Is remission possible?

March 28, 2014

I saw my naturopath yesterday and she surprised me with one of her goals. She said that she wants to get me to believe that once I’m better, I’ll stay better, and that I won’t relapse. That had never occurred to me. [As a side note, I’m very impressed that she picked up on this mindset of mine and chose to address it head-on.]

Several friends and family members keep insisting I’ll get better. I keep trying to explain to them that I’ll never be 100% healthy. I’ll always have some symptoms, and I’ll always have these medical conditions. These are lifelong diseases that won’t ever go away, and I’ve accepted that. The best I can hope for is to go into remission, which I’ve never really thought of as a possibility for me, though I know it’s a possibility in general. As for symptoms, my gastrointestinal problems are almost entirely better and my fatigue has been improving, but I think I’ll always be at risk of those returning, and I’ll certainly continue to have pain. Maybe the pain can be reduced, but no one has suggested they’ll be able to get rid of it completely.

I’ve accepted all of that. I’m ok with that. If we could just get rid of my fatigue, I’d be ecstatic! But what my naturopath said really stopped me in my tracks. This whole process has been so traumatic. The symptoms, their impact on my life, the insurance issues, the uncertainty over my future, have all changed me. There are some good changes, like a new appreciation for the little things in life, and a desire to keep my life simple, without the “busyness” that so many people take pride in. I’m glad to have come to these realizations.

But there have also been some bad changes, like more fear. I’m scared to spend money, because what if I can never earn money again? And even if I’m able to work, what if I get sick again and need it for that? I’m scared I’ll never find a life partner who can handle all of my health issues. I’m scared I’ll be a burden on my parents. I’m scared to make plans for anything big (tickets to a show, a small trip out of town, attending a wedding) because what if I have to cancel at the last minute? And if I do get better, what if I get sick again? Will I have the strength to go through this all again. And what if I never improve in the first place?

I think that all of these fears are natural. I also think I have to get rid of them. My naturopath is right: if I’m going to have a goal of feeling X% better, then when I reach that goal, I have to trust that I’ll stay there. I’ll need that mental attitude to propel me forward. Sure, I might have setbacks. In fact, she agreed that I probably will have them. Then medications will be adjusted and I’ll improve. But she thinks there won’t be many and that they’ll be short, just a few days or a few weeks; not months or years.

I want to believe that. I do. Really. But I can’t. Not yet. After the trauma I’ve experienced recently, I’m just not ready. But I’m working on it. I love the idea. I hope she’s right. So when I eventually get a therapist (I started looking for one recently) I think this topic will be at the top of our agenda.

Wondering why I feel good

March 22, 2014

Today is my third good day in a row! The first was actually really great. Sure, I’m still in pain, and I don’t have as much energy as most “healthy” people my age, but I’m still loving how much better I feel! The question is, what’s causing it? I want to know the cause so maybe I can make it last! Here are my current thoughts:

  1. It’s my new medication. I started the new med exactly 3 weeks before my first good day. The problem is, usually good effects are felt within the first few days on this med. The changes are right – it’s my energy that’s improved, and that’s what I’d expect from this med – but the timing is off.
  2. It’s the medication I stopped taking. At my doctor’s suggestion, I stopped taking a medication two and a half weeks ago. Since the new med hadn’t had an effect yet, I wasn’t to worried about doing both so close together. I wouldn’t expect it to have this effect, but maybe it’s an indirect cause.
  3. It’s the supplement I stopped taking. I stopped it about a week ago when I realized my most recent gastrointestinal problems started just after I added in this supplement. Two days later, my gastro problems were mostly gone, and the third day everything was as it should be. That alone wouldn’t make me feel this good (my gastro problems were fixed for months before I started that supplement, and I didn’t feel this good then) but maybe in combination with something else it’s helping.
  4. It’s daylight savings time. I have seasonal affective disorder, so I always get extra happy and more energetic when we have the extra hour of daylight. The thing is, DST started two weeks ago, and I usually feel the effect within the first couple of days.
  5. It’s a fluke. This is an odd coincidence. Usually when I have a random good day it’s just that: one good day. Not three. But maybe this is just a longer fluke.
  6. Maybe it’s something else I haven’t even thought of yet.
  7. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.

