Category Archives: health
Thinking About Thinking About Mental Illness
In a recent article published in Aeon, clinical psych PhD student Kristopher Nielsen describes a way of thinking about mental disorders as “sticky tendencies” within the framework of embodied enactivism—which is, in turn, a framework to help with trying to understand how we humans function.
I quite like Nielsen’s description. He offered a sensory analogy:
To understand this concept a little more, imagine holding a kitty-litter sized container with both hands. The floor of this container is shaped like a little landscape with hills and valleys. Now imagine placing a marble in the container and moving your hands so that the marble rolls over the landscape. Notice how the marble gets stuck in the valleys and bounces off the hills; how sometimes it falls into patterns or particular tracks across the landscape.Kristopher Nielsen
He goes on to suggest that we might understand mental disorders as places where the marble has trouble getting out of a given spot in the floor—where it gets stuck, so to speak.
This makes a lot of sense to me—it dovetails nicely with the idea of mental disorders as points along a spectrum (for example: we all experience anxiety from time to time, some for frequently than others; it isn’t generalized anxiety disorder unless it reaches a point at which anxiety disrupts and impairs our lives), while perhaps offering a way to help people understand how the near-universal experience of a passing depression might need to be handled differently than the less-common experience of a persistent one.
It also tracks well with my experiential sense that my mood disturbances are very much cases of getting stuck. (Of course, I acknowledge here that confirmation bias is a thing.)
It has also, in a way, helped to clarify a point I’ve had trouble expressing, because it was difficult to translate from my weird, non-verbal way of thinking about abstract things into words, which are pretty darned important to communicating abstract ideas most of the time, which is this:
Outside of the formal field of psychology, we tend to lump all mental “disorders” into one big collection. We unconsciously think of them as functioning the same way—they’re pieces of the machine that have got out of whack somehow.
This can make it very difficult for people to understand things like related and unrelated comorbidities and why a pinpointed therapy or medication might work for one class of disorders, but might not for another.
In the formal field of psychology, on the other hand, we break out groups of disorders based on the idea that they’re somehow related, though we don’t always quite have a sense of how, and sometimes we’re completely wrong have have to move things around, because brains are complicated, yo.
This distinction is often lost in efforts to communicate about mental disorders with the world at large, first because it’s fundamentally kind of a challenging idea to communicate; second because it’s easy and natural and normal to just lose sight of one’s acquired framework. We get so used to seeing things through a certain set of lenses that we forget they’re there, and we fail to include them with our description of the moon (this can also make it much harder for us to see and accept our own errors as new evidence emerges).
Nielsen’s analogy could be immensely helpful, here, if extended just a little further.
For example, we might think of autism as something that changes the substrate and makes the marble roll differently everywhere.
No two substrates will be exactly the same, but on average, NT substrates will be more similar to one-another than to autistic substrates, and vice-versa (there are, of course, other ways of being neurodivergent, and I can think of ways to further layer the analogy that should still work when they overlap).
Perhaps the neurotypical base is smoother, or rougher, or has wider or narrower grooves overall on average, than the autistic one. Regardless, the ball rolls a bit differently on the autistic base than it does on the neurotypical base.
In both cases, however, it’s still possible for the marble to get stuck.
In both cases, the place where the marble gets stuck is real, and once the marble is stuck there, its entire experience is colored by that stuckness. In both cases, the marble might need extra input to get unstuck, though that input might need to look different for a marble in an allistic track than it does for one in an autistic track.
Regardless, as long as we don’t overinvest in the analogy, the ideas of the track, the variations in the topography of the track, and the marble might be really useful in helping people both at large and within the formal field of psychology imagine mental disorders.
This doesn’t directly address the possibility, of course, of many mental disorders being less actual malfunctions than the result of an infinite diversity of minds being force-fitted into a narrowly-defined set of life options—but Nielsen’s model does acknowledge the role of culture and experiences in shaping the tracks in which our mental marbles run, and doesn’t regard the tracks as fixed, changeless entities.
Likewise, as with any model, this one might not be universally useful. For me, it’s a helpful framework; someone else might find it less than useful or even the opposite of useful.
This is why it’s important to offer models, but not to treat them as holy writ. We’re still far from really understanding the human mind, and our failure to acknowledge that can harm both people (who suffer when we try to force-fit them into inaccurate models) and progress (which is stymied when we let ourselves get stuck in our existing models and when we can’t see beyond them).
It’s encouraging to see that researchers and people at large are taking the question of how to think about mental illness seriously. When we think about our thinking, we make room for change.
This kind of change—change that questions assumptions and tries to meet people where they are—has done a lot of good for those of us living with mental illness and those of us who are neurodivergent in ways that might not fight the traditional idea of “mental illness.”
We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s good to know that people are making the journey.
Halo View First Look
Although I have a long history of finding it at best annoying and at worst utterly unbearable to wear anything on my wrists, after reading about a million reviews, I decided to give Amazon’s Halo View fitness tracker a try.
You might be wondering why I feel it necessary to actually bother, given that my work involves, like, a metric shed-ton of exercise. And, honestly, that’s an excellent question.
First, there’s definitely a part of me that misses nerding out over workout data like I did in my bike racing days. It’s not even about, like, getting jazzed over progress–I just like data. I was the kind of kid who makes spreadsheets of imaginary things just because.
Second, and much more importantly, I was really curious about the sleep-tracking aspect. I wanted to know whether a bit of wearable tech would agree with my assessments of sleep quality based on how I feel in the morning.
On point the second, so far, the View and I concur, which actually surprises me a little (my faith in tech is generally tempered with a solid dose of realism, and sleep tracking is a lot to ask of a fancy rubber band with a tiny computer strapped in).
I’m not sure what exactly I plan to do with my sleep data, but it’s kind of useful to sync the View, look at the data, and go, “Oh, I feel like I didn’t get any sleep because I didn’t.” Or because I got crappy sleep.
As far as, just, random data is concerned, some of it’s actually pretty useful. The View has a built in oxygen saturation thingy–basically a pulse oximiter for your wrist, and I find it helpful to be able to look at that when I’m feeling a little like my lungs might be trying to go on strike. Because we don’t always localize sensations (including, but not limited to, pain and … weird stretchy feels?) well once we get past the ribcage, a weird vibration or stretchy/constricty feeling that’s probably actually just Ehlers-Danlos doing weird collagen things can sometimes feel like the beginning of an asthma attack, or the way my lungs sometimes feel when I’m sick. A quick 02 Sat check can be deeply reassuring.
Activity tracking is a mixed bag, though I rather expected that. For several normal forms of exercise, there are categories that you can use to log workouts (hit appropriate button -> hit start -> work out -> hit end when you’re done), and because the View logs all your movement whether or not you do that, you can go back and edit workout durations if (okay, when) you forget to turn it on at the beginning of a session.
And you’ll still get points even if you never get around to formally logging a single workout, because the View doesn’t care whether or not you think you’re exercising. If scrubbing the floor gets your heart rate up, it’s going to log that, too.
