When will I see you again?

May 26, 2016

Every time someone moves away I wonder if I’ll ever see them again. It didn’t used to be that way.

I used to travel a lot. If I was home for a month, I got antsy. If I was home for 2 months I

Maine

That place in Maine

intentionally made plans to get away. Sometimes getting away was a short overnight somewhere nearby and sometimes it was a bigger trip. Twice each year I visited my grandparents in New York. Twice each year I visited my other grandparents in Florida. Once each year I took a week-long vacation for myself. I visited friends. I spent many lovely summer and autumn weekends in Maine every year. And to me, that was normal.

Sure, it was tiring. But it was manageable. I could always rest the next weekend, right? And money wasn’t an issue. I was working then, and most of my trips were really cheap. My grandparents paid for my flights to Florida. I stayed with family and friends almost everyplace I went. I probably spent $500-$1000 on travel each year and loved it all.

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Yeah, I rode one of those

But that was then. This is now.

Now I can’t imagine getting on a plane. I used to fly 3-5 times per year (including business trips) and now I haven’t been on a plane in over 5 years, since January 2011. No matter how I think about it, the idea of flying seems impossible. Maybe, maybe I could manage it if I flew business class. But there’s the money issue, too. I’m not working. $500 is just too much to spend on a plane ticket for a coach seat, never mind the added expense of a business class ticket.

Local trips are also hard. I still visit friends sometimes, but only the closer ones. Even visiting my friends and family in NY feels too difficult. I can’t drive that far anymore (only 4 hours from here.) I want to take the train, but it’s not cheap. And what would I do when I got there? The subway stations all have way too many stairs. It’s a walking city. How could I manage it? Not to mention, if I took the train I wouldn’t be able to bring a lot of food with

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Me petting a stingray – they’re softer than you’d think!

me, and that makes me nervous. I’d have to cook in a non-gluten-free kitchen! And with all of the travel, I don’t think I’d have the energy to do much once I got there. It would even be hard to get between friends in Brooklyn and friends in Manhattan. If I’d feel so miserable and could do so little, what’s the point in going? And that’s just a short trip to NY. That’s why I haven’t been down there in 2 years, even though one of my closest friends lives there. It’s why I didn’t visit my grandfather in the last year of his life. Thankfully, we had many fantastic visits in all the years before that. (My other grandparents are no longer alive, either.)

I used to love those trips to Maine. My guess is that I could still manage those. It’s a shorter drive and I could bring food in the car. But the house I stayed at was sold and I don’t have free accommodations anymore.

I do still visit friends who are fairly close, but not as often as I’d like. And that’s it. Mostly, I stay in town. I don’t get antsy. I’m too fatigued and full of pain to be antsy about it. Still…. I miss travel. I miss exploring. I miss the new sights. I miss the new cultures. I miss the adventure.

And mostly, I miss my friends.

It hit me again today. A friend, who also has chronic illness, is moving back to her hometown in England. Will I ever see her again? She said I should come visit her and have a nice long stay. I’ve never been to northern England and would love to see it. But could I manage the flight? I don’t know that I could. It’s a sweet offer. I’d love to go. But…

Coincidentally, in less than 24 hours a friend will be here. I haven’t seen him in years. We used to visit each other every couple of years, with me going to him more often because I used to live in that city and I still have many friends there. In fact, that last flight I took in January 2011 was to visit him and those other friends. I miss them all. Lucky for me, he’s coming to visit. But the others, for various reasons, haven’t visited. They keep telling me they’d like me to visit. I try to explain that I can’t, but they just don’t understand. I know they mean well, but their invitations are painful. I want to visit. I’d love to! But I can’t. Not without doing damage to myself.

I’d like to think that I’ll travel again some day. It might not be the same kind of travel that I used to do, but just quiet trips to visit friends would be lovely. I know that other people with chronic illness can do it. Then again, other people with chronic illness can work. They can climb mountains. They can eat whatever they want. We’re all different, and that’s the point. I can do things that others can’t and others can do things that I can’t.

I just wish I could visit my friends.

What about you? Do you travel? How do you manage it? What kinds of accommodations do you use to help with your symptoms? If you have fatigue also, I’d especially love to know how you handle that!

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When fatigue becomes something else altogether

May 18, 2016

Well this is different. And I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s not bad, and I’d love to just

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Yesterday’s visit to the shore wasn’t thoroughly exhausting!

go with the flow and enjoy it. But that’s hard when I don’t know why I feel this way. Not knowing why means that I don’t know how long it will last, or what I can do to help it along.