Some of you might wonder why I’m not considering my new CPAP machine, and that’s because I only started it last night, two days after I started feeling so much better.

Right now, #1 seems the most likely, but the timing of it just doesn’t fit. But maybe there was so much damage done to my cells, that it was just delayed in taking effect. And my doctor did say it could take up to a month. I didn’t believe him based on all of the research I’d done and what other patients said, but maybe he was right. It’s odd that I’d have felt absolutely nothing for the first 3 weeks, though, instead of a more gradual improvement. But nothing else fits as well. It’s probably that with the other things added in. I just really, really, really hope it’s not a fluke! I’m loving this feeling so much, and I don’t want it to go away! I haven’t felt this good in many months, maybe even a year or more. It’s not like I feel “healthy,” but I sure do feel a hell of a lot closer than I did four days ago. I feel like I can do more so I’m trying to do more without overdoing it. I also feel that I’m thinking more clearly, so I’m reading more and getting more out of it. I feel happier, but I guess anyone would if they saw a spark of hope after feeling so sick for so long. Still, I’m just nonstop happy.

I guess there’s only one thing I can do for now: enjoy it while I can! I’m taking walks each day. I spent more time out with friends today than I normally would. I’m still not going to the party tonight that I had already been planning to skip. Right now I feel up to it, but I don’t want to overdo it. I’m reading more. I’m trying to catch up on insurance paperwork. And mostly I’m just appreciating this feeling of being more alert. It’s not perfect, but boy, I’ll take it!

Why do folks focus on a treatment’s potential problems?

March 19, 2014

I mentioned in my last post that I’m going to start using a CPAP machine soon. It’s used for sleep apnea, which isn’t too uncommon, so most people know someone who has tried one, or have tried one themselves. It was just a small note that had little to do with the main point of my article, but still, I noticed that no one commented on it, even though they commented on other parts of the article. I noticed it because that’s not what’s happened with my in-person interactions lately.

I can’t criticize people for commenting on other’s lives, because I do it too. Actually, I probably do it more than most people. But there’s a big difference between commenting and pointing out the negatives. What’s even worse is that in this case, people are pointing out negatives without offering solutions. So why are they doing this?

For years now I’ve been fatigued. I’m unable to work. I barely date. I miss all sorts of social events. I feel lousy. Now we discover that I have a form of sleep apnea and a CPAP machine could help. There’s no guarantee, of course, but it might help, so why on earth wouldn’t I try it? In fact, I’m excited to try it! That’s why I’ve already mentioned it to quite a few people, and why I’m so annoyed that almost every single time, the response has been to point out potential problems with it. They tell me about a friend who was bothered by the noise, an ex-lover whose skin was irritated by the mask, an acquaintance who got tangled up in the cord. They tell me about these problems and I don’t know why. Are they suggesting that I shouldn’t even try it because one person they know had a problem with it? Are they suggesting that I continue to feel horrible and not even attempt to fix it because I might be inconvenienced?

Well let me tell you, I’m already inconvenienced. A lot. And I’m not about to let worry about some little inconvenience stop me. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have changed my diet and I’d still be feeling nauseated all day every day. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have changed my thyroid medications and found the improvement in energy levels that I have. If that was the case, I never would have done my own medical research. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have improved at all over the last 2+ years.

Today I emailed my family and friends with a health update. I do that occasionally. When I mentioned the CPAP machine, I included this:

“Note: Please do not tell me how terrible CPAP machines are. Just don’t. Almost every person I’ve mentioned this to has told me they don’t work, they’re loud, they’re ugly, they’re uncomfortable, etc. If I had a gas leak, would you tell me not to fix it because of the hassle of calling the gas company? If I had cancer, would you tell me not to get chemo because of the side effects? No? Ok, then please don’t say anything negative about this medical treatment unless you’re also telling me how to fix said problem.”

