Feeling moody from pain

July 19, 2017

There’s an emotion toll to chronic pain that’s easy to miss if you have only ever experienced short term pain.

A banged finger will heal soon enough. A sprained ankle will cause frustration. Even a broken bone rarely leads to anything permanent, and so you just wait it out. But the chronicness of chronic pain means that you need to handle it long term, and that comes with a lot of emotions.

Over the years I have had many feelings about my pain. Working through them has helped me to deal with my feels now, and yet, I still struggle.

I have new pain. Just 2 short months ago my thumbs weren’t even on my radar. I used them without thought. Now, everything hurts. I cringe when I realize I have to go to the bathroom, because I know I will feel extreme pain when I pull down my shorts. Picking up a plate is difficult and painful. I wonder how long it will be before I break and drop something not from clumsiness, but because of the pain or weakness. [Side note: I say my thumbs hurt throughout this post, but more specifically, it is the joint that connects each thumb to my hand. Thankfully the rest of each thumb is ok…. for now. Since every movement affects that joint, I can’t use my thumbs without feeling the pain, though.]

I’m scared. This pain could be permanent. I might literally have it every day for the rest of my life. Or it could go away. Or it could go away and then come back at random times. There’s no way to know.

I’m frustrated. When I feel horrible, I spend some time on the couch watching tv and crocheting. That makes me feel better. But I was in too much pain to crochet. I always fidget, always need to keep my hands busy and my fingers moving. But now any type of fidgeting I do is painful, because I use my thumbs, or I use other fingers and that pulls at the muscles that connect to the thumbs. What on earth will I do if I can’t crochet or fidget? I can’t even begin to imagine.

I’m sad. So very sad. Because I know that my thumbs will probably never be the same. And because I know there are other joints in my body that I am taking for granted now in the same way I took my thumbs for granted two months ago. I want to appreciate everything now, while I can. I even want to appreciate my thumbs because I know all too well, from 26 years of joint pain, that things will probably get even worse and that I will look back on this time and wonder with amazement at how I didn’t realize how good I really had it, despite the pain.

I’m overwhelmed. My head swirls. Did the onset of summer cause this or exacerbate it? If so, maybe things will be better in the fall? The increased dose of my anti-inflammatory supplement, from 1/day to 4/day, hasn’t helped. I really hoped it would. When I started with 1/day last year it changed everything and made me feel so much better, but it seems no match for my pain-filled thumb joints. Or maybe it’s disease progression, and I need to go back to taking Plaquenil. I don’t want to, for many reasons, but I can’t deny that it has helped a lot in the past. I’m in so much pain that I almost want to try it now, but should I wait to see if things get better in the fall? Then again, what if they get worse? What if waiting just leads to more damage and makes it impossible to halt things? No one can make these decisions but me. I could see my doctors, but would they say anything I don’t already know? Besides, I just saw my rheumatologist a couple months ago and I have another appointment to see her in a month. It seems silly to move that up so soon. We can discuss it all then. But when every day is such a struggle, a month feels very far away.

I feel trapped. I feel trapped in my body, which is so filled with pain. And I feel trapped in my apartment, because the evil humid air outside makes my symptoms worse. I know that even a walk to my car will increase my pain and fatigue and will bring on nausea and diarrhea. I can’t go out there. But I need to move, to be distracted, to do something.

I feel cut off. Texting has slowly become a primary form of communication amongst my friends and the new person I’m dating. But texting is far too painful. I dictate messages into my phone, but I find that frustrating. And even just navigating to my messenger app is painful. I can do it, but it hurts. I am SO GRATEFUL that typing on my laptop isn’t too painful yet. But what happens when it is? I lived through that 20 years ago, but computers weren’t as vital for communication then.

Yesterday my neighbor stopped by for a visit with her puppy. I hadn’t left the apartment all day, thanks to the weather and my pain. Even just opening the door and feeling that wall of thick, muggy air for a few seconds wasn’t good. Having a visitor felt so good! And the puppy was a darling! Petting him hurt, but it was worth it. They left all too soon. I wish there was a visiting puppy program for the sick.

I am so fortunate. I have a lovely home, a caring family, wonderful friends, and enough food and medicine. But the emotions still engulf me at times.

Unfortunately, my mother called last night at the wrong time. When we started speaking everything was fine. But during the call the pain became worse, and by the end, I was moody and bitchy. I was too busy talking to her and feeling sad and frustrated and overwhelmed to take a step back and recognize and work through my feelings of sadness and frustration and overwhelm. So I took it out on her.

And my mom, being the amazing woman that she is, listened, expressed sympathy, and never blamed me for acting like a selfish child. She has chronic pain too, though it’s less disabling, and I think she understood.

