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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Painful weather, like it or not

October 5, 2017

It’s October in New England, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look at a calendar.

Every summer I count down until the third weekend in September. That’s when I know the weather will have finally shifted for good, and I’ll be feeling less pain, less fatigue, and less nausea. It’s truly a magical time.

But not this year.

This year we had cooler weather in August, and I was grateful for that, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. September was up and down. But surely October would be my time, right? Not so much.

When you have chronic illness, nothing is simple, and the unpredictable symptoms, flares, and other issues can make life hard to plan. Still, we do our best. For me, that means making more plans in the fall and winter, when I know I will feel better.

That’s why, even though a “simple” weekend away with my best girlfriends is incredibly hard, I felt I could do it if it was in the fall. My friends are understanding, and were perfectly happy to avoid planning anything in September, just in case. They get it. Every time we’ve had cooler, less humid weather, I get text messages and emails from friends saying, “This is your kind of weather! I hope you’re feeling up to enjoy it.” And I love that they understand.

So we planned for “safe” October. Who could have known? This isn’t our typical cool, crisp, wonderful New England autumn.

Thankfully the temperatures are cool enough, though way too warm for this time of year (upper 70s?!? Are you fucking kidding me?!?) My problem is the dew point. It’s supposed to get close to 70 this weekend! Even healthy people find that uncomfortable and for me, it will be near torture. But what can I do? The house we rented doesn’t have air conditioning – after all, none of us thought we’d need it. Higher on our list was finding a house with a working fire place. Last year we did this trip later in October and it snowed. We had a lovely time sitting by a roaring fire, and wanted to repeat that experience. If only.

I am in pain already, and it’s only beginning. Well yes, I’m always in pain, but this is worse, and I know it’s from the weather. My toes are swollen and painful. My knee is swollen and so painful that it’s hard to walk. My neck hurts. Everything is just wrong.

But I won’t stay home. I have been looking forward to this trip for a year. It is my one chance to do this. I will NOT give it up!

I will bring the medications that I can. I will be careful how I eat. And I will block out a lot of extra recovery time when I return. Still, I know this is going to be really rough. I will be in pain, nauseated, and fatigued. Thankfully, I will be surrounding by wonderful women, women I have known most of my life, the only non-relatives who knew me before any of my symptoms began, women who have always been supportive. And maybe most importantly, women who have always made me laugh, even at the worst of times.

So wish me luck. Because I want to be able to enjoy this weekend as much as possible. If only Mother Nature would cooperate.


How a weekend away is a 2 week ordeal

October 2, 2017

I’m going away this weekend and I’m super excited!

I used to travel all the time. 2 months at home felt like FOREVER. I could pack an overnight back without even thinking about it. I got on a plane multiple times each year and did some weeks and weekends within driving distance. A weekend away in the Berkshires, less than a 3 hour drive away, would be no big deal.

But that was then.

And this is now.

Now I have to plan. I am being super careful about washing my hands and avoiding germs. I can’t get sick now!

I need to bring food with me. I will be with friends and some food will be safe for me to eat, but I need to bring other food. So I went to the grocery store today (Monday) and carefully planned out what I will make and which days I will make it. I also promised to bake cookies to bring, and I can’t do big cooking on the same day I bake, because I won’t have enough energy for that, but I can’t make anything too far in advance because I want it all to be fresh.

The day before the trip I will do some packing, but most of my stuff (my ASV (which is like a CPAP), my medications, toiletries, and more) can’t be packed until the day of. I need to ration my energy that day. Thankfully, I only have to drive half an hour to a friends’ house that day and then she will do the rest of the driving from there. Still, even being a passenger will be tiring and painful.

I am already thinking about how to handle my food and medications on the day of the trip. I always feel like shit the first night I travel. So I am being careful to bring everything I need to take it all at the right times: I will take something to help with the pain and the nausea when we start to drive, something else for the pain when we arrive, then something else for the nausea a few hours after that. Between medical cannabis and pepto bismol, the right foods and lots of rest, I am hoping really hard that it won’t be too miserable. Thankfully, I will be with friends who will understand if I can’t hang out with them that night.

I have scheduled my medical appointments around this trip. I was able to get a physical therapy appointment just a couple days after I return, so hopefully that will help with the pain from the long car ride and sleeping in a less-than-great bed.