So far, I have received only positive or neutral feedback. They’ve congratulated me on taking this step. They’ve said that they hope it works. I got one story of a friend who was helped by it. So from now on, when I tell people about the CPAP machine, no matter how well I do or don’t know them, I’ll preface it with that paragraph. It may be rude, but I don’t care. Taking care of my health is the hardest thing I have ever done, or probably will ever do, and I don’t need the “help” of negative feedback from ignorant people.

Oh, and by the way, I’ll get the CPAP machine in just two short days! Yay!

Life with chronic illness: a bigger suitcase

March 17, 2014

It used to be that when I was going to spend the night someplace, I’d quickly throw some things in a bag and head out the door. Toiletries, change of clothes, a book… I didn’t need much.

Then I started having to add pills. Lots of pills. And a sunlamp. And I still had the clothes, toiletries and book, of course.It 20131202_162116took longer to pack. And I needed a bigger bag.

When I went gluten-free, I had to bring food with me. Leftovers for lunch and dinner. A container of gluten-free oatmeal for lunch. Snacks. Oh, and all of the pills, clothes, toiletries, and a book. And an extra bag and a cooler

Now I’ll be adding something new to the list: a CPAP machine. If it works it’ll be worth it. But it’s heavy. And in addition to the CPAP I still have to bring the food and the pills and the clothes, toiletries, book. Now in addition to the cooler and bag of food, I’ll need a rolling suitcase. For one night. What happens when I go away for longer.

This isn’t the end of the world, but it illustrates my point. Life is hard for everyone. We all worry about our family, our friends, money, jobs, etc. But having a chronic illness means more thinking, more planning, more effort. It means not being able to just throw clothes in a bag and run out the door. It means thinking everything through very carefully. It means considering every angle, every possible outcome, before making a decision.

It means packing a bigger suitcase.

Hormones going haywire

March 12, 2014

It started like any other day. I ate, read, dressed, ate again. I went to an appointment. And that’s where it started getting weird. A medical practitioner was pushing me to open up about some things that I usually don’t talk about and I got a bit teary. Ok, that’s not too unusual for me. Then I started crying. That’s a bit odd. Then when I left, I sobbed uncontrollably IMG_20140312_153843for a while. That’s completely out of character.

What was going on? I called a friend and we chatted for an hour. Usually I find crying to be cathartic, so after crying and then talking to a close friend, I should have been feeling much better. Instead, I continued to feel overwhelmed, ashamed, and depressed. When I was still feeling that way at 10pm, I knew something was wrong. When I woke up the next day still feeling that way, I knew there was definitely a problem. Luckily, I quickly figured out what it was.

About 8 or 9 years ago, my endocrinologist put me on natural replacement progesterone to help my PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome.) This worked out fine for a bit, but then about 5 or 6 years ago I started having PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder.) My doctor had me change birth control pills. It took some time, but we finally figured out what worked. Over time that’s changed, and each time I had to deal with a roller coaster of emotions when PMDD reared its ugly head. Most recently we found that taking half a pill of a certain brand was perfect for me, and of course I continued with the progesterone, too.

With all these hormones, you’d think I’d have regular periods, right? Well, I did for a while. But then recently I was only spotting at that time of the month. Then I didn’t get a period at all. Hmm. There are a couple different things that can cause this, and the only way to find out what’s happening without going off my meds is to do a pelvic ultrasound. Obviously, I don’t want that. So I’m took a leap and went off my meds.

The first 7 days were fine. But then on day 8, when I found myself sobbing, I should have known. On day 9 it was obvious. And now, on day 10, I’m doing much better. Then again, I’m in too much pain to be thinking about anything else anyway. And while being so overwhelmed and depressed felt horrible, it’s a relief to know I won’t be feeling that way long term. If it continues, I’ll just go back on the hormones.

