The pain of going to the movies

July 23, 2016

I think I went to the movies once last year. Or maybe it was the year before. When people ask, I say that I don’t like going to the movies because of the cost, or because there’s nothing good to see. Those things are true, but they aren’t the real reason. They’re just easier to talk about.

The truth is that even when there’s a movie I really want to see and someone else has offered to pay, I still decline. Because no matter how good the movie is, it won’t be worth the pain of seeing it.

To be fair, I haven’t tried the new reclining seats yet. Maybe those would be better. But regular movie theater seats are very uncomfortable. Plus, there’s the problem that I have to sit in one spot for over 2 hours!

Friends have suggested that I sit on the aisle so I can get up during the movie, but I can’t imagine that going well. The people around me would not be too happy if I was getting up, walking around, and stretching during the movie, and I wouldn’t blame them! I could sit in the back row on the aisle…. but only if the seat wasn’t already taken. I’d have to arrive really early to be sure. That would mean even more time in the theater.

And again, it’s just not worth it. Sure, I could arrive really early and sit in the back row on the aisle, even if the people I was with didn’t want to sit there. I could get up during the show to stretch and walk around. I could leave the theater and walk up and down the hallway. I would miss parts of the movie. I’d be distracted. And in the end, I’d still be in pain. So please remind me, why exactly would I want to do this? What would I gain?

I have missed a lot of “great” movies in recent years. And I don’t regret it at all. When I think about what’s missing in my life, “going to the movies” isn’t anywhere on the list. It doesn’t even come to mind. When I think about the things I’d like to do in the coming months or years, again, “going to the movies” isn’t on the list. There are too many other things I’d rather be doing.

I do watch movies, though. Sometimes I watch them on tv. I have a lot of dvds that I rarely even find time to watch. I can get movies from the library.

The difference is that I can watch them all from the comfort of my own home. I can pause them when I need a break. I can get up and move around as needed. I can sit more comfortably. I can reposition myself as needed. I can stop halfway through and finish the rest the next day. This all makes it totally worth it.

But going to the theater? Not at all.

[Side note: I’m going to the theater tomorrow to see someone I care about perform the lead in a play. I know I’ll be in pain, but I believe it will be worth it. Wish me luck!]

What about you? Are you able to go to the movies? Is there something similar that you skip out on altogether because you feel it isn’t worth it, even though people insist you should try anyway? Please comment and share your experiences!


Cooking without a stove

July 1, 2016

I’m lucky. I have a fairly decent kitchen with a stove and oven that work well. I’m thankful to have them! Still, when the heat and humidity of summer come along, I can’t bear to turn on the oven at all, and I rarely use the stove. But a girl’s gotta eat! What to do?

Whether you’re heat sensitive like me, you don’t have a stove, or you’re just not a cook, I bet you can relate to my dilemma. I can’t eat out much. It’s not good for my health or for my wallet. Ditto for frozen convenience meals. I eat salads and sandwiches, but I get tired of those long before the cooler weather returns. So I’ve gotten used to cooking without the stove.

I was thinking about this last night as I prepare burgers, fries, and steamed veggies. It wasn’t too hot, so I could stand to be in the kitchen (which doesn’t have air conditioning,) but it was warm enough that I wasn’t about to turn on the stove. So instead, I cut up some potatoes and put them on the toaster oven pan with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Then I put them in the toaster oven set to bake at 475 degrees. Voila: Roasted potatoes!

The vegetables were easy. I put some frozen green beans into a bowl, covered it, and microwaved it for 2 minutes.

The burgers were easy because I had a Griddler. This was a very nice gift last year. A George IMG_20160701_102445.jpgForeman Grill would do the same job, I assume. It emits some heat, but not as much as a stove and a hell of a lot less than an oven. I put some garlic, scallions, salt, and pepper into a bowl and mixed it up, then added the beef. I made 4 patties, put them on the Griddler, set the timer on my phone, and sat on the couch to rest.

Dinner was delicious, healthy, and didn’t heat up the apartment!

