My So-Called Life

The following is a glimpse into some of the ways my life has changed since ME became my constant companion.

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Vitamins, supplements and electrolytes, oh my! The only supplement that passed my lips pre-ME was an Emergen-C every once in a while. Now this. I just started taking B vitamins again after a 3-month pill hiatus. Every once in a while, I just need to get “clean”.

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My drug stash. I hoard them, but don’t take them. Call it preparedness or call it paranoia, I don’t mind. After winding up in the emergency room a dozen times, I like the security of having meds on hand. What if there’s an earthquake and we need immediate painkillers? Nuff said.

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This is an example of how I test drugs. That dot in my palm is 1/8 of a Xanax…which had no effect but a hive on my throat…which means I probably won’t try it again.

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Cramps, spasms, aches, sprains. I never knew you could have muscle pain like this. After bartending three 12-hour shifts in a row or after being on my feet for 15 hours during a restaurant opening, I never came close to the un-ignorable myalgia that exists in this disease.

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Yes, all these clothes are clean and, yes, they have been in this pile for a month. Folding involves a lot of arm action and I’m not willing to give up, say, loving on my dogs because I used up my arm movement quota to get neat clothes.

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Thank god we (he) built the walk-in shower when we first moved into this house. It makes it easy to wash 110-pound dogs and it gives a flat surface for a chair for me to sit on. Yes, this is a crappy metal folding chair ~ I ordered the fancy shower stool and it was large, cumbersome and unstable. I toppled off it within two minutes and I’m only wee; I can’t imagine a bigger person having to use one of those things.

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I took this picture in August. These are my “sun slippers” ~ because, even when it is so hot out that I have to lie in the shade with minimal clothes on, the ice blocks at the end of my legs need to be covered and in the sun.

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Shocking, isn’t it? Welcome to peaceful sleep. Zeo headband, amber-lensed glasses for blocking the blue light in my phone, cpap nasal mask and tape over my mouth. Haha! No wonder I’m exhausted. 😉

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Bedroom in the siting room. My husband moved to the basement room last year because he kept waking me up at night, but, this summer our bedroom got too hot for my sensitive system, so we swapped and I went to the basement. But, every teensy squeak of the floor boards above would wake me (and I don’t go back to sleep), so my husband moved to the living room where I couldn’t hear him. Poor guy.

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BUT, the basement bedroom has no window shades and even the light from the moon wakes me, so, as a temporary measure, we (he) covered the windows with tin foil. My own sensory-deprivation chamber. Luckily, we don’t have many guests. 🙂

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My crazy numbers: High heart rate because I dared to carry some stuff upstairs and low blood sugar because I dared to eat breakfast (I have reactive hypoglycemia).

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What my hair used to look like a few years ago and what it looks like now ~ lank, brown, going grey, unwashed, and always in a ponytail. I miss feeling pretty!

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My crazy skin. This makes me look so gnarly! My only constant skin issue is acne (which has been worse than ever since I came off the birth control pill 11 months ago), but, every once in a while, my autoimmune urticaria, sensitivities and rashes rear their ugly heads.

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Blood pooling. *No filters were used in the making of these pictures (although they were taken at different times of day and in different seasons). Thanks to Jackie at LethargicSmiles for the blood pooling photo inspiration.

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Some of the products I’ve purchased in the last year to try to help my IBS, my ANS, my allergies and my insomnia. I really miss the days when I didn’t read the ingredients of mouthwash!

Thanks for taking the tour! And thanks to Patrick at Quixotic for giving me this idea.

Over to you: What has changed in your life since you became sick?

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30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

Well, I’m a few days late (and more than a few dollars short). I’ve been working on this post for a week while not feeling well, but I’m determined to finish. Invisible Illness Awareness Week was last week and, in an effort to raise awareness, invisibleillnessweek.com has put together the “30 Things About My Illness” questionnaire below. The website offers support to patients and caregivers through articles, podcasts, illness lists and links to associations and resources. You should check it out!

30 THINGS ABOUT MY ILLNESS:

1. The illness I live with is:

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I have other conditions, such as mast cell activation disorder, thyroid disease, dysautonomia, hypoglycemia, IBS, dysmenorrhea, and chronic intractable migraines but these are speed bumps in relation to the Mount Everest that is ME. Undoubtedly, all these problems are connected in some way.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:

I was diagnosed about one year ago.

