Taking a day off

October 27, 2018

There’s this idea that every day is a “day off” when you don’t work a full time job due to disability. And in some ways that’s true, if you define a “day off” as a day that you don’t work 8 hours at a paid job. But anyone with a disability knows that’s totally not how it works.

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Days that are not days off:

  • Days that I have one or more medical appointments. Between getting ready for the appointment, driving to and from the appointment, the appointment itself, and the research to follow up on the appointment, even the shortest appointment is never all that short. I often have to rest for anywhere from 2 hours to the rest of the day after an appointment. It’s not unusual to wake up and do nothing but get ready for the appointment until it’s time to leave the house, then get home and be too tired to do more than eat a meal (if that) and watch tv. It can kill a day.
  • Days that I have nothing scheduled and feel obliged to get shit done around the house. I used to think of this as “day off” when I worked a full time job. The difference is, back then I might spend a few hours getting shit done, then go out and do something fun with a friend at night. Now, I can do one or the other, not both. So spending the day washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, paying bills, and handling paperwork is definitely not a day off. Bonus: I usually forget what a toll these “easy” tasks take on my body, and end up feeling like crap by the end of the day.
  • Days that I run errands. Again, this used to be a great “day off” activity because I could get stuff done, then have fun later. Now, I use up my energy with groceries and other errands, and get home feeling too tired to do anything else. Worse, if the errands involve big stores with a lot of walking and florescent lights, I often feel especially sick at the end of the day. Worst of all is clothes shopping, where I usually don’t even find what I need, but feel sick afterwards.
  • Days that I don’t do anything “productive” or fun because I feel like crap. That’s called a sick day, not a day off. And it sucks. Big time.
  • Days that I try to get things done but have too much pain, brain fog, or energy drain to get anything done. I spend the entire day trying to do stuff, then finally give up because nothing is getting done. By the time I give up, I feel even sicker than I had before, plus I feel guilty for having “wasted” a day.
  • Days I deal with medical or benefits paperwork. It’s true that I don’t work a paid job, but if I got paid for the many many many hours I spent dealing with affordable housing paperwork, SNAP paperwork, fuel assistance paperwork, health insurance paperwork, emailing with doctors, researching treatments, researching diagnoses, or any of the myriad other stuff I have to do, I would probably earn enough that I wouldn’t need those benefits. Some irony there, eh?

Do you know what is a day off though? Today. Today was a fantastic day off! Here in the Boston area, we knew a nor’easter was coming. It’s warm enough that we knew it would be rain, not snow, but it was still going to be a nasty storm. I didn’t have any plans scheduled aside from dog sitting. I figured it was the perfect day to stay home and be cozy. I ran my errands yesterday, so I wouldn’t have to do it today.

I set myself 3 goals for today: (1) Finish the novel I’ve been reading so I can finally find out who the killer is. (2) Bake the apple crisp I’ve been wanting to make – mostly so I can finally eat the apple crisp. (3) Cuddle with the dog.

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It was such a beautiful day. I did end up doing a couple of things on my to do list, but only because I had time and felt like it. There was no rush. No pressure. No guilt. You know what else I did? I cuddled on the couch with that dog above and finally finished my novel (damn, I should have guessed she was the killer!) I made the apple crisp that I’ve been wanting to make for a month (doesn’t it look yummy?) and managed to not eat too much of it. I walked the dog outside, but otherwise stayed in. I wore cozy clothes all day. I watch a little tv. I relaxed.

And you know what else? I didn’t stress out over anything! No stress, no worry, no guilt, not concern. I didn’t do the million and one things I need to be doing this week, and that’s ok! Too often, I spend every day pushing myself to “be productive” until I burn out, feel lousy, and have to spend a day resting. It’s so much more pleasurable to rest before I get to the point of feeling like crap!

I have been trying to do this more often. Mostly I fail, but every now and then, like today, I manage it, and it’s amazing.

Tomorrow I have plans to see a friend in the afternoon and to do some phone banking from home at night for the upcoming election. I’m sure that in the morning I’ll try to do some of the myriad items on my list. But thanks to the relaxing day I just had, I will feel rested and relaxed and ready to take it on. Or I’ll remember how good today felt and I’ll choose to have some more quiet time instead. Either way, it’s a win!

What are some days that aren’t really days off that I forgot to list above? Please let me know in the comments! And if you haven’t taken a day off lately, be sure to do that soon. Because we all need that sometimes.

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Getting back to “normal” – whatever that is

October 15, 2018

I’ve missed you! This blog is one of many things that seemed to fall to the side as I struggled to keep up with the million and one medical appointments I had over the last month and a half. I kept wanting to write, but just couldn’t manage to pull myself together enough.

