The never-ending guessing game of boundaries

July 25, 2017

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Having chronic illness means accepting limitations. For almost two decades, my limitations made life more difficult, and they prevented me from doing some things, but their impact was limited in its own way. Then things changed.

Today I want to go to the gym and ride the stationary bike at its lowest setting for 10 minutes. But I’m not sure if I’m up to it. That’s one kind of limitation. That bothers me, but not as much as the other kind of limitation.

I want to live life on my own terms. I want to earn a living and go out more with friends. But mostly I want to travel.

Yesterday a friend told me about a trip she is planning. She knows that it is beyond her chronic illness-produced boundaries, but she is taking a chance by going anyway. And it made me question, not for the first time, if I should take more risks.

Part of me thinks I should. My doctor thinks I could. And I’m tempted to just pick up and go. But then I get scared. What happens when I inevitably feel sick? I won’t be able to bring medical marijuana – the only thing that helps – with me. Is it worth taking a trip, when I will probably feel like crap for half of it, and feel horrible when I get home? Will I be able to enjoy myself enough for it to be worthwhile?

But then I wonder, what kinds of regrets will I have if I don’t go? My symptoms will probably get worse over time, not better. Now travel feels difficult, maybe not worthwhile, and scary. At some point it will be completely impossible. Don’t I owe it to my future self to take a trip today?

Sometimes I think I should try doing something small to test the waters. But those smaller trips feel boring. If I’m going to put myself through hell, shouldn’t it be for something fantastic? Sure, I could go to Washington D.C. for the 3rd time, or to Nashville (which I’ve never had any interest in) for the first time, but it would be so much more fun to go Sweden or Norway or Iceland! Those are places I have wanted to visit for years, and I would have so much more fun there. If I feel up to doing anything.

And of course, there’s also the money issue. If I had gobs of money, not only would I not stress out about money, but I could buy certain comforts: a first class seat in the plane, a nicer hotel room, a rental scooter for when I don’t feel up to walking. Instead, I question if I should take money out of my savings for a trip at all, even one without those extra comforts. Then again, I might regret it if I don’t. I probably will.

So these thoughts are spinning around my head for the millionth time. I know some people with chronic illnesses travel. I know others don’t. I know it’s a personal choice and I need to be the one to choose. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Because in the end, it’s not about the trip itself. It’s about the fact that my world has become very small, and I feel the need to open it up. I need new experiences and excitement. I know that would sustain me in a million mental and emotional ways. I just wonder what it would do to me physically.


Can I trust them?

July 11, 2017

Two of my strongest feelings are conflicting with each other, and I’m not sure what to do.

I have a lot of trust issues when it comes to medical professionals. When you look at my history, it’s not hard to see why.

I also have very passionate feelings about medical research. I feel it’s so important to focus more on the “less profitable” health issues. Money should not be the deciding factor! And yes, this is a bit selfish, because I want to see new treatments come to market for conditions that I have, and for conditions that my friends have, too. Not to mention the millions of other folks out there.

There is a group studying the rare form of sleep apnea my father and I have. My doctor wants my father and me to participate. Not only would we each provide useful data on our own, but we’re first degree relatives, which would be very useful for the researchers! My father has already sent in the forms. I have been holding onto them for over a month. I just can’t seem to sign.

The work is legitimate. The researchers are legitimate. I am not worried about giving blood samples or doing sleep studies. There is no logical reason to not do this.

But I can’t seem to sign the papers. I am worried about how the information might be used. What if it’s not kept confidential like they say it will be? Of course, this could be a risk with my regular medical records, too, but those feel more necessary. This is entirely optional.

I should do it. I want to further research. It’s my responsibility. How can I continue to rail against the system when I refuse to participate in it? I want to do this. I honestly do want to do it.

If only I could calm my fears.

What would you do? Have you participated in research at all? If so, how do you feel about it?


There’s no such thing as a quick swim anymore

June 26, 2017
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I wouldn’t mind being able to do this!

When I moved to a new apartment a few months back, a lot of friends were excited for me that I now had a pool. They were a lot more excited than I was.

I lived in a building in a pool once before. It was about 15 years ago. I was living in sunny Los Angeles, where pools are more common, and I was in much better health. I swam regularly during the months when I had less work (and more time.) It was lovely!

But this is not that. This is different. My new friends in the building often invite me for a quick swim. They have no idea what that really means for me.

