Methotrexate Revisited

The last time I had to take methotrexate via injection, I was barely 7 years old and had a phobia of needles. My specialist, Dr. Foster, didn’t have the bedside manner of a teddy bear then like he does now. He decided the best way to break the news to me was very bluntly, with no warning to my parents, and when I started crying, he simply said, “Well, it’s either that or you go blind.” What a charmer. 

Neither of my parents wanted the responsibility of stabbing me with a needle once a week. Whether that was because they were afraid I’d hate them for it, or that they thought they’d fuck it up, I don’t know. Either way, the job fell on the shoulders of a poor young male nurse from Westside Hatzoloh who, every week, had to come to our apartment and deal with me locking myself in the bathroom until my father’s threats of not letting me eat chocolate for a month eventually coaxed me out. And even then, I would kick and scream until the whole ordeal was over. God, I wish I could find that nurse now and apologise to him. That must’ve been such a shitty job.

 This time around, though, I can’t lock myself in the bathroom to try to hide from my nurse… Because my nurse is my husband. And honestly, at this point, I have had to stab myself with needles so many times that it only makes my hands go slightly clammy. After three tattoos and seven piercings, I can no longer use the excuse of being afraid of needles.

 Actually, this time around, it was me who had the idea of taking methotrexate via injection.

 I’ve been taking it orally (as tablets) for a while now, as a support act for my main treatment drug, which is Humira. I used to be able to take Humira on its own, but it faltered a little a couple of years ago, and so methotrexate was re-introduced in order to give it a little extra boost.

 Of course, I realise now that to many of you reading this, these drug names mean nothing to you, so let’s backtrack just a little.

 Some cases of Uveitis can be treated topically with a steroid eye drop called Prednisolone. However, these drops, if overused, can cause cataracts and Glaucoma. So, in chronic cases such as mine, immunosuppressant drugs called anti-TNFs are introduced. These are systemic, and attempt to retrain the immune system to not be fucked up by beating it down with a figurative sledgehammer until it can barely do jack shit anymore, let alone send pointless cells up to attack your eyes. This is why taking them leads to an increased risk of infection (and why I get about 50 colds per year).

 If you know anyone who has had to go through chemotherapy, you’ll know that chemo has a similar effect. Cancer patients are left susceptible to all manner of nasty viruses and infections because their medication compromises the immune system. Well, anti-TNFs kind of do the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale. Methotrexate is the most aggressive form these drugs take for a condition like mine. It’s only given in small doses to autoimmune patients (anywhere from 2.5 to 30 milligrams per week – I’m currently on 10), but it is often used in larger doses for cancer patients. Even in small doses, however, the side-effects can somewhat mimic those of chemo. Methotrexate (and some other anti-TNFs) often cause nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and even minor hair loss.

It can be taken orally up to a certain point, but at doses of 7.5 milligrams and above, it is recommended that it be taken as an injection. So, after a while of fighting it, I finally agreed last week to give injectable methotrexate another shot (no pun intended). The injections come with a better chance of the full dose of the medication having the desired impact, and they may also make it easier for the body to deal with the dosage, avoiding nausea and dizziness for the most part.
 So, a few nights ago, I gritted my teeth and resisted locking myself in the bathroom as my husband cleaned the injection site with an alcohol swab (the smell of which I’ve grown to loathe). I knew I had nothing to be afraid of – after all, methotrexate injections don’t even really hurt, compared to Humira injections which I’ve been doing for years and which give you the sensation of having a piece of glass underneath your skin for hours afterwards. But it was the memories that came flooding back as I had to face doing this all over again; the alcohol swabbing, the checking the liquid in the syringe to make sure it was that clear yellow colour; the counting to five to make sure the whole dose had been administered. It all feels like history repeating itself.

Not long after I realised I had flared again only a month ago, I lay awake in bed thinking to myself, “How is this flare up different to all other flare ups?” Of course my weird sleep-deprived thought process would lead me down the road of a fucked up Passover question instead of just letting me sleep… And I thought I could name five or six ways. But I realised soon after that, actually, it isn’t the differences that are driving me crazy. It’s the similarities. Like this disease has got me stuck in a loop. I was told so frequently by all my specialists that there would be an end to this one day. One day the disease would burn itself out.
 They estimated it’d happen when I was a teenager, but my teenage years came and went. Now some are saying it might disappear when I have a baby one day… if I can have a baby one day… because pregnancy hormones can change everything. Except methotrexate will stop me from having a baby for as long as I’m on it because of the severe birth defects that can occur as well as the risk it could pose to me. You have to be clear off it for 6 months before you can even try. I’ve been asked one too many times what would happen if I got pregnant by accident and just went off my meds to have the baby – couldn’t that maybe save my eyes? Couldn’t that put me in remission? Well, I’ll never know. Because if that happened, I would have to get it taken care of immediately, and wouldn’t get the chance to find out. It would be too dangerous otherwise.

