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. 🙂

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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.

libIDo

You know when you look at the side effects of some drug and it says, “loss of libido”? Well, I’ve never paid any attention to that. I am too busy looking for what I really care about: the prevalence of headaches, angioedema and anaphylaxis in clinical trials. It’s like my antihistamine nasal spray: when I researched reviews, an incredible number of people complained and warned of the terrible taste that drips into the back of your throat. Seriously? If it doesn’t give me an embolism or make it difficult to breathe, who cares? I felt the same way about loss of libido. Oh, boohoo, you don’t feel like having sex as much as you used to? I’m taking this drug to help with extreme pain (that has put me in the ER before) and I’m looking for the likelihood of life-threatening allergic reactions (that have put me in the ER before)… Or, I’m taking this drug to try not to succumb to an illness that is ruining my life ~ I just want to be able to get out of bed, do you think I care if I have no libido? Libido ran away with my make-up and high heels long ago.

But, what they don’t tell you is, libido is much more than sex drive. And you don’t know you’ve lost it until it comes back. Or, at least, if you’re battling a chronic illness, libido leaving is masked by everything else leaving, too. I haven’t researched this and maybe I should, but what I’ve experienced the last few months is fascinating. I went off the birth control pill and it was as if someone flicked a switch in my brain. There was something new, which mostly showed up in my dreams, but left a little thread of energy throughout the day, too. It was definitely sexually charged, but, more importantly, it was… vibrantly charged. I’m struggling to put this into words. Something inside me changed so abruptly that there is no doubt in my mind it was from going off the pill. It was primal… but not necessarily lustful. It was vital. It was a desire to feel desire and feel desirable. Not necessarily sexual desire, but a sort of deep, inborn yearning to be needed and wanted, to be likeable. And vice versa: a hunger to need, to want, to like… It was the drive to socialise, to interact, to have intimacy. But, not necessarily sexual intimacy ~ human intimacy. I woke up the other day, still lying in the residue of a dream in which I had been talking, laughing and flirting in some bar with some group of people. I lay there with my eyes closed, relishing that feeling: the joy, confidence, energy… the urgency and excitement of conversations with smart, funny people that you don’t want to end. I felt totally enlivened ~ a memory of my younger, fearless, drinking days that were filled with long, late-night sessions, interesting people, eye contact… when I wasn’t watching the clock, wondering when I could go home. Or, worse, like now when, even if I could go somewhere social ~ even if my energy would surge for one night and allow me to leave my home and enjoy noise, lights and human interaction ~ I wouldn’t want to be seen. I wouldn’t want anyone to see my grey pallor and sunken eyes and lackluster hair that I cut lopsidedly a few months ago when it was getting in the way of my cpap mask.

If I were still healthy or young or a drinker or even still had a job that allowed me to socialise, this might not have blindsided me with its strength and shaken me with its importance. I woke up from those dreams thinking, THIS is what we live for. THIS is why I have to get better. I will have that feeling again, dammit! I am not meant to be housebound, silent, still and scared. It’s not in my DNA. I want to feel attractive and full of life. I am hardwired to be social. My idea of heaven is talking, singing, eating and laughing with those I love.. or interesting strangers. I need to get back there.

When you are sick, sex is the last thing on your mind… But a warning to those of you who are just going through the motions and are fighting each day to find some sort of quality of life: loss of libido may actually mean loss of drive… desire… loss of fire and electricity… You may just need that low vibration to remind you why you are fighting.

Addendum: Well, well, well, in addition to sexual desire, the dictionary says libido is: “The psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual biological drives. All of the instinctual energies and desires that are derived from the id.” And id is defined as: “the part of the psyche, residing in the unconscious, that is the source of instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle.” Freud was one smart dude. I wonder if he took the birth control pill continuously for nine months, too.

…it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled…

What a roller coaster it has been. One day I want to write about one thing, the next day, everything has changed and I want to write a whole different post… So, I wind up writing nothing at all.

