Answering “What’s new with you?”

November 29, 2015

What’s new? It’s a simple, standard question. We all ask it and have it asked of us dozens or hundreds of times each year. Sometimes it’s like saying “Hello” and the asker doesn’t expect an answer. But sometimes they do. And sometimes, the answer is complicated.

I’m not talking about health stuff here. Well I am, but not directly.

When someone asks “What’s new?” sometimes what’s new is bodily issues. That’s probably true of anyone with a chronic illness. But sometimes it’s health-related stuff. When someone asks “What’s new?” should I tell them about my uncertainty about Section 8, fights with health insurers, problems with doctors, and about how I’m running out of room to store medical supplies at home? Should I explain my concerns around earned income and Social Security or the way that Medicare and Medicaid work together to cover costs but sometimes they fail, even when it means having to give a 20 minute explanation of the entire system just so it makes sense?

It’s like back in the days when I used to work. If someone asked me how work was going, I’d say it was good or bad, or maybe tell a funny story, but I wouldn’t talk about the boring issues with vendors or the technical aspects. I wouldn’t use terminology that I first had to define.

And that’s how it is with a chronic illness. Even when I’m not talking about my actual health, it’s hard to answer the question because so much of what’s happening in my life is health-related in one way or another.

So now I’m asking you: How do you answer the question, “What’s new with you?” Please let me know in the comments!

Freaking out about the possibility of Section 8

November 27, 2015

Life has never been easy or predictable. At one point I thought it was, but back then I assumed I’d have my PhD, be married and have kids by the time I was 30. Now I’m well past 30, I haven’t spoke to that guy in 13 years, there are no kids, and I never did finish the PhD. I have no regrets. I’m just saying, life is unpredictable.

And in case I dared to forget it, the last few hours have reminded me all too clearly.

Life has been less certain than ever since I left my job 4 years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Still, after a ton of work and effort, research, new doctors, new treatments, and fighting with insurance companies, I finally reached a point where I felt I might be able to do a little part time work. I was nervous, but also hopeful. It would be so nice not to have to worry about being on benefits that didn’t cover all the bills.

Today I did some work on that new business. I was feeling really excited about it! At 4pm I was jazzed, telling my mother all about my new plans and progress, outlining some next steps for myself, and imagining the possibility that this might actually work! At 5:30 I decided to check the mail. At 5:35, everything changed.

I had an unexpected letter.

I’m near the top of the waiting list for Section 8, so they want to start getting my paperwork ready and have an interview with me. Holy fuck! What just happened???

For those who don’t know, Section 8 is a housing voucher program. If you earn less than a certain amount, you’re eligible. Typically, you then pay 30% of your rent and the government pays the rest. There aren’t a lot of vouchers and the waiting list is long. When I signed up, I was told the wait was 3-4 years, so I put it out of my head. Whenever it popped back in, I reminded myself that I had a long wait and shouldn’t plan for it. And now, a year and a half later, it seems like it could soon be a reality. Sounds good, right?

Of course, like with anything, there are a few catches. For one thing, if you start earning more, then you lose the Section 8, and I don’t know what happens then. Would I have to move? And to use it in the first place I might have to move, and my choices would be very limited. Not all landlords accept Section 8 vouchers and I don’t know if mine does. Many don’t. Then there’s the problem that there are rental limits, and they’re pretty low for this area, so that makes it significantly harder to find a place.

Of course, this is just what I’ve heard and read. The truth is, I don’t know a lot. I have so many questions, but I got the letter at 5:30pm on a Friday, of course, so I need to wait all weekend before I can call and ask any of them.

So now I’m wondering, is this a good thing? It seems like it should be a good thing. If I’m doing the math right, this would mean I could almost cover all of my bills every month! There would be a small gap, maybe $50-$100 per month, but I could handle that. I get paid for small jobs here and there, and I get birthday and Chanukah checks, so I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem. And would it be amazing to not have to worry about money?!? Ok, sure, I still wouldn’t have anything extra. It’s not like I could suddenly start eating out more, buying more clothes, or traveling. But it’s not like I really have to do any of those things anyway. So…. maybe this is good?

I’m nervous. I’m so used to things going wrong that it feels like there must be a big catch here that I’m not seeing yet. But then, what if there isn’t….?

If you’re on Section 8, what has your experience been like? What questions should I be asking? What should I know?


