First kisses and gluten ghosts

January 10, 2018

I recently went on two first dates. And both times, the gluten ghost haunted me.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I date, but not very often. So going on 2 first dates in a short span is really unusual! And each time I have a promising first date, it’s the same story: how can I tell the person about my gluten issues without making it sound too scary?

I went off gluten 6 years ago, in February 2012, and within months I saw signs of my health improving. It was slow going, and as I eventually learned about the many places gluten was hiding, I got sick less often. Still, I noticed that I often got sick after dates. Not every time, but a fair amount. Maybe it was from stress? Maybe I was overdoing things by going out and having to be “on” for so long?

It took 2.5 years after I first went gluten free, but finally I figured out the problem: kissing! There I was, sitting down with my then-boyfriend, watching him open a beer, when it hit me: he was going to drink that gluten-filled beer, then kiss me, and I bet that would make me sick! I told him my theory and asked him to brush his teeth after the beer, but instead he said he would just skip it. I didn’t get sick that night.

Or any other night I went out with him.

Then we broke up. And the next first date I had went great. I wanted to kiss him and thought, maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was a coincidence. We had met up for ice cream and he only had vanilla, so maybe it’s gluten free anyway! We kissed that night and a few hours later, I was really sick. Huh. So much for wishful thinking.

Ever since then, I have avoided first date kisses. Even if we don’t eat anything, maybe they’re wearing chapstick or lipstick that contains gluten. It’s a big risk.

I asked a friend with Celiac about this and she said she, also, can’t kiss someone who has eating and drunk something with gluten. But she said first dates aren’t a problem, because she doesn’t kiss on the first date anyway. I guess that makes it a bit simpler. For me, though, it’s an issue. I often kiss on the first date if I like the person and it’s reciprocated.

So that brings me to my two recent first dates.

The first went very well. We met for coffee and tea, and totally hit it off. After a couple hours, I suggested we eat lunch. I had already mentioned the Celiac Disease, and suggested a nearby restaurant where I knew I could eat. Over lunch, I found a way to slip in a mention about the kissing issue. I’ve been getting better at that over the years, but it still feels awkward.

After a looooong first date, almost 6 hours together, I knew I wanted to kiss her. But I couldn’t, because we’d just eaten lunch and her lunch was definitely not gluten free! Plus, she was wearing lipstick. Damn!

Thankfully, on our second date she didn’t wear lipstick (I took this as a promising sign) and we did eventually have our first kiss, with no fear of getting glutened. Yay!

Then I went out with the other person. Again, we met for coffee. It was a good first date, but not amazing. I was pretty sure I would go out with him again, though. We had met in the evening, and after an hour and a half the coffee shop was closing, so we said goodnight. I had found a way to mention the Celiac Disease, but not the kissing issue. Not that it was relevant – we had just met (we met online, so this was our first in-person meeting) and it felt more like a get-to-know-you kind of thing than a real date.

So there we were, standing on the sidewalk saying goodnight, when suddenly he was kissing me. I didn’t see it coming! We separated, and while my brain was still trying to figure out what just happened, he kissed me again, and his tongue was in my mouth! Yikes! This was too much. Forgetting the gluten issue, it just didn’t feel right at all. We said goodnight and I walked to my car feeling very confused…. and nervous!

I only saw him drink tea, but had he eaten before that? Would I get really sick? It was nerve-wracking to not know!

The gluten ghost haunted me that night and the next day, and when I didn’t get sick, I was finally able to relax.

These two dates were so different. They felt different both at the time and after the fact. But both had the same gluten ghost haunting them. The first time the ghost prevented me from kissing my date (assuming I wouldn’t have chickened out, that is) and the second time it haunted me afterward from the unexpected and unwanted kisses I received.

Dating is hard enough. I really wish I didn’t have to deal with the gluten ghost complicating it even more!

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Struggling to endure

December 6, 2017

Last week was a really good week. And that made Sunday so much harder to deal with.

