When the best medicine is taking care of someone else

June 17, 2017

Today started out rough. I felt like I did too much on Wednesday. Thursday I did less, but probably should have stayed home to rest. By Friday I had no choice but to spend all day at home in my pajamas, watching tv and crocheting. So this morning, I was glad to feel better than yesterday, but I still didn’t feel great. And yet, I didn’t want to cancel all of my plans.

My evening plans had to be cancelled. I knew I had to get to bed early. But the afternoon plans – a friend coming over who I already cancelled on at the last minute last time – I didn’t want to cancel again. So I rallied and got dressed and waited for her to arrive, knowing it would be a quiet day and I wouldn’t have to leave my apartment.

When she came, she had the start of a migraine. Unfortunately, she had switched purses and didn’t have the over-the-counter medication that helps her. I didn’t have it either. I offered to go to the store, but she said no. So I messaged a bunch of neighbors. No luck.

I got her a cold pack for her head. I made her tea. I shut off the lights. Eventually, I insisted on going to the store for her. So much for staying home. But the funny thing was, I felt ok.

After taking the med she slowly started to feel better. I got her food and kept on eye on her, making sure she was doing ok.

I have noticed this kind of thing before. Obviously, there are times when I’m not at all able to care for someone else, or when caring for someone else will make me feel worse. But then there are other times, times like today. Times when I’m not doing great, but I’m not doing horribly either, and taking care of someone else gets me outside of my own head, distracted from my own condition, and eventually I even begin to feel better.

I feel bad my friend had a migraine. I wish that hadn’t happened. Still, it was a good reminder for me:

Sometimes the best medicine is taking care of someone else.


The importance of community

June 15, 2017

Last week I saw my primary care doctor for my annual exam. At the end of the visit, he brought up the fact that I was on disability. He said that only 5% of people ever manage to get off of disability benefits. He said that it was important to find activities to keep busy and productive. Then he talked about the isolation that can come when you don’t have a job to get you out of the house, and you don’t feel up to going out a lot. He said it was important to have community, and it’s important to make an effort to create that community.

He’s so right. (And I love that he’s having this conversation with his patients!)

I assured him that I have community. If he only knew.

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I have worked hard to make friends and build community. It doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. I’m an introvert by nature, and my health issues have made me even more of an introvert. Not being able to go out often doesn’t help either. But it’s important to me to have friends and community in my life, so I made it happen.

For me, the key has been to go for quality instead of quantity. I don’t have hundreds of friends, but the ones I have are good ones. Acquaintances are often happy to help me because they see me helping others.

That’s why when I needed to borrow a wheelchair recently, I had 3 offers to lend me one, plus 2 other folks suggested local organizations that lend out medical equipment for free. When I needed someone to push that wheelchair, I was able to post on Facebook and get some offers from friends and also from acquaintances I barely know. Because I have that community.

Sometimes it’s hard. I put myself out there, which means I’m often asked for help and I need to say no. Thankfully, most people understand my limitations. And they appreciate it all the more when I volunteer. A friend is going out of town and leaving her dog at home, with the dog walker coming by many times each day to walk him. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best they can do. I said that if she gives me her key (which I am getting today), I’ll pop in to visit him a couple times, just so he has someone to cuddle with. She was amazed. To me, this is just a nice thing to do for a friend. I won’t go by every day, but on the days I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll bring a book and read while her dog gets some important snuggles. It won’t be the first time I’ve done this for a traveling friend. (And let’s be honest, while it’s an inconvenience, I certainly won’t hate doggie snuggles!)

I belong to a chronic pain support group. Having people who really understand the struggle makes such a difference. It was one of those members who ultimately lent me her wheelchair, and even put it in the car for me because I couldn’t. I do a lot for that group, too. I created and run a Facebook group so we can communicate easily between meetings. I do other behind-the-scenes tasks, too. It doesn’t take much time, but it helps people. And they notice, and want to help me in return.

