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. 🙂


My Second Visit To The Chronic Fatigue Clinic

I didn't have to wait too long for the doctor this time, but still thought this was hilarious.

I didn’t have to wait too long for the doctor this time, but still thought this was hilarious.

The single best thing the chronic fatigue specialist said was, “We’ve been puzzling over your case for a while.” I said, “Well, at least that makes more than one of us.”

Somehow, it meant more than anything else he could have said ~ except, perhaps, “we have a cure” or “we found a previously-overlooked treatable tumor.” He only spent about 20 minutes with us, but he did seem to have prior knowledge of my case ~ details I had told the PA six months ago. That was reassuring. Maybe he actually was back in his office, reading my file thoroughly, pacing back and forth, stroking his beard, massaging the bridge of his nose, calling his colleagues, looking up case histories in large, dusty medical tomes… Ok, doubtful, but I’m grateful he took a cursory glance at my paperwork before coming in the room.

So, this was the appointment for which I waited a total of seven months. The first time I went to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic was laughable. It turned out to be an intake appointment: hours of question-answering and no information or practical advice beyond that I should eat pickles and pizza to get my blood pressure up. This time around, the vast majority of the discussion was with a “pain specialist” who works with the main doctor. I answered a long list of questions again, this time about my current symptoms and their debilitating-ness on a scale from 1 to 10. Pain and headaches are currently my worst symptoms, followed by stiffness, achiness, exhaustion.

When the main doc finally joined us, he said…very slowly… “your symptoms are confusing” …pause… “they’re so varied” …pause… “but” …pause… “we still consider this chronic fatigue syndrome.” About five minutes later he said, “the reason you’re confusing” …pause… “is because you tested positive for…” For what? FOR WHAT!? “…plasmodium.” Oh. Yeah. But that was a false positive. Right? He didn’t seem to quite buy the false positive for whatever reason, which now has me thinking about malaria again. He didn’t want to pursue it, but he just was so slow and thoughtful about this malaria conundrum that it made me think he knew more about how those tests work than I do and that the positive results shouldn’t just be swept under the rug. Regardless, I have no symptoms of active infection, so he thought we should move forward with CFS symptom management.

Both doctors gave me a brief synopsis of “central sensitization” and how chronic pain manifests itself. Although I still felt like I knew more than both of them about ME/CFS, I’m hoping this was just because doctors never show all their cards (or even that they HAVE cards) in one office visit. I’ve stopped holding it against them. They don’t have time, after all, to convince me that they know their shit. And the main doctor’s eyes said he cared, so I’ll trust him. The first doctor did try to explain things as succinctly as possible (nerves, serotonin inflammation, blah blah), although I knew it all already and, after talking fairly quickly for 45 minutes, I felt like I was about to pass out. I start out so strong and drain out so quickly. I felt myself slipping lower in the chair. My head felt like it was being held up by a noodle. I kept looking longingly at the rumpled, beaten-down gurney.


The main doc, to his credit, didn’t dumb anything down and emphasized repeatedly that the medical community does not fully understand the mechanisms behind what happens in chronic fatigue syndrome, but that it is a central nervous system disorder. He said the etiology of CFS, fibromyalgia and chronic pain is the same, so the treatments are similar. He used to work with Jon Kabat-Zinn, which excited me since I’ve read Kabat-Zinn’s book, listened to his meditations and podcasts etc., and my therapy has been based on his mindfulness models.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask any of my questions: Should I see a rheumatologist? Cardiologist? Neurologist? Should I be tested for heavy metal toxicity? Hormone levels? Serum electrolytes? Coxsackie? XMRV? They didn’t want to retest any of my year-old blood tests without any new and/or severe symptoms.

Ultimately, my marching orders were to start Cymbalta at 20mg, see the clinic’s psychotherapist and read The Pain Survival Guide (written by Dennis Turk, a colleague of theirs, incidentally). Also, both doctors were emphatic that exercise was the best medicine (although, they called it “activation” to try to trick us into thinking it was more technical and less threatening). My husband piped up about our fears when it comes to graded exercise. I said, “I try to keep active, but if someone is going to ask me to lift a weight… forget about it.” Momentarily, I wanted to scream: Get into my body for one week and then tell me to exercise or waste energy seeing your psychotherapist or come back to useless appointment after useless appointment! But, it was only momentary. They’re trying. They’re treating us. They’re our only hope.

