Wishing someone would tell me what to do

August 20, 2018

When I was a kid and I didn’t feel well, my mother would bring me a cool cloth for my forehead, some children’s Tylenol, juice, and toast. She took care of me. She told me to rest, to watch tv, to read a book. She told me if it was severe enough to go to the doctor. I didn’t have to think.

It’s not like that as an adult. Now I have to take care of myself. I have to remember to take the medicine, to rest or not, to buy juice at the store. Of course I miss having my mom take care of me when I’m sick, but mostly I manage those things ok. What I miss the most, though, is someone else telling me what to do. Making the big decisions.

Sure, I still struggle sometimes with when to take the Tylenol when I have a fever, but that’s not such a big deal. The harder piece is choosing which treatment approach to take with my chronic illnesses.

I have a long list of illnesses of course. And just when I think I know where to focus my attention, one of the supposedly not-so-important illnesses taps me on the shoulder, winks, and then pushes me down a flight of metaphorical stairs.

Like my PCOS. Everything seemed to be just fine, and then I got a period so heavy that my doctor told me to go to the emergency room due to the blood loss. Then I became depressed for several weeks as my hormones did wacky things. Not fun. I was already considering trying a new way to manage my PCOS, but that episode made it clear just how necessary a new plan was.

Now I have seen 4 medical practitioners who I trust a lot, and I have 4 potential treatment approaches. And I don’t like any of them. I desperately want someone else to tell me what to do.

You see, most people just take birth control pills and they’re fine. The problem for me is that birth control pills make me incredibly sick. Since those aren’t an option, I need to find something else. (Sometimes Metformin is prescribed. I tried this once and immediately had an allergic reaction, so that’s not an option, either.)

It’s easy to knock out 1 approach right now: the one I’ve already been doing. It worked great for many years but has recently become ineffective, so that has to go. But what about the other 3? They each seem reasonable, but which to try? Each of them has the potential to make me feel incredibly ill, so I’m not anxious to try any of them, but not doing anything isn’t an option. Each doctor makes an excellent case for each approach.

I will try one, and if I don’t immediately have horrible side effects, it will take months to know if it works. So it could take a year or more to find a treatment that works. If any of them do.

I want someone to tell me: do this. Simple. Easy. But that isn’t an option, either. So I will continue to debating, to research, to question. And in the end, maybe I will make the right choice and maybe I won’t.

These decisions are complicated and difficult. Sometimes the choice is obvious (though still not easy) but often it’s not. And no one is going to make it for me.

In case you’re curious, here are my current options (from an endocrinologist, a naturopath, a women’s health nurse practitioner, and a gynecologist – clearly I’m not limiting my sources!):

  1. A progesterone compound. I feel sick when I take it and it no longer works effectively to give me a predictable cycle.
  2. A supplement called Calcium D-Glutarate. It should help balance out estrogen. This appeals as an easy thing to take that can be easily stopped, but I’m concerned about what it does. It lowers estrogen, and the other practitioners say I need to increase progesterone and estrogen and/or lower testosterone, so I’m not sure this is the right approach for me.
  3. Progesterone cream. It’s harder to dose and I have to be careful to not damage my skin. It would hopefully fix my cycle but not the other symptoms so I would have to take spironolactone. This makes me nervous because it’s a blood pressure medication and my blood pressure is already too low.
  4. An IUD. This makes me nervous because if I have a reaction, I can’t quickly remove it myself. Again, I would need to take spironolactone in addition.

If any of you folks with PCOS have tried any of these things, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Maybe you can help me make an informed decision. Because I’m not having much luck so far.

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Trying to manage when it feels unmanageable

May 7, 2018

Somehow I used to work 45+ hours per week, cook, clean, do errands and chores, and have a social life. How?

Now I feel more overwhelmed than I did then, and I do a lot less. In some ways. In other ways, I suppose I do a lot more, but it’s hard to remember that. Our culture is so wrapped up in “jobs” and “what do you do for work?” and “you must have a lot of free time without a job” that it’s easy to feel like a failure for being overwhelmed without the 9 to 5.

