What’s the deal with haircuts?

May 28, 2020

I ask this in all seriousness: why are people risking their lives for haircuts?

If you live in another country, you might not know what I’m talking about. Here in the U.S., businesses are opening up again. In many states, hair salons have opened, and people are flocking to them. In my state of Massachusetts, that is happening this week. Even though hair salons pose a higher risk than many other businesses, they are among the first to open because of public demand. Reopening is happening based on politics, not science.

I can’t understand why people are running for haircuts. They celebrate on social media, “Yay, I booked an appointment!” I don’t get it.

To be fair, I have never been as fashion-conscious as most. Still, I would love to get my haircut. I just don’t think it’s worth risking my life or the lives of those with whom I come into contact. Why are people acting like it’s so urgent? Why not wait?

Obviously, I would love to go out. If it were safe to do so, here’s what I would love to do, in order of preference:

  1. Hug my parents.
  2. See my physical therapist.
  3. See my occupational therapist.
  4. Get some needed blood work.
  5. Visit with close friends.
  6. Take a walk without worrying about being too close to people.
  7. Pet every dog I see.
  8. Buy my own groceries (especially so that I can manage my food restrictions better.)
  9. Visit with my parents. Yup, they definitely deserve to be on this list twice.
  10. Travel. Preferably to someplace on the ocean. (Even if it were only an hour away.)

Getting a haircut isn’t in my top 10. I doubt it’s even in my top 20. Yes, I’d love to get my hair cut, and if it were safe, I would probably plan to do it in the coming weeks, but it’s far from a top priority. So I just don’t understand the obsession. I’m sure that some people feel that it’s safe (at lease for them.) But what about everyone else? Can you explain it to me, because I would really love to understand.

Meanwhile, have you thought about your top 10 priorities for when those things become safe? Or even your top 5 or top 3? Please share as many as you feel comfortable sharing!


Finding my new (figurative) voice

May 21, 2020

I haven’t written here for a while, and I have been trying to figure out why I feel less motivated. Is it the pandemic? Is it that I have run out of things to rant about after nearly 9 years (wow!) of this blog? I have finally had to admit to myself that it’s neither; it’s my book.

Many years ago, I decided to write a book about living with chronic illness. I plodded along slowly for several years, finally picking up the pace about a year ago. More recently, I have been spending a lot of time working on it. But lack of time isn’t why I haven’t been writing here.

In addition to the time I have spent on the book itself, I have also spent a lot of time talking and writing about the book. I am in writing groups with other authors, I talk to family and friends about it, I talk to interested strangers about it, I post about it on social media, I write about it to the followers on my email list. But the effort of talking and writing about the book isn’t what is stopping me from writing here, either.

Finally I figured it out: it’s my voice. You see, I chose to write the book under my real name. I am sharing a lot more there than I am used to sharing publicly. At the same time, I am sharing less than what I have shared on this site. I am finding a new balance, and in the process, I am holding back on some things. The question I ask myself isn’t, “Should I talk about this in an email or on the blog?” Instead, it’s, “Should I talk about this under my real name or use my pseudonym?” For years I leaned towards the latter but more recently I have been leaning towards the former. And as I share more with my other audience under my real name, I struggle with not sharing those same stories here. After all, how can I maintain my anonymity here if I share the same story under my real name?

Don’t worry, though, I am not abandoning this blog! Instead, I am simply finding a new balance. As with many things in life, this is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. At the beginning of the book, I had to find that balance and I did. Now am finding it again, and the pandemic only complicates things. When I eventually publish the book, I am sure I will need to find that balance again. This is just how things go. But I am sure that I will be find my ranting mojo before too long.

Meanwhile, I would love to know, have any of you ever written books about chronic illness? If so, did you write under your real name or a pseudonym? Did you enjoy it? Was it well-received? Please tell me all about it in the comments! Feel free to share the link to your book so that others can find it, too.