But I’m getting ahead of you here. I should explain.

It’s common to have fatigue with chronic illness. A lot of people say that pain causes fatigue, but that wasn’t my experience. Yes, pain can be tiring, but there’s a difference between “tired” and “fatigued.” If you’ve never felt fatigued, it’s hard to explain. Have you ever had the flu? Have you felt so exhausted and drained, it was like something was sucking the life right out of you? Was it hard to muster the energy to sit up, much less walk across the room? That’s fatigue. That’s what I felt many days. But I had pain for 8 years before that ever started. So it wasn’t only from the pain.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, and I believe the fatigue started after a bout of mono when I was 20. It was minor back then. It got worse and worse over the years, but it wasn’t until my early 30s that it became disabling. I couldn’t work at all – even the idea of part time work was laughable. Some days I couldn’t shower. Many days I couldn’t leave the house. It was bad.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you know I’ve worked hard to fix the fatigue. It’s improved bit by bit, not all at once. Each thing helped. My new diet helped. Reducing pain helped. Improving sleep helped. Various supplements helped. Changes to my lifestyle helped. More diet changes helped. More sleep changes helped. Everything helped a little bit, and it added up to more and more improvement. Life felt manageable. Then last month something changed.

I didn’t notice at first. I thought I was having a good day. But that turned into several good days. And then a good week. I used to have 3-5 recovery days per week at my worst. As I improved that number went down. But lately I noticed that I was having even fewer of those days. And when I did have one, I didn’t have to rest nearly as much. Maybe I couldn’t run errands those days, but I could often do little chores around the house.

Then I realized I was doing more per day. Whereas a short time ago I could only do 1 activity per day, suddenly I could run an errand in the morning and still feel up to doing something in the afternoon! What the….? Ok, this wasn’t every day, but it was more than once, and that was shocking.

Then the most shocking thing of all: in the last week I’ve been waking up naturally between 6am and 7am every day and I actually feel ok when I wake up! That has never happened in my entire life (except when I was on Prednisone, of course.) Until recently I rarely woke up before 8:30, and that was with an alarm. Now, after reading in bed for a while, I get up and feel…. not bad! Feeling not bad in the morning is a big deal when you have chronic illnesses!

I think I might know what’s causing this. I started a new supplement to help stabilize my breathing for the sake of sleeping better. This seems to have calmed my sleep apnea and I feel that I’m sleeping better. Even on the nights I don’t use my sleep machine as long, I still get more benefit.

But could that be it? It seems so…. simple. Of course, it isn’t simple at all. I’m sure it wouldn’t be working if I hadn’t changed my diet, changed my life, started using the sleep machine, started those other medications and supplements, and all the rest. Still, could that be it? I haven’t changed anything else.

But the fatigue isn’t all gone.

And that makes sense. It’s not that the fatigue is gone and I’m all better. It’s that the brutal fatigue is gone and it’s been replaced by something else.

I’ll use a cell phone battery to illustrate what I mean. Before, my energy was like a cell phone battery that wouldn’t fully charge. It would only go up to 30% many days, 50% others. But the higher it was, the faster it would drain. Cooking dinner would use twice as much battery as it would for a healthy person. Sitting upright and watching tv used up battery energy. Sometimes it would drain quickly for no apparent reason.

The most striking difference is that now I wake up with my battery at 80% every day! This is amazing! Watching tv doesn’t use up battery energy at all! Cooking dinner uses up the battery a bit, but not nearly as much as it used to. In fact, no activities use up the battery as much as they did just 2 months ago.

Before I would go to bed at night with the battery at 3%. I could barely drag myself to bed. Now it’s at 15%. I’m tired and sleepy. I’m ready for bed. But if something important suddenly came up, I could take care of it.

This is incredible! It’s a world of difference from where I was such a short time ago. I can do more in a day and it isn’t as hard to do things. I haven’t had that dragging feeling. I haven’t felt like someone stuck a vacuum into my side and was sucking out all of my energy. Sure, I haven’t experienced 100% battery (which is what I assume my peers feel when they’ve slept well and aren’t sick) but that’s ok!

It’s only been a few weeks and I don’t know how long this will last. I want to enjoy it, but I don’t want to overdo things. At the same time, while I have more energy, I also have more pain (hello, Spring!) I took a walk earlier. I had the energy to walk further, but my joints strongly disagreed. So be it. I don’t mind. I still can’t believe I took a short walk and didn’t have to collapse as soon as I got home. Instead, I was able to sit and write this way-too-long post!