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I think that my mental and emotional tolerance for these kinds of things is way lower than it used to be. But I also know that I do a lot. Dealing with pills and physical therapy exercises take up time. So do meal planning, clothes planning, and all of the other planning around my health issues. Meditation, reading up on symptoms and treatments, and writing this blog also take up time. Then there are the many, many medical appointments. And that’s all before we talk about actual acute symptom management. Not to mention, the extra hours I need to spend in bed and resting on the couch. Put that all together, and that’s my full time job.

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Then there’s my work. It’s not a 9 to 5, but it’s all I can manage. Sometimes, it’s more than I can manage. I sell craft items I make. Or at least, I try to. I have an online coaching business. I just tried to start another online business, but it was too much, and now I’m in the process of shutting it down. I do dog sitting. Not every day, but a little is better than none. It has the advantage of giving me canine company. Right now, this beautiful dog is snoring next to me!

There’s also non-work work. I do a little bit of volunteering for a support group that I’m in. I speak to friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends about health issues and try to assist the best that I can.

On top of all of that, I have typical adult stuff: laundry (which I should actually be doing right now,) grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning, other errands. This week I finally got a haircut, which was about 3 weeks overdue. I wanted to do it sooner, but between feeling sick, being busy, and simply feeling overwhelmed, I wasn’t able to do it.

I have personal projects. I am currently writing a book about living with chronic illness. I am trying to clean out the clutter in my closets. I’d like to experiment with some new recipes. I want to spend more time reading.

On top of all of that, as if it weren’t already enough, I’d like to socialize more. Over a year ago I left the city and moved out to the suburbs. I want to make more friends out here. I want to spend more time with my old friends. I want to date. After a recent breakup I finally feel ready to date again, but I have no time or bandwidth for it.

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It’s true that I’m less efficient than I used to be. Let me sit in front of the computer to work for an hour, and I will accomplish less than I could have accomplished in an hour 10 years ago. Some of that is illness-related. Some of that is being out of practice. But I am working for that hour and I do get shit done.

It’s just that there’s always more to do than I can manage. And something’s gotta give.

Which is why I am not dating. Which is why I am closing one of the businesses I started. Which is why I don’t socialize nearly as much as I’d like to. Which is why I don’t have much fun in my life these days. Which is why I am stressed out and overwhelmed and feeling like a failure. Sure, I know that I am not a failure. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to remember that. To really believe it. All I can do is keep remembering how much I do, and strive to eventually get to a place where I’m less overwhelmed.

And for you, dear reader, I want you to know that you’re not alone. In the chronic illness world, we often seem to have 2 modes: doing a lot that never seems to be enough and feeling overwhelmed and stressed out; or doing very little “productive” stuff while we rest and take care of our health and feel guilty about not doing enough.  But we shouldn’t feel guilty. We are doing the best we can to take care of ourselves. Some folks are even taking care of families as well. It’s hard. Fucking hard. And we deserve praise and congratulations for everything we work so hard to do, even when it’s not as much as what we want to do. So give yourself a figurative pat on the back. And then go do something FUN and don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve it.

Note: I have written many times about being on benefits, so some of you are probably wondering why I’m busting my butt with multiple jobs. That is because when I add up social security, food stamps (SNAP), and fuel assistance, I still fall far short of what I need to pay my expenses. I live in affordable housing and my rent is currently over 90% of my social security income. Then I need to pay for utilities, car insurance, gas, car maintenance, medical treatments that aren’t covered by insurance, and maybe once a month I might even go out for a cheap meal. On top of all of that, I am nervous about the future state of benefits in this country, and don’t want to rely on them. I would much rather earn my own way and be independent of them. For now my goal is to earn enough to support myself with benefits. Down the road I would like to get off of them, though I know that’s a rare and difficult thing to accomplish.


The circular reasoning of spending money to get off benefits

February 4, 2018

I was always one of the few people who didn’t stress about money. I was lucky.

My parents raised me in a comfortable home, where we never worried about the basics. We didn’t take a lot of fancy trips, and my mom didn’t wear a lot of expensive jewelry. My parents bought new cars like Camrys – new, but not luxury. I got an allowance every week. It wasn’t huge, I saved it. I saved a lot. I saved my babysitting money. I saved my summer job money. I spent some too, but I saved more than I spent. By the time I went to college, I had decent savings.

My parents paid for college. I got a fellowship for my first year of grad school, then worked two jobs to pay for the next year. I never had any debt. I worked in nonprofit, so I didn’t earn a lot, but I lived inexpensively for the most part, and it all worked out.

