What is that ghost pain?

March 3, 2017

My physical therapist kept asking “Does anything hurt?” It was a good question, but I had no idea how to answer.

I felt pain that I knew was pain, and then I felt other pain that wasn’t real. It wasn’t in my head, exactly. It was more like my foot had fallen asleep, but instead of pins and needles, it hurt. And that spot on my leg. And my shoulder.

I have had so much pain for so many years, I’m good at ignoring it. Then when someone asks if I’m in pain I need to stop blocking it out, and it comes rushing at me all at once. PAIN!

This took it to a different level. I had acknowledged my pain, but by focusing on every movement, every massage, and trying to determine if it was causing more or less pain, I was too focused. It gave the impression that everything hurt. But there were different kinds of pain, and some were more “real” than others.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. But since I was lying on the massage table for a while, I had plenty of time to think about while I tried to figure out if that pain in my back was real pain or this ghost pain. And did my ankle really hurt, or was that more ghost pain?

I wonder if I’ll ever find a way to explain this to someone who hasn’t experienced it? “You see, there’s real pain, then there’s this shadow of pain that can pop up anywhere….”

Have you experienced what I’m talking about? If so, do you have any idea what it is???


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.


Tapping into my extrovert side

February 6, 2017

img_20161223_091955I’m an introvert. If I’d known that about myself and understood it, my teens and 20s would have been a lot easier, that’s for sure! It turns out, it’s ok to want to stay in and read a book on a Saturday night. Go figure.

I also happen to be a social introvert. I love being with people. I even feel like I need to be around people from time to time. And on the days I’m feeling more extroverted, I’m good at it. I can have pleasant conversations with good friends and with total strangers alike. As long as I get plenty of breaks for alone time so I can recharge.

The thing is, when you’ve got a chronic illness that creates so much fatigue you can’t work and can’t always leave the house, and so much pain that sometimes getting to the bathroom takes everything you’ve got, social time can be hard to come by. Friends sometimes come over, but not so much these days. As my friends have begun to have kids, visiting has become difficult or impossible. I understand and I don’t blame them. But it still sucks.

Six weeks ago I moved. I can’t believe it’s already been 6 weeks! I knew moving would mean that some friends would visit less often, since I’m not on public transportation anymore. Still, it’s not like I had that many visitors anyway. It was worth the trade-off, I figured. Little did I know!

This is the first time since college that I’ve lived in an apartment complex, but I’ve never lived in a complex like this. People are so nice and friendly!

First there was the complex-wide holiday party. It was less than a week before I moved in, and I should have been home packing boxes, but I knew it was important to meet people. So I got slightly dressed up, drove all the way out, and put on my extrovert costume. I met several people, including a few who lived in my building, and traded phone numbers with a couple of them.

After the move I made a point of talking to neighbors. I introduced myself to everyone I met. I knocked on doors in my hallway. I chatted with the woman clearing snow off the car next to mine, and the random person passing walking past me on the sidewalk. I smiled and was nice and friendly.

And it’s paying off. A neighbor and I have been taking walks in the evenings when she gets home from work. We have done this at least a half dozen times, and it’s really nice. Another neighbor invited me over for game night. That led me to meeting more neighbors. I hit it off with one right away, and we’ve now hung out a couple of times. Today I saw a neighbor I’d spoken to a few times walking by my patio door so I opened the door to say hi. She and her puppy (so cute!!) came in and I invited her to sit. We chatted for a bit as the puppy sniffed around and then returned to me for petting. As she left, I saw another neighbor who I knew, so I invited her and her pup in, and they hung out for a bit.

None of these are life-altering per se. But they matter. On a day when I wasn’t going to socialize, I socialized. It didn’t last long, but it happened.

I have spent many days being home alone and feeling lonely and sad. I know I will feel that way many more days. It sucks, but that’s my reality. A lot of the time I won’t want visitors. But on the days that I want to see people but don’t feel up to going anywhere, how amazing that I have neighbors right here who I can hang out with! It might not happen every day, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s always possible. In time, I will get to know more of them. Some will become friends and some won’t. Just having people to say hi to, though, makes a huge difference.

I knew this was a good move for me. This just makes it 10 times better.


Please stop adding to my stress

January 7, 2017

Over the years I’ve learned to control my stress levels. In addition to the obvious emotional benefits, it does wonders for my physical health. Stress exacerbates everything, so I’m happy to avoid it. Lately, though, it just keeps piling on.

