Believe it or not, an update!

I have so much to write about, so much to catch people up on and document, but the longer I go without posting, the harder it feels to break the dry spell. Each month, I think, “Write that in a blog post, you’ll want to remember that,” but I never feel like I can “waste” the time. Especially in the last 6 months. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know that I have lost all available energy for months to fighting horrific healthcare battles. Energy that could have been put towards conversations with loved ones, time playing with my dogs, reading or writing…

So here’s a recap: From November, 2015 to around August, 2016 I was slowly getting stronger from my immunoglobulin infusions. I estimated that they brought me up from about 15% of normal functioning to about 20%. That 33% increase was miraculous. It didn’t exactly change the way I lived my life (I still had the same symptoms, was still mostly housebound, still had to manage energy carefully), but it changed my control — things became predictable, which reduced fear and let me branch out. Payback was shorter, not as scary, I could do more and knew I wouldn’t make myself permanently worse. That last point was life-changing for me. For 4 years, it felt like anything I did made me worse, I was desperate to hold on to the functioning I had and couldn’t take many chances without being forced down a notch — and I was always so scared that the new lower notch would be forever.

So, last year we went to the Washington coast for 5 days and I didn’t feel terrible. I had two friends visit me at my house and we talked for hours and I was okay. My family came to Seattle for their annual vacation (2 brothers, sister, mother, spouses and 7 nieces and nephews) and I was able to go to their rental house 4 days in a row for extended visits. This was the turning point, though, I think. I left it all on the stage those 4 days with my family. Friends with chronic illness, you know what I mean — it’s such a difficult act to appear normal and, from what I’m told, I gave a great performance that long weekend. Each day I came home and literally crawled on all fours to my bed. I lost 3 pounds in 4 days because between each visit all I could do is lie in bed and hope for a enough recovery to try it again. There wasn’t a moment that the payback wasn’t worth the incredible time I spent with my family. I’ll have to write a whole blog post on it one day. My nieces and nephews are everything you want kids to be — sweet, kind, honest, inquisitive, funny. No bratty-ness, no meltdowns, no selfishness. My brothers are doing something right.

Right after that visit, in August of last year, I started to nosedive. I had an increase in migraines, sore throats, exhaustion, muscle pain, unstable blood pressure. I was trying out (very expensive) hyperbaric oxygen treatments at the time and thought they were either causing or exacerbating my symptoms, so I stopped those, but continued to go downhill. In November, I started the descent into health insurance hell that lasted about 4 months. I’m not going to get into it right now. There’s too much to tell and it’ll make me shake and cry angry tears as I type, which I’m not up for. Suffice it to say it is an evil, vindictive, nonsensical, black hole of a system and nobody has accurate information about anything when it comes to healthcare for people under 65 on disability. And, even if they do have the knowledge, it seems the vast majority of health-related representatives (or is it all humans? I’m guessing it is) are inept, lazy, selfish and genuinely couldn’t care less about helping someone in need. My friend Michael had one of these phone calls where he wound up saying, “How do you sleep at night?” to the representative who was outright lying to him. Essentially, that’s how I spent 4 months — all available energy every day dedicated to battling my brain symptoms so I could continue to micromanage every person who held my health in their hands, taking copious notes and making enemies, as I waded through the morass of phone transfers, misinformation, hours of stuttering hold muzak, false promises about call backs and looming deadlines… While thinking, how do they live with themselves? Not to mention incompetent, petulant doctors that I need so I can’t I leave them.

When my mother came to visit after Christmas, she said it might have been the sickest she had ever seen me. I wasn’t even close to the sickest I’ve been, but it still says something about the severity of my crash (to be fair, I had allowed myself to have one of those total meltdown, let-it-all-out, “I’m so sick of being sick” sob-fests in front of her — the kind that I usually rein in because they can make me more reactive and wipe me out — which can’t be easy for a mother to witness). My strength started to get marginally better in February. I think it might have been helped by an increase in my thyroid medication, but it was kind of a double-edged sword because I also became horribly hyperthyroid for about 3 weeks before I realised what was happening. I had also stopped going to my weekly appointments (physical therapy, myofacial, counselling etc.) and had stopped my immunoglobulin infusions because I lost insurance to cover them, so perhaps the break from obligations and weekly medications helped me gain strength.