2017-11-29 15.05.34

First I took a long walk around beautiful Walden Pond (and took this photo), stopping a bunch of times to admire the view. It was unseasonably warm, and sitting down to watch the water was lovely. I was able to clear my head and figure some things out.

I made plans. I worked through ideas that had been weighing on me. I made some tough decisions about my finances and my health. By the end, I was super excited to get started! I walked about 2 miles total and felt ok afterwards. I rested that evening, but that was it.

A few days later my mom came to visit. After a lovely lunch, we took a walk in a wooded area. The sign said it was a 1 mile loop, and that seemed ok to us. Well, I don’t know what went wrong, but the path never looped. We eventually made it back to the car, but we walked about 4 miles. I was surprised I felt so good afterwards. Tired, but good. Hmm. Maybe this was a new trend?

The next day I hung out with friends and had a wonderful time. I got home later than I expected and was too tired to go out to a friend’s house that night like I had planned. Too bad. I really wanted to go, but I knew that resting was the right move.

It had been such a fabulous week. I exercised, got fresh air, got clear on a new mindset, spent time with friends.

And then it all changed. I spent all day Sunday feeling run down. I never left my apartment. I cancelled all of my plans for the day. This sucks, but it isn’t unheard of. And I did a lot this week, so I couldn’t complain, right? I trudged through the day, mostly reading a novel and wishing I could do more.

That would have been ok. It would have been disappointing but totally fine. If only that was it.

Sunday night I got really nauseated. Sometimes I know what causes the nausea, but usually I don’t. I tried Pepto Bismol, which usually helps, but this time it didn’t. I tried medical marijuana, which usually helps, but this time it didn’t. The nausea was really bad. My pulse was racing (114 while I was still sitting) and I felt bad all over.

Over the years, nausea has because an emotional trigger for me. I don’t know why it has, when the pain hasn’t, but it just has. So as usual, I started thinking about how horrible this is, and when will it end, and why won’t it ever go away. Yes, I have these episodes a lot less often now that I’m off gluten, corn, and a couple others triggers.

But why does it still happen? Was it something I ate? Something I did? A delayed reaction to the 4 mile walk 2 days before? How will I handle another 50+ years of this? Why did I bother to make plans? Obviously it was stupid to think I could ever get off of benefits and support myself. I should just stop trying. Then I started thinking about how it might be easier to just kill myself and end this. Except that would be very upsetting to my family and friends. I couldn’t do that to them.

I started having those thoughts a few years ago. I know it’s temporary. I’m not too worried, because I only have them when I’m curled in a ball on the floor, too nauseated to do more than stagger to the toilet occasionally. I have never gotten to the point of really wanting to kill myself but even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to until the worst of it had passed, and I never think about wanting to die except when I’m in the worst of it.

So all these thoughts were floating around in my head, and then something strange happened: I started to cry. And cry. And cry. Before I knew it, I was sobbing. Big, ugly sobs. I couldn’t stop crying. I thought I should call someone. (If you’re new to this blog, I live alone.) I ran through a mental list of awesome people in my life, and finally decided to call a friend who lives in my apartment complex. I asked him to come right over and he did. I didn’t explain, but he must have heard it in my voice, because he showed up with his dog, saying the dog was for therapy.

The dog, of course, immediately started to nuzzle me and lick me. He’s that kind of dog. Very sweet. But what I really needed was a hug and some understanding, and I got that.

We sat on the floor while I cried and talked. I always sit on the floor during these spells – for some reason, it just works for me. I cried myself out and we just sat there for a while. Then for some reason, I started crying again. Still, having someone there was extremely comforting.

Eventually I wore myself out. My friend and his dog left (he mentioned leaving the dog, but I was too weak to care for him.) I fell asleep on the couch to an old movie that I often watch when I don’t feel well. I woke up less than an hour later and found the nausea had subsided enough that I could drink a little water. Lots of diarrhea and lots of crying can really dehydrate a person. Then I stumbled to bed. I slept fitfully, but got through the night.

