Struggling to endure

December 6, 2017

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

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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?

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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.


The real reason I wasn’t feeling well

September 26, 2017

I have noticed an interesting pattern recently. It goes like this:

  • One evening: Hmm, I don’t feel well. Must be the usual chronic illness stuff.
  • The next day: Wow, I feel really bad. This CI stuff is acting weird.
  • That night: Oh boy, this is not only bad, but also not quite the same as the usual CI stuff.
  • The next day: I’ll just push through. It’s probably a mini flare. Be quiet voice-in-the-back-of-my-head! I don’t want to hear this is something else.
  • That night: Oh crap, I think I’m sick.
  • The next day: Oh boy, I’m DEFINITELY sick!

And that’s what happened this weekend. It took two days of feeling guilty and trying to push through before I realized I was sick. Then I spent an entire day on the couch watching tv, not even trying to do anything “productive,” and I felt so much better afterwards!

It’s hard when you have a chronic illness and have “sick” symptoms on a regular basis. You have to keep living your life, and often, resting wouldn’t help anyway. But sometimes it’s actually a bug, and rest is just what you need. Then it’s important to give yourself that rest.

I’m not back to “normal” yet today, but I feel SO much better. Maybe one day I’ll listen to that voice in the back of my head and realize I’ve got a bug a lot sooner. I haven’t figured that part out yet, but hopefully one day I will.

And in the meantime, I hope you all can give yourselves time to rest and recover when you get a bug. It’s lousy when it happens, but at least, unlike chronic illness, it’s temporary!


The never-ending guessing game of boundaries

July 25, 2017

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Having chronic illness means accepting limitations. For almost two decades, my limitations made life more difficult, and they prevented me from doing some things, but their impact was limited in its own way. Then things changed.

Today I want to go to the gym and ride the stationary bike at its lowest setting for 10 minutes. But I’m not sure if I’m up to it. That’s one kind of limitation. That bothers me, but not as much as the other kind of limitation.

I want to live life on my own terms. I want to earn a living and go out more with friends. But mostly I want to travel.

Yesterday a friend told me about a trip she is planning. She knows that it is beyond her chronic illness-produced boundaries, but she is taking a chance by going anyway. And it made me question, not for the first time, if I should take more risks.

Part of me thinks I should. My doctor thinks I could. And I’m tempted to just pick up and go. But then I get scared. What happens when I inevitably feel sick? I won’t be able to bring medical marijuana – the only thing that helps – with me. Is it worth taking a trip, when I will probably feel like crap for half of it, and feel horrible when I get home? Will I be able to enjoy myself enough for it to be worthwhile?

But then I wonder, what kinds of regrets will I have if I don’t go? My symptoms will probably get worse over time, not better. Now travel feels difficult, maybe not worthwhile, and scary. At some point it will be completely impossible. Don’t I owe it to my future self to take a trip today?

Sometimes I think I should try doing something small to test the waters. But those smaller trips feel boring. If I’m going to put myself through hell, shouldn’t it be for something fantastic? Sure, I could go to Washington D.C. for the 3rd time, or to Nashville (which I’ve never had any interest in) for the first time, but it would be so much more fun to go Sweden or Norway or Iceland! Those are places I have wanted to visit for years, and I would have so much more fun there. If I feel up to doing anything.

And of course, there’s also the money issue. If I had gobs of money, not only would I not stress out about money, but I could buy certain comforts: a first class seat in the plane, a nicer hotel room, a rental scooter for when I don’t feel up to walking. Instead, I question if I should take money out of my savings for a trip at all, even one without those extra comforts. Then again, I might regret it if I don’t. I probably will.

So these thoughts are spinning around my head for the millionth time. I know some people with chronic illnesses travel. I know others don’t. I know it’s a personal choice and I need to be the one to choose. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Because in the end, it’s not about the trip itself. It’s about the fact that my world has become very small, and I feel the need to open it up. I need new experiences and excitement. I know that would sustain me in a million mental and emotional ways. I just wonder what it would do to me physically.


Feeling moody from pain

July 19, 2017

There’s an emotion toll to chronic pain that’s easy to miss if you have only ever experienced short term pain.

A banged finger will heal soon enough. A sprained ankle will cause frustration. Even a broken bone rarely leads to anything permanent, and so you just wait it out. But the chronicness of chronic pain means that you need to handle it long term, and that comes with a lot of emotions.

Over the years I have had many feelings about my pain. Working through them has helped me to deal with my feels now, and yet, I still struggle.