I moved to a new apartment 2 weeks ago. I absolutely love it here! The move was less stressful than I would have thought, and I unpacked very quickly. Unfortunately, while the boxes are gone, the place is a mess. There are papers in various places and clutter on the counter. To a stranger it doesn’t look like I just moved in (except for the empty walls) – it simply looks like I’m unorganized. And the clutter is getting to me. The mess makes my mind feel messy.

On top of the clutter, there are so many little things to do! I need to fill out forms for fuel assistance in my new town, get on local mailing lists and off of my old mailing lists, and a dozen other things. And of course, I need to decorate, which feels unnatural to me. It takes hours to research things I want and then, just when I make my decisions, I find out the thing is out of stock.

Those wouldn’t bother me at all, though, if it wasn’t for the rest. My laptop has been on the fritz for over a month! Even the repair guy has given up. It’s time for a new one, even though that machine was only two years old. So I need to research a new computer. I’m not sure what to get and I’m wracked with insecurity – what if I get another crappy machine, despite researching them thoroughly? And of course, that’s money I hadn’t planned to spend, too.

My Tivo is pretty new. I planned out that purchase last summer and it was a smart move. I have a cheap antenna that I bought online and now I can record all of my favorite shows on the channels I get over the airwaves – no monthly fees! But a few days ago the Tivo began to buzz. It’s a strange, annoying sound. The quiet of my new home is ruined by this constant buzzing. When nothing is set to record I unplug it, but that’s annoying and not something I want to do permanently. I need to figure out how to fix it, or else see if it can be replaced under the warranty.

It’s the end of the year, which means the federal government wants to know about my income for the last year, not just for taxes, but for my benefits. Oy! That would be easy if my laptop was working, but without it.

And because I moved, other benefits offices want information about my finances, too. How can I tell them about my utility bills when I haven’t received any yet? I just moved in!

I do little things to earn some money, but they all require the computer. Damn that laptop for breaking just as I was getting ready to move!

I was going to try online dating, actually, but I need a working laptop for that.

Because of the move I didn’t schedule any doctor appointments for the entire month of December. It was lovely. But now I’m making up for it. I had 2 yesterday (Friday.) I have another Monday. There are several more over the next few weeks, too. I need to start a medication on Monday that will make me feel like crap for about 2 weeks, but I already put it off longer than I should.

As I was telling someone today what I planned to buy for new furniture (cheap, but nice looking!) she tried to talk me out of it for no good reason. I almost lost my temper. I’m stressed out by trying to juggle way too many balls in the air. It’s just too much! I don’t need someone disagreeing with me over something so basic. Why mess up my plans? I know she didn’t mean any harm, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with anything new. I can’t handle more.

These thing are all so little, but they’re just too much. Just like 1 ball of yarn is light, but 50 weighs too much for me to carry. It too damn much.

And yet I’m super lucky. My awesome parents are buying a lot of my new apartment decorations. Several relatives gave me Amazon gift cards as housewarming gifts so I can buy more. I have enough savings to buy a laptop. I can afford all of this. I have the time available to work through it all. Ok, I don’t really have the energy for it, but I’m getting there. I’m so lucky.

But I’m still stressed.

And it’s affecting my health.

How do you handle it when you have too many balls in the air? How do you relax when 50 different things are calling for your attention? Please comment below and let’s share some ideas!


Trying to do it “all” with chronic illnesses

December 14, 2016

It feels like everything is hard with a chronic illness. Pain, fatigue, and other symptoms affect us in ways most people don’t think about.

Walking is harder. Sitting is harder. Reading is harder. Cooking is harder. Planning is a hell of a lot harder.

Last year I wrote down goals for earning money in 2016. I didn’t succeed, but they put me on a better path than I would have otherwise been on. So I did it again for 2017. And then I did something else: I wrote down my personal goals. I’ve never done that before and it was fascinating.

I wrote down everything big. And I realized how much harder it will all be than I would have thought just a few years ago.

I wrote down the book I want to write, blogging here, improving my health including doing regular physical therapy and other exercise, getting a dog (yay!), joining a dating site (well, maybe), making new single friends (most of my friends are coupled off at this point) through attending meetup groups, and some other things I’ll be telling you about soon.