As for the link to my book, well, first of all the book isn’t done yet, so there’s no link. But also, there’s that whole anonymity thing again. If I share the link to a book that’s under my own name, then I won’t be so anonymous anymore, will I? And while I may one day be comfortable sharing all of the stories about myself that are on this blog (I’m mostly comfortable with that now, in fact), there are some stories here about family, friends, dates, and others that are not mine to share. I always checked with them before writing those stories, but they agreed to be mentioned on a blog that was anonymous, and it wouldn’t be right to change that now. So this blog will remain anonymous. Still, my hope is that when my book is one day published, you will find it anyhow. And that it will bring you joy and comfort.


Changing the subject

April 23, 2020

All roads, and conversations, lead back to coronavirus. That’s how it feels these days. It’s exhausting.

Even the things that aren’t explicitly about cornavirus end up being related. Someone asks what I did with my afternoon. I made masks. I ask them about their weekend plans. They can’t go out, so they’ll be working on a jigsaw puzzle. I suppose it’s inevitable that when our lives become so collectively upended, we’re going to keep talking about it. Of course, for those of us with chronic illness who know that family and friends get tired of hearing about our illness, this feels a bit hypocritical. But I hope that it leads to more compassion going forward.

Personally, I find it stressful to be constantly focused on the pandemic, so I handle it in the best way I know how: I change the subject. I ask what books they’ve read, what movie’s they’ve watched. I ask about their job, about their kids, about the weather. I tell them about something interesting that I read or did.

Sometimes a subject change isn’t enough. They keep coming back to the big C. More than once, I have explicitly told someone, “Talking about this is stressing me out. Do you mind if we talk about something else?” If that doesn’t work and they keep going back to it, or if there’s a group of us talking, I’ll say, “I can’t handle talking about this right now. Let’s talk another time.” Is it rude? Maybe. I try to keep it light, but I can’t control how someone else takes it. And at the end of the day, my own mental health is important.

Some people feel the need to talking about the pandemic and our collective isolation. I get that. For them, talking about it is helpful. It’s a way to vent. For others, it becomes an unhealthy obsession. Either way, it’s not healthy for me to talk about it. Oh sure, I discuss it here and there. It’s hard not to. But when I feel myself being drawn in, feeling stressed, or otherwise responding badly, I pull away. I change the subject.

Maybe you’re someone who wants to talk about this situation constantly. Maybe, you feel the need to discuss it about 99% less than you currently do. Likely, you fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless, I encourage you to figure out what your sweet spot is, then figure out how to reach it. It can be difficult to finesse conversations. I get that. It can’t always be done, like in formal settings when the manager says, “Let’s all go around the group and talk about how we’re doing before we start things.” I understand why they do that, but it stresses me out and I wish they wouldn’t. Sometimes I leave the conversation. Most of the time I stick it out, and that’s why it’s more important than ever that my social conversations remain social and not stressful. I hope that you can find a way to get the social conversations that you need as well.

What have your conversations been like regarding the pandemic? Have you found a balance that works for you? Would you like to discuss it less or more? Please comment below and share your perspectives and experiences!


When the solution becomes the problem

March 31, 2020

How do you handle fear? It’s one of the most basic human emotions, and something that we all experience from time to time. Right now, I would guess that more of the world than usual is feeling it on a regular basis.

I don’t know if there’s a “right” way to handle fear, I only know my way: planning, control, and facts. When I’m scared about a new medical test or a current flare or even something not health-related, I deal with it by focusing on the facts, and making plans for what might happen. That allows me to feel in control, which in turn reduces the fear. It’s not perfect, but mostly it works.

Right now, that’s not possible. We have few facts; this is a disease that didn’t exist in humans just a few months ago. The facts that we think we know, keep changing. It also depends on which experts we ask.

Making plans makes things worse. One downside to being a planner is that I’m great at looking 10 steps ahead. I read a lot, so I understand a lot about the world, not just in terms of the pandemic but in general. On top of that, I’m smart. I’m also a logical thinking, very left-brained. Put all of that together, and I have some very clear ideas about where the world might be headed. I have multiple scenarios in mind, based on what actions are/aren’t taken and what so-called facts turn out to be true or false. None of them are good, though some are worse than others. Unfortunately, so far my predictions (made 2 weeks ago) have been accurate.