  • Driving to the pool seems silly, but it’s 1/3 mile away, which is sometimes too far to walk, especially in the summer air.
  • If it’s too cool, no one wants to swim.
  • If it’s too hot, I can’t be outside, even in the pool.
  • If it’s too humid, I can’t be outside, even in the pool.
  • I must bring a lot of water and snacks, even for a “quick” swim, to stay hydrated and keep my strength up.
  • I will be in a lot of pain afterwards.
  • I will be in a lot of pain the next day.
  • I will be exhausted the next day.
  • I might have to cancel all of my plans for the next day so that I can rest and recover.
  • I won’t be able to cook that night, so I need to have leftovers available for dinner.
  • Obviously I can’t swim if I have plans later in the day, because I’ll need to rest.
  • I need to take extra meds if I’m going to swim, which means I have to know about swimming far enough in advance to take the meds.

There’s more, of course, but this gives folks a good idea of why swimming for me isn’t the relaxing, care-free, spontaneous, fun activity that it is for my neighbors. There are many things in our lives that get ridiculously more complicated, painful, and exhausting once chronic illness enters the picture, like grocery shopping. The big difference is that swimming is completely optional. Sure, skipping the pool hurts my social life a bit. But it helps my LIFE life a lot!

I’m not saying I won’t go swimming at all this summer. Only that the logistics have to be just right. I need to know the right people will be there so I’ll have, I need to be feeling good that day and not have other plans in the next day and a half, the weather has to be just right.

It’s not easy. But then, few things are when chronic illness is involved. So yes, I will be the “spoil sport” who skips the pool. I can live with that. Because I’ll live better for it.


Why first person I turn to is Dr. Me

April 24, 2017

It feels like everyone with chronic illnesses has their own story of medical mismanagement. That leads to everyone having their feelings about doctors and the medical establishment. For me, it lead to a combination of distrust and dismissiveness. Which is why it wasn’t until I had a bad reaction that I realized I should have run things by my doctor. But it just simply had never occurred to me to talk to him about it.

My own story of medical mismanagement has to do with crappy insurance, insular establishments, poor practitioners, and a lack of communication. In hindsight, I still can hardly believe that in 11 years of symptoms, my doctor only sent me to a rheumatologist ONCE, and that was only to rule out lupus. The next time I saw a rheumatologist was by my own design, and I was diagnosed within a few weeks.

As it turns out, the test he used to diagnose me had been run several times before, with results that weren’t high enough for a diagnosis, but that were high enough that they should have been flagged. But no one told me about it, and my primary care physician didn’t keep track of it. So the ball was dropped.

Over and over the ball was dropped. It was dropped when I went to my doctor asking to be tested for lactose intolerance. He told me there was no such test (a lie!) and to keep a food journal. Then he showed the journal to a nutritionist (supposedly) and said that it showed I wasn’t lactose intolerant. That was it. No followup. No tests. No referral to a specialist. A few years later I was “diagnosed” with IBS. I remained sick. I was often underweight. I the pain, nausea, and diarrhea were getting worse. 12 years after the lack of a lactose intolerance test, I told my current doctor that I wanted to be tested for Celiac. She said there was no point, that I clearly didn’t have it, and the tests weren’t accurate anyway. She offered no other suggestions, tests, or specialist referrals. So I went gluten free on my own and saw results within a few weeks. 6 months later, with the help of my new naturopath, I made more changes to my diet. Finally, after 20 years of nausea and other digestive symptoms, I was “cured.”

I could tell you dozens of stories like this, but the stories themselves aren’t the point. The point is that I found little use for primary care physicians. They rarely treated my symptoms properly. The rarely gave me the right referrals without a lot of nagging from me. They were supposed to coordinate my care but never did. So what was the point of them? I kept them because insurance required it, that’s all.

Recently I was having a normal day, when I was hit by a wave of nausea. Then my pulse spiked. I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I took my pulse many times. At one point it was 114. That’s not good. After 45 minutes or so, it hit me: I was having a hyperthyroid incident! A minor hyperthyroid incident is scary. A major one can kill you. So yeah, it’s good to take these things seriously. I immediately called my doctor, arranged to take the blood test the next day (since the office and the lab were about to close in 10 minutes) and lowered my medication.

When my doctor, and later other doctors, asked what caused the hyperthyroid incident, I was able to give them a short list of likely reasons. They agreed with my assessment. And the question kept coming up: why hadn’t I told my doctor about the change I’d made to my adrenal supplement dose?

The answer: because I never thought of it.

I knew I would have to lower my thyroid dose to account for the new adrenal dose. I had planned to do that the next week. My body just responded to the change faster than I had expected. My naturopath was working with me on this, and she hadn’t expected such a quick response either.