So, just like every other time before, now I wait. I wait for the inflammation to die down so that, slowly, gently, with my hands metaphorically raised over my head like the fucking hostage of this disease I sometimes feel that I am, I can start tapering off the medication. Again. Round and round we go.
 If you would like to learn more about Uveitis, its effects, how to get checked, what research is being done to find a cure, or how you can help, please visit:

 www.uveitis.org or http://www.oliviasvision.org

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It’s funny when people tell me my eyes are beautiful because I’d quite happily rip them out of my skull 

Relatively few people on this planet know what Uveitis is. It only affects about 1 in every 5,000 people globally, and so the pool of people who even remotely understand it is limited to those 1/5,000 people and their sphere of family, friends, and medical professionals. That doesn’t add up to much. It is nowhere near common enough to merit routine exams suggested by GPs, or to be mentioned as a disease afflicting a fictional character in a film or a tv show, or even to be mentioned as something that certain medications advertised on TV could be used to treat. (Humira, for example, is one of the most frequently advertised medications on American television and is often used to treat Uveitis, but is only advertised to treat Psoriasis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.) 

So maybe now I can expand the pool of people who know what this disease is a little wider. This won’t take long. Ready? 

Uveitis (pronounced YOU-vee-eye-tiss) is inflammation of the middle layer of the eye (the Uvea) caused by an overreaction of the immune system. It has nothing – I repeat, NOTHING – to do with UV rays. Two cases are hardly ever alike. Sometimes a cause can be identified, but in many cases, the cause is completely idiopathic. 

I know this because I have it. I was diagnosed when I was in kindergarten (year 1 to the Brits), and was too young to understand what was going on. I was too young to understand why I had to take steroid eye drops every 2 hours, or why I had to go to the eye doctor’s every 3 weeks, or why I had to swallow 6 tiny pink chemotherapy-grade pills every week, – or why my mother cried every time she gave them to me – too young to understand why my father had to restrain me, kicking and screaming, as I had blood tests done every month. And far too young to understand the implications. That I’d be living with this into adulthood. That the constant doctor’s appointments and medication changes and frequent infections caused by a suppressed immune system would become my normal. That I wouldn’t be able to clearly remember a time when this wasn’t my life. 

Honestly, it’s not so bad. I am not here for your sympathy, BELIEVE ME. Saying “I’m so sorry” is not going to magically teach my immune system to not be dysfunctional. I appreciate it, but that’s not what I want. I just want people to understand this thing. I know my disease does not define me. Most days, I get to live like I don’t even have it (because I am very lucky, and will explain why in a future post). I also do what I can to not harp on about it or “put it” on people… And okay, if you are reading this and ever went to school with me, you may be thinking that that is definitely not true, but the reason why I freakin had to talk so much about it in the context of school was because NO ONE KNEW WHAT IT WAS AND WOULD NOT BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAID I WAS SICK BECAUSE I LOOKED FINE. 

See? All caps. It was frustrating AF. 

So I guess I want to educate you all a little. To tell my story in order to spread awareness, as well as to give myself a little mental peace. (I have spent a lot of years refusing myself the opportunity to go over the whole thing, much to my psychological detriment.) And, considering I’ve just had a flare, I figured now would be a good time to return to blogging, and to start writing it all down. 

Note: this blog is not about to become exclusively about my eye disease. I’ll go back to being an annoying yoga blogger in a few weeks. Bear with. 

CPH – VIE

“Hey Duane, you know why there’s always peanut butter backstage at rock shows?”

We all groan. “Not this shit again,” Matt shakes his head and laughs. “He can’t seriously fall for it a second time,” I try to reason. But there is no reasoning with Duane.

About seven years ago, my dad was bored backstage at a show and decided to kill time by attempting to convince poor, unsuspecting Duane that Early Grey was the former tour manager for Deep Purple, and that Earl Grey tea was always in dressing rooms at gigs and festivals because he retired from the music business and bought a tea plantation. And he was successful in his efforts. The joke went a long way and lasted years. Every band in the festival circuit was aware that we had a roadie who had been told this ridiculous story and they all went along with it. Someone made a fake Wikipedia page about Mr. Grey to show Duane. And the madness culminated at Download in 2011 when my dad pulled aside an old British guy wearing a tweed suit who happened to be backstage and asked him to introduce himself to Duane as Earl Grey. He did. And Duane was so excited to meet him that, after furiously shaking his hand, he asked for a picture together and an autograph.

It wasn’t until A.J.’s wake last March when Duane was finally told the truth. Without A.J. around, it wasn’t that funny anymore. And A.J. would have wanted Duane to know. And the most amazing thing? Duane thought THAT was the lie.