Halfway through writing this post, my mom called. She said that she wanted to do something for me and I could not say no. She is going to come to my apartment one day and clean it for me. I can’t clean it myself, and the cleaners I hired didn’t work out, so I have been feeling stuck. She wants to do this to help me.

I have so many negative emotions right now. This thumb pain is upsetting to me in ways I haven’t been able to express to myself yet, much less write down here. But having my mom in my corner definitely helps. Even if sometimes I still get bitchy. After all, I’m only human. And I’m scared.


Can I trust them?

July 11, 2017

Two of my strongest feelings are conflicting with each other, and I’m not sure what to do.

I have a lot of trust issues when it comes to medical professionals. When you look at my history, it’s not hard to see why.

I also have very passionate feelings about medical research. I feel it’s so important to focus more on the “less profitable” health issues. Money should not be the deciding factor! And yes, this is a bit selfish, because I want to see new treatments come to market for conditions that I have, and for conditions that my friends have, too. Not to mention the millions of other folks out there.

There is a group studying the rare form of sleep apnea my father and I have. My doctor wants my father and me to participate. Not only would we each provide useful data on our own, but we’re first degree relatives, which would be very useful for the researchers! My father has already sent in the forms. I have been holding onto them for over a month. I just can’t seem to sign.

The work is legitimate. The researchers are legitimate. I am not worried about giving blood samples or doing sleep studies. There is no logical reason to not do this.

But I can’t seem to sign the papers. I am worried about how the information might be used. What if it’s not kept confidential like they say it will be? Of course, this could be a risk with my regular medical records, too, but those feel more necessary. This is entirely optional.

I should do it. I want to further research. It’s my responsibility. How can I continue to rail against the system when I refuse to participate in it? I want to do this. I honestly do want to do it.

If only I could calm my fears.

What would you do? Have you participated in research at all? If so, how do you feel about it?


Have you called your senator today?

June 29, 2017

HELP!

In the chronic illness community, there seem to be two groups of people:

  • People in the U.S. who are terrified of losing their healthcare or of it becoming completely unaffordable.
  • People outside the U.S. who are wondering what the hell is wrong with us.

These are some scary times.

If you don’t know what’s going on, here’s the basic summary. Our political system has become incredibly divisive. It’s been divisive for a long time, but there are no longer congresspeople working with folks from the other party. Politicians go out of their way to hurt the other part just for the sake of hurting them. Even if politicians from different parties agree with each other in private, they won’t do it in public.

When Obama became president, the Republicans vowed to do whatever it took to prevent him from being reelected. But he was reelected. Still, they could destroy everything he had accomplished. For 7 years they talked about repealed the healthcare plan he put into place. They talked big. And then the day came when they had to actually do what they’d said.

So now here we are with a Republican-majority congress and a Republican president. They have no excuse for not repealing Obama’s healthcare plan. The thing is, they suddenly realized that wasn’t so easy to do. People like it! They use it and rely on it! They need it.

But after talking big, the Republicans can’t just say, “Oops, turns out we can’t come up with something better that will make our richest supporters happy, so we’ll just keep what we’ve got.” No, they have to get rid of it. And the plans they have been coming up with instead are cruel.

Yes, cruel. That’s no exaggeration. The House’s plan would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance. The Senate’s plan would cause 22 million people to lose health insurance. Preexisting conditions could cause your rates to skyrocket. A “preexisting condition” could be anything from cancer to lupus to migraines to pregnancy.

The Senate’s plan would remove access to free birth control, abortions, and maternity coverage. That’s right. So you won’t have any monetary help avoiding pregnancy, ending a pregnancy, or getting medical treatment during a pregnancy, never mind actually giving birth to a baby. Cruel.

Both plans cut billions – yes, BILLIONS – of dollars from Medicaid. Medicaid is the government-run healthcare program for the poor and disabled. You know, the folks who most need the help.

As for “regular” folks with jobs and steady incomes, they’re safe, right? Not really. Predictions are that their premiums, deductibles, and co-pays will go up, even while the covered services (like contraception, abortion, and maternity care) are reduced.

So who benefits? The rich will get huge tax breaks. Insurance companies will also save money.

Um…. Yeah, I’m usually speechless at this point. For about a minute. Then I start yelling again.

Remember, these bills are hugely unpopular. But they can still pass. Because the Republicans would rather do something unpopular than nothing at all.

As for me, I currently have two different health insurances. My primary insurance covers 80% of each bill and the secondary insurance – Medicaid – covers the other 20%. If any of these bills pass, I will likely be able to keep the primary insurance, but there will be limits placed on it, so it won’t cover as much as it does right now. There aren’t any details yet. I don’t know if it will still cover the CPAP-type machine that I need for my sleep apnea, the many doctors’ visits, the blood tests, or the MRIs.  I would lose the secondary insurance. I might or might have access to other secondary insurances that I could pay for myself. Right now, those cost about $250 per month – money I don’t have available. But that’s right now, and those prices will go up under these new Republican plans. How would I pay for it?