As we were leaving, I said, “Call me if you need a guinea pig.” The main doctor said, “You’d be amazed how many people say they’d like to be part of research studies.” “Not really. When you don’t want to live like this, there’s not much to lose. We need all the help we can get.” This coming from the lady who has unopened bottles of SIX different prescriptions that might supposedly help me. I’ll participate in a research study as long as you don’t touch me or give me any drugs.

Daily gratitude: for all the doctors and researchers trying to find the answers to ME/CFS/FM. Thank you.

Each man’s life touches so many other lives.

I have survived Christmas and I don’t feel terrible ~ as terrible as I could. My sister, her boyfriend and their puppy came over for 3 nights. 4 people, 3 dogs, 3 nights. And it was lovely. I’d tried so hard to rest and save my energy before they came, but I was still hurting every evening. Unfortunately, Christmas Eve was the worst for me. It is our main celebration day and I had gone to bed with a crushing headache on Christmas Eve Eve, which lasted into the morning and all through the night. Typically, I am “okay” until about 5pm. That’s when everything starts to hurt and the headache kicks into high gear. I always go to bed around 9pm. I tried so hard to prolong our Eve, but only made it until 10pm. I have no idea how I looked to everyone on the outside, but, on the inside, I was struggling. The pain in my neck and head was about a 7 out of 10. That’s high. 9 out of 10 and I might be heading to the ER. I couldn’t see: I literally could not focus. Everything and everyone in the room were soft blobs. I couldn’t look at lights: that’s nothing new, but it was heightened. All of our lamps are on dimmers except one which was situated kind of behind my sister’s boyfriend. As we talked, I had to hold up my hands to frame his face with my fingers, blocking out any light around him in order to make out his features. And I kept thinking, Ask him to turn off that lamp, but my brain wouldn’t make that leap. It was easier to block out the light than to try to find the word lamp. This seems to be my version of brain fog. I’m not sure how this symptom affects others, but, at a certain stage, I can’t talk. Well, I can talk, but it is SO difficult. It takes so long to string a sentence together, it simply isn’t worth it. Especially in company because other people aren’t used to waiting while I try to find the words and, if I am talking quietly and get talked over, it’s too much effort to say it again. This isn’t one of the worst symptoms at all, but it might be one of the most frustrating for someone who enjoys quick-witted banter and a good debate and interjecting and laughter… My husband knows by now to not walk away as I’m saying something because it’s difficult for me to turn up the volume. He tries not to talk over me because he knows it’s an effort to say it once, let alone twice. This is much, much worse in the evening. If you want to have a normal conversation with me, have it between 10am and 5pm.

The headaches and accompanying noise sensitivity are by far my most debilitating symptom the last few months. The muscle pain, IBS, stiffness, exhaustion, brain fog, tight chest, flu symptoms and awful sleep ~ I’m used to all of it and it’s all bearable to a certain extent. But, the headaches… there are no words to describe how crippling they are. Every movement makes my brain slam against the inside of my cranium. Touching the base of my skull or the back of my neck feels like it should be bruised black and blue. It is so tender, stretched taut and soft at the same time. Every noise feels like a gun being shot next to my ear and threatens to reduce me to tears or send me to bed: the dogs barking, the opening of cans, my husband putting the foot rest of his recliner down, the bathroom fans, the squeaky dog toys, my phone alerts (which is why it is usually muted and I don’t answer), the kitchen timer going off… But the worst is the TV. We have a TV that supposedly keeps the dialog loud while subduing the action noise. It doesn’t work. If it’s loud enough to hear Harry Bailey say “A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town”, it is inevitably too loud as soon as they cheer and start singing Auld Lang Syne. And forget about modern movies. I have been looking forward to watching The Dark Knight Rises since our last failed attempt at going to a cinema (will I EVER be able to again?), but I am so scared of the action, the noise, the bright lights and the length (almost 3 hours). We have to start very early and shoot for a day when my headache isn’t as bad… I miss going to the pictures (as we used to say in the homeland) almost as much as I miss working or going to the dog park. Remember the THX sound at the beginning of movies? I used to turn that up as loud as it could go… surround sound in your own home! It was heaven. Now, I wince just thinking about it.