Not only is making plans very difficult, but there’s another wrinkle: they don’t help. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make the situation in the world any better. There is nothing I can do to make it so that I can sooner see my family or my friends, go out socially, date, have sex. Nothing.

The best I can do is make plans to keep myself alive and healthy. So far I am doing that through day-to-day actions. There are no long-term plans to be made. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing: staying in my apartment, carefully cleaning the groceries that my neighbor brings to me, leaving my mail to sit in the corner of my home for a week (I’m cautious and also not that interested in the mail.) My “plans” involve planning meals, ordering extras of my prescriptions in advance, choosing ebooks to download, and texting friends to stay in touch. Those are not long term things.

Looking at “facts” is not only unhelpful, it’s incredibly stressful. It makes me feel a lot worse. Ditto for making plans. I never tell anyone my predictions because I don’t want to upset anyone, but they aren’t great. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. But in the meantime, having those thoughts in my head only makes things worse. Even as I type this, I am being careful not to think about anything in detail.

So what’s the answer? For me, it’s focusing on the day-to-day. As a planner, that has always been incredible difficult. I thrive on thinking about the future, not only to handle fear, but also to increase excitement about fun things to come, to work out solutions to problems, and more. Avoiding thinking about the future is taking a real effort.

I like reading the news, but right now that’s stressful. Still, I don’t want to avoid the world, and there are other things happening. So I am reading the headlines every day, and trying to only read articles that are not pandemic-related. I am not succeeding 100%, but the reduction has still helped immensely.

When family and friends talk about the pandemic, it’s hard not to get drawn in. I have always been political, so it’s hard not to get sucked into conversations about the way our politicians are handling things. But since I hugely disagree with almost everything they are doing, yet have no ability to change it, this upsets me again. Whenever these topics come up, I try to change the subject. Again, I do not succeed 100% of the time, but any reduction is helpful. I am trying.

Focusing on the day-to-day can be especially hard when so little else is happening. When I talk to someone and ask, “What’s new?” they don’t have much to say. I am trying to focus instead on question like, “What have your kids been doing to stay busy?” “What are you reading right now?” “What shows or movies have you been watching?” It helps a lot to have something else to talk about, and it gives me ideas of shows and movies to watch. For my part, I tell them about the books I’m currently reading, the bird that’s building a nest outside my window, or anything else I can think of on a neutral topic. I ask about their families and tell them about mine.

This is hard. There is nothing about this situation that is easy for anyone. I am alone, and not being around other people is hard. Others are with families that are crowding them and they need time alone. Yet others are in unhealthy home environments are need to leave but can’t. We are scared. Kids aren’t learning. People are losing their jobs or becoming overworked. There’s a lot of stress out there. So yes, it’s damn hard.

That’s why I am focused so much on taking it one day at a time. It doesn’t fix anything in the long term, but it makes this manageable for me in the short term. For now, that needs to be enough.

And one more thing: when I need to, I have a good cry. Because that’s ok, too.


Some positives about self-isolation with chronic illness

March 17, 2020

This is a tough time for the world, and the worst is yet to come. Some days I feel ok and others I struggle. I have some anxiety due to past medical traumas. They’re triggered by medical stuff. I manage it by controlling my situation as much as I can and by using facts to dispel fear. So as my therapist said, this is a perfect storm for me: a medical issue with few facts and nothing I can control. Yeah, it’s rough. And there are plenty of things being written about the negatives, so I decided to share some positives.

For context, right now I am self-isolating. I am taking a walk every day (away from people) and otherwise not leaving my apartment. I am at higher risk of complications, and there’s that whole anxiety/control issue I mentioned.

The thing about being disabled and having chronic illness is that I already spend tons of time at home. If you do, too, then these will feel familiar.