Shit.

This is bad. Horrible. Catastrophic.

Cruel.

So what can you do? I’m so glad you asked! Here’s what you can do:

  • If you are in the U.S., call your Senators! Tell them to vote against these bills! Tell them you want to keep the Affordable Care Act just the way it is. If you can’t call, send an email. Their contact information is right here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
  • If you are in the U.S., call other Senators! There are many who are on the fence, and we need them with us on this!
  • No matter where you are, ask your friends in the U.S. to call their Senators!
  • Post about this on social media. We need awareness! Too many people don’t realize what’s happening or how it might affect them. And that’s a problem. On the other hand, if the 22 MILLION – that’s 22,000,000 people! – all called their Senators, and each got a friend and/or family member to call also, there’s no way the Senators would vote for this. They wouldn’t want to risk losing the next election, after all.
  • [Edited to add on 7/5/17:] Attend any town halls that you can and make your voice heard! These town halls have a HUGE impact, not only in the media, but on the senators themselves. If they get a lot of feedback at these town halls, they might very well switch their votes to be against this heinous bill.

I’m sure my Facebook friends would be sick of my myriad posts on this subject if so many of them weren’t also concerned. Many are in much worse situations than me. Some are just as disabled, but will lose ALL of their health insurance coverage if this passes, and they don’t have any savings to manage without it.

Remember, 22 million people will lose health insurance if these bills pass. But how many of those 22 million will survive? Because people will die. That is a fact. And while I have no doubt that history will prove me right on this matter, I don’t want to be right. I want to be alive. How about you?

What are you waiting for? If you feel up to it, take 5 minutes RIGHT NOW to call your Senators, call other Senators, ask your family and friends to call Senators, and post on social media. Because unless we take action, millions of people will lose access to healthcare.


The importance of community

June 15, 2017

Last week I saw my primary care doctor for my annual exam. At the end of the visit, he brought up the fact that I was on disability. He said that only 5% of people ever manage to get off of disability benefits. He said that it was important to find activities to keep busy and productive. Then he talked about the isolation that can come when you don’t have a job to get you out of the house, and you don’t feel up to going out a lot. He said it was important to have community, and it’s important to make an effort to create that community.

He’s so right. (And I love that he’s having this conversation with his patients!)

I assured him that I have community. If he only knew.

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I have worked hard to make friends and build community. It doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. I’m an introvert by nature, and my health issues have made me even more of an introvert. Not being able to go out often doesn’t help either. But it’s important to me to have friends and community in my life, so I made it happen.

For me, the key has been to go for quality instead of quantity. I don’t have hundreds of friends, but the ones I have are good ones. Acquaintances are often happy to help me because they see me helping others.

That’s why when I needed to borrow a wheelchair recently, I had 3 offers to lend me one, plus 2 other folks suggested local organizations that lend out medical equipment for free. When I needed someone to push that wheelchair, I was able to post on Facebook and get some offers from friends and also from acquaintances I barely know. Because I have that community.

Sometimes it’s hard. I put myself out there, which means I’m often asked for help and I need to say no. Thankfully, most people understand my limitations. And they appreciate it all the more when I volunteer. A friend is going out of town and leaving her dog at home, with the dog walker coming by many times each day to walk him. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best they can do. I said that if she gives me her key (which I am getting today), I’ll pop in to visit him a couple times, just so he has someone to cuddle with. She was amazed. To me, this is just a nice thing to do for a friend. I won’t go by every day, but on the days I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll bring a book and read while her dog gets some important snuggles. It won’t be the first time I’ve done this for a traveling friend. (And let’s be honest, while it’s an inconvenience, I certainly won’t hate doggie snuggles!)

I belong to a chronic pain support group. Having people who really understand the struggle makes such a difference. It was one of those members who ultimately lent me her wheelchair, and even put it in the car for me because I couldn’t. I do a lot for that group, too. I created and run a Facebook group so we can communicate easily between meetings. I do other behind-the-scenes tasks, too. It doesn’t take much time, but it helps people. And they notice, and want to help me in return.

It’s so easy to become self-involved these days, and more so if you’re in pain or fatigued or dealing with other symptoms all day every day. Believe me, I know. And so many people lose their friends and their families when they become sick. So I am hugely grateful for the incredible people in my life. My parents and other relatives are super supportive, my childhood friends have stood by me and help when they can, and newer friends are ready to step up and help. Acquaintances do more than I would have expected. Even strangers offer to help, thanks to all of my work in the chronic illness community online (both this anonymous blog and a lot of work under my real name.) I am so fortunate that I began building that community long before I needed it, and that I still have it.

