The doshas of Candyland

Board game

When my new mast cell specialist told me she first trained in Ayurveda, I had no idea what that meant, but I was pretty sure it was a threat to my committed relationship with macaroni and cheese. While I braced for shaming, she asked a million questions–everything from my childhood to diet to sleep to how I like to relax.

“You’re a kapha,” she said, handing me a piece of paper detailing the three Ayurvedic doshas: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. She explained Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India and doshas are frameworks for understanding people’s constitutions based on five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Most people have one predominant dosha, which can provide insight into living a fuller, healthier life. Kapha types are composed of the elements of water and earth, Pitta of fire and water, and Vata air and ether.

I quickly looked to the Kapha column and read: Heavy, slow cold, oily. My face scrunched into a silent WTF, as she continued talking. 

“Some patients have tons of questions, others get overwhelmed and forget easily, but Kapha types need to be pushed and motivated,” she said. “Kapha is slow to learn, but never forgets.”

As someone who takes great pride in my memory, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I figured if she took the time to learn the nuances of mast cell disease, I could at least learn a little about Ayurveda.

The earth and water elements were certainly accurate. In college, I seriously considered majoring in geology, until my professor gave a lecture memorializing her friends who had fallen into volcanoes for science. I like rocks, but I don’t like fire. That day, I decided my major was political science, because I didn’t want to die in a volcano, as if there were no other geological career options. 

******

Me: Why am I so hungry?

Nicolle: End of summer… time to fatten up for winter

Me: Apparently, I’m the overweight dosha in Ayurveda. Kapha, the heavy, oily dosha that watches lots of TV. The TV part upsets me as much as the oily part. 

Nicolle: You’re not going to get fat from one meal!

Me: Kapha types are also good managers, so that’s probably why I have so much couch time

Nicolle: It is ok to watch TV and relax sometimes… probably good for you actually

Me: I’m also soft

Nicolle: Did you take your relaxi taxi?

Me: Yeah, but I don’t feel relaxed. Am I lazy?

Nicolle: Is this real? No, of course you are never lazy.

Me: Ancient India real

Nicolle sends me a link to a Kapha description which reads, “Earth and water are both by nature: dense, heavy, cold, static, and dull.”

Me: NOW I’M DULL?

Nicolle: None of that is you

Me: Maybe my social media dosha is different

Nicolle: I don’t have the mental capacity to learn about this right now

*****

Of course, as a Kapha, I couldn’t forget those descriptors, but it took me awhile to warm up to the concept. I started noticing Kapha aspects throughout my day: how sitting in the woods relaxes me and day naps destroy me. I began paying attention to my strengths and weaknesses, not just my symptoms. Heavy and oily qualities aside, I began to understand myself in a new way. 

I also began calling myself Gloppy. You know the characters from the board game, Candyland? Specifically the 1984 version?

Gloppy bio reads, “Just before you get to the Candy Castle, you’ll pass through the Molasses Swamp, where you just might meet Gloppy. Don’t be afraid, Gloppy might look like a monster, but he’s really a lovable glop of molasses goo. But Gloppy gets very lonely sitting in the swamp all by himself. So, give him a hug and you’ll have a friend forever.”

I’m pretty sure Candyland and ancient Indian medicine are mutually exclusive, but heavy and lovable Gloppy is definitely Kapha predominant. No offense to ancient Sanskrit, but saying “Gloppy” is way more fun. And now I say it A LOT. Especially around six o’clock.

*****

Me: It’s Gloppy time! Kapha is 6-10 AM and PM, Pitta is 10-2 AM and PM, and Vata is 2-6 AM and PM.

Nicolle: So, these are supposed to be your best times of the day?

Me: Yes, which is actually true

Nicolle: What do they suggest you do during the other times?

Me: Lay in the dirt

*****

My specialist loves to say, “Ayurveda is the original personalized genomic medicine.” This didn’t mean much to me at first, but now after several appointments, I understand Ayurveda values the individual patient. Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all medical system. It embraces the personalized approach that every MCAS patient dreams of, since every MCAS patient has different needs and triggers. Additionally, Ayurveda not only addresses the patient’s disease, but their whole life. I’m glad to have a doctor with additional training outside of academic medicine, which frankly has caused a lot of harm to mast cell disease patients. It is empowering to be seen as something more than a disease. 

