Please don’t ask me how I am.

The socks I am wearing today came into my life exactly one year ago. They’re the warm non-slip kind, and I got them from the Emergency Room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They’re the second in a collection I don’t want to curate, gathered on a long, boring, annoying, painful, ridiculous, mysterious journey I don’t want to remember.

I have Occipital Neuralgia. It’s a long story, and I’m tired of it. You can Google ON and you will learn that it is a painful condition involving the nerves in the head. You will not learn how to deal with it, but if you look hard enough you will find other people who have it. You will not be encouraged by their stories. You will try to accept that it is chronic, but not fatal, so at least there’s that. You will think “at least” a lot. You will find treatment options that might help, but you will not find a cure.

And if you’ve gotten this far, I hope you will adjust.

As with depression, you might not get it unless you get it, and I hope you never, ever get it. That’s my wish for you. Here are my wishes from you.

First, please don’t ask me how I am. I know you don’t mean anything by it, but you don’t expect an honest response, and I’m tired of lying. The thing is, I am terrible (thanks for asking.) I am always in at least some pain. Always. Even when I say I’m doing okay, it’s this new version of okay where I’m in bearable pain. The monster in the back of my head is sleeping, leaving a dull ache I can ignore for a while. I can function; I can act like one of the humans for a few hours, but it comes at a price.

Second, please don’t tell me I’ll get better. My current treatment plan is through the Mayo Clinic; I am looking into every avenue; I am seeking advice from others who have it. I rest. I put bags of frozen vegetables on my head. I cut off most of my hair to remove the weight from my scalp. I’m still in constant pain. I am trying to do everything I can to kill this monster, but the reality is it might never go away. I’ve had time to come to terms with that, but when you tell me I’ll get better, it just reminds me of the opposite.

And finally, please don’t give up on me. ON has affected every single part of my life, and I’m still figuring out the balance. I’m sorry I’m a burden. I’m sorry I’m unreliable. I’m sorry I’ve missed so many events that you don’t invite me anymore. (Nobody goes to parties to hear about my health problems, anyway.) I’m sorry I’m so grumpy and self-pitying that I do things like write this. I’m sorry I make you feel awkward when all you’ve done is ask, “How are you?” and expected a normal answer like a normal person.

Although I guess making people feel awkward is pretty normal for me, so that one’s on you.

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Thank you for your patience. Here’s to a hospital-sock-free 2017.

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#Winterfest Dos and Don’ts (From Me to Future Me)

I am a lucky girl. I love great beer – and I happen to live in the Twin Cities, where the craft brew culture is booming. I also love great events – and this past weekend, I got to go to one of the year’s best: Winterfest.

This was actually my second year at the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild event, and both years have been great. And, well, learning experiences. I am already hoping to go again next year, so this is basically a list for Future Rachel. Still, you may as well reap the benefits of my beer-tasting wisdom, internet strangers.

So it begins.

So it begins.

Do obsessively hit “page refresh” for ten minutes before the tickets go on sale. The event is capped at 750 people, and sells out in seconds. I’ve managed to get tickets for two years in a row using this highly scientific method, and also dark magic.

Do eat before you go. Yes, they have food at the event, and it’s included in the price. I bet it’s pretty great, too. Last year I think I ate some cheese; this year I completely missed out on all of it. Whatever you do, don’t go to a 3-hour all-you-can-drink craft beer event on an empty stomach. Rookie mistake (that you only make once).

Do gloat about this event taking place in St. Paul, the right side of the river.

Do your research. Look through the program and have a top ten list of brews you do not want to miss, and find those first. Things do run out, plus you want to try the snobbiest stuff (technical term) before your tongue goes numb. Also, if I hadn’t looked over the program, I might have totally missed the Sugar Shack Maple Stout from Third Street Brewhouse. It’s made with Saint John’s Maple Syrup from the Arboretum where I used to work. I really like it, but with a pedigree like that, how could I not?

This has nothing to do with beer, but any time I bring up my time at the Arb I like to remind people I did this once.

Look, I know this has nothing to do with beer, but this is the most badass picture of me in existence and it was taken at the Arboretum, so I’m sharing it again.

Do bring your ID, a pen, and your tallest friend. The ID is obvious. The pen is for taking notes and/or writing your phone number on strangers’ hands. And the tall friend is easy to find in a crowd, and can also find you if/when you wander off.

Do dress appropriately. For some that means warm boots and gloves. For others an outfit you can easily sleep in on your friend’s couch. For me that means both.

Do find the Excelsior Brewing Company booth and take pictures of the staff; when you find them on your camera the next morning, understand that you will be left with more questions than answers:

They just posed like this, without any direction. Naturals.

Probably this was towards the end of the night.

Don’t be embarrassed when you spot someone you met and talked to for half an hour at a past a beer event and you can’t remember her name. She doesn’t remember your name, either.

Don’t force yourself to finish anything you don’t like. Give it to your tall friend who seems to like all the things you don’t (another reason you brought him), and find something you like better.

Don’t be afraid to not love the things everyone else loves. There may be a time and a place for me to drink Barley John’s award-winning Dark Knight Returns; that time was not two hours into the event, after an uncertain number of other pours, when I knew it was a really heavy hitter. Some other night, DKR.

Don’t live-tweet the event.

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MNBeer.com knows what I’m talking about, or wants me to shut up.

Do make an active effort to find and drink water.

Don’t get upset when one of your brewer friends makes fun of you for drinking water. He’s working and therefore sober, and definitely laughing at your slightly slurry, indignant response.

Do make friends. It’s fine if you don’t pay attention to her last name. You’ll think of something.

Legit beer friends.

The truest form of friendship.

Do have a safe drive lined up. Even if you cancel on your original safe drive to catch a ride with your new friend, Stephanie Beer and her boyfriend, Sober Dan.

Don’t go to the Onion afterwards. Just don’t. You hate that place. It never ends well for you there.

....Best laid plans...

….Best laid plans…

Do expect your best friend to text back: “UGH, RACHEL, you hate that place!” because she knows you.

Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning and think, “I’ve felt better.” But since you remembered to eat before the event, and drank plenty of water, you’re actually in pretty good shape and will be up as soon as you have some coffee.

So there you have it. That’s how you semi-sensibly enjoy one of the best beer events in the Twin Cities.

(But seriously, don’t go to the Onion next year.)