Watching dawn

April 19, 2018

The first time it happened, I was baffled. Waking up during the night isn’t so unusual, but staying awake for hours before falling asleep again is beyond odd.

It happened a bunch of times, but finally I got into a good sleep pattern. Between my CPAP for sleep apnea, various supplements, good bedtime routines, etc., I was doing ok as far as sleep went. Not fantastic, but ok.

Until a couple weeks ago. At least 5 times in the last 2 weeks I have woken up during the night and stayed awake for a while. Sometimes I have thoughts swirling in my head. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breath with my CPAP on. Sometimes I’m in pain. But always, I’m awake. Too awake.

This morning, not for the first time, I saw dawn break. I’m not a morning person, and I have only ever voluntarily seen dawn 3 times in my life: once because I knew it would be beautiful to see dawn over the Atlantic ocean where I was staying and so I woke up super early to see it, once on an airplane where the time difference made it easy, and once when some friends and I stayed up all night talking and laughing and watching movies (ah, youth) only to discover as we finally turned out the lights that it was actually getting light outside already. That’s it. The rest of the times have been far from voluntary.

Like this morning.

Last night went something like this:

  • Wake up.
  • Realize something isn’t right.
  • Look at the clock.
  • Look at the readout on my CPAP and realize I only wore the mask for an hour even though I had slept for 3.
  • Put on CPAP mask.
  • Try to shut off the thoughts running through my head. I’m not stressed out, just too awake to stop thinking.
  • Try to sleep.
  • Finally give up on sleep.
  • Go to the bathroom.
  • Drink water.
  • Try to sleep.
  • Can’t sleep.
  • Read a book for a while.
  • See that it’s getting light out.
  • Feel sleepy.
  • Notice that it’s 6am.
  • Debate staying awake for the day at this point.
  • Remember that I have only slept for about 3 hours, and only 1 hour with the CPAP.
  • Put on the mask and go back to sleep.
  • Wake up to a loud noise and feel tired and irritated. Why didn’t I shut off the alarm when I was awake during the night?
  • Snooze the alarm.
  • Sleep for a few more minutes, then give up and stay awake. At least I got to sleep for another 2 hours.

That was bad. Even worse was trying to focus today. I didn’t get out of bed until 10am. I was awake, but dragging. When I got up, the world had started the day without me. People kept texting me. I responded, until I just couldn’t manage it anymore. A friend was trying to figure out where we should meet up the next day, but I couldn’t handle making decisions. It was hard to focus. Wait, did I say that already? Everything was a bit tough to grasp. Everything was exhausting.

A friend suggested I call a doctor, but who? I saw my sleep doctor recently. There’s nothing more to be done. I have a complicated condition that’s hard to treat, and they’re doing the best they can. There’s a medication that could help. One. And it’s in a class of drugs that I’m allergic to. I take supplements that help, but not consistently. Medical marijuana helps, but I don’t want to use that every single night. So I just have to try and stick it out. It sucks.

Now it’s night again, and almost time for bed. Tomorrow night I’m going to a show that I have been looking forward to for months. I have the ticket. I have plans to go with a friend. So please please please I just need to sleep through the night with my CPAP mask on all night long. Please. If I do that, I know I’ll be able to function.

If only I had a choice.

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It takes skill to injury yourself the way I do

March 27, 2018

The other day I woke up to find that I had wrenched my shoulder in my sleep. It felt like it was partially dislocated. Sometimes it felt fine, and then I’d try to put on a shirt or reach for something and there’d be searing pain. I didn’t fall. I didn’t pick up something heavy. I slept wrong.

Everyone hurts themselves from time to time. A stubbed toe or a paper cut are the hazards of daily life. No big deal. But then there’s this other level that shows up when your body is out of whack. Being out of whack makes me more prone to these kinds of injuries, and sometimes they make no sense.

Like the time I wiggled my toes and injured a tendon. That was a month ago. It still hurts.

I’m skilled, I tell you. Totally skilled. I mean, it’s not the average person who could give themselves a long term toe tendon injury, with daily pain, just by wiggling their toes!

And do I go to the doctor for any of these injuries? No. Of course not. Because I’d be going All. The. Time!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take big things seriously. When I dropped a chef’s knife on my foot a couple years ago, I went to the emergency room for stitches, and later had surgery.