Now here we are on the flight from Copenhagen to Vienna, and my dad has decided to relight the fire.

“It’s because Skippy McFarlane was The Monkees’ producer.”

“Naaaaw,” Duane insists. “You’re fucking with me.” Like it could ACTUALLY still be true.

“Dad, come on!” I shout.

“Duane, you know he’s fucking with you. He was fucking with you over Early Grey, too,” Matt says.

“Nah man I got my pitcha [how Duane pronounces ‘picture’] with Early Grey. I believe that. That was real.”

“Danny, come on, man. Stop…” I hear from behind me. It’s Armadillo. He drew the short (literally, he’s 5’ 2”) straw this flight, sitting next to Mark and in front of Danny. Danny is busy shaking his seat while Mark is poking him. Then Mark decides Armadillo really needs to read the in-flight magazine, so he whacks him in the face with it. Then he whacks me in the face it. While Danny starts reaching over to rub his hands all over Armadillo’s face, Mark starts incessantly tapping Matt’s head.

And this is how we spend an hour and a half, as we hurtle through the air at 550 miles per hour. Duane and Russell promptly fall asleep, mouths hanging wide open, and get at least 50 photos taken of them. Poor Armadillo experiences – in turn – water boarding, wet willies, seat shaking, and monkey bites, except for the few minutes in which Mark chooses to turn his attention to me or Matt to poke us until we pay attention to him.

I feel so bad for the rest of the people on this flight.

Featured photo: The fear in Armadillo’s eyes when he realised who he had to sit next to.

Show 1: Sweden Rock 10/6/16

My dad’s girlfriend and I spent some time the other day trying to calculate how many of my dad’s shows I’ve been to over the years. 14 years, two of which I attended every show, two of which I was in summer camp and only went to a couple, plus all the Christmas shows, the benefits, the Bent Brother (unofficial) shows… We estimated about 140-150.

And yet I had never been to Sweden Rock.

It was always too early in the touring season. I still had school, still had exams to sit, still had essays to write. The years when I could’ve done it, they weren’t playing it. It’s all the more ironic that the farewell tour kicked off there, since it was the exact place where things really re-started for them in 2003 when they played there for the first time. Coming off the string of South Korean dates, the band flew to Sweden and played their first “real” reunion show on the same field in front of the same wild crowd and, according to my dad at the time, the show had been a massive success.

Apparently that was a lie. Only now will he and the band admit that the show was incredibly sloppy, that they fucked up every song, that everything that could’ve gone wrong did, indeed go wrong. But that didn’t stop them from being invited back to the festival four more times, including this past Friday. And even though this year’s performance there bore some resemblances to the first (timing issues that I won’t go into and were definitely not as big a deal as the band thinks they were), the show was still nothing short of astonishing.

To begin with, the sheer number of people who turn up to Sweden Rock is amazing. Some estimated 60,000 while others thought it was more around 80,000. I have no idea how accurate either number is, but what I do know is that there was a sea of people as far as the eye could fathom, all the way back to where the barriers to the campsites started, some two miles away from the main stage. And the enthusiasm the crowd showed was so strong, so heartwarming, that at one point it actually brought my dad to tears.

There were so many moments that gave me chills, made me laugh, and made me tear up during that show, and I wish I had taken better notes because they’re now becoming hard to recall. The day started for the crew at 7:30 AM when they all went to the venue to begin set up, and although I was unable to join them, I was still kept abreast of their antics. In this case, those included Duane adding his name to Mark’s dressing room sign so it read “Mark & Duane”, followed by Duane’s mouth being taped shut and hands and feet bound together by pink gaff tape, presumably by Danny. (For those who are unaware, Duane is one of Mark’s bass techs, and has assumed the role of resident punching bag for the band and crew. Mark claims to hate him, but we all know that without Duane’s presence, the band and crew would get at each other’s throats and inevitably tear one another apart. Duane is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is the band’s most essential one.)

Uncle Markie was none too pleased with his revised dressing room assignment.

Pre-show highlights on the band’s part included Mark practically crushing me during a sightseeing boat ride around the beautiful town of Malmö, (“Is this comfortable for you? It’s comfortable for me. I think I’m gonna stay here like this. I could fall asleep like this”) and Eddie informing us during the bus ride to the venue that he dislikes the term “Hispanic” because “It has the word ‘panic’ in it and I don’t want my people to be associated with something bad. I prefer ‘Latino’.” There was also a suggestion by Mike of re-naming their marketed Meet and Greet sessions as “Mark Mendoza Beat ‘n’ Greets”, as Mark was availing himself of the opportunity to (jokingly) throw around every poor schmuck who thought they were just getting a picture with the band.

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It was so cold that I had to wear 3 jumpers… and even then I was still shivering. At least I looked cute.

