The power of a hug

October 14, 2017

Somehow, I did it. Despite the crappy weather that makes me feel horrible, I managed to not only survive the short weekend with my friends, but to enjoy it!

Ok, it wasn’t all great. I did feel like shit part of the time. But having friends there made it easier to handle in some ways.

Of course, having friends there also made it harder to handle. They went on walks when I couldn’t, and while someone was always hanging out at the house with me, I know they limited themselves to do it. I wanted to be carefree and have fun, but life isn’t always that way.

Not that the others were carefree. One was frustrated with a spouse, another had job worries, etc. You know, life. It’s easy to forget about that stuff when you live alone and can’t work, but health does not guarantee an easy, stress-free life.

So there we were on Saturday night, having a lovely dinner, when it hit me. Symptoms. Fuck.

I went to lay down on the couch. It was an open space. No one could see me because the back of the couch blocked their view from the dining room table, but they knew I was there, and I would sometimes speak up to join in the conversation as they cleared the dishes and put away food. I was nauseated and in pain, not that they knew what my symptoms were. They just went about their evening, because they know that’s what I prefer. No fuss.

And then it got worse. Resting on the couch wasn’t enough. I found myself breathing hard, face pressed to a pillow, willing myself to feel better. I wanted to have fun with my friends. I didn’t want them to know what was going on.

It’s lousy that we have this stigma in our society. These are my closest friends, but I didn’t want to tell them what was going on because I didn’t want to sound whiny, or like I was trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

How ridiculous. How common. How sadly natural.

And then suddenly, as if she knew, one friend came over, leaned over the back of the couch, and asked earnestly if she could do anything for me. I said no, while at the same time, wishing I could ask for a hug. She’s not the huggy type, and I felt ridiculous. Still, her asking was like a hug in a way, and it suddenly brought tears to my eyes.

I never cry when I feel bad like this. It wasn’t that bad, on my own scale of suckitude, after all. But having someone care to ask made me emotional. I’m not used to that. Usually when I feel horrible like I did that night, I’m at home. Alone. With no one around to even be aware that something is wrong, much less to offer help.

Then another friend came over and simply gave me a hug. And when I let go to pull back, she held on. She kept hugging. She hugged and hugged. And it felt amazing.

The next day I pulled her aside to tell her how much that hug helped. But in the moment, I just felt it and enjoyed it.

Amazingly, I started feeling better right after that. Well enough to at least get up for some more medical cannabis. That helped some more. And then, suddenly (though not really suddenly at all) I was able to get up and move around. Ok, my knee still had shooting pains, so I wasn’t walking well. I had to sit with my leg up for the rest of the night. But the nausea went away. The pain because bearable. And my heart felt happy.

Because for once, friends were there to offer help and give me hugs. And that made all the difference.

 

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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.


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!


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