Happy Birthday To Me!

Today, I turn 40 years of age. We have a big day planned. We’re going to the beach with the dogs. We’re going to throw the ball and walk in the sand and let them chase birds. They haven’t been to the beach since last summer when E. was visiting and I still had some energy.

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I’m not going to go to bed afterward. Instead, I’m going to stop by the grocery store and buy all the fixin’s for a fry tomorrow morning: eggs, bacon, sausages, bread, tomato, proper cow’s milk for proper tea… I might even look for decent baked beans and black pudding. Then, this evening, I am going to take a shower, wash my hair and put on make up for the first time in 9 months (gasp!). I am going to put on a dress ~ it is beautiful and still fits me and I feel sexy ~ and some very high heels ~ I’m able to walk in them properly, without shuffling, and they don’t hurt my back. We’re going into town for dinner, meeting up with friends and family. It’s going to be a long 5-course indulgence and I’m going to ignore all my diet rules. I am going to rip apart fresh-baked bread, taking the time to inhale its aroma before slathering on creamy butter and savouring every bite. I am going to close my eyes every time I take a bite of pasta ~ I don’t care what kind it is ~ and be fully present in that moment, witnessing every chew with all my senses on full-alert. I am going to order the most decadent dessert, something with pastry and chocolate ~ eggs, sugar, flour, butter ~ and revel in every single mouthful: no guilt, no worry, no blood sugar issues, no inflammation issues, no intolerances or allergies or leaky gut or bowel dysbiosis or nausea. There better be a cheese plate involved at some stage and I might even have some wine. Dry red wine. A whole bottle. Maybe I’ll sneak outside to share a cigarette with someone. We’re all going to talk over each other and laugh hysterically and the noise won’t bother me. I won’t be confused and overloaded by too many conversations at once. I won’t think about pain or exhaustion or how I will sleep tonight or how I will feel tomorrow. Because I will feel fine. I will feel tired and happy and full and grateful. Oh, and tomorrow morning, while eating that lovely breakfast, I will realise I’ve won the $600 million lotto.

Well, a girl can dream, right?

No, unfortunately, today will be like every other day. It’ll be a little bit worse than the norm because my sleep vanished this week and I’m crippled with new muscle pain on top of the old stiff exhaustion. But, it’ll be a little bit better than the norm because my sister is coming over and my husband isn’t working. Three people and three dogs? It’ll be a carnival compared to my usual still, silent days.

Goodbye 30s, you actually were literally the best of times and the worst of times. I have three birthday wishes for this new decade: Continued good health for those I love, better health for me and relief from suffering for all people and animals on this earth. That’s not too much to ask, is it? ūüôā

sarah in incubator 001

May 18th, 1973

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Fish or Get Out of the Boat

I’m not up for writing, honestly, but I want to track a few things from the last few weeks. The Monday before last I had a follow up with the Good Doctor after 9 weeks. Let me just tell you, I love this doctor. I wish she were an expert in M.E., but she is the closest ally I have in this fight and I feel so confident in her hands. At least that was my feeling leaving her office. Now, looking back, I can’t remember much of what we talked about or decided. I told her I was a different person than I was the last time I saw her (New Year’s Eve). I want to remember that because I feel like hell today and I need to know that there has been progress. On New Year’s Eve I was just starting to feel better after the very low low of December. On Christmas Eve, while the men were in the kitchen, I told my sister that if things didn’t change, I couldn’t imagine going on. I was in such extreme pain and stiffness, that it was difficult to go through the motions of life, let alone find joy in the moments. As I’ve mentioned before, the muscle and back pain were horrid, but the headaches, coupled with the EXTREME noise and light sensitivity, were the main culprits. Well, cut to this last appointment with the Good Doctor and I have had over two months with hardly any headaches and much less pain, overall. What changed? I don’t know. Here are my theories:

December 1st: started Berberine
December 4th: started drinking only filtered water
December 11th: started drinking tart cherry juice concentrate every night
December 17th: stopped the birth control pill
Late December: stopped taking pain killers
January 5th: started vitamin B2 and selenium
January 6th: started cooking (once in a while) with coconut oil

I started feeling a little better on December 26th, but pain continued to lift through January. Sleep was better, too. I have been putting my faith in the tart cherry juice, but, honestly, I think it has more to do with eliminating the pill and pain killers.