Please wish me luck. I am really really hoping this is the start of a great new health chapter in my life! Changing the fatigue like this wouldn’t fix everything. But it would be good enough for me!!


The futility of “You get what you pay for” in healthcare

May 15, 2016

It started as a normal health conversation. I was talking to someone I knew who just got her license (like a prescription) for medical marijuana. She was talking about how great her doctor was, and how I should see him.

I had just started the process to get a license myself. I pointed out that I had already seen a doctor and I wasn’t about to see another. She said I should see hers when I have to renew my license (in 6 months, per state law.) I pointed out that my doctor is cheaper. And that’s when she said it.

You get what you pay for.

I was stunned. First, that’s obviously not always true. My smartphone, for example, was one of the cheaper ones out there, but it’s been running perfectly for 2.5 years. I have plenty of friends with phones that cost twice as much that haven’t lasted as long, or with shorter battery lives. More expensive is not always better.

But more than that, she knows about my financial situation. So even if she’s right, why would she suggest that I spend an extra $100-200 per year unnecessarily? How insensitive!

To be fair, I don’t think she fully understood what she was saying. She became unable to work before she ever reached the age to work. But at a young age she also moved in with the man she later married. He has a good job that easily supports them both. Funds aren’t unlimited, but they take the occasional trip overseas, have 2 dogs, live in a nice apartment, and can afford extras that help her health-wise like massage appointments and laundry service. That’s the only adult life she’d ever known.

So she doesn’t know what it’s like to know that every penny you spend is being pulled out of limited savings. She doesn’t know the fear that if you spend too much, you will run out of money, and then what?

I shook off that comment. I was too surprised to coherently answer, and I knew it wouldn’t matter anyway. Still….

You get what you pay for.

Maybe she’s right? I’ve thought about it a lot in the last two days. Maybe I should have seen that other doctor. In theory, I got what I needed: the license. But her doctor did sound helpful. He gave her personalized advice: which strains of cannabis to buy, how much to take, etc. Then again, it’s too soon to know if his advice was accurate. Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe my doctor’s more generalized advice will turn out to have been more useful.

In 6 months I will need to decide if I should see the same doctor I already saw, or try hers. I’m not sure what I’ll do. What I do know is that line rubbed me the wrong way.

People are constantly offering suggestions of things that will help my health: acupuncture, massage, Alexander Technique, etc. Many of these will and have helped – but who’s offering to pay for them? No one!

So from now on, I think that will be my response. When someone says, “You get what you pay for” or “You should try X” (and of course X isn’t covered by insurance) I’m just going to say:

Are you offering to pay? Thanks! I’d love to try that!

What about you? Have you encountered comments like these? What do you say? Please comment below! I’d love to know!


Confronting the ghosts of medical experiences past

May 10, 2016

Two weeks ago someone I know through my chronic pain support group asked if anyone could give her a ride to an appointment in a town that she can’t get to by public transportation. I volunteered. Little did I know.

It wasn’t until after I volunteered that I thought to ask where in that town her

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Where I walked after confronting today’s ghost.

 

appointment was. It turns out, it was at the same medical center that I went to for my entire childhood. It’s the place where I was treated badly over and over and over again.

My first reaction wasn’t a good one. I pictured the ride up that elevator. I remembered the waiting rooms. I flashed back on the parking garage. And I got really anxious.

And that’s while I was still sitting in my living room!

If figured I could drop her off, find someplace else to wait, and then pick her up. But I was still worried about how I’d react when the time came.

Then someone else in the group volunteered to take her. I told her that if she didn’t mind, it would help me out if she could go with the other person. I never told her why – why cloud her opinion of the place? I was incredibly relieved, but still, the entire thing brought back a lot of memories I’d managed to block out.

Today was different. When a friend called and said she was anxious about an appointment and asked me to go with her, I asked where it was before I answered. I’d learned my lesson. It wasn’t until we arrived at the office (which I’d never been to) that I saw the name on the door. Oh my!

This was the surgeon who messed up my treatment when I was 18. On top of that, he was a real prick. I never call anyone that, but he was. He was a jerk. An asshole. He told me that I shouldn’t complain about the pain I was in because the Olympic gymnasts (it was during the Olympics) were in worse pain (who would he know?!) and look what they could do.

If I was better at standing up for myself back then, I would have pointed out that they had a choice. I didn’t. And I would have pointed out that he was a real jerk for talking to a 17-year-old like that. And I would have never seen him again.

But I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I returned to him and let him perform surgery on me. What was I thinking?