And as for the show itself… It may not have been the tightest. That’s a fair judgement. And the audience, for its enormous size, took some warming up (quite possibly because it was so fucking cold that I was wearing three jumpers and still froze my ass off). But a disappointment it was not. It was a million miles away from that. Time and time again I am reminded that Twisted Sister can rile up a crowd like no one else. Dee can get the most reluctant audience member on their feet and jumping up and down like a maniac – using humiliation tactics if he has to, but still. The fanfare after “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and the screaming after “I Wanna Rock” were only outdone by the fact that, during the audience participation segment of their cover of the Stones’ “I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”, they must’ve had at least 80% of the audience punching the air and jumping. Even the people at the back.

A particular highlight of the show for me was Dee’s fika (coffee) break mid-show, in which he had devoted roadie Armadillo come out with a cup of coffee for him and proceeded to chat with the audience while drinking it. What most of the audience probably didn’t see, though, was Mark chasing Armadillo around the stage afterwards while the poor guy was still holding a half-full cup of coffee… Honestly these guys are men-children.

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Daddy and Dee; an average day at work.

They aren’t so mean to their crew though, in all fairness. They even took the opportunity to introduce all the guys to the audience during their encore, and then invited them to come onstage on the catwalk to take a bow, a moment that I know meant an awful lot to all of them… And then I nearly pissed myself laughing when I saw Duane jogging backstage afterwards and realised he had a strip of white gaff tape stuck to his ass that looked like a tail. No one has yet confessed to committing the crime. But it was funny as shit.

And, of course, there was the moment during “The Price” when tens of thousands of people raised their mobile phone lights – and a few lighters – in the air in memory of those we have lost. Dee always talks about A.J. in the intro to that song. He dedicates it to his memory every night. But A.J. is not the only loss the band and crew have recently suffered from. Duane’s beloved son, Joey, was killed by a car in January at the age of 17. More widely known was the passing of Lemmy, a close friend of the band’s and the reason they came to be accepted in the UK after he introduced them to his fans at a Motörhead show in the early ‘80s. Seeing the sea of lights in Sweden the other night (especially facing the second stage, named the Lemmy stage this year) brought tears to my eyes as we all remembered those who should have been with us this touring season.

I still have a very difficult time looking at the drum riser with Mike behind it. It still feels like a tiny punch in the gut every time I have to reckon with the truth that A.J. is no longer there. The adjustment has taken much longer and has been far more difficult than I’d ever anticipated, in fact I don’t think it will ever really be made. For any of us. The whole vibe amongst the crew is so different now. The joking around is still there, but the laughter isn’t as hysterical. There has barely been any ba-di-ba-da-ba-ing. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, you don’t need to.) But I do know that Friday night would have made A.J. proud. He’d have been grinning from ear to ear.

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Lighting up the night for A.J.

So basically TL;DR, Sweden Rock was a kick ass show. A fitting start to the farewell tour. A crowd none of us will ever forget. A wonderful tribute to A.J. And I cannot wait to see what the rest of this summer brings.

Post on Nova Rock to follow shortly. x

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Bonus pic: Pre-show with some of our amazing, lovely friends who we’ve met over the touring adventures of the last 14 years. L to R – Tanja, Tore, Håkon, Daddy, Me. 

Aaaaaaand begin.

When I first started this blog, it was mainly for the purposes of writing about acting, yoga, and baking… which is pretty much all it’s been used for. Until now. For the next couple of months, I won’t be writing much at all about those topics. This blog for now is about a very different part of my life, one that I haven’t written about on here but which is just as important to me as the things I have shared with you, if not more so.

For those of you who don’t know, my dad is a guy called John French, professionally known as Jay Jay, and he is a guitarist in the 80s hair metal band, Twisted Sister. Since I was a kid, the band has been on an extended reunion tour that was only meant to last a couple of summers. It ended up lasting 14 years. And this leg of it will be their last.

I have the privilege now to be with them for most of their final shows, and I will be keeping this blog in the meantime as a record of this tour not just for those of you who are interested, but for myself. Read it if you really care to know the ins and outs of all this tour lark, or don’t. I don’t particularly mind. But I’m writing all this down because I just can’t bear to forget all the funny one-liners the band and crew will inevitably come up with, the insane flight schedules that the tour manager, Danny, has no doubt signed us up for, and the precious last few times I’ll hand my dad his guitar and give him a fist-bump before he takes the stage while “It’s A Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC blasts in the background.

When this whole thing (re)started almost a decade and a half ago, no one involved had any idea how long it would last. It was kicked off by a one-off reunion show done for a party for their friend Jason Flom. Then 9/11 happened and they agreed to get together again to play a show called New York Steel to benefit the Widows and Orphans Fund. It was relatively fair to think after that show that a whole tour was out of the question. Tensions still ran pretty high amongst the band, and whether they could deal with each other for an extended period of time was questionable.