Unfortunately, my sleep started to go downhill again and continues to decline. I fall asleep without any problem, I stay in bed 10 to 12 hours, sometimes I don’t remember waking up at all (although, most nights I remember 12 to 15 awakenings), but I hardly ever have proper, calm sleep cycles. I I feel like I am going insane. I was so thrilled the last few weeks that, although my nights were tortured, my days were staying okay. Until this past weekend. Today, I am so tired. I ache all over. I am back to moving like the Tin Man. I don’t recognise myself in the mirror. I think, for the first time in my life, I look older than I am.

The Good Doc’s plan for me is to try valerian for sleep and then move on to Chinese herbs and/or an antidepressant. She is the only doctor I’ve ever seen that uses psychotropic drugs as a last resort. She said, “Cymbalta is great for depression, but you’re not depressed.” I’m not. I’m not sad or hopeless. My mood is actually pretty good (as long as the bad pain stays away). She said, “It¬†can help with sleep, but can cause insomnia, too, and it has a host of side effects that might set you back. So, let’s eliminate all other options first.” Love.

She also said I can try adding legumes back into my diet. I’m going to wait until after my period to eliminate any confounding variables caused from PMS… but, I might not even add them back at all. I have been on this diet for so long, I feel like I should keep it consistent while I try the Chinese herbs and sleep drug.

That Monday I also saw the sleep clinic tech to get a new cpap mask. It’s the most impressively designed mask that I’ve come across yet (Respironics Wisp), but it makes no difference, I’m still awake hundreds of times each night (literally hundreds ~ the sleep study showed I was waking up 48 times an hour). Last Friday, I went to see the rheumatologist I saw a year ago (literally ~ the doc pointed out I was there on the same date in 2012). The first thing he said was, “Why are you here? Chronic fatigue syndrome is an infectious disease.” My brain was so fried, I honestly couldn’t come up with any reason why I was there. I couldn’t for the life of me think what a rheumatologist does. I had gone to acupuncture beforehand and the Master had done a session that was meant to make me very tired so I could sleep well that night. It didn’t help me sleep that night, but it certainly caused me to be half-comatose in the hours after the appointment ~ I was slurring my words driving from acupuncture to the hospital and, after melting for an hour in the waiting room, I was far from the articulate, cogent, well-informed patient I pride myself on being… And the rheumy was a fast talker ~ a New York native, I think, based on the accent ~ and I was the last appointment of the week, so all-in-all, it wasn’t going the way I had planned. I think I said something like, “I’m not sleeping and I think it’s the fibromyalgia-type constant awakenings and I wanted to talk to someone who knew something about this.” He told me about the sleep study that Dr. Moldofsky¬†conducted many years ago (I’ve now heard about this study from every single doctor I’ve talked with about sleep. It must be on every medical school exam) and then he said, “Try amitriptyline. You have to try something. I have patients that would rather limp in pain their whole lives than have knee or hip surgery. That’s fine, but you narrow the horizons of your life.” I know that is exactly how I would be: limping is a certainty; surgery is an unknown and full of risks. The doctor said, “As my father used to say, [for days I’ve been trying to remember the adage he used: fish or get out of the boat, catch something or reel it in,¬†cast or go ashore… something like this].” I replied, “My Dad would probably say, shit or get off the pot.” And that was the end of our appointment.

So, the week’s round-up: After three nights, valerian is making no difference and I’m seriously considering turning to amitriptyline or cymbalta. My period is four days late. My skin is like braille. I’m swollen, tired and achy. BUT, for a few weeks there, I thought I was definitely making progress and that has given me much renewed hope for the future. I can do this. I shall overcome. Plus, every day without a headache is a good day. Pure gratitude!

First colour in the garden. Spring fever. :)

First colour in the garden. Spring fever. ūüôā

New Beginnings

68 weeks sick.
45 weeks gluten-free.
40 weeks unemployed.
26 weeks on autoimmune diet + supplements.
23 weeks housebound.

This is my update.

For those of you just joining us, six months ago, my doctor put me on a anti-inflammatory diet that is supposedly good for autoimmune conditions.