A friend gave me the idea of making rice and black beans, then throwing avocado and salsa on top. Yum! Since I don’t have a rice cooker, I do have to use the stove for that. The good part is that I don’t have to be in the kitchen! I try to make rice on a cooler day, and I leave the kitchen while it’s cooking. It’s not perfect, but it mostly works.

And then there’s my favorite: the crockpot, also called a slow cooker. This was an excellent housewarming gift a few years back. A friend introduced me to a series of crockpot cookbooks, and I found the author’s website. It’s filled with delicious recipes that can all be made gluten free!

I’m a huge fan of my crockpot. You throw in the ingredients, set the timer, and walk away. IMG_20160701_102502.jpgWhen you come back 3-10 hours later (depending on the recipe) your food is all done! There’s something so great about tossing in ingredients, going out for the day, and coming home to an apartment that smells amazing. Again, it emits some heat, but not much. And I don’t have to be in the kitchen while it’s on.

Unfortunately, I do have to be in the kitchen without air conditioning while I do dishes, but at least the stove and oven haven’t heated up the space!

This isn’t perfect, but it gets me through the summer. If you struggle to cook without a stove and you have relatives who sometimes ask you want you want for your birthday or for Christmas (or who might be open to some hints) maybe a kitchen gadget is the way to go.

What about you? Do you have favorite meals that you can make without turning on the stove? Please post them in the comments – I can use all the ideas I can get!

It’s about more than just pee

June 5, 2016

There’s political turmoil in the U.S. right now around bathroom use. Yes, you read that right. Transgender folks want to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and conservatives want them to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate. While I have some very definite opinions on this issue, there’s one aspect that strikes me as being more relevant for those who have certain chronic illnesses and other medical issues. Or who just poop when they’re not at home.

You see, the argument from transgender folks and their allies is that this is about a simple right: the right to pee. And it is. But it’s also more than that.

I see a lot of these memes, videos, and arguments. I share a lot of them on social media, too. After all, I fully support everyone’s right to pee in a comfortable, safe space. But the thing is, isn’t it about more than just pee? And I’m not just talking about having a private place to pick a wedgie, fix your hair and makeup, or take off those uncomfortable stockings.

For me, public bathrooms, and even private ones, were about more than just peeing. I had around 20 years of undiagnosed Celiac Disease and other food intolerances, so you can imagine what bathroom use was like for me.

I have an unusually strong bladder. I can often go for 4, 6, even 8 hours without peeing. But when I got *that* feeling, there was no choice.

There was the time I was on the highway, stuck in traffic. I got *that* feeling. I knew it was bad. I looked at the stop-and-go traffic and I wondered if I would have to have diarrhea in the grass on the side of the highway. Thankfully, just in time, I got off the road, into a motel parking lot, and found my way to a bathroom. Thank goodness!

Then there was the time I was seeing a show on Broadway for the first time. I was so excited! Walking to the theater, I got *that* feeling. We rushed to the theater, thinking I could quickly use the bathroom, but the doors weren’t opened yet and there was a line to get in. I rushed to the hotel next door, but a guest card was needed to use the bathrooms. I asked at the desk, but they wouldn’t let me use a toilet. I went back to the theater. The doors were open and my mother was almost to the front of the line. I was desperate. As soon as I was through the door I ran to the bathroom. The line for the ladies room snaked down the hall. I ran to the front and asked if I could cut the line. A woman in front said yes immediately, and others followed her lead. I hate to think what would have happened if she’d said no. Maybe she saw the desperation on my face. Maybe she noticed that I was turning a bit white, or even green. Maybe she was just a compassionate person who always helped others. Whatever it was, I was grateful. I ran into the next open stall, and sat down as I felt what seemed like everything I’d eaten in a week leave my body. I was there for a long time. I eventually made it up to my seat, and was still feeling a bit ill. Before the show started, I got the feeling again. I ran back to the bathroom. It was close to curtain, so there was no line. I sat there alone, in the quiet, grateful for the toilet. I got back upstairs just as the opening number began, thankfully feeling much better.

