! It’s so fun to use, and it really does work. My teeth feel very clean, and my gums feel less irritated than they typically do. If you’re interested, check out My Magic Mud (no, that’s not paid placement). Along with the toothpaste, I bought a new mouthwash, cinnamon and neem. A tiny swig goes a long way, and caps off the whole tooth brushing experience quiet well.

There’s no real end to this story. My breath is warm and spicy, like my heart, like me. It has inspired me to look at other belongings I own, and products I use, and consider why I use them, and who that serves. How else have I been capitulating? Who else have I been bowing down to, needlessly?

Predator & Prey

Today’s Daily Post Prompt is “Symbiosis,” about which it turns out I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately. Well, that’s backwards, really. I’ve been thinking about relationships that are supposed to be symbiotic – both organisms surviving together, with mutual, reciprocal benefit – but are not. I guess we’re talking more about codependency, or probably any number of other relationship types of which I’m not yet aware.

First, let’s consider my cats. They’re the most innocent of all of the relationships I’ve been considering. They can survive without me. If I opened up the door right now and shooed them all outside, sure, they’d have a rough week or two, but barring getting hit by a car, they’d be OK. Isabel would find a spot in the sun and sit there, looking frail and vulnerable, until some old lady came along and took her in. Munky would probably run into the first open door and demand kibble and a back rub. Charlie would go feral in no time, and his size and natural ownership of all situations would make him king of the block. There might be some tussles with Kuzia, but they’d work out a way to hold the title jointly without either getting too ticked off.

All that being said, they stay here with me. I feed them very expensive food, take them to the doctor whenever anyone exhibits signs of pain or illness, am constantly refilling food/water and cleaning out litter boxes, and everything I own is covered in cat hair/litter/cat footprints. One of the top reasons I’m stuck in this tiny apartment is because having cats makes me wary of trying to find a roommate, and landlords either don’t want pets or just don’t want three of them, so when I do find a place that would work with three cats, it’s WAY out of my price range. But I love them, and when I’m lonely, there’s always a furball to curl up next to, and when I cry, Charlie loves to lick tears, and when I take showers, Isabel loves to get petted through the plastic shower curtain liner, and when I brush my teeth, Munky loves to have me pet him with the non-toothbrush-holding-hand. So we count on each other, and here we are.

I know too many people who are in negative relationships. Relationships where one of the participants has taken on the role of caregiver, and gives the other participant way too much leeway to not be present, active, giving. I also know more people than ever before who are in desperate need of therapy, or at least some sort of help, whether it’s coming to terms with an addiction, or dealing with childhood trauma, or mental imbalance based in health concerns like PCOS. And I know too many women who can’t come to terms with the fact that you can’t keep from being alone by forcing someone else to depend on you. You’ll still be alone, just alone with someone else in the house. And believe me, that’s much worse, loneliness without being allowed to find a way out of it. And YOU doing it to YOURSELF! What a pity. What a waste. I wish I had the guts to tell every one of my girlfriends that I see in this situation to get out. It’s better to be on your own than alone and stuck under the influence of a man who somehow believes that giving 1/4 of the effort amounts to participation. Relationships are very hard work, and we shouldn’t have to put in 3/4 of the effort for no reward, especially in this day and age, when there’s just no more reason to suffer. It used to be that you needed to be under the protection of a man, and that there was financial security in it, but not anymore. Come to think of it, I don’t have any girlfriends who aren’t the more successful partner, financially speaking.

On that note, I was thinking about romance earlier, and why it is that we have this trope of the handsome, romantic, experienced foreign man (you can set this story in Spain, Italy, Greece, anywhere in South or Central America – just make sure that the men there are dark and handsome, and are rumored to be skilled at seduction). Wouldn’t it be satisfying to have a story where the down-on-her-luck American woman visits a foreign island, in search of romance (a la Eat, Pray, Love), and finds herself unfortunately paired up with a bumbling, analytical, completely inexperienced foreign guy? Like, the only available man on the island is available for a reason, and the resulting pairing is hilarious. I’d enjoy that story.

Well, it’s Sunday afternoon out there, and in a few hours I’m going to go buy some eggs at Dollar General, then hit up my weekly Refuge Recovery meeting. I went to Zumba this morning, so I’m feeling good about being back on track at the gym. Just hoping it’s possible to avoid catching a cold or flu or whatever other bugs are there every time I go for more than a few days in a row. Today I washed my hands before and after Zumba, didn’t touch anything in the classroom, and the equipment that I did use after class, I sprayed it off before and after. I’m trying to be very conscious of when I touch anything, and not touching my face, but we’ll see.

Blueberries With Broken Wings

It’s Day 3 of no Facebook (and coincidentally, no alcohol). It is also Day 3 of Lent, but not Day 3 of anything else. I have yet to give up caffeine, or sugar, or dairy, which is good, since I just drank a lovely Vietnamese iced coffee containing heaps of all three. Yes, I know that they’re terrible for me, but just don’t have the extra willpower necessary to cut out all joy in one fell swoop. I’ll give the social media withdrawal symptoms a little while longer to subside, then recalculate.

Anyway, yeah, where was I? Day 3. Also Friday. Also two days after rent was due, and a few days before a bunch of other random bills are due, and one day before I get kicked out of magick school for not checking in for the month, and one day before I meet up with a friend from the Camino who happens to be in town to visit, and two days before I have to go back to work, and four days since my cat came down with another UTI and cost me my rent, and…meh, who cares what day it is?

I only typed Facebook into the URL by mistake maybe four times today so far, but I did go to Zulily to “window shop” four or five times, and I definitely reread my last couple of blog posts on here a few times, so it’s not like I’m magically no longer procrastinating online. I’m just not procrastinating in as disjointed and turbulent a way. Hopefully that means something.

