Resenting my overwhelm

January 30, 2018

We all know the stereotype: the lazy person on benefits, who spends all day watching tv and eating junk food because they don’t feel like working.

We all know the reality: nothing like that at all.

Still, in general I find that even though I’m busy, I can manage. Some days I don’t feel up to doing as much, but it more or less works out. Sort of. Well, close enough.

But sometimes I feel overwhelmed by everything. Driving 6 hours in one week for various doctor appointments. Physical therapy at home. Eating the right foods in the right amounts at the right times. Getting tests run. Exercising. Feeling guilty whenever I don’t do one of those things. Always trying. Always running. Sometimes even finding time for family or friends. But not nearly often enough. Seeing notes about things I want to do, and wishing I had time for them.

And I should have time for them, shouldn’t I?

I hate this feeling. I don’t even have a full time job, damn it! Why am I so overwhelmed?

Of course, we all know why. It’s because I do have a job. Sure, I’m not getting paid for it, but my health is a big job, and it’s never ending. Add to that, I don’t have as many “good” hours in a day as my healthier friends do. I’m lucky to start doing anything “productive” by 11am. By dinner time, I am done.

Sometimes I do things practically nonstop in those intervening hours. Sometimes I can barely manage to feed myself. It all depends on the day.

And that unpredictability only adds to the overwhelm. My calendar might look good, but when I suddenly lose a day of productivity because I feel like crap, and everything else has to get rearranged, then it’s suddenly way too crowded. I build in “rest” days, but I can’t predict. My body might decide it can’t manage anything on Tuesday, even though my “rest” day isn’t until Thursday. Or I might rest on Thursday and feel like I need still more rest on Friday. Or sometimes the “rest” days are perfect, and if I schedule less and then feel ok, than I simply do less, instead of using the “extra” time to get more done.

My new goal for 2018 is to take days to take days off, and so far it’s helping. But it’s not enough.

And the funny thing is, next week I might sleep better or do something fun, and suddenly I will feel like everything is under control. But this feeling of being overwhelmed will come back. It always does. And with it, comes an uncomfortable guilt. Because after all, it’s not like I have a full time job.

Note: I would be the first to support a friend who feels this way. I would tell them that of course they have a job, and they are completely justified to be so overwhelmed. So I am repeating to myself what I know I would be saying to someone else. And it helps.

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Feeling fatigue frustration

January 20, 2018

Fatigue is my most frustrating symptom. Unlike the others, I can’t push through even small amounts of it. Unlike the others, it feels vague and a little unreal. And it stops me from doing so much.

My pain has been better lately. I can work around it. The nausea is still a major problem that causes me a lot of anxiety, but it doesn’t happen too often. But for some reason, the fatigue has been worse over the last few months and I just can’t fight it. I can’t push through. I can’t work around it.

I’m going out less. Exercising less. Doing less. Feeling less than.

It’s hard to explain this feeling to people. It isn’t a matter of going to sleep earlier or waking up later or taking naps. I have no reason to think I’ll feel better tomorrow or next week or next month until we figure out the cause and do something to fix it.

And yet I want so badly for it to go away.

This isn’t as bad as the fatigue I had 5 years ago. It took years to improve that, and I want to avoid getting back to that bad place. Still, this level is also limiting, and irritating, and oh so FRUSTRATING!

There is so much I want to do. Today is unseasonably warm and I was going to take a walk around a local Pond. That walk always makes me happy. I’m not in too much pain. But I just don’t have the energy. So much for that plan.

I have lists of things I both need and want to do, and I feel like I can’t do any of it today. Will I manage more than watching tv in my pajamas? I have no idea.

I’m frustrated. And I hate it. I am used to pushing and fighting for things, and I can’t do that. If the fatigue is being caused by an adrenal problem (which is looking likely as we’ve been running tests and ruling out most other potential causes) then pushing and fighting will only make it much worse.

There are no answers today. All I can do is hope it doesn’t last too much longer. And try very hard not to blame myself for not doing more.

So I am writing this in part to complain (hey, what did you expect from a blog titled Chronic Rants?) and in part to offer support to everyone else dealing with fatigue. It can stop us from working, from socializing, from buying groceries, from cleaning the house, from taking a walk, from sitting up. Fatigue sucks. And I hope yours and mine improves very soon. And in the meantime, I hope we can all find good audiobooks and tv shows for when we have enough energy to enjoy them.

(On a side note, I love audiobooks, so if you want suggestions of what to listen to, comment with the kind of stuff you like and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations! I listen to most genres – adventure, chick lit, historical fiction, murder mysteries, all kinds of non-fiction, etc.)


Taking a real day off

December 27, 2017

There’s this interesting thing that happens when you have daily symptoms.

Back when I worked, I would have these things called “days off.” These were days that I didn’t work. Sometimes I would hang out with friends. Sometimes I would do something fun on my own. Sometimes I would use the time to clean the apartment or run errands. Generally one day each weekend would be a day to just hang out and relax: no errands, no chores. It was great!