My calendar is empty for the first 2 days after my return. That will give me time to rest and recover. I will get a lot of sleep, watch tv and movies, crochet, and read. If I feel up to it I will do more, and if not, that’s ok too. During my recovery time, I still need to eat, and I might not be up to preparing food, so I am making sure to cook and freeze food now that I can eat when I return.

I want to travel more. I really, desperately do. But then I remember what a trip like this is like. I can manage it ok, because it is only two days. I will leave at noon on Friday and be home by 5pm on Sunday at the latest. And I won’t be flying. I know it would be much harder if I was flying, for many reasons. It would be more painful. I might feel anxious at being “trapped” on a plan. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be able to bring any cannabis with me, and I can’t imagine how I would manage my symptoms without it.

At the same time, a friend and I are trying to schedule another weekend that I can visit her. The drive is less than 2 hours, but I would be driving myself. She would provide food I could eat during the entire visit, but aside from that, everything else would be the same. Resting for days in advance, blocking out days afterwards for rest, figuring out medications and other things to help alleviate my symptoms while knowing that I will almost definitely feel like shit the night that I arrive.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. But I know it will be in the end. Even thought it won’t be easy. It won’t be like it was before. But hopefully it will still be fun.


Finding clothes that fit with chronic illnesses

August 23, 2017

I went clothes shopping yesterday. Ugh. Chronic illness makes it so much harder to find clothes that look and feel good, and not only in the obvious ways.

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The obvious ways are simple: shopping itself leads to fatigue and pain. Shopping is hard! There’s the walking, the reaching for things, the taking clothes on and off. If I dare to try on shoes, I’m likely to trigger my foot pain, which is already worse than usual from all of the walking. It’s easy for something to irritate the skin. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about the shopping part of shopping. I’m talking about the finding clothes that actually look and feel good part of shopping.

Shirts are hard. Prednisone caused my boobs to grow too big for my frame. At 5’1″ and 126 pounds, I shouldn’t be a large 36DD, bordering on 36F. That’s just ridiculous. Even when I lost weight and was down to a more reasonable 116, my boobs were still a 34DD. The t-shirt I’m wearing as I write this looks pretty good, though the neckline pulls away from my body thanks to my big boobs. A lot of other tops just don’t fit. My boobs pull the fabric up and away. Or the style is meant for smaller women. But I’m 5’1″, so a larger size is often too long.

Coats are brutal. It is almost impossible to find a coat that is big enough for my boobs and not ridiculously long in the sleeves. If the sleeves fit, usually the shoulders are too tight and it’s hard to zip/button up.

Bras are tough because of my scoliosis. In addition to the curves themselves (3 of them, thanks Mother Nature) I also have a short torso. That makes bras shopping much harder. It makes it harder to buy shirts, too.

Shorts are easier, as long as I don’t get too self-conscious. Because it’s pretty obvious that the legs of the shorts aren’t even. There’s that scoliosis again. It caused one hip to turn and the other to pull up. It’s obvious on skirts and dresses, too, which makes me sad sometimes.

And then there are shoes. Oh, the shoes! Sneakers are no problem, but it’s summer, and I would love to wear sandals. I need sandals that:

  1. Take my orthodics.
  2. Don’t have a split toe area – my orthodics are full length and need to stay that way. They go past my toes.
  3. Have a wide enough opening in the toe area so that there’s no pressure on my toes even when they become very swollen, which they often do in the summer.
  4. Have an adjustable strap across the top of my foot, as close to the ankle as possible.
  5. Are made for a very narrow foot.

Believe it or not, I have found sandals that work! Unfortunately, they are $170, which is totally not in my budget. *sigh*

Yesterday I was shopping for two things: bras and pants. For the first time, shopping for pants had an additional challenge: accommodating my knee braces. You see, I only got these knee braces in May, so I haven’t had a problem. There were a couple of cooler days in the spring, so I wore leggings under the knee braces – and immediately learned that’s not a great option. It works well enough, but the braces don’t stay in place as well and I was constantly tugging at them.

Friends keep telling me to wear leggings and skirts all winter, but I don’t want to. Aside from the braces slipping, I don’t want to wear skirts when it’s cold and snowing! Yes, it’s possible to stay warm that way, but honestly, I’ll just be more comfortable in pants.

