The power of a hug

October 14, 2017

Somehow, I did it. Despite the crappy weather that makes me feel horrible, I managed to not only survive the short weekend with my friends, but to enjoy it!

Ok, it wasn’t all great. I did feel like shit part of the time. But having friends there made it easier to handle in some ways.

Of course, having friends there also made it harder to handle. They went on walks when I couldn’t, and while someone was always hanging out at the house with me, I know they limited themselves to do it. I wanted to be carefree and have fun, but life isn’t always that way.

Not that the others were carefree. One was frustrated with a spouse, another had job worries, etc. You know, life. It’s easy to forget about that stuff when you live alone and can’t work, but health does not guarantee an easy, stress-free life.

So there we were on Saturday night, having a lovely dinner, when it hit me. Symptoms. Fuck.

I went to lay down on the couch. It was an open space. No one could see me because the back of the couch blocked their view from the dining room table, but they knew I was there, and I would sometimes speak up to join in the conversation as they cleared the dishes and put away food. I was nauseated and in pain, not that they knew what my symptoms were. They just went about their evening, because they know that’s what I prefer. No fuss.

And then it got worse. Resting on the couch wasn’t enough. I found myself breathing hard, face pressed to a pillow, willing myself to feel better. I wanted to have fun with my friends. I didn’t want them to know what was going on.

It’s lousy that we have this stigma in our society. These are my closest friends, but I didn’t want to tell them what was going on because I didn’t want to sound whiny, or like I was trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

How ridiculous. How common. How sadly natural.

And then suddenly, as if she knew, one friend came over, leaned over the back of the couch, and asked earnestly if she could do anything for me. I said no, while at the same time, wishing I could ask for a hug. She’s not the huggy type, and I felt ridiculous. Still, her asking was like a hug in a way, and it suddenly brought tears to my eyes.

I never cry when I feel bad like this. It wasn’t that bad, on my own scale of suckitude, after all. But having someone care to ask made me emotional. I’m not used to that. Usually when I feel horrible like I did that night, I’m at home. Alone. With no one around to even be aware that something is wrong, much less to offer help.

Then another friend came over and simply gave me a hug. And when I let go to pull back, she held on. She kept hugging. She hugged and hugged. And it felt amazing.

The next day I pulled her aside to tell her how much that hug helped. But in the moment, I just felt it and enjoyed it.

Amazingly, I started feeling better right after that. Well enough to at least get up for some more medical cannabis. That helped some more. And then, suddenly (though not really suddenly at all) I was able to get up and move around. Ok, my knee still had shooting pains, so I wasn’t walking well. I had to sit with my leg up for the rest of the night. But the nausea went away. The pain because bearable. And my heart felt happy.

Because for once, friends were there to offer help and give me hugs. And that made all the difference.

 

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Painful weather, like it or not

October 5, 2017

It’s October in New England, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look at a calendar.

Every summer I count down until the third weekend in September. That’s when I know the weather will have finally shifted for good, and I’ll be feeling less pain, less fatigue, and less nausea. It’s truly a magical time.

But not this year.

This year we had cooler weather in August, and I was grateful for that, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. September was up and down. But surely October would be my time, right? Not so much.

When you have chronic illness, nothing is simple, and the unpredictable symptoms, flares, and other issues can make life hard to plan. Still, we do our best. For me, that means making more plans in the fall and winter, when I know I will feel better.

That’s why, even though a “simple” weekend away with my best girlfriends is incredibly hard, I felt I could do it if it was in the fall. My friends are understanding, and were perfectly happy to avoid planning anything in September, just in case. They get it. Every time we’ve had cooler, less humid weather, I get text messages and emails from friends saying, “This is your kind of weather! I hope you’re feeling up to enjoy it.” And I love that they understand.

So we planned for “safe” October. Who could have known? This isn’t our typical cool, crisp, wonderful New England autumn.

Thankfully the temperatures are cool enough, though way too warm for this time of year (upper 70s?!? Are you fucking kidding me?!?) My problem is the dew point. It’s supposed to get close to 70 this weekend! Even healthy people find that uncomfortable and for me, it will be near torture. But what can I do? The house we rented doesn’t have air conditioning – after all, none of us thought we’d need it. Higher on our list was finding a house with a working fire place. Last year we did this trip later in October and it snowed. We had a lovely time sitting by a roaring fire, and wanted to repeat that experience. If only.

I am in pain already, and it’s only beginning. Well yes, I’m always in pain, but this is worse, and I know it’s from the weather. My toes are swollen and painful. My knee is swollen and so painful that it’s hard to walk. My neck hurts. Everything is just wrong.

But I won’t stay home. I have been looking forward to this trip for a year. It is my one chance to do this. I will NOT give it up!