These are the rules:

  • No gluten (that is, no pasta, no muffins, no pizza)
  • No grains (that is, no gluten-free bread or baked products, no rice, no popcorn, no tortillas)
  • No dairy (that is, no yogurt, no ice cream, no cheese)
  • No legumes (that is, no peanut butter, no hummus, no beans)
  • No nightshades (that is, no red pasta sauce, no mashed spuds, no hot sauce)
  • No sugar (yeah, right)
  • Only lean meats and fish

I have been horrifically strict (as in, I won’t eat soup with corn starch in it or the soy yogurts made with rice starch). However, I have allowed myself oats (must have granola for breakfast) and, although I’ll stay away from, say, foie gras, I am eating beef. A lot. Sugar, also, is difficult. I’ve cut down drastically, but I still eat dark chocolate every day and sweeten my granola with honey.

I feel no different from this diet. Besides the fact that I have no joy in food anymore. In my other life, I would have had fun researching recipes and learning to cook with new and interesting ingredients, but I don’t have the energy. I couldn’t stand in the kitchen long enough to cook a meal. So we rely on a lot of salads, stews, roast chicken with veg etc. And I eat more nuts than anyone on the planet and buckets of fruit. Ick.

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My Food Shelf

The other day my husband had a long chat with one of his old friends. Afterwards, he said, “I caught him up on how you are doing.” I scoffed: “So, you told him nothing’s changed?” He said, “Well, no… you’re worse.”

It took me back a bit… Yes, of course I am worse. I can’t do half what I could last summer ~ no dog park, no grocery shopping, no lunches with friends. I am only driving myself to places that are very close, I never have more than one phone conversation a day, I can’t walk as well as I could six months ago ~ my body has degenerated from so little movement. I’m in MUCH more pain ~ my spine, hips and muscles. The fibromyalgia-type pain only started in earnest after I left my job. I look worse. The lack of sun and fresh air have taken a toll on me. My sleep problems and emotional turmoil have aged me.

BUT, although I’m worse, I’m better, too. My sickly, shaky, evil nightly sweats are gone (except for the odd night) and that completely changes my life. I will never be able to adequately put into words what those malarial nights were like. Sleeping with the enemy. Also, my “nightly flu” has gotten better ~ the sudden increase in chills, aches, sore throat at around 6pm. There were so many evenings I would say, Okay, this time I’m really coming down with something. I still have those symptoms, but they are muted. The headaches eased up. Did you watch Mind The Abyss? After watching it, my husband said, “When the headaches came on…the man’s head held in his hands… that’s what struck me the most.” The severity of my headaches and the accompanying noise and light sensitivity altered my life more than perhaps any other symptom. The constant chills are gone… The ice in my bones, shallow breathing, tense muscles, uncontrollable shivers… This time last year, I COULD. NOT. GET. WARM. I rarely progress to the point of “bricked” anymore: where I hit a wall and I am grey, ashen, can’t move, can’t speak, weeping in a ball on the couch. My sleep is still a major concern ~ constant waking and endless adjusting from pain ~ but I get 8+ hours a night and that is a huge step forward. And, finally, my outlook is better. Don’t get me wrong, I mourn A LOT and feel alone and desperately sad (mostly when my symptoms increase), but, I laugh now and there is a semblance of acceptance. There was a point in time when I couldn’t smile. I tried, but they just weren’t there. It wasn’t depression, it was from pain. Pain sucks smiles away. And I had the knowledge that below the pain was the flu and below that was exhaustion and fear and a life I wouldn’t recognise.

I’m trying to forget about 70% of what I know about ME/CFS and follow my heart. So, yesterday, I threw the ball for the dogs and scooped the poop in the yard. Afterwards, I had a much harder time moving, but I thought, “Maybe it’s not a CRASH. Maybe it’s just because your muscles aren’t used to it. Maybe you’ll be okay. Tomorrow is a new beginning.” You never know what someone is going to say that will stick in your brain and help you through the days. My friend Z. suggested I think of new beginnings. Obviously this makes sense in the grand scheme of this new alien life. It’ll never be what it was and I have to eventually look at it as a new beginning and stop fighting it… But, I’m not quite there yet. I’m not ready to embrace this mortal coil as a new, permanent realty. However, every day can hold hope as a new beginning. Every hour. It’s kept me going through a bad week. After this bath, maybe I’ll feel better, maybe a new beginning. After this meditation, a new beginning. This moment, a new beginning.

Today I am grateful for all that is better and new hope for the future.

Launching my wish for the future, with husband and friends Z., J. and D. Thanksgiving, 2010.