What I know for sure is sleep dictates how I will feel. Not enough hours or too many times woken up or, god forbid, night sweats and I am not going to be a functioning human being the next day. That’s why I’m scared of starting the Cymbalta. If it makes me sleepless for a few weeks, I could be set back for months. Low-dose naltrexone disrupted my sleep for almost a month and, the day I stopped LDN, was basically the same day I stopped driving, running errands, going for walks etc. That was over 3 months ago. But I will try Cymbalta~ I have to do something for the pain.

St. Stephen’s Day moment of gratitude: I got to celebrate Christmas! I got to have lovely meals and open presents and chat with family and watch movies (with my ears plugged) and enjoy Christmas music and laugh at the dogs playing… It was wonderful. Spending quality time with my sister was priceless and today I’m not in bed, crying in pain: I’m awake, happy, warm, fuzzy and grateful. I love Christmas and it actually happened. I made it! We celebrated!

No man [or woman] is a failure who has friends.

Melatonin, Fleece Sheets and Aunt Flo

In the last fortnight, all but 4 nights I had 8+ hours sleep. I didn’t want to jinx it, so I haven’t written about it sooner. I still look exhausted ~ maybe even more so ~ and I’m still ridiculously stiff and sore… But, the slight increase in energy is still here. Last night, I didn’t feel like going to bed until 9pm! Usually, it is a struggle for hours before that. I call 5pm my “pain killer hour” ~ when everything starts to really hurt and I begin to debate whether I need a drug. It’s work to not just go to bed and lie down.

The best nights I’ve had were in the last week, after I started my supplements again and also added in magnesium and melatonin. Melatonin every night. I know opinions are mixed on whether melatonin should be used, but, if it’s working, I’m continuing with it! Although, I’ve been having an incredible number of vivid dreams and nightmares (last night there was a lot of blood and gore and my dog had two heads). Is that a side effect of melatonin?? I also have to credit my happier nights to the fleece sheet set that my angel friend, Z., got me. I would have never bought them, but they have reset the way I see my bed ~ turned it from a sickbed into a soft, cozy hug with which I can’t wait to cuddle.

fleece sheets

I’m still not getting very much deep sleep, unfortunately. And even more unfortunate is the fact that the cpap still wakes me up and it seems paper tape over my mouth is my new lifelong protocol… The new/old (because she told me she is leaving the practice) sleep doctor (whom I liked very much ~ I did not mean to say she was an inferior clinician or that she had frustrated me by talking about whether my sleep problems were caused by childhood trauma and/or anxiety ~ these were practical questions and I appreciated her thorough investigative work, honestly. In my other post, I was merely trying to point out that, in an effort to conserve energy, words and effort, the ME/CFS patient has to steer the conversation and not tell the whole truth sometimes so it doesn’t get off track. In fact, the exact words I said to the sleep doc during this conversation were, “Totally off topic, but do you think I should consider a dental device?”)… anyway, she said she didn’t think the dental device was the right move for now ~ that I should give the cpap another month for sure. So, I will. My pressure is set at a 5-6 when other people need 15 or higher, so I count myself lucky. And perhaps, one day, my brain will stop its nocturnal activity. She also thought Cymbalta was a good idea, but I refuse to start it while my sleep is better. It seems it can either disrupt sleep or make you sleep more, but I don’t want to rock the boat right now.