That said, there’s not really a category that works for ballet (though for some classes, HIIT would probably be a good fit ^-^’), so I just log it as “other.”
That, so far as it goes, is acceptable; even expected (though it would be super cool if there was a “dance” category in the View’s hardware interface).
The place where the View’s Movement tracking features might not be ideal for some come down to the question of Activity goals and sedentary time.
The Halo app uses a weekly activity metric based on a system developed by the American Heart Association. The base weekly goal is 150 points; everything above that is gravy.
With only two days of class and teaching, and a few days left to go in the week, I’m already over 200.
You do get extended goals–300 if you break 150; 600 if you break 300; who knows what after that. I’m looking forward to seeing what it makes of Summer Intensives, or a full-on company week.
What I’m wondering, with regard to Activity goals, is whether the View app ever says, “Whoa, Nellie! Time to take a rest!” Because, honestly, rest is important, and athletes need to rest, and let’s not even get into the topic of exercise bulimia.
Likewise, I’m not exactly sure at what point the View considers you to be sedentary. Like, if you’re Pretty Darned Fit, you can wander around the house a lot without actually doing much to your heart rate. I mention this because it logged some hours as Sedentary that definitely weren’t, though they I guess they weren’t really exercise, either. But I don’t know if it just didn’t notice my steps, or if it only thinks you’re active if your heart rate increases by some unknown amount, or…?
Or, it could be that it just wasn’t used to me yet. That was, after all, the first full day that I wore the thing.
Either way, I wonder what the View would make of someone who spends most of their time in a wheelchair. I also wish it grasped that even when I’m sitting down, I’m almost never sitting still. I do quite a bit of high-volume fidgeting. (Update, even though I haven’t posted this yet: the View uses a combination of heart rate and movement to assess activity level at any given moment. Clearly, I need to swing my arms around more or something when I’m fidgeting ^-^’)
Regardless, you get 8 hours of sedentary time per day, then you lose 1 point for every non-sleeping sedentary hour in that 24-hour period, but Activity points are automatically gained at a rate of 1 to 2 points per minute whenever the View perceives that you’re moving even a little briskly. As such, even though my Halo View has subtracted 15 points for sedentary time, I’m still rocking the Activity goal.
The View app does come with a feature that estimates body fat percentage, but I’ve decided to leave that alone for now. It’s the kind of thing I might find useful in the midst of a full company season, when I can’t eat enough to keep weight on, but at the moment it’s too likely to be triggery, so I’m just not doing it.
I guess I should comment a bit on fit, finish, and build.
Fit-wise, I find the Halo View surprisingly wearable, though it did initially bug me when I first tried using my laptop while wearing it. I accidentally ordered the medium/large band, which is about right on the smallest hole, so I probably should’ve actually ordered the small/medium band like I meant to. That said, I’m planning on ordering an aftermarket band or two.
Part of what makes it work is that the Halo View unit itself is long, but not very wide. It almost spans the entire width of my wrist, but is only as wide as my right index finger, and I think this ratio helps distribute pressure in a way that’s acceptable to my body.
I haven’t had any issues with the band popping off the unit itself, which seems to be a common complaint of early reviewers, though I have managed to accidentally unbuckle it by getting it hooked on my one of the straps of my dance bag.
The display is crisp and bright–honestly, a little too bright for me even on the dimmest setting, but my eyes are pretty sensitive to light. That said, you can disable Lift To View either all the time or in Night Mode, and that keeps it from being a nuisance when you’re trying to sleep.
The onboard interface is pretty intuitive and can, if enabled, display incoming text messagesfrom your phone. It also makes a perfectly good watch, which has proven quite useful to me, even though I’ve never been a watch-wearer before. I’m forced to admit that it’s nice to not have to whip out my phone to check the time (and to discreetly check the time in class, which I usually do because I’m hoping that we have time for another grand allegro exercise ^-^’).
The View purports to be swimming-friendly, which is pretty awesome, though I’m hesitant to wear it in the water with the current band, because I’m not sure my skin would like the combination.
The battery life does seem to run about on par with the promised 7 days, and the charging clip (which I tested when I decided not to wear my View in the bath, though it didn’t really need to charge at the time) is pretty easy to use.
The Halo app offers a bunch of workouts and so forth which are reportedly pretty good overall, but I haven’t tried any yet, so I can’t comment on those.
The app interface overall isn’t terrible, but I do agree with prior reviewer’s assertions that it’s a bit cluttered and a bit prone to rabbit-holing. They’ve also only just added the ability to save favorite workouts, recipes, and so forth, which seems like a glaring omission (still, better late than never).
Overall, I’m glad I bought this thing. It’s doing the thing I hoped it would do–helping me understand how I’m sleeping–and also doing a thing I never expected, which is simply being a watch.
I like the View’s approach to data. It gives you the big picture first as an at-a-glance infographic, and you can drill down from there if you feel the urge. This makes it easier to resist obsessing over granular details that might not be important if you’re not, say, training for races.
That said, for those who are training for races, the View (which lacks onboard GPS) won’t provide data about pacing, mileage, and so forth. For those details, you’ll probably want a more sport-specific activity tracker (or you could use an app like Endomondo for that stuff and something like the Halo View for a big-picture view).
One last thing: the Halo View offers a handful of difference watch faces, most of which offer a “plain and professional” vibe … but if you scroll far enough through the options, you get this one:
It may not be plain or professional, but I like it, so Resting Cat it is.
Nachmo with Catsup
Make that catch-up.
I know, I know. Terrible pun. I’m genuinely sorry, and yet I know I’ll just do it again. Such is the nature of puns.
Okay, so I’ve basically been incognito for two months. November and December are, erm, a little busy in the ballet world and we had a bunch of house projects that became urgently important (and thus got done, but also ate up my unscheduled time).
Then I caught COVID (spoiler alert: thank G-d for vaccines & boosters) and, even after recovering, wasn’t sure what to say about it.
So! Let’s get that one out of the way first.
I can only assume, based on the timeline, that I probably caught COVID while on our miniature tour. Given the timing, the fact that we performed without masks only to later find out the audience was also unmasked, and the fact that almost nobody in the town where we performed seemed to wear masks anywhere at all (and that my masks are all the protect-other-people kind that do little to protect the wearer), it’s deeply probable.
- “We” being a group of vaccinated dancers (with the exception of a few who were too young) and very careful about masking. As far as I know, the decision to have us dance unmasked came down to our artistic staff being given the impression that the audience would be masked, because they’ve been extremely careful throughout the pandemic.
That said, it’s hard to say with certainty, because even though I still basically wear a mask whenever I’m around people who aren’t in my pandemic pod, I don’t usually wear an N95 or KN95 mask. Initially, that was because supplies of those were limited for quite a while and people working in healthcare really need them; more recently, it’s been partly because I already own about a million ordinary masks, because I’m mostly around other people who wear masks, and because N95s are an absolute beast to dance in.
As a result, I could’ve picked up the virus literally anywhere, since enormous numbers of Kentuckians, particularly outside of Louisville and Lexington, simply won’t wear masks.
