Feeling a mysterious new contradiction

June 19, 2019

Last night I went to a Meetup group for the first time in 7 or 8 months. The folks there greeted me warmly and asked what I had been up to, and why I hadn’t been around. And the thing is, I found it hard to answer, even to myself.

I had been thinking about that before I went. At first, I was busy. Then I didn’t feel well. Then I felt better, but I was trying to catch up from not feeling well. It was never a priority – yes, there were times I could have gone but chose not to. But also, lately I have either been feeling too ill to go out, or else I’m feeling pretty good and I’m using that opportunity to catch up on household chores, fun projects, and spending time with close family and friends.

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Most recently, the surprising thing is that for the past month or so, I have been feeling so much better, while at the same time I feel that I am struggling more than usual. This is new to me, and hard to wrap my head around, much less describe to someone else. The closest I have come so far is a battery metaphor, since this is mostly related to energy and fatigue (though other symptoms play a role, too.) My battery never gets to 100% anymore, and probably never will. But lately I feel like I struggle to get my battery as high as it had been. If prior to the past month it sometimes got to 65% on good days, now it never gets above 50%.

But here’s the surprising part: it goes down more slowly. Before, it wouldn’t take much for me to go from 65% to 50% to 40%, but lately I feel like I can do a lot more at 50% before I drop down to 40% or lower. It’s an odd feeling. I’m more tired on my best days, but I can do more because I stay at 50% for a lot longer.

I want to know what this means. Is it a sign of improvement or a sign of deterioration? I believe it has to do with going off of an adrenal supplement. The goal was to stop the supplement for 2 weeks so I could take a test, then resume it. The first few days were horrible, but then I actually started to feel better. I had to put off the test for an extra week because of scheduling issues, and by then, I wanted to see what would happen. After all, I really did feel better than I had in a while. Now it’s been 5 weeks and I am anxiously waiting for the test results. What will they show? Will I need to go back on the supplement? Will I instead need the prescription that we were contemplating? Or is my body better off on its own? I am figuratively chewing my fingernails in anticipation.

My body is a series of mysteries. Sometimes there are answers, but far too often I never find out what is going on. I have learned to accept that for the less pressing issues (though sometimes I later find out they were more important than I had realized) but since fatigue has been my most disabling symptom for many years, this is tantalizingly close. I can almost feel the answer to the mystery dangling in front of me, but I can’t quite reach it. I am aching to know, though, if I am improving or deteriorating. Could I be on the verge of a breakthrough? Or is it the edge of a downward slide? Maybe the iron infusion that I had dreaded is having an affect? My fear is that the test won’t give conclusive results, and I won’t know why I feel this way or how to proceed. I should find out any day now, and until then all I can do is wait.

I see doctors constantly, and when they ask how I have been, it is almost always hard to explain. But now the answer is that I feel both better and worse at the same time. I hope they can help nudge towards more of the better.

 

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Yes, it’s a choice

June 11, 2019

One thing my therapist is helping me realize is that many of the things I do for my health are actually choices on my part. I often feel trapped, like I have no options, but that’s actually not true.

Take the party I went to recently. I put on my sexy new dress: tight, red, showing cleavage, and making me look hot. This is the sexiest dress I’ve owned, and I didn’t want to ruin the effect by wearing my big, bulky knee braces. So I made a choice: I didn’t wear them.

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The dress I wore with the knee braces I didn’t

I wear those knee braces every time I leave the house, but since I knew I wouldn’t be doing much walking, what if this time I didn’t? What’s the worst that would happen?

Well, long term I could do permanent damage by wearing away cartilage, but that wouldn’t be an issue for one evening. I would be in pain, but maybe that would be ok? I know the pain, and it would be manageable. I should still be able to drive home, which is the deal-breaker for me.

So I did it. I brought the braces with me, just in case, but I left them in the car. I wore cute sandals with my orthodics in them. The dress calls for heels, but I knew that level of pain wouldn’t be worthwhile. I’m better off in sneakers, but really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to look good, damn it!

I was in a lot of pain for the first part of the party. Eventually, though, I found a good balance between sitting and standing. It meant sometimes sitting when I would rather stand, but that happens a lot even when I wear the knee braces.