I’ve had more incidents like this than I can count. There have been times I didn’t make it to a toilet in time. Thankfully, those were not in public places. But they could have easily been.

The point is, sometimes it’s about more than just peeing. I’m cisgender, so obviously this particular issue of which bathroom to use doesn’t affect me directly. (It does affect several friends, many acquaintances, and countless people I don’t know personally but who should obviously have the same rights as everyone else.) Still, I can’t help feeling a twinge at all of the talk about how “it’s just about peeing.” No it isn’t! It’s also about pooping! Don’t forget the pooping!

I want to shout it at the tv, at my computer screen, and at every person who says, “it’s just about peeing.” I get their angle. They want to eliminate the politically-motivated distractions being used to force the issue. But let’s not erase the very real problems that so many others are dealing with. It’s about pooping too!

There are certain things all humans do. I get that most people don’t want to discuss them all. But really, why can’t we talk about poop? If we can wipe a baby’s butt, clean out the cat’s litter, and pick up the dog’s poop from the street, surely we can recognize that trans+ folks will need to occasionally poop in public too. And when they do, they need to be able to do it in a safe place.

Because if I hadn’t had a safe place in that theater, it could have been a very messy experience. And no one should have to go through that.

So for all of you out there with IBD, IBS, Crohn’s, Celiac, or any other digestive issue, and for those who simply need to poop, I support you. Let’s win this thing! #itsaboutmorethanpee

Having a chronic illness isn’t brave

June 3, 2016

I have seen many brave things, either personally or on the news. I’ve even done a few myself. Having a chronic illness is not one of them!

I hear it all the time, and I’m guessing you do, too. It’s some version of “You’re so brave to deal with all of that!” or “She’s so brave to be in that wheelchair.” Oh really?!?

The last time I checked, bravery had to do with making a choice. You make a choice to put someone else’s safety above your own. You make a choice to do something scary. That’s brave. Depending on the situation, it might even be admirable.

But I didn’t make a choice to have chronic illnesses. Most people don’t. They don’t make a choice to use a wheelchair or walk with a limp or lose their vision. These are the realities of our lives and we deal with them the best we can, but we don’t chose them.

The argument then is that I’m brave for the way I handle it all. Again, I must ask: oh really?!?

What are my options? Yes, there are other ways I could handle this. And let me tell you, it wouldn’t make a difference. I’ve been called brave for putting on a smile and pretending I’m fine. I’ve been called brave for crumbling and saying that I feel like I can barely manage it. I’ve been called brave when I look completely healthy. I’ve been called brave when I’m in a wheelchair and the pain shows clearly on my face. It doesn’t matter how I handle my illnesses and their symptoms, at some point someone uses the B word.

You might wonder why I care. And the truth is that mostly I don’t. Most days I don’t even think about it. But in the moment when someone calls me brave, I bristle. When I see someone else called brave for simply being, I bristle. It bothers me because I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I don’t want to be thought of as special or different. I want to be seen and recognized for who I really am and for what I really deal with.

This shit is hard! And I’m not special. I have to deal with it the same way anyone else would. Saying I’m brave implies that I have some special skills or personality trait that makes it easier for me to handle everything. “What a difficult thing to deal with, but she’s so brave, look how well she’s handling it!” No, I am not handling it in any special way because I’m brave. I’m handling it the best I can because that’s all any of us can do. Because that’s what I’m sure you, dear speaker, would do if you were also in my situation.

I look around the room at my many friends with chronic illness. Some have had dozens of surgeries. Are they brave because they had dozens of surgeries they never wanted? Some have kids. Are they brave because they had kids? Some weren’t able to have kids. Are they brave because they weren’t able to have kids? Some have jobs. Are they brave because they have jobs? Some can’t work. Are they brave because they can’t work?

Or are they all just doing the best they can?

Because really, what’s the alternative?

But the worst part of all is that sometimes, in a small part of me I don’t like to admit to, I feel proud when someone calls me brave. Because in that one small way, it’s a tiny bit of recognition of just how hard I work to get through each day. And maybe that means I’m a bit brave after all?