I will bring the medications that I can. I will be careful how I eat. And I will block out a lot of extra recovery time when I return. Still, I know this is going to be really rough. I will be in pain, nauseated, and fatigued. Thankfully, I will be surrounding by wonderful women, women I have known most of my life, the only non-relatives who knew me before any of my symptoms began, women who have always been supportive. And maybe most importantly, women who have always made me laugh, even at the worst of times.

So wish me luck. Because I want to be able to enjoy this weekend as much as possible. If only Mother Nature would cooperate.


How a weekend away is a 2 week ordeal

October 2, 2017

I’m going away this weekend and I’m super excited!

I used to travel all the time. 2 months at home felt like FOREVER. I could pack an overnight back without even thinking about it. I got on a plane multiple times each year and did some weeks and weekends within driving distance. A weekend away in the Berkshires, less than a 3 hour drive away, would be no big deal.

But that was then.

And this is now.

Now I have to plan. I am being super careful about washing my hands and avoiding germs. I can’t get sick now!

I need to bring food with me. I will be with friends and some food will be safe for me to eat, but I need to bring other food. So I went to the grocery store today (Monday) and carefully planned out what I will make and which days I will make it. I also promised to bake cookies to bring, and I can’t do big cooking on the same day I bake, because I won’t have enough energy for that, but I can’t make anything too far in advance because I want it all to be fresh.

The day before the trip I will do some packing, but most of my stuff (my ASV (which is like a CPAP), my medications, toiletries, and more) can’t be packed until the day of. I need to ration my energy that day. Thankfully, I only have to drive half an hour to a friends’ house that day and then she will do the rest of the driving from there. Still, even being a passenger will be tiring and painful.

I am already thinking about how to handle my food and medications on the day of the trip. I always feel like shit the first night I travel. So I am being careful to bring everything I need to take it all at the right times: I will take something to help with the pain and the nausea when we start to drive, something else for the pain when we arrive, then something else for the nausea a few hours after that. Between medical cannabis and pepto bismol, the right foods and lots of rest, I am hoping really hard that it won’t be too miserable. Thankfully, I will be with friends who will understand if I can’t hang out with them that night.

I have scheduled my medical appointments around this trip. I was able to get a physical therapy appointment just a couple days after I return, so hopefully that will help with the pain from the long car ride and sleeping in a less-than-great bed.

My calendar is empty for the first 2 days after my return. That will give me time to rest and recover. I will get a lot of sleep, watch tv and movies, crochet, and read. If I feel up to it I will do more, and if not, that’s ok too. During my recovery time, I still need to eat, and I might not be up to preparing food, so I am making sure to cook and freeze food now that I can eat when I return.

I want to travel more. I really, desperately do. But then I remember what a trip like this is like. I can manage it ok, because it is only two days. I will leave at noon on Friday and be home by 5pm on Sunday at the latest. And I won’t be flying. I know it would be much harder if I was flying, for many reasons. It would be more painful. I might feel anxious at being “trapped” on a plan. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be able to bring any cannabis with me, and I can’t imagine how I would manage my symptoms without it.

At the same time, a friend and I are trying to schedule another weekend that I can visit her. The drive is less than 2 hours, but I would be driving myself. She would provide food I could eat during the entire visit, but aside from that, everything else would be the same. Resting for days in advance, blocking out days afterwards for rest, figuring out medications and other things to help alleviate my symptoms while knowing that I will almost definitely feel like shit the night that I arrive.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. But I know it will be in the end. Even thought it won’t be easy. It won’t be like it was before. But hopefully it will still be fun.


The real reason I wasn’t feeling well

September 26, 2017

I have noticed an interesting pattern recently. It goes like this:

  • One evening: Hmm, I don’t feel well. Must be the usual chronic illness stuff.
  • The next day: Wow, I feel really bad. This CI stuff is acting weird.
  • That night: Oh boy, this is not only bad, but also not quite the same as the usual CI stuff.
  • The next day: I’ll just push through. It’s probably a mini flare. Be quiet voice-in-the-back-of-my-head! I don’t want to hear this is something else.
  • That night: Oh crap, I think I’m sick.
  • The next day: Oh boy, I’m DEFINITELY sick!

And that’s what happened this weekend. It took two days of feeling guilty and trying to push through before I realized I was sick. Then I spent an entire day on the couch watching tv, not even trying to do anything “productive,” and I felt so much better afterwards!

It’s hard when you have a chronic illness and have “sick” symptoms on a regular basis. You have to keep living your life, and often, resting wouldn’t help anyway. But sometimes it’s actually a bug, and rest is just what you need. Then it’s important to give yourself that rest.

I’m not back to “normal” yet today, but I feel SO much better. Maybe one day I’ll listen to that voice in the back of my head and realize I’ve got a bug a lot sooner. I haven’t figured that part out yet, but hopefully one day I will.