Launching lanterns with our wishes for the future, with husband and friends Z., J. and D. I wrote, “I wish that we have long, healthy, happy lives.” My husband wrote, “What she said.” Thanksgiving, 2010.

Update

My friend asked why she hadn’t heard from Elizabeth in a while, so I thought I’d give a quick update. The good news is, my sleep continues to improve. It is a goddamn miracle. I cannot tell you how poor my sleep has been my whole life and this last year was like someone was intentionally torturing me. I was in bed more than ever, but sleeping less than ever. Unfortunately, I was awake in bed alone, for those of you that might think “in bed but not sleeping” is some euphemism for sex. As you may remember, I have posted sleep graphs from my Zeo that show nights with either huge chucks of “awake” through the night or I wake up over and over again, interrupting the regular, beautiful sleep cycle. The sleep study said my brain woke up 49 times an hour. Maybe, if I got hooked up to all those sensors again, I would still have waking brain activity of which I’m not aware, but I doubt it would be bad. For weeks after my last post about sleep, I was getting about 7 1/2 to 7 3/4 hours a night. The last 5 nights I have slept between 8 and 9 hours each night. But the best part is, the last few nights I have only woken up a few times ~ 2 or 3. My god, that’s bliss. Imagine turning off the light and, 9 1/2 hours later, you’ve had 9 hours sleep. WhawhAAT? This was last night:

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I still don’t know what changed besides drinking tart cherry juice, so, although it has a high sugar content, I will continue to drink it each night with dinner. My real theory, though, is that my sleep is a product of the same thing that has caused me not to write a blog in a while: a quieter mind. When my brain won’t turn off, I want to write everything I think and I never feel peaceful enough to drift into slumber. So, maybe it’s my daily meditation or maybe I’m just tired of the fight, but this is life now and I think I’ve found a tiny bit of quiet. No doctor is going to make a miraculous discovery and this will not be a quick process. I have to rest. Full stop.

Unfortunately, the sleep has not helped my waking symptoms. I’ve actually been feeling worse this past week than I have since December 26th. My pain, achiness and stiffness has increased and my energy has declined. After having virtually no headache for about a week, it came back a few days ago. Wow, does that make a difference in my mood. I can still feel pretty upbeat and functional with all the other symptoms, but the headache decimates me, renders me silent and grimacing. “Decimate” technically means only destroying a tenth of something, right? What would be, say, half of something? Headaches quintimate me? Or septimate me? Would that be destroying 70% of me? Much better.

My Mom told me something that has kept me going lately. In one of the hundreds of articles I sent her, she read that if you are without pain for even one day, there is hope that you can be permanently pain-free. I do not hold out hope for pain-free, but that little gem of information has made me think that there could come a time when there are more pain-free days than crippled-and-crying days.

I’ll leave you all with good news. My period came and went and I didn’t have to take a single painkiller. It wasn’t painless by any means, but it was tolerable. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the new diet, maybe it’s all the supplements. Also, I am seeing a new doctor this week. The universe sort of conspired to introduce me to him, so I’m heeding the hint and trying one. more. specialist. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gratitude: For painless days that allow me to laugh and for good nights’ sleep.

irish proverb

January 1st, 2013

2012 was the worst year of my life. I realise that is not a very festive and celebratory way to start a new year’s post, but it’s the truth. Having said that, however, I know that if this past year has been my worst, I have been extremely fortunate and had a very blessed life.

On January 1st 2012, I wrote an eight page-long goodbye letter to my husband which included all the details of our online accounts, passwords, paperwork etc., things with which I have always dealt. It also laid out my thoughts about my funeral and asked him to make sure to use my savings to pay for my family and E. to travel from Ireland, if needed. Really morbid stuff.