How do you feel when someone calls you or someone else with chronic illness “brave”? Do you like it? Does it bother you? Please comment below!

When will I see you again?

May 26, 2016

Every time someone moves away I wonder if I’ll ever see them again. It didn’t used to be that way.

I used to travel a lot. If I was home for a month, I got antsy. If I was home for 2 months I


That place in Maine

intentionally made plans to get away. Sometimes getting away was a short overnight somewhere nearby and sometimes it was a bigger trip. Twice each year I visited my grandparents in New York. Twice each year I visited my other grandparents in Florida. Once each year I took a week-long vacation for myself. I visited friends. I spent many lovely summer and autumn weekends in Maine every year. And to me, that was normal.

Sure, it was tiring. But it was manageable. I could always rest the next weekend, right? And money wasn’t an issue. I was working then, and most of my trips were really cheap. My grandparents paid for my flights to Florida. I stayed with family and friends almost everyplace I went. I probably spent $500-$1000 on travel each year and loved it all.


Yeah, I rode one of those

But that was then. This is now.

Now I can’t imagine getting on a plane. I used to fly 3-5 times per year (including business trips) and now I haven’t been on a plane in over 5 years, since January 2011. No matter how I think about it, the idea of flying seems impossible. Maybe, maybe I could manage it if I flew business class. But there’s the money issue, too. I’m not working. $500 is just too much to spend on a plane ticket for a coach seat, never mind the added expense of a business class ticket.

Local trips are also hard. I still visit friends sometimes, but only the closer ones. Even visiting my friends and family in NY feels too difficult. I can’t drive that far anymore (only 4 hours from here.) I want to take the train, but it’s not cheap. And what would I do when I got there? The subway stations all have way too many stairs. It’s a walking city. How could I manage it? Not to mention, if I took the train I wouldn’t be able to bring a lot of food with

Grand Cayman Underwater 24

Me petting a stingray – they’re softer than you’d think!

me, and that makes me nervous. I’d have to cook in a non-gluten-free kitchen! And with all of the travel, I don’t think I’d have the energy to do much once I got there. It would even be hard to get between friends in Brooklyn and friends in Manhattan. If I’d feel so miserable and could do so little, what’s the point in going? And that’s just a short trip to NY. That’s why I haven’t been down there in 2 years, even though one of my closest friends lives there. It’s why I didn’t visit my grandfather in the last year of his life. Thankfully, we had many fantastic visits in all the years before that. (My other grandparents are no longer alive, either.)

I used to love those trips to Maine. My guess is that I could still manage those. It’s a shorter drive and I could bring food in the car. But the house I stayed at was sold and I don’t have free accommodations anymore.

I do still visit friends who are fairly close, but not as often as I’d like. And that’s it. Mostly, I stay in town. I don’t get antsy. I’m too fatigued and full of pain to be antsy about it. Still…. I miss travel. I miss exploring. I miss the new sights. I miss the new cultures. I miss the adventure.

And mostly, I miss my friends.

It hit me again today. A friend, who also has chronic illness, is moving back to her hometown in England. Will I ever see her again? She said I should come visit her and have a nice long stay. I’ve never been to northern England and would love to see it. But could I manage the flight? I don’t know that I could. It’s a sweet offer. I’d love to go. But…

Coincidentally, in less than 24 hours a friend will be here. I haven’t seen him in years. We used to visit each other every couple of years, with me going to him more often because I used to live in that city and I still have many friends there. In fact, that last flight I took in January 2011 was to visit him and those other friends. I miss them all. Lucky for me, he’s coming to visit. But the others, for various reasons, haven’t visited. They keep telling me they’d like me to visit. I try to explain that I can’t, but they just don’t understand. I know they mean well, but their invitations are painful. I want to visit. I’d love to! But I can’t. Not without doing damage to myself.

I’d like to think that I’ll travel again some day. It might not be the same kind of travel that I used to do, but just quiet trips to visit friends would be lovely. I know that other people with chronic illness can do it. Then again, other people with chronic illness can work. They can climb mountains. They can eat whatever they want. We’re all different, and that’s the point. I can do things that others can’t and others can do things that I can’t.