But no, I don’t see a doctor for every injury. Just like I don’t see a doctor for every new gastrointestinal symptom or new pain or new type of fatigue. What’s the point?

So I’m waiting these out, hoping they’ll eventually go away on their own. They often do. Like the time I finally went to the doctor for the unmistakable nerve pain, to be told I had a pinched nerve and should go to physical therapy. I didn’t have time. I asked if not going would cause long term damage. She said no. So I didn’t go. Eventually it fixed itself. If it hadn’t, I’d have gone.

So many of us have far too many medical issues already, so we try to ignore the little ones. But it sure would be easier to ignore them if we weren’t so skilled at creating new ones constantly!


Self care goes a long way

March 21, 2018

I have to try harder. All the time. It feels like nothing I do is ever going to be enough. Sometimes it’s my body limiting me. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s emotions. But I always feel like I need to do more.

That’s why it’s so hard to slow down.

On the days that I’m in too much pain to walk, I’m forced to stay off my feet. When my energy is low, I’m forced to be at home. But I still try to wash dishes or read or do something useful. But who defines what’s “useful”? Sometimes, the most useful thing is to take care of myself.

A few weeks ago I was very stressed out. I have had years to get used to taking care of myself physically, but taking care of myself emotionally was much harder. Because I had to focus on my feelings. I couldn’t do anything tangible to take care of myself. Physically I felt like I should be doing more, but I knew I needed to deal with my emotions.

So I did. For a few days I wrote in a journal, watched movies that I knew would trigger the feelings I was avoiding, and stopped myself from the automatic distraction mode I’m so used to engaging in. Slowly, it worked. I dealt with my feelings. It’s still an ongoing process, but I feel like myself again, and things are better.

It’s easy to always feel like we’re never doing enough. Especially for those of us who are too sick to work full time and do the other things that society expects. But we need to remember that self-care is important, too. Yes, we need to have balance. Dishes must be washed, clothes must be cleaned, groceries must be bought. But we also need to take care of ourselves on every level.

This isn’t new to me, but it’s an ongoing lesson that I am constantly striving to learn. I think that many of us are.


The stress of dealing with stress

March 12, 2018

When the doctor told me I needed to avoid stress because of my autoimmune disease, I laughed to myself. If it was that easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?

But over the years I learned how to stress out less. I’m still Type A. I’m still controlling, But I managed it. I get stressed out in more reasonable ways. It doesn’t feel as extreme as it used to, or last very long. I almost never lose sleep.

Until this month.

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The last few weeks have been really rough. I have been struggling a lot. And finally yesterday, I just felt so frustrated by it all. I wasn’t sure what to do. I called a friend who also has chronic illness, because I felt stuck. I wanted to stay home and rest and be alone. But I had already done that several times in the last week and it didn’t help. So was it fair to cancel plans with a new friend?

She helped me realize that I did need to stay home and take care of myself. And that while spending a day watching tv and crocheting will help me when I’m physically exhausted, it’s not enough for my current anxiety and stress. Emotional issues require a different approach.

She suggested a journaling exercise: write for 10 minutes without stopping. Make it a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, and do it for 4 days. The key is not to write about *what* is causing me stress but to write about *how* it makes me feel. That’s harder. I’m not good at that.

But the minute we hung up the phone, I set my timing and got started.

Within a few minutes I was crying. It was wonderful! You see, my problem is that I have gotten so good at compartmentalizing my feelings when I need to, that I’m doing it even when I shouldn’t. Like right now. For the past week I have felt like I needed to cry, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me feel better, but I couldn’t do it. I tried cutting onions. I shed some tears, but it wasn’t a real cry. I watched a sad movie. Again, I shed tears, but it wasn’t the sobfest that I really needed. It wasn’t enough.

But the journaling exercise got me to cry. Then I got in the shower and cried more. Seriously cried. It didn’t last long, but I had tears streaming down my face and snot running out of my nose and it felt good. Cleansing.

I need to cry more. Maybe today’s journaling will help. Maybe not. But it’s worth a try.

We’re taught not to cry. Crying is bad. Not crying shows strength. I am proud of the fact that I almost never cry. I feel embarrassed when I do cry. But why? It’s a natural expression of emotions. What’s wrong with that?

My health issues also bring up a lot of negative feelings. I usually deal with them by setting them aside while they’re raw, then dealing with them a bit later when they aren’t quite as strong. That works for me.

