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.


Home alone. Again.

March 11, 2020

Thanks to chronic illness I spend a lot of time at home. Since I live alone, that means that I spend a lot of time alone. Usually I manage this ok, but lately that hasn’t been the case.

In recent months I have been feeling better, which is great! The thing is, as I feel better, I want to do more. But my brain is still way ahead of my body in terms of what I can do. On top of that, what is there to do? My friends are almost all at work on weekdays. At night they are tired and with their families. I used to go out with friends on weekends, but now they are busy with family activities. This is doubly hard for me, because I wanted to have a family of my own. I always assumed that at this point of my life, like my friends, I would be spending more time with a spouse and children. Instead, I am alone.

My days feel empty. I have fewer medical appointments, but that also means I have less to get me out of the house. There is an unending list of things that I can do at home. I have personal projects to work on, closets to clean out, emails to answer, meals to cook. There’s always something. But that doesn’t help the lonliness. Instead, I wander around my small apartment feeling the lack of companionship.

Being single for so long, I have gotten good at going to activities on my own. Still, I don’t always want to do that. It’s more fun to go with a friend. I go to parties alone, I go to concerts alone, I go to book readings alone, I go for walks in the woods alone and you know what? It gets lonely.

On top of that, there aren’t many activities to fill up my days. Most weekday activities are aimed at children, adults with children, or senior citizens. I don’t fit into any of those categories. Most people my age who are around during the day are new moms, and plenty of groups exist for them. For non-parents my age, I haven’t found much. My mother is always busy with one thing or another. I’m jealous. There’s a lot available for retirees. But that’s not for me, either.

This has been bothering me more in the past month than usual, and has come up multiple times in my therapy sessions. That was before the spread of coronavirus and Covid-19. Now I am home even more than I had been before. Events are getting cancelled, even the smaller ones. The few that are still happening just don’t feel like good places for me to be. I was looking forward to a small gathering today, but a couple of people who will be there were travelling this week, and since I am in the high risk category, I’m better off staying home. I want to be around people, but I can’t risk it.

So I am sitting in my apartment typing this. I have not been out of the house today. I may take a walk later, but that is a solitary activity. Tomorrow I will get out of the house, at least. I will go to therapy. It’s not exciting, but at least I will have a face-to-face conversation with someone.

There’s no easy answer to this. It is not the first time that I have felt that way, but I don’t remember how I got out of it before. I suppose I just need to give myself time. Meanwhile, more people are about to learn for the first time in their lives what it’s like to be stuck at home. I just wish we could do it together.


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.


Gaslighting’s toll

December 17, 2019

If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I had ever been the victim of gaslighting by doctors, I would have said no. Which is sort of funny, because this blog is full of examples, written over the past 8 years. Somehow, I didn’t see it.

Sure, I knew that doctors had told me that it was all in my head. Or that I was making it up in order to get attention. But that’s not the same thing. Except as it turns out, it is.

My therapist used the word last week as we discussed this topic. As soon as she said “gaslighting” it clicked that yes, that’s what had been happening. A few days later, someone used the word again as they talked about medical professionals. And it all fell into place.

I have dealt with gaslighting by doctors for almost 30 years, so no wonder I get nervous about appointments. No wonder I have an inherent distrust of doctors. It makes sense that on dating apps, I avoid doctors and other medical professionals. It all fits.

The problem is, I still need doctors. I need them to order tests and to write prescriptions. Sometimes, I even need them to help me figure things out. The problem is, I don’t trust them. That’s why I was so surprised by a simple suggestion several weeks ago. I was debating whether or not to take a prescription. My symptoms had gone away before I had been able to start it, and I didn’t want to take it unnecessarily. Talking to my therapist about this conundrum, she suggested that I ask the prescribing doctor for his advice. Wow, I hadn’t thought of that! She wasn’t surprised. I learned a long time ago not to trust doctors. I figure things out for myself as much as possible. Still, in this case it made sense to ask, and I’m glad that I did.

I know there are good doctors out there. Some have them have been incredibly helpful. Not all of them subjected me to gaslighting. But just like I clearly remember the time I backed into a telephone poll while parking last month but have completely forgotten the dozen other times I parked in that same spot without hitting the poll, it’s the doctors who treated me badly who stand out most in my mind. They are the ones that scare me, that put me on edge, even when I know I still never see them again.

Sadly, I am not alone. There are many of us who have been subjected to this horrible treatment. It is no wonder so many of us distrust doctors and the overall medical system. I am now working on this with my therapist. I will never undo the damage that was done to me physically by ignoring my symptoms, but maybe one day I will have just a bit more trust in medical professionals? Maybe. Until then, if you have been, or are currently being, gaslit by your doctor, know that you’re not alone. And if you can, find someone better.


Was it all Celiac to begin with?

November 16, 2019

The earliest potential Celiac symptoms I remember began when I was 12. The first time a doctor suggested that I go gluten-free I was 32. Hmm. A bit of a problem there?