Anyway, because I teach students in the K-12 bracket (who, until recently, weren’t eligible for vaccination) and because as someone with asthma and a history of serious respiratory illness I’m at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19, I got both initial vaccine doses pretty early and received my booster the day I left for the beginning of our Nutcracker run.
It’s impossible, of course, to say how things would’ve played out if I wasn’t vaccinated, but given my risk profile and medical history (I’ve had pneumonia five hecking times, y’all–my lungs don’t play), it’s pretty likely that the outcome would’ve been poor.
Instead, I had:
- a fever for two day or so
- the worst sinus headache I’ve ever had (which is saying something, because fren, I’ve had some wicked sinus headaches in my time)
- sore throat (though not as bad as the worst strep I’ve ever had, which, to be fair, I totally allowed to get out of control)
- scabs inside my nose (next to the headache, this was the most miserable thing–blowing my nose was horribly painful for a bit)
- more than the usual post-nasal drip which occasionally made me cough
- two days with no appetite
- a near-complete loss of the ability to taste or smell anything but salt (that happened first, oddly enough, and persisted the longest except for some lingering fatigue, which I’d expect after any significant illness)
Oh, and I basically slept for a solid week, which was great, since it meant I basically only experienced the rest of the symptoms in brief snatches, including that truly egregious headache.
I spent a few extra days in bed with pretty intense fatigue, and then one day I experienced the familiar sensation of being bored as heck and unable to lie down for even thirty more seconds and knew I was going to be fine.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any lower-respiratory symptoms at all. In fact, as miserable as it was (at least when I was awake, anyway), and as much as it made me miss the rest of our Nutcracker run, my case of COVID-19 would be classified as mild-to-moderate. I emphasize that because, frankly, I think a lot of people don’t understand that basically, no matter how miserable you feel, if it doesn’t send you to the hospital, your COVID-19 isn’t severe.
Not to say that it’s not serious–especially given the potential for Long COVID and its unknowns, and the fact that a couple weeks out of work can decimate a family’s finances–but it can be much, much worse, and that’s a really important point when we’re talking about vaccine efficacy with regard to an illness that can easily kill young, healthy people and that is killing people at staggering rates.
I did take a ton of meds, all of them over-the-counter except for benzonatate, which is a prescription medication that kills the urge to cough. That was important for me since post-nasal drop and/or throat irritation can kick off coughing jags that in turn kick off an inflammation cascade that leads, at minimum, to severe asthma attacks, but which has in numerous instances created a fast track-to-pneumonia situation for me (did I mention that my lungs don’t play?).
I wasn’t willing to take that risk when a simple telehealth appointment could prevent it.
At this point, I’m mostly back to normal: I can make it through a pretty decent ballet class (even with a mask), though I still get tired more easily than usual.
Compared to the average sedentary person, I’m back to being hella fit, though I’m definitely not back to typical mid-season professional dancer fitness.
My best metric is sleep: at typical mid-season fitness level, even after six to eight hours of class and rehearsal, plus whatever happens in the evening, it takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep when I go to bed. Right now, one class and some housework makes me tired enough that it’s a struggle to read for half an hour (which, a bit foolishly, I keep doing because I’m afraid I won’t be able to fall asleep ^-^’).
My second-best metric is fatigue. The form of EDS I have does this weird fatigue thing: I can work my way up to professional-dancer stamina incrementally, but if I seriously overdo it, I get hit with a wave of literally debilitating fatigue and have to spend a day or two in bed. Right now, the threshold for that response is way lower than usual.
But, still, overall? I feel like I dodged a bullet thanks to medical science and Dolly Parton.
- Simply by chance, I wound up getting the Moderna booster even though my first two doses were Pfizer–I think that was a good thing, too, since anecdotal accounts suggest that particular combination is a little more effective in preventing serious COVID-19 illness.
So, in short, I’m not mad that I got vaxxed and still got sick.
Rather, I’m glad the vaccine did its job and curtailed the severity and, probably, the duration of the illness.
While I really didn’t mind not being able to smell the catbox even while cleaning it, I’m happy to report that I’ve mostly regained my senses. I lost an somewhat alarming amount of weight as a result of just not being interested in food.
- Which isn’t to say I’ve become sensible–let’s not be hasty, here!
- I want to write about how this intersected with the part of my brain that still lives in Anorexia World, but I think that might need its own post. Suffice it to say that a significant part of me was far from alarmed about the weight loss, and has been struggling with regaining any of it, and I’ve realized I need to do some work, there.
That was a fairly bizarre experience, to be honest. Because I actually did completely lose my appetite for a couple of days, I discovered that, for me anyway, there’s a major difference between being unable to eat and just … not being interested in eating, but being at least somewhat able to eat if I could find something that wasn’t too salty (as much as I like salt, when it’s literally the only thing you can taste, a lot of things are suddenly too salty).
Like, normally, I try to eat with a kind of relaxed mindfulness–actually giving attention to the experience of eating, but also to participating in conversations and being aware of what’s going on around me in general. I had no idea how important the ability to taste was to me, in that process.
When I couldn’t taste my food, actually eating enough was really hard.
First, my interest in food pretty much evaporated, and since I’m bad at recognizing hunger signals until they get really intense, I kept forgetting to eat.
Second, actually finishing even a fairly small meal required pretty intense concentration, because if I got distracted, I just wouldn’t come back to my food. I wouldn’t have predicted that.
Also, there’s a specific kind of cognitive dissonance involved in possessing a powerful sense memory of the taste of spiced chai, but being utterly unable to taste it in real life o.O’
I’ve since gained back what I assume is most of the weight I lost, though I haven’t been weighing myself because I’m apparently constitutionally unable to remember to put new batteries in our scale
At any rate, I no longer have to crank my belt way down to keep my trousers on.
So that’s my experience with COVID thus far (could’ve been worse, but still: 0/10, do not recommend).
In other news, it’s National Choreography Month again, and I’m actually managing to keep up to some extent, so here’s my response to Prompt 2, Master Work, in which one re-creates an iconic dance pic:
I’ll have more Nachmo stuff coming.
Til then, keep dancing.
I’m writing this mostly as a reminder to myself, since managing widgets on an Android device is kind of a PITA and I’m not in front of my laptop right now.
Anyway! I’m planning to add three resource widgets: one with resources for autistic peeps, one for ADHD peeps, and one for Ehlers-Danlos info.
Each will include links to websites I’ve found really helpful, and that I hope might be helpful to anyone else who’s trying to navigate that neurodiverse lyfe or that bendy, poppy, sometimes dysautonomic lyfe.
I thought about lumping the ASD & ADHD resources into one “Neurodiversity Resources” widget, but A] that could turn into one hella long list and B] breaking them out into two separate widgets might be useful for anyone who’s looking for one topic or the other specifically. Also, I find it deeply satisfying to sort things into categories, because autism.
That said, there is often a lot of overlap between ADHD and ASD, and I hope y’all will feel free to explore any resource that sounds like it might be useful.