Clearly, I have a lot more to learn about how Ayurveda can support my life, and I’m grateful to have someone to teach me. For more information on Ayuverdic medicine and doshas, check out The Ayurvedic Institute. Also, I highly recommend this Podcast for Healing Neurology episode.

*****

For this blog post, I had to review my messages with Nicolle to quote it accurately. I was reminded once again why I am so glad Nicolle is still alive. She tolerates me.

Here’s to hoping Ayurveda will help with my apparent neuroinflammation!

P.S. Have you signed up for my monthly emails? Every month, I send out email-only content about my latest advocacy work.

7 ways dog gyms are better than human gyms

Toy poodle Quixote at the dog agility gym

Life changing differences I’ve noticed since starting dog agility

  • Peanut butter and cheese are encouraged.
  • The equipment is pretty basic. You know how a tunnel works. There are no weights. 
  • All shapes, sizes, and abilities are welcome–from Chihuahua to Great Dane.
  • No one stares at you in a room full of dogs. 
  • Barking drowns out your heavy breathing. 
  • When you get tired, you can just say, “My dog needs water.”
  • Someone will probably check out your butt, but they are likely a dog. 

Related reading: How dog agility allows me to exercise with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and dysautonomia

Handwriting is overrated

“How’s your handwriting?” she asked. I’m seeing a new MCAS specialist and she is digging into every area of my life.

Even my deepest, darkest, writerly secrets. 

“Uh, not great,” I said, thinking of the bottom cabinet drawer in my kitchen. The one I never open. A rash began to prickle along the right side of my neck. 

“Can you give me a handwriting sample?” she asked.

I stretched my hand, picked up a black pen, and wrote the following:

This handwriting test is significantly more comfortable than skin biopsies or brain swabs, less nerve-racking than a blood draw, and certainly less disgusting than harvesting a poop sample. However, as my hand starts to cramp, I would argue a pee test is easiest. 

Although my service dog may disagree. 

While Sancho is a master at the bathroom stall tuck, I struggle to maneuver my body gracefully in cramped places. I am stunned when clinics do not have ADA compliant bathrooms, let alone expect me to collect a sample in a space smaller than a bathtub. My unsteady hands do not discriminate between water, precious coffee, or in this case, urine. Just ask my sometimes pee sprinkled poodle.

So, I suppose you have a valid reason for this test.

On a scale of 1-10, I want to cut my hand off now, because it’s cramping and shaky. 

Keeya's handwriting sample
My handwriting sample

*****

I started journaling at age 7, when my grandma gave me a diary for Christmas. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer. However, it took several decades to realize I’m a humor writer.

Picture of Keeya's 1994 journal
December 6, 1994: “Today I desided to be a writer. I am a good speller…”

Aspiring writers are quickly taught the benefits of handwriting. A pen and paper help us access our feelings and unleash creativity. There’s even science to back it up. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, goes so far as to say, “Writing by computer is a more shallow practice.” 

My journals are my most prized possession. I have at least one for every year of my childhood, preserving my best stories. However, as I got older, handwriting became more difficult. I struggled to focus on my story as the ache in my hand became unbearable. Eventually, I got a laptop, but guilt reminded me I should be filling notebooks.

When I was diagnosed with MCAS, I stopped arguing with my body. I assumed my mast cells were causing the weakness in my hands. Handwriting was unnecessarily hard with keyboards and dictation so readily available. I accepted my disability. Kind of. 

I stopped handwriting, but I kept buying notebooks. Lots of notebooks: standard size spirals, pocket pads, designer bound journals. I stuffed them into the bottom drawer of my kitchen until they weighed so much the drawer almost broke.

Picture of 37 notebooks of various size and two toy sized poodles
So many empty notebooks.
Photo of two notebooks made from vintage books
To be fair, some were gifts from friends with equally morbid senses of humor.

I’m still clinging onto an image of what a writer should look like, but this is definitely not it.

*****

As soon as I finished my writing sample, I chucked my pen across the table. My hand throbbed for at least 20 minutes. I sent my specialist a picture of the page.

“It looks good!” she responded encouragingly. She is more worried about my tremors and imbalance. I should be too, but right now I’m disappointed she didn’t definitively ban me from notebooks like she banned me from gluten. That would be so much easier than facing my feelings.

I know in my heart, or at least my hand, this is the end of The Drawer of Empty Pages.