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?


A little overwhelm goes a long way

November 16, 2016

I was listening to this really fantastic podcast about getting organized and it got me thinking. How much am I really trying to do?

They said that no one should have more than 7-8 projects at any given time. A project might be redesigning this web site (something I’ve thought about, but….) or knitting a scarf. That’s different than tasks, which are the small bits that make up a project, like finding a new web site theme, reading about how to transfer the site to a fancier host, finding a knitting pattern, or buying yarn.

Ok, that sounds fine. But 7-8 projects is a lot. I figured I should have less, maybe half that. April said that most people have dozens, or even hundreds, of projects on their to do lists, but most can’t handle more than 7 or 8 at a time. I knew I had a lot of projects on my to do list, but I figured wasn’t trying to do that many at once.

Or so I thought. Oh boy. I had at least a dozen. I decided to put a bunch off until later. I made a list of 8 projects, then listed out my tasks.

That was over a month ago and everything was going great. Until this week. I admit I was struggling to juggle all of those projects before, but now it just feels completely impossible. 8 is too many, but it’s hard to put any of them aside when they’re all things I either really need or really want to do.

Should I stop working on the projects that might earn me some money? That isn’t really an option. I could skip the favor that I promised I’d do for a friend. But I’m 90% done and I promised her 10 months ago. I’d really love to finish already! Or should I skip buying pants? I only have 1 pair that fits, and that might be ok in some climates, but not here in Boston.

But then I have a bigger project. I’m moving. This is a great news. I’ll be in a lovely apartment in a nice town. I’ll have all sorts of amenities and I’ll get a dog. The thing is, first I have to change my address in a million different places, sell a bunch of furniture, hire movers, get boxes, and pack! It’s overwhelming. It’s the equivalent of 3 projects.

And that’s probably why I haven’t worked on that favor I promised to help my friend with and I haven’t bought pants (though in fairness, I tried shopping for pants twice and couldn’t find anything either time, so I did try,) and I haven’t done a thing for 3 of my other projects in the last couple of weeks, either. I’m struggling to keep my head above water here.

And yet, I don’t have a full time job. My health isn’t great but it’s fairly stable right now. I don’t have a significant other or kids or even a pet to take up my time. That isn’t to say I don’t have good reason to feel a bit overwhelmed, but maybe it isn’t as difficult as it seems. Maybe I need to take a step back and reexamine things.

I have a lot going on. Appointments are taking up time and energy. But in between those, I need to find a way to fit in some of the projects I’ve prioritized. They’re on my priority list for a reason, so I need to find a way to do them. Because I know I’ll be happier when I do. And less overwhelmed and anxious.

This overwhelm and anxiety is not good for my health and I know it. It even causes me to get less done! Talk about being counterproductive.

Still, I need to be realistic. And that’s why, until I’ve moved and unpacked, I’m removing a couple of projects from my list. 8 is too many, especially if preparing to move is one of them.

But I still plan to buy pants.

What about you? Do you get overwhelmed by what seem like a reasonable number of projects and tasks? How do you handle it? How do you choose what to set aside and what to focus on? Please comment so we can give each other ideas!

Update 2 days later: After giving this more thought and considering the lovely comments by Lorna J. and Ms. Mango, I made a couple decisions. First, I’m categorizing my projects as big, medium, and small. Big is moving. Small is putting a disability-rights bumper sticker on my car. Next, I’m keeping the small ones, but I’m doing them asap and getting them off my plate. I’m moving a couple of the bigger and medium ones off my list. They’ll have to wait until later.

That leaves me with something that feels a bit more reasonable. I did one little thing today: I put the bumper sticker on my car. So little. So easy. But that sticker has been sitting on my table for months! I’m relieved to have that done! I just needed the push. Another small one is an errand that will be done tomorrow. A very large project that I’ve been working on for a while should be done by Sunday (2 more days!) at the latest. And once these things are all done, I’m not adding anything else to my list until after I move.

That will leave me with just 3 projects: moving, buying pants (unfortunately that can’t wait, but I’m going to try and do it tomorrow along with the other errand), and working on a project that I care a lot about. I’ll still have smaller things: knitting and physical therapy and cooking and other daily stuff. But the “projects” list will finally be reasonable! Thanks for the support and encouragement!


Using instinct to set limitations

October 31, 2016

Sometimes there’s no good answer to “Why can’t you do that?” It’s not as simple as “My doctor told me not to” or “I’ll be in too much pain.” Sometimes it’s a gut instinct response. I just know it’s a bad idea, even though I can’t put into words exactly why.