  • I already know how to be home for days at a time without seeing other people.
  • I know how to entertain myself alone at home. I have books, projects, and more. I won’t be bored.
  • I don’t feel like I’m missing out on fun activities, because everything is cancelled.
  • Museums, operas, concerts, and more are being streamed online for free. These are things I can’t attend due to health and money, but now I get to see them! What a treat!
  • Everyone is in the same situation. I no longer feel like the odd one.
  • When neighbors walk by my apartment (on the first floor) and I’m still in my pajamas at 11am, they don’t give me strange looks. Again, I’m not the only one.
  • When I’m home watching tv every single night, I don’t feel like a loser; everyone else is doing the same thing.
  • Friends are home more, so they have more time to text during the day, even if they’re working from home. (Shhh, don’t tell their bosses.)
  • Friends are at home and bored, so they’re video chatting during the day if they aren’t working, and at night if they are working. I’ve had more video chats this week than I usually have in 6 months!
  • With so few appointments, I’m getting more done at home. Today I cleaned the kitchen counters. Tomorrow I will vacuum.
  • I know how to practice self-care. I am distracting myself as necessary, eating properly, and doing my physical therapy at home as much as I can.
  • People I know, including some who I barely have any contact with typically, have reached out to ask how I am and to offer help. It’s a great reminder of how wonderful people can be.

After another month or two of isolation I might feel less positive, so right now I am trying to look on the bright side as much as possible. Please share any positives that you can think of in the comments. If you can’t think of new ones but you like any of mine, share those. The more positives the better!

Good luck to all of you. I hope that you and your loved ones are able to get through this as well as possible.


Medications: too little science, too much art

February 24, 2020

What dose should I take? That has never had a clear answer for me.

As a kid in severe pain, the doctors told me to take 3 ibuprofen. They said they wanted me to take 4, but held back because of my size. I was probably around 14 years old then, and under 100 pounds. The thing is, size isn’t the only way to dose a medication. Oops.

As an adult, something slowly became clear: I need small doses of everything. I’m still not a huge person, but I’m certainly well over 100 pounds, and I react strongly to everything.

2020-02-24 11.26.10

A typical starting dose of melatonin is 1-3 mg. I take 75 mcg! I have empty pill capsules which I use to split capsules that, even at their lowest dose, are too strong for me. I open them up and carefully pour the contents into the empty capsules, dividing each pill into 2 or 3 doses. It’s a pain in the butt, but necessary.

Now I’m taking a compounded hycrocortisone (HC). Since it’s a compound, it’s easy to get any dose I need. You know what isn’t easy? Knowing which dose I need!

A book I trust insists that women should start at 25 mg. Patient groups I trust also say to start at 25-30 mg. My doctor says that 15 mg is the right dose. I started at 15 mg and quickly ramped up to 25 mg. I felt much better. After several months, though, I suddenly gained a lot of weight all at once. My doctor felt it was due to the HC and wants me to lower the dose. Given the way I gained the weight (the timing and location) I have to admit that he’s probably right. I had a few other symptoms, too, which could be related. Still, I was hesitant. I felt good, after all. And while for some medications, blood or other tests will give answers as to a medication’s efficacy and impact, HC messes with adrenal tests and makes the results unreliable. Dosing is based only on symptoms. Oy!

If only there was some way to know what the right dose is!

I decided to lower my dose a bit at least. I went down to 22.5 mg. In less than a week I got my period for the first time in months. I don’t think that was a coincidence. There’s been no change in my weight, but I know from experience that steroidal weight gain is a bitch to reverse, so I’m not expecting it to magically disappear on its own.

I’ve had some other good effects, though. I seem to be sleeping better, and I’m waking up feeling more alert and less fatigued. Hmm. That’s appealing.

The question now is: what do I do next? Do I lower the dose a bit more? Hold it at 22.5 mg because it’s working? Change the timing of the pills? I wish I knew!

Unfortunately, there’s no choice but to experiment. This week I will lower my dose again, down to 20 mg, and see what happens. It might be great. I might feel even better. On the other hand, I could feel a whole lot worse. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way to know in advance. I just have to try it.