Until I became too sick to work. That changed everything.

Suddenly, I worried about every dollar I spent because I knew I couldn’t earn more. I also knew that my benefits didn’t quite cover my expenses. I was taking money out of savings to make up the difference, and how long could that last? Thank goodness for my savings!

And then my health started to improve. I felt I could work a little bit. Not enough for an office job. Not enough for a typical work-from-home job. I couldn’t predict which days I would feel up to working. Or which weeks I wouldn’t be able to work at all. So I started my own business.

Things didn’t go great. I made some money, but nothing consistent. Worse, there was no way to earn more without putting in more hours, and that was impossible. I burned out fast.

I decided it was time to try a different type of business. I had thought about it a couple years ago, but discounted it for a few reasons. For one, it seemed less fun. For another, it required taking a decent amount of money out of savings and risking losing it. But now, I don’t have a lot of options, so I have to try.

Even more than risking that money on the business, I’m going to hire a coach! And the coach isn’t cheap. Still, if I’m going to do it, I should do it right, right?

This is a decent amount of money coming out of my savings. I don’t think I would have loved it at any time in my life, but right now especially, it makes me very nervous. I need this money!

On the other hand, what am I risking? This money in my savings could cover me for  year, as long as I have my other benefits. But for various reasons, I am about to lose some of my benefits (fuel assistance, utility assistance, food stamps/SNAP.) So this money would cover me for less than a year, in addition to social security. I could lose a year’s worth of non-rent expenses.

That’s the risk. But what about the reward? If this works, I could earn enough to get off of benefits altogether! I could support myself without having to work full time. I would do the work from home (or from anywhere, as long as I have a laptop and internet connection) and make a full time income. It would be amazing!

That’s what I’m holding on to. That hope that maybe, just maybe, this could work.

I know it’s a long shot. Very few people manage to get off of benefits. I could even earn enough to lose my benefits without earning enough to support myself, which is the worst-case scenario (and the one I’m going to be careful to avoid.)

I am supposed to pay the coach today, and I’m nervous as hell. I keep holding off. It’s A LOT of money. But on the other hand, it isn’t that much money. And there’s the rub. If I was working, it wouldn’t feel like all that much. Yes, it’s a lot (thousands of dollars), but I’d be earning, and I don’t have debt. It only feels like so much because I can’t earn more. But ironically, I need to spend it so that I have a chance at earning more, even though it’s my fear of not being able to earn it back that’s stopping me from spending it in the first place.

I have been wrestling with this decision for a week. Every time I convince myself to do it, I chicken out. But tomorrow is it. The final deadline. Because at some point, the coach needs to fill in this slot in her schedule, and I need to sleep better at night without worrying about this.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, it could work…..

Do you have these same kinds of feelings about spending money, even when it feels necessary or beneficial in the long run? How do you handle the complicated emotions it brings up?

P.S. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. My goal would be to earn back everything I spent by the end of this year, to make a profit next year, and to hopefully be off benefits the year after that. If this works, I’ll be happy to tell you all about it.


Fed up with fear

October 24, 2017

I remember the “old” me like it’s someone else. Someone else who took risks. Someone else who moved all the way across the country to try something new. Someone else who traveled overseas alone. Someone else who went scuba diving with sting rays despite her fear of open water (and yes, I was terrified of the open water! I was happy with the sting rays. Go figure.) Someone else who simply did things.

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My hand, petting a sting ray’s nose. It was softer than I expected.

But no, it was me. Me before I felt this sick and tired and in pain all the time. Except not really. My nausea was much worse back then. The pain was just as bad (or worse), simply in fewer parts of my body. But the fatigue wasn’t the same. The food limitations weren’t so strict. The knowledge of how sick I was hadn’t reached me yet. I figured I was ok, just with pain and nausea, and so I did things.

And now I don’t.

I haven’t been on an airplane in almost 7 years. I miss travel, but I don’t do it. What’s the worst that could happen? I hate to think about it. But would it really be all that bad?

Why don’t I try new things that are fun and exciting? Sure, I do new things, but they’re boring things. I’m writing a book. I tried a new group through Meetup. I have started dog sitting. I might enjoy the things, but they don’t open me to exciting new experiences. They don’t expand my view of the world. They aren’t like scuba diving with sting rays.

