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!


Difficult elections and self-care

November 10, 2016

For the past 2 days, a lot of my friends have been writing and posting on Facebook about self-care. These last 2 days have been incredibly stressful for many of us. We’re scared, we’re uncertain, we’re worried. And that’s precisely why we need to take care of ourselves. All of us.

But when you have a chronic illness, self-care takes on different dimensions. And in some ways, I think it makes things easier for me, because I already know what to do.

When I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, the doctor told me to avoid stress. I laughed. Oh wait, was he serious?

Over the years, though, I’ve learned how to do it. It’s not that I completely avoid stress, but I manage it better. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff as much. When I do feel stress, I know what will calm me. I address issues head-on so they don’t nag at me. I take deep breaths. I distract myself. I put things in perspective. And generally, it works.

I also know what to do when it comes to physical self-care. I know that I need a lot of sleep and that I need to eat certain foods while avoiding others. I know that I might need to take extra supplements or raise the dose of a medication.  I know how to rest while awake.

It turns out, I know a lot more than I thought I did! And I bet you do, too.

This week is more stressful for some people than for others. But we all experience stress from time to time, so it’s important to learn how to read our bodies and to figure out what will work to counteract that stress.

I am watching my friends cry, hug, and attend vigils. I did the first two. I can’t do the last. The vigils would help me emotionally for sure, but not physically. And on balance, it’s better to skip them, even though I’d really rather attend.

Last night when I found myself crying alone in my apartment, I texted a bunch of friends until I found someone who could talk. We had a long chat on the phone and in the end, I felt much better. Today I visited with another friend and got great conversation and a few good hugs. I don’t usually hug people during flu season but again, on balance, it was worth it.

We all need to find our balance.

I want to believe everything will be ok, but I know it won’t. As a queer person, I see difficult times ahead on many levels. As a Jew, I see anti-semitism increasing already. As a woman, I worry about an increased risk of sexual assaults, not to mention further legislation that affects my body. And as a chronically ill disabled person, I worry about losing my health insurance and my disability benefits. As a person, I worry about the future of our country and the hatred that this election has bred. Among so many other things.

So that is why I am about to step away from my computer, put on a happy, silly movie, and knit. Because for me, that’s the perfect form of self-care.

How are you taking care of yourself? What works for you to handle stress? Please comment and share!

As a final note, I want to say that I’m not looking to start a political debate about how the election turned out. This is about handling feelings and stress. That’s all. Hateful comments will be deleted, because that’s part of self-care, too.


Adjusting to my new-found support

November 13, 2015

We all know how it goes. You get sick and everyone steps up to help you. Then you stay sick, and people get busy with their own lives. It happens. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. And that’s why it feels so odd when the support is offered again.

Part of the problem, of course, is that I suck at asking for help. I should do it more. And part of the problem is that I would 2015-10-17 11.45.26be asking for help so often, my friends would get burned out. I get that. I can’t expect anyone to be visiting me every other week or helping with laundry regularly. But at the same time, I know that people forget, and that’s tough.

So when I had surgery a couple weeks ago, it was wonderful that so many friends stepped in to help and offer support. Suddenly there was an outpouring of good wishes, emails, and phone calls. I’ve gotten visits and thoughtful gifts (like a gift card for grocery delivery!) After so many years of poor health, this all feels a bit strange, but it’s far from the strangest part.

The strangest part is every time someone looks at my foot and comments on the cast. I don’t know how to respond when someone asks if I’m in pain or if I’m having a tough time. I won’t lie to you – this isn’t easy. But it’s not that bad, either. I’m stuck at home, but the truth is that I’m often stuck at home, this is just for a bit longer. It hurts, but very little compared to my normal daily pain, and a hell of a lot less than the original injury. I’m limited, but not so much worse than usual. I’m frustrated, but that’s nothing new. It stops me from doing things what want to do, but that’s like all other days. Yet people ask about it as if it’s so different.

The truth is, I feel better this week than I have in ages, thanks to the change in seasons and my forced increase in rest time.

In another month I’ll be back to “normal” and the extra emails, calls, and visits will have ended. For now, I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.


Putting life on hold

October 17, 2015

Note: I’ve missed writing to you all so much! After you read this, you’ll probably understand why I’ve been MIA lately.

I watch my friends going through surgeries and hospitalizations and I’m always grateful that my illnesses don’t involve either of those. Sure, my illnesses have a ton of other issues, but I try to be grateful for what I can. But now it’s my turn for 2015-09-05 18.36.09surgery. And it has nothing to do with my illnesses.