A 2-week tour for the USO in South Korea was later organised in order to test the waters, as it were. The band wanted to see how successful a reunion tour had the potential to be, and my last memory of life before the band was such a central part of it was standing at the door of my apartment building with my cousin, Becca, waving goodbye to my dad as he got in a cab for the airport.

My knowledge of what the band was up until that point was limited. My first introduction to it was as a pre-schooler, when my dad turned up to collect me one day with Dee in tow. It was the first time they’d met in person in years, and they talked for hours until my dad realised it was time to go get me, and invited Dee to come along. My dad at that point had started to look like a fairly normal dad. He wore baseball caps just about everywhere and had said goodbye to his mullet when I was an infant. But Dee still looked like Dee. And when this huge guy dressed in all black with waist-length peroxide blonde hair turned up to my pre-k at pick up time, I was far from the only person to look a little confused.

Spurred by their meeting, my dad decided it was finally time to show me what he used to do for a living, so he showed me a music video of theirs. Which one, you ask? No, not “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock”, but instead the video for “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” featuring Alice Cooper. The video had been banned by MTV and VH1 when it first came out because of its violent and graphic nature… And my dad decided that should be my introduction to his band. I was 3 or 4. I still wonder to this day how and why my mother let him play that for me. It didn’t scare me, though. It didn’t even impress me. When my dad asked me what I thought, I apparently said, “You look stupid, daddy.” When he told me that that’s how he paid for my preschool, I said, “But I hate school, daddy.” (NB: I have no recollection of this conversation, but my dad has recounted it to most people he knows.)

After their Korean tour, things really started to kick off. I started attending sleep away camp in the summer, and would receive packages every week filled with tour posters and backstage credentials from festivals, mainly around Europe, with Twisted Sister’s name in the headlining spot. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I actually started going to these huge festivals with them that I understood the extent of the fanaticism that their fans showed. After the first time I saw them play in London, I was absolutely gobsmacked. “They treat you like Elvis, daddy!” I kept saying. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here was this guy who put me in time out and yelled at me if I didn’t do my homework and bugged me to eat something besides junk food, and yet thousands of people were losing their minds over him and the band. They thought he was cool.

And then when I was 15, I got to tour with them full time. I became a de-facto member of the crew; learning to re-string and tune guitars and how to set up the stage. I gaff-taped the setlists to the floor next to the mics, I ran out with a back-up guitar for my dad or Eddie when they broke strings, I passed time with the guys during layovers by playing Obscure Rock Trivia to see who knew the most random shit about Queen (I did pretty well). Not to sound overly cheesy – because they would massively take the piss if I got overly cheesy – but they became family. Being on tour with them was like having 10 dads… Who were all equally as keen to break the legs of any guy who came near me. Fun fact: at my dad’s birthday party one year, they all teamed up to physically throw my then-boyfriend out of the restaurant and lock him out. For absolutely no reason. So it was also just as embarrassing as you’d imagine having 10 dads would be.

Of course we all knew that this was going to come to an end sooner or later. They’re not exactly getting any younger (sorry, guys) and they spend an awful lot of time laughing at bands who cling on until their death rattle – my dad’s favourite joke to make about the Rolling Stones is that they’re so old that their fans won’t clap at their shows because they’re afraid the lights will go on in the arena. And having the last tour this year does seem to bring things to a natural end. The band celebrates their 40th anniversary this year, so it would give them a nice round number of years of existence. But, perhaps more notably, they are now a man down. A.J. passing away last year changed everything. They were already discussing ending things in 2016 before he tragically died of a heart attack last March, but his passing solidified the idea.

Twisted Sister is not Twisted Sister without all five of them. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t sound the same. Mike Portnoy does an amazing job of drumming for the band, in all fairness. He is a truly great musician and a great guy and he fits right in with the band, making as many dumb jokes as the rest of them do, and it is so wonderful to have someone as talented as him able to see the band through their final tour. But going on in the long run without A.J. just couldn’t happen. Now is the right time for things to come to an end.

And so here we are. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Lund, Sweden writing this as we look towards the beginning of the end. In two days’ time, the band will kick off this last run of dates by playing Sweden Rock, and I cannot quite believe this is the last time we’ll all be in Sweden together after the amount of shows they’ve played here. There are no metal fans on this earth quite like Scandinavian metal fans, and they have shown the band an awful lot of love over the years. Friday night will be special. And then we go on to some of the biggest festivals heavy metal has to offer; Hellfest, Graspop, Bang Your Head, Wacken Open Air, Rock Fest, Bloodstock, and then some. We’re going on one last trip to the great Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, and I’ll be blogging my way through the whole thing. This is going to be one hell of a summer.