3. But I had symptoms since:

ME hit me one night like a freight train around 11pm on Halloween night, 2011. One hour I was fine, the next hour I was in the grips of what I thought was a very bad virus. Chills and drenching sweats lasted all night and… the rest is history.

Years before that, I had dealt with thyroid goiters, anaphylaxis and vasovagal syncope, but they were just blips in my otherwise healthy, normal life. ME changed that.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:

I could say losing my career, my social life, traveling, my income, the future I envisioned… But, really, the hardest adjustment has been a life with minimal energy expenditure: the loss of walking, running, talking exuberantly, emoting, gesticulating… I hate this still life.

5. Most people assume:

Most people assume I’m being antisocial. Most people assume that I worked too much, hit a wall and walked away and am just uncommunicative. Only my family and closest few friends know the extent of what happened to me.

6. The hardest part about mornings are:

The distressing, sinking realisation that I’ve woken up too early (and won’t go back to sleep) and had a bad night. Feeling dizzy before I’ve even opened my eyes. Being greeted with a headache and neck pain before I’ve even sat up.

7. My favorite medical TV show is:

House!! And any real life medical show like Trauma: Life in the ER. I’ve loved that stuff my whole life. They used to show real operations, graphic and unedited, on some show in Ireland when I was young and I loved watching. I’m not squeamish; I always thought I’d be working in an ER.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is:

My smart phone. It’s my lightweight connection to the rest of the world: news, blogs, emails, texts, photos, videos and calls. Plus, it has all my meditation CDs on it.

9. The hardest part about nights are:

For the first year I was sick, nights were lonely, terrifying, desperate, viral horror shows. There are not adequate words to describe what my nights were like. Now, the hardest part is the fear that I will not sleep well and will wake the next morning feeling worse.

10. Each day I take __ pills & vitamins.

I usually take about 26 supplements a day (double that for the number of actual pills). Currently, I’m on a vitamin and supplement hiatus, so I am only taking probiotics, magnesium, melatonin, Zyrtec, nasal spray, topical antibiotic cream, and a few times a week, when I have a headache or can’t sleep, I take Tylenol, Unisom, and Tizanidine.

11. Regarding alternative treatments I:

I have tried most of it: acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy, reiki, energy healers, meditation, breathing exercises, diet, stretches, Chinese herbs, supplements blah blah blagh. I don’t know what constitutes “alternative”, but I would do anything to get better.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose:

I have a half-written blog post called “Visible Illness” because I look sick ~ or, at least, I look different than I used to ~ and I have caught myself feeling jealous of the “healthy”-looking ME patients I have seen online. However, my illness is invisible in the sense that nobody can see just how bad it is by looking at me ~ especially during the first year, when I pushed through everything to go to work.

Which would I prefer? Neither. Illness is evil and, ultimately, nobody can ever comprehend a sick person’s suffering, regardless of how bad they look on the outside.

13. Regarding working and career:

I never stop dreaming about my next career. I have a different idea every day. I miss working, I miss having responsibility and helping people, I miss being good at something, I miss having the security of an income.

14. People would be surprised to know:

Those that haven’t seen me in a while would be surprised to see that I have gone from an energetic, talkative, happy, demonstrative, busy person to someone who moves very little and doesn’t leave the house. Those close to me might be surprised to know just how black my blackness was this past year and how often I thought about suicide (it took all my guts to write that word. It’s shameful and scary, but true).

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been:

That I can’t exert energy. That’s it. It rules all else. I can’t find a new job, I can’t make plans for a different life than the one I had imagined, I can’t socialise or cook food or deal with banks or disability or do anything to adapt and move on. I only feel ok if I am flat on my back, not moving. But I keep trying to make progress and those endeavors always cause me to be in pain. And I’m intolerant to painkillers. So it’s a continual try-to-gain-ground-get-knocked-down cycle.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:

Admit it – admit I was a sick person. Also, there was a time when I wondered if I’d ever laugh again. When the headaches ease up, laughter returns. It’s glorious.