For weeks it felt like all I did was go to appointments. “What day is it? Well, I’m at occupational therapy right now so it must be Tuesday.” When you keep track of the days by thinking about what appointment you’re at, things have gone too far.

Thankfully, things began to slow down a bit 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately, right around that time I was feeling really fatigued. It made sense, given the physical and emotional stress of all of those medical appointments, right? Plus we were having unseasonably humid weather. I took more supplements. I pushed through.

It got worse.

I rested more. Watched tv. Read books. Let my chores wait and cancelled plans I had been looking forward to. I spent my time resting whenever I wasn’t at an appointment. It still got worse, and my stomach started to act up, too.

I thought about my diet. Had I eaten anything new lately? Some apples. But I made sure they were organic (a few autumns ago my stomach acted up and I learned it was the pesticides on the apples.) And I had only eaten 4 apples so far this season. I couldn’t think of anything else until a few days later when I was literally doubled over in pain, barely able to even walk from my couch to the bathroom. And then it hit me all at once: iron. I had started taking iron supplements.

The next day I stopped taking the iron* and by that night, I was doing a bit better. The next day felt even better than that. And now 4 days later, I feel back to normal! Whatever the hell that is.

I’m still tired. I’m in more pain than usual, mostly in my back, neck and shoulders. That’s from last week’s “rest” time on the couch, when I had horrible posture. I felt too bad to bother with it, and I didn’t do my physical therapy exercises either, plus my physical therapist had to cancel our appointment, and now I’m paying the price for all of that.

Still, I feel so much better than I did before, that I’m managing ok. And I only have 2 medical appointments this week! My friends would think that’s a lot, but you and I know better. After weeks of having 3-5 appointments every week this is nothing! And today’s appointment was only 12 minutes away, so there wasn’t even much driving involved. I had enough energy afterwards to go grocery shopping, then I came home and had lunch.

I am now sitting in cozy clothes, catching up on email, finally writing here, and generally feeling a bit more in control of things. It feels so good! In the back of my mind I think about how I still don’t feel up to dating, so I’m putting off signing up for a new online dating app that looks interesting, and I’m intentionally not thinking about how much I want a dog and am still not able to care for one. Ok, I think about it a little. But I try. Overall, though, I feel better physically so I’m trying to focus on the good stuff and ignore all of the things I want to do and still can’t.

Hopefully this week I can get back to having some balance in my life and in my schedule and then, well, maybe I can catch up on the many things I didn’t get to do over the last couple of weeks. After all, sick or not, some things still have to be done.

*In case you’re wondering about the iron, my doctor wants me to try taking a small dose. I was already taking 1/2 the recommended amount. We’ll see. About 5 years ago I had to have iron infusions because I couldn’t tolerate supplements. I was hoping to avoid that this time around, but no luck. I’m anemic so if the supplements don’t work, I’ll have to do the infusions again. But that’s a problem to deal with next week. For now, I’m focusing on getting back to “normal.”


But did it help?

September 25, 2018

I go to so many medical appointments, sometimes I just take for granted that I have to go. But last week, after I wrote about having 13 appointments in just one month, I also mentioned it to a friend, and she asked me something that shocked me: were they helping?

It shocked me because I hadn’t thought to ask this myself! You would think that of course I’d be evaluating each appointment to see if it was worthwhile, but at some point, I just stopped doing that. I have gotten all too used to “follow up” appointments where the doctor reviews my symptoms, nods, and then tells me to come back in 4-6 months without suggesting any changes to what I’m doing. And often this is fine, because I feel like I’m on a decent course. Or because I know the treatments come with bad side effects that I want to avoid. Still, it’s worth taking a step back every now and then to ask,

Is this working?

Is this worthwhile?

I’m glad to say that in the case of this hectic September, the answer is a resounding, YES! The hand therapy has been making a huge difference. My sleep doctor suggested one small change that has had a big positive effect. My naturopath offered me some hopefully changes. I haven’t seen any changes from my new therapist, but it’s early, and there’s nothing negative, so I’ll give it some time.

This means that what I’m doing is working and it’s worth it. At least for now.

Still, 13 appointments in one month means very little time to relax, to deal with household chores, or to have fun with friends. And it’s really getting to me. I’m looking forward to one day soon actually being able to do those things again!

In the meantime, take a step back and ask yourself, are all of those appointments helping? I hope the answer is yes but if it’s not, it might be time to ask yourself how to change that answer. (Obviously I’m not a medical professional and I’m not suggesting you stop seeing your doctors even if you’re not seeing positive results right now. Use your own good judgement!)


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.


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.


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