For a long time I have been frustrated by feeling like I couldn’t do things. Now I question if maybe I could do those things, but my fear is what’s holding me back. I get different opinions from my doctors. No one tells me sure, it’s no problem if I want to fly to England to visit a friend there. But they also don’t tell me it’s a horrible idea and I shouldn’t consider it. I get a lot of, “you could probably do it if….”

And then I wonder if my fear is rational. I’m worried about having a lousy trip because I feel horrible the entire time. It seems like a waste to spend a lot of time, effort, and money on a trip that I won’t even enjoy. But I could risk that. It’s not what’s ultimately holding me back. No, what’s holding me back is a fear of setting back my health.

If you have been following this blog, you know that 6 years ago, I was struggling, but getting by. I worked a full time job and sometimes went out after work. I liked a fairly “normal” life. Then things got so bad that I was on bed rest 3-5 days a week. Now I am doing much better than I was a few years ago, but no where near well enough to work a full time job. I can’t even manage a part time job. Still, things have been slowly improving. Doing something big and exciting could set me back. And a backslide could take years to recover from. I’m scared to risk that!

And let’s be clear, I’m not only talking about travel. I would love to go ziplining locally, but what if I injure myself, or my adrenals can’t handle the excitement? I want to go to a party and stay out late and have fun, but whenever I try I feel horrible for days afterwards, sometimes weeks, so now I’m scared to do it anymore. I want to try a new type of food that’s free of gluten, corn, and the other foods I can’t eat, but what if it makes me sick? I could go on and on.

Some of these are reasonable and I should avoid them. But others….. am I letting fear hold me back too much?

Fear has it’s place. It protects us from doing things that will hurt us. But right now, I wonder if it’s stopping me from experiencing great things that I will love. Things that will make me happy. Because what’s the point of life if I’m not experiencing it? Then again, what’s the point of life if I’m always making myself miserable?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but at least I have gotten to the point of questioning my own fears and whether or not they are valid. I’m frustrated that I don’t have answers, but I am glad to be asking the questions.

Maybe one day I will be able to answer: are these fears reasonable?

If you have dealt with similar fears, how have you handled them? Do you take the risks, or avoid them?


How a weekend away is a 2 week ordeal

October 2, 2017

I’m going away this weekend and I’m super excited!

I used to travel all the time. 2 months at home felt like FOREVER. I could pack an overnight back without even thinking about it. I got on a plane multiple times each year and did some weeks and weekends within driving distance. A weekend away in the Berkshires, less than a 3 hour drive away, would be no big deal.

But that was then.

And this is now.

Now I have to plan. I am being super careful about washing my hands and avoiding germs. I can’t get sick now!

I need to bring food with me. I will be with friends and some food will be safe for me to eat, but I need to bring other food. So I went to the grocery store today (Monday) and carefully planned out what I will make and which days I will make it. I also promised to bake cookies to bring, and I can’t do big cooking on the same day I bake, because I won’t have enough energy for that, but I can’t make anything too far in advance because I want it all to be fresh.

The day before the trip I will do some packing, but most of my stuff (my ASV (which is like a CPAP), my medications, toiletries, and more) can’t be packed until the day of. I need to ration my energy that day. Thankfully, I only have to drive half an hour to a friends’ house that day and then she will do the rest of the driving from there. Still, even being a passenger will be tiring and painful.

I am already thinking about how to handle my food and medications on the day of the trip. I always feel like shit the first night I travel. So I am being careful to bring everything I need to take it all at the right times: I will take something to help with the pain and the nausea when we start to drive, something else for the pain when we arrive, then something else for the nausea a few hours after that. Between medical cannabis and pepto bismol, the right foods and lots of rest, I am hoping really hard that it won’t be too miserable. Thankfully, I will be with friends who will understand if I can’t hang out with them that night.

I have scheduled my medical appointments around this trip. I was able to get a physical therapy appointment just a couple days after I return, so hopefully that will help with the pain from the long car ride and sleeping in a less-than-great bed.

My calendar is empty for the first 2 days after my return. That will give me time to rest and recover. I will get a lot of sleep, watch tv and movies, crochet, and read. If I feel up to it I will do more, and if not, that’s ok too. During my recovery time, I still need to eat, and I might not be up to preparing food, so I am making sure to cook and freeze food now that I can eat when I return.