2017-12-18 21.45.49

Now that I’m too sick to work, I don’t go to a job, so every day is supposedly a “day off.” The thing is, I still need to take care of my health, run errands, clean the apartment, and all that other stuff. That became my job. And I try to do a little work to earn some money here and there. That’s my job, too.

The big difference is, there are no set hours. And I never know which days I’ll feel up to running errands or earning some money or any of that other stuff. So that means I now have 2 kinds of days:

  • Days that I feel like crap.
  • Days that I try to be “productive” and get stuff done.

Here’s the problem: that means I never take a “day off.” Every day is either a day to feel sick and do nothing by try to take care of my health, or a day to wash dishes, cook meals, go grocery shopping, do some work that earns money, or see a doctor. Sometimes those days might include seeing friends, which is awesome. I love hanging out with friends! The problem is, in my current state, hanging out with a friend is a fun day, but not the kind of “day off” that I really need to rest up.

I don’t rest up, because any time I feel halfway decent, I feel like I have to take advantage of that by doing as much stuff as possible (without overdoing it, of course.)

I’ve been feeling burned out lately. I know I’ve been doing too much, but when I try to take a “day off,” I fail. I end up doing laundry or trying to work. Half the time, I end up wasting time by scrolling through Facebook or something else unhelpful. Then I don’t get stuff done OR get any rest. It’s just not working.

Until this week.

This is an odd week. You see, just about everyone takes off Christmas from work. A lot of folks take off the entire week from their jobs. Some stay home and others visit family. But for me, Christmas isn’t a holiday. A couple weeks ago I did a small Chanukah lunch celebration with my family, and that was it. I baked cookies for it. Very simple.

And then this week, the world around me got quiet. The Jews were going out for Chinese food and movies (I did go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve, actually,) the Christians were celebrating Christmas, and just about everyone else seemed to be busy with something family-related.

As I was setting up my to-do list for the week, like I always do, something occurred to me: there was almost nothing on that list that had to happen this week. Sure, it would be nice to get that stuff done, but the list never ends, and those things can happen next week instead. So what if I didn’t do them? What then?

As the light bulb went off over my head cartoon-style, I felt relaxed. It could all wait!

I have been dog sitting since the week before Christmas. (That’s him in the photo.) I have watched this guy a couple times in the past, but having him for a week and a half was different. I fell in love. I am so sad that he’s going home in a few hours! It turns out, he was the perfect companion this week.

Normally Christmas is a lonely day for me. I spend a lot of time alone, but it feels different when everyone I know is busy doing fun things and I’m not. But not this year!

This year, Christmas was the day that I FINALLY took a day off. I started it off wrong. I tried to “get stuff done.” I found myself scrolling through Facebook to procrastinate. Then I realized that it was the perfect day to just rest. Not because I was too sick to get off the couch, but because I just needed the rest.

I settled on the couch. I had my knitting in my lap and an adorable pup curled up against my leg. I watched hours of tv. I ate leftovers (no cooking!) I let the dishes sit. It was the first time in ages that I felt up to washing dishes, but let them sit anyway. How decadent!

I left the apartment only to walk the dog. Thankfully, he was happy to stay in most of the day. We snuggled and played. I watched more tv. I did more knitting.

And by the end of the day, I felt relaxed in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

Finally.

My challenge now will be to do this more than once a year in 2018. In fact, my goal is to do it to a small extent once a week. That will be one day a week that I do something fun just for me. No stress. No to do list. If I feel up to going out and taking a walk, that’s ok. But at least once every other month I will have a day at home to rest and relax and not do anything more than knit, read, and watch tv. That’s my goal.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I’ve spoken to friends with chronic illness who struggle in the same way: when they feel good, they feel an obligation to do as much as they can. And that means never having a “day off” to just do their own thing. I feel like there must be a solution out there for this problem, but I have no idea what it is.

So my questions to you are, do you ever feel this way? Have you found a way to take regular days off that works for you? And if so, what is it? Please share it in the comments because I would love to learn from you!


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?


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.


Fed up with fear

October 24, 2017

I remember the “old” me like it’s someone else. Someone else who took risks. Someone else who moved all the way across the country to try something new. Someone else who traveled overseas alone. Someone else who went scuba diving with sting rays despite her fear of open water (and yes, I was terrified of the open water! I was happy with the sting rays. Go figure.) Someone else who simply did things.

Grand Cayman Underwater 24

My hand, petting a sting ray’s nose. It was softer than I expected.

But no, it was me. Me before I felt this sick and tired and in pain all the time. Except not really. My nausea was much worse back then. The pain was just as bad (or worse), simply in fewer parts of my body. But the fatigue wasn’t the same. The food limitations weren’t so strict. The knowledge of how sick I was hadn’t reached me yet. I figured I was ok, just with pain and nausea, and so I did things.

And now I don’t.

I haven’t been on an airplane in almost 7 years. I miss travel, but I don’t do it. What’s the worst that could happen? I hate to think about it. But would it really be all that bad?