I think we all need to heed my doctor’s words and find a way to build community. It will look different for everyone. Some people will reach out to friends, others will go to events through meetup.com (I’ve built some great community that way, too!) and others will do it all online. Whatever it looks like for you, I hope you are able to build the community that you need and that will support you, just as you will support them whenever you can.

What about you? How do you build community? Please share in the comments so we can learn from each other!


One thing we can do to save healthcare

May 19, 2017

I’m keeping this short, because today is a recovery day. It’s a recovery day for many reasons, and one of those is because I spent a lot of energy talking to a senator’s aide yesterday about the state of healthcare in our country and where it’s headed.

Obviously, this is a hard topic to discuss. It’s complicated and scary and very personal. He said a lot of things that I found unhelpful and uninteresting. But then he said some other things that could make a difference. One of those is this: senators’ staffs track all phone calls. Even from out-of-staters.

Some record them and list them all out. Others don’t. But even the ones who don’t know how many calls they’re getting and which way people are leaning.

This aide said they’re getting thousands of calls about healthcare, and not all from people in our state. Hmm.

So we should all call. State our case. We don’t have to say where we’re from up front. Say it at the end, so they listen to our content before they judge. It can be as simple as, “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m calling to ask you to vote against the AHCA. The Affordable Care Act allows me to keep my insurance (or whatever other benefit it provides to you) which keeps me alive (or any other benefit you receive.) Please vote to keep and improve the ACA. Do not repeal or replace it. I am from _____. Thank you.”

Or instead of talking about your personal experience, you can simply say that it will cost millions of people their healthcare, and that you don’t believe that is in the best interests of our country.

Easy. Simple. Fast.

Not sure who to call? There are 100 senators – 2 from every state. Start with the 2 in your state. Even if they are voting the way you want them to, they could use your support! You never know when a flood of calls from the other side might alter things, so please call and voice your support. Then work your way through the list. If you have friends or family in a state where the senator is on the fence or voting the other way, ask them to call, too.

You can find contact information for all of the senators here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Here are some senators in particular to call and encourage to vote against the AHCA.

The loss of healthcare is a difficult, scary, horrifying prospect. Let’s do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen. Please take a moment to share this. You never know whose phone call might be the one to tip the scales.


Wishing my doctors were connected

May 13, 2017

My podiatrist said she might want to get an MRI of my left foot if the cyst grows any bigger. I mentioned I was having an MRI of my left knee the next day. Too bad my podiatrist’s private practice is associated with Mt. Auburn hospital and my MRI was ordered by a doctor at Brigham & Women’s hospital.

Brigham is part of the Partners Healthcare network and Mt. Auburn is considering joining, but it hasn’t happened yet. When I happened to say that, my doctor was shocked, and asked how I knew about that. I didn’t know what to say. I’m a patient with chronic illness, with doctors spread throughout multiple hospital networks. Of course I watch for these kinds of things in the news! It affects my life too much to not pay attention.

Then I got that MRI of my knee, and it’s not great. I’ll know more after I see the specialist on Tuesday, but it looks like my knee cartilage is being worn away by wear and tear. This is never good, but it’s especially not good for someone in her 30s who needs her knees to last another 50-60 years!

Now who should I tell about the MRI? So far I figure I should tell my primary care physician, my podiatrist, my naturopath, and my physical therapist. Maybe I’ll come up with more later, but for now, those 4 should know. Too bad NONE of them are in the same network as each other or as the doctor who ordered the MRI.

I have written about this before and I know that I will again. Because it sucks, and because it impacts my health in a very real and very negative way. The one consolation is that at least I have the option of emailing information. It doesn’t have to be done by phone and fax. So I copied the text of the MRI report and pasted into an email to my PCP. It’s not perfect, but for now, it’s good enough. I will have to continue to do that throughout this process, I’m sure.

I just hope nothing falls through the cracks. Because it is up to me to keep up with the paperwork. My doctors won’t communicate with each other, and if something falls through the cracks (again) it could be very bad for my health. It shouldn’t be up to the patient, but it is.

This is just one more example of why, in my experience, only healthy people say our system isn’t broken.


Another day, another medical appointment

May 3, 2017

A neighbor said hi as I walked out my door.

“Where are you off to?”

“I have a medical appointment.”

And as I said it, I remembered that when I saw her yesterday, I had mentioned that I was just getting home from a medical appointment. It’s not strange to me that I have appointments two days in a row, but it probably seems strange to others. If they only knew.

My parents asked me to watch their dog for a couple days while they’re on vacation. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about dogs. So obviously I’m thrilled to do it! First I had to check my schedule (as if I ever go anywhere.) Let’s see what I have during that time…. endocrinologist, rheumatologist, primary care physician, physical therapist. That’s it.

It’s a couple weeks away, so hopefully I’ll make plans with friends, too. But still, 4 appointments! I have friends who only see a doctor once a year for a checkup. I wonder what that’s like? I guess I’ll never know.


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