But it also meant that I felt good about the way I looked. I kept forgetting that I was “passing” as healthy, so when I asked a guy out on a date and he said yes, he didn’t know about my health issues. When I showed up to our date in a cute dress and knee braces, I had to explain. I wasn’t doing it to pass, though. I wasn’t trying to hide my health problems. No, I was simply trying to look good in my new dress. And what’s so bad about that?

It is a privilege that I was able to make that choice. I know that some day I might not be able to. But somewhere in the midst of everything, I realized something important: I wasn’t simply choosing to not wear my knee braces. I was choosing to boost my emotional health at the cost of my physical health. That was the true choice that I made.

Within two days my knee pain levels had returned to normal, but the memory of how I felt all dressed up has stayed with me. It’s spring now, and even though I wear skirts and dresses almost every day, I will be wearing my knee braces whenever I go out. That, too, is a choice that I am making. The thing I have to remember, though, is that it is a choice. I am choosing whether or not to do the thing that is best for my physical health. And occasionally, it best not to do that thing, and to give my mental health a boost instead.


Choosing convenience

May 20, 2019

Let’s face it, dealing with chronic illness takes a lot of time and effort. There are the myriad medical appointments, tests, and treatments. There’s handling the day-to-day symptoms. The flares just add to it all. And that’s on top of having fewer “good” hours in a day than most people. It’s exhausting and overwhelming at times.

That’s why, after many years, I have finally decided to choose convenient options without guilt whenever I need to. Yes, it’s better for the environment to use reusable containers instead of sandwich baggies, but I’m using the baggies when I need to. I will still use the reusable containers most of the time, but when I can’t fit all of the containers into my cooler to bring with me to the doctor appointment, or when I’m going to be out all day and I need more space in my bag, or when I need to make my bag as light as possible, or when I can’t keep up with the dishes then yes, I’m going to use the plastic baggies and then throw them away, and I won’t feel guilty about it.

Similarly, I should use rags when I’m cleaning. But that’s more to wash, more to deal with. So I will use paper towels at times and I won’t feel guilty about that. When I’m in a bad flare, I will use paper plates and plastic forks without guilt. I will run the air conditioner if that helps me to feel better. I will take extra long showers when that helps me. And I will do all of it without guilt.

I believe that every person on this planet has a responsibility to do what we can to preserve and improve our environment. But I am also aware that we have to accept our limits. And maybe one shouldn’t come at the cost of the other. I have been adhering to this new mindset for several weeks now and it has been freeing, not to mention helpful. Instead of doing what’s “right” or what I “should” do, I choose what makes the most sense at that moment. Sometimes I use the reusable containers, sometimes the sandwich bags and you know what? Either one is ok.

Now I’m wondering what types of things other folks choose for convenience, and I’d love to hear from you. Please share yours below! It would be good to add to my list and to give other readers more ideas, too. So what shortcuts do you take?


Fallout from the mystery trigger

March 28, 2019

It started with horrible eczema on my hands. All day they were fine, then they were dry, tomato red, painful, cracked, and bleeding. Later there was gas. Then abdominal pains. Then constipation. Finally diarrhea, as my body got rid of the offending element and everything else I had eaten.

Clearly I ate some gluten or corn at some point. But I wasn’t all that sick, all things considered. This didn’t last as long as some other episodes. Plus, I’m super careful. Still, I had stayed over at my parents’ house, and even though I tried to be careful, there were crumbs everywhere, and we all pet the dog before and after meals. And we ate out at a restaurant that has always been ok for me, but maybe they made a mistake? I just don’t know, and not knowing makes it even harder.

The next day I was fatigued, but that makes sense. After all, my body had been through a lot. I had turned off my alarm clock and slept much longer than usual. Still, I was worn down, so I spent the day watching tv. I didn’t eat as much as usual, but I ate. I figured I would be fine by the follow day.

Yet I woke up today still feeling fatigued. It’s close to noon and the fatigue and brain fog are both intense, and much worse than what I typically experience. I am having trouble thinking clearly, and I wonder how much sense this post will make when I read it in a few days. Assuming I’m feeling better in a few days. Because who knows?