The problem is that it stopped working. At least in this case. A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I broke up. We weren’t together long, which was part of the problem: it made me feel like I didn’t have the right to be upset. But I was. This relationship was different. I thought it would last a long time. So did she. The breakup itself isn’t the point of the story, though; the point is that I didn’t mourn. We broke up at night, and I called my mom and cried. The next day I had a medical appointment in the morning. On the drive there I wanted to cry but I stopped myself, because I didn’t want to be an emotional wreck during the appointment. I didn’t want to be distracted. By the time I got home, I was too tired to deal with my emotions. The next day I had another appointment. Again, in the car I almost cried, but I stopped myself.

And then that was it. I never really cried. I just went on with my life. I didn’t talk about it much with friends. What was the point? The breakup was no one’s fault. I wasn’t mad at her. I missed her, but talking wouldn’t help, right? The thing is, pushing aside my feelings just meant that I felt fine at the time, and now it’s caught up with me. Now I’m stressed out and anxious.

But it took yesterday for me to figure that out. I thought I was stressed about other things. I knew my response to them was way out of proportion, though. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was anxious a lot. I was overwhelmed. I was yelling at people. What was wrong with me?

What was wrong was that I wasn’t dealing with things. I was pushing them aside.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I have autoimmune disease. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick! But it was definitely a strain on my adrenals, and I had to increase the dose of adrenal supplement that I was trying to decrease. There has definitely been a physical toll.

I have a pretty good handle, all things considered, on managing my physical symptoms. I have had decades to figure that out. But when it comes to emotions, I have to unlearn years of bad habits. I have to learn how to stop hiding from my feelings and to let myself feel them. I have to ignore the daily messaging from society that says crying is bad, being sad is bad. It’s ok to not be the happy, cheerful poster-lady of chronic illness. It’s ok to be sad, stressed, anxious, or whatever else. I just have to stop hiding from it.

So that’s my lesson for this week. It’s taken me far too long to learn it. Before long I’m sure I’ll be learning some other lesson. But for now I am focusing on this one. Because I’m still sad, and I’m still learning.

Now it’s time to go do my stream-of-consciousness journaling again. Hopefully I’ll cry.


The things we do for our health

February 26, 2018

As I sat on the bathroom floor scooping poop into a plastic cup with a wooden stick 2 hours ago, I thought about how some people can go their entire lives without ever having to do this. Lucky them. I’m not so lucky.

I really really really didn’t want to do a stool test, but much more than that, I really really really couldn’t stand to keep having these episodes. I can handle the gas, the bloating, the constipation, and the diarrhea. I don’t love them, but I can handle them. But I can’t handle the nausea. It just does me in emotionally.

I have had these kinds of episodes since my teens. When I removed gluten and corn from my diet in my early 30s, they became much less frequent. Instead of 2-4 times a week they were *only* 2-4 times per month. Still, that’s far too often. The symptoms changed, too. Some got worse and some got better. And over time, I accepted it, to a certain degree. At least it was less often, right?

The thing is, the nausea, the fatigue, the rest of the symptoms all come on together. I never know when it will happen. Is it my diet? One night I feel fine and another I’m a mess, even when I ate the same thing both times. Maybe it’s something else? I have tried diets, so it’s time for the next step.

Someone suggested this particular test to me. I asked my doctor and was shocked to learn that insurance will actually cover the cost (a rarity for many of the tests I ask for.) His office gave me the kit, and I put it off.

First I needed to do an adrenal test – the fatigue was a more concerning symptom. Mentally and emotionally, I could only handle doing one at a time. It took a few weeks before I could schedule that test, since I had to change some things about my medications to prepare for it.

I gave myself a week, then decided to do the stool test. I read the instructions and learned I had to be off probiotics for 2 weeks before the test. I stopped taking probiotics. 2 weeks later, I was sick. I waited. I finally felt better but my schedule was a bit busy. I knew I needed to be home and not rushed for this. My schedule cleared and I went to take the test. I read the instructions again and saw that I had to be off another of my supplements for 2 days. I went off those. I felt sick again. Then if I did the test, I would finish on a Saturday, and it has to be mailed Monday-Friday, within 24 hours of finishing. I waited a couple more days.

FINALLY it was time! I was nervous and not wanting to do it, but I did it. Because I had to. Because I need answers. Because each time I have one of those episodes, I start to wonder if I would be better off dead. The only times I feel at all suicidal are doing those episodes. I don’t know why. They last for hours that feel like weeks, but never more than a few hours. The pain can be so much worse and last for so much longer, but it never makes me feel that way. These episodes have to stop.