And in the meantime, I hope you all can give yourselves time to rest and recover when you get a bug. It’s lousy when it happens, but at least, unlike chronic illness, it’s temporary!


Going public is like coming out over and over

September 13, 2017

Once upon a time, no one knew I had health problems unless I told them. Ok, that’s not entirely true. There were signs. It’s just that most people didn’t pick up on that signs, or I could shrug them off as an injury or something. It was easy to lie.

Then I decided to write a book.* Now, when you Google my name, that book comes up. And it’s all about having chronic illnesses.

This has been such an interesting experience. It makes my journey public in a way it never was, because even though most people don’t Google my name, I know that they could. And that leads me to think and speak about my health in different ways.

Take last night, for example. I was giving a presentation in front of a group on a different topic entirely. Someone asked a question and I was answering it with a few examples. And then I mentioned medical stuff as a relevant example. There was was, in front of a small group, pointing at a screen, and looking completely healthy except for my knee braces. And I felt odd mentioning my health, but it was relevant. And I even said, “this is no secret – if you Google me, you’ll see the book I wrote on this topic.” And I saw some eyes move south to those knee braces.

It’s like coming out. I joined an online dating site a few months ago. I was taking a walk with a neighbor and she was asking me about it. We didn’t know each other well, but were friendly. She asked if I had met anyone and I said I’d met a couple interesting people. She asked about them, and as I mentioned the man, everything was normal. When I mentioned the woman, I saw her hesitate. I watched her brain churn as she processed that bit, and then we moved on. With other people, where there’s context, I might directly say that I’m bisexual. But no matter what, if the topic is going to come up, I need to come out over and over again, because whether I’m dating or single, no one will know I’m bi if I don’t mention it.

And every time, I wonder how the other person will react. Will they be accepting? Will they be jerks? Will they ask the same old tired questions?

Just like mention my health problems. Every time, it’s necessary to specify what I’m talking about. Every time, I wonder how they will react. Will they be accepting? Will they be jerks? Will they ask the same old tired questions?

Sometimes I want to wear a sign on my head, or print business cards to hand out: YES, I HAVE CHRONIC ILLNESSES AND NO, THE DETAILS ARE NOT YOUR BUSINESS. Except that now, with the book, some of the details are out there. So they could be your business. Still, it doesn’t mean I want to talk about it all the damn time.

But you see, there’s also the part we don’t usually think about: it’s freeing! Every time I start to question whether or not to mention something, I remember, it’s out there anyway, so why not talk about it? Is it ok to share this? Might as well. Is this a secret? Apparently, not any more.

Again, it’s like coming out. I don’t have to watch my pronouns anymore. I can just speak about past loves and lovers like anyone else would. Sure, I have to use my judgement for safety. Yes, some people will be jerks, but there aren’t any secrets.

That isn’t to say I don’t have limitations. I still write things on this blog, for example, that I wouldn’t say publicly. There’s definitely something to be said for having a pseudonym. Still, to be able to speak publicly and not question myself constantly is HUGE!

It also means more people in my life know about my health issues. I’m more open about it on Facebook because, after all, they see me promoting my book. There’s no question about it at all anymore.

Coming out about orientation, health, or anything else is a personal choice. This isn’t something I would have done even just a few years ago. I am so glad I have. For me, right now, this was definitely the right move. If it’s not right for you, though, that’s cool, too. You have to do what works for you.

Have you been public about your health stuff? How has that gone for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

*It’s frustrating that I can’t tell you what the book is. I want to so badly, but that would defeat the purpose of having a pseudonym here.


Feeling blah

August 30, 2017

This has been an odd summer for me. The thing is, I’m not sure how much of that is because of my chronic illnesses, and how much might be coming from something else.

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For one thing, the weather has been unusually not-too-horrible. I can go outside! On top of that, I seem to be less sensitive to air pressure and humidity than I have been in the last 10 years or so. More ability to go outside! That doesn’t mean I can always go out, but on days that would have caused extreme pain or trouble breathing before, I’m actually doing ok.

On top of that, for the first time since I was 18, I live in an apartment with central air conditioning. This. Is. Awesome!

Because of all of that, I have less fatigue and less pain than in previous summers.

So why do I feel so blah? Why have I been a bit moody? Sure, I still have more pain and more fatigue than at other times of the year, but is that it? I keep thinking it is. I keep thinking that when summer is over, I’ll feel better.

It’s not like me to be so uninterested in certain things. I have been trying to do some part time work, but I’ve barely done anything for my fledgling business all summer. At first that seemed ok. I had worked too hard in the spring and was burned out. So I took a break. The problem is, I still have no desire to go back to it.