ASD is also more common in people with EDS than in the general population, which is both fascinating in terms of research potential and a huge relief to people like me who have spent our entire lives wondering if we’re really just gigantic hypochondriacs (even though EDS is diagnosed by objective physical criteria and we chime right along with the diagnostic profiles for ASD & ADHD and have carried both diagnoses for most of our lives).
I’ll also add a Resource Room page—that way, folks can find the resource lists in an uncluttered context.
Lastly, because I’m a nerd who likes to review things and who recently received the gift of a Costco membership, I think I’m going to try doing a wee video series reviewing stuff I’ve stumbled upon at my Costco that has proven really useful in my life as a neurodiverse dancer currently struggling with the scheduling chaos related to the ongoing pandemic. SPOILER ALERT: it’s mostly gonna be food.
- Autocorrupt suggested, “…ongoing Patricia.” Patricia, I don’t know you, but apparently Autocorrupt thinks that you’re the one sowing chaos in my daily life 😱 Don’t worry, though—Autocorrupt is almost always wrong. Almost always. But if it is you, can you take it down a notch, please? 😅😅😅
Cooking with ADHD: Lazy Soup
Honestly, I’m not sure this even counts as a recipe, so much as assembly instructions. It’s that easy.
This soup is quick and made up of not-too-pricey ingredients that you can keep on hand. For those of us prone to excessive salt loss in our sweat, it’s a good option for high-activity days.
Those on reduced-sodium diets can opt for lower-sodium soup bases. You do you!
- 2ish cups boiling water
- 1 serving brown rice noodles
- 2 bouillon cubes (or equivalent amount of Better Than Bouillon, etc)—your choice of flavor(s)
- 1 smöl squirt of squeezy garlic (optional)
- 1 smöl squirt of squeezy ginger (also optional)
- veggies of your choice (I used Walmart’s “super blend” chopped veggies and some baby carrots)
- Put the bouillon cubes and noodles in a bowl
- Pour the boiling water in
- Add any frozen veggies
- Mix up a little, then wait 5 mins for the noodles to soften
- Squeeze in your garlic and ginger, if you want them, cackling with satisfaction in the knowledge that somewhere a food snob is having a conniption
- Toss in any fresh veggies
You can also add any cooked protein you might enjoy.
The noodles I used for today’s batch are the Thai Kitchen brand that can be found at many grocery stores. They come with four individual sachets of noodles, each just about one lunch portion.
If you can’t find those, though, any quick-cooking noodles should work.
Simone Biles, EDS, and Caring For Your Instrument
Once upon a time, when I was eight years old, I received my very first violin—and with it, an introduction to the care of sensitive musical instruments: tune gently, handle with care, be careful of drastic changes in temperature and humidity.
Most of us, even if we don’t explicitly know these things, can intuit them from experiences with things like doors that stick when the humidity is high or swing loosely when it’s low. As such, nobody in their right mind would chastise a concert violinist for deciding not to play a Stradivarius in the rain.
Apparently, however, there’s been something of a fracas over the decision that gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles made to bow out at the Olympics this year (2021, if you’re visiting from the future ^.-).
Many people, it seems, found it very difficult to understand why she might do such a thing, and hurled all manner of invective at her. Biles handled the situation with the same power, grace, and aplomb she displays on the mats.
What her detractors didn’t (and don’t) understand is that Biles’ decision was one that would, for any gymnast, require an immense—even an immeasurable—strength of character. A thousand times more so on the world stage that the Olympics represent.
Because gymnasts, on the whole, grow up in a world that teaches them that there’s no such word as “can’t,” and that winners never quit.
From the first moment budding gymnasts step onto the mat, they’re subjected to a long-standing culture of incredible physical and mental toughness and self-sacrifice. You don’t become even an entry-level competitive gymnast without learning to “tough it out” and “walk it off,” never mind the kind of powerhouse competitor that Biles has become.
To some extent, this is necessary. Gymnastics, like ballet, is hard. It’s tiring and sometimes uncomfortable and demands that an aspiring athlete must learn to reach for deeper reserves of strength than many or even most people living typical, comfortable lives in the developed world can imagine. (Edit: come to think of it, people who’ve given birth prolly get it 🤔)
However, for much of its history, gymnastics training has demanded this in excess, and the result has been injury (and its long-term consequences), careers cut short, and all too often the inability of both gymnasts and coaches to see the body’s breaking point coming until it’s too late. (If this sounds like the ballet world, by the way, it should. Dancers face the same pressures from a similarly young typical age at entry.)
Those of us who have trained seriously in gymnastics understand this. We know what it is to bounce up off the floor after what observers might regards as a terrifying fall and jump right back in without stopping to make sure we’re okay. We know what it is to feel uncertain about whether an injury can withstand the pressure of training or competition and step onto the mats anyway.
We know how very, very effing hard it is, after a lifetime of being told, “Get up; shake it off; you’ve got this,” to say, “You know what? No. I’m staying down and I don’t have this right now, thanks.”
Simone Biles knows her body. She knows her mind. And the fortitude it took to stand before the entire world and say, in essence,”No, I’m not okay to do this right now and I’m not going to take the risk” … That’s a fortitude that a lot of people, to be honest, can’t even imagine.
In short, Biles simply refused to break out her Stradivarius in a hurricane. The fact that the hurricane was an invisible one is irrelevant.
To say, “Biles refused to break out her Stradivarius in 90% humidity” might be more accurate, but it might also be harder for people to understand. So we’ll stick with the hurricane analogy.
Gymnasts, hockey players, dancers, bike racers, aerialists, and many other athletes understand implicitly how very tough Biles had to be to do that.
We also understand that her decision was, whether she thought of it this way or not in the moment, a stand for all the young athletes growing up in athletic cultures in which it’s considered anathema to say, “No.”
In my own life, I’ve injured myself by pushing through things I shouldn’t have, extended the time to full rehabilitation by pushing too hard too soon, and on some occasions avoided serious injury solely by a combination of pure dumb luck with excellent reflexes and an unusually elastic body.
I could’ve avoided most of these things simply by learning, earlier in my life, that there really is a point at which you can and should say, “No.”
My generation grew up with coaches who, as young gymnasts themselves, were inspired by Nadia Comaneci’s endurance under harrowing conditions and Mary Lou Retton’s maxim, “Follow your dreams.”
Those stories bear so much merit—but I can’t explain how much it meant to me, and what a wave of … relief? release? liberation? … broke through me when I heard (through DisabilityTwitter!) about Biles’ decision. I mean I literally, physically felt it—like something exploding deep in my chest, but in the best possible way.
Like the moment when you see someone you love crash their bike hard, and you think, Oh f**K, they’re a goner, but then they get up and look around and kind of dust themselves off, and your heart just goes BOOM because, frankly, you’re so relieved. Or like the first moment in your life you realize that you really, really trust someone.
As an artist-athlete and teacher of artist-athletes, somehow it was Simone Biles that really crystallized for me the idea that, yes—you can say, “I’m not taking my Stradivarius out in the rain.”