This spring my husband, dogs and I drove to California for an appointment with Dr. Kaufman at the Open Medicine Clinic and we stayed 6 weeks for a holiday and to test how I felt in a different climate. I will write about those big events in another post. What I really came on here to document is how I’m doing now. I want to keep track of what I can manage and how bad the payback is when I indulge in social time. Last November I went out to brunch (out!) with 4 old friends (you can imagine what it meant to me to be invited). I’m pretty sure I appeared normal throughout the 2-hour meal, but payback was vicious. My calendar notes say: “very bad today, body totally shut down, in bed, shaking, crashing, crying, guts feel swollen and full of bricks, heart, muscles, eyes burning.” It lasted days. In early February, my brother was at our house for 7 hours. I spent his visit relaxed on the couch in my pjs, but we talked and laughed like normal people, animatedly, and I didn’t rest once (unheard of a few years ago). I went to bed that night flying high, so happy from our conversation, so grateful to feel fine… And then, 3 hours later, woke up in the middle of the night feeling poisoned, shaking all over. My calendar says: “severe payback, swollen throat, can barely swallow, hard to breathe, every muscle in pain, bad stiff neck and headache, shooting pain in bowels, nose stuffy and runny.” The worst of it only lasted about one and a half days.

Yesterday, we had family over for brunch to celebrate my birthday. Although the whole shindig lasted 3.5 hours, there were only about 2 hours during which everyone was here — 4 adults and a child, not that many people. My friend Z said I looked great, she was so excited by how different it was from other years. She said, “I know you’ll pay, but today was normal.” This is everything I could hope for, BUT… the big but… But, it was hard. I can power through now, I have the ability to put on an excellent performance. If my neurological symptoms stay away, I can do quite a bit physically (although standing for a long time still causes excruciating pain). So, yesterday I showered, dressed, got out plates and cutlery, made some waffles and chatted with my family. That’s about all I did before things got difficult. There’s this weird thing that happens when you’re ill, but you’re putting on the normal act: You lose time. Or at least I do. Do any of you? For example, I remember everything about the first hour yesterday — when I was chatting with my husband and sister-in-law. Then our friends and their daughter arrived and things are a little fuzzier. I remember the conversations, but they’re not in sharp focus. Then my sister and her dog arrived, right around the time I wanted to make the waffles and apparently that’s when my mind went into … not quite “survival” mode, but “keep it together” mode: I was talking to 2 people in the kitchen while trying to focus on cooking and, although I made good waffles and I’m sure I said the appropriate things at the appropriate times during the conversations, I cant remember any of it clearly and couldn’t tell you what we talked about. Same thing while we ate — I clearly remember how delicious the food was (of course I do), but recalling things that were said is akin to trying to remember conversations I had while drunk, it’s murky, and it worries me that I was rude or unresponsive — to my favourite people, who made the effort to visit us, no less.

When I was saying goodbye to them, I could barely see. My vision was tunneled, I had a wicked headache and my brain was a buzzing scream, but being the fastidious person I am, I couldn’t not load the dishwasher. This tipped me over the edge. I was staggering around the kitchen, using immense effort to coordinate my muscles and concentrate enough to lift and place dishes. My eyes weren’t tracking properly, my heart rate was running high and my legs were burning terribly, but I just wanted to come to an end point… Stupendously stupid stupidity. I slid to the kitchen floor, panting, crying, literally unable to walk out of the room. I slurred: “Nothing is worth this. I was trying so hard to be normal, but no social time is worth this.” My husband said, “Why don’t you just be honest?” and I said, “Because THIS is honest.” On the floor, weeping is honest. He helped me to the couch, I was having a hard time sitting up, it was just utter energy depletion, muscles unable to work. I immediately fell asleep in a sort of emergency power-down. I started to feel a bit better about 5 hours later and today I’m okay besides another bad headache and stiff neck. That’s the difference now — when it hits, it hits hard and scares the bejeesus out of me, but it doesn’t last long. So I take it back, it was worth it. I ate decadent food in the warm sun in our beautiful garden with some of my favourite people on the planet (and to Z’s credit, she tried to stop me from over-exerting myself over and over and I bullheadedly kept telling her, “No, I want to do this! I’m fine!”). But of course it was worth it and I’ll keep trying to make this life have more life in it and repeat to myself during the scary times: this, too, shall pass.

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This Year: Life, the Universe and Everything.

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Even though I’ve been wiped out for this entire week afterwards, my birthday outing was worth it. The day before, I had found a third-hand mobility scooter (at a third of the price) on Craigslist. I have been looking for one that could handle rough dog park terrain (big wheels, decent suspension, strong motor), but could still be dismantled and put in a car (ie: not the fun Harley-esque one I had my eye on, similar to my friend Jak’s). My husband drove two hours round trip to buy it and I was able to take it to my favourite off-leash dog park: 40 acres of trails, fields and river access.