So I did the test. It was a 3 day test. For 3 nights I had stress dreams about the test. The first day I realized it wasn’t fun, but not nearly as bad as I’d expected. But still, I had the dreams. They woke me up at 5:15am today. I want to believe it was worth it.

I finished the test just a couple hours ago. The samples are sitting in my refrigerator (carefully packaged, of course) and ready to be mailed when go out this afternoon. And then I wait. And wait. And wait. It will only take a few weeks to get the results, but it will feel like so much longer.

After many months of procrastination, then another 6 weeks of mostly legitimate delays after I received the kit, I finally feel SO CLOSE to potentially having some answers. I don’t want to hear I have parasites or infections to deal with, but those might be better than a lifetime of these episodes that make me literally want to die, that I can’t predict, and that continue to get worse over time.

So yes, I scooped my own poop into plastic containers multiple times. That’s something most people never even consider doing. But maybe, hopefully, it was worth it.

 


Wanting and despising pity

February 17, 2018

I’ve been off my feet for the last week, more or less. Some days I could barely hobble around my apartment, even with crutches or a cane. Other days I could walk around the apartment fine, but putting on shoes was incredibly painful. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened many times over the last 13 years.

The difference is that this time, there are new people in my life who aren’t familiar with it.

More than once, a neighbor, a friend, and my new girlfriend all noticed me using crutches or limping, and they offered sympathy. Some were clearly pitying me as well.

Most days I despise pity. Instead of pity, I wish people would offer sympathy. And I wish they would do things to help. Hold open a door. Don’t come near me when they’re sick. Call their legislators and ask them to vote against the new bill that guts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Seriously, call them! The bill is described here and you can find your senator’s contact info here.) Those things are helpful. But not pity. Pity sucks, and it’s dehumanizing. It means they’re seeing me as a set of symptoms instead of as a whole person.

And let’s be honest, we are taught by society that we shouldn’t like pity. We should be strong and resilient, blah blah blah.

But some days, that’s just how I feel. Some days, life sucks and I want more than sympathy, I want pity! Like when my feet hurt so badly I can barely hobble to the bathroom. Like when the pain is so bad, I can’t even wear socks. Like when I have to cancel plans so that I can stay home and feel like crap. Sympathy is good. Usually that’s enough. But every now and then, when I’m feeling especially sorry for myself, I also want pity from others.

Now here’s the thing: I talk to people about being in pain. Because I’m in pain. Every day. It’s a part of my life. I don’t dwell on it, and I only complain on the worse days, but I mention it a lot. And sometimes, people offer pity, even though that’s not at all what I’m looking for. And I hate it.

Then again, sometimes I bring it up because I DO want some sort of acknowledgement. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes, I want people to know I’m in pain, to feel bad about it, to offer me some sympathy, and maybe to offer help with something I struggle with.

It’s a hard line to toe. I want to be able to say that I never want to mention it, I want it to be ignored, I want to be treated like everyone else. I want to say that, but it’s not true. Because the truth is, I’m human. And sometimes we humans want a little sympathy and support. Some days we even want pity!

Like I said before, society tells us we shouldn’t want pity. We should be strong and inspirational. Others should be able to point to us and say, “Look how amazing she is! If she can do what she does despite her health problems, I have no reason to complain.” Talk about dehumanizing! I’m a real person. I’m a whole person. I laugh and cry, feel optimistic and pessimistic, go out with friends and stay home feeling sick, do laundry and errands and cooking and other mundane chores. I’m more than a set of symptoms. I have feelings.

And yes, sometimes those feelings lead me to wanting pity.

I’m not proud of that, but I’m not going to be ashamed of it anymore, either.

I don’t live in the land of pity. I know that would not be healthy for me. But if a few days here and there I feel this way, what’s so wrong with that? I can’t compel someone to pity me. More than that, I know I’d be pissed if a bunch of people started doing it. But if for a few days I’d like my mother or a friend to pity me a bit, to offer condolences for what I’m dealing with, then so be it!

I won’t ask for pity. And most days I will still despise it. But if every now and then I want it, that’s ok.

Is it just me? Do you ever feel this way? Do you feel guilty for wanting pity? How do you handle it? Please share in the comments!


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.


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