Many possible causes, no answers

August 20, 2016

When someone who’s generally healthy feels bad, they can usually tell you why: they drank too much last night, they haven’t been sleeping enough, they’re under a lot of stress, they’re getting sick.

When you have a chronic illness, it isn’t always so clear.

I was doing unusually well over the last few weeks. I wasn’t feeling as good as I do in the fall and winter, but as far as summer goes, my pain and fatigue and other symptoms weren’t too bad.

Then I started feeling unusually bad. I was more fatigued. I was depressed. I was in more pain. The symptoms ebbed and flowed but were always around. What happened?

I weighed the possibilities:

  • Maybe it’s the weather. But I’ve been staying in air conditioning. And it’s hot and humid, but not nearly as bad as it was last week. There’s no reason I should feel so much worse now.
  • Maybe I’m getting my period. Thanks to my PCOS it’s entirely unpredictable and rare. That was an option for a couple days, but I didn’t get it (and if I was going to, I would have within 2 days of the start of the symptoms.)
  • Maybe I got glutened. After all, it started just a couple hours after lunch at a restaurant. The symptoms weren’t as bad as a typical gluten reaction, but maybe it was the tiniest amount of contamination. This seemed possible at first, but that was 4 days ago. I would be feeling better by now.
  • Maybe it’s some new, unknown thing. That happens sometimes. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know.
  • Maybe I’m getting sick. That would make sense. My body could be working extra hard to fight off some tiny little bug that most people wouldn’t even notice.

And of course, I don’t have an answer. Except for a quick trip to pick up a prescription and some groceries yesterday, I haven’t left the house in 4 days. These days, that’s a lot. I’ve been going out most days, even if it’s only briefly, and I’m rarely home for more than 2 or 3 days at a time.

The weird part is, I have no desire to go out or do anything. I know there’s stuff around the house I need to do, and I want to do it, but I just can’t bring myself to even get started. I’m not depressed, I just don’t have any spark. I’m too tired. I’ve been sleeping well enough, and I feel ok when I wake up, but my energy just remains flat. I think I’m going ok and I try to walk around, and my foot hurts too much. Or my knee hurts. Or something else. My stomach bothers me occasionally, not in any ways I haven’t felt before, but this time there aren’t any reasonable triggers. The pain feels like it’s coming from the humidity in the air, but what about the fatigue and stomach issues? Maybe those are too?

The frustrating part is that I don’t know, I can’t know. I won’t have any answers. Even when I eventually feel better, I probably won’t know why this happened. Just like when I have good days, I don’t know what causes them. It’s a big, frustrating mystery. And it affects my entire life.


What if this symptom is different?

August 16, 2016

How am I supposed to answer the question, “What causes X symptom?” The thing about the kinds of autoimmune illnesses I have is that the symptoms can vary a lot. My Hashimoto’s leads to fatigue and difficulty adjusting to temperature changes. Someone else with Hashi’s might not have those symptoms and might instead be overweight and have no eyebrows. And I have multiple illnesses like that.

Even better, some of the illnesses have overlapping symptoms. The pain could be from Hashimoto’s, Celiac, or connective tissue disease. So when the doctor asks, “What’s causing the pain?” I just shrug. Sometimes I can tell. Sometimes I can’t. So be it.

But this also means that when there’s some new symptoms, I just assume it’s because of these illnesses. I make that assumption even when I probably shouldn’t.

Blood when I poop? That’s probably the Celiac. Pain in a new place? That’s probably the connective tissue disease. Except I could be wrong.

I often have new symptoms that are strange enough or severe enough that most people would see a doctor. Sometimes it’s clear what the cause is, but sometimes it isn’t. And I don’t want to be rushing to the doctor every time. It’s tiring, it takes time, and my doctor is too likely to stop taking me seriously.

The thing is, what if it’s serious? I wonder about this sometimes. A friend had symptoms that her doctors attributed to her chronic illness. She pestered them to run more tests. It turned out to be cancer. A friend without chronic illnesses recently had severe pain out of the blue. He went to the emergency room and had all sorts of tests done. It turned out to be nothing much. It could have also been nothing important. When is it worth running the extra tests? When isn’t it?