This wasn’t the first time I had changed that supplement. But I had never discussed it with my doctor.

The funny thing is, for the first time in my life, I have a PCP I like, respect, and trust. But I didn’t tell him.

Because decades of dislike, disrespect, and distrust had trained me not to.

I should have told him. I know that in hindsight. And I hope that next time I will. But who knows? I have very good reasons to be so dismissive of PCPs. No one argues with that (except my doctors, of course.) Maybe one day, if I have enough good experiences, I’ll learn to trust them. Maybe.

In the meantime, I continue to default to my own opinion, at least in areas I have researched (like my thyroid and adrenals.) It has served me pretty well so far.

After all, I chose to lower my thyroid dose after that incident. I hadn’t had the blood test yet. I didn’t know for sure what had happened.

Then the test results came back. I was very hyperthyroid. My doctor’s office told me to lower my dose immediately. But that was days later. The delay could have been dangers.

I had made the call myself, and it was exactly the right decision. Because Dr. Me knows my body better than any other doctor ever will.


What should I tell my neighbors?

January 12, 2017

Usually disclosing my health status isn’t a problem for me. Usually. For some reason, this time it feels different.

After writing this blog for a while I realized that talking about this stuff felt freeing. I needed that. So I began to open up in real life. Bit by bit I felt the difference. The more I was open, the better it felt. It wasn’t about making an announcement, but simply not hiding anything. From time to time I’d meet someone new and I’d mention I had “health issues” and the rest would come out naturally. Easy.

Then a few weeks ago I moved. Normally that wouldn’t change a whole lot, but this is a very friendly and huge apartment complex. I have already met many of my neighbors. Sometimes we say a quick hello. Sometimes I pet their dog but never learn their name. Sometimes we exchange pleasantries. But I’ve had real conversations with a few of them. I love it! It’s so great to be friendly with my neighbors. Of course, the downside is that it means I have a lot to share with them and I’m not sure how to do it.

One neighbor offered me food. I said thank you, it looks great, but I have Celiac. That opened up the conversation around Celiac, but not around my other health problems. It was a start. Another neighbor talked about the benefits of living on the second floor, so I mentioned knee pain that prevents me from doing a lot of stairs. Now she knows about my knee pain, but not about the rest.

Another neighbor was talking about dating, and we compared online dating apps we’ve tried. I mentioned dating women. Coming out as bi is a lot like coming out as disabled or having a chronic illness. I feel like I shouldn’t have to announce it, but people assume I’m straight/healthy if I don’t say anything.

So far, all of these conversations have gone well. There’s been no negativity. Still, as I’m making many new friends and acquaintances all at once, I’m wondering how much to share.

I have already decided not to tell anyone that I’m in one of the “affordable housing” units. Or that I’m on disability benefits. Or that I’m on food stamps. Those things all come with assumptions and stereotypes that I don’t want to deal with right now. If I become friends with someone then I might tell them, but until then, I’m keeping quiet. Besides, even if one person is cool with it, they might be a gossip who tells others, and that would be a problem.

So I’m not telling anyone about my financial arrangements, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell them about my health. The two aren’t always related. I was disabled to a lesser extent back when I was working a full time job.

This isn’t something I want to hide. But I also don’t want to be known as “the sick one” or “the one who is always complaining about her health” – we all know that even when something is simply stated as fact it’s often heard as a complaint – or “the one with all those health problems.” I want people to know me as me. The problem is, these health problems are part of me.

Also, I need to be realistic. At some point I will ask a neighbor to help me with something that a “healthy” person can typically do, and they will wonder what’s wrong with me. I might as well get ahead of that.

Disclosure has to be decided in the moment, on a case by case basis. I know that. Still, it’s hard not to think about how I should approach this. Maybe I think too much, but it’s served me well so far. And so I am being very careful with my approach. Until the day I get fed up and just start announcing it to everyone, because I know that sooner or later, that will happen too.

Have you ever found yourself making a lot of new friends at once, but not in a single day? How do you handle whether or not to disclose, and how much detail to share?


Pups, trees, and better health

December 27, 2016

img_20161223_091955I grew up in a suburb, then went to college in a quiet rural area. But my university had around 17,000 undergraduate students, plus graduate students, faculty, and staff. It was a city unto itself. After college I moved to a city, then a different city for graduate school, then several more moves within cities. Which is why it feels so odd to be living in the suburbs again.