I’ve always been so grateful that I don’t have depression as one of the symptoms of my illnesses. There are usually two types of depression, at least that I know of. One type is a physiological matter. Brain chemicals are off, or the cells aren’t absorbing hormones, etc. The second kind is what you’d expect from someone suffering from daily pain, spending days stuck indoors, unable to work, unable to socialize, etc. I do have that second kind sometimes, but it’s not too severe and it doesn’t last too long, usually just for a couple of days when my physical symptoms are at their worst. I’ve been so grateful for that. And then the other day was a reminder of what I could be dealing with.

And that makes me wonder how many people, especially women, are in the same situation I could have been in. How many are put on antidepressants, when some added estrogen is all they need? How many women spend years in therapy without improving, without realizing that their symptoms get worse approximately every 28 days? How many women and men see a psychiatrist when they should be seeing an endocrinologist? Maybe the answer is that only a few are affected this way. Maybe it’s a lot. I have no idea if this has been studied are not. I just know that a lot of patients fall through the cracks in other areas, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened here, too.

I have fallen through many, many medical cracks. Anyone following this blog for a while knows a few of them, but I doubt I’ve even covered all of them at this point. For example, a specialist seeing me for something else once suggested I could have PCOS, but wasn’t allowed to treat me for it because of HMO rules. My own doctor didn’t address it. It took another 7 years for me to actually get diagnosed and treated. I’m so glad I didn’t fall through the cracks with the PMDD and depression. I just hope the medical community doesn’t let it happen to others.

Seeing potential for progress

March 7, 2014

Whether you’re a long-time reader or you’ve only stopped by recently, you’ve probably noticed that I’m on a mission to feel better. I know I’ll never be 100% better, of course, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Two years ago, when I had to leave my job due to fatigue, the doctors told me there was nothing they could do to help me. I started doing my own research, searching out new doctors and other practitioners, and changing my diet. I’ve already seen huge improvement, but I also have a long way to go. Sure, I don’t nap anymore, but I sleep 10-11 hours per night and I’m still tired. I’m in more pain than before. My digestive problems are soooo much better, but still not quite right.

Remember how I was dealing with too many doctors and not enough help? Well, I saw one thyroid doctor last week and he actually agreed to keep me on my current med and give me the new one I wanted to try. Unfortunately, it’s been a week and I haven’t noticed any change yet. Still, it’s a start, and I’m on a very low dose. And I’m seeing the other thyroid doctor next week. So I’m keeping my arthritic fingers figuratively crossed and hoping that he has some new ideas.

At the same time, I did some of the testing that the sleep doctor wanted me to do. Some of it came back normal, which is good. Some of it didn’t, though. As it turns out, in addition to circadian rhythm issues, I have a sleeping condition that’s sometimes lumped in with sleep apnea. It’s similar, but different. When the doctor told me about Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, it described me exactly. When I got home I looked it up and again, it described me exactly. There’s no doubt I have it, now we have to work on treating it. The doctor warned me that the insurance company might not cover treatment, but we’re going to move forward and see what they say. With any luck, I’ll be trying out a sleep apnea machine in a couple of weeks, and I’ll know shortly after that if it’s helping or not. I’m not thrilled about having to use the machine, but if it works, it’ll be worth it!! After all, I’ve given up gluten, most dairy, most eggs, peanuts, and many of my favorite vegetables (broccoli, beets, parsnips, and more) for the sake of my health. This machine wouldn’t be so bad!

There’s no way to know what’s causing my fatigue, but more and more I don’t believe there’s just one cause. The more I think about it, the more I think there are many contributing factors. My energy improved as my adrenals improved. My energy improved and I tried different thyroid medications. And I’m guessing my energy will improve when my sleep disorder is treated. I doubt any one of these things would “fix” my fatigue, but I’m hoping that all of them combined might just do the trick!