Now I am wondering how long this will last. I already canceled my therapy appointment tomorrow, but I have a big family event the following day – should I go? Even if I’m feeling better, would I be up to the hour-long drive in each direction? And to make it even worse, I finally scheduled that iron infusion, and that’s just 5 days away. I want to get it over with, but will my body be strong enough?

I don’t need to decide these things yet, but I will have to soon. If I skip the family event, I need to give another person time to make alternate travel arrangements. If I reschedule the iron infusion, I can’t do that at the last minute, especially since a friend is arranging her schedule so that she can go with me.

I have no idea when I will feel better. It could be later today or in a month. And what’s especially frustrating is that I don’t know what caused this! I wish I knew. Was it corn? Gluten? Something else I can’t have that I’m not even aware of yet? Was it the restaurant or my parents’ house or somehow something else?

I’m frustrated more than words can say, but there’s nothing I can do. Which is why in about 90 seconds I will once again be sitting on the couch, watching hours of tv. Because I just don’t have the energy to do anything else. Not even the many things I wanted to do today. And it’s all because of something I ate, even though I don’t know what.


I don’t know what to hope for

March 21, 2019

I read a lot of stories about patients improving to the point of their symptoms going into remission and even being able to take a jog or get a job. Of course, I also read stories about those who get much worse are are unable to care for themselves. Right now I fall somewhere in the middle, and I very much want the former but worry about the latter.

It’s hard to be involved in the chronic illness community and not hear these stories, I suppose. I read blogs and follow various Facebook groups. I imagine I would see a lot more if I was on Instagram on Twitter, but that’s more than I can manage right now. So often I worry about getting permanently sicker. It’s one of my biggest fears. But every now and then, I wonder, could I get better?

Now I’m not fooling myself. I will never job – my knees are permanently unable to support jogging. I can’t imagine how my symptoms would ever go fully into remission. But what if I could still get significantly better? Is that even possible?

When you sprain an ankle, your expected outcome is to completely heal. When you get a cold, your expected outcome is to completely recover. But when you have chronic illness, there simply is no “expected outcome.” I read stories by thyroid patients whose symptoms went into remission, but they usually caught it early on and immediately treated it properly. I did not. I read stories about folks with adrenal insufficiency who recovered completely, but they usually caught it early on and were able to remove the offending stressor. I did not catch it early on and my stressor is my chronic illnesses, which will never go away. So what is realistic for me?

There are no answers. I know that. But that doesn’t make it easy to wander through this maze of diagnoses, doctor appointments, and tests, constantly striving for better health but not knowing what to aim for. On a scale of 1-10, the year after I started this blog I was probably at a 3. Now I’m probably at a 5 or 6. I know I will never be at a 10, or even a 9. But is an 8 possible? Is a 7 possible? Already I wonder if I have reached my maximum possible health. But at the same time, I keep trying.

I keep trying because I see the possibility. I have given up many times over the years. I stopped trying to get better because I didn’t know what else to try. Now I have a list of things to try. I don’t know if any can help, and some may even hurt, but how can I not at least try? Some are obvious, like my upcoming infusion (yes, I’m doing it) for anemia and low ferritin. Increasing my pregnenolone makes sense, because blood tests show it’s low, and it’s necessary for progesterone and cortisol production. But should I take Cortef to treat my adrenal insufficiency? Or maybe my fatigue isn’t from adrenal problems at this point but from something else? I continue to find and elimination sources of corn in my diet, most recently realizing that my calcium and vitamin C supplements contain corn. I stopped those a couple of weeks ago and already feel much better. Maybe there’s more corn sneaking into my diet? I have no idea how careful I need to be and don’t want to go overboard, but eliminating corn seems to help. I want to try LDN (low dose naltraxone) which some patients report has helped with their autoimmune disease.

There are more specialists I want to see, supplements I want to try, dietary changes I am considering. Each of these takes ages, and can easily be derailed. I was going to try increasing my pregnenolone this week, but then I found out my compound thyroid was made as a slow-release version, which no one told me (and the doctor didn’t order!) and that explains some of my current problems. I am going to start the correct version of the medication in a few days, and by the time I have adjusted to that, it will be time for my iron infusion. I will need to wait a few weeks after that to see how I’m feeling and if I need a second infusion before I consider other changes.