And I saw him today. My friend asked me to go into the appointment with her. I put my feelings aside and acted like I didn’t know the guy. I supported my friend. I took notes. I asked questions.

And now I’m not sure how I feel. I went to a pretty wooded park and walked around for a bit after that. I pet a couple of dogs that people were walking (because any day I pet a dog is a good day!) But I didn’t think about that doctor at all.

Maybe I’ve moved past it. Maybe I dissociated from that guy. Maybe I’ll have nightmares tonight. Maybe this will catch up to me in a week. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, at this moment, I’m feeling ok. I’m focusing on that. And I’m going to try extra hard to avoid horrible doctors and terrible buildings from past experiences, but I know that might not be possible. After all, I’ve seen a whole lot of doctors in over 20 years of living with chronic illness in Boston. I guess it was inevitable that I’d face some of these ghosts again. I just hope it’s the last time for a while….

Have you had experiences like these? How did you handle them? How do they make you feel?


How little pain should I expect?

May 5, 2016

So many doctors have made it clear: I shouldn’t expect to ever live a life without pain again. Ok, I’ve accepted that. But lately I’ve wondered: should I raise the bar for my own pain relief expectations?

I’ve been watching friends, acquaintances and strangers online dealing with their chronic pain. They complain about their pain, while still trying to live somewhat normal lives. They complain that they can no longer go jogging, work two jobs, carry heavy loads, or climb a lot of stairs. At first I’ve thought, “well of course you’re in pain, you shouldn’t expect to still be able to do that.” But then I thought, maybe they should. Maybe I should.

Obviously there are limitations. I’ll never be able to jog. Or work two jobs. Or for that matter, carry heavy loads or climb a lot of stairs, either. But maybe I should be able to do more than I’m doing now without feeling so much pain.

Some days it isn’t that bad. It’s nothing more than a nuisance. But then, I never try to do anything pain-inducing anymore. I don’t think about it. I simply haven’t done those things for so many years that it never crosses my mind to pick up something heavy, reach out my arm at a certain angle, or sit still for a long time. I shift my position constantly without realizing it, because over the years I learned it was necessary and I did it so often that it became automatic. But maybe I should be able to sit still for longer without feeling pain?

There aren’t a lot of options. I don’t like using prescription painkillers because they upset my stomach and it doesn’t seem worth it. I’ve tried NSAIDS, steroids, Plaquenil, Cymbalta…. it’s not like there are a lot of prescription options left. I try nonprescription things too, mostly through my naturopath.

But today I opened the door for a new possibility. I registered for medical marijuana. The United States is a funny place. I know a lot of you aren’t in the U.S. so basically, marijuana is illegal on a federal level, but some states have made it legal. That means that technically you could get in trouble for having it even in those states where it’s legal, but chances are the feds won’t bother you unless you’re a big player of some sort. On top of that, our current federal government has specifically said they’d lay off. It’ll be interesting to see what happens after the next election. But I digress….

As I was saying, I registered for medical marijuana today. I paid $200 to see a doctor, because none of the doctors who do this are covered under insurance. In a few weeks I should have my license from the state. Then I can buy medical marijuana, also called cannabis, but going to a dispensary (there are about a half dozen in the state so far.) I learned about the different strains. It’s possible to get strains of cannabis that help the pain, nausea, or other symptoms without getting you high. That’s what I’ll be aiming for.

But what’s my goal? When I walked in the door today thinking that I wanted to use it for the days when the pain is the worst. The thing is, the people I spoke to there acted like I’d be using it more often to help the pain more often. After all, hadn’t I just said that I was in pain all the time?

I have no intention of using it all the time, of course. But maybe I could use it more, so that instead of only using it on the worst days, I use it on all be the best days. Because shouldn’t my goal be to feel as little pain as possible?

Obviously I have to wait and see how I feel once I start. Maybe I’ll want to use a lot of it, maybe not. I’ve used it before, so I know that I’ll at least want to use it for nausea and digestive pain. It’s a miracle for that. But what about my joints? If it helps my joints, should I try it? And I learned today that it can help fatigue. That could be a life-changer!

I don’t expect this to cure me. I don’t expect to be pain-free. I don’t expect to walk 5 miles or lift a 5-year-old. But maybe taking a swim and cooking dinner the same day should be a reasonable thing to expect?

How do you set your expectations? Our abilities and symptoms are all so different, but we all have the same problem of figuring out what limitations are reasonable and what aren’t. How do you figure it out? Please comment and let me know!


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