So now I’m really excited to try the CPAP machine. I’m excited in a way that healthy people will just never understand. Because maybe, just maybe, this will make me feel better. Maybe, just maybe, this will allow me to socialize more, date more, go back to work, and in general resume my life. Here’s hoping!

The myth of a healthy youth myth

March 4, 2014

I can’t believe I had this conversation again today. The details vary, but it always goes something like this:

Me: I want to get healthy while I’m young enough to enjoy it.

Other person: Well, the “healthy youth” thing is really a myth. Not everyone feels good, and people get sick, and we’re busy taking care of kids so we can’t go out much anyway. And lots of older people feel great and are active, so maybe you’ll be one of those. Besides, we’ll all be feeling like you one day anyway, and then we’ll all be on the same page.

Yes, people really say this shit. Ok, let’s start with the first thing: the healthy youth myth. That myth idea is a myth itself. I’m not saying that people without chronic illnesses are healthy all the time. They might get the flu or headaches or whatever. Some days they just feel like crap. Sure, I get that. But the point is that they recover! They don’t continue to have the flu for the next 30 years.

Next, just because you use your energy-filled, pain-free days to do things other than jet off to Paris and go to fancy clubs, doesn’t mean you aren’t enjoying your youth. Do you have any idea how many of us would like to have kids but don’t have the energy to take care of them? So while you might say you can’t party because you have kids, others of us say we can’t party OR have kids. See the difference?

I’m not suggesting that every 20- and 30-something parties 7 nights a week. But I’m suggesting they can go to parties on Saturday nights. I’m suggesting they can attend a lecture on Tuesday evening. I’m suggesting they can take a shower and cook a meal without feeling like shit.

And yes, some older folks feel good and are active. But if I feel like shit at 30 and 40 and 50 and 60, do you really think I’ll be skiing and skydiving and traveling and going out with friends at 70 and 80? Do you know any of those active elderly? Maybe it’s just a coincidence (I really doubt it) but all of them were healthy active in their youth and in their middle age and then they continued to be active. You can’t expect an unhealthy body to magically get healthier as it ages. The chances that I’ll feel better at 80 than at 30 are really incredibly slim. And besides, at best I could feel good compared to a typical 80-year-old, but I’ll never get the chance to feel as good as a 30-something again!

And sure, maybe one day my friends will all be tired and in pain with arthritis. But they’ll have already had all of the experiences of youth! That’s the point! Yes, maybe one day we’ll all feel equally miserable. (Though to be honest, I think I experienced more pain and fatigue at 32 than my grandparents did when they were 80. At 80 they were still hopping on planes and traveling. Not me. They still went out with friends all the time. Not me. Just saying.) But when we stiffly sit in our chairs with our achy joints at 80, they’ll be surrounded by kids and grandkids if they chose to have them, and they’ll remember all of their fun adventures and activities from when they were younger, while I’ll remember days of my life seemingly wasted sorting through medical records and insurance forms, feeling lousy, watching tv and ready and missing out on parties and outings that I really wanted to attend. Yes, I’ll have fun times to remember, but not as many. Hopefully I’ll have let go of the anger and sadness of not being able to have children, but maybe not.

So to all of you out there who spout the myth of the healthy youth myth, I’m telling you it’s not a myth. Spend just two months pretending you have the flu. Leave your job, turn down every invitation you’re offered, don’t accept invitations. Now tell me if you feel like your old life allows you to be active or not. I’m guessing you’ll feel pretty damn healthy by comparison. If you’re tired because you stayed out at the bar too late, go to sleep earlier next time, but don’t pretend you have it so tough. At least you have a choice.

I was going to give an update today on the doctor planet orbit, but I was too upset. So please accept my rant as just that (a rant), and I’ll resume my normally unscheduled blogging tomorrow.

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