17. The commercials about my illness:

There are none, but there are commercials about fibromyalgia and, of course, they show women able to move freely if they take Lyrica. Imagine the only symptom being achiness! Imagine a pill taking care of it! Sign me up!

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:

See this post. Dancing with my dogs on the beach, eating whatever I want, staying up late, talking nonstop, getting excited, getting angry, having a career, dreaming up future plans, driving myself places, traveling, having financial security… See the recurring theme?

19. It was really hard to have to give up:

I want to say everything in #18, but I’ll change it up and say getting dressed and feeling pretty. I miss a great pair of jeans and make-me-feel-tall boots and thinking my eyes look bright and generally feeling attractive.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is:

Meditation. I couldn’t live without it now.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:

Only one day? So not enough time to go to Europe? Can I plan this day in advance and get my loved ones to come to me? Ok, I’ll assume that’s a yes. Then I would get everyone I love to Seattle in advance and on The Day we would hike, talk, laugh, play games, eat a lot, get rip-roaring drunk, never have to rest and then sleep soundly, deeply, peacefully ~ without a cpap and with my husband and dogs.

22. My illness has taught me:

How under-equipped society is to help the disabled, sick and elderly. It is astounding and harrowing to realise how difficult and time-consuming it is to drive, park, get to a doctor’s office, get home help, get financial help ~ everything! And, when you’re sick, everything costs more, so what happens when you can’t work? I worry about old age all the time.

23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is:

When people say nothing. When friends don’t want to “burden” me with their own problems or don’t contact me because they don’t want to “impose” or don’t text me because I haven’t responded in days/weeks and they think the ball’s in my court or that they don’t want to keep “bothering” me. It is incredibly comforting when someone asks questions about my illness or vents to me about their hardships or gossips about work or continues to let me know they are thinking about me. Once in a while, I would love my husband (and family) to take a break from being the strong caregiver and wallow in a bit of mutual mourning: “This is so fucking unfair! We had dreams and plans! We had only just stopped living paycheck to paycheck! You were so alive and I am turned inside out to see your life force disappearing…” Maybe it’s selfish, but, someone else screaming at the sky would make me feel a little less alone.

24. But I love it when people:

Remind me that, even in this diminished capacity, I am still vital and worthy of being a friend.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is:

“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Also, my mother once told me she had read that if you have one pain-free day, there is the possibility of being permanently pain-free. I think about this all the time on days like today: Just because I’m having a bad day today, it doesn’t mean I will always have bad days. There will be days again without headaches. There will be days when I can move more freely.

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them:

You will improve. That was the first line of an email someone wrote to me and I didn’t read any further, I just closed the computer and wept. I needed to know that life could and would be bearable one day.

Also, I caution anyone recently diagnosed to not read all the horror stories about ME. It is good to raise awareness about the severity of this disease,  but, after doing tireless research for months, my fear drowned out what my body was whispering. Stop pushing yourself, rest, listen to your body and believe you will improve. 

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is:

How many of us there are ~ in every country, of every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. I am amazed and grateful for how many of us are online, sharing advice and giving support to each other. Sometimes, you lot are all that gets me through.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was:

Not leave me. My husband, family and a few friends have wrapped themselves around me ~ physically and virtually ~ and given me the security that I have SWAT team back-up in this war.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because:

I’m quoting Linds: “I think it’s a great way to bring much needed awareness to the struggles others endure. The illness is invisible, not the person.”

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel:

Honoured. Or honored, depending on where you learned to spell. 🙂

Also check out my other blamily members’ answers to this questionnaire: Jess, Marie, Christine, Luminescence, Trisha… Who have I missed? Let me know if you posted this questionnaire to your blog and I will link it here.

Doctor follow-up: symptoms, sleep, diet.

I haven’t taken vitamins or supplements in 19 days (except probiotics in the morning, magnesium at night and fish oil here and there). When I wasn’t sleeping, I decided to wash-out everything and, when I saw the Good Doctor last week, she wanted me to hold off on adding them back until I had challenged some foods. So, in the next month, I will be challenging soy and citrus, which I haven’t eaten in a month, and corn, dairy and eggs, which I haven’t eaten in a year. Honestly, I don’t know how I will identify symptoms ~ for no reason, sleep disappears and headaches hit me like a freight train. A few days ago I woke up with all over muscle pain: thick, heavy, stiff, achy, contracted muscles from tip to toe. I started waking up in the night again in a full-body tense stretch, jaw clamped down painfully, neck and back arched. It is coupled with daytime tiredness that stopped me writing, reading, talking… This wasn’t the bricked feeling of ATP running out in my cells, this was pure tired, like I was convalescing. It’s still with me today, but I want to write, so I force myself to sit at the computer.