I went to the doctor for the extreme constipation I had as a child. I drank a lot of disgusting prune juice and still had rare, difficult, painful poops. Eventually that seemed to resolve itself. End of discussion.

A year or so later I had unexplained joint pain. I was told it was tendonitis for a long time but even the doctors had to admit that didn’t seem to fit the type of pain I had. I was told to wear braces on my wrists. The pain came and went. They didn’t know what else to do. I spent many years trying to figure out this pain but as far as they were concerned, the discussion was over.

As a teen I had horrible stomach pains, nausea, and diarrhea but had no idea how abnormal this was and told no one for several years. Eventually I did talk to a doctor. I asked to be tested for lactose intolerance. I was told there was no such test (a lie!) Instead, the doctor told me to keep a food and symptom journal. After a few weeks I gave him my notes. He told me that he showed it to a nutritionist and that it wasn’t lactose intolerance. End of discussion. No further examination of my obvious problems. A few years after that I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. I did some research and saw that my symptoms didn’t quite align with IBS, but it was the only diagnosis I was given, so I went with it.

Later in my teens I was far too thin. I occasionally skipped dinner. I was diagnosed with anorexia despite the fact that I ate breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day, I only skipped dinner 2-3 times per week at most, I had digestive problems, and I was so alarmed by my own weight loss that was the one who went to my parents with a concern that something was wrong and asked to see a doctor. The doctor put me on a high calorie diet. I eventually gained a little weight. End of discussion.

Around this time I was diagnosed with depression. I was sent to therapy that did nothing. I was put on anti-depressants with horrible side effects. After less than a year I was taken off of the medications. The depression was magically gone. End of discussion.

And lest anyone think that my medical history fell through the cracks, all of this occurred at one medical facility, where all of the doctors could see all of my records. How did they all miss this?!?

Was this necessarily Celiac disease? No, of course not. But when a child has constipation, diarrhea, weight loss (I was down to 89 pounds! I’m short, but I should never have lost that much weight – I should have been at least 100-105 at that point), joint pain, depression, nausea, stomach pain, and more, how did they not at least consider this possibility?!? This was the 1990s and while Celiac wasn’t as well known then as it is today, there was plenty of awareness. The doctors should have known.

An interesting thing has happened in recent weeks. After some time on hydrocortisone, my brain fog has been lifting and I am thinking more clearly. I have less fatigue. With that layer of haze lifted, I can better feel and understand what is happening with my body. I can think it through more clearly. And I wonder if maybe all of my problems actually stem from Celiac disease.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have a long list of diagnoses. But the thing is, a lot of them are comorbidities with Celiac. Many others are known to be secondary or tertiary issues. For example, I have polycystic ovary syndrome, but after many years of struggling with PCOS symptoms, they finally went away once I was on a proper dose of the right thyroid medication and fully gluten free. I now get my period at least every other month and I rarely have super heavy bleeding. I was recently diagnosed with SIBO, but it’s known that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is more common in folks with Celiac. My digestive issues, aside from some SIBO symptoms, have all completely resolved now that I am 100% gluten free. I still have constant joint pain, but it has improved greatly thanks to treatments and, I suspect, being gluten free. My adrenal fatigue, one of my most disabling conditions, was caused by long term chronic illness. My Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a comorbidity with Celiac.

All of this makes me wonder, what if I had been diagnosed with Celiac at age 12 (or younger)? If I had gone gluten free back then, could this have been avoided? Maybe the joint pain would have resolved. Maybe Hashimoto’s would never have developed? Mostly likely, if the Celiac and Hashimoto’s (if I even had it) had been treated properly to begin with, adrenal fatigue would have never begun. That means I would have never become too disabled to work.

That’s hard to think about. This was avoidable. Somewhat. I would still have had problems, of course. I would still have had to avoid gluten, which would have probably been a lot harder as a child in the 1990s than as an adult in the 2010s. I would have still gotten glutened and had to deal with the fallout. I would still have had autoimmune disease and would likely have had some fallout from that; some folks with Celiac feel fine, but others don’t. My health would not have necessarily been perfect. But it would have been a lot better.

This is only speculation of course. I can’t be sure that all of my health issues stem from Celiac. Over the years I have had several other theories about how my health issues all connect. Each one has felt closer to the truth, and this one does as well. I don’t know if I’m right, but I suspect that I’m at least close.

We need better screening here in the U.S. and around the world. Estimates of folks with undiagnosed Celiac are high, as much as 90%. I don’t want to see others live with what I have had to live with if it can be avoided. And I’m one of the lucky ones; some folks die from undiagnosed or late diagnosis of Celiac. If you or someone you know has several of the 300+ Celiac symptoms, please consider testing. You can see a shorter list here, but it is missing a lot of categories. And if you have experienced something similar to what I have described, please comment below. It is important to gather these stories in order  to highlight the need for more testing and awareness.


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