Any time I make a change, I wait for weeks, sometimes months, to make sure I still feel ok. And so often, some other symptom or reaction gets in the way and I need to delay my plans. That means it will probably take me 2+ years to get through my current list of 9 things I want to try.

It would be so much easier to give up. I’m in a pretty good place, and maybe I should just be happy with where I’m at. But then I think about having to miss my very close friend’s surprise party last weekend because I didn’t feel up to going. And I think about the pain several days ago that was so bad, I had trouble functioning. And I think about those days that the fatigue wears me down unexpectedly. And I think about what happens if one day I want to get married, and I can’t even have the kind of wedding I want because I won’t have the energy for it. And I think about how much I want to spend the entire day with my nieces and nephews but I don’t have the energy for it.

And then I decide to try again. Because maybe I won’t get any better than where I’m at right now. Maybe this is as good as it gets. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe I can nudge my way up to a 6.5 on that scale, and wouldn’t that be worth all of the effort?


I just want to be me

February 24, 2019

There are so many big, obvious ways that chronic illness can stop us from doing the things that make us feel like ourselves. Like not being able to work or having to give up a favorite form of exercise. But then there are the smaller things that most people don’t think about. And lately those have been bugging the hell out of me.

Don’t get me wrong. Not being able to work really sucks. And I should have a dog. I adore dogs. I dog sit a lot. And yet, I can’t manage having a dog every day, so no dog for me. And yeah, that sucks. Then there are things like no longer being able to dance. I miss that. And I wonder if I get married one day, will I not even be able to dance at my own wedding? That idea is so sad that I don’t like to think about it, and get it comes to mind anyway. Then again, will I even be able to have a big wedding? My guess is that my adrenals wouldn’t be able to manage that. Those are big things. Then there are smaller things.

Like I was telling a friend about how I hadn’t kissed anyone in 6 months. He suggested that if I’m on a date with someone I like then I should just go for it. But I pointed out the big problem: gluten. I can’t kiss someone who has eaten or drunk gluten. Or who is wearing lipstick or chapstick that might have gluten in it. So I have to tell them, which can be awkward on a first or second date. Like, there was the woman I mentioned it to on the first date. She was all done, with nice clothes, makeup, lipstick. On our second date she was dressed up with nice clothes and makeup, but no lipstick. And when we ate dinner, she ordered hers gluten-free also. Ah hah! Clues! And yes, we kissed that night. More recently I went out with someone and managed to bring it up. But then he ate gluten with dinner anyway. So obviously, no kissing there. I used to make the first move all the time. In fact, the first few people I kissed I had made the first move. I can’t do that anymore, not unless I know they are gluten-free. And that totally sucks. I can’t simply be me.

And there’s the money thing. I want to try and earn some money. Not only does my health not allow me to do much, but even when I can work a little bit, there’s the issue that my government benefits prevent me from earning a little money. I need to either earn enough to get off of benefits, or earn nothing at all. Because if I earn $1000, I will keep about $250 and the rest will get eaten up by a reduction in benefits. And that sucks.

I want to play with the kids in my life. I am auntie to 11 wonderful kids, and I’m too tired to do much with them. I have managed to host a couple of sleepovers, but even those were exhausting. I want to babysit more, chase after them, take them for outings. And it hurts that I can’t do that.

There’s a list of projects sitting next to me. Things I really want to do, if only I could manage to do them. If only I had more good hours in the day. These are the things that make me feel like me. I do enough to hold onto my sense of self, but there’s so much more I want to do. There’s so much my health won’t allow me to do.

I think about the kinds of things I have done over the years, back when I was healthier. I think about the kinds of things I would like to do now. I want to go out for drinks with friends in the evening, go out dancing, ride a bicycle. But mostly I want to act naturally, follow my instincts, and just be myself. And I find it incredibly frustrating that I can’t do that basic thing: just be me.