Thank you for your love, kindness, caretaking, honesty, patience… You gave me everything I’ve ever wanted in a friend, a partner, a husband. I am so lucky…

I had never experienced anything like what I was going through and I didn’t think I’d come through it. At the time, I had been diagnosed with malaria. Never did it occur to me, if I did survive, that I’d still be sick a year later. Never did it occur to me that I might be sick for years and years to come. I¬†work every minute of every day to get better and that is what I will continue to do. Every day, in so many ways, I try to help myself heal:

I wake up slowly, gather my strength, set my intention for the day. I open my blinds so moisture doesn’t collect on the window panes, I turn on my air purifier so it can work its unseen magic during the day. I wash my mouth guard, cpap mask and machine parts ~ yes, every day. I brush my teeth sitting down. I wash my face, pick off the leftover adhesive (from the tape I put over my mouth at night) and apply a calendula cream that helps my skin heal. I put my dry eye drops in and use my antihistamine nasal spray. I make tea with stevia and soy creamer (no sugar, splenda or dairy allowed anymore) and take my first supplements of the day with filtered water (the top rated (cheap) filter by Consumer Reports). I check the temperature and the humidity in the house. My body has no concept of comfortable anymore. I could be feverish for no reason or freezing in the heat. Or sweating face, but icy toes.

I work on the computer for a bit, sitting in front of a light box. Breakfast is a smoothie with flax, berries, and walnuts or homemade granola with fruit and almond milk. I seem to have completely conquered my hypoglycemia by switching from rice milk to almond milk and adding fiber to my tea.¬†Afternoon beverage is decaf green tea, per the Good Doc’s orders. I do any chores I can manage. I try to meditate three times a day. This is forced rest… or preemptive rest. Regardless of how I feel, at the very least, I lie down twice each day for an hour, usually at 1pm and 6pm. I have a room ~ not my bedroom ~ where I have peace, privacy, a small futon, a wedge pillow, blanket, eye mask, headphones and CDs. These meditations are the only reason I can get through the day. If I don’t recharge, flat on my back with my eyes closed, I will start to deteriorate: get shaky, slow down cognitively, become achy, stiff and develop a headache.

yoga room

In between 2pm and 4pm, if I’m up to it, I do laps around my house with the dogs. I’m currently not up for more than 4 times around ~ about 400 steps. I wear a pedometer all day, every day. ¬†I am diligent about keeping my core temperature up. For those few minutes outside, I put on my heated vest, hat, scarf, gloves, Uggs. I never want to go back to the debilitating chills of this time last year. If I feel I have some strength, I do every little thing possible to “exercise” so my muscles don’t decondition any more. I squeeze the squeeky dog ball in both hands. I slowly and carefully scoop dog poop. I focus as many miles away as possible ~ to the skyline or horizon ~ since I spend so long indoors only looking six feet ahead. I breathe deeply ~ consciously ~ to get my dose of outside air. I notice everything: planes tracing lines in the sky… the sounds of our neighbours… plants, birds, trees that I never paid much attention to before. And I am grateful for every step, always silently thanking the universe for keeping me on my feet, for allowing me to have the health I still have.

last leaf

Even if I can barely move, I try to stretch my muscles as often as possible. I soak in an Epsom salt bath (2 cups) for no more than 30 minutes (I am told any more than that and the badness leeches back into your muscles) and then I do gentle floor stretches, as well as my neck traction. I dry my hair sitting down. My lunches and dinners are predictable, boring and really pretty disgusting after months and months on end. No grains of any kind besides oats, no eggs, dairy, legumes, potatoes, tomatoes or cod. No msg, obviously, and I’m desperately trying to cut down on sugar. I add turmeric to virtually everything I eat. If I had the energy to cook, I would be making the most creative and tasty dishes, but, as it is, I rely on my husband and quick snacks: apples, nuts etc. Basically, I eat enough to take my supplements. I drink two tablespoons of tart cherry juice with dinner every night and usually drink ginger tea last thing before bed. I don’t watch tv later than 9:30pm, I practice good sleep hygiene and I never get to sleep later than 11:30pm.

My year felt like one third survival, one third denial, and one third a carefully constructed balancing act. A tightrope walk with no end in sight and any time you fall off, you don’t go back to the beginning ~ you go back much further than where you started. So, you don’t know how far the rope goes in front of you or behind you. Now: Turn that tightrope so it’s vertical. You aren’t walking forward, you’re clinging on with your hands, trying to climb upwards into the clouds… an abyss below you. Just one hand over the other. Don’t look up, don’t look down. This moment, this breath.