Aaaaaaand begin.

Weeks 8 & 9 (finally)

  
I suppose I should start off with an apology. I realised only the other day that I’ve now been on a 2 month hiatus from this blog, which was honestly never intended. I actually wrote an entry for Week 8 in its entirety whilst I was still at training, but never got around to actually posting it. Time seemed to slip through my fingers in the last couple of weeks, and I began to spend my every spare moment either sleeping, eating, or practicing dialogue. There was really no time for anything else. But anyway, I’ll fill you in now. Better late than never, eh?

Of course, the down side to waiting so long to write this post is that I’ve forgotten a lot of the details of Week 8, but I suppose it’s only the important things that matter, anyway. The big thing was that posture clinics finally ended, albeit in a very rushed and hurried manner. The last few days they went on, they lasted 4 hours as opposed to 3, and entailed most people reciting 2-3 postures at a time, which was totally unexpected and totally daunting. I have vivid, almost traumatic memories of memorising Spine Twisting (the final posture) actually during PC, after I’d delivered Head to Knee with Stretching (which I had just learnt earlier that day). It was not my finest moment from an organisational point of view, but I figured if I could pull off writing 3 end-of-term essays within 24 hours whilst I was at uni, – yes, I did do that once, and yes, I did live to regret it – I could learn 20 lines of dialogue in half an hour at TT. The reason for speeding PCs up so much? To make way for Bikram’s own posture clinics, of course! But these ones had nothing to do with dialogue. 

Instead, they entailed Bikram entering the lecture room in a tracksuit and announcing to us in a particularly hokey, pantomime-ish voice, “Oh no! I seem to have forgotten my posture clinic outfit… Oh wait!” And, giving us a cheesey grin and wiggling his hips back and forth, he would proceed to strip off said tracksuit to reveal a succession of sparkly lamé outfits that all included shockingly tiny shorts and matching wife beater tops. Admittedly, the first time he pulled this stunt, I did crack a smile. It was probably one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed, and like I’ve said before, if you don’t laugh you start to go insane. But after the third time it started to get old. And whilst many other trainees would unfailingly give him the desired reaction every time – whooping, wolf-whistling, and singing the tune to that strip-tease song everyone knows but no one knows the title of… you know the one – my patience started wearing thin. I started fantasising about the day I would never have to set eyes on Bikram again, having grown increasingly tired of his inappropriate jokes and dependence on admiration. And, to top it all off, his posture clinics weren’t even bloody helpful. Looking back at my notes from those sessions, I realise now I barely wrote anything besides the occasional obvious tip like “Make sure the feet don’t inch closer together during 1st part of Awkward”. As opposed to offering us any real wisdom or insight into his yoga, Bikram just spent his posture clinics asking the people with the best examples of each posture to come up and demonstrate, just so he could yank them into more extreme expressions. 

The rest of Week 8 also included a number of “lectures”, once again, during which I managed to complete an impressive number of sudoku puzzles and coloured in a very detailed elephant from my friend Heidi’s adult colouring book. I have the occasional bulletpoint in my notebook of a gem that managed to shine through the rest of the bullshit Bikkers was spouting that week. But for the most part, I was just done. Mentally resigned. Totally fucking fed up. My eyes were on the prize: the certificate I would finally get my hands on after 9 weeks of struggling. I think we also watched a couple of films that week… One of which was one of the “Step Up” films, which was justified by the fact that Bikram had apparently helped to choreograph it, despite the fact that his name was suspiciously absent from the credits. I believe it was during this film screening that I ended up collapsed on the floor at the back of the lecture room sobbing my eyes out. The exhaustion had finally gotten to me, and after weeks of thinking I might just make it through without having a full-scale meltdown, I broke. Honesty, had I not only had just over a week to go by that point, I’m not sure I would have made it. 

But Week 8 did end with a saving grace, in the form of Thanksgiving. On the Thursday evening, after having pushed us through yet another grueling class, Bikram announced that he would give us the next day off, besides the one morning yoga class, essentially granting us a three-day weekend; a move that was apparently totally unprecedented and wholly unexpected by staff and students alike. So, although I missed out on my beloved turkey and sweet potato with marshmallows, I nevertheless found myself exceedingly thankful. And overwhelmingly relieved. 

All the same though, I feel it worth mentioning that I started to have two pretty constant anxieties going into Week 9. The first was that I was going to feel overwhelmingly lonely after training. After getting so accustomed to constantly being around 124 other people, I worried that going back to my normal life, which entails being alone for at least five hours per day, would drive me into a depression. It wasn’t an irrational fear, either. I spoke to numerous TT graduates who all reported feelings of intense loneliness, and one of whom who strongly warned me against staying at home alone for any amount of time in the month or so following training. 

