Getting a break from the nightmares

August 17, 2018

While I have had symptoms of chronic illness for over 25 years (wow, that makes me feel old!) I only started having recurring nightmares in more recent years.

First there were the dreams where I felt the impending diarrhea and couldn’t find a bathroom, then when I finally found a bathroom the toilets were either set way too high on the wall (like, 4 feet off the ground!) or there were no doors on the stalls. I was trying to hold it in and feeling more and more desperate, but I couldn’t find a usable toilet that I felt comfortable with. I always woke up feeling stressed out and anxious.

Then there were the dreams where I’d be having a lovely time with family or friends. We would be passing food around the table and without thinking I would take a bite of bread or a cracker and after swallowing I would realize that I just ate gluten! Again, I would wake up stressed out and anxious. And wondering if I had really eaten gluten.

The dreams didn’t happen nightly or even weekly, but they kept returning. And no wonder. I was fastidious about avoiding gluten, but somehow I occasionally was glutened. And there was always the fear that I would slip up and eat it by mistake. There were multiple times I needed a toilet desperately and had trouble finding one. These were real life problems.

And the thing is, they still are. I haven’t been glutened in a while, but it’s happened this year, and I’m more nervous than ever about avoiding gluten. As for the diarrhea, I’d love to say that’s a thing of the past, but it’s not. It’s less frequent, and I’m incredibly grateful for that, but it still happens.

So imagine my surprise when I realized the other day that I haven’t had either of those dreams in months! I was free!

Will I ever have those stress dreams again? I have no idea. Even if I don’t, maybe there will be others. Again, I have no idea. All I know is that I’m not having them NOW!

I would love to say it’s because I’m less stressed out, but I’m not. In fact, lately I have been feeling more overwhelmed than I have in a long time. But at least I can get some rest in my dreams. I guess that’s a start.

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Shining a light on disability-related injustices

June 21, 2018

Yesterday I spoke to a reporter about health-related stuff. This isn’t the first time, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. I’m also sure it won’t be the last time I bring a new (to them) subject to a reporter’s attention.

Speaking to a reporter used to feel like a big, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Not anymore. As I have become more vocal about health- and disability-related issues, mostly on Facebook, friends and friends of friends have connected me with reporters they know who are writing on these topics.

I answer their questions the best that I can. When they plan to use my full name, I’m extra careful. I was clear yesterday that the article – which based on her questions seems to be about the “opioid crisis,” insurance coverage of alternative treatments, and new medications that are about to come on the market – would not be complete without also discussing medical marijuana. I was just as clear that I would not be willing to talk about medical marijuana if she used my full name, but that I would be glad to discuss it in detail without my full name. That’s my comfort level. For other people it’s different.

Still, I told her what I could because I think it’s important that the patient perspective is included. Too often in these discussions we hear from politicians more than anyone else. Sometimes they talk to doctors. But what about the people who are supposed to be benefiting from these medications?

Now here is where it starts to get a bit interesting. You see, we all have superpowers, and my superpower is getting people to open up to me. It happens without me even trying. I guess I inherited this from my great-grandmother. Apparently she would sit next to a stranger on the subway, and by the time she got off the train she knew their entire life story. My grandmother was the same way. So is my mother. I think people are happy to talk to anyone who will earnestly listen and care, which we do.

I also have an insatiable desire for knowledge. I read a lot. I talk to people to learn things. I reach out to others both to learn and because I care about them. And I’m generally sociable. Add that up, and I know a lot of random shit. Including about health and disability issues that don’t directly affect me.

That’s why when the reporter asked me my feelings about new medications containing cannabinoids (active constituents in marijuana), I not only told her my own feelings, but I was able to tell her about the controversy around these new cannabinoid-containing medications to treat children with epileptic seizures. I’m not in that community, and I made it clear she should talk to those folks to get a full, accurate picture. (My understanding is there’s a lot of concern that once these medications are available, they will no longer be able to get medical marijuana for their kids, and if the medications aren’t as effective as medical marijuana – they don’t have to be as effective to be FDA-approved – then they won’t have any good options for their children.) I also offered to connect her to them.