I’ve been saying those words for a long time now, but a part of me had a hard time believing them when it came to my own instrument. I could believe them for my students, but not for myself, and that meant I wasn’t always living those words, whether for my students or for myself.
Simone Biles made that idea real for me.
Going forward, of course, negotiating that reality in the world of ballet, where sometimes you’re the only guy and without you the pas de deux isn’t gonna happen, will be another thing entirely. But it always is. Action can’t be divorced from context like that, yo.
Chances are that I’m still going to have to explain, once in a while, why I chose to break out my instrument in the midst of a downpour. I pray that in those moments I’ll be granted the wisdom and grace to do so with clarity, but human beings are imperfect and maybe I won’t, and that’s part of life, too.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Ehlers-Danlos.
Well, two things.
First, from what I understand, Simone Biles also has hypermobile-type EDS and her decision was at least partly based on an episode of “the Twisties,” aka proprioceptive dysfunction.
Proprioceptive dysfunction is a feature of EDS—one that can be really hard for people without EDS to understand, especially where elite athletes and dancers are concerned. It’s understandably hard for them to imagine how you can be someone who’s at the top of the world (or at least, pretty darned good) in a sport or artform that depends on exceptional spatial and body awareness and also be someone whose proprioceptive faculties just … go on strike sometimes.
And yet, that’s how it is. Sometimes the right matrix of stressors makes things go extra haywire, and the systems that allow us to fly through the air with the greatest of ease just plotz. And, trust me, neither you nor we need us flying through the air when that happens.
Second, my excessive sweatiness is very probably also related to EDS—it’s part of the suite of dysautonomic features that come with the package, so to speak—as are my orthostatic hypotension/POTS, episodes of (literally) staggering fatigue, sometimes-weird relationship to hunger and thirst signals, and possibly my tendency to dump salt in my sweat.
So, on Saturday, these conspired to create a situation in which I rocked up to the gym for a doubles coaching session on the apparatus we’ve nicknamed “the rodeo lyra” (bc that mofo will throw you like a bronc if you don’t pay attention) already feeling spacey and fatigued and missed the first mount with the apparatus hung so low I could’ve just forward-folded onto it, lmao (in point of fact, the mount we’re using is harder on a lower apparatus, but not so much harder that I, who literally never miss a mount, would have just completely failed at it if things weren’t decidedly pear-shaped from the word go).
It’s pretty hilarious in retrospect, of course, but at the time scared the hell out of D, who’s my partner in this piece. He’s well aware that I never miss mounts, and because the mount in question results in us facing away from each-other upside-down, he couldn’t see me. His own nervous system decided that the only possible explanation for the fact that my weight wasn’t balancing his was that I had either fallen and broken my neck or was strangling in the span-sets above the hoop o_O””’
I decided (with a little help from ABM, our kind and intrepid coach) to reschedule and go home to take care of whatever the heck was going on with my body (in case you’re wondering, it was what they call “chronic hyponatremia”—the kind you get when your electrolyte levels drop below a certain point over the course of a few days).
Anyway, while I was apologizing to everyone and trying to be okay with that decision, ABM said to me, “You know what we’re calling that now? We’re saying, ‘You Simoned it.'”
As in, you made the right call—you saw that storm coming and put your instrument away.
And I hecking love that.
PS: I got a bunch of rest, sucked down a bunch of noodles with salty broth (and spinach and chicken), and felt like myself again on Sunday. I opted out of morning modern and ballet classes bc I wasn’t sure my electrolyte levels were up to that kind of sweating yet, but was able to get through a slowish-paced lyra class and a rehearsal session on the rodeo lyra.
That’s why you Simone it: because sometimes the best way to get up and kill it tomorrow is to lie the hecking heck down and drink salty, salty broth today.
PPS: I’m working on addressing the dietary imbalances that led to this situation, so hopefully it won’t happen again any time soon. Basically, the past two weeks were unreasonably hot, and there were several days that I forgot to add electrolyte powder to my water but still sweated buckets of salty, salty sweat.
Saturday morning, I had an outdoor performance gig, and although the heat wasn’t as intense as it’s been, I still sweated like a firehose, as I do, and apparently that was the last straw, bc I was a glassy-eyed zombie by 1 PM when our coaching session was scheduled.
One of the joys of hyponatremia will be familiar to endurance athletes who’ve faced the dreaded “Bonk:” your body just … refuses. In the case of the classic Bonk, it’s typically attributed to the depletion of glycogen stores without sufficient carbohydrate replacement, but depletion of electrolytes yields the same basic result (as opposed to extreme over-hydration, which can lead to rapid swelling of the brain, coma, and death before you quite grasp what’s going on o_o).
It’s like someone cranks the power to your muscles way, way down. That’s how I missed my mount. My brain sent the signals to execute the movement, and my body just kind of didn’t.
It tried, bless its heart, because my body is (as I’m learning to understand) a miraculous beast like one of those fantastic, sweet, patient draught horses who will try with everything in themselves to do whatever you ask of them and will almost always succeed. My friend and teacher Killer B recently summed this up by enthusiastically replying, “… Which can do everything!” when I said, “It’s so good to take class with someone who understands my body.”
But in this case, while the conscious motor controls were sending out the plan for “pullover mount to straddle balance,” the unconscious ones were trying to take care of the body by down-regulating the wattage so I wouldn’t waste any more electrolytes doing athletic stuff and possibly die, and/or there just wasn’t enough sodium left for electrical signaling to be that efficient.
Either way, the immediate result was muscles that wouldn’t fire with enough power to bring me over the bar from a standing position. Instead, I got a powerful lesson in really listening to my body.
This isn’t hyperbole, btw. There is no muscling through that specific experience. You can try all you like, but you’re really no longer the one in primary control of the ship. Until you experience that sensation (and I suspect that in our sodium-enriched and largely sedentary culture, most never will), it’s very difficult—maybe even impossible—to imagine.
Fwiw, as an experience, I don’t recommend it. Like, 2/10, and it only gets the 2 bc hecking heck, does it ever teach you some things. But they’re things you can learn without taking all the way to that extreme, and it’s No Fun At All, as the delightfully hedonistuc elves used to say as they died in whatever magical-realm civ-building game of yore that was.
GIF credits: all via Tenor via WP.
I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot
(Full Disclosure: I still haven’t seen Hamilton. I know. I suck.)
… Because I can’t, because it’s already in my arm.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has been interesting. Connecticut, where my parents live, has it ticking over like clockwork. Indiana (the state next door) is doing … something? Idk. It seems more chaotic than what we’re doing.
And here, in Kentucky, we seem to be figuring it out bit by bit.
A decision was made recently to open up vaccinations for teachers & volunteers who work with K-12 students, which is how I wound up getting called up for a shot. At least, I assume that’s why they sent me an email saying, “Ayyyyyyyyy! Come get your shot!”
I mean, not in those exact words.
The actual process of setting up an appointment was pretty simple—really, the hardest part was figuring out where in my wallet I’d stashed my insurance card.
