Crutch

This morning, I’m without internet for perhaps the first time since being housebound and I’m embarrassingly out-of-sorts. I’m online doing something pretty much all day. Whether it’s reading articles, talking with people on WhatsApp, ordering things I need, paying bills, connecting with the outside world on Facebook, streaming shows to our TV, podcasts, music– it all requires an internet connection. My calendar is online, my to-do lists are online, my newspapers are online, I have commitments with a neighbourhood group and we communicate solely via FB Messenger, Skype is down and I don’t have international calling on my phone… It even took me a while to figure out how to type this because I don’t have a laptop with Word and I usually just open an email to write blog posts.

I realise this is a privileged problem–I’m not complaining about the internet being down, I’m complaining about how dependent on it I have become, how empty my daily routine is without the World Wide Web. But empty is an ugly word–how open and full of possibilities my day is without my crutch. And just how incredibly grateful I am for that crutch. If I were too sick to look at a screen or be near wi-fi, or if I had gotten sick years before I did, this would have been a far more harrowing and isolated experience. The internet has told me what doctors couldn’t, my symptoms are less scary and things are put in perspective, I’ve made wonderful new friends, stayed connected with some old friends and traveled the world with them through photos online. But today I might do exactly what I longed to do when I was a workaholic — laze at home and read a book. Pity I already feel antsy and am losing focus one page in. My brain needs some serious retraining.

Title Credit (when I was trying to decide what to call this short post, I realised it would be an excellent opportunity to share Ren’s new song, featuring his girlfriend. He is someone I know online who suffers with M.E. and Lyme disease. He is also an incredible musician. This song brought tears to my eyes (of course, it’s not about the silly interent, it is about the much more important crutches in our lives–our loved ones).)

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June JuJu

I have had a bad backslide this month. It started with headaches in the first week of June, then bowel inflammation and bloating, then weakness, exhaustion and a constant buzzy/numb head… On the 10th, I had one day of terrible pain in all my joints: hips, shoulders, hands, wrists. On the 11th, I had a histamine reaction with my throat spot getting very itchy for the first time in ages, coupled with the internal fire that I call flushing. On the 13th, I had unusally bad blood pooling and swollen hands and feet. On the 14th, I woke up with the worst muscle pain I have had in probably over a year… full-body, every movement hurt, muscles I forgot existed… and it sent me into the emotional doldrums: I can’t do this anymore. What’s it all for? I can’t live like this. My whole life was useless. I never had a family, I never made a difference in the world, I worked and studied and worried for nothing because it was all for nothing and useless and life is meaningless blah blah blah… That was brought on by seeing an old friend’s holiday photos of beautiful people gallivanting in the sun with their beautiful children and their happy, youthful I-haven’t-aged-a-bit-in-the-last-23-years smiles. One should never look at Facebook when they are bedbound in extreme pain and it’s summer.

On the 15th, I realised the deadline for Social Security to receive my disability paperwork (work history and function report) was the next day and I panicked. I’d read the letter wrong and thought I had another week. It should have taken a week to do, but I had to cram it into 24 hours. They write on the form that it should take about an hour to fill out, which is hysterical. It took me about 10 solid hours. I had to research the jobs I had and how much I was paid back to 1997! I had to describe every position I held. I had to estimate things like how many hours a day I stooped, bent, knelt, sat, walked etc. For each position! Seriously? How many hours a day I bent?? For fuck’s sake. For all my restaurant jobs, it was fairly easy: I walked all day, every day. But, they wanted to know things like how many hours a day and days a week I worked. Well, some weeks it was 3 shifts, 10 hours a day and some days it was 14 hours a day and 7 days a week (when we were opening restaurants). I was that person who was writing in tiny letters in the margins, giving explanations and qualifiers that will never be read. They’d ask something like, “What did you do all day in this job?” and give me one line to answer. What didn’t I do all day? That would have been easier to answer. As COO, I did everything. They wanted to know how heavy objects were that I lifted: “What was the heaviest object you lifted? How much did the objects that you lifted most of the day weigh?” I wound up texting my friend from my old job: “How heavy do you think 3 of those dinner plates loaded with food were?” We were blessed with the heaviest plates in the industry and the heaviest food. Tex-Mex doesn’t leave any blank room on the plate.

For the function report, they asked the same questions different ways for 12 pages. Maybe they wouldn’t be the same answers with other illnesses, but with this one they are: “How has your social life been affected?” “How have your cooking habits changed?” “What household chores can you do?” “How have your hobbies and past times changed?” “What can’t you do now that you used to be able to do?” Over and over: I can’t do any of it anymore. All of it has changed. I was excited when I got to the question about dressing myself: Yes! Yes, I can do that!

So, the 15th and 16th turned into the familiar nightmarish feeling of deadlines and all-nighters. Oh, how many times did I leave all my assignments and studying to the last minute in college. It was my M.O. Always was, even in secondary school. I stayed up all night studying for my leaving cert (the final exam at the end of high school in Ireland) maths exam and then took a nap in the early hours of the morning and slept through it! (Side note to any young ones reading this: I thought the world was going to end. I was a perfectionist even then and, when they wouldn’t let me retake my exam, I thought my future was lost