Over the course of our conversation, I told the reporter a bunch of things like this. Like when she asked my views about the problem of primary care physicians prescribing opioids in a one-size-fits-all manner without customizing things to each patient, I corrected her very strongly. I hear that bullshit a lot but, like I told the reporter, I have only ever heard it from politicians. It makes for a good headline, a good soundbite. But I have NEVER experienced that. Neither have my friends. Or the folks who comment on my blog. Or the people in my chronic pain support group. Or the people in the various Facebook groups I’m in. She was surprised and asked a lot of questions about this.

I felt good about correcting these misconceptions. It’s important to correct them for everyone, but especially for a reporter writing an article on this topic in a major newspaper (I won’t mention which newspaper, as part of protecting my anonymity on this blog.)

Now here’s where it gets even more interesting! At the very end, as we were about to say goodbye, I had an epiphany. After writing this post a couple weeks ago, I was able to speak to 2 different lawyers about the SSDI case review. And after we finished, one of them told me some interesting things. This is part of that superpower I mentioned – people just tell me things. And yesterday, I told the reporter.

I told her how the lawyer told me that she (the lawyer) has seen more SSDI case reviews in the last 6 months than in the past several years combined. The reporter sounded shocked. She asked a lot of followup questions.

I also told the reporter that the lawyer told me the number of case denials has increased a lot in the past year. Of course, before mentioning that I first explained how horribly high the denial rate had been before, and the impact it has on many people. Again, she sounded surprised. She asked followup questions. Including, did I think it was related to this current administration. I was clear that while my opinion was yes, that was only my opinion. I hope it’s enough, though, to cause her to dig into this. Because it is shameful that the safety nets we are supposed to rely on aren’t there for us. That’s why I also pointed out that SNAP (food stamps) allotments have gone down while the Section 8 waitlist has gone way up.

It’s possible this conversation will be forgotten in a pile of other upcoming articles the reporter needs to write. Or maybe her editor won’t be interested. Or maybe, just maybe, the reporter and her editor will see the huge impact of these new SSDI case review rates and denial rates, and they will also notice that no one else has been writing about this, so they could scoop the other newspapers. Maybe they will do some research and write it up and bring awareness to their readers that this is happening. And remember how I said this is a major newspaper? Well it’s big enough that if they report on this, all of the others will jump on the bandwagon. And then we might be able to build enough momentum to get the government to stop this fucking bullshit and treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve, by giving us the benefits we already paid for.

Or maybe none of that will happen. But I am trying, and it feels good to try.

Do you guys know of other “hidden” issues like this that we need to shine a light on? Please mention them in the comments or email me at msrants@gmail.com. I’ll do what little I can to publicize these things so they aren’t hidden any more, and I encourage you to do the same!


It takes skill to injury yourself the way I do

March 27, 2018

The other day I woke up to find that I had wrenched my shoulder in my sleep. It felt like it was partially dislocated. Sometimes it felt fine, and then I’d try to put on a shirt or reach for something and there’d be searing pain. I didn’t fall. I didn’t pick up something heavy. I slept wrong.

Everyone hurts themselves from time to time. A stubbed toe or a paper cut are the hazards of daily life. No big deal. But then there’s this other level that shows up when your body is out of whack. Being out of whack makes me more prone to these kinds of injuries, and sometimes they make no sense.

Like the time I wiggled my toes and injured a tendon. That was a month ago. It still hurts.

I’m skilled, I tell you. Totally skilled. I mean, it’s not the average person who could give themselves a long term toe tendon injury, with daily pain, just by wiggling their toes!

And do I go to the doctor for any of these injuries? No. Of course not. Because I’d be going All. The. Time!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take big things seriously. When I dropped a chef’s knife on my foot a couple years ago, I went to the emergency room for stitches, and later had surgery.

But no, I don’t see a doctor for every injury. Just like I don’t see a doctor for every new gastrointestinal symptom or new pain or new type of fatigue. What’s the point?

So I’m waiting these out, hoping they’ll eventually go away on their own. They often do. Like the time I finally went to the doctor for the unmistakable nerve pain, to be told I had a pinched nerve and should go to physical therapy. I didn’t have time. I asked if not going would cause long term damage. She said no. So I didn’t go. Eventually it fixed itself. If it hadn’t, I’d have gone.

