Sewing, style, and sleep: interviewed by “The Daily Sew”

I met Mary in the Style School alum group but I KNEW of Mary and her inspiring Daily Sew blog long before that.  Mary’s post about Stasia’s Style School is actually one of the things that led me to pull the trigger and sign up for Style School after years of internet stalking Stasia and sinking into a grad school-induced style hell.  I had an idea of Style School that was girly and frivolous (read: I made up lame excuses to not do it because I was so scared about what might happen if I reconnected to old and powerful parts of my personality!) so Mary’s post made me rethink everything: if a bad-ass, feminist / activist / maker / guru can go through this and come out better for it, then sign me up.

The gorgeous Mary Sigler!

I was incredibly honored that Mary interviewed me this past month for “The Daily Sew” after buying her first SLEEP&SPARKLE headscarf and then finding out that I sew them myself.  We talked about sewing, style, and sleep.  But first, check out a few of my favorite posts on The Daily Sew:


And now on to the interview

Rocking a thrifted purse, grandma’s necklace, and a SLEEP&SPARKLE headscarf.

Mary: I love your style. Can you give us some insight to how it represents you?

Me: I grew up around a lot of color. My mom and grandmother were both fiber artists and there were no rules about playing with my grandmother’s fabric. I was allowed to play and make mistakes with it.

I was a gypsy for Halloween for so many years using the fabrics and costume jewelry from my grandmother.

My mom always bought fabric with a project in mind so her stash was off limits but my grandma had no rules. Her philosophy was to buy what she loved and then maybe make something from it. And being an immigrant she kept everything.

You sewed from a young age?

Well, I grew up on handwork, mostly tatting and learning Belgian bobbin lace making. Sewing came later.

Tatting with two shuttles can be a lot to manage, but it’s still easier than trying to make and fit a pair of pants, which is why that is something that I have never done to date.

What did you like about handwork?

Tatting is repetitive and easy to pick up and put down. You can start and stop in the middle. Sewing takes more steps which can make me antsy; it’s the transitions that sewing has. There’s sewing, reading the instructions, pressing. I got distracted and sleepy. So when I sewed I stuck to fast projects like simple patterns.

I love draping though, it’s relatively easy and stimulating. You can pick it up and see immediately the change in front of you.

When did you learn to sew?

When I was about seven or eight I took a class that my grandmother taught at G Street Fabrics (A most awesome DC metro area store). I think we made backpacks.

My grandmother had a huge influence on me even after we moved away from her. When she would come to visit she would stay awhile. And we would spend the summers with her. She’s very creative.

What’s your sewing style?

I am somewhere in between my mom and my grandmother when it comes to collecting fabric. Sometimes I buy with a vision of making something particular and sometimes I buy because I’m drawn to it.

Sewing in straight lines is my jam!

I actually wear a lot of things from my grandmother and mother. Their hand-made hand-me-downs. My mom was an engineer when it came to sewing. She would make clothes out of striped fabrics and ALL of her stripes matched exactly.

I’m 25% Armenian, through my grandma Armistice (born on Armistice day and married on July 4.  The proudest American you will ever meet!).  My great grandma, Adele, used to make bobbin lace by moonlight in Syria, before emigrating to America to flea the genocide.
Why yes I wear sunglasses inside if it completes a look.  #styleschoolskills And yes, this is the rainbow stripe coat that my mother made, where she matched every stripe that could possible be matched, including on the breast pocket.  No, I would never set out to do something like this.

 

What do you enjoy about sewing?

I don’t like making clothes. Maybe if I draped them to make the fit better I would like sewing clothes more.

But I love making crafts – totes, headscarves, quilts.  I love being able  to say “I made this.” It is nice to be surrounded by things that  are consistent with my values. To be able to set aside the time to make something; to follow through on the intention, to express my creativity. To say to myself, “I’m setting out to do something besides watching television.” I want to sit down and finish something. I want to be cloaked in my values.

So you are making something lately. Something cloaked in your values. Tell us about your new company, Sleep & Sparkle. What is it and how did you come up with the idea for it?

The idea behind SLEEP&SPARKLE is to make creative, comfortable head accessories that help people express themselves.

It started back in April when I posted a story on Instagram of a headscarf I made with a wire insert: “Look what I did with wire”. People asked “Wait. What did you do?”. They seemed to like it and I had always thought if I got my act together I would open an etsy shop.

I had just been diagnosed with narcolepsy. I had extended my medical leave of absence from graduate school because I wasn’t sure how I would do on the medication. Well, the medication seem to have immediate effect. Suddenly I had more free time; time when I wasn’t sleeping. And so I quickly sewed up 30 of these wired head scarves and mailed them out to the women who had seen the first one I made.

I got positive feedback on the prototypes so suddenly, whenever I was awake it was “get out of my way, I have work to do!” I don’t ever remember a time before starting narcolepsy treatment when I had this much wakefulness, and this ability to follow through. After starting treatment I was either working on making the website or the scarves.