I wonder if other people with chronic illnesses have these concerns? I’m I being to cavalier? Should I take certain symptoms more seriously? If so, which ones? And would my doctors also overlook my symptoms and automatically attribute them to my chronic illnesses?

What do you think? Do you ever wonder about this? How do you handle it? Please comment and let me know what you do.


Because it can never be simple

August 9, 2016

The appointment went well. The doctor was great as always: smart, personable, and though always busy, acting like he has plenty of time to talk to me and answer my questions. Yes, I like this guy a lot. His new fellow (it’s a teaching hospital) seemed really good, too. I left with a plan.

The next step went better than usual. Instead of waiting 6 months or more for my 3-month followup, I actually got an appointment in just 3 months! I was told they had hired new residents and that freed up some of my doctor’s time.

I happily went for blood work. They usually stop taking patients at 5:15 and it was 5:20, but they said they were happy to squeeze me in. Good thing I’m an easy draw!

Yes, everything was going smoothly. Until it wasn’t. Because apparently I can never just simply have a good, smooth, simple appointment.

I felt the needle moving around my arm. Then it moved more. It wasn’t slipping, it felt deliberate. I didn’t look – I never do – but I asked what was wrong. The phlebotomist told me the vein was moving away from the needle, and that that can happen with overuse.

Overuse. Sheesh! Well, it was probably true. I’ve gotten A LOT of blood drawn over the past 20+ years since the doctors first took my symptoms seriously. And it was almost always in my left arm, because I have so much more pain in my right. And it was usually in the same spot on the same vein, because that’s the one that pops right out, practically asking to be stuck. So yeah, I could imagine overuse was a possibility. This would suck. I’d have trouble doing it on my right. But what could I do?

She offered to try a different vein in my left arm but I said no, to just do my right. I didn’t like the way that needle had felt in my arm. It had made me a bit queasy. I just wanted this over. Then I felt funny.

Then she was running into the room with water. Wait, hadn’t she been standing next to me? Apparently I’d lost a minute somehow. She was calling out, “Bring me some juice ASAP!” I drank the water. She put a cool wet papertowel on the back of my neck. The room was swimming. My face was tingling. I felt foggy-headed. I drank more. I was having trouble sitting up straight. There was juice in front of me. I drank it. She said my color was coming back. I hate to think how bad I must have looked before that, because I doubted I was looking so hot at that moment. I drank more juice. There was a nurse in the room. A doctor came in. They all looked concerned. Oh boy.

The room was steady now, but I felt a bit shakey. I walked around a bit, because they wanted me to prove I could. Thankfully, this was one of the only times I hadn’t driven to the office; I had taken the bus so I could avoid rush hour traffic going home. I was worn down, but generally feeling better. But I was confused. I wasn’t foggy-headed, just confused. What the fuck just happened?!?

The staff kept reassuring me, saying that this was common. Maybe it’s common to them, but not to me! I was seconds away from fainting and I don’t faint. Ever. Ok, once, but I had lost a lot of blood that day without eating anything and that was 19 years ago. This made no sense! Once last year I had 9 vials drawn as a fasting test and I just felt a little light-headed afterwards. I drank water, ate a granola bar, and was completely fine. I’ve never had anything like this! And besides, she hadn’t even drawn blood!

The staff was great. I left the office after drinking more juice, eating a bit, and promising to eat more when I got home. Good thing I always carry food with me, because all they had was gluten-y food! I wasn’t hungry in the slightest, but I forced myself to eat.I promised them I would take an Uber home instead of the bus. Luckily I had just used Uber for the first time a couple weeks ago, so I had the app on my phone and knew how to use it. The doctor gave me her cell phone number and made me promise to text her so she’d know I got home safely.

Waiting on the street corner for the Uber sucked, but he finally came and we made it home. I was in the office so long that by then, ironically, traffic wasn’t so bad. The minute I got home I pulled off my clothes and put on something comfy, texted the doctor that I was ok, grabbed some juice, and got on the couch for some light tv. After several hours of lying down, watching tv, and feeling like crap, I suddenly started to feel better. Thanks to my chronically ill body, of course, I still felt fatigued the next day from the whole experience, so it took another full day of resting on the couch before I felt decent enough to leave the house. And then finally I could think about all of this.