I got lucky. As a short person, wide-legged pants make me look even shorter. But finally, FINALLY the style changed to skinny jeans! For the first time, I look fabulous in jeans! They show off my butt – one of my nicer features – and don’t make me look shorter than I already am.

And I can’t wear them anymore. I hate this. Sure, I’ll pull out a pair for a date occasionally, and skip the knee braces. But on a day-to-day basis, I will need pants that fit over the braces.

I bought 2 pairs yesterday. One has wider legs and doesn’t look amazing, but it’s ok. The other has narrower legs in a stretchy material and looks better – if you ignore the bumps that are visible in the knee area. I don’t love either, and they cost more than I’d like. Maybe I’ll return them. I’m not sure yet.

I have accepted many limitations due to my health. And I understand that I will never be able to ski, hike, or go skydiving. No more riding a bike, spending an entire day out with friends, or having a full time job. But is it really so much to ask that I can wear “normal” clothes?!

Apparently it is.


When triggers feel absurd

August 18, 2017

Some triggers seem reasonable. If I fall and land with any pressure at all on my hand or wrist, my wrist pain fill flare for days, weeks, or months. If I exercise too much, my pain and fatigue will flare. Some triggers make sense but piss me off: like eating lunch.

Yes, eating lunch is a big trigger if I don’t do it right. As it turns out, eating and digesting food takes a lot more physical energy than I would have every guessed back when I felt healthier.

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If I eat standing up, I’ll feel sick. If I eat too fast, I’ll feel sick. If I eat at the wrong time, I’ll feel sick. If I eat and don’t rest afterward, I’ll feel sick. And “sick” can mean a few different things.

Take Wednesday for example. I had a doctor appointment at 1:40. I needed to leave by 12:40. But I wanted to make a quick stop at the library on the way, so I figured I would leave at 12:25. I usually eat lunch around 1pm, but instead I ate at noon, and I ate quickly. The second I finished eating, I ran out the door. Oops. I ate fast *and* didn’t rest afterwards. The nausea and fatigue set in fast. I was in pain. I felt horrible. But I had to get to that doctor appointment.

I pushed through. I didn’t have the strength to multitask, so I didn’t turn on the audiobook I wanted to listen to. I focused. I managed to drive safely but miserably. I went to the bathroom before I checked in, and a lot of my lunch left my system – not properly digested. Then I asked to wait in an exam room instead of a waiting room. Thankfully, they had a room available and I was able to lay down.

After laying down for a bit I felt much, much better. The nausea was gone, the fatigue was improved. Still, I took it easy the rest of the day. My appetite didn’t come back until the following night.

I know that lunch wasn’t the only problem, just the final trigger. My stress about what’s happening right now (Nazi marches!?!) and the weather (very humid) primed me. It was lunch that set me off.

It pisses me off that I can’t eat an early, quick lunch and then run out the door. But then, I also should have known better. I knew that could be a problem, but I did it anyway.

Still, I feel good about one thing: instead of pushing through and trying to “brave it out,” I asked to lie down. And it made ALL the difference.

Learning to ask for what I need has been invaluable. I don’t always do it, but when I do, I feel good about it. Now I just need to find ways to eat lunch before a doctor appointment that don’t have such terrible results. (And yes, eating after the appointment would have been just as bad – I have a very narrow window to work with.)


When friends have chronic illnesses too

August 8, 2017

The first couple of years in my chronic pain support group, I got a lot of knowledge and support from the group. But now, what I get out of the group more than anything else is friends who understand.

It started slowly, with a couple of conversations after the group ended. Eventually, two of us decided to get together. Then we kept hanging out. That emboldened me, so I invited another potential friend to hang out. Then another. I haven’t stayed friends with all of them, but the ones I have kept in touch with are now valued friendships.

It’s not all rosy. Having friends with chronic illnesses can present its own challenges. We cancel on each other constantly. I invited a group over to my place. 6 were going to come. 2 showed up. Everyone else didn’t feel up to it at the last minute.

And speaking of logistics, it’s so great to have people to hang out with on a weekday! Being home so much can be isolating. Not working is lonely and makes me feel unproductive. Having a place to go and someone to see, even just once or twice a month, makes a huge difference.

Now on the flip side, when I’ve been the one to not show up because I don’t feel well, I know they understand. I don’t have to explain, make excuses, or apologize. It’s totally fine. And that’s awesome.