As far as conversations with real humans go, I’m currently at the coffee shop with the boyfriend, and we’ve been talking about going to watch a movie. And a friend/coworker of mine came over to see me at the shop, bringing his new significant other, whom I’d never met before, so I met a new person today (and he was very nice, but that’s Canadians for you, eh?) Also, the guy at the table behind me has been kicking my chair pretty consistently over the last hour, so that’s a form of interaction. He’s lucky I’m a very patient lady, and my only response has been to move the chair a little to the right to hopefully give him more foot room. It didn’t help. He’s just one of those jerks who doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and later gets run over by a bus. Probably not, but a girl can dream.

Also, I got invited out to dinner with a group of friends! I’m not hungry, though. But it was nice of them to ask.

Emotionally, all is good. I’m feeling especially fat and bloated today, and my face looks like a solid sphere when I look in the mirror, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not. I do seem to remember that last time the anxiety and depression were this bad, I was suffering from a touch of body dysmorphia, too, so it’s a good bet that it’s half and half – I’m both fatter than I want to be and seeing myself as a giant blueberry creature because I’m a tad off in the head. Oh well. Only so many things I can tackle at one time.

Speaking of tackling things, I FINALLY scored a doctor’s appointment. Not a psych appointment, because I’m still having trouble finding one that takes my insurance plan, but at least I was able to arrange to see a gynecologist in a couple of weeks. Which is great, because I am very ready to start proceedings to get my tubes tied and get this whole fertility question answered once and for all. I’ll take “No Babies Ever” for $1,000, Alex. That’ll be an incredible load off. A little sad, since I’m officially the last of my line, being my parents’ only child, but I have no interest in producing offspring from scratch, or giving anyone else permission to ruin what’s left of my figure and give me more wrinkles in the process. If I’m ever in the financial position to take care of myself like a real adult, you know, with a little nest egg, and an apartment that’s larger than the back seat of a Volkswagen, I’d love to consider fostering children. But that’s a question for 10 years from now. Right now is the time to start going through the motions of explaining to any number of doctors that no, I don’t want kids, and yes, I’m qualified to make this decision all by myself, without a man calling the shots. We’ll see what happens. I’ve heard too many stories of women who aren’t trusted by their medical professionals to make up their own minds about how to use (or in this case, not use) their own bodies.

There’s a man here at the cafe with the most beautiful blue and purple hair, complete with a big blue and purple beard AND a blue and purple handlebar mustache. His hair game is on point, and I am filled with awe and a touch of envy. I miss my blue hair. I miss living a less structured life, even though I know that it wasn’t healthy for me, at least in the state I was in. I’m not thriving, and I don’t think I know how to. But I do know that when I’m left up to my own devices, without any structure, I fall right out of the nest and linger, starving, on the sidewalk. At least the structure acts as a kind of safety net. Either way, I’m restricted, but I guess it’s better to get fat in the net than get stepped on on the sidewalk. This analogy is tedious. I’ll leave you with the song of the day…

Fear of the New

This morning on the walk to work, I had a tiny flash of inspiration, then put it aside for later contemplation. (Dear all – welcome to my later contemplation.) Anyway, the thought process went like this:

“What keeps me from being more?”
“Fear, duh.”
“But don’t people tell me all the time that they wish they had the kind of courage that I do to go off to new places, and to try new things?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s different.”
“How’s going to a new country any different than going to a potluck at your neighbor’s house?”
“One involves hanging out at the airport and people watching, then taking a flight and getting one of those cute little boxed dinners, and maybe a wine and cheese snack, plus movies on demand…”
“Smart ass.”
“OK, yeah, I know what you’re getting at. Travel should be much scarier, but it’s not, because I won’t let it be.”
“Bingo.”

There have been plenty of times in my life that I’ve been terrified of new things. Not quite on the level of actual neophobia, just scared to take the plunge. And I’ve done it anyway. It takes guts to put yourself out there. It’s hard to strip off all of the armor in front of people – even people who love you, whom you know for sure won’t laugh, or hurt you intentionally. But to be more, to be bigger, to have more fun, even, you’ve got to trust that the fear isn’t going to kill you. And it’s a platitude, but in this case it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

There are some things that I probably just won’t be able to do again until I get the proper mental help, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t gently ease myself into other new situations, like going out to see music, or to the opening night of an art show. So maybe it’s nerve-wracking to go to a house party and be stuck in a bubble full of people and talking and alcohol and too much interaction. But I know that I’m happy going out alone, on my own terms. And I know that I’m good with one-on-one situations, and even small groups. So let’s plan a few of those over the next 39 days, shall we?

Deactivation: Tiny Update

So I spent the better part of my evening building a new Spotify account, since it turns out that if you don’t have an active FB page AND your Spotify account was opened using FB as the login credentials, you can’t access the Spotify account. So I opened a new account using my email address, rather than FB, then painstakingly recreated all of my playlists. After that, I cancelled the old account, because by that point I was incredibly ticked off. I’m not even going to try to imagine how many more sites or apps I’m going to have to do something similar with later on in the week. Ugh.

On the other hand, I finally got around to using the Messages program on my Mac, and that’s pretty cool. It blends your phone’s SMS capabilities with the handiness of your computer keyboard, which is useful if you’ve got friends who prefer to talk through text, but you hate trying to use the little touchscreen keypad on a cell phone. Had a short conversation with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks, and got to actually talk instead of being the texting version of monosyllabic.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but another source of stress is my cat, Munky. He started getting sick with another UTI on Sunday night, and I took him to the vet first thing on Monday. They couldn’t keep him overnight, since they were closing early for Lundi Gras, and weren’t going to be open on Mardi Gras. So they sent me home with a bunch of meds, and instructions for watching to see if he was going to pee. Oh, and a $500 vet bill that represents my next chunk of debt (what, you thought I magically had $500 on hand?). Anyway, they gave him X-rays to see if he had any blockages, since crystals or stones can be fatal to cats, but just like last time, no blockage. Last time it was bacterial, so we’ll wait for their samples to culture and see what pops up.