I just wish I could visit my friends.

What about you? Do you travel? How do you manage it? What kinds of accommodations do you use to help with your symptoms? If you have fatigue also, I’d especially love to know how you handle that!

When fatigue becomes something else altogether

May 18, 2016

Well this is different. And I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s not bad, and I’d love to just


Yesterday’s visit to the shore wasn’t thoroughly exhausting!

go with the flow and enjoy it. But that’s hard when I don’t know why I feel this way. Not knowing why means that I don’t know how long it will last, or what I can do to help it along.

But I’m getting ahead of you here. I should explain.

It’s common to have fatigue with chronic illness. A lot of people say that pain causes fatigue, but that wasn’t my experience. Yes, pain can be tiring, but there’s a difference between “tired” and “fatigued.” If you’ve never felt fatigued, it’s hard to explain. Have you ever had the flu? Have you felt so exhausted and drained, it was like something was sucking the life right out of you? Was it hard to muster the energy to sit up, much less walk across the room? That’s fatigue. That’s what I felt many days. But I had pain for 8 years before that ever started. So it wasn’t only from the pain.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, and I believe the fatigue started after a bout of mono when I was 20. It was minor back then. It got worse and worse over the years, but it wasn’t until my early 30s that it became disabling. I couldn’t work at all – even the idea of part time work was laughable. Some days I couldn’t shower. Many days I couldn’t leave the house. It was bad.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you know I’ve worked hard to fix the fatigue. It’s improved bit by bit, not all at once. Each thing helped. My new diet helped. Reducing pain helped. Improving sleep helped. Various supplements helped. Changes to my lifestyle helped. More diet changes helped. More sleep changes helped. Everything helped a little bit, and it added up to more and more improvement. Life felt manageable. Then last month something changed.

I didn’t notice at first. I thought I was having a good day. But that turned into several good days. And then a good week. I used to have 3-5 recovery days per week at my worst. As I improved that number went down. But lately I noticed that I was having even fewer of those days. And when I did have one, I didn’t have to rest nearly as much. Maybe I couldn’t run errands those days, but I could often do little chores around the house.

Then I realized I was doing more per day. Whereas a short time ago I could only do 1 activity per day, suddenly I could run an errand in the morning and still feel up to doing something in the afternoon! What the….? Ok, this wasn’t every day, but it was more than once, and that was shocking.

Then the most shocking thing of all: in the last week I’ve been waking up naturally between 6am and 7am every day and I actually feel ok when I wake up! That has never happened in my entire life (except when I was on Prednisone, of course.) Until recently I rarely woke up before 8:30, and that was with an alarm. Now, after reading in bed for a while, I get up and feel…. not bad! Feeling not bad in the morning is a big deal when you have chronic illnesses!

I think I might know what’s causing this. I started a new supplement to help stabilize my breathing for the sake of sleeping better. This seems to have calmed my sleep apnea and I feel that I’m sleeping better. Even on the nights I don’t use my sleep machine as long, I still get more benefit.

But could that be it? It seems so…. simple. Of course, it isn’t simple at all. I’m sure it wouldn’t be working if I hadn’t changed my diet, changed my life, started using the sleep machine, started those other medications and supplements, and all the rest. Still, could that be it? I haven’t changed anything else.

But the fatigue isn’t all gone.

And that makes sense. It’s not that the fatigue is gone and I’m all better. It’s that the brutal fatigue is gone and it’s been replaced by something else.

I’ll use a cell phone battery to illustrate what I mean. Before, my energy was like a cell phone battery that wouldn’t fully charge. It would only go up to 30% many days, 50% others. But the higher it was, the faster it would drain. Cooking dinner would use twice as much battery as it would for a healthy person. Sitting upright and watching tv used up battery energy. Sometimes it would drain quickly for no apparent reason.