A particularly triumphant day.  Wearing one of my favorite SLEEP&SPARKLE headscarves after a meeting with somebody at the University of Virginia’s student health clinic, where they agreed to let me write a brochure on sleep disorders to promote awareness among students AND practitioners.

The narcolepsy story is really interesting and a big part of your story. Do you mind sharing?

I’ve had narcolepsy since I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was only just properly diagnosed this February, and I started treatment in April. I never knew what it was like to feel normal. Activism for mental health and chronic health are really important to me because I went misdiagnosed and mismedicated for 20 years. I want to increase awareness about sleep disorders because they are extremely hard to diagnose and frequently mistaken for  mental health issues like ADD/ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.

My number one message on this topic to everybody is that you know your body better than anybody else; better than any doctor, and you are the only one who knows if something is truly wrong. I want every person to feel empowered to fight for their health and for proper care and it starts with us learning that we are trustworthy and that our bodies are trustworthy. and. We are worthy and deserve to fight for a healthy life which can be a tough message to internalize for people with rare and orphan illnesses that doctors are not familiar with.

Wearing a shirt created by Prisca Kim after her son JJ wore this sign during the Women’s March: I HEART NAPS BUT I STAY WOKE.  Find them here.

Thank you all so much for reading! Be sure to follow the “The Daily Sew” and you can find Mary on instagram @thedailysew and on Facebook @dailysew.

If you are interested in learning more about tatting or Belgian bobbin lace, you can find a teacher near you by contacting the International Organization of Lace, Inc, of which I was a proud, card-carrying member until my grandma stopped paying our dues.

And if you’d like to talk about sleep, please use the contact form on my blog to send me an email, or DM me on instagram @curioussparkledirt or on my Facebook page @curioussparkledirt.

Xyrem Vol. 4

Welcome to the Xyrem diaries where I share my experience taking the narcolepsy wonder drug Xyrem and subsequently waking up to life for the first time.  These posts are a bit more technical and not necessarily meant for people unfamiliar with the medication, unless you’ve been specifically following my Xyrem journey (From AIP Paleo to Crystal LightVol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol 3.1).

I’ve been taking 3g x 2 of Xyrem, with the goal of getting up to 4-4.5g x 2 some time in the next 8 months.  Getting to 3g was rough and I did it by increasing my first dose to 3g and keeping my second dose at 2.75g for two weeks and then finally increasing the second dose to 3g.  The increase to 3g x 2 was slow because I started experiencing side effects: I was waking up with excruciating headaches coupled with sensitivities to light and noise that were keeping me in bed all day.  I had no problem when I backed down and increased slowly.

It was time to increase over the weekend so last night I increased my first dose to 3.25g and kept my second dose at 3g.  Here’s the blow by blow:

11pm: take dose 1 (3.25g of Xyrem) and set alarm clock for dose 2 at 3am .
11:45pm: fall asleep.
1:51pm: wake up naturally, feeling alert, take dose 2 (3g of Xyrem) and turn off 3am alarm.
4am: wake up feeling pretty good.
4:30am: hear the cat vomit and get out of bed to clean it up.
I stayed awake and alert until about 6am when I conked out again and hallucinated my way to 11am.

What person with narcolepsy wakes up at 4am feeling alert and able to clean up cat vomit?  How weird/cool is that?

The best part about 3.25g is that I don’t think I had a SINGLE DREAM on my first dose.  Dreams on the second dose are still A MESS and I’m trying to get my hypnopompic hallucinations under control because every morning my brain is REMming wild.  (Get it? Like “running wild” but REM? #sleepdisorderhumor #fuckincataplexy.)

I’m going to go another couple of nights at 3.25g + 3g and if everything is copacetic I’ll increase my second dose on Wednesday or Thursday.  I already love the feeling of 3.25g and it’s got me excited to keep on this mystery journey / balancing act of wakefulness and side effects.  Real life, real world, here I come! Well, maybe not for another 8 months or so but still.

Food and Narcolepsy

Julie Flygare is my #womancrushwednesday! Check out her episode on the @arinuplifted podcast where she talks all about…NARCOLEPSY…here!

(Photo via @remrunner.)

Trigger warning: eating disorders. With a heaping side of bitterness.

It took me a while to process this interview because it’s heavy on the food and exercise talk. You see, food and I have a thing. And Julie does a great job countering the idea that food and exercise could play any role in reversing narcolepsy. *standing ovation*

Narcolepsy is a neurological disease caused by a lack of cells in the brain that release the neuropeptide orexin/hypocretin. These cells are suspected to ether be missing from birth or to be killed in an autoimmune process.