I had just finished preparing lunch when the phone rang. My parents were updating me on some exciting news. I put them on speakerphone while I went about doing things in the kitchen. It was late, around 1:30, and I was hungry. I was hot. I was distracted. And as I reached for the glass of water, my arm nudged the knife that was sitting on the counter. The knife that I was done using. The knife that fell off the edge of the counter.

Nudging the knife happened in slow motion, but the rest was quick. I felt pain in my foot and immediately grabbed it. I was aware I had screamed – had my parents heard me? Maybe the pain was because the handle of the knife hit the bone. There was pain near the bone. Maybe that was it. It wasn’t the blade, it was the 2015-10-17 11.45.26handle. I still held my foot tight, as you do when something hurts. But it was also fear. I didn’t want to let go. What would I see? But then I saw the blood seeping down my palm. Oh boy. It was the blade.

I hung up the phone and called a friend. I didn’t want to call 911. They would take me to the closest hospital, one that I have very good reason not to trust. He didn’t answer his phone. I called another friend. I knew she wasn’t working that day. She pointed out that she could not possibly get me down the stairs and out of my building, and that I had to call 911. The idea of dialing that number brought up all of my anxieties around medical issues, but what choice did I have? I called. Somewhere in there I pressed a paper towel to my foot. The blood soaked through. I used a second paper towel. The operator got my information. Eventually, there was a knock at the door. I hung up with 911. I held my foot with one hand and hopped to the front door…. I couldn’t walk so I hopped.

On the way to the door I grabbed a small container of cashews from my fridge. After all, I never got to eat that lunch that was not sitting, ready, on my counter. The knife was on the floor. As I passed through the living room I grabbed the novel I’d been reading. I was gross and sweaty. I was wearing lounging clothes. I hadn’t planned to leave the house that day. But the bedroom was on the other side of the apartment. I got to the door and pulled the chain off the lock. It wasn’t the EMTs. It was my neighbor. My parents knew him. They’d heard me scream, then they heard crying. They’d called back, but I’d ignored the call; I was busy talking to my friend and 911. I didn’t listen to that message until I got home 7 hours later – my mother said they wanted to call the police in case I was in trouble but they didn’t know where I was. They called my neighbor and he came to check on me. Luckily he was home, and so was I. He assured them I’d be ok and he stayed with me until the EMTs arrived.

I was bandaged and taken to one of the better Boston hospitals – they said that for penetrating wounds they brought patients to those hospitals. For two and a half hours I sat in the waiting room. I couldn’t read, so I chatted with other patients. Eventually, we were all taken in. My mother arrived just after the doctor’s initial examination. The xrays showed no broken bones. They said my tendons were fine. I got stitches. I was panicked as the doctor did the stitches, certain something would go wrong. I have had so many “easy” medical things go wrong that I can’t help but worry now. There were so many medical people and I didn’t know or trust any of them. But it was finally done. When they first examined me they mentioned they might give me painkillers. After they reviewed my medical records (my doctors are all at this same hospital, so they can see my records through the computer system) they said I should take Tylenol and Motrin. They might has well have offered me a handful of M&Ms. Those wouldn’t help me at all! I asked about painkillers but they said I didn’t need them. More on this later.

I eventually made it home. I couldn’t get up to my apartment. A stranger on the street helped my mom get me to my building’s lobby. I sat on the stairs while my mom took my keys and went up to my apartment for my desk chair. She brought it back down the elevator, then wheeled me to the elevator and down the long hallway. Inside the apartment I had to walk small amounts, and I screamed every time my foot touch the floor. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever felt, but it was damn close, and it lasted longer.

The knife was still on the floor, next to bloody paper towels.

We watched a movie, then collapsed into bed. Thank goodness for my mother! The next day she picked up a medication that I needed to get anyway. She got me food from the supermarket. She stopped at the gluten-free bakery and completely spoiled me with goodies. She even brought me a bouquet of flowers. I have the best mom!

For weeks I was in pain and had trouble walking. My foot constantly woke me up at night. I felt my foot wasn’t healing right. My toes were at odd angles. I couldn’t lift or wiggle my big toe. It just hung there. The second toe hung a bit, too. I went to see my rheumatologist. She said it looked ok, but she was a bit doubtful. She said to defer to the doctor who took out the stitches the next day, but to see her again in a month to follow up. When I went to my primary doctor’s office to get the stitches out, I saw the same doctor who put them in. What a coincidence! I pointed out that my toes were at odd angles. He said it was fine, just give it time. I wanted to believe him. I should have pushed harder, but he wasn’t going to listen. I asked why he didn’t prescribe painkillers. He said Tylenol and Motrin were typical for this type of injury. I didn’t believe him.