It’s so easy to become self-involved these days, and more so if you’re in pain or fatigued or dealing with other symptoms all day every day. Believe me, I know. And so many people lose their friends and their families when they become sick. So I am hugely grateful for the incredible people in my life. My parents and other relatives are super supportive, my childhood friends have stood by me and help when they can, and newer friends are ready to step up and help. Acquaintances do more than I would have expected. Even strangers offer to help, thanks to all of my work in the chronic illness community online (both this anonymous blog and a lot of work under my real name.) I am so fortunate that I began building that community long before I needed it, and that I still have it.

I think we all need to heed my doctor’s words and find a way to build community. It will look different for everyone. Some people will reach out to friends, others will go to events through meetup.com (I’ve built some great community that way, too!) and others will do it all online. Whatever it looks like for you, I hope you are able to build the community that you need and that will support you, just as you will support them whenever you can.

What about you? How do you build community? Please share in the comments so we can learn from each other!


Getting ready to date

March 20, 2017

I’ve been super busy. Well, super busy for me, anyway. I have fewer “good” hours in a day than a healthy person, and they get filled up way too easily.

Which makes me wonder how I’ll manage to go on any dates.

I have written about dating on here many times. It’s not my favorite thing. I want a relationship, but I don’t want to date. First dates are difficult, tiring, time consuming. They’re full of small talk and uneasy silences at worst, and uncertainty at best.

I used to date a lot, but for the past 2 years I barely have. There are a lot of reasons for this, mostly having to do with bad breakups, a lack of energy, and different priorities. If I’m going to spend my  energy going out with people, I’d rather go out with friends. After all, I don’t see my friends enough anyway.

The thing is, that leaves me single and alone. I don’t mind being single and alone overall, actually. It’s really very nice in a lot of ways. But sometimes I want a companion. I want a best friend. I want sex.

So I’m trying to get back out there. Last month I went to a singles’ event and met two very nice people. The first was funny and interesting and smart… and self-centered. He never asked a single question about me. I knew all about his hobbies, his job, where he went to school. He doesn’t know any of that about me.

The next was cut and sweet and kind and lovely and said she’d like to be friends. Ouch.

So now what? I have two choices. I can sign up for OK Cupid or another site, which I really don’t want to do. I’m not a fan for a whole lot of reasons. Or I can try to meet someone in person, which hasn’t exactly gone well for me (see above: almost no dates for 2 years – and I wasn’t turning anyone down.)

I need to learn to flirt. At some point I stopped flirting, and it’s like I forgot how. I need to dress better – not easy when the clothing budget is $0. I need to make an effort.

An effort.

As if I don’t already make an effort every minute of every day. As if simply getting dressed and putting on minimal makeup and driving to meet someone and holding up my end of a conversation isn’t effort enough. As if dealing with my health isn’t effort enough.

But if I want to date, what choice do I have?

So I’m going to try. I’m going to dive back into the world of trying to flirt on a first date while also debating whether or not to hint at my health issues. I’m going to skip out on things during the day so I can have a simple coffee date in the evening. I’m going to go back into the world of suggesting alternatives to all of the dates that someone suggests which I know I can’t manage, without telling them why I’d rather sit in a coffee shop than enjoy an outdoor picnic. I’m going to go back to avoiding kisses on the first date because I haven’t yet told my date that the gluten they ate will make me sick if our lips connect.

And I’m going back into the world of constant rejection. Because apparently it’s not enough that my body rejects me, now I’m courting it from others. Somewhere in the last 10 years, between my late 20s and my late 30s, I stopped turning heads. So I need to accept that passive rejection as well.

So please wish me luck, friends. Particularly when it comes to finding the energy and pain-free days to go on dates. And please offer me any tips you have. Especially on flirting. I need lots of help with flirting.

 


Desperately wanting to get off benefits

February 26, 2017

As I started to write this, it felt incredibly familiar. So I did a quick search and what do you know, I wrote this almost identical post a year ago! So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same….

My health has continued to improve. No one is more surprised than me! It’s not like I’m well enough to work a full time job, or even a part time job from home that requires set hours. But I’m doing some part time work from home for myself (doing some consulting) that isn’t paying much yet, but there’s some hope. Still, it’s hard to aim for a very specific amount of money, knowing that I can’t earn “too much” because I’d lose my benefits.