Standing scared on the edge

November 20, 2015

It was always the same. The instructor was telling me to jump. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I knew it was safe. But I was terrified.

Some kids love jumping off a dock and into a lake. Those kids probably

5-9-2012 10-20-06 PM

Wish I could swim like these cuties!

know how to swim. Those kids probably aren’t scared of the unseen mysteries beneath the murky surface of the water. I, on the other hand, wanted to stay safe and dry on the dock. No such luck.

I did eventually learn how to swim. One day I was standing at the edge of a pool talking to someone, and a kid pushed me in as a joke. I had to be rescued. The next day, I finally learned enough to stay afloat. But in general, I’d rather learn how to stay afloat without feeling panicked as I sink to the bottom of a pool.

Now I’m standing at a different kind of edge. It’s just as safe (mostly but not completely) and just as terrifying (very.) I’m about to start a small business. I decided to do this months ago, but I wasn’t committed to it. This week I decided to commit fully to giving this a try. I might fail, but I have to try.

I still don’t feel like I can commit the kind of time necessary for this. I know someone who has a new baby and works a full time job and is starting a similar business, yet she’s finding the time. But then, she doesn’t have brain fog, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and a huge number of medical appointments to deal with. Still, I should be able to put in at least a little bit of time.

Ok, I know I’m being a bit vague about the business. That’s partly because I want to maintain my anonymity here but also because it’s really irrelevant. I plan to write and sell a short book (I’ve written the first draft but still have a lot of work to do on it.) I’ll create a blog. And I’ll try to sell the book and other things (maybe an online course?) to people. The key is that I’ll be working my own hours. It will take twice as long for me as it might for someone else, and I have to be ok with that. I might plan to work 3 days this week and manage 5. Or it might end up being only 1. Or none. And that will be ok.

I’m worried about the impact on my benefits, especially social security, at the beginning. But then, I also know that I can’t survive on benefits indefinitely. Right now I’m taking money out of savings each month to make ends meet. That’s fine for now, but one day those savings will run out, and then how will I get by for the next 4 decades? No, it’s better to not have to be on benefits at all, to cover my own expenses with my own business. So I’m going to try.

I face my fears every damn day with these illnesses. I worry about my health in ways most 30-somethings never even consider. It’s time to face a different kind of fear and take the leap. I don’t know how to do this, but maybe I’ll find a way to stay afloat anyway.


When those horrible medical symptoms aren’t medical at all

November 14, 2015

There’s a tipping point. It’s the moment when you feel something odd in your body and just assume that it’s related to your chronic health condition. Before the tipping point you question what it could be. But after that point, you just assume.

Of course, sometimes it’s a medical problem that has nothing to do with a chronic illness, like an injury or the cold that’s been going around.

But sometimes it isn’t medical at all. And then don’t we feel a bit silly? It’s a good reminder, though, that not every odd bodily feeling is part of a chronic illness.

The other day I was really cold. My body doesn’t adjust to temperature changes well. I also have Raynaud’s, and my hands were very white with tinges of blue. I was starting to feel lethargic. For a while I wondered what I had done to stress my thyroid or adrenal glands. But eventually I noticed that my radiators were cold. I checked the temperature in my apartment and it had dropped. I emailed my landlord and, sure enough, there was a problem with the heat that they were working to fix. Huh. I was looking for thyroid and adrenal triggers and it was really a busted boiler. Oops!

Sometimes my vision gets blurry. I used to always worry about what could be causing it. All sorts of terrible scenarios would run through my head and I’d be very nervous. Now I know better and I immediately check the two most likely culprits: it’s always either a smudge on my glasses, or I forgot to switch my reading and distance glasses when I walked away from the computer. Oops!

What about you? Have you thought you were having some horrible symptoms only to find out that it was something completely benign and non-medical, like a smudge on my glasses? Please share in the comments! I think we could all use a little comic relief and the reminder that not all “symptoms” are medical.

Adjusting to my new-found support

November 13, 2015

We all know how it goes. You get sick and everyone steps up to help you. Then you stay sick, and people get busy with their own lives. It happens. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. And that’s why it feels so odd when the support is offered again.

Part of the problem, of course, is that I suck at asking for help. I should do it more. And part of the problem is that I would 2015-10-17 11.45.26be asking for help so often, my friends would get burned out. I get that. I can’t expect anyone to be visiting me every other week or helping with laundry regularly. But at the same time, I know that people forget, and that’s tough.