While I was having symptoms as early as 8 years old, I wasn’t diagnosed until 20 years later. My whole life I thought that I had a behavioral disorder; I thought that I was lacking willpower and motivation, that I was “floppy” because I had no self control, and that my eyes were burning because I had the “declining vision of an 80 year old” (actual comment from an eye doctor). I spent years trying to manage my mysterious symptoms through diet and exercise before my diagnosis. Despite already being in peak physical condition as a college athlete, I thought that I could – and SHOULD – do more. After all, I was being tested up one side and down the other and everything came back negative. Therefore, I was perfectly healthy and was bringing this all on myself.

It won’t take a genius to figure out where this is going. Headlong into an eating disorder. Yes. I eliminated all foods that I could link to my symptoms, until I was eating chicken, avocado, and frozen broccoli for three meals a day, every day. Being in social situations became impossible and I was still sleeping under my desk at grad school.

Only after fighting back from a rampant eating disorder can I say that at the height of my autoimmune paleo protocol neuroses and physical strength was I still experiencing daily symptoms of cataplexy and excessive sleepiness. Like most humans, I feel better when I’m eating real food than when I’m eating crap for every meal. But no amount of gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, nightshade-free nonsense is going to cure my neurological disorder. Going back to my #wcw, it was so incredibly healing to listen to someone I admire and respect say those words. Thank you, Julie!

I absolutely agree that restrictive diets can be beneficial for many people. For me it was mentally and physically unhealthy and I’m grateful to be out the other side of that dark time.

Concerts are fun?

I’m slowly learning how bad my cataplexy is. Apparently most people don’t have trouble drinking out of a normal water bottle? And don’t work to stay standing or to keep their head up when they laugh? These are things I’ve dealt with my whole life and had no idea they weren’t normal. I just thought I was lazy and didn’t have any self control. “Michelle why is your head on your desk?” “Michelle why are you slouching?” Um I don’t know because gravity sucks and I’m not as good at life as all of the other kids here? FALSE! Kid-version-of-me, teenage-version-of-me, freakin ADULT-version-of-me YOU HAVE CATAPLEXY!!!

I didn’t realize this until July. I had already been on Xyrem for THREE MONTHS, convinced I only had a few full body attacks every now and then, when a conversation with a neurotypical (i.e. my husband) revealed that laughing is an effortless thing for him. What the heck?!

I hate standing. Wherever I go, I look for the fastest and most socially appropriate way to sit on the floor, or get as many appendages as possible to be fully supported because cataplexy is real, being sleep deprived is exhausting, and gravity is a bitch. So concerts are my personal hell.

The last concert I went to where I had to stand up was Wilco at the Vic in Chicago in 2011. It was a disaster. Picture a girl who “faints” during the opening band and gets grilled about what drugs and alcohol she’s mixing. Fun fact, the girl is stone cold sober and had a full body cataplexy attack but we wouldn’t know that for another five years. Unfortunately we never got to see Wilco. I was tested up one side and down the other for epilepsy and other neurological disorders after that attack and when the basics were ruled out I was diagnosed with “migraines with aura; high stroke risk.”

Fast forward to Saturday night at the Sprint Pavilion in Charlottesville. Portugal. The Man. + comfy grass seating! I’ve been to concerts at the Pavilion since the Wilco mess but this is the first concert I’ve been to since the cataplexy realization. It was freeing to understand why staying upright is so exhausting. I was able to lie down on the grass and be a floppasaur without any inhibitions. Trading hyper vigilance for relaxation felt amazing and from my cozy spot on the grass I realized for the first time that concerts can be fun.

When You “Wake” Me Up

It’s SLEEPY CATURDAY so it’s time to pull out another cat post from my drafts folder! ICYMI my cat posts run deep.  Without further ado here is me as a cat “waking up”.  Keep an eye on the cat on the right, Misty Bear.

This is what I look like when I’m “waking up”.  I think I look awake. I’ll tell you I’m about to wake up. I’ll say “just give me 7 minutes.”  Friends, this person is not awake and they are NOT waking up.  If a person with narcolepsy tells you they’re waking up you shouldn’t believe them. Or at least you shouldn’t believe them any more than you believe them when they tell you to move out of the way of the unicorn/tarantula/”insert narcoleptic hallucination here” that is in the corner.  Because they are going back to sleep just as quickly as…wait they never woke up.

The best way to wake up a person with narcolepsy is…I have no idea.  Unmedicated I can’t get out of bed.  It’s almost physically impossible because my brain has nothing going for it and it won’t stop REMming.  My best bet is 17 hours of sleep, half a liter of water, and a light lamp.  When I was taking stimulants, I would set my alarm for 1 hour before I needed to be out of bed so that they would have time to kick in and then I could groggily and sleepily go about my day.  Now on Xyrem I actually wake up more easily than I ever did before.  Getting out of bed is still my least favorite part of the day, but when I wake up I feel like I’m actually conscious more often than not.

Before Xyrem?  Misty Bear and I were one.

Do you have any recommendations for PWN who are not taking medication?