They already gave him an antibiotic shot, which is nice, since they sent me home with syringes and two different pills, to be given twice daily, and both Munky and I are very unhappy about that. I have a huge gouge on my palm from him not taking kindly to me trying to wrap him into a kitty burrito, and he isn’t talking to me after last night’s rounds of meds. I’ve got a new pill syringe and a cat isolation bag thing coming, since we’re going to have weeks of this, and one of us will probably not survive if I don’t make some high-tech moves to improve the situation.

The biggest way to improve the situation would be to cut down on his stress levels, by giving him (and Izzy, and Charlie) more space to roam. I know that getting a bigger apartment would definitely would cut down on my stress levels from being overrun by cats. And wouldn’t it be great to have access to a washer and dryer that wasn’t literally a mile’s walk away? (For that matter, could you imagine having a car? Oh, the luxury.) I’ve been looking around, but there’s just nothing in my budget in a neighborhood I’d feel safe living in. Plenty of places just slightly over what I’m paying now if I’m happy with hearing gunshots on the next block, but I’m just too old to be brave about that kind of crap anymore. Plus, what if I lost my freelance gig? It’s feeling precarious lately, and my hotel gig definitely isn’t covering all of my bills right now. I’m so tired of squeaking by. They say that you’re supposed to dress for the job you want, but how do you do that if you can’t even afford a new pair of pumps? I started this job with a wardrobe of thrift store finds, and those already old clothes are just getting rattier. I can’t seem to catch a break, between things breaking and the cats. And I could make more money if I could handle the idea of dealing with 10 clients’ social media accounts all day, every day, but I’d be dead or committed within a year. I just can’t be a marketer anymore. My brain is stressed to the breaking point as it is. There has to be another way forward. Just have to hold on, promotions happen like clockwork, gotta have patience.

And just like that, my blood pressure rises.

OK, time to not think myself into stress circles over all the things I can’t do anything about. Gonna pop on a hypnotherapy recording and call it a night. Turns out Spotify has a bunch of Glenn Harrold recordings; he’s my favorite disembodied voice when it’s time to catch some shuteye, though it’s an acquired taste. If you’re like me, and haven’t had success with meditation yet, you might like hypnotherapy recordings as a way to bridge the gap a little bit. I’ve found that some of the subliminal messaging does end up rubbing off. My favorites of Glenn’s are Relax & Sleep Well, Detox Your Life, and Spiritual Weight Loss (which is weirdly less about me wanting to lose weight, and more about loving the fact that it consistently puts me to sleep in under a minute or two). Do you ever listen to hypnotherapy to fall asleep? If you’ve got a favorite, let me know.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I totally forgot and typed Facebook into my URL bar somewhere close to five times today. Usually it happened while I was online doing some other mindless thing, then got sidetracked, and suddenly found myself trying to get to my Facebook page. Which obviously didn’t happen, since I deactivated first thing this morning, but it was still really weird to find my fingers having a mind of their own, and deciding it was time to go to Facebook.

Deactivation

Just deactivated my Facebook account, and am feeling a little ill. I took the app off of my phone this weekend, went a few hours without it, added it back, went a few hours without…etc. Finally took it off for real last night. Instagram was easier, though I did see a really funny Instagram account called @tchoupacabra that had me looking through the photos one last time this morning. I mean, who doesn’t adore a (really poorly) taxidermied raccoon in a miniature police uniform, attending various Mardi Gras events?

Anyway, I think that the first week or so is going to be pretty hard. I know that sounds lame, and weird, and like I could possibly need mental help (spoiler alert – I do). But I realized on Sunday that Facebook (well, my phone in general, but Facebook more specifically) is where I go when I’m bored, when I need validation, and when I need an update on news. OK, and it’s a great place to share kitten videos. Guess I’ll just have to share them here now.

But what makes it worse is that it’s become a community for so many, yet it is empty, so empty. It’s where a LOT of people go when they’re bored, need validation, want to get up-to-date on whatever new horrible thing is happening in the world. Somehow we’ve managed to become convinced that Facebook is the real world, a true hub for finding out all the things you need to know to be a successful and connected human being. And maybe that’s not all that bad for more extroverted folks. But along with the fleeting promise of online connection, people like me receive the gift of real-world isolation. We’re so busy being plugged in, checking on who likes our latest photos or music recommendations or snarky updates, that it’s easy to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable: everything outside the front door (well, you know, other than trees and rocks and other inanimate, outdoorsy things). It’s easy to convince yourself that online existence is more meaningful than it really is. It’s easy to ignore that there are real people out there with whom we could be making meaningful, in-person connections.

And if there’s anything I should be sure about, it’s that real friends are made in the real world. Yes, I have two friends that I’ve met online and have never spent time with in real life. It’s not impossible to get to know people over the internet – especially if you’re actually writing TO each other, and not just commenting on the same posts – that’s just having a modern day pen pal. It is, however, extremely unlikely. If anything should remind me that it takes depth of interaction for me to make true connections, I only need to look back to the Camino. I met hundreds of people over 45 days of walking in Spain. We all had at least one thing in common, and there were quite a few superficial conversations, to be sure. But out of those superficial conversations, a few deeper ones grew, and out of THOSE conversations, a tiny handful of friends were won. Good friends. Lifelong friends. People I love like sisters and brothers. However, had I not been forcefully removed from other online options, I might never have started talking.