Five short days ago I moved to a suburb that’s a lot quieter and smaller than the one I grew up in. This will be a huge adjustment, but overall I think it will be good. Since this blog is about living with a chronic illness, here are a few ways I think it will be good for my health:

  • This complex allows dogs and there are dogs everywhere. I’ve pet many in just these few short days, including my neighbor’s new puppy! Petting dogs always makes me feel better, no matter what. And soon I’ll have one of my own!
  • Check out the view from my desk at the top of this post. It’s not as great as my old view, but from my window I can see so many trees! From my apartment I can take a walk along a path through woods, something I used to have to drive to do. This will do wonders for my emotional health.
  • It’s so quiet here. I’ve been sleeping better than I thought was possible. When I’m awake, it’s peaceful and relaxing. It’s strange, and a huge adjustment, but I find it calming and lovely.
  • No. More. Stairs. I’m on the first floor and there are no stairs to get into the building. This is amazing!
  • Easy parking. I used to feel stressed out about finding a parking space. Then I would have to carry things from my car, sometimes several blocks, just to get to my building (before dealing with the stairs.) Now the tiny parking lot is by my front door, and I never have to park very far. Bringing in groceries today was so easy.
  • Laundry is now in my unit. The last time I had that was when I lived with my parents. My guess is that laundry won’t be fatiguing anymore.
  • No traffic. I have to do a lot more driving (I can no longer walk to things or take public transportation,) but it’s much less stressful.
  • Less pollution. ‘nuf said.
  • It’s a smaller apartment. There are downsides to that, and I’m not thrilled, but I also know that on the days I’m in too much pain to walk, having a smaller apartment will be super helpful.

In time, I’m sure I will find more ways this move will be beneficial to my health. In the meantime, I’m excited to enjoy these new benefits. Now excuse me while I go unpack some more boxes….


Trying to do it “all” with chronic illnesses

December 14, 2016

It feels like everything is hard with a chronic illness. Pain, fatigue, and other symptoms affect us in ways most people don’t think about.

Walking is harder. Sitting is harder. Reading is harder. Cooking is harder. Planning is a hell of a lot harder.

Last year I wrote down goals for earning money in 2016. I didn’t succeed, but they put me on a better path than I would have otherwise been on. So I did it again for 2017. And then I did something else: I wrote down my personal goals. I’ve never done that before and it was fascinating.

I wrote down everything big. And I realized how much harder it will all be than I would have thought just a few years ago.

I wrote down the book I want to write, blogging here, improving my health including doing regular physical therapy and other exercise, getting a dog (yay!), joining a dating site (well, maybe), making new single friends (most of my friends are coupled off at this point) through attending meetup groups, and some other things I’ll be telling you about soon.

It was a really great exercise and I recommend everyone do it. It puts everything into perspective. Doing this forced me to seriously consider everything I want to do, then narrow that down to what I want most. Then I broke that down into what I need to do to make it happen. For example, in order to make new friends, I need to join some meetup groups and actually attend, instead of my usual thing of joining but then staying home. (If you don’t know about meetup.com and you want to get out of the house more, check it out! I can’t do the physical activity groups like hiking or playing frisbee anymore, so I’m joining knitting and board game groups.) And I wrote down how many times a day I’ll do physical therapy, how many times a week I’ll check in on dating sites, and so on.

And then I looked at my list, added up the time required for each thing, and thought, “No wonder I’m so overwhelmed and never feel like I have enough time to get things done!” It was great! I mean, it sucked, because I have to give up something that’s important to me. But at least now I understand that it wasn’t that I was unorganized, just that I was trying to do more than my health allows. I have fewer hours, and I need to accept that. Sure, I’ve got a lot less on my list than I would if I was healthy, but it’s still too much. I can’t go right from a date to taking a walk – I need to rest in between. I can’t make new friends unless I have the energy to go out with them, and that takes energy from other activities. I still want to hang out with my current friends, knit, read, and do other things. Plus, showering, getting dressed, laundry, washing dishes, and even eating take up a lot of energy. But I don’t have to tell you that.

And of course, I can’t assume that any of my plans will stick. I could plan to do 3 hours of stuff every Monday, and some Mondays I’ll be able to do more but others I’ll have to less or maybe nothing at all. It’s completely unpredictable.

So that’s how I find myself looking at my list of personal goals for 2017, feeling keenly aware of the ways that everything is just a bit harder with chronic illnesses.

I don’t have the answers yet, but at least I can see the problem clearly. Something’s gotta give. Ok. I accept that. Now I just need to find the answers.

What about you? Do you set personal goals? How do you find ways to fit everything in or pare down?


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