The phlebotomist, nurse, and doctor who had crowded around me all mentioned something with a “v” that I couldn’t remember. When my doctor and his fellow heard about what happened, the fellow called me. We talked for 20 minutes. She felt it was most likely a vasovagal response. Ah hah! That was the “v” word the others had used! Today I saw my naturopath for a checkup and she also felt I’d had a vasovagal response.

Basically, it’s the body overreacting to a trigger. Often the trigger is the sight of blood. The sight of blood doesn’t phase me in the least. The feeling of a needle moving around in my arm, on the other hand….

So that’s the theory. And there’s no way to know if it will happen when I return next week for that blood draw again. Or if it will ever happen again. Maybe it won’t. But with my luck healthwise, that’s probably too much to hope for.

So much for my simple appointment.


If only I didn’t have to shower

August 5, 2016

There are so many things I took for granted before the chronic fatigue set in. Showering was one of them.

I’m lucky to have access to a shower. I have clean running water any time I want it. The

shower-653671_1280

Wish mine was this fancy!

thing is, I don’t always have the energy to utilize it.

Baths aren’t an option for me. Getting in out and out of the tub is too hard, too painful, and too likely to lead to a fall. Besides, with my low blood pressure, I’ve been warned away from hot baths.

I keep a stool in my shower, and helps that I can sit when I need to. Still, some days even sitting in the shower takes too much energy.

It’s exhausted for my body to try and adjust to different water temperatures. It’s tiring to dry off afterwards. Then there’s the shower itself.

Thankfully we’ve gotten some cooler weather, and I’ve skipped showers several times this week. Showering every other day has been fantastic! But I haven’t showered in 2 days now, and I’m stinky. It’s cooler out, but it’s still summer, and I’m sweating.

I know I need to take a shower. I need to wash my hair for the first time in over a week. I need to wash my body. If I’m ambitious, I might even shave.

Then I’ll need to lie down to rest a bit, because I have to take the subway and a bus to my doctor appointment in a couple hours and that’s going to be exhausting.

There was a time when I didn’t think twice about taking a shower. None of my friends do. Most people don’t understand what the big deal is. But I know. And I’m guessing you do, too. Sometimes taking a shower is exhausting.

Which is why I so often wish I didn’t have to do it.


Summer hibernation

July 31, 2016

When you have chronic illnesses, your body overrides the calendar. At least, mine does.

When summer rolls around here in Boston, everyone starts going outside more. They’re biking, hiking, swimming, or just strolling around. There are out concerts, outdoors Photo 1picnics, and ourdoors festivals. People stay outside as much as possible. Except me.

Then winter comes, and people are staying indoors (unless they’re skiing) and avoiding the cold and the snow. Except me.

Unfortunately, I’m on an opposite schedule. I love the long daylight hours of summer and the sidewalks that are clear of ice, but my body just can’t handle the heat and humidity. My pain gets worse, my fatigue gets worse, my stomach gets upset. I just feel crappy overall.

But winter is different. I hate the 4pm sunset. I can’t stand the snow and ice that make it hard to walk around. But I feel so much better! I can breath better. I have more energy and less pain. Life is better! Except for my social life, that is.

Because while everyone is going out now, they’re doing things that I simply can’t do. Even 2015-02-10 15.16.52the indoor things are a problem, because with the worse symptoms, it’s hard to get places and do things. In the winter I’ll be able to do more, but there won’t be anything to do – everyone else will want to stay home. I’ll invite them out, like I do every winter, and they’ll turn me down, like they do every winter. I don’t entirely blame them. I understand the desire to spend a snowy Saturday at home with a good book and some tea. The thing is, though, I have to make up for my lost summer months! And I need to get out while I can, before summer comes around again, all too soon.

I’ve written about this before, I’m sure. Every winter I’m frustrated when everyone stays in, and every summer I’m frustrated that I can’t go out.

Now it’s the latter. Today is a cooler day, but it’s humid, so I’m in more pain. Last week it was hot, so I stayed near the air conditioner. I miss people. I miss the outdoors. I miss taking a short walk. I’m an introvert and I do well on my own, but after 3 days, I want to be around other people. And I’ll be honest, I’m sick of my living room.