Here’s the thing – friendships are beautiful, and I truly believe that making connections on that level can make life brighter. But making friends is HARD. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s not quite as bad as having a tooth pulled, but honestly, it’s close to it, and it lasts longer. It is also fraught with pitfalls, even after you’re pretty sure the other person likes you (but DO they REALLY? What if you screw this up? What if you say something that upsets them? And do you know ALL the things that could possibly upset them? Isn’t it easier to just not make the friend you’ll inevitably piss off at some point, and just forgo that pain?). And after all that, after you overcome what feels like insurmountable fear, you press ahead, you ask the person if they’d like to hang out sometime, you become friends, it weirdly turns out that you’re complete opposites but still enjoy each other’s company…and then the other person abruptly moves back to Minneapolis and once again you’re on your own. (You know who you are, and I’ll be up to visit soon!)

As Carrie Fisher said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I’m not certain that I’ll ever be confident about anything. I’m only ever confident about traveling and trying new things that don’t necessarily involve having to interact with other people. Give me a flight plan and a suitcase, and I will go. Don’t care where it is, I will happily traipse right off to whatever foreign desert or jungle or metropolis you’ve chosen. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it, too. But ask me to attend a house party a block down the street tomorrow night and there’s a 99.9% chance that I won’t be able to force myself out the door. But maybe this is just the first step of feeling slightly more confident. Maybe this will help me start to feel less like curling up and dying whenever I get invited to a social function. And if not, well, maybe it’ll give me the extra time I need to start a new hobby, maybe learn to knit, like a proper crazy cat lady. (Actually, my bestie gave me a paper piecing kit, so that’ll be the first crafting attempt.)

Overall, I think there are going to be three major things that will suck in my social media detox process:

  1. Being comfortable in public. On Sunday morning I was supposed to meet up with a friend for brunch, and arrived early. Since I was already trying to get used to not using the phone, I started to read a paperback while waiting in line. Even though, technically, I was doing exactly the same thing that every other person who was in line and on their phone was doing – reading – I caught people giving me weird looks. Which of course took me right back to the days before phones, when I always had a book or a notebook with me, for reading or jotting down thoughts as I waited in lines or had a solo lunch. Back then I wasn’t suffering from anxiety (that I know of), just experiencing introversion, and though I felt like I was under scrutiny for my nerdiness, I let it roll of me. It’s going to be interesting trying to recapture what that felt like.
  2. Sharing music. This is probably the worst. I connect to other people through music. When I hear a song that touches my heart, I want to share it, to share a feeling that I can’t describe in words with the people that I love. On Facebook, only a few people interact with my music posts, but they’re all my favorite people. It feels good to be jamming out to a song on Spotify, hit “Share” and share on my FB wall. Now I won’t be doing that anymore. I know that when a tree falls in the forest, it still makes a sound. The song has still touched my heart; does it matter if anyone else knows? But who are we without sharing our experiences? Well, for the next 40 days, we’re confining that kind of sharing to my blog. Probably not too much music, though. It’s not as impactful if it’s not of the moment.
  3. Not creating beautiful photos via Instagram. This isn’t that bad, really, because I’m just going to get a different photo app. Instagram makes you post your picture in order to make the filter and editing last (otherwise you’re asked if you want to discard these changes, or if you want to save as a draft). I don’t want to discard or save as a draft. I want to edit my photo, then keep it. I don’t really care about sharing, or getting likes, etc. I just want to take a picture of my cat, edit it to look nice, and save it.

Today, though, my big focus is just not losing my cool and logging in to Facebook. We’ll fill the void with work until 4:30, then it’s home to check on the cats and clean the house, and after that, well, it’ll probably be time for bed, but maybe I’ll get to start a new book. Did I tell you guys that I’ve already read 13 books so far this year? I’ve almost beaten my (sad, oh so sad) record of 15 books read last year. I’ve been working on putting together a list of feminist comic books to share with my book group, but I just realized that I won’t be able to access our group Facebook page for awhile. Hmmm…

Lent (Terms & Conditions)

if-you-require-healing-let-yourself-fall-ill-healing-quote

This is just how it is. That’s important for me to note. I am an optimist, and I believe that we are constantly evolving, changing, shifting our perspectives and thus, our realities. However, it’s key for me, at this junction, to realize that I have been fighting a losing battle against an immovable foe, and have finally tired out enough to realize that I haven’t budged an inch in all the struggle. I have been fighting for the wrong thing(s), yet again. And in coming to this realization, I also find that I’m not new to this knowledge, or rather, that the knowledge is not new to me. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results, go ahead and ship me out to the bin. I am not coming back from myself.

The other day, I was reading this comment on an online forum for ex-Fundamentalist Christians in various stages of deconstruction. The original poster was discussing how problematic it was for white, middle class, Christians to tell people from different backgrounds to stop expressing their fears, because “God loves you and all you need is to go to church more.” I don’t want to make this a political post, so I won’t explain more than this, just that the comments under the original post broke the sentiment down and explained it in various ways, some people agreeing that it was at best short-sighted, and at most classist and racist, while other people tried to explain that with God at your back, fear is pointless, blah, blah, blah. I refrained from sharing my perspective, because I intuited from the overall tone of the comments section that I wouldn’t be understood properly.

But here’s what I think about it: we are all going to die, fear or not. This is not a dark thing, or a pessimistic thing, or a sad thing. It’s just the truth. You are going to die. There’s no way around it. Repeat after me: I am dying right now, and will be dead soon. (Whether by bus tomorrow afternoon, or in sleep 50 years from now, the individual human timeline is a minuscule thing.) With nothingness on the imminent horizon, why waste any time on fear? Physically speaking, after that first jolt that gets you moving, fear is pretty pointless. Overall, it’s an impediment. Long term exposure can be quite harmful – just ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. If you want to fight, fight. If you want to seek pleasure, seek it. Your life is your own, your death is inevitable, and it is not my place to tell you that you’re an asshole. Why would you believe it, if you can’t see it already? When we die, we are gone. There’s no heaven, or hell, or great beyond. At best we are energy that gets recycled. We are worm motels, and if we’re lucky, there will still be trees left to nourish when we’re done making a terrible mess of this beautiful place.