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The weather was sublime. Actually, that was the only blip in our day: as soon as I arrived, I had to park in the shade, strip off two layers of shirts and have my husband reach up my yoga pants to peel off my compression stockings. Plus, I was drinking hot chicken soup. I was kicking myself for not bringing sunscreen. But, after that, all was well, if a little harsh and bumpy on my bones. This 4-day payback headache I have is probably from jostling my spine on the gravel and mulch (and I won’t mention the horrible nausea that hit me at 10pm and the relentless barrage of nightmares that followed that night because this is meant to be a happy post).

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Big smiles. 🙂

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I couldn’t get a photo, but there were huge blue herons flying into the nests and babies up in the trees.

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My boys playing with a new friend.

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That evening, my sister and her boyfriend came over and she suggested getting take away food from a nearby restaurant, which I hadn’t even considered. So, we ate dinner at the table (as opposed to my usual on the couch with my feet up, reclined) and I had a delicious beef tenderloin and coconut rice. They accidentally put some Gorgonzola on my steak and, oops, I forgot to scrape it off. That was a celebratory taste explosion that I haven’t encountered in 2.5 years.

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“The hills are alive….” Pretend I’m spinning…

Then, to top everything off, two days later, I got a visit from my dear friend, Z. She came bearing flowers and a bag of gifts for me to open and, the best part, her little girl, whom I consider a niece. Baby A chatted away, which is all new! The last time I saw her she hadn’t quite found her words around me. What a treat.

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42, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.
It’s going to be a good year. I have faith.

Kinda.

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New In The Garden This Week: Faux-camping, Flower Fireworks and a Birthday Party For Me!

Our fairly new, fancy Kenmore refrigerator (which is about three times the size of the one I had growing up (which is still alive and kicking) and, being one of my first major kitchen appliance purchases, I researched very well, even going so far as to subscribe to Consumer Reports to read up on it) has broken for the third time in a month. Today, after the repairman’s third visit, we opened the fridge door and could hear the motor blade whacking off something, so he’s going to have to come back a fourth time. While our kitchen is a repair shop, I am sequestered in the garden with the dogs, cooking breakfast by camp stove and typing this post under a “parasol”. 🙂

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Our garden is like the world’s slowest fireworks show. Gone are the lilacs, cherry blossoms and tulips. As they wilt and brown, now emerge lilies, irises, peonies and my favourite: the pom-pom tree (not a technical term 😉 ).

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Perfect Peonies.

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Luscious Lilies.

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Stunning strawberries that I can’t eat anymore! 😦

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Irresistible Iris.

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Riley glamour shot.

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Romantic Rhododendron.

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Dr. Seussian Pom Pom tree that snows petals down everywhere.

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Another “rhody”.

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More irises.

Also new in the garden were people (yes, that’s plural!) for my birthday soiree. My sister, her boyfriend and dog and our best friends here in Seattle, Z and J and their beautiful little girl, A. With my husband, that’s 5.5 people and 3 dogs… And I did it! I was out in the garden, sitting up, listening to various voices and mixed conversations for THREE HOURS. How did I do it? I made it between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, my best times. I warned them (for the 700th time) that it had to be mellow, no big energy, no loud talking, no music. I asked them to bring their own drinks and food and totally took the burden of hosting off of me and my husband. I rested for hours before and after the gathering. I scheduled no appointments the day before or the day after. I made sure I had food in my stomach.

The weather was surprisingly lovely that day (surprising because the forecast said it would be overcast and cool). We sat at our garden table and munched on snacks and I watched from behind my sunglasses and listened… just took it all in. This was the first time having multiple people over in eight months and, the last time we tried this, I was in bad shape after half an hour, even though I hardly spoke.

I don’t remember much from my birthday. I had to ask my husband if everything went okay because I think I meditated myself into a state of Zen trance most of the time. I remember trying on the clothes my sister got me and I remember accidentally spilling boiling water on my dog’s back. I remember marveling at how beautiful and sweet little A is and loving my sister’s dog tearing around the garden (“zoomies”). Mostly I remember swimming in my loved ones’ company, listening to their chatter and laughter and feeling so lucky that they wanted to come see me and so grateful for every moment that I was able to participate.

I love getting older. Every year will be a celebration that I’m still here and I’m still living the best I can.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I‘ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou
R.I.P.

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? 🙂

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May 18th, 1973