Holding onto a rope

2012 Wrap Up:

January: Saw endocrinologist; Mom visited.
February: Saw infectious disease doctor; started seeing a therapist; started meditating.
March: Saw rheumatologist, saw allergist, saw gastroenterologist; started low fat diet; changed birth control pills; eliminated pain killers.
April: Saw naturopath; started gluten-free and dairy-free diet; my friends’ sweet baby A. was born ~ the highlight of this year.
May: Saw second infectious disease doctor; Mom visited; stopped working and left career.
June: Saw optometrist; got CT scan.
July: By best friend E. visited; my sister got a new puppy (my new nephew); dear friend of the family’s, M.B., died.
August: Started seeing the Good Doctor; saw chronic fatigue “specialist”; started automimmune elimination diet.
September: Started acupuncture; saw sports medicine doctor; had sleep study done; Dad visited; became housebound.
October: Got brain and cervical spine MRI, Mom visited; brother T. visited.
November: Saw obgyn; started using cpap.
December: Brother A. visited; sister and J. visited for Christmas; dear old friend, D.H., died far too young.

This was my year. I know there is a big world out there with a lot bigger things going on, but this was my year. Doctors, tests, symptoms, setbacks, births, deaths, revelations about myself, revelations about our bodies, grief, joy, fear and more grief. And I know: it could have been much, much worse. What I see when I look at this is: my brothers, sister, mother, father and best friends all came to visit me. They journeyed across the city, country or world to my house to support me. In doing so, they healed me. I am very lucky. I am very blessed. With this kind of support, I can be the rock again. I will feel like I can weather any storm again. Maybe that’s what the new year will bring. I will notice everything, consider anything, expect something, but fear nothing. Welcome, 2013. You’re going to look very different from last year.

“39 year old woman, looks like shit and in apparent hell.”

Today I read a post on a CFS forum titled “disappointed reaction from sister-in-law” which had me fired up in a way that is a rarity since I left my job. This woman had told her family she would not be able to attend a baptism on December 23rd and also be able to come over on Christmas Day to participate in all the festivities. Her sister-in-law asked, “Why? Are you sick?” and then, seemingly fed up with the CFS/ME/FM “excuse”, the sister-in-law decided to educate her on what the disease is and why she should be able to attend family functions. Why? Are you sick? My pulse is racing just typing that. It is utterly reprehensible that this disease is called chronic fatigue syndrome and that it is characterized by “post-exertional malaise” and that all medical tests are relatively normal and that we don’t look as sick as we are. It’s such an unbearable injustice to add this insult to injury.

It’s not just friends and family. I have given up talking to doctors after I realise they have zeroed in on my type-A personality or obsessive tendencies or the sleep problems I’ve had my whole life or the fear of getting sicker. It happens every time. I had a visit with a new sleep doctor today and I talked about my night sweats and then about how I’ve always been a light sleeper. I joked (kinda) that, even in sleep, I wanted to be sure I heard an intruder. Her next questions were about sexual abuse and anxiety and I realised I’d said too much. As a patient, you can’t really be 100% honest – because they’re DOCTORS, their job is to see what you don’t. However, I think the majority of the time patients are pretty self-aware. I had to steer her back. No, no, no, these night sweats aren’t from anxiety – they’re from death taking over my insides so all the fluid in my body is squeezed out of my pores over the course of eight hours. You can’t imagine how much fluid there is in a body. And my sleep problems now can’t be equated to my lifelong insomnia and lack of deep sleep – this year, I am tortured, thrashing, contorting in pain, in muscle spasms, constantly waking, never peaceful. Luckily, in the last three or four moths, I’ve gotten a handle on the sickly night sweats – by realising they were caused by over-exertion and took everything down to the “housebound” notch. But, my point was, I realised there wasn’t much point in recounting my story to this new doctor. She wouldn’t be able to shed any new light and, in fact, it was the opposite: it was a long appointment, it was difficult to tell her everything from the beginning, it was disheartening that she didn’t really say anything about my sleep – which is why I was there – and, in the end, she said she was leaving the practice at the end of the week. Wow. More wasted time, wasted energy, wasted money. But I had to go for insurance to cover my cpap machine. That’s the deal. That’s the racket.

I got off track: Why? Are you sick?

I used to say that I thought everyone in the world should work one week in a restaurant. That it should be mandatory in high school or college for each student to put in a minimum of 50 hours, rotating positions so that you have some concept of what it is all about. I usually would declare this after some moron degraded me or tried to pinch my ass or ordered something without looking at me, without saying please or thank you. And I mean ordered it – as in, gave me an order. I was an actor, so I’d smile through it. But really what I was thinking in my head was, you won’t get to me because I’m smarter than you, I make more money than you and I guarantee I’m happier than you. It worked for a long time. Until, one day, there was no amount of money that would have made me give one more performance.