As for the process of actually getting the vaccine, it was smooth & efficient. They’re using Broadbent Arena, part of our Fairgrounds & Expo Center. You drive in and drive right through (pausing at appropriate points) and never even get out of your car (there are other options for people who don’t drive or who don’t have have access to cars, also).
Because it was A New Situation, my brain was a little spooked about it, but the protocols were extremely clear (except for the unexpected sign near the entrance to the fairgrounds that read COVID TESTING USE GATE 1 ONLY and didn’t mention vaccinations at all—but since my email told me which gate to use, I kept breathing and proceeded as planned).
This is really helpful for neurodiverse people. If we know what the procedure is, it’s much less difficult to go do the thing. I appreciated that—and the fact that, in the course of two days, I got like five emails about my appointment so I would be able to find the confirmation code no matter what). Normally, that might seem a bit excessive, but in this case it was helpful and comforting.
I got the Pfizer vaccine, which is the same one D got. It’s a good week for it—we don’t have men’s technique class on Saturday, if I wind up feeling meh and staying home I’ll just miss normal class.
Because my wildly overreactive respiratory system places me at pretty high risk of being seriously ill if I did catch COVID-19, knowing that my first vaccination is behind me and the second is scheduled is a major relief. Obviously I’m not going to go turn cartwheels in Walmart without a mask, but with things like summer intensives and workshops on the way, it’s good to have that pinned down.
In ballet news, I’ve been taking a good, extremely detail-oriented Zoom class with Devi Piper on Wednesdays. The opportunity to really pick my technique apart and refine key elements is immensely valuable.
Today she gave us a killer plié that I’ll be using on the regs when I’m warming up to work on choreography or whatever.
A lot of really cool stuff has been happening in my life as a dancer of late—stuff that makes me feel awed at the way people reach out to guide developing dancers as we progress and grateful beyond measure for it.
In a week, I’ll be seven years into my resurrected ballet life. When I launched myself on this journey, I definitely carried a sliver of hope that maybe I’d find a way to make a life of of it, but it was so precious and fragile a hope that I rarely dared even to think about it.
Every single day, I’m staggered by this sense of immense privilege (not in the political sense, though there’s that, too—as a male ballet dancer, that’s a huge thing). To have somehow built a life in which I’m valued as a dancer and as a teacher and, increasingly, as a choreographer is something that, in all honesty, I couldn’t have imagined seven years ago.
The hope I had was that I might find a place to fit as a corps boy for a while. I was perfectly fine with the idea of just being a semi-anonymous body of it meant I got to really dance.
I seem to have found, instead, a place where I fit as someone who actually gets to do complex, visible roles. I’m probably never going to find myself in one of the big, world-famous companies, or even one of the ones that are more broadly known on a national scale, but that’s fine. I don’t care about things like that. I still just want to dance (and to make dances, and to teach dancers).
The biggest change, though, isn’t feeling that others value me as a dancer, as a teacher, and as a choreographer. It that I’m beginning to feel worthy of that esteem. That I’m beginning to value myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer—and, really, as an artist.
I owe a good part of that to the people who’ve gone out of their way to coach me; to suggest that I come take class; to draw me out of my own sense of inadequacy. To show me my strengths.
I also owe some of it to my students, who show up and focus and work hard even when I give them the world’s hardest rond de jambe every week for six months.
- I mean—it’s not the hardest, hardest. In terms of technique, it’s really pretty basic—but the musicality is tricky and central to the exercise, and requires them to listen to the music and dance instead of just being like, “Yawn, barre work is boring.” Which is kind of the point.
I owe yet another part of it to the friends who jump right in whenever I say, “Erm, ah, ssssssoooo, ahhhh, would you like to work on a choreography project I’ve been thinking about?” Or, at any rate, try to jump right in, given how challenging it can be there schedule things even when there’s not a global pandemic 😅
But some small part of it I owe to myself. I came to the ballet studio and found the place where I simply know how to work. And then I started doing the work, and I started looking for opportunities and taking calculated risks. And when the chance came to dance full-time, I took that leap, even though it was honestly pretty scary.
And even though I wasn’t sure I was someone who would ever be good at sticking with anything that didn’t have a finite term, i stuck with it—though honestly that’s really a bit like saying like saying, “The water decided to continue flowing downhill.” It’s honestly the path of least resistance. Quitting would be harder than continuing.
I don’t know where life will take me (I mean: really, nobody does). But I’m no longer afraid that I’ll never find anything that feels like a suitable path.
The periods of mindfulness, of being present in the present, afforded by the work I do—most specifically, taking class and creating choreography—have also been healing in ways I never expected.
I literally never imagined that my brain would ever be as, well, relatively stable as it is now, for one thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying ballet is The Cure, or even The Treatment, for unstable moods for everyone who experiences them. But, for me, it’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
Likewise, dancing has forced me to engage with both my present and my past more deeply than I ever imagined being able to do. My first Pilobolus SI stands as a watershed: something about that experience broke the seal I’d placed over deep, deep wells of feeling—both beautiful and painful.
There are still plenty of things in my past I’ve never directly dewalt with by the conventional means of talking about them—but somehow, when I dance, sometimes I dance about them without realizing that it’s happening.
Only later do I find that somehow, in the midst of wrestling with choreography, some old and festering wound has been cracked open and washed clean so healing can begin. It doesn’t mean the healing is complete, but it means that healing I long thought impossible has begun.
Anyway. Speaking of long, this is getting really long, and it’s the middle of the night, and Merkah would greatly appreciate it if I’d go to sleep. So I guess I’ll close here.
I don’t know how to end this except to add:
If you’re reading this, I’m also grateful to you.
Often, part of growing into a thing is talking about it. For some reason, I find that easier to do here than in a private journal (largely because I’m terrible at actually keeping up with a private journal, since it doesn’t occur to me to put things into words unless I’m talking/writing to someone else).
So you, too, have been essential in this journey.
So: thank you. And I’ll try to include some pictures in the next post 😁
With Eyes, Well, Less Clouded
Gentle Readers, a picture from today:
It’s a screenshot of a screenshot bc I’m too lazy at the moment to go get my phone and upload the original screenshot.
Anyway. I snagged this from a video I recorded of a class I took this afternoon.
There were a few nice moments in that video, as well as some that would’ve been nice if I wasn’t doing one or more small, incorrect things.
To my eye, this pic falls in the latter category. Or, well … Maybe it would be more fair to say that it falls in the grey area between the two categories?
So I posted it to Insta because I think it’s kind of funny—I’m clearly committed to this exercise that I’m doing, but also clearly (to my own eye) trying not to crash into the furniture (big mover + small space = potential disaster).
It turns out that maybe not everyone sees this shot the same way I do.
Here’s what I see immediately:
- Not quite on my leg (if you draw a plumb line from my hip socket, in fact, I’m quite a bit behind the ball of my foot)
- Back arm too high
- That stupid thumb again
- Neck retracted
- Supporting leg could be a bit more turned out
- My back leg might not be straight back? (The lighting makes it hard to tell. Rationally, I think it might actually be placed correctly, but my brain keeps quibbling about it anyway.)