So with my impending death and the pointlessness of fear laid out before me, I am changing my tactics. I have come to terms with the fact that I’ve been going about this all wrong, and I’m not too proud to admit that it’s time to change.

I am sick. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Like an idiot, once I started feeling better, I stopped taking medication. For awhile it was OK, but now it’s not. And it’s been “not” for far too long now. My thoughts are scattered. I have trouble finishing projects (which is nothing new, but worse now). I work myself into a knot just thinking about the wording I will eventually use to write about specific things, then eventually just avoid writing about them, altogether. I am nearly incapable of holding down a conversation in person, and my fear of public gatherings manifests in such a way that I appear aloof, annoyed, and impatient. On the good days, when I can force myself to go out in the first place, I end up just having a panic attack and shaking in silence in the darkest corner I can find. At least then I just look like someone who’s having a bad day, rather than someone who wants to burn down the building with everyone inside it. While I was scared of not fitting in as a younger person, now that I’m in my 30s, it’s come to pass that I never did find a way to fit in, and now I’m sick, so the awkwardness is also wearing a layer of anxious, bad-tempered energy anytime I’m put into a position where I have to interact with people I don’t know that well. I eat and drink to tamp down some of the fear and unease, and frequently find myself eating pure junk in large quantities, knowing that I don’t want it, but doing it anyway as a form of self-punishment.

While most of the symptoms of this have been disagreeable, there are some small positives. The largest of these is that while I have lost the things that used to tether me (music, sensuality, costumes, fantasy stories), I have traded out my appreciation for these things for a new appreciation in being completely untethered. I am wandering. I don’t know who I am or what I am doing here. I have a feeling like I’m walking between rain drops, like I can see more of the world because the world has forgotten how to see me. It does hurt a little, but it is more like a memory of pain than the pain itself. Though my connection with humans is tenuous, at best, I have learned that I feel a deep, energetic connection to animals and the earth. I have also begun to see how very few people actually matter to me, which gives me the ability to wonder why it is that humans feel a need to be loved by many, when they can actually only reciprocate appropriately for relatively few. Why, for instance, pretend that I care about the people with whom I went to high school? We don’t share any of the same goals, other than continuing to breathe. Which reminds me that I need to find someone else to take over the 20-year reunion. Let them eat Rotary Club meatloaf and share photos of their children on someone else’s time. I think I’ll go to Italy that weekend.

Anyway, as you can see by now, I’m stuck. I can’t really see a way out of this particular cycle, so instead of treating the symptoms, it’s time to go to the root. It’s time to take out the anxiety, itself. After that, we’ll rebuild.

Step one is to go on a break from social media for Lent. I really only use Facebook and Instagram, but I use them both to get that dose of dopamine when someone likes, shares, comments, or reposts. I took Facebook off of my phone today, and will deactivate my account on March 1st. I’m still thinking about Instagram, but I’ll probably remove it from my phone in the end, as well. I never actually look at my Twitter accounts, but this is a great excuse to deactivate all but the Compass & Quill account (which I only use to repost blog posts, so I’ll just continue not checking it).

Step two is to get serious about finding a new psychiatrist and therapist, and getting back into treatment. I’ve looked around on my new health insurance page a few times, but they make it so convoluted that I always end up getting confused and giving up. I think I’ll just call customer service and ask for help during a lunch break next week.

Step three is to get physical and get sleep. Those are two things, but they work together. Physical activity is proven to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they will also help address my weight issues, which will also, in turn, help the anxiety. I have been having a lot of trouble getting in my 8 hours of sleep a night, but I think if I’m properly worn out from working out, it will help me climb into bed earlier every night.

Step four is to cut out sugar, dairy, and caffeine. They’re all highly addictive, and are all playing an unhealthy part in my life. I always reach for one of the three when I’m uncomfortable – and I’m always uncomfortable. So I’ll just take a break, even if it’s only for 40 days.

Step five is to finish something. So I’m aiming to finish writing all of my Camino posts by Thursday, April 13th.

What am I looking for? So many things. That’s a whole new post, at some later date. For now it’s time to get out of the coffee shop and home to my cats. Isabel’s going to be very happy about her favorite heating pad’s resolution to spend more time in bed.

How to Deal with Bed Bugs on the Camino

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Learn more about how to detect bed bugs via Orkin.

Bed bugs were my second largest fear (after blisters/foot injury) while preparing to walk the Camino Frances. I spent almost as much time researching bed bugs and how NOT to get them as I did researching gear, terrain, customs, clothing, etc. In my “normal” life pre-Camino, I looked up potential hotels on BedbugRegistry.com, which charts where bed bugs have been found, and avoided these places like the plague. But when I was researching albergues, I quickly came to the conclusion that many, if not most, have had at least one run-in with bed bugs, and it would be a waste of sanity to do more than keep an ear out for current reports and try to avoid the ones who were currently infested.

Still, when I first started walking, I spent a lot of precious time and energy worrying about bed bugs. I talked about them with other people. I diligently checked the corners of the mattresses, and all the nooks and crannies of the bunks. I always used my own travel pillow, and never touched the albergues’ blankets. I curled up in a ball inside my permethrin-treated sleeping bag, half-awake, senses pricked for the first sign of bed bug attack. In short, I was well on the way to losing my damn mind. Thankfully, the Camino helped me get my priorities straight, and I had a good long time to enjoy the journey without freaking out about insects. So that’s what I’m going to write about here.