Getting taller thanks to physical therapy

January 27, 2019

There are so many topics I want to write about but they’re negative (I mean, the name of the site is Chronic Rants, after all), and I really need to focus on something positive today. So let’s talk about a surprising benefit of my physical therapy.

When I was a kid, my hands and feet were bigger than my mom’s, so we figured I’d be taller than her 5’2″. When I was diagnosed with scoliosis, x-rays were done to see how much more I would grow. The doctors predicted I would be around 5’3″. But as I grew, my scoliosis got worse and compressed my torso. In the end, I was only 5’1″.

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Now, being short isn’t the end of the world, but let’s face it, it can be super inconvenient. In fact, a lot of my neck pain comes from being short. Reaching up to get things off of high shelves, reaching forward for the steering wheel, sitting awkwardly in chairs because I can’t lean back and have my feet on the floor at the same time, and so much more can cause problems. I have even developed arthritis affecting the big toes in each foot as well as the start of bone spurs in those toes. My doctor told me to stop standing on my toes. Easier said than done! I stand on my toes to reach shelves in my apartment, to get things off of shelves in stores, and even to sit on a toilet (ok, I’m not standing on my toes, but they’re still at that angle, because I’m too short for my feet to be flat on the floor.)

And never mind my inability to find anyone in a crowd or see over the person who sits in front of me in a theater.

I go to a lot of doctor appointments (no surprise there!) and they often weigh me and measure my height. I range between 5’1″ in the morning and 5′ 0.5″ later in the day. I can be a little taller as I go about my day thanks to an extra inch or so from my sneakers or winter boots. Unfortunately, due to toes issues I can’t wear heels any more. It’s not like I wore them every day, and I didn’t wear super high heels, but once upon a time I would occasionally wear heels to work and enjoy being 5’3″. I would often wear heel to parties so that I wouldn’t have to crane my neck as much when I stood around talking to people. Taller folks laugh at that, but it really helps. But now, no more heels for me. For the rest of my life.

So I’m short. I don’t love it, but I’ve accepted it. It’s not like I have a choice. I’m not looking forward to shrinking as I get older, and I hope to minimize that with my physical therapy, but even so, with my scoliosis, I know it will happen.

So imagine my surprise when I went to a doctor appointment right after physical therapy and they measured me at 5′ 1.5″! I was thrilled. I know PT helps with my pain and discomfort. That’s been obvious from the start. And my current physical therapist is the best I’ve had. I travel way out of my way to see her. In the past, PT was 6-12 weeks, then sending me home to continue on my own. When my problems recurred, I was blamed for not consistently doing my exercises. But let’s be real here: sometimes they won’t happen. If I have a week where I feel like shit, where I’m too fatigued or in tons of pain or have a super heavy period, then I won’t do those exercises. And then when I resume them after a week or two, damage has already been done and I won’t be able to get myself back to where I was at before the short break. That’s not my fault, it’s just how my body is.

My current PT is different. She sees me every 1-3 weeks all year long. We space things out in a way to get insurance coverage throughout the year, meaning we make a lot of adjustments in the autumn based on how many visits I have left. This means I maintain a certain baseline that works well. If I come in with a complaint, she focuses on that, like this week when I had a lot of neck pain. If I come in without any particular pain, she focuses on general posture, loosening muscles, and straightening my spine.

And it must be working. For the first time in many years I have a lot less pain on a consistent basis. When I first started seeing her, I would come in with a lot of pain to every session. If I didn’t see her for 3 weeks I was in agony. Now, 3 weeks is usually doable. I recently had to stop seeing her for 6 weeks due to some family issues she was dealing with. By the end I had some pain, but it wasn’t too bad. I was amazed!

Obviously PT was working well for me, but getting that height measurement just put a number on it. She was pleased when I told her. But then something more surprising happened. A few weeks later I saw a different doctor and they measured me. This time I wasn’t coming directly from physical therapy. In fact, my last PT appointment had been 3 days prior. But when they measured me, I was 5′ 1.5″ again! I was floored.

I don’t know if this will last. I don’t know if it will even happen again. All I know is that for once, I have concrete, numerical proof that something I am doing is actually working. I’ll take it!

Now excuse me, because it’s time for me to do my physical therapy exercises.

 


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