I tried to wear sneakers, but that foot just hurt too much. I kept wearing the surgical shoe. I shouldn’t still be in pain. It occurred to me to see my podiatrist, but by this point, I’d be seeing my rheumatologist in a few days, so I waited. My rheum didn’t like the look of things, but admitted it was beyond her. (As a side note, that’s why I love her – she’s great at what she knows and readily admits when she doesn’t know something.) She said I should see her colleague in the same office, a podiatrist.

That was a week and a half ago. And now I face surgery. That podiatrist immediately realized at least one, but probably two, of my tendons had been cut. The ER doctors hadn’t checked properly. He didn’t check properly a second time when he took the stitches out. It was obvious. He ordered an MRI, which confirmed it – two cut tendons, one in the big toe and one in the second toe. I brought the MRI to my own podiatrist and she read it the same way.

Tendon repair surgery should be done at the time of the injury. It can still be done now, but the recovery will be longer. And of course, it has already been almost 7 weeks. I’ve put in my time. I should be mostly recovered by now, and instead, it’s all about to start over again! More pain. More sitting.

The surgery will be scheduled on Monday and it will take place some time in the next 2-3 weeks. Maybe sooner. Each doctor I saw was shocked that I wasn’t given painkillers. One asked why they weren’t prescribed so I told him my theory, how they changed their minds when they saw my history of chronic pain (despite the fact that no one had prescribed me painkillers in ages.) He just nodded his head and didn’t dispute it. They were all surprised the tendons weren’t properly checked to begin with. I guess my fears at the hospital weren’t entirely irrational after all.

Until the surgery I’ll be wearing the boot in the photo. After the surgery I’ll be wearing it for another 6-8 weeks. So far it’s been less than 2 days and I hate it already. It’s heavy and exhausting, but what can I do? I need to keep my ankle immobilized to prevent further widening of the tendon gaps.

I am so lucky to have wonderful family and friends. I’ve only mentioned this to a few people so far, and everyone has been so supportive and has offered to help me. Even the people with health problems who can’t run errands have offered to just come by and keep me company, which I know will help a lot. I know more people will offer to help when I tell them about this. It will be tough. It would be months before I’m walking around normally again. And of course, I fear that this could cause permanent problems. On top of that, I haven’t been able to do my physical therapy, so my back and neck have been more painful, and all of this sitting doesn’t help either. But again, what can I do? I’ll just continue to do the best I can.

And I’ll do as much as I can before the surgery. I’m running errands, making calls, preparing my apartment. I want to make sure everything is as ready as possible. Because I won’t be doing much for a while after the surgery.

This sucks. I’m just hoping that the suckiness is temporary!

Side note: Please don’t leave any comments on this post about your own surgical experiences with tendon repairs. I’m managing, barely, to keep an emotional balance. Hearing stories about other people’s similar stories will tip the scales the wrong way. Please feel free to share *other* stories as much as you’d like. In fact, I encourage it! I just don’t want to hear about tendon repairs.


“Have you tried…..?”

September 28, 2015

We’ve all heard it. A well-meaning friend, a nosy stranger, a nervous relative, a new acquaintance hears about your health problem and asks, “Have you tried X?”

The first time you hear it, you probably think it’s nice they’re trying to help. Maybe they even suggest something you’ve never thought of. The 5th time you hear it, it’s a bit annoying, but at least they want to help, right? The 782nd time you hear it, you’re fed up and trying not to yell at them about their ignorance.

But how do you really respond?

A friend and I were sharing stories about this yesterday. She said how she always wants to say, “Do you really think you’ll suggest anything I haven’t already thought of?” and I said that I do actually say that. She was shocked that I say it. I was shocked that she doesn’t say it.

The thing is, why bother pretending? I’m not mean about it, but I do point out that I’ve had my health issues for more than 20 years. I read the news. I follow health blogs, Facebook groups, and twitter accounts. I read library books and newsletters. I talk to friends with similar health problems. And let’s not forget, I just happen to see many doctors. So do they really think they’re going to suggest anything that I haven’t already thought of or had suggested to me by a professional? I point all that out, nicely, and no one is offended but they do stop offering me advice. Win!

What about you? How do you handle it when someone asks, “Have you tried….?” Please share your approach in the comments. I’d love to know what everyone else does!


A little snuggle goes a long way

August 21, 2015

I had a nightmare last night. It happens from time to time. Sometimes it’s easy to go back to sleep, but often it’s not. Last 2015-08-20 22.19.09night was easier than usual, thanks to the handsome guy in the photo.