I was lucky to never experience bed bugs, but I slept in beds next to people who did. I even walked with two different people who experienced severe reactions to bed bugs that required medical care, and several more who were attacked, but lucky enough to not experience the extreme itching and swelling that comes along with a bad reaction to a bed bug bite. From this I learned a few things: treating your gear doesn’t guarantee you won’t be bitten, getting bed bugs in one place doesn’t mean you’ll have them forever, and no matter what, getting upset just makes everything worse for you and everyone around you.

There are three layers to the bed bug issue: prevention, avoidance, and treatment.

permethrin

This is the brand of permethrin that I used. It was easy to apply, and dried without leaving a weird smell or damaging the fabrics. Click through to visit on Amazon.

Prevention – When I found out that one of the best ways to keep bed bugs from infesting your gear was to spray everything with a chemical called permethrin, I was dismayed. I try to avoid unnecessary chemicals as much as possible, and was wary of what kind of damage it might do. However, as time grew short, I made the decision to spray down my belongings, and was pleased to find that once dry, nothing smelled bad and my sensitive skin never experienced any negative side effects. Permethrin can be purchased online, and acts as a deterrent to not just bed bugs, but also fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. It’s great for treating gear and clothing that you plan to use in any location that boasts a lot of insect activity. It’s also classified by the EPA as a likely human carcinogen, so pick your battles.

Once you’re in Spain, most pharmacies along the Camino carry a spray that you can use directly on your skin that has some permethrin in it, and it’s best used topically at night on any exposed skin. I don’t know the name of it, but several friends used it and the pharmacist will understand what you need. I believe that it’s a product also commonly used for scabies, as permethrin is typically used in scabies creams. If you’d prefer to avoid using chemicals, I’ve been told that lavender essential oil also works to repel bed bugs, and there are various lotions and sprays available on Etsy and across the Internet that might work with your normal sleep routine while helping prevent bed bugs.

Keep your clothing and other fibrous objects in an air-tight plastic bag, and make sure you seal it securely after every use. Bed bugs won’t chew through plastic, and this keeps at least one set of clothing safe and clean just in case everything else gets infested later.

One additional thing that I found during my original research was a thing called a bed bug undersheet, by LifeSystems. I bought one, but it didn’t arrive in time to go with me to Spain, so I can’t attest to its efficacy. It’s used by spreading it across the mattress and hooking it to the four corners of the bed. The fabric is treated to repel bed bugs. Let me know if you’ve tried one and find it useful!

Prevent-Bed-Bugs

Image credit: Piotr. Read more bedbug facts here.

Avoidance – First and foremost, keep an ear out for news. Pilgrims are always sharing information up and down the Camino. If you’ve made friends with any other pilgrims who’re walking faster than you, stay in touch via Whatsapp or Messenger and ask for updates if they hear about new bed bug issues. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t prefer wood over metal, so choosing your albergue based on the types of bunks it has won’t be of much help.

No matter where you stay, look around the mattress seams for spots of dried blood. Pick up the mattress and look around the wood slats very carefully for signs of bed bug infestation (dried blood spots, bugs themselves). Check anywhere there’s a 90 degree angle. Bed bugs are not invisible; if you’re looking you can see them easily. Another trick a pilgrim friend of mine used was to carry a small spray bottle of lavender essential oil and water, and before putting anything on the bed, spritz over the mattress and around the frame. The bed bugs hate lavender, and will surface. Take a bug to the hospitalero immediately for proof, and so that they can institute treatment measures in the room.

Also, never put your backpack on your bunk. This works two ways – you’ll potentially protect your bag from getting any critters, and also help prevent the spread in case you’re already carrying some with you unknowingly.

Bed-Bugs-Bites-Treatment

Mom always said not to let the bedbugs bite! If you’ve been bitten, here’s a list of common remedies.

Treatment – If you get bed bugs, do not panic. It’s not your fault. You’re not dirty, and you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just something that happens, and it’s definitely something that you can overcome. First, tell the hospitalero right away, so that treatment measures can be instituted in the room immediately. Chances are strong that they’ve dealt with this in the past, and will have a routine down. Also, tell your bunkmates so that they can be on the lookout for symptoms (which can sometimes take a day or two to surface).

Before heading off for the day or doing anything else, wash EVERYTHING that can be washed in the hottest water, and dry it all on the hottest dryer setting. This includes your backpack, sleeping bag, and all clothing/cloth items. If you’ve used permethrin on these items, you can (and should) wash them just in case. The permethrin lasts for a number of washes, and it’s better to take every precaution.

Next, go to the nearest pharmacy. Don’t worry about your language skills – even if you’re in a small town and the pharmacist isn’t fluent in English, he or she will understand “bed bug” and can provide you with the help you need, or tell you if you should go to the doctor for additional treatment. If you haven’t started using the aforementioned bug spray or some sort of lavender, this might be a good time to start. The pharmacist will recommend the right creams for bringing down swelling and itching. The worst case scenario is that you might have to go to the doctor to get a cortisone shot and perhaps a stronger cream to soothe your skin’s reaction.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid the situation, and don’t bring your bed bugs to the next town. As soon as you realize that you’ve been attacked, stop and handle it. If it’s first thing in the morning, stay at that albergue and have that hospitalero help you. If you don’t realize until you’re on the road, just be up front and honest with the hospitalero at the next place. Tell them that you think you might have bed bugs, and you’d like to wash all of your gear. Most hospitaleros will want to help you out, though they’ll be worried about bed bugs getting into their establishment. No one wants the bed bugs to spread, so you may find yourself wearing borrowed clothes and not allowed to go up to the bunks until your gear is washed, treated, and checked again.