- Same quibble about whether my hips are square (with the same caveat)
- At least my back is lifted and my leg is straight, high, and turned out?
What several other people see immediately:
- A nice arabesque.
So … As a dancer, you do have to learn to critique your own technique. If you want to master ballet vocabulary, it’s necessary.
But I think sometimes we get so caught up in criticism that we need to be shaken out of it.
Yes, it’s important to see what we’re doing wrong. But it’s just as important to see what we’re doing right.
Ballet attracts … okay, all kinds of people, really. It retains people who have an taste for focusing on details and working like crazy to overcome faults. It retains people who aren’t too proud of themselves—and maybe, too often, people who aren’t proud enough of themselves.
No, this arabesque isn’t perfect. But there’s a lot there to be proud of (not in the “I’m better than you” sense—just in the quiet way one feels when one works hard and improves on things).
A lot of work goes into getting that back leg high without compromising the placement of the hip. Same for keeping the back that high, working the gensture leg against its opposite shoulder to make a strong, turned-out position.
Yesterday, after a class in which I (still working off my two-week-long sinus-infection nap) felt hella weak, a teacher who I respect quite a lot told me she can tell I’m a very well-trained dancer.
That meant a great deal to me, as I still tend to think of myself almost entirely in terms of my faults. But I have, in fact, come a long way, even in the past year, while dancing under some very unusual conditions.
Sometimes we meet people who only see their own strengths, and it’s easy to regard them as delusional (I mean, not that we’re not all at least a little delusional! But That’s Another Post™). Like, seriously, everyone’s got faults.
But it’s just as delusional to see only faults.
We have to learn to walk in the middle and see both.
By which I mean, really, that I have to.
So I’m going to work on that.
Like: yeah, there’s some faults there, totally. That’s fine. I’m human.
But also, seriously? That is a nice arabesque.
DancerLife: A Man, A Plan, A … Well, Kind Of A Plan, IDK
Today’s episode of Danseur Ignoble is brought to you by the famous palindrome, “A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL: PANAMA.” Which, to be fair, only works properly if you don’t consider the punctuation when reversing it, in which case you’d get “.AMANAP :LANAC A ,NALP A ,NAM A” thus utterly defeating the entire point of palindromes in the first place. Also, full disclosure: at the moment, as far as I know, there isn’t a canal in my plan.
I wrote recently about how planning to eat is a good idea, and how the #dancerlife can make that challenging, etc.
Anyway, now that the season is looming into sight (OH LORD, MAKE HASTE TO HELP US, etc) and I’ve done the fun part of being a responsible adult danseur (New tights! New shoes! New … dance belts. Yeah, well, it can’t all be that exciting.), I’m on to doing the hard part.
Or, well, the part that’s hard for me.
Which is planning.
Anyway, in the spirit of continuing to explore the vagaries of #dancerlife in ways that might potentially be useful to other people, today we’ll take a brief look at my planning process (HA! I’m not sure it qualifies as a process, tbh.)
I find it really helpful to create a broad visual guide to my week: a kind of general picture of how things are likely to look, knowing that they’re going to be different sometimes. Because I’ll take 6,000,000 years to finish it if I try to do it by hand, I typically just create a table in Google Docs.
Here, for your edification, is a screenshot of said table as it currently stands:
My teaching schedule (thus far) includes Monday evenings (useful, since my teaching job is more or less halfway between home and Lexington) and Wednesday evenings, and my Wednesday class is late enough to allow me to take an extra class in Lexington on Wednesday evening.
I’m deeply grateful that I won’t be trying to jet out to Frankfort to teach at 5:15, or 5:30, after rehearsal. Yes, it bought me some time to play around in the studio, but it also made it really hard to figure out when I to eat dinner.
Though I’m not sure yet whether this strategy will work, my current plan for Wednesday is to eat a reasonably substantial meal between Rehearsal Block B and Evening Class, then a snack/mini-meal on the way home from teaching. That should prevent me from wanting to murder anyone in the interval.
I might(???) be teaching on Friday evening, though if I’m not I plan to take an extra class then as well. Might as well make the most of my time, and I have plenty to learn as a dancer, soooooooooo………..
I have literally no idea what Theater Week for our first production will look like, nor whether the Nutcracker run will in any way resemble its usual self, so I’m not even going to try to make a draft plan for Theater Week right now.
TBH, half the time, no matter how well I plan, Theater Week turns into “All You Can Eat Pizza Week” anyway (work is irrelevant, as one inevitably just has to tap a sub, or in my case, possibly several).
I think our company schedule is a little different this year (I seem to recall that our morning break is now 15 mins, which probably means we’ll take lunch at 1:30 instead of 1, or something) but not so much so that it’ll drive a train right through this schedule, which is only a rough draft anyway.
If you find yourself thinking, “Yes, fine–you’ve written all these words, and you’ve still told us NOTHING about your planning process,” you’re absolutely correct, and I apologize.
So here’s how the process itself works:
Really first, before I actually begin planning, I look at my various schedules from various places and try to make them make sense in my head and generally develop a headache.
Officially First, I realize I need to make a visual depiction of my typical week, so I begin by making a table on a blank document.
At first, my blank document includes:
- 7 columns: one for each day of the week.
- 4 rows: one for each more-or-less arbitrary division in my day (I don’t like to use an hour-by-hour schema at this stage; I get too hung up on how things don’t line up visually the way I want them to).
Then I realize that I need a header row for days of the week, so I add that, and probably a label column so I can label the different sections of the day, so I add that too and spend a few minutes dithering over what I want to call the different parts of my day.
Once those rows and columns are in place, I start copying data into the individual cells for my company day, then by data for classes other than company class, then data for my teaching job(s).
At some point in this process, I realize I want color blocks to help me visualize my week without reading, so I start adding those. And then once the color blocks start coming together, I realize that a visual breaks for lunch would probably help, so I add a row (columns merged, text aligned center-center) for that. And, hey! It does help!
I briefly decide that I need a separate row for my potential second teaching job, so I add one. Then I change my mind, since adding the row in question will make the whole schedule less meaningful visually, and I remove that row and decide that I’ll just add a note at the top of each work cell (and probably make them different colors if I teach at more than one place).
For now, since I’m not 100% sure I’ll have an extra teaching gig, I’ve filled in the space it would occupy with question marks (???). It could take place on Thursday instead of Friday, but Friday seems more likely, and so the overall shape of the week in this draft is settled.
Then I realize I’m going to need another visual break between the end of the company day and … everything else, even though I technically consider additional classes part of company life. So I add one of those, formatted just like the lunch break, and label it accordingly.
The line for breakfast was kind of an afterthought. I actually thought about leaving it out: I mean, I actually do tend to eat breakfast every day, because when I don’t, I’m typically unfit for human company until I do eat something. But I liked what it brought to the table visually, and in all honesty, it’s useful in helping me imagine how I need to use my time.
Which, for me, is the whole point of doing this.
What this little visual layout really does is help me stop myself overcommitting.