“You’ll feel jet lagged,” she warned. “You’ll want to do nothing but sleep, you won’t want to to leave the house. But you have to. Go to the yoga studio, go sit in a cafe, go be around other people, for your own sake.” 

These conversations really started playing on my mind during the extended weekend between Weeks 8 and 9, and grateful as I was for the extra rest, I found distracting myself from these trains of thought was just another exhausting form of work. And trying to discuss it with my other half only gave way to my second anxiety: that I’d never be able to explain any of this to people back home. Yes, I had my blog. And yes, I’d been speaking to people in the outside world pretty regularly. But I still felt that what I’d been put through during those months would never be truly understandable to anyone who hadn’t actually been there with me. I was worried I would get home, fall into a depression, and be unable to explain why. It was the weirdest mish-mash of feelings; on the one hand, I wanted nothing more than to leave that fucking place already, and on the other, I wasn’t sure I even knew how to exist in the outside world anymore. Looking back on it now, those fears seem irrational and ridiculous, but at the time they were very real and very scary. 

But Week 9 began soon enough and quickly distracted me from those thoughts, mainly because it was the longest and most painful week of the entire training programme. I was expecting it to fly by, after all the staff tells you not to count the last week because it’s just the “wrapping up” week. 

“Don’t count it”, my ass. 

The days were longer, the bedtimes later, and my muscles sorer. Not a single evening lecture was dismissed before 2 AM, and the Thursday night saw us trapped watching a Bollywood film until past 4 AM. If Week 8 was starting to wear my patience down, then Week 9 served as the final test of my sanity. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that the end was near, and that I was mere days away from getting my certificate and being able to come home a teacher. Which I am immensely proud to say I did. 

On 5 December, 2015, I put on make up for the first time in 2 months, put on a dress instead of yoga clothes, stepped into a pair of heels in lieu of my Birkenstocks, and got my teaching certificate. I remember trembling a bit when walking across the stage to shake Bikram’s hand, feeling a mixture of nervousness, excitement, relief, and sadness. (I also remember feeling immensely weirded out when he complimented me on my dress, telling me he and I were matching… Let’s just say I didn’t find that much of a compliment.) 

  
Not sure if you can make out exactly what Bikkers is wearing there, but in case you were wondering, yes, those are purple satin trousers and snakeskin shoes. So you can maybe see why I wasn’t thrilled to be told I matched him. 

But there was a weird atmosphere that hung over the graduation proceedings, and that I couldn’t really shake for the rest of that night. I suppose it was a bit somber, really, and a bit surreal. I couldn’t help but notice that the ballroom was barely half full, with a lot of empty seats. I was reminded that only two training sessions previously, when there would have been over 300 graduates, it would have been packed. This time, it seemed sad and empty. And all the staff members had odd smiles plastered on their faces, as though they were trying to pretend everything was fine whilst being acutely aware that ours might be the last ever Bikram TT graduating class. There was a sense of grim finality about all of the proceedings. And relieved as I was, I was also uneasy. Looking back on it now, in the light of recent events surrounding Bikram and his empire (which I won’t go into here), maybe there was some foreshadowing going on there. But whatever it was, it felt like we were going out with less of a bang and more of a fizzle. 

Of course, that’s not counting what a lot of us got up to at the beach bar later that night, but that’s another story for another time… 😉

That’s all for now, readers, but stay tuned! Tales of teaching and the post-training come-down will follow shortly. Thank you all for sticking with me through this weird and wonderful journey. Namaste, bitches! X

Week 7 round-up: Just keep swimming

Exhausted does not even cover it. I slept 11 hours last night and that still was not enough to allow my body to recuperate fully. Apparently there’s a sleeping bag that someone has designed that will actually make you look like a hibernating bear, and I have decided that it is the only thing I will need for the rest of my life. I miss sleep. We were such good friends before all of this. I feel like a fool for leaving it. I promise, if it will take me back, that I will never be unfaithful to it again.

I don’t necessarily think that week 7 was physically any harder than previous weeks have been. We still had our standard two yoga classes per day, and the latest we were kept awake was 12:30 AM. I just think it’s the cumulative effect that 7 weeks of extreme physical exertion and very little sleep has had on me. I was waxing and waning all week in yoga class, going from a really strong class on Tuesday night, to a class so bad on Friday night that I spent final savasana in the foetal position. Seriously. My roommate almost had to call someone to help carry me out of the room. It wasn’t so much that I was dizzy or nauseous, it was just that my body had decided it had had enough, and my muscle strength basically gave out on me. It started with a pins-and-needles sensation in my left arm after Camel pose, but I didn’t want to allow myself to sit out any of the rest of the postures for fear of getting yelled at by Bikram and of making everyone else’s class that little bit longer. But I definitely paid the price for it. I just felt really, really done.