So many of us have far too many medical issues already, so we try to ignore the little ones. But it sure would be easier to ignore them if we weren’t so skilled at creating new ones constantly!


Self care goes a long way

March 21, 2018

I have to try harder. All the time. It feels like nothing I do is ever going to be enough. Sometimes it’s my body limiting me. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s emotions. But I always feel like I need to do more.

That’s why it’s so hard to slow down.

On the days that I’m in too much pain to walk, I’m forced to stay off my feet. When my energy is low, I’m forced to be at home. But I still try to wash dishes or read or do something useful. But who defines what’s “useful”? Sometimes, the most useful thing is to take care of myself.

A few weeks ago I was very stressed out. I have had years to get used to taking care of myself physically, but taking care of myself emotionally was much harder. Because I had to focus on my feelings. I couldn’t do anything tangible to take care of myself. Physically I felt like I should be doing more, but I knew I needed to deal with my emotions.

So I did. For a few days I wrote in a journal, watched movies that I knew would trigger the feelings I was avoiding, and stopped myself from the automatic distraction mode I’m so used to engaging in. Slowly, it worked. I dealt with my feelings. It’s still an ongoing process, but I feel like myself again, and things are better.

It’s easy to always feel like we’re never doing enough. Especially for those of us who are too sick to work full time and do the other things that society expects. But we need to remember that self-care is important, too. Yes, we need to have balance. Dishes must be washed, clothes must be cleaned, groceries must be bought. But we also need to take care of ourselves on every level.

This isn’t new to me, but it’s an ongoing lesson that I am constantly striving to learn. I think that many of us are.


Wanting and despising pity

February 17, 2018

I’ve been off my feet for the last week, more or less. Some days I could barely hobble around my apartment, even with crutches or a cane. Other days I could walk around the apartment fine, but putting on shoes was incredibly painful. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened many times over the last 13 years.

The difference is that this time, there are new people in my life who aren’t familiar with it.

More than once, a neighbor, a friend, and my new girlfriend all noticed me using crutches or limping, and they offered sympathy. Some were clearly pitying me as well.

Most days I despise pity. Instead of pity, I wish people would offer sympathy. And I wish they would do things to help. Hold open a door. Don’t come near me when they’re sick. Call their legislators and ask them to vote against the new bill that guts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Seriously, call them! The bill is described here and you can find your senator’s contact info here.) Those things are helpful. But not pity. Pity sucks, and it’s dehumanizing. It means they’re seeing me as a set of symptoms instead of as a whole person.

And let’s be honest, we are taught by society that we shouldn’t like pity. We should be strong and resilient, blah blah blah.

But some days, that’s just how I feel. Some days, life sucks and I want more than sympathy, I want pity! Like when my feet hurt so badly I can barely hobble to the bathroom. Like when the pain is so bad, I can’t even wear socks. Like when I have to cancel plans so that I can stay home and feel like crap. Sympathy is good. Usually that’s enough. But every now and then, when I’m feeling especially sorry for myself, I also want pity from others.

Now here’s the thing: I talk to people about being in pain. Because I’m in pain. Every day. It’s a part of my life. I don’t dwell on it, and I only complain on the worse days, but I mention it a lot. And sometimes, people offer pity, even though that’s not at all what I’m looking for. And I hate it.

Then again, sometimes I bring it up because I DO want some sort of acknowledgement. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes, I want people to know I’m in pain, to feel bad about it, to offer me some sympathy, and maybe to offer help with something I struggle with.

It’s a hard line to toe. I want to be able to say that I never want to mention it, I want it to be ignored, I want to be treated like everyone else. I want to say that, but it’s not true. Because the truth is, I’m human. And sometimes we humans want a little sympathy and support. Some days we even want pity!

Like I said before, society tells us we shouldn’t want pity. We should be strong and inspirational. Others should be able to point to us and say, “Look how amazing she is! If she can do what she does despite her health problems, I have no reason to complain.” Talk about dehumanizing! I’m a real person. I’m a whole person. I laugh and cry, feel optimistic and pessimistic, go out with friends and stay home feeling sick, do laundry and errands and cooking and other mundane chores. I’m more than a set of symptoms. I have feelings.

And yes, sometimes those feelings lead me to wanting pity.