The inconvenience of diarrhea – even at home

February 5, 2020

No one likes to talk seriously about poop. It’s something we all* do, yet it’s treated as an unsafe topic. Commercials for diarrhea medications are laughed at by people. Folks snicker at farts. No one feels comfortable on the phone saying, “Hey, let me call you back in a few minutes. I just need to run to the bathroom.”

For most people, it’s easy to avoid the topic. They don’t think about their poop much. But then there are those of us with digestive issues. I talk about poop with a lot of my doctors. Color, size, consistency, frequency, and odor are questioned and explained. I keep an eye on things. For too many years, I didn’t realize how abnormal my bowel movements were. If I had, maybe I could have been diagnosed a lot sooner. If my doctors had asked my questions about it, I’m guessing I would have been diagnosed sooner.

Well, here on Chronic Rants, we talk about poop. And today’s rant is about the inconvenience of diarrhea. I was having a perfectly fine day yesterday. I was being productive around the house. I wasn’t feeling motivated to work on a project that I’ve been trying to get done, but aside from some reduced motivation, everything was normal. I was on track to go out in the afternoon and evening.

In the afternoon I felt off somehow. I’m still not sure how. Maybe a bit low in energy? I decided to stay in for the afternoon and only go out in the evening. My stomach started to feel a bit off. Again, I’m not sure what exactly felt wrong, but something did. I pushed myself to go for a walk. It was a nice walk, with a clear blue sky overhead – a real treat! I stopped to chat with a neighbor and pet her dog for a while. I wasn’t feeling quite right, but I pushed through; at least I was petting a cute dog!

When I said goodbye to the neighbor I continued on my walk in a big loop that would end up at my apartment building. Then I felt that feeling and I knew: I better get home. Quick. I cut back to take a shorter route home. There wasn’t much I could do. I was walking within my apartment complex, so there were no public bathrooms around. I walked faster. I saw a neighbor that I know up ahead. I slowed a bit so we wouldn’t cross paths. I hated to slow, but making small talk would have been worse. I knew I was walking funny, trying to clench certain parts and walked quickly at the same time. I got into my building and felt that bad feeling. I fumbled to open my door. I tore off my coat and rushed to the bathroom. In my anxiety, I fumbled with my pants. I got them down just in time.

I think a few more seconds could have been my downfall. But I made it. Explosive diarrhea isn’t fun, but having it in public and in my pants would have been so much worse.

I felt a bit better after that. I had gotten the bad stuff out of me, whatever that might have been. But here’s the thing: I felt messy. I cleaned my ass area the best that I could, but it wasn’t good enough. I don’t have a bidet. Chances are, I was clean anyway. But I didn’t feel it. So I jumped in the shower. I had already showered that morning. The diarrhea had left me feeling weak and tired. But what else could I do?

I got undressed, then found myself back on the toilet. Eventually I took that shower. The hot water felt great. After a while, I got out, exhausted, but feeling better.

Obviously I wasn’t going out. I couldn’t be sure the diarrhea was over and, even if it was, I was now too weak to go out. I put on super cozy cloths and settled under a warm blanket. I spent the night watching tv and knitting. At some point I wanted food and decided to keep it simple. I cut up some garlic onions, and carrot. I added homemade chicken broth from my freezer. I threw in shredded chicken that I keep in my freezer. I added gluten-free ramen noodles. Voila! An easy home made chicken noodle soup. It was just the right dinner for that kind of night.

I woke up feeling like shit, no pun intended. That diarrhea could have been so much worse. Still, it stopped me from doing so much yesterday, and today as well. It’s frustrating as hell. And it’s not something I can talk about in a socially acceptable way. I can talk about a recent sprain and my friends shower me with sympathy but bring up diarrhea and suddenly I’m persona non grata.

We all* poop. For some of us it’s more of a struggle than for others, but it’s something we all* do. So maybe it’s something we should all be able to talk about? What’s your experience been with this type of situation? Let’s talk about it!

*Folks with colostomy bags still produce feces, though the verb may not apply.


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