I hate when old symptoms return. I thought perhaps spine pain and muscle aches were gone for good, but here I am with a new bottle of Tizanidine. I made a list of what could be causing it: Scooter? Adding back legumes? No supplements? Weather? Period? This week has also felt like awfully bad allergies, which shouldn’t be happening at the end of August. I actually had to take my inhaler and I couldn’t wear my cpap last night because my nose was plugged, even after multiple shots of antihistamine nasal spray. My headaches have mostly dissipated, only rearing up when I tweak my neck (which is about every other day; the nighttime muscle contractions don’t help), but I’m left with leaden cotton wool filling my skull and plugging my orifices. It feels like an orange on a toothpick, my neck too weak to hold the bobble head. I’m chalking it up to the weather. Seattle turned into a tropical rain forest this week. The temperature in my room is 74 degrees and the humidity is 74%. I keep saying, “It’s so close!” The only way to describe it.

Some good news: I’ve actually slept relatively well the last 7 nights ~ with only melatonin ~ which is miraculous. I have had a resurgence of mild night sweats for the first time in a very long time. But, we’re going to ignore that and the lack of deep sleep and concentrate on the positives: My current average hours of sleep, average time awake and average time to fall asleep:

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

38 mins awake, on average,  when it used to be 2 hours!

38 mins awake, on average, when it used to be 2 hours!

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

Other things I talked about with the Good Doc: She doesn’t feel comfortable with prescribing saline IV infusions, she is thinking about digestive enzymes, she wants to get my vitmain D levels between 50 and 80 (they were 30 last March), and she doesn’t want to do a tryptase test to look for Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD).

If anyone is interested in my elimination diet, she said she thought coconut sugar would be okay (I haven’t quit sugar yet; I’m a junkie) and she wanted me to avoid xanthan gum, guar gum and carageenan. This is virtually impossible using dairy-free products, so I’m not taking it too seriously. My husband spent half an hour in Whole Foods reading the labels of nut and coconut milks: if you want to avoid sugar, cane juice and soy lecithin, you won’t be able to avoid carageenan (if anyone has more info, please tell me!). The best bet seems to be Pacific Almond Milk (which has carageenan and “natural flavor”) and Rice Dream, if you don’t mind the calorie and sugar content (I love the taste, but it’s high-glycemic load causes my blood sugar to crash).

She also wanted me to watch the teas I drink, since this is the only thing I drink besides water. You can get all the info about teas from this FoodBabe blog. Basically, I am trying to stick with Numi, Traditional Medicinals, Rishi (which is even more expensive than the other expensive organic teas) and maybe Choice. I splurged and bought this yesterday: Rishi Turmeric Ginger Loose Leaf Tea ~ how good does that sound for what ails me?! (I reckon, in the good ol’ days, I would have spent about that much on one cocktail, including tip, so I deserve it. I ignored the voice that said, Uh, you have no income.)

Lastly, I saw my endocrinologist for my yearly check-up. He increased my Levothyroxine to 37.5mcg five days a week and 25mcg on the weekends and kept my liothyronine at 10mcg/day. He also thought I should see an immunologist. I didn’t even know they existed. Not that I think they could find anything… except maybe help with my MCAD theory (that’ll be another post).

That’s my update. In a few days, my Mother is coming from Ireland for THREE WEEKS to help us out and take a bit of the burden off my husband. One of my brothers is flying across the country to see me at the end of September and my other brother, the pilot, has a layover here the same week. It’s so exciting! Gratitude today, once again, is for my family. They continually help me, encourage me and remember me.

My beautiful niece sent me this card. :)

My beautiful niece sent me this card. 🙂

I forgot to mention the nightmares!