I happen to be dog-sitting this week. This adorable fellow was asleep, with his little tongue sticking out (isn’t that cute?) at the foot of the bed right around the time I went to sleep. Hours later I woke up, startled and upset. Before I could even remember where I was, he got up from the foot of the bed, came over to me, and cuddled up by my chest. I reached out to pet him, and he began licking my arm.

Before I had time to think about it, I was asleep again. I woke up hours later with this guy back at the foot of the bed. I don’t know when he moved. I just know he was there when I needed him.

How lucky can a girl get?


The shock of speaking with a supportive doctor

August 9, 2015

“I’m impressed by how well you know your body.”

“It’s not your fault you have gluten intolerance or hypothyroid. It’s just what you’ve had to deal with and it seems like you’ve been doing a great job.”

I’m not used to hearing things like this, especially from a doctor. Who was this amazing stranger?

24 hours ago life was good. I’d had a fantastic day with first one friend, then another. I’d spent a lot of it outside on one of the rare August days that’s cool enough for me to be outside. I was happy and content and tired in a good way. It was an absolutely perfect day. Until the reaction.

I’d been putting off trying Metformin for ages. I was worried that it wouldn’t sit well with me. I know a lot of women have problems with it. But I was also running out of options. I can’t take estrogen because of the side effects, and ditto for progesterone. My naturopath wants to try some homeopathic treatments. My only options were the homeopathy, Metformin, or literally scraping my uterine lining. I’d prefer to avoid that last one. So after dinner, I swallowed 1 pill. And almost immediately it hit me.

Diarrhea, nausea, and a racing heart all waxed and waned for what seems like years. After several hours of symptoms I texted my aunt my symptoms and asked her to get my uncle’s opinion. He’s a non-practicing doctor. The last time I had a bad reaction to a medication he told me to wait it out. When I blacked out in their living room he took my blood pressure and had me rest. He’s never told me to go to a doctor. This time, he told me to call my doctor. So I knew I should do it.

It takes a lot for me to call my doctor. I’m sure many of you can relate. I’m used to things going wrong with my body, so I don’t panic. And the diarrhea wasn’t so bad. It was certainly less bad than my reaction to eating gluten. But the racing heart had me worried. My resting pulse is around 75. I kept checking my pulse using a phone app. It was 82, 89, 95, 94, 88, 83, 99, 101, 109…. I didn’t like that my pulse had gotten better, then worse again, and so had the diarrhea and nausea. I almost never call a doctor after hours; the last time was probably 10 years ago when I was coughing up green phlegm. But this time it seemed like the right move, so when my uncle told me to call, I did.

My endocrinologist (who prescribed the Metformin) doesn’t have after hours, so I called my primary care physician’s office. Just 5 minutes after I left the message I got a call back from the doctor on call. This was 10:30 on a Saturday night, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This guy was amazing! He spent 25 minutes on the phone with me. I stated my symptoms, the timing, and what I’d been doing (orange juice in case it was a blood sugar problem (because Metformin can do that), sucking on ice to stay cool and hydrated, etc.) I was a bit defensive and insecure as I stated just a few of my current diagnoses. I was apologetic for calling. I couldn’t help but brace myself for the doubt that usually follows, so I was shocked when, instead of doubt, I received support!

Thankfully, he didn’t feel I needed to go to the hospital unless things got worse. He agreed with me that, because of my immune system problems, it was best to keep me away from the hospital as much as possible. That was a relief. The shock was the way he treated me. Instead of assuming I was exaggerating, he took me seriously. He said more than once that it was good I called. He told me how impressed he was with the way I was responding to his questions and monitoring my situation. He couldn’t have been any more perfect.

My current doctor is supposed to be the best, but I haven’t been thrilled with him. Now I’m thinking about switching. I might be much better off with whoever belongs to the voice I heard over the phone last night who was calm, reassuring, supportive, and clearly knows his medicine, too. I don’t have to decide now, but I’m definitely going to give this some thought.

As for my own saga, another 1/2 hour or hour after I got off the phone and had texted an update to my aunt and uncle, my symptoms eased enough that I was able to doze off. When I woke up, I felt much better. I dozed again, and this time when I woke up I felt ok. I moved from the couch to my bed, and slept a deep sleep until morning. I’m spending the day resting, just like the doctor ordered. It’s another gorgeous day outside and a friend invited me to a barbecue, but I don’t mind missing it. I’m just happy to be feeling ok (though tired.) Today has been all about computer solitaire, movies, tv, and crochet. But tomorrow might just be about researching that doctor.


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