The other thing on my mind is my period. I know you are all incredibly excited to hear about that. I didn’t even bother posting about my first ovulating period a few weeks ago because it was so beyond the normal pain of what a period should be, that I didn’t want to suck you all down with me. It was more painful, heavier and longer than any period that I can remember. Aunt Flo (as my college bff used to call it) was visiting for a full EIGHT days. And she’s a messy, angry, soul-sucking bitch, let me tell you. It solidified the fact that she is no longer welcome in my house, even if we are blood relatives. I agonized over the decision to get an IUD for days, but it can take months for your body to stop cramping and there are chances that the pain won’t be better long term. So, in the end, I have decided to go back on the pill ~ even though I am over 35, get migraines with auras (increases the risk of headaches and stroke), have no good bacteria in my gut (which can increase circulating estrogen), and my life is like one long sedentary car ride (increases the risk of blood clots). But taking the pill continuously guarantees no period and no pain ~ no other option does that. If I didn’t have ME and I wasn’t worried about surgery, I would have a hysterectomy tomorrow. Aunt Flo has never liked me and our knock-down-drag-out fights have sent me to the emergency room five times. So, maybe, if my body gets stronger, I will consider an IUD or ablation or something more permanent.

aunt flo

Thursday moment of gratitude: Peasant food! Soups and stews and leftover mish-mashes are the best for my restricted diet and winter warmth. If only I could have soft, crusty bread slathered in butter to dunk in them…. mmmmmm……

…and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…

I don’t think I have the energy to write much because I have big plans today like making a few phone calls and washing my cpap. I’m also determined to do my stretches today, which I haven’t been able to do for ages. I had 19 very bad days. The worst day of all was two days ago. My brother, a pilot, was in town overnight and I wasn’t able to see him. I haven’t seen him since August, 2011 ~ two months before I got sick. I kept thinking, I manage to get to a doctor appointment and talk for 45 minutes, but I’m not able to meet my brother for breakfast? But he has another layover here in two weeks, so I get a second chance.

Then, right after that horrible day, miraculously, yesterday I felt better. Not great, but better. I wish I could adequately describe the difference between a bad-but-not-horrible day and a good-but-not-great day. They are worlds apart. Instead of getting out of a chair like a crippled, arthritic 90 year old, I get up like a typical 39 year old who is in pain. Instead of walking up the stairs to the bathroom delicately, with difficulty, concentrating on each baby step and clutching at the walls, I walk up slowly, heavily, but without much thought. Instead of watching tv as still as a statue, unable to smile, needing to block my ears at loud noises, but having a hard time holding my hands up to my head, I can laugh and operate the remote control. Instead of unhappily eating an apple or drinking an Ensure to pad my stomach for the pills I have to take, I am hungry and look forward to eating a (really boring) meal.

I looked in the mirror yesterday and there was pink in my cheeks, but not in a feverish way. I had been ashen for weeks ~ grey skin, dull yellow eyes ~ and overnight it looked like I had taken a walk outside. It feels like the Monster, who has been crushing you in both hands for weeks on end, had to scratch his nose or something and, with one of his hands not pressing in on you, you are suddenly able to take a breath… to have a conversation without sweating and shaking… you are able to pet your dogs and hug your husband and make granola. And the whole time you are thinking, thank you thank you thank you. That is when I can see a tiny seed of hope. I have to remember in the despairing, dark days of pain, that there will be another day in the future when the Monster has to let go to answer the phone or smoke a cigarette or whatever… and you will be able to move a little easier.


I saw the Good Doctor on Monday and she is adamant that I stay away from dairy, gluten and grains still. I am also back on all the same supplements as before, plus berberine to combat yeast and magnesium to help pain and sleep (note to those that may not know: magnesium glycinate is the form that should not mess with your bowels. Other forms can help you poop or cause diarrhea, depending on how much you take). I’m thrilled. After months of stagnation, I have forward momentum. I told her, “I don’t care what we do, but I have to do something. If you don’t want me back on the supplements yet, I’m going to start the Chinese herbs.” After much research online into ME/CFS experts’ protocols, I was bolstered to see many of the same supplements that the Good Doc has me on (CoQ10, fish oil, acetyl-L-carntine etc.). I started them again on Monday and I wonder if they contributed to the uptick on Thursday. Placebo effect doesn’t really work with this disease in me, as much as I wish it would. It might make me feel a little lighter or more hopeful, but the placebo effect cannot cause the difference between practically bedbound and able to walk and talk. It’s more likely the fact that I slept fairly well Wednesday night ~ 8.5 hours. My plan is to start Cymbalta on Monday or whenever the initial nausea from the supplements wears off… so I can deal with the initial nausea of the Cymbalta. Joy.

Here’s my daily regimen:

 daily pills