I spent three days feeling good. And I mean good. Stiffness was drastically reduced, my back pain was virtually eliminated, my energy level was up and, best of all, I had no headache. For three days, I wasn’t grimacing at my husband’s footsteps or holding my ears while we watched tv. It was bliss, I tell you. Then, a series of unfortunate events: Sunday night, my husband turned on our yet-unused gas fireplace insert (purchased because wood fires make me dizzy and my lungs burn) and the house filled with chemically burny metal paint fumes. I didn’t think much of it ~ it’s a brand new unit, after all ~ until Monday morning when I woke up very dizzy. My husband had gone to SO MUCH trouble to get this fireplace for next to nothing ~ driving out of the city to a clearance sale, standing on the roof, repairing the chimney for days, going into the crawlspace and disappearing into the hearth to run the gas, building/grinding/soldering/I-don’t-know-whating a framework because the insert was much smaller than the opening to our fireplace… So, I was upset and emotional all day. What if the fumes from the fireplace made me dizzy? Oh no, we didn’t think of that! What if the new paint or whatever doesn’t burn off and that smell lasts for ages or the permanent off-gas causes me to get dizzy or makes my eyes burn or makes my chest tight…? Where will I go while he tries to burn off the smell? Should I get a hotel? What if this bloody fireplace causes me to be worse in the long term? The usual fretting. So, we were worried and annoyed and frustrated. Also, I think everything was exacerbated by PMS because, after months of being an emotional zen master, I felt inflamed. I was distraught and enraged. I was guilty that my husband’s fireplace project might be a complete waste. Knowing my sensitivity to scents and chemicals, I was frustrated that we hadn’t taken this into consideration. I was upset that my husband wasn’t more sympathetic to how this might worsen my symptoms (he wasn’t pleased when I asked him not to turn it on again). I was furious that this disease ruins everything. That night, knowing my period was looming and taken aback by the onslaught of my emotion, I started the birth control pill again. I thought, Whoa, PMS is HELL. I need my hormones regulated again. Then, that night, things fell apart. I woke up feeling like someone had turned on a shower over me. Sweat was running down my ribs and dripping onto the bed. I was so confused. At first I thought it was blood… Then I thought maybe my cpap machine was leaking water… I hadn’t had these sort of drenching night sweats in so many months, that I didn’t even recognise the symptom. My sheets were soaked. I got up, pulled off the sheets, changed my pillow, lay down some towels. My cpap mask and headgear were slick with sweat. I had to take it all off to dry it, wash my face. And I was shaking. And scared. Was it from the pill?? Was it from the heightened anger and emotion of the day? Was it from the tart cherry juice I started drinking? Was it from the fireplace somehow? Was it because I have been taking melatonin every night for too long? I checked my blood sugar to rule out hypoglycemia and went back into fitful sleep.

My acupuncturist encouraged me to see it as a good sign. He explained that, in Chinese medicine, as the body gets stronger, you will experience some of the earlier symptoms again. He said, I had been in the Yang Ming stage, where the pathogen was deep inside my body, but, as I try to fight it off, the pathogen is pushed into the Shao Yang ~ the “Lesser Yang”, Which is characterised by the chills and sweats. He said, “Fever means you are winning.” That made me feel better for about two hours until I developed a crushing headache, which hasn’t gone away in five days. And this headache isn’t the normal one ~ it feels more like the narcotic bounce-back headaches I get. So, I start the relentless questioning again: Is it from the acupuncture (it got much worse that night)? Is it from the birth control pill? Is it from the fireplace? Did I overexert myself? Is it from the tart cherry juice, for fuck’s sake?? The hard part is that I am convinced the headache is from the pill and, if you stupidly go online and research it, like every other drug in the world, the horror stories make you want to stop right there and then. So, here I am again… weighing the pros and cons of having a viciously painful, incapacitating period over Christmas or putting up with this headache all day, every day, which is not touched by painkillers and makes me feel as if I am carrying a very dangerous, sleeping 2,000lb crocodile on my head: constant pressure and pain, never making noise or sudden movements… Right now, not being in the throes of period cramps, I choose a period over the headache and I decide I won’t take the pill tonight (imagine what I am doing to my body jumping on and off the pill like this!). However, you know one week from now, when I am curled in a ball, weeping and ~ god forbid ~ the headache hasn’t gone away, I’ll be wanting to put myself back on birth control.