Tips for Re-entry – If you picked up bed bugs on the Camino, or are just afraid that you might have even though you haven’t experienced any symptoms at all, you might be thinking about what you can do to make sure that none hitch a ride home with you. First off, come to terms with the fact that there is no 100% foolproof way to avoid bed bugs entirely for the rest of your life. You could get them anywhere – on public transportation, from visiting friend, from your next door neighbor’s apartment, even at your favorite department store. After you’ve done as much as you can, you will have to find a way to let go of the worry and let things take care of themselves.

That being said, here are some additional steps you can take once you reach Santiago de Compostela, just to ease your mind a bit. First off, wash everything you have with you one more time on the hottest washer and dryer settings. Afterwards, consider getting rid of clothing or items that you don’t want to keep. You can donate some things at Pilgrim House on Rua Nova, and they’ll have ideas for where to donate the rest. While you’re visiting, ask about getting your gear treated. When I was in town in November 2015, there was a service that treated gear, possibly by dry cleaning and spraying with pesticides. The kind folks at the Pilgrim House will know more.

Bed bugs suck. No one likes them, and no one wants them. One bad bunk bed could possibly lead to days of irritation. But I spent many anxious months worrying myself unnecessarily over something that wasn’t going to happen. I’m hoping that this post will give people the tools and peace of mind they need to address bed bugs on the Camino with grace, then move on with their lives, whether or not they ever suffer a bite.

Did you get bed bugs on the Camino, or know someone who did? Did you find any amazing preventatives or special treatments you’d like to share with others? Please leave your bed bug experiences in the comments below.

How to Avoid Blisters on the Camino de Santiago

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

Camino Feet

My feet at Finisterre, after 36 days on the Camino de Santiago.

I have irritatingly sensitive feet. My mom always jokes that I can get a blister just from looking at a pair of new shoes, never mind wearing them around for a bit. In fact, I plan my shoe purchases based on brands that don’t give me blisters when I’m wearing them in (my favorites are TOMS, Sanuk, Teva, New Balance, and Chelsea Crew). So when I started planning my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, my biggest worry was what I’d do about blister prevention. I scoured hiking blogs and pilgrim groups on Facebook, looking for the magical solution that would help me avoid maiming myself on the longest walk of my life…and my hard work paid off.

I set off from St. Jean Pied de Port, France on October 8th, and arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on November 12th. In between, I walked over 775 kilometers across a variety of terrains and through all kinds of weather – and didn’t get a single blister. In fact, my feet looked better at the end of the trip than they did when I started out! Everyone’s feet are different, and results may vary, but this is a good place to start if you’re looking for tips on how to avoid blisters on the Camino de Santiago (or any other long hike).

There are 4 pieces of the foot care puzzle when it comes to avoiding self-inflicted irritation on a hike: load, shoes, socks, and care (before, during and after).

Camino Packs

Backpacks huddled together outside a cafe, waiting for their owners to come back from breakfast.

First off, let’s look at load. A good general guideline for beginning hikers (and more experienced trekkers who haven’t walked a partially-urban route like the Camino Frances before) is to carry no more than 10% of your body weight. For a 150 lb. person, that equals out to 15 lbs, which is more than enough gear. When I left, I weighed in at 197 lbs, and was carrying 14.4 lbs of gear, not counting water. Even though I’m a weight lifter and used to carrying much larger loads, carrying just that 14.4 lbs a day for 36 days was difficult. It puts strain on your neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, knees, and – you guessed it – your feet. The extra weight can make your arches flatten out and change the shape of your feet in your shoes. This, combined with the swelling that can happen as a result of constant exercise, can not only cause foot/ankle/leg pain, but also invite opportunities for blisters. Lesson: lighten your load to lessen chances of blisters and other foot injury. I’ll talk more about this in a later blog post.

Camino Shoes

Make sure your shoes are strong enough to resist animal attacks! (Playing with cats in Villafranca Montes de Oca.)

Next up is my favorite topic – shoes! Even though I might be blister-prone in my everyday life, that doesn’t keep me from being a tiny bit of a shoe addict. So when I heard that another key to blister prevention on the Camino was to buy shoes that were a size too big, I had my misgivings. I’m also not a huge fan of hiking boots. I’ve had multiple pairs over the years, but have yet to find a pair that I’d be confident about living in, pain-free, for a month. That, plus my preference for open toed, or at least breathable, shoes, really had me stressing out for a bit.

With this in mind, I again went first to the internet to ask questions and see what other people had to say about other shoe choices. You know that old adage about opinions, right? As you might guess, people have some very strong (and often smelly) ones about the type of shoes everyone should be wearing on the Camino. Some people insist everyone should be wearing boots. Others insist that sneakers are perfectly fine. Others wore hiking sandals and loved every minute. A generous subset of each group thinks that all the others are uninformed wahoos. In the end, I decided to go with my gut and take not one, but two pairs of shoes – a good pair of hiking sandals (Teva Tirras, which I wear all the time, anyway), and a pair of sturdy New Balance trail runners. I made this decision after an hour and a half at REI in Chicago, going through all of my options with a really awesome customer service person who really knew her stuff and was excited to help me find the perfect shoes. In the end, we decided that the trail runners would be breathable enough to keep my feet from getting too hot, plus comfy right out of the box – no blisters. One thing to note is that you need very hard soles to be able to compensate for the extra pack weight you’ll be carrying. Sneakers are not typically good for carrying a load long distance, but trail runners have slightly harder soles and more grip than street shoes. You can compensate even more (which I did) by getting these stiff custom insoles.