It was a really great exercise and I recommend everyone do it. It puts everything into perspective. Doing this forced me to seriously consider everything I want to do, then narrow that down to what I want most. Then I broke that down into what I need to do to make it happen. For example, in order to make new friends, I need to join some meetup groups and actually attend, instead of my usual thing of joining but then staying home. (If you don’t know about meetup.com and you want to get out of the house more, check it out! I can’t do the physical activity groups like hiking or playing frisbee anymore, so I’m joining knitting and board game groups.) And I wrote down how many times a day I’ll do physical therapy, how many times a week I’ll check in on dating sites, and so on.

And then I looked at my list, added up the time required for each thing, and thought, “No wonder I’m so overwhelmed and never feel like I have enough time to get things done!” It was great! I mean, it sucked, because I have to give up something that’s important to me. But at least now I understand that it wasn’t that I was unorganized, just that I was trying to do more than my health allows. I have fewer hours, and I need to accept that. Sure, I’ve got a lot less on my list than I would if I was healthy, but it’s still too much. I can’t go right from a date to taking a walk – I need to rest in between. I can’t make new friends unless I have the energy to go out with them, and that takes energy from other activities. I still want to hang out with my current friends, knit, read, and do other things. Plus, showering, getting dressed, laundry, washing dishes, and even eating take up a lot of energy. But I don’t have to tell you that.

And of course, I can’t assume that any of my plans will stick. I could plan to do 3 hours of stuff every Monday, and some Mondays I’ll be able to do more but others I’ll have to less or maybe nothing at all. It’s completely unpredictable.

So that’s how I find myself looking at my list of personal goals for 2017, feeling keenly aware of the ways that everything is just a bit harder with chronic illnesses.

I don’t have the answers yet, but at least I can see the problem clearly. Something’s gotta give. Ok. I accept that. Now I just need to find the answers.

What about you? Do you set personal goals? How do you find ways to fit everything in or pare down?


Quick reflexes despite it all

November 29, 2016

It’s probably not a good sign when the doctor is so surprised. Then again, it was a pretty impressive catch.

I had great reflexes and coordination as a kid. I played musical instruments, I juggled, and I played sports. Since I don’t do those things anymore, no one would know that I still retained a lot of that coordination.

Of course, I know it. It comes up occasionally. There have been several near misses on the road that I’m sure would have been accidents if I wasn’t so quick to hit the break or jerk the wheel. Sometimes I catch in mid-air something that I dropped.

Today’s catch was much less dramatic. I’d finished my rheumatology appointment and I was asking my doctor how her Thanksgiving was. She’s been my rheumatologist for over 10 years, so chatting like this isn’t unusual. She’d stepped away from her desk and I’d turned toward her. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her stethoscope begin to slide off the desk, bringing the papers underneath with it.

I turned, lunged, reached out, and grabbed it just as it was about to completely slide off the desk. She was impressed and amazed. Ok, maybe I was a bit amazed too.

The thing is, there’s a lot I can’t do anymore. I know it. She knows it. But we need to remember that there’s a lot I still can do. I need to focus on that.

I can’t use a pen to write several paragraphs, but I can type. There’s a lot I can’t remember, but a lot that I can. I can’t walk 5 miles but I can usually walk down the street. Sometimes these victories feel hollow, but they’re super important. Because like the things I’ve already lost, I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

My reflexes might not save me every time, but they’re still pretty damn good, so I’ll appreciate them while I’ve got them!

What about you? What abilities do you still have that you’re grateful for?


Feeling better but not better enough

November 4, 2016

My doctor ran through my symptoms. How’s x? How’s y? And what’s new with z? Standard stuff. And to each one I said I was doing much better these days. Stable. Feeling ok.

So then why do I still feel so limited?

My pain is lessened to the point that I can completely ignore it – as long as I stay within my limitations, of course. No riding a bike or lifting heavy babies.

The nausea is gone. This is the best thing in the world!

My period sucked big time, but that’s over and I won’t have to deal with it again for 2 more months.

Even my fatigue isn’t as bad.

So why can’t I work a full time job? Why can’t I take a really long walk? Why can’t I travel? Why can’t I clean my apartment?

And the answer is, it’s not enough.

I’m feeling so much better than I was a few years ago, but I still have a long way to go. My friends take a walk and I can’t keep up. I have a fun afternoon and need to lie down to rest partway through. I cook dinner, and I’m in pain from standing and fatigued from the activity.

I’m excited for the progress. Really. And also frustrated at my continued limitations.

Will I ever see further improvement? Am I kidding myself if I keep trying?

I don’t know. But it sure beats the alternative: giving up.

There’s no better option. I have to keep trying. And even though it’s not enough, better is still better. And I’ll take it.

 


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