Those few days before the fumey-angry-sweaty-pill day were glorious. I thought I was coming out of the dark ages. I was sleeping better, I hadn’t put IcyHot on my back in ages, I didn’t think about a painkiller for two whole days! I’ve had the surge in energy before but I can’t remember the last time I had had some relief in stiffness and pain. Heaven.

That’s my catch-up. I am just trying to maintain my tenuous grasp on Okay, so we can have a nice Christmas with my sister and her boyfriend.

Speaking of, my sister and brother came over to visit for one day last week (my brother, a pilot, had a layover here) and it was absolutely wonderful. Even though I had tried very hard not to talk too much, gesticulate too much, laugh too much, walk around too much, still, by the end of the night, my internal tremors were vibrating from scalp to toe, my eyes were unfocused, my face was red and muscles stiff… I crawled to bed at 9:15pm and thought, “That day was worth every symptom.” I am so grateful for family, for lightness and conversation and laughter. Once in a while, it is important to put fear away and forget the careful construction of the day… and just live a little.

You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it.They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster.

Buffers can help, but sometimes not enough…

My brain MRI was fine. No evidence of MS, no sign of something causing my headaches. My c-spine MRI showed that I have mild intervertebral disk space narrowing and mild central disc osteophyte complex, centered at C4. I won’t go into the history of my neck problems, but if this is “mild” I feel very, very sorry for anyone with moderate or severe problems. When my neck has “gone out”, the pain is 10 out of 10. It is like nothing I’ve felt before. Can’t lie down, sit down, move arms, head, back… I’ve showed up at the doctor’s office twice at 7:30am, without an appointment, crying and begging for help. Both times they gave me injections in my butt that knocked me out for almost two days. I guess, if the bone problem is mild, the muscle problem can still be severe. My physical therapist said I had the worst case of hypermobility in my neck that she had ever encountered. It must have been from all my head banging, rock ‘n’ roll days and all the extreme sports I played. That’s sarcasm. I didn’t do anything!

My neck first went out a week after a particularly bone-rattling roller coaster called The Iron Wolf. It was a stand-up roller coaster and they had head buffers on both sides to minimize injury as you were being tossed around. I was too short for them to buff properly, though, and my head and neck took a battering. My brain felt blended. One week later, I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t. The neck pain was excruciating, radiating down my limbs. I was so unfamiliar with bone/muscle pain, that I thought I was going to be paralyzed. I thought my spine was fractured or something. I lay there for hours with tears running into my ears, waiting for my husband to get home. That one healed on its own since I had no health insurance at the time, but I’ve had problems ever since. I guess I did go into the history of my neck problems, after all!

Anyway, back to the present: I added back in rice to my diet with no adverse effects. Unless this exhaustion and pain are caused by the rice?? Haha. Just kidding. I’ve added flax to my smoothies and started taking the zinc and ferrous gluconate supplements. The latter is meant to be taken 1 hour after food and 2 hours before food and, let me tell you, it is VERY HARD for me not to eat for 3 hours, so I’m cheating a bit on that one.

I stopped taking the birth control pill yesterday. My headache is all day, every day and is crippling me. I’ve spent a lot of time lying down in dark rooms in the last 3 weeks, my face is permanently pinched, I can’t deal with too much light or noise. I am constantly alternating epsom salt baths, ice packs, arnica, IcyHot spray, TENS unit, meditation, breathing exercises, anything I can think of to ease up my neck and back muscles and hopefully help the headache. After much research on my headache support group forum, I’ve convinced myself that it is caused by the pill, so I am going go stop taking it for a month and see what happens. I also want to quit the pill because I’m extremely sedentary and that contributes to the risk of blood clots (and being over 35 years of age). I actually think I would prefer any other pain to this headache (except for maybe the aforementioned 10-out-of-10 neck pain… and, when my period hits, I’m sure I’ll amend that statement).

I woke up full of gratitude this morning. There are people out there dealing with this and other illnesses with little to no support, starting their journey with so much less than I have. My heart breaks for them. Without my income, I am terrified of losing our house, our savings, our health insurance, but I could have started this illness with no house, no savings and no health insurance. What do people do? I am blessed and grateful to have a slight buffer. Like The Iron Wolf’s buffers, it may not be enough to save me down the road, but, for now, I can ride the roller coaster.