Without it, I tend to imagine all of the time that I’m not actively in the studio either dancing or teaching as “free” and thus available for teaching or whatever, or even just doing side projects. And then, unsurprisingly, I wind up burning myself out.
There will always be seasons (NUTCRACKER) in a dancer’s life in which a little burnout (NUTCRACKER) is more or less inevitable (N U T C R A C K E R!!!!).
That’s why we have breaks in our company calendars. We need that time to literally rest, so our minds and bodies can recover from the strain of long days rehearsing and performing (and living on pizza because we’re artists and thus broke).
Last year, I overcommitted myself, and wound up creating a situation in which I wasn’t eating well enough or resting enough during rehearsal weeks, so by the time performance runs ended, I was not simply cooked, but overcooked. I did finish the year a better and stronger dancer than I began it, but I could’ve made more progress if I’d just taken slightly better care of myself.
Likewise, just as it is with our hearts and minds, we can only take more out of our bodies than we put back for so long. If my goal is to have staying power as a dancer, I need to take care of my instrument. Part of that is feeding it well and giving it enough rest to make up for the crazy demands I place on it.
Nobody pursues a career in dance because it’s easy: if you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll either drop out before you get anywhere near a career, or you’ll realize how wrong you were and embrace the challenge.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to make it harder for ourselves.
And one of the best ways to prevent making it harder for ourselves, of course, is to plan. And while I try not to overuse this phrase, I am sufficiently bad at planning on the whole that I want to say, “If I can do this, you probably can, too.”
PS: my decision to arrange my schedule Sunday-Saturday is a purely pragmatic one. That way, since my company week runs Tuesday-Saturday, my least-scheduled days are grouped together, which I find visually useful. You should organize your week in whatever way works best for you.
Earth-Grown Meatless Italian Sausage (ALDI)
Somehow, I completely forgot to include these in yesterday’s meatless meats roundup.
I ordered these a while ago, cooked them last week, and (in accordance with standard operating procedure) failed to take any pictures. (Dammit, Jim, I’m a dance blogger, not a food blogger!)
Overall, I liked these more than I expected to. I love sausages in part for that delicious pop! you get when you bite into one, and I have yet to encounter a meatless sausage that replicates it particularly well (to be fair, lots of meat sausages fail to provide it, too). Because I figured that pop! would be missing, I honestly doubted whether the EarthGrown meatless Italian sausage experience would be worthwhile.
In fact, I was pleasantly surprised.
While you won’t get that satisfying pop! when you bite into one, there’s a touch of resistance to the outside of each meatless link. I’m not sure whether they’re contained in some kind of meatless casing, or whether it’s just the way the physics of the sausage overall work out. It doesn’t replicate the meat sausage experience (which sounds like the name of my next imaginary band…), but it does add a desirable textural dimension I hadn’t expected.
Meanwhile, the interior of EarthGrown’s Italian sausages is both finer-textured and denser than a typical Italian sausage made from meat, but still chewy enough to be perfectly acceptable. Those who like their sausage fillings ground smooth and fine will probably find it quite suitable. Of note, I tend to actively dislike finely-ground meat sausages: usually, the fatty pate texture just seriously isn’t my thing (I also tend to dislike really tender cuts of meat for similar reasons). I find that I don’t mind it at all in meatless sausages, which tend to be lean.
As with EarthGrown’s meatless meatballs, the flavor here is pleasant, but quite mild: though, where the sausages are concerned, a little too mild for my preferences.
That said, the mild flavor won’t prevent me from using these sausages in the future: better a mild, pleasant flavor than a strong, unpleasant one. Likewise, while I wouldn’t have minded a note of fennel in the flavor profile, D doesn’t particularly like fennel: in short, depending on what you like in an Italian sausage, YMMV.
Moreover, their mild flavor makes these meatless sausages versatile. Since sage proved to be the dominant flavor, you could probably toss these into an omelet or a breakfast burrito without offending those who think Italian sausages don’t belong at the breakfast table.
- I’m a culinary heathen who adheres to no laws about which foods should be eaten when, and my breakfast of choice is leftovers: which is to say, I’m all for Italian sausage at any time of day.
- That said, I prefer not to eat most of the typical American breakfast foods for breakfast. They’re typically pretty high in sugar and carbs and low in everything else, yielding a crazy high Glycemic Index. If I eat them for breakfast, an hour later my blood sugar will have crashed back into hypoglycemic territory, and I will transform into that terrible person from the Snickers ads.
I’m not sure how D felt about these sausages, because he wasn’t all that hungry and only ate about half of his dinner when I served them. He didn’t complain about them, though, so I assume??? that they’ve passed the Husband Test, at least insofar as being acceptable. I’m not sure he even remotely thought they were the usual meat sausages from Kroger.
- While I haven’t precisely codified my Husband Test, it’s basically a measure of [A] whether D will actually eat a meatless version of a dish we typically eat, and [B] whether he’ll ask if I’ve switched sausages or meatballs or what have you if I don’t tell him in advance. I don’t say anything in advance about it one way or another, as he’s one of those people whose expectations about food play a really, really strong role in his perceptions–like, if I tell him we’re having chili, but then discover we don’t have the right ingredients and make pasta with red sauce instead, he often won’t even eat it.
These actually rather grew on me as I continued eating them. I’m not sure that I’d be terribly enthusiastic about them served as a sausage sub, but I rarely eat Italian sausage subs anyway (in the Italian-meats-as-subs department, I’m a meatball boi for lyyyyyfffffeeee). Served with pasta and a nice, chonky tomato sauce, they’re really quite satisfying.
Nutritionally speaking, they’re similar to the other meatless sausage and meatball options we’ve explored to date.
By themselves, they won’t bring you the full magic of adding more plants to your diet–but they will greatly reduce the unpleasant side-effects of eating sausagey things:
In short, unlike ALDI’s EarthGrown meatballs , the EarthGrown Italian sausage links aren’t a bang-on match for the meat version, but they’re still worth buying if you’re looking to introduce some plant-based meal options that even your meat-and-potatoes fam will probably accept. Likewise, as a quick-cooking meal-maker, these qualify for the Cooking With ADHD Squirrel! of Approval(tm).
- Possibly because meatball recipes are highly variable and typically include non-meat ingredients even in their traditional forms?
TL;DR: 6/10. Mild-flavor, acceptable texture, easy to cook, very acceptable served with pasta and red sauce. Not going to take home the top prize at the sausage races, but I won’t hesitate to buy these again.
Join me later this week (unless I forget) for an adventure with Field Roast, which arrived unexpectedly because Kroger was apparently out of The Sacred Chorizo (regarding which: o_________o)
- …Assuming it’s not made with nuts that I can’t eat. I haven’t checked yet. My chosen ice cream was substituted with butter pecan, which makes me sad, because I’m severely allergic to pecans. Like, “keel over dead from anaphylaxis” allergic. No shade to my order-picker at Kroger, though–they did their best, and I didn’t check “do not substitute” because I always, always forget that Death Nut Ice Cream even exists (because I don’t eat it, obvs). D can take it to work, or we can give it to a friend, or something.