Monday was a bust. I cancelled plans and ate almost nothing. But it didn’t get that bad again. Tuesday was better, and I even left the apartment. And today is better still (though it’s after noon and I’m still in my pajamas, so it’s not fantastic – I try to get dressed by noon every day when I can.)

So why am I sharing this? I’m sharing it for a few reasons. For one, amongst my friends with chronic illness, I’m often seen as the strong one. Strangers online (both through this anonymous blog and under my real name) say that I’m a role model. I have my shit together. I’ve got a good handle on all of this. I work my butt off to take care of my health, research new treatments, find the best doctors and practitioners. That’s all true. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have really bad times, too. I think we all need to remember that the people who seem to be great probably have bad times behind closed doors where we can’t see them. It’s important not to idealize people, but to see them as they are.

It’s a reminder that we all have our struggles. We struggle, and then hopefully we have better days, too. We don’t need to assume someone is perfect in order to have them as a role model.

I’m not perfect. I’m still continuing to fight every day for the best health possible. I want to believe that one day those episodes will end. Until then, I will just keep on trying. Because what else can I do?


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.


Forgetting when pain was scary

November 13, 2017

A friend mentioned that it’s frightening to wake up in pain. I paused, not sure what she meant for a moment. Then I remembered back to when waking up in pain was scary. That feels so long ago.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s still scary. It’s just that that feeling has become rare. After all, when I’m in pain all day every day, why would it surprise me to be in pain at night?

My friend was referring to a different kind of pain. She is pregnant, and sometimes wakes up with horrendous leg cramps. Before the pregnancy, she only had pain the way most people do: if she injured herself. So this is unusual. And we humans often respond to the unusual with fear. It makes sense from a survival perspective. And pain is a bad thing – it’s telling us that something is wrong. So again, it’s natural to have a negative reaction to it.

The thing is, when you’re in pain all the time, your survival instinct learns that this isn’t a threat. You can’t be always worried that something is wrong because it will wear you out.

Occasionally I have a burst of scary pain in the middle of the night. Usually, it’s a new or uncommon pain, and that’s what makes it scary. More often, it’s my same old pains. At their usual levels, I sleep through the pain; I learned to do that when I was 17 years old and thoroughly exhausted from the sleepless nights.

When the pain gets worse, I often wake up, think “that sucks,” move to a less painful position (if possible,) and go right back to sleep. I’m aware of it, but I don’t think much of it. It’s not scary at all. Even when the pain is bad enough that I can’t get back to sleep for a while, I don’t feel fear. Annoyance, frustration, and sometimes anger for sure, but not fear.

It has been so long since pain itself has been scary, that I forget what it’s like. Now when pain scares me, it’s not the pain that I find frightening, but the unknown cause and the fear that it could last the rest of my life, as so many new pains have. Will this ever go away? Will it get worse? Will it stop me from doing things I love? Those are the fears. But when I know the cause and that it will end, there’s no fear. My body’s instinct has shut down when it comes to pain, and I wasn’t even aware of it happening.

It’s easy to see the many ways that non-chronically ill people don’t understand what we go through, but it’s also true that we don’t understand what they go through. I don’t want to diminish my friend’s experience simply because I am in pain more often and have learned to deal with it, because my pain comes with a bunch of other (arguably worse) symptoms, and because mine pain will never go away. Yes, I would rather be in her position, but that doesn’t make it easy for her. Her natural instincts are still intact, and possibly heightened because she is pregnant. She is dealing with changing hormones and a changing body. That doesn’t sound easy to me.

My point is simply that it’s easy to shrug off what others go through as being no big deal, but I still try hard to have sympathy and empathy for them, as much as possible. Just like I want others to have for me.

This conversation happened weeks ago, but it has stuck with me: the confusion I felt (people wake up feeling scared of pain?), the realization of how much my perspective has changed, my instinct to shrug off her situation, and the awareness that that would be a crappy thing to do. Writing this is my way of reminding myself to keep that awareness. Because everyone’s pain is a problem for them, and that’s something we can all relate to.


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.

 


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.


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