I forgot to mention in my last post that, the night I took the larger dose of Tizanidine, I woke up sitting naked on the kitchen floor, panting and wild-eyed in terror with no idea what was going on. My husband and dogs were standing around me wondering if I was okay. I had pulled off my Zeo headband and my cpap mask and still had the tape on my mouth (that I use to stop the cpap air from escaping). I have been sleeping in our basement room and I had managed to get out of bed, open the bedroom door, go up the stairs, open the basement door and make it to the kitchen before I woke up. I know I had a horrific nightmare ~ demons whispering in my ears etc. ~ but it has been a long time since I walked that far while still asleep (I used to do it quite a bit as a kid). The experience kind of turned me off Tizanidine. Melatonin also exacerbates my nightmares, but I still take it. I’ve taken 1/2 of a Unisom (12.5mg) the last 2 nights and slept much better, but today I am very, very groggy, so I’m going try Trazodone again. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

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There were definitely repercussions from my trip around the cemetery with my pup. We managed to get back there two more times during the week we had the scooter, but the effects ~ good and bad ~ started as soon as we got home that first day.

The Good:

He is a different dog. Just like that. Even my husband commented on the change. He is not completely back to his normal, carefree, waggy self, but he was immediately happier and calmer. He really just needed to see me happy and out and about to know that things are okay. Over the next few days, he spent hours in the back garden with me, lounging in the sun. He would come close to me, say hello, and then find a shady spot. Every time he got up, I expected him to have reached his limit, had the anxiety kick in, and be headed inside, but he didn’t! He would just move from sun spot to shade like the good old days. For those regular readers, you know this is a big deal. He hasn’t really come outside with me since I accidentally hit him in the eye with a tennis ball. He was already stressed by my illness but that incident put him on a different level of depression. Now, he isn’t lying on the couch, staring at the wall as much. He is more interested in what I am doing. He’s playing little games with me again, like trying to catch my hand when I do “here comes the mousey”. 🙂 He even followed me when I drove the scooter around our garden!

Just like I underestimated the effect my phone screen was having on my sleep and my constipation was having on my overall well being, I had underestimated how blue Bowie’s blueness made me. Since our outing, I have had a woeful week symptom-wise (stay tuned) and my mood hasn’t dipped at all. I haven’t felt happiness, relief and hope like this in as long as I can remember. I have to work as hard as possible to not only get better, but remain positive because we can all bounce back from this. Bowie has shown me that.

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The Bad:

He’s a different dog. I’m not the only one who has deconditioned. He does not gallop anymore. He runs in short bursts, looking stiff and out of breath. It seems as if he has aged 5 years this year.

And then there is my body. I woke up the next day feeling like I had been on a rollercoaster. It was very obviously from the jostling of the scooter. My spine hurt from my tailbone up to my skull, my neck was killing me and my head hurt badly ~ a headache that felt like a direct result of neck strain and my brain hitting the inside of my cranium. The pavement around the cemetery was pretty smooth… I thought. It never occurred to me that my body would be so rattled. I wound up taking Tinazidine to help and you know how bad it has to be for me to take a drug.

The Ugly:

Who knows the exact reason, but, after the walk with my dog and taking Tizanidine, my sleep disappeared. I mean, GONE. I went from 7-9 broken, unrefreshing hours to 2-3 broken hours. Here’s a look at a few of my Zeo sleep graphs:

2:45am to 10:45am

2:45am to 10:45am

3:45am to 10:45am

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11pm to 6:15am

Melatonin, valerian, magnesium, Tylenol did nothing. More Tizanidine did nothing. My usual dose of Unisom (1/4 pill) did nothing. I finally tried Trazodone! Nothing. Panic. I laid low, didn’t expend any energy, waited for the horrific crash… After the first night, I was in very bad shape ~ stiffness, muscle and bone pain, breathing difficulty, dizziness, higher heart rate, flu-ish ~ but, oddly, as the insomnia streak continued, my symptoms didn’t get worse. I was laughing at tv yesterday, thinking, Why don’t I feel worse?? I stopped all supplements and, last night, I took 1/2 a Unisom pill (double dose!) and didn’t wear the cpap. And slept 8 hours. Oh, thank god. I worry about not wearing the cpap and I certainly needed more than 8 hours, but I am very, very grateful this morning.

Last night. An hour straight of deep sleep! Zzzzz…

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