The most striking difference is that now I wake up with my battery at 80% every day! This is amazing! Watching tv doesn’t use up battery energy at all! Cooking dinner uses up the battery a bit, but not nearly as much as it used to. In fact, no activities use up the battery as much as they did just 2 months ago.

Before I would go to bed at night with the battery at 3%. I could barely drag myself to bed. Now it’s at 15%. I’m tired and sleepy. I’m ready for bed. But if something important suddenly came up, I could take care of it.

This is incredible! It’s a world of difference from where I was such a short time ago. I can do more in a day and it isn’t as hard to do things. I haven’t had that dragging feeling. I haven’t felt like someone stuck a vacuum into my side and was sucking out all of my energy. Sure, I haven’t experienced 100% battery (which is what I assume my peers feel when they’ve slept well and aren’t sick) but that’s ok!

It’s only been a few weeks and I don’t know how long this will last. I want to enjoy it, but I don’t want to overdo things. At the same time, while I have more energy, I also have more pain (hello, Spring!) I took a walk earlier. I had the energy to walk further, but my joints strongly disagreed. So be it. I don’t mind. I still can’t believe I took a short walk and didn’t have to collapse as soon as I got home. Instead, I was able to sit and write this way-too-long post!

Please wish me luck. I am really really hoping this is the start of a great new health chapter in my life! Changing the fatigue like this wouldn’t fix everything. But it would be good enough for me!!

Confronting the ghosts of medical experiences past

May 10, 2016

Two weeks ago someone I know through my chronic pain support group asked if anyone could give her a ride to an appointment in a town that she can’t get to by public transportation. I volunteered. Little did I know.

It wasn’t until after I volunteered that I thought to ask where in that town her


Where I walked after confronting today’s ghost.


appointment was. It turns out, it was at the same medical center that I went to for my entire childhood. It’s the place where I was treated badly over and over and over again.

My first reaction wasn’t a good one. I pictured the ride up that elevator. I remembered the waiting rooms. I flashed back on the parking garage. And I got really anxious.

And that’s while I was still sitting in my living room!

If figured I could drop her off, find someplace else to wait, and then pick her up. But I was still worried about how I’d react when the time came.

Then someone else in the group volunteered to take her. I told her that if she didn’t mind, it would help me out if she could go with the other person. I never told her why – why cloud her opinion of the place? I was incredibly relieved, but still, the entire thing brought back a lot of memories I’d managed to block out.

Today was different. When a friend called and said she was anxious about an appointment and asked me to go with her, I asked where it was before I answered. I’d learned my lesson. It wasn’t until we arrived at the office (which I’d never been to) that I saw the name on the door. Oh my!

This was the surgeon who messed up my treatment when I was 18. On top of that, he was a real prick. I never call anyone that, but he was. He was a jerk. An asshole. He told me that I shouldn’t complain about the pain I was in because the Olympic gymnasts (it was during the Olympics) were in worse pain (who would he know?!) and look what they could do.

If I was better at standing up for myself back then, I would have pointed out that they had a choice. I didn’t. And I would have pointed out that he was a real jerk for talking to a 17-year-old like that. And I would have never seen him again.

But I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I returned to him and let him perform surgery on me. What was I thinking?

And I saw him today. My friend asked me to go into the appointment with her. I put my feelings aside and acted like I didn’t know the guy. I supported my friend. I took notes. I asked questions.

And now I’m not sure how I feel. I went to a pretty wooded park and walked around for a bit after that. I pet a couple of dogs that people were walking (because any day I pet a dog is a good day!) But I didn’t think about that doctor at all.

Maybe I’ve moved past it. Maybe I dissociated from that guy. Maybe I’ll have nightmares tonight. Maybe this will catch up to me in a week. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, at this moment, I’m feeling ok. I’m focusing on that. And I’m going to try extra hard to avoid horrible doctors and terrible buildings from past experiences, but I know that might not be possible. After all, I’ve seen a whole lot of doctors in over 20 years of living with chronic illness in Boston. I guess it was inevitable that I’d face some of these ghosts again. I just hope it’s the last time for a while….

Have you had experiences like these? How did you handle them? How do they make you feel?

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