I have new pain. Just 2 short months ago my thumbs weren’t even on my radar. I used them without thought. Now, everything hurts. I cringe when I realize I have to go to the bathroom, because I know I will feel extreme pain when I pull down my shorts. Picking up a plate is difficult and painful. I wonder how long it will be before I break and drop something not from clumsiness, but because of the pain or weakness. [Side note: I say my thumbs hurt throughout this post, but more specifically, it is the joint that connects each thumb to my hand. Thankfully the rest of each thumb is ok…. for now. Since every movement affects that joint, I can’t use my thumbs without feeling the pain, though.]

I’m scared. This pain could be permanent. I might literally have it every day for the rest of my life. Or it could go away. Or it could go away and then come back at random times. There’s no way to know.

I’m frustrated. When I feel horrible, I spend some time on the couch watching tv and crocheting. That makes me feel better. But I was in too much pain to crochet. I always fidget, always need to keep my hands busy and my fingers moving. But now any type of fidgeting I do is painful, because I use my thumbs, or I use other fingers and that pulls at the muscles that connect to the thumbs. What on earth will I do if I can’t crochet or fidget? I can’t even begin to imagine.

I’m sad. So very sad. Because I know that my thumbs will probably never be the same. And because I know there are other joints in my body that I am taking for granted now in the same way I took my thumbs for granted two months ago. I want to appreciate everything now, while I can. I even want to appreciate my thumbs because I know all too well, from 26 years of joint pain, that things will probably get even worse and that I will look back on this time and wonder with amazement at how I didn’t realize how good I really had it, despite the pain.

I’m overwhelmed. My head swirls. Did the onset of summer cause this or exacerbate it? If so, maybe things will be better in the fall? The increased dose of my anti-inflammatory supplement, from 1/day to 4/day, hasn’t helped. I really hoped it would. When I started with 1/day last year it changed everything and made me feel so much better, but it seems no match for my pain-filled thumb joints. Or maybe it’s disease progression, and I need to go back to taking Plaquenil. I don’t want to, for many reasons, but I can’t deny that it has helped a lot in the past. I’m in so much pain that I almost want to try it now, but should I wait to see if things get better in the fall? Then again, what if they get worse? What if waiting just leads to more damage and makes it impossible to halt things? No one can make these decisions but me. I could see my doctors, but would they say anything I don’t already know? Besides, I just saw my rheumatologist a couple months ago and I have another appointment to see her in a month. It seems silly to move that up so soon. We can discuss it all then. But when every day is such a struggle, a month feels very far away.

I feel trapped. I feel trapped in my body, which is so filled with pain. And I feel trapped in my apartment, because the evil humid air outside makes my symptoms worse. I know that even a walk to my car will increase my pain and fatigue and will bring on nausea and diarrhea. I can’t go out there. But I need to move, to be distracted, to do something.

I feel cut off. Texting has slowly become a primary form of communication amongst my friends and the new person I’m dating. But texting is far too painful. I dictate messages into my phone, but I find that frustrating. And even just navigating to my messenger app is painful. I can do it, but it hurts. I am SO GRATEFUL that typing on my laptop isn’t too painful yet. But what happens when it is? I lived through that 20 years ago, but computers weren’t as vital for communication then.

Yesterday my neighbor stopped by for a visit with her puppy. I hadn’t left the apartment all day, thanks to the weather and my pain. Even just opening the door and feeling that wall of thick, muggy air for a few seconds wasn’t good. Having a visitor felt so good! And the puppy was a darling! Petting him hurt, but it was worth it. They left all too soon. I wish there was a visiting puppy program for the sick.

I am so fortunate. I have a lovely home, a caring family, wonderful friends, and enough food and medicine. But the emotions still engulf me at times.

Unfortunately, my mother called last night at the wrong time. When we started speaking everything was fine. But during the call the pain became worse, and by the end, I was moody and bitchy. I was too busy talking to her and feeling sad and frustrated and overwhelmed to take a step back and recognize and work through my feelings of sadness and frustration and overwhelm. So I took it out on her.

And my mom, being the amazing woman that she is, listened, expressed sympathy, and never blamed me for acting like a selfish child. She has chronic pain too, though it’s less disabling, and I think she understood.

Halfway through writing this post, my mom called. She said that she wanted to do something for me and I could not say no. She is going to come to my apartment one day and clean it for me. I can’t clean it myself, and the cleaners I hired didn’t work out, so I have been feeling stuck. She wants to do this to help me.

I have so many negative emotions right now. This thumb pain is upsetting to me in ways I haven’t been able to express to myself yet, much less write down here. But having my mom in my corner definitely helps. Even if sometimes I still get bitchy. After all, I’m only human. And I’m scared.


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