Fast forward ten years and now I think everyone should spend one week in my house. Or the house of anyone with M.E. Actually, I wish we could all spend a week in a thousand different homes in a hundred different countries, expanding our understanding, knowledge and compassion…. But, this is what I know right now: this house, this disease. I wish the doctors and the friends and the employers and that lady’s sister-in-law could all live with this for a week. And I don’t even mean live with M.E. – I just mean live in the house with the person with M.E.

Let me narrate to you how I feel in the morning, the inventory I take of my body, the pain in my bones as I get up and dress. Let me talk to you about my food choices – what will cause me the least distress, what will help the nausea, what will be the least likely to aggravate the IBS, what I can make (or ask my husband to make) with no grains, dairy, gluten, legumes, or eggs. I will show you how I decide whether I have the energy to shower (involves standing up) or do laundry (involves going downstairs and leaning over) or empty the dish washer (reaching down and reaching up multiple times) or walk in the yard (involves boots, coat, cold, taking steps). I will tell you all day, every day how badly my head hurts and how much my hands ache and how broken my back is. You’ll be able to watch me grimace every time a dog barks and close my eyes when I walk into a room that doesn’t have a dimmer switch and massage my neck endlessly, have trouble getting out of my chair, walk like I’m crippled, cover my ears when the ads come on the tv, begging you to mute it. I can explain how every day I weigh the pros and cons of medications: Will this take care of the pain or give me vicious bounce-back headaches? Is it worth taking so much of this knowing the liver problems it can cause? Will I be able to tolerate the nausea, dizziness and insomnia of this long enough to let the good kick in? Will this help me sleep but not give me a hangover? Will this help my muscles enough that it justifies the bowel intolerance? Is this helping enough to justify the $60 price tag? Is this worth trying even though it suppresses my immune system? You’ll see how carefully I go to different areas of the house, how every trip is calculated: never, ever go from one room to another without taking something that needs to go there, too. No wasted movements. You’ll see how I plan phone calls on my calendar: no more than one a day and none on the days that I have doctor appointments. No wasted energy. And you’ll see how often I have to lie down in the dark and how early I go to bed and how quiet I’ve become. It’s very understandable why doctors would think I am depressed – my hair isn’t brushed, make up doesn’t exist in my life anymore, I have no energy for chipperness and no need to form connections by chit chatting. No wasted words.

Worse than doctors seeing the wrong thing, though, is doctors not seeing anything. I read my records from an appointment earlier this year – in the very sick, dark days – the notes said, “39 year old woman, well groomed and in no apparent distress.” All the fight just drained down my body, out of my feet and into the earth. I felt defeated and limp. I get it, this is how they describe their patients… certain terminology is used… But, if I wasn’t in apparent distress, then… Well, then, he needs to come live with me for a week. Maybe I’ll make him dinner and then we’ll walk around the block and have a lengthy, animated discussion …and then he can watch what happens the next day. He’ll be able to see how I curl up in a ball weeping from pain, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to eat. And maybe he’ll think, Distress is too small of a word. In fact, malaise doesn’t really cut it – and neither does fatigue. How about chronic persecution syndrome? How about post-exertional perdition?

Are we sick? Yes. We’d rather not have to plan every hour and foresee every hurdle. We’d rather not isolate ourselves and lose contact with those we love. We’d rather be at every baptism and birthday and Christmas celebration and dinner date. In fact, given the chance, I’d guess that people with ME/CFS as a whole, would be the life of every party. We’d be the ones dancing, singing, eating and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Wasting as much energy and as many movements and words as possible. 39 year old woman, dressed to kill and apparently having a ball.

An Update on my day-to-day…

Here is an update for those of you that have tried to contact me. I’m okay. Not great, but okay. After the Worst Headache, I had an up-swing for two weeks, feeling like I had more energy, less pain, more mobility and JOY. Today is day 14 of the subsequent down-swing. I have been struggling. I’m in constant pain, which gets worse in the evening. I have a headache and sore throat every day, my neck and my lower back are stiff,¬†inflamed,¬†screaming. There are jolts up and down my spine. My hands ache, my jaw is tender and I don’t even recognise my eyes anymore. Sunken and puffy, swollen, red, dry and circled with purple. I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, I’ve only been able to do my stretches every other day, I’ve only been able to do 2 to 6 laps of the house, I’ve been walking somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 steps each day. I haven’t been sleeping very well and my deep sleep keeps dwindling (according to the Zeo).¬†However, I’m still walking, I’m still talking, I’m still sitting at a computer, I’m still bathing myself and making my way around the house. I’m still breathing. Focus on the positive!