Why don’t I try new things that are fun and exciting? Sure, I do new things, but they’re boring things. I’m writing a book. I tried a new group through Meetup. I have started dog sitting. I might enjoy the things, but they don’t open me to exciting new experiences. They don’t expand my view of the world. They aren’t like scuba diving with sting rays.

For a long time I have been frustrated by feeling like I couldn’t do things. Now I question if maybe I could do those things, but my fear is what’s holding me back. I get different opinions from my doctors. No one tells me sure, it’s no problem if I want to fly to England to visit a friend there. But they also don’t tell me it’s a horrible idea and I shouldn’t consider it. I get a lot of, “you could probably do it if….”

And then I wonder if my fear is rational. I’m worried about having a lousy trip because I feel horrible the entire time. It seems like a waste to spend a lot of time, effort, and money on a trip that I won’t even enjoy. But I could risk that. It’s not what’s ultimately holding me back. No, what’s holding me back is a fear of setting back my health.

If you have been following this blog, you know that 6 years ago, I was struggling, but getting by. I worked a full time job and sometimes went out after work. I liked a fairly “normal” life. Then things got so bad that I was on bed rest 3-5 days a week. Now I am doing much better than I was a few years ago, but no where near well enough to work a full time job. I can’t even manage a part time job. Still, things have been slowly improving. Doing something big and exciting could set me back. And a backslide could take years to recover from. I’m scared to risk that!

And let’s be clear, I’m not only talking about travel. I would love to go ziplining locally, but what if I injure myself, or my adrenals can’t handle the excitement? I want to go to a party and stay out late and have fun, but whenever I try I feel horrible for days afterwards, sometimes weeks, so now I’m scared to do it anymore. I want to try a new type of food that’s free of gluten, corn, and the other foods I can’t eat, but what if it makes me sick? I could go on and on.

Some of these are reasonable and I should avoid them. But others….. am I letting fear hold me back too much?

Fear has it’s place. It protects us from doing things that will hurt us. But right now, I wonder if it’s stopping me from experiencing great things that I will love. Things that will make me happy. Because what’s the point of life if I’m not experiencing it? Then again, what’s the point of life if I’m always making myself miserable?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but at least I have gotten to the point of questioning my own fears and whether or not they are valid. I’m frustrated that I don’t have answers, but I am glad to be asking the questions.

Maybe one day I will be able to answer: are these fears reasonable?

If you have dealt with similar fears, how have you handled them? Do you take the risks, or avoid them?


Painful weather, like it or not

October 5, 2017

It’s October in New England, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look at a calendar.

Every summer I count down until the third weekend in September. That’s when I know the weather will have finally shifted for good, and I’ll be feeling less pain, less fatigue, and less nausea. It’s truly a magical time.

But not this year.

This year we had cooler weather in August, and I was grateful for that, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. September was up and down. But surely October would be my time, right? Not so much.

When you have chronic illness, nothing is simple, and the unpredictable symptoms, flares, and other issues can make life hard to plan. Still, we do our best. For me, that means making more plans in the fall and winter, when I know I will feel better.

That’s why, even though a “simple” weekend away with my best girlfriends is incredibly hard, I felt I could do it if it was in the fall. My friends are understanding, and were perfectly happy to avoid planning anything in September, just in case. They get it. Every time we’ve had cooler, less humid weather, I get text messages and emails from friends saying, “This is your kind of weather! I hope you’re feeling up to enjoy it.” And I love that they understand.

So we planned for “safe” October. Who could have known? This isn’t our typical cool, crisp, wonderful New England autumn.

Thankfully the temperatures are cool enough, though way too warm for this time of year (upper 70s?!? Are you fucking kidding me?!?) My problem is the dew point. It’s supposed to get close to 70 this weekend! Even healthy people find that uncomfortable and for me, it will be near torture. But what can I do? The house we rented doesn’t have air conditioning – after all, none of us thought we’d need it. Higher on our list was finding a house with a working fire place. Last year we did this trip later in October and it snowed. We had a lovely time sitting by a roaring fire, and wanted to repeat that experience. If only.

I am in pain already, and it’s only beginning. Well yes, I’m always in pain, but this is worse, and I know it’s from the weather. My toes are swollen and painful. My knee is swollen and so painful that it’s hard to walk. My neck hurts. Everything is just wrong.

But I won’t stay home. I have been looking forward to this trip for a year. It is my one chance to do this. I will NOT give it up!

I will bring the medications that I can. I will be careful how I eat. And I will block out a lot of extra recovery time when I return. Still, I know this is going to be really rough. I will be in pain, nauseated, and fatigued. Thankfully, I will be surrounding by wonderful women, women I have known most of my life, the only non-relatives who knew me before any of my symptoms began, women who have always been supportive. And maybe most importantly, women who have always made me laugh, even at the worst of times.

So wish me luck. Because I want to be able to enjoy this weekend as much as possible. If only Mother Nature would cooperate.


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