Sometimes I feel bad about complaining, but I know that many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. And anyway, this blog is called Chronic Rants, after all!


Exactly the same and completely different 5 years later

July 27, 2016

birthday-cake-1320359_1280Happy birthday to us! Last week was the 5 year anniversary of Chronic Rants. And when I look back, it’s hard to believe how much has changed and how much has stayed the same over the last 5 years.

I still have the same symptoms as I did then, it’s just the severity and frequency of various symptoms that has changed. I no longer work full time at an office, but I am trying hard to start a small online business that I can do part time from home. I still encounter all sorts of ableist bullshit, though it’s usually in different ways than before.

I suppose the biggest change is my perspective. 5 years ago I was struggling, but I assumed that I would continue working. I assumed my health would continue to slowly get worse. Little did I know that just a few short months later I would be leaving my job for a “temporary” break that would become permanent. I had no idea my health would get so much worse so fast.

But this blog has also helped to change my perspective. Writing about my illnesses has taught me a lot. Talking to you through emails and comments has taught me more.

I stand up for myself even more than I did before.

I am more aware of other illnesses, other medical systems, other cultures surrounding illness and disability.

There are many chronic illness blogs out there. I read a few before I started writing my own, and I have found many more over these last 5 years. The online communities are so important for all of us.

Now I wonder where I’ll be in another 5 years. Will I have finally found my fur baby? (I’m really hoping that will happen in the next year!) Where will I be living? How will my health be? Will I be able to travel again? Will I be working? Will I be on benefits? Which symptoms will be bothering me the most? Which will be worse? Which will be better? I have so many questions, and all I can do is work to push my life in the direction I want it to go and hope it goes at least a tiny bit according to plan.

Thanks for joining me on this awesome journey!


The pain of going to the movies

July 23, 2016

I think I went to the movies once last year. Or maybe it was the year before. When people ask, I say that I don’t like going to the movies because of the cost, or because there’s nothing good to see. Those things are true, but they aren’t the real reason. They’re just easier to talk about.

The truth is that even when there’s a movie I really want to see and someone else has offered to pay, I still decline. Because no matter how good the movie is, it won’t be worth the pain of seeing it.

To be fair, I haven’t tried the new reclining seats yet. Maybe those would be better. But regular movie theater seats are very uncomfortable. Plus, there’s the problem that I have to sit in one spot for over 2 hours!

Friends have suggested that I sit on the aisle so I can get up during the movie, but I can’t imagine that going well. The people around me would not be too happy if I was getting up, walking around, and stretching during the movie, and I wouldn’t blame them! I could sit in the back row on the aisle…. but only if the seat wasn’t already taken. I’d have to arrive really early to be sure. That would mean even more time in the theater.

And again, it’s just not worth it. Sure, I could arrive really early and sit in the back row on the aisle, even if the people I was with didn’t want to sit there. I could get up during the show to stretch and walk around. I could leave the theater and walk up and down the hallway. I would miss parts of the movie. I’d be distracted. And in the end, I’d still be in pain. So please remind me, why exactly would I want to do this? What would I gain?

I have missed a lot of “great” movies in recent years. And I don’t regret it at all. When I think about what’s missing in my life, “going to the movies” isn’t anywhere on the list. It doesn’t even come to mind. When I think about the things I’d like to do in the coming months or years, again, “going to the movies” isn’t on the list. There are too many other things I’d rather be doing.

I do watch movies, though. Sometimes I watch them on tv. I have a lot of dvds that I rarely even find time to watch. I can get movies from the library.

The difference is that I can watch them all from the comfort of my own home. I can pause them when I need a break. I can get up and move around as needed. I can sit more comfortably. I can reposition myself as needed. I can stop halfway through and finish the rest the next day. This all makes it totally worth it.

But going to the theater? Not at all.

[Side note: I’m going to the theater tomorrow to see someone I care about perform the lead in a play. I know I’ll be in pain, but I believe it will be worth it. Wish me luck!]

What about you? Are you able to go to the movies? Is there something similar that you skip out on altogether because you feel it isn’t worth it, even though people insist you should try anyway? Please comment and share your experiences!


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