Lately I’ve been more desperate than usual to get off of benefits. I hate the feeling of enforced poverty, and I’m not even poor! The income is way too low, but I have a ton of savings from back when I worked, and by cutting out all of my unnecessary expenses and getting a bit of help from my parents, I’m making it work.

The thing is, I don’t want help from my parents. They’re lovely and I adore them and they never do anything to make me feel bad about needing their help. But I was financially independent the day I graduated college (they paid for it, bless them.) I had a job, an apartment, and savings from all of my previous years of work. They might occasionally give a generous check as a birthday gift, but that was. Now, they pay for my cell phone, pick up groceries for me, and do other little things, in addition to helping out in larger ways. I love them for it. But I hate it.

On top of that, I miss luxuries! I don’t need anything too fancy, but I’d love to go out to dinner without having to worry about it. I want to buy a sweater or two to replace the 5 that are threadbare. I hate that everything I spend beyond my rent is coming out of my savings, with the knowledge that I’ll never be able to replace it. Once I was out of work for a while, and I spent money from my savings. Fine. Because I knew that once I got a job, I’d put money back into my savings accounts, and I did. But this is different. If I stay on this path, I will never again be able to save any money at all. And that sucks so much.

My new consulting business is financial coaching. It’s something I started doing ages ago, back when I had a full time job, but now I’m trying to do more of it. It sucks to advise people on how to build up their savings when I can’t do that for myself. I read books and blogs about effective ways to save, thinking about which principles I’d like to apply myself, and then I remember that I can’t, and I never will.

I feel trapped. And lately I’ve been trying to escape from the cage. But there’s no way out.

I do the math over and over. After all, that’s my thing: calculating money. I figure out how much I would need to earn in order to support myself without Social Security, fuel assistance, food stamps, MassHealth (Medicaid), Medicare, or my new affordable housing situation. I multiply for taxes. I do the math and it feels impossible. But what if….?

And then just as I begin to think it might be worth trying, I remember that even if I can manage to work for myself from home for a while, chances are good that my health will take a dive at some point and I’ll be unable to work again. I could try applying for benefits, but it took over 2 years the first time, and I there’s a good chance the next time I wouldn’t get them at all.

If I’m going to get off benefits now, I have to earn enough that I can save huge amounts every year to defend myself against needing benefits again in the future. I have a lot of savings now, but not enough to last the rest of my life, which could be another 50 or even 60 years. I would be too nervous to go off benefits until I was saving large amounts of money. That would be in addition to the money I’d need to earn to pay my regular bills.

This isn’t impossible. My odds are better than 0. It’s just that right now, at this moment, it doesn’t feel that way at all.

Still, I’m aching to get out of this cage.


I need help but I’m not helpless

February 13, 2017

Maybe it’s because I have a disability. Maybe it’s because I ask for help. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s all 3. Whatever the reason, it’s irritating.

It’s winter in Boston. Winter in Boston means snow on the ground. Not every day, but enough of the time.

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It’s beautiful. It’s picturesque. And it’s a pain in the ass.

I love the snow when I’m indoors, but then I need to go out. It’s slippery, and I’m terrified of falling and further hurting myself. I’m not steady on my feet, so a fall is more likely. I need help shoveling out my car due to my back and wrist pain. Suffice to say, it’s difficult.

Luckily, friends and strangers have been kind over the years, and in my new home, that hasn’t changed. Folks have helped me shovel out my car, and for that I’m grateful.

What I could do without is the “explaining.” Today a neighbor helped to shovel out my car while I cleared the top, which thankfully I’m still able to do. It was really sweet – we’d never even met before. I was really appreciating his efforts. Then he told me to “try moving back a bit, don’t gun it, if you get stuck you’ll want to…” and he proceeded to tell me how to back out of the parking space. I’d already told him I’d grown up here and lived most of my life here while we chatted about Boston winters. So why did he think I couldn’t back out of a parking space in the snow (if you’ve never done it, yes, it’s tricky. But once you’ve done it for 20+ years, you usually know what you’re doing.)

The other day it was someone else telling me how to back out of a space. A couple weeks ago, someone warned me as I got in my car that the roads would be getting slippery soon. What the $%#@?!? I learned to drive in this stuff back in the ’90s! I know how to tell when roads are getting slippery, for crying out loud.

