The Alexandria Papers

By Dr. Alexandria Szeman

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The Alexandria Papers
The Alexandria Papers Newsletter
By Dr. Alexandria Szeman  • Issue #2 • View online
Whew, it’s been a rough week. On Monday, I went to pick up groceries, at Senior Hour (when did I become a “senior”?), and on the way, I remembered I’d forgotten something on the order. I dashed quickly into the store, treating myself to a Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino and a fresh doughnut from the grocery store’s bakery. Since April 2018, starting with a 21-month migraine and continuing with the pandemic, I haven’t treated myself to anything from bakeries or restaurants, preferring to make everything myself. Since I’d eaten those doughnuts before and never had a problem, I had the coffee and the doughnut as soon as I got home.
In the middle of eating, I was slammed with such a fierce pain in my head that I thought I was having a stroke or an aneurysm. When I stood up, I almost fell down, I was so unsteady. And just like that, I had a severe hemiplegic migraine attack.
I know of only one food ingredient that triggers a migraine for me so quickly: maltodextrin (modified food starch). I called the bakery and asked them if they’d changed their ingredients. “Not recently,” they told me. I asked them to check the ingredients for maltodextrin. To my horror, one of the final ingredients, never present before, was “traces of maltodextrin.”
The young man who answered the phone was very distressed, saying that he didn’t know maltodextrin triggered migraine attacks. “We have the top 8 allergy triggers listed,” he said. “But I’m adding maltodextrin to that list.” I told him to be sure to add “honey” to the list since, as a person severely allergic to bees, honey is a huge – and dangerous – allergen. “Honey?” he said. “From bees?” Yes, Virginia, honey from bees. He added it to the list and noted also that allergens can trigger migraine attacks in people with that disorder.
I spent this past week flat on my back in bed with a severe hemiplegic migraine. Fortunately, I had no seizure. I also learned that I cannot eat some of the things I previously enjoyed, like the doughnuts from this particular bakery. The pandemic changed many things in our lives, including, apparently, the ingredients that some major bakeries put in their products.
I was still able to read sometimes on my iPad, since I can adjust the font size and read without my glasses, but mostly I listened to an audiobook this week. Here’s what I’ve been reading.

Three years ago, I began reading articles about mindfulness – being “present” – during cooking, baking, and eating. I long ago realized that crocheting and knitting are mindfulness activities for me, but I hadn’t thought of cooking and baking in that light, though I’ve been cooking since I was 7 or 8 and baking shortly after. I’d never previously regarded baking or cooking as a way of putting mindfulness more often into my days, but several articles have convinced me that I need to pay attention to that important area of my life.
8 Tips to Add Mindfulness to Your Mealtime | Healthline
I’ve tried mindfulness for pain relief, but I can only manage it for brief periods of time as it seems to increase the pain significantly. Maybe it’s only increasing my awareness of the pain and if I could just stay “present” with that severe pain a little longer… just a little bit longer… oh, well, I’ll keep trying.
Meanwhile, professionals are apparently beginning to see the link between migraine disorder and early childhood trauma, and that link somehow doesn’t surprise me.
Early childhood trauma increases migraine risk |
Trauma and Sexual Abuse
In the 1960s and 1970s, my family called it “shell-shock” when Vietnam veterans returned from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) for anyone except veterans and other survivors of war or of the Nazi Concentration Camps.
Thirty years ago, when my therapist told me I was clearly exhibiting the symptoms of CPTSD, I was shocked. “I’ve never been in a war,” I said to her, but she begged to differ: “Your entire childhood was a war.” That sentence changed my perspective of my life and of everything I’ve survived. I know many of you survivors out there are, unfortunately, in that same place with me.
The Post Traumatic Stress Response Helps People Avoid Danger | Psychology Today
Mental Health
I am so grateful for all the celebrities who are helping change society’s attitudes toward mental health issues. Authors Jenny Lawson (Furiously Happy and her blog The Bloggess), Chrissy Teigen (Cravings and Hungry for More), and Matt Haig (Notes on a Nervous Planet and Reasons to Stay Alive) along with actors Wil Wheaton (Star Trek TNG and Stand by Me) and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) are speaking out about depression, anxiety, trauma, perfectionism, and more. Sharing their own mental health struggles makes me feel much less alone.
My name is Wil Wheaton. I live with chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed.
I always like Lucy Fuggle’s (Tolstoy Therapy) book lists and reading recommendations. She’s not afraid to include the classics in her lists, including books that seem to scare others away, like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is one of my favorites. Though I’ve read it several times, I began listening to the unabridged version of it this week. At 61+ hours of audio, the book promised to last me a while. I find it challenging to keep some of the characters sorted, especially if they’re historical figures whose importance is not explicitly explained (did Tolstoy’s audience understand all the allusions?), but I’m still enjoying the audiobook immensely.
12 novels to lose yourself in if you haven't been reading lately 
| Tolstoy Therapy
Cooking and Baking
I began baking bread in earnest in 2018 because that huge list of ingredients on most bread wrappers convinced me that one of those things might be keeping that 21-month intractable migraine triggered. A friend of mine got a new bread machine and gave me her older version. I’d used the Zojirushi bread machine several times, but during the intractable migraine, I began using it daily. Now, I’m working on sourdough bread. As I write this, my starter is rising in the crock. “Ripening,” I guess I should say. Meanwhile, I’m reading everything I can on the basics of sourdough and its techniques.
You Started Making Sourdough Bread... Now What? | Bon Appétit
My Books
I’m slowly beginning to work on my new books again because the 21-month migraine (2018-2019) followed by 2020 — with the pandemic, lockdowns, quarantine, more lockdowns — threw me off my writing for quite a long while. My ebooks continue to be only 99¢ each. Other authors advised me to put my books on sale during the pandemic. “It’ll only be for a few weeks,” they said. We’re still in the pandemic, so my ebooks are still on sale. Enjoy. Alexandria Constantinova Szeman: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle
Till Next Week
I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, so please do let me know. The best place to reach me is Twitter, but you can also contact me via my blog/website: The Alexandria Papers.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Dr. Alexandria Szeman

Alexandria shares articles on Mindfulness, Migraine, Trauma & Childhood Sexual Abuse, Mental Health, Books, and Cooking & Baking.

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