Of course, we don’t always understand. No two illnesses are the same, even when you have the same diagnosis. We share what helps us and what doesn’t, which is great. But sometimes there’s a bit of envy, frustration, and defensiveness, too. Why is she complaining about having trouble walking when I can’t walk at all today? Should I tell her about my pain when I know hers is even worse? I wish I could work/travel/have kids/have dogs/go to festivals/whatever like she does. I have had all of these thoughts and feelings and more. I try to go with it. It’s natural and ok to feel it sometimes. I just make sure it’s not all the time.

One friend I especially like is someone I think I would have been friends with if we were both healthy, too. When we hang out, sometimes we discuss our health problems. More often we’re busy with the other things in our lives – talking about my dating status, tossing a ball for her adorable dog, playing board games, comparing our latest crochet projects. Just stuff. Because we have interests in our lives besides our health, and that’s important. And yes, we talk about health stuff too. We give each other tips for handling certain symptoms. We provide an ear when the other person just needs to talk. We bounce idea off each other.

These friendships mean the world to me.

Not all friendships are in person. I have been amazed at the friendships I have cultivated online, too. It can be hard with this blog, since it’s anonymous, but I am also online in the chronic illness community as me. Through this blog, I have had some great email exchanges with folks. Through my own profile I have met amazing people both online and in person.

If you don’t have friends or community with chronic illness, and you feel lonely or misunderstood, give it a shot! Just remember, chronic illnesses shouldn’t be the only aspect of your friendship. Do other things, talk about other things, focus on other things. From time to time it’s nice to have someone to complain to about all of this health shit, but that won’t be the basis of a solid friendship.

Do you have friends with chronic illnesses? If so, how does that affect your friendships? Please share in the comments!


The never-ending guessing game of boundaries

July 25, 2017

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Having chronic illness means accepting limitations. For almost two decades, my limitations made life more difficult, and they prevented me from doing some things, but their impact was limited in its own way. Then things changed.

Today I want to go to the gym and ride the stationary bike at its lowest setting for 10 minutes. But I’m not sure if I’m up to it. That’s one kind of limitation. That bothers me, but not as much as the other kind of limitation.

I want to live life on my own terms. I want to earn a living and go out more with friends. But mostly I want to travel.

Yesterday a friend told me about a trip she is planning. She knows that it is beyond her chronic illness-produced boundaries, but she is taking a chance by going anyway. And it made me question, not for the first time, if I should take more risks.

Part of me thinks I should. My doctor thinks I could. And I’m tempted to just pick up and go. But then I get scared. What happens when I inevitably feel sick? I won’t be able to bring medical marijuana – the only thing that helps – with me. Is it worth taking a trip, when I will probably feel like crap for half of it, and feel horrible when I get home? Will I be able to enjoy myself enough for it to be worthwhile?

But then I wonder, what kinds of regrets will I have if I don’t go? My symptoms will probably get worse over time, not better. Now travel feels difficult, maybe not worthwhile, and scary. At some point it will be completely impossible. Don’t I owe it to my future self to take a trip today?

Sometimes I think I should try doing something small to test the waters. But those smaller trips feel boring. If I’m going to put myself through hell, shouldn’t it be for something fantastic? Sure, I could go to Washington D.C. for the 3rd time, or to Nashville (which I’ve never had any interest in) for the first time, but it would be so much more fun to go Sweden or Norway or Iceland! Those are places I have wanted to visit for years, and I would have so much more fun there. If I feel up to doing anything.

And of course, there’s also the money issue. If I had gobs of money, not only would I not stress out about money, but I could buy certain comforts: a first class seat in the plane, a nicer hotel room, a rental scooter for when I don’t feel up to walking. Instead, I question if I should take money out of my savings for a trip at all, even one without those extra comforts. Then again, I might regret it if I don’t. I probably will.

So these thoughts are spinning around my head for the millionth time. I know some people with chronic illnesses travel. I know others don’t. I know it’s a personal choice and I need to be the one to choose. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Because in the end, it’s not about the trip itself. It’s about the fact that my world has become very small, and I feel the need to open it up. I need new experiences and excitement. I know that would sustain me in a million mental and emotional ways. I just wonder what it would do to me physically.


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