I continue to use the CPAP, but I’m still having difficulty. The nose pillows-with-tape-over-my-mouth routine allows me to move around in my sleep and rest my head on its side, but I wake¬†constantly¬†from the air inflating my cheeks or traveling around my gums. It is the¬†weirdest¬†thing. I will wake up because there is a worm of air crawling its way along the outside of my bottom teeth. It will journey along my¬†gum line¬†in the front of my mouth and find a tiny outlet between my lips to whistle its way out. Or, I will awaken with one cheek suddenly puffed out, ballooned with air. Or, my whole mouth will inflate so I look like a¬†chipmunk¬†~ with a mask plugging my nose and tape over my mouth, I expect my ears and eyes to bulge out like those squeezy rubber dolls we played with as kids.

Also, the tape is wreaking havoc on the skin around my mouth and the inside of my nose is raw and sore. None of that happens with the full face mask, but I can’t turn on my side without it moving, air escaping and me waking.¬†Unbelievably, ¬†the former situation is the lesser of two evils. Far fewer mask parts to wash, too. The washing of the CPAP parts is a huge ordeal for someone with ME. It is not an easy chore and almost negates the better sleep I am¬†meant¬†to be getting. The dental device that my father recommended costs $600 – $800, which I would spend if I could be¬†guaranteed¬†it would work. For right now, I just don’t have the energy to tackle a new appointment with a new dentist to get a new device.

The last few nights I have awakened in the throes of the full-body flex that I have talked about before. It’s as if there is an arc of electricity going through my body: back arched, toes curled, arms and legs rigid, hands in fists. I have thrown my neck out this way before. I now wonder if a muscle relaxant taken before bed is the answer for this.¬†I’ve taken 1mg of melatonin a few nights this last week and I think it might help a little (or maybe it’s the placebo effect), but not enough.¬†I should have taken my GP up on the offer for Ambien or Traxodone or Flexeril, but I’m such a scaredy-cat. It has to stop, though. I don’t think I’ll improve without¬†pharmaceutical¬†intervention. I’ve been taking tylenol with codeine every day the last few weeks and it’s not very effective at the low doses I like to take ~ plus, it gives me a kind of hangover. On Monday, I start Cymbalta. Duh duh duuuhhhhh….. Please don’t let me chicken out. I need to try something. My doctor said to expect to feel crappy for the first few weeks. But, in theory, it should help with the chronic pain, sleep and anxiety.

I continue my no-dairy-no-gluten-no-eggs-no-most-grains diet. I enjoyed starchy veg and popcorn over the last week, but, starting today, I am removing them from my diet again. I might be removing rice and/or oats, too. I am going to talk to the Good Doctor about that on Monday. After a lecture from my husband about what systemic yeast overgrowth might look/feel like, I am also going to try a little more diligently to cut down on sugar in all forms ~ fruit juice, dried fruit, Theo chocolate bars, agave syrup in my granola, cane sugar in my almond milk etc.

I sit here looking out the window at my husband in the garden, pruning our plum tree. He is tireless. Even when he has no work, he never stops working. He rakes leaves and mows the lawn and scoops poop. He shuttles me to and from appointments, does the shopping, cooks dinner. He washes dishes, hoovers, puts on sheets. In the past few years, he has rewired the house, replumbed the house, put in under-floor heating, cleaned out the rat shit and reinsulated the attic, built a second bathroom, expanded the first, built a shed for a new water heater and installed it himself.¬†He landscaped our whole garden with an expertise that knew what it would look like in years to come ~ if he planted certain shrubs, trees and flowers in certain places at certain times of the year, given time, it would be a masterpiece.¬†He built and tends the vegetable garden, he repaired our chimney and built me a porch with a little heater so I could get some daylight in the winter. He deals with his own physical problems and health issues and never complains. My brother called him a saint. My mother called him a hero. I call him a life saver. Without a shadaw of a doubt, I wouldn’t still be here without him. Gratitude is too small of a word.