I need help. That’s true. I won’t deny it for a second. But I’m not entirely helpless. There’s a lot I can do and there’s a lot that I know. Driving in the snow is one of those things. So I wish people would stop condescending to me.


I appreciate you

January 29, 2017

It’s easy to take the constants in our life for granted. We all do it, as much as we try not to, and that’s ok. From time to time, though, I’m struck by how lucky I am to have something, and I want to make a point of showing my appreciation.

You guys are one of those things I was taking for granted. When I started this site 5.5 years ago, one reason was to build up some community. I was thrilled when I received my first comment, and comments still excite me.

Some of you are regular commenters, and we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. I know the names of your pets (hi Sable!) or kids or spouses. I know your worries and happiness, just as you know mine. We haven’t met. Often we don’t know each others’ real names. Yet somehow we know each other. And for that I’m appreciative.

My posts last few posts were a bit negative. When I thought about writing something today, I thought I should write something more cheery so you guys wouldn’t worry about me. After all, it’s not like things are all bad.

It was such a nice thought, that there are people out there I’ve never met or spoken to who care. And I care about them.

There are negatives. There’s a rally today against Trump’s immigration ban that I wanted to attend but couldn’t. I was exposed to a stomach bug and am hoping I don’t get it. I’m in pain. On the other hand, my new business is starting to gain a bit of traction. I got to spend some time this weekend with people I love who I don’t get to see very often. My new home is lovely and comfortable and feels like the perfect fit for me.

But at the end of it all, what’s most important is people. My family, my friends, and my extended communities, like you guys, are what make life great.

So thanks for reading and for commenting. I’ll try to write something a bit less sappy next time. For now, though, I just want to say that I appreciate you.


Sometimes I just need hugs

January 23, 2017

It’s been an interesting time. Last month I moved to a new apartment in a new town after 10 years in my last apartment and 13 in that neighborhood. I’m meeting new people and getting used to a new way of life. And 2 days ago I went to a massive protest to protect my rights and speak out against those who want to destroy them.

I’m sure I’ll talk about the politics a different day, but today’s post isn’t about that. It’s about needing a hug.

On the weeks I don’t always see friends. When I do, we might give a cursory “hello” hug. This time of year I usually avoid those hugs, since it’s flu season my immune system sucks. But sometimes I just want one. And not a cursory hug. No, I want a REAL hug. The strong kind. The comforting kind.

The protest was emotional. 175,000 people flooding Boston Common. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it. I hadn’t made plans to meet up with my friends beforehand because they were going to stand and watch the rally, while I was going to be in the accessible seating area. It was a great area, if only my friends had been there. We were going to find a way to meet up before the march began. Unfortunately, the cell phone towers couldn’t handle 175,000 people and the lines went down. I lost my signal for an hour and a half. By the time it came back, the march was starting and it was impossible to reach anyone. I was lonely the entire time. I chatting with folks, because that’s who I am, and it was great to talk to them. I probably wouldn’t have talked to so many strangers if I’d been with my friends. But I needed my friends. I needed to be around people I knew and who knew me. And I needed hugs. Alas, that never worked out.

I went home alone. I hung out with a neighbor who I like, but we’re not at the “comforting hugs” stage of our blooming friendship yet. Since then I have been at home, resting. In a few minutes I’ll leave my apartment for the first time since the march to take my car in for service. I doubt I’ll get a comforting hug there.

It’s not the end of the world. I’ll manage. But sometimes I just need a hug, and this is one of those times. I wish I had a friend or significant other who I could just hold and cuddle with until I felt a little less scared, angry, and bad.

Some of my restriction is me. I should have reached out to friends before the march to make more concrete plans. I should have asked them to join me in the seating area (why didn’t I ask? That’s something to explore another day.) Some of it is my health. I couldn’t go out yesterday. It was Sunday, and a lot of people were out and about, talking about this. I was at home resting. It was needed and it worked. Without that day to rest, I wouldn’t be able to bring my car in for service today. I was online talking to people. That helped. But it wasn’t the same as being with them in person. It was good, just not enough.

Because I still need a hug.


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