I want to travel more. I really, desperately do. But then I remember what a trip like this is like. I can manage it ok, because it is only two days. I will leave at noon on Friday and be home by 5pm on Sunday at the latest. And I won’t be flying. I know it would be much harder if I was flying, for many reasons. It would be more painful. I might feel anxious at being “trapped” on a plan. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be able to bring any cannabis with me, and I can’t imagine how I would manage my symptoms without it.

At the same time, a friend and I are trying to schedule another weekend that I can visit her. The drive is less than 2 hours, but I would be driving myself. She would provide food I could eat during the entire visit, but aside from that, everything else would be the same. Resting for days in advance, blocking out days afterwards for rest, figuring out medications and other things to help alleviate my symptoms while knowing that I will almost definitely feel like shit the night that I arrive.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. But I know it will be in the end. Even thought it won’t be easy. It won’t be like it was before. But hopefully it will still be fun.


Going public is like coming out over and over

September 13, 2017

Once upon a time, no one knew I had health problems unless I told them. Ok, that’s not entirely true. There were signs. It’s just that most people didn’t pick up on that signs, or I could shrug them off as an injury or something. It was easy to lie.

Then I decided to write a book.* Now, when you Google my name, that book comes up. And it’s all about having chronic illnesses.

This has been such an interesting experience. It makes my journey public in a way it never was, because even though most people don’t Google my name, I know that they could. And that leads me to think and speak about my health in different ways.

Take last night, for example. I was giving a presentation in front of a group on a different topic entirely. Someone asked a question and I was answering it with a few examples. And then I mentioned medical stuff as a relevant example. There was was, in front of a small group, pointing at a screen, and looking completely healthy except for my knee braces. And I felt odd mentioning my health, but it was relevant. And I even said, “this is no secret – if you Google me, you’ll see the book I wrote on this topic.” And I saw some eyes move south to those knee braces.

It’s like coming out. I joined an online dating site a few months ago. I was taking a walk with a neighbor and she was asking me about it. We didn’t know each other well, but were friendly. She asked if I had met anyone and I said I’d met a couple interesting people. She asked about them, and as I mentioned the man, everything was normal. When I mentioned the woman, I saw her hesitate. I watched her brain churn as she processed that bit, and then we moved on. With other people, where there’s context, I might directly say that I’m bisexual. But no matter what, if the topic is going to come up, I need to come out over and over again, because whether I’m dating or single, no one will know I’m bi if I don’t mention it.

And every time, I wonder how the other person will react. Will they be accepting? Will they be jerks? Will they ask the same old tired questions?

Just like mention my health problems. Every time, it’s necessary to specify what I’m talking about. Every time, I wonder how they will react. Will they be accepting? Will they be jerks? Will they ask the same old tired questions?

Sometimes I want to wear a sign on my head, or print business cards to hand out: YES, I HAVE CHRONIC ILLNESSES AND NO, THE DETAILS ARE NOT YOUR BUSINESS. Except that now, with the book, some of the details are out there. So they could be your business. Still, it doesn’t mean I want to talk about it all the damn time.

But you see, there’s also the part we don’t usually think about: it’s freeing! Every time I start to question whether or not to mention something, I remember, it’s out there anyway, so why not talk about it? Is it ok to share this? Might as well. Is this a secret? Apparently, not any more.

Again, it’s like coming out. I don’t have to watch my pronouns anymore. I can just speak about past loves and lovers like anyone else would. Sure, I have to use my judgement for safety. Yes, some people will be jerks, but there aren’t any secrets.

That isn’t to say I don’t have limitations. I still write things on this blog, for example, that I wouldn’t say publicly. There’s definitely something to be said for having a pseudonym. Still, to be able to speak publicly and not question myself constantly is HUGE!

It also means more people in my life know about my health issues. I’m more open about it on Facebook because, after all, they see me promoting my book. There’s no question about it at all anymore.

Coming out about orientation, health, or anything else is a personal choice. This isn’t something I would have done even just a few years ago. I am so glad I have. For me, right now, this was definitely the right move. If it’s not right for you, though, that’s cool, too. You have to do what works for you.

Have you been public about your health stuff? How has that gone for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

*It’s frustrating that I can’t tell you what the book is. I want to so badly, but that would defeat the purpose of having a pseudonym here.


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.


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