The thing that really worries me, though, is that I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t get a dog after all. You regular readers know that I’ve been trying to get a dog for more than 2 years, with one problem after another cropping up. And now I wonder if a dog is too much work and too much responsibility for me. And I love dogs, but are they worth it?

It occurred to me that these are symptoms of depression. But I’m not depressed. I’m still very happy. I’m very interested in other things. I have been excited to try some new crochet patterns. Last week I finally picked up a project that I had let go of for over a month, and now I’m excited to work on it again. I’m loving spending time with friends.

So why the hell am I doubting if I should get a dog? Why am I avoiding work?

I think it’s the summer effect. This summer isn’t as bad for me this year, it’s true. But I think it’s affecting my mood anyway. Otherwise, this just makes no sense.

In 3 more weeks I should know.

A lot of people don’t like working. That’s ok. But not wanting to get a dog? If that keeps up, I’ll know something is truly wrong.


Finding clothes that fit with chronic illnesses

August 23, 2017

I went clothes shopping yesterday. Ugh. Chronic illness makes it so much harder to find clothes that look and feel good, and not only in the obvious ways.

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The obvious ways are simple: shopping itself leads to fatigue and pain. Shopping is hard! There’s the walking, the reaching for things, the taking clothes on and off. If I dare to try on shoes, I’m likely to trigger my foot pain, which is already worse than usual from all of the walking. It’s easy for something to irritate the skin. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about the shopping part of shopping. I’m talking about the finding clothes that actually look and feel good part of shopping.

Shirts are hard. Prednisone caused my boobs to grow too big for my frame. At 5’1″ and 126 pounds, I shouldn’t be a large 36DD, bordering on 36F. That’s just ridiculous. Even when I lost weight and was down to a more reasonable 116, my boobs were still a 34DD. The t-shirt I’m wearing as I write this looks pretty good, though the neckline pulls away from my body thanks to my big boobs. A lot of other tops just don’t fit. My boobs pull the fabric up and away. Or the style is meant for smaller women. But I’m 5’1″, so a larger size is often too long.

Coats are brutal. It is almost impossible to find a coat that is big enough for my boobs and not ridiculously long in the sleeves. If the sleeves fit, usually the shoulders are too tight and it’s hard to zip/button up.

Bras are tough because of my scoliosis. In addition to the curves themselves (3 of them, thanks Mother Nature) I also have a short torso. That makes bras shopping much harder. It makes it harder to buy shirts, too.

Shorts are easier, as long as I don’t get too self-conscious. Because it’s pretty obvious that the legs of the shorts aren’t even. There’s that scoliosis again. It caused one hip to turn and the other to pull up. It’s obvious on skirts and dresses, too, which makes me sad sometimes.

And then there are shoes. Oh, the shoes! Sneakers are no problem, but it’s summer, and I would love to wear sandals. I need sandals that:

  1. Take my orthodics.
  2. Don’t have a split toe area – my orthodics are full length and need to stay that way. They go past my toes.
  3. Have a wide enough opening in the toe area so that there’s no pressure on my toes even when they become very swollen, which they often do in the summer.
  4. Have an adjustable strap across the top of my foot, as close to the ankle as possible.
  5. Are made for a very narrow foot.

Believe it or not, I have found sandals that work! Unfortunately, they are $170, which is totally not in my budget. *sigh*

Yesterday I was shopping for two things: bras and pants. For the first time, shopping for pants had an additional challenge: accommodating my knee braces. You see, I only got these knee braces in May, so I haven’t had a problem. There were a couple of cooler days in the spring, so I wore leggings under the knee braces – and immediately learned that’s not a great option. It works well enough, but the braces don’t stay in place as well and I was constantly tugging at them.

Friends keep telling me to wear leggings and skirts all winter, but I don’t want to. Aside from the braces slipping, I don’t want to wear skirts when it’s cold and snowing! Yes, it’s possible to stay warm that way, but honestly, I’ll just be more comfortable in pants.

I got lucky. As a short person, wide-legged pants make me look even shorter. But finally, FINALLY the style changed to skinny jeans! For the first time, I look fabulous in jeans! They show off my butt – one of my nicer features – and don’t make me look shorter than I already am.

And I can’t wear them anymore. I hate this. Sure, I’ll pull out a pair for a date occasionally, and skip the knee braces. But on a day-to-day basis, I will need pants that fit over the braces.

I bought 2 pairs yesterday. One has wider legs and doesn’t look amazing, but it’s ok. The other has narrower legs in a stretchy material and looks better – if you ignore the bumps that are visible in the knee area. I don’t love either, and they cost more than I’d like. Maybe I’ll return them. I’m not sure yet.

I have accepted many limitations due to my health. And I understand that I will never be able to ski, hike, or go skydiving. No more riding a bike, spending an entire day out with friends, or having a full time job. But is it really so much to ask that I can wear “normal” clothes?!

Apparently it is.


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