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.

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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.)


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.


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.


Oh summer, why must you torture me?

July 5, 2017

It is a bright, sunny, not-too-hot day. I should be taking a walk outside. Sitting in the sun. Enjoying the weather. Instead I had to cancel plans I was looking forward to so that I can sit inside and feel lousy. Again.

I don’t know what it is about summer. I just know that it kicks my ass every year. This year is actually not as bad as usual. I have been in better health, and I assume that’s why. Instead of feeling crappy starting in March or April, I made it to June! Of course, we had an unusually cool May, but still….

But not it’s July and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I increased my adrenal supplement for a few days and that helped, but when I lowered it, the fatigue rushed back. I’m seeing my naturopath in the morning and I have a feeling I should raise that supplement dose for the rest of the summer. It sucks, because after many years, we had finally just lowered it a few months ago! I was so happy to lower that supplement. It’s not something I should be on permanently. The idea is to keep lowering the dose until my adrenals can do the job themselves. We want to avoid long term dependency.

So much for that.

Yesterday was a lovely day. It was sunny and not too hot – perfect swimming weather. Plus it was a holiday, so most of my neighbors were away. I had no plans at all. The perfect day to finally try out my building’s pool. But there was no way. I felt like shit. I texted my friends that I wouldn’t be joining them, and I spent all day in pajamas. I watched many hours of tv. I didn’t do the cooking I wanted to do. Or the laundry. Or the putting away of clutter. Instead I watched tv and crocheted and knitted. Thank goodness for my sedentary yarn hobbies!

Being stuck at home is nothing new. I can handle it. The hard part is that the summer is when everyone else is out and about! All winter I felt better, but no one wanted to take walks in the snow with me. And I don’t blame them. But now they’re all out doing things, and I can’t join in. I’m stuck inside. And I like being out in the sun! I love it, actually. But on the hot days it’s impossible and on the not-too-hot days I usually don’t have the energy for it.

My new apartment has a patio. I’m hoping to spend at least a few minutes sitting out there later. At least I would get some fresh air.

But taking a walk, going for a swim, or keeping my date for tonight? No go. Because even on a not-too-hot, not-too-sunny, not-too-anything-bad day like this, I still feel like crap.

Maybe one day my immune system will be able to handle summer. But not today.


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