That’s how I feel about traveling right now. I think I can do it. I tell myself I’m ready. But when it comes to it, I feel like I shouldn’t. For a while I thought fear was holding me back. And it is. That’s definitely part of it, but not all of it.

Last weekend was a good example. I did everything “right.” I packed my bag in advance as much as I could. I took an extra adrenal supplement. I took various other supplements and medications that I thought would help. And they did. That’s why I felt horribly ill, but not so bad that I started to think death might be better. That’s the difference: I didn’t think about death.

So it was an improvement, but it still wasn’t fantastic. I felt like crap for hours, despite being super careful. I monitored and moderated my activity levels. I did everything right. But it wasn’t enough.

Last weekend’s trip involved a 3 hour drive – and someone else drove.

What would happen if I flew 5 hours? A friend wants me to visit. They’ve offered to pay for the plane ticket for me. I’d love to visit, but is it worth it? It’s a long flight. In tiny, uncomfortable seats. It could be longer if the flight is delayed. There’s time in the airport, plus getting to and from the airport. There’s the time change – a 3 hour difference.

How would I feel? Worse than after a drive? Certainly. I wouldn’t be able to bring cannabis on the plane with me, so that would make the following hours significantly worse.

In the end, though, I’d survive it. I always have. So why not go?

Because my gut tells me not to. My instinct is that I’d feel horrible for at least a few days, and by the time I started to feel more or less like myself, I’d be on the plane back home. It’s not worth it. Not now, at least.

The problem is that it’s hard to explain all of this in a way that makes sense to other people. I try, and they say I should just do it and it will be fine. I’m letting my fear stop me. I’m thinking about it too much. I should just go and have fun.

That all sounds great. But they don’t live in my body. I know my body. And I’d rather follow my instinct.

Do you have times you follow your instinct and can’t put the reasons into words? How do you explain those things to people? Please comment and share your experiences!


The skill I wish I didn’t need: removing bloodstains

October 15, 2016

I remember the night, around 3am, when my mom taught me how to remove bloodstains.

I got a lot of nosebleeds as a kid. So did most of our family. Luckily, we grow out of them as we get older, and I only get a half dozen or so every year now. Yeah, only.

Some nosebleeds came during the day, and some at night. Usually I woke up fast, since it affected my breathing, but this time I didn’t, and blood got all over my pillowcase. A light sleeper, my mom heard the running water down the hall, and came to investigate. She found me trying to wash the blood out. Instead of doing it for me like she had in the past, she decided it was time I learned how to do it myself, so she showed me what to do. Then she put a clean pillowcase on my pillow and I went back to sleep.

Fun times.

These days, I sometimes still use that skill, but these past two days I’ve used it far too much.

Thanks to PCOS (polycycstic ovary syndrome) my period is always an unpredictable adventure. Sometimes I don’t get it for a year. Then I get it too frequently. Right now I only get it with the help of hormones, but the hormones make me very sick. So the plan my doctor and I created is to only take them for 1 week every three months. That way I’ll bleed (my endometrial lining was building up too much, so unfortunately I can’t just avoid it altogether) but I won’t have to get sick from the hormones all month, every month.

I timed it carefully. I need to allow up to 2 weeks of feeling crappy – 1 week for the hormones and 1 week for my period. I waited until after the pooch left, then took them immediately, because I need my period to be over before I go on a short but much-anticipated trip next weekend with my girlfriends (our first girls’ weekend together!)

It was a good move, because I’m miserable. By the last days of taking the hormones I was fatigued, nauseated, and just feeling lousy, plus moody. Then after 2 days off the hormones, during which the crappy feelings continued, I got my period. And it was heavy. Very heavy. And it still is.

And that’s why in just the past day and a half I have washed bloodstains out of 3 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of pants, and 1 bedsheet. And that’s why it’s noon and I am sitting in my pajamas with no plans or desire to leave the house today. I don’t even want to deal with showering.

It’s a gorgeous day out. The New England fall colors are lovely. Normally I would be outside as much possible. But I’m bloody and crampy and just feeling blah. I’m grumpy  and irritable. I’ve had to wake up in the middle of the night two nights in a row to deal with pads full of blood and various bloodstains. And I curse the biology that makes this happen.

But in a few days this will be over, and I will have 3 blissful months with no period, and only removing my more mundane bloodstains – the ones from random scrapes and cuts, mostly from my own clumsiness.

Won’t that be nice?

Is it just me? Do you have unfortunate bloodstain-removing skills also? Please share in the comments!


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