Luckily, however, not all of week 7 was quite so miserable. In fact, I had quite a few highlights this week that definitely helped speed things along a bit. Bikram was away Monday and Tuesday, so left us in the hands of a senior teacher of his from Mexico named Ulises. Ulises taught the evening classes on both Monday and Tuesday and, although I started out not liking him very much (his pacing during class wasn’t exactly what I would call “snappy”), I ended up really valuing his input by the time Bikram returned. He tends to approach this yoga from a more spiritual perspective, which I something I found really refreshing and comforting at this stage in the training, when things have started to feel a bit soulless and institutional. Ulises lectured us on Tuesday in the afternoon and the evening, and ended his evening lecture by playing a chanting track and allowing us to meditate for about 15 minutes. Monday evening was even more special, though, as Manali (who is basically the headmistress of Bikram Yoga TT) chanted part of the Bhagavad Gita whilst we all meditated. It was such a special and beautiful experience, and it offered us some peace, which I really think we were all in desperate need of.

But, just as quickly as he had left, Bikram returned once again. And he returned with a vengeance. His classes were hotter, his yelling was louder, and it seemed at times like he was on a one-man mission to steal our peace. He has become quite enthusiastic about accusing us all of being stupid, and about giving people corrections that they don’t actually need, seemingly just for the sake of being intimidating. And while I continue to enjoy his classes because of his almost infectious energy, I was getting too tired this week to be willing to make an effort for him anymore. The fact that we were forced to watch yet another two episodes of the Mahablahblah on Wednesday, and to listen to another one of his “lectures” on Thursday didn’t help my feelings either, and just served to put me in even more of a shitty mood. However, for all you future trainees out there, fear not! I have come up with the following, just for you…

Watching the Mahablahblah: A helpful guide

-The subtitles are not in grammatically correct English. I know this is annoying, but it’s not worth getting frustrated over. Choose to find it funny.
-When in doubt of what the fuck is going on, just assume that the kingdom of Hastinapur is in some sort of danger.
-Contemplating whether the costumes were made out of spray painted plastic or aluminium foil is a fun way of side-tracking yourself when you get bored.
-Whilst watching the Bhagavad Gita section (which is a 3 episode long conversation between Arjun and Krishna), ignore the subtitles and make up your own ideas for what Arjun and Krishna are discussing. Our ideas included, but were not limited to: The best places to shop for jewellery, the benefits of colonic irrigation, and whether they would rather shag Sofia Vergara or Megan Fox.
-Make up your own sound effects for when people start beating each other up in the big battle scene. My personal favourite was the doing sound I made every time someone hit someone else over the head with an oversized Christmas bauble. (You’ll see what I mean when you watch it.)

Seriously though, if you don’t do something to make light of the situations you get put in here, you could quite easily go mad. You really have to fight in order to stop anything from disturbing your peace, and having a good laugh goes a long way in that battle. A lot of what we do here is ridiculous. When I tell people back home what an average day here entails, they tell me they think it’s insane. It is. But there’s no point getting frustrated. We’re here for another two weeks yet, and I’m noticing more and more that peoples’ success here is very highly dependent on their attitudes. Those who go with the flow and stay in good humour are having a much easier time than those who have become more cynical. So try to avoid taking things so seriously. Whinge a little, sure, but laugh a lot, and enjoy spending time with so many wonderful people.

Just like Dory in “Finding Nemo”, we must all just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Because, lord knows if we take our eyes of the ball and start flailing about, we’ll all fucking drown.

Lynn Whitlow, who is one of Bikram’s senior teachers who is currently visiting us, and who lectured us on Friday evening, said something that really struck a chord with me. Whilst discussing the merits and draw-backs of running a studio with very hard and fast rules, she explained to us that, for the majority of our future customers, coming to yoga is something that makes them happy and that helps them to love themselves. Really, that’s what this yoga does for all of us. So what is the point in taking it so seriously to the point where you’re making people miserable? We come to yoga to feel good, to fall in love with ourselves. And it is so much easier to do that here at TT if you just laugh, love, and focus on the positive. Even when there are negative things bubbling up around you, it is important to keep in mind that paying attention to them will not serve you here.

The name of the game is to get through these 9 weeks alive, in one piece, and (somewhat) happy. And we are so close now. Those certificates are within our grasp, many of us have already scheduled our first classes, and we are preparing to go home. So on we charge into week 8. Tired, sore, but determined as hell. Put on your war paint, people. Let’s do this. x

Yoga classes completed to date: 76
Hours of the Mahablahblah watched: 8.5
Current position in posture clinic: Camel/Rabbit
Latest bedtime this week: 12:30 AM

P.S. Here is a still from the Mahabharata. You can tell how sophisticated the special effects are, can’t you?

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