I’m not proud of that, but I’m not going to be ashamed of it anymore, either.

I don’t live in the land of pity. I know that would not be healthy for me. But if a few days here and there I feel this way, what’s so wrong with that? I can’t compel someone to pity me. More than that, I know I’d be pissed if a bunch of people started doing it. But if for a few days I’d like my mother or a friend to pity me a bit, to offer condolences for what I’m dealing with, then so be it!

I won’t ask for pity. And most days I will still despise it. But if every now and then I want it, that’s ok.

Is it just me? Do you ever feel this way? Do you feel guilty for wanting pity? How do you handle it? Please share in the comments!


Reunion surprises

November 27, 2017

As so many people do this time of year, I recently went to my high school reunion. It was WEIRD! Of course, it was weird in the obvious ways (That person knows who I am? How could that person have forgotten me? Wow, she looks OLD! I don’t even remember him.) And then there were some chronic illness-related surprises. I thought I’d share a couple of them with you today.

First, there was my own perspective, which surprised the hell out of me. For the reunion 10 years ago, life was pretty good, if you didn’t count my complete inability to get into a healthy romantic relationship. But the rest was good. I was able to go to the reunion and talk about my good life.

Five years ago I was miserable. If you scroll through the archives for this blog, you’ll see that I was NOT doing well health-wise. That had a bit emotional impact, too. I was fighting to get disability benefits. I didn’t want them, but I needed them. Unfortunately, I was deemed “too healthy” for them. Fuck that shit. I felt horrible. I was house-bound multiple days every week. I didn’t think I had the energy for a reunion, and even if I did, what would I say? I wasn’t dating anyone, I wasn’t working, and the future felt bleak. Blah. I stayed home.

This year was different all around. First, I’m feeling well enough to attend a reunion! Ok, maybe not every day, but I rested up in advance and I managed it. I’m doing some very part time work, and when someone asked what I was doing for work, I mentioned that. There was no need to say it was part time. I talked about it like it was a full time job, because why waste time on details. This many years out of school, most of my classmates are married and have kids. I was one of the only ones who was unmarried. But I was ok with that. I mentioned to someone that I was writing a book, and when he asked about the topic, I said it was about chronic illness. I didn’t bring up my health stuff otherwise, and I didn’t dwell on it, but I also didn’t hide it.

I caught up with people and had a nice time. Because you see, I went into this reunion not trying to impress anyone. I didn’t care what they thought of me. Sure, there were a few people I wanted to reconnect with, but most I didn’t even bother to talk to because I didn’t care to find out what they’d been up to. If they asked me, then I answered, but I never worried about them judging me. For one thing, I figured most of them would be more worried about others judging them than about passing judgment. But also, what do I care what a bunch of people from high school think about me now?

My own attitude was perfect. It was freeing. And it shocked the hell out of me.

But there was another surprise. Over the years, I have become Facebook friends with a lot of former classmates. Facebook is weird. We’re not friends now, we weren’t friends then, but we’re connected and seeing things about each others’ lives. Go figure.

I write about a lot of stuff on Facebook: politics, cute dogs, crochet, my small business, and of course, chronic illness. Sometimes I share funny memes. Sometimes I share poignant blog posts. Other times it’s news articles. And occasionally, I write personal essays.

So I’m at the reunion, and this guy I wasn’t really friends with in high school, though we did share a few classes, came up to me. We’re Facebook friends now, but haven’t spoken to each other since the last reunion I attended, 10 years ago. He came up to me, looked me in the eye, and said he liked my writing about chronic pain. It got to him. Then he told me about a friend who was recently diagnosed with MS.

Of all the things I expected to happen at the reunion, that wasn’t one of them. This guy I didn’t really know told me that my writing about chronic pain had an impact on him. I was touched. And very surprised.

You see, we don’t know who will be impacted when we speak honestly about our situations. There’s a lot I don’t share on Facebook – they don’t need to know that I’m on food stamps or SSDI. They don’t need to know my embarrassing stories. But what I do share, I share honestly and from the heart.

This reunion was nothing like what I would have expected. It was fun and loud and interesting. And most surprising of all, my chronic illnesses were present, but not over-powering. That’s something that I hope to continue.


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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