So when I had surgery a couple weeks ago, it was wonderful that so many friends stepped in to help and offer support. Suddenly there was an outpouring of good wishes, emails, and phone calls. I’ve gotten visits and thoughtful gifts (like a gift card for grocery delivery!) After so many years of poor health, this all feels a bit strange, but it’s far from the strangest part.

The strangest part is every time someone looks at my foot and comments on the cast. I don’t know how to respond when someone asks if I’m in pain or if I’m having a tough time. I won’t lie to you – this isn’t easy. But it’s not that bad, either. I’m stuck at home, but the truth is that I’m often stuck at home, this is just for a bit longer. It hurts, but very little compared to my normal daily pain, and a hell of a lot less than the original injury. I’m limited, but not so much worse than usual. I’m frustrated, but that’s nothing new. It stops me from doing things what want to do, but that’s like all other days. Yet people ask about it as if it’s so different.

The truth is, I feel better this week than I have in ages, thanks to the change in seasons and my forced increase in rest time.

In another month I’ll be back to “normal” and the extra emails, calls, and visits will have ended. For now, I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.

How many medical appointments have you had this year?

November 6, 2015

Every now and then I’ll talk to a friend who mentions a medical appointment like it’s an unusual thing. They’re going for their yearly checkup or they only go when they have a problem, which is rare. It’s hard for me to imagine that life. I try to remember back to a time when I only went to the doctor occasionally, but I think I was 10 at the time. And it made me wonder, just how many appointments do I have each year?

I had no desire to go through my calendar and count them all, so this is a bit rough. I did a search for “Dr.” in my google 11-6-2015 11-42-40 AMcalendar and for “PT” because that’s how I enter my physical therapy appointments. I searched my brain for any other entries that might have been entered differently (there are at least a few). I left out non-appointments, like stopping by a lab to get blood work done. Searching only in 2015, I came up with 42 appointments. 42!!!

If you have weekly appointments, this probably doesn’t sound like much. But if you see a doctor only once a year to refill your birth control prescription, this probably sounds like a huge number. And it is.

42 appointments is a lot. That’s 42 days I couldn’t schedule anything else. 42 times I had to plan my day around a medical appointment. 42 times I had to schlep down to an office, sit in a waiting room, talk to someone about my personal medical health. How many minutes, hours, days have been spent traveling to and from appointments, sitting in waiting rooms, waiting in offices, talking to people who may or may not be able to help me?

How much more time that isn’t included here was spent making appointments, rescheduling appointments, calling doctors, emailing doctors? How much time was spent tracking down medical records, taking notes, organizing notes, filling out release forms, sending records to other doctors?

How much time was spent thinking and worrying about these appointments?

The numbers are huge and discouraging. But I’m doing what I have to do to ensure the best health possible for myself.

What about you? How many appointments have you had this year? Take a guess, and put it in the comments. After all, there’s comfort in community.

So much for October

November 2, 2015

October is my favorite month of the year. It’s not hard to see why. For one thing, heat and humidity make me feel like shit. They exacerbate my symptoms and I pay the price all summer long. October is the first month that I feel decent. There’s 2015-11-01 14.07.39no snow or ice to deal with yet. And I get to enjoy the gorgeous fall foliage here in New England.

Except for this year.

In September I had a bit of an accident with a knife, and I haven’t been able to walk around much since then. I’ve been enjoying the cooler temperatures and lack of humidity, but there’s just no way I can walk around in the woods right now. Still, as I look at my post-surgery foot, or rather, the bandage around my post-surgery foot, I’m trying very hard not to feel too bad about missing out on my favorite month of the year.

There will be another October. There will be many more Octobers. And I expect to enjoy quite a few of them. I can still see some of the pretty colors from the passenger seat of a car. Ok, it’s not the same, but that’s ok. It has to be ok. Because I can’t keep feeling sorry for myself.

There are a lot of things I can’t do anymore, and that’s I’ll never do again. I will never jog again. I will probably never ride a bicycle again. I will never backpack around Europe again. I might never work in an office again. But there are still a lot of things I CAN do. So as I see the calendar yelling at me that November is here, I’m trying not to feel too bad about missing out on October this year. There will be another one.

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