As for sizing, I wore the Tevas at my normal size, since they’re adjustable anyway. The New Balance were purchased a size too big, which hurt my vanity a bit since I already have humongous feet, but never impacted my stride. I thought at first that they might slip on my heel and rub a blister there, but after I tied them a bit tighter, there was no problem. My feet didn’t swell as much as those of other pilgrims I met, so I can’t say whether or not the extra room helped with swelling, but since I never got a blister I think I’ll continue to follow the one-size-up rule. Also, I found it incredibly useful to switch shoes after a few hours of walking. It gave my feet a break and gave me a new burst of mental energy. Lessons: Whether boots, sneakers, or sandals, wear the shoes you’re comfortable in as long as they’re appropriate for walking six to eight hours a day. Buy one size larger than your typical size. If they’re boots, wear them in a bit to make sure you’re OK in them. If you get sneakers, try trail runners and add custom insoles. Think about taking two pairs of hiking shoes if you can spare the weight.

Wrightsocks were my sock brand of choice on the Camino. I can’t speak highly enough of their durability, blister prevention, and quick drying time. Click image to find out more about their selections.

Despite what you might think, socks can be pretty awesome. I have a newfound appreciation for these delicate foot garments. One thing that no one had ever mentioned to me before I started packing for this trip was that socks can make or break you on a long hike. The key isn’t really what kind of sock you get – though you can be sure that, just like shoes, internet citizens all have their opinions. The key is that you’re supposed to be wearing not one pair of socks, but two. From here on out, the all-powerful liner sock is going to be your best friend. A barrier between your foot and the outer sock (most people seem to love a nice, thick wool sock), the liner sock keeps the outer sock from rubbing your tender skin and causing blisters. You can buy liner socks from many different brands, out of different materials. Depending on how your feet typically rub and blister, you might even want to think about buying Injinji liner toesocks.

I think it’s important to note that I did not, strictly speaking, wear two pairs of socks. Because I wanted lightweight socks that wouldn’t make my feet feel too hot, the lovely customer service rep at REI suggested a brand called WrightSock, which boasts a special two-layer design, basically a liner sock that’s built in to the outer sock. I rotated two pairs on the trip, and was very impressed with performance. I even wore them with my sandals sometimes, much to the chagrin of my walking buddies. Lesson: liner socks are non-negotiable, whether you wear two separate pairs of socks or a pair with the liners built in. If you blister between your toes, check out toe sock liners. 

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve come to the section on foot care. When you’re on the Camino, you’ll see that everyone has his or her own special way of preparing for the day’s walk. It all depends on the shape of your feet, and what you start to learn about how your body begins to exhibit basic wear and tear after a few days on the road. The most important thing to remember is that the first week is generally the hardest on your body. If you’re going to get really nasty blisters, it’s probably going to happen early on, while your feet are new at this. If you can get a blister prevention routine started from day one, you’ll be much less likely to suffer serious issues later.

One big rule for avoiding blisters on the Camino is to never take a shower or get your feet wet in the morning. Getting your feet wet makes your skin soft, and soft skin is more likely to be blister. This is especially important if you’ve already gotten a blister, but no less important as a preventative measure.

The next big rule is to always – and I cannot state this adamantly enough – stop and treat a hot spot as soon as it starts to bother you. A lot of times (sadly, not always), before a blister erupts, you’ll feel that area of your skin feeling hot, irritated, and tender. The second you feel something happening, stop, drop your pack, take off your shoes and socks and take care of that area. First, let your feet air out for a minute or two. If your socks are feeling sweaty, pin them to your pack to dry out and put on a new, dry pair. Take a look at the hot spot area. If you’ve caught it in time, a minute or two without rubbing will make it feel good enough that you’re able to apply Compeed, moleskin, or some kind of tape to the spot to prevent further contact (I prefer moleskin, as it’s cheaper, lasts longer, and can be applied to either skin or shoe). If it’s already an open wound or blister, do not apply Compeed/moleskin. You’ll have to treat and bandage it if you can. I’ll go over blister next steps in a separate post.

Alba Un-Petroleum Jelly. This stuff rocks. Click image to visit site.

The third big part of caring for your feet to prevent blisters is to decide before the day’s walk what you need to do to prevent chafing. One tried-and-true method is to rub petroleum jelly on your entire foot before putting on socks. Since the idea of rubbing petroleum on my body for a month straight gave me pause, I researched similar options and found out that a lot of people like to use Alba Un-Petroleum Jelly for the job. It’s made with beeswax, coconut oil, and Vitamin E, smells pretty good, and has the side effect of making your feet look like a million dollars. Every morning, I coated both feet with un-petroleum jelly, making sure to get between my toes and up to my ankle on both feet. Early in the trip, I felt like I was getting hot spots between my last two toes on each foot, so I purchased toe tubes that are usually used for people with corns. The additional barrier kept me from getting blisters between my toes, and after a week or so my feet toughened up to where I didn’t need them anymore. I also occasionally felt hot spots on the tops of my feet where part of my sandal straps hit, so I’d put a preventative strip of moleskin on each foot each morning so I wouldn’t have to do it later in the day after I changed shoes.

Like I said, every pilgrim does something different. My German friend rubbed a deer fat (Hirschtalg) cream popular in Germany on his feet every morning to avoid blisters. My Canadian friend had walked the Camino before a few years ago and lost some toenails (yes, that’s something that happens), so this time she taped her toes up every morning. They both had great-looking feet at the end, though, because they took the time to take care of their feet every morning and listen to them throughout the day. On the other hand, I met at least one pilgrim who had to quit and go home because he had terrible blisters that got infected from a variety of compounding reasons, including wearing the wrong socks and using Compeed improperly.

Every site that I’ve linked to above is because I believe in the product and either used it with success on my Camino or saw others using it with success. There are so many different ideas out there about blister prevention, and I can’t state with 100% confidence that these ideas will work for everyone out there, but if you’re just getting started in researching ways to prevent blisters and take care of your feet on the Camino, this is a great place to start. If you have other suggestions for things that you’ve tried with great success, please leave me a comment. Also, all questions are welcome. I’ll do my best to help you find the right information, or see if there’s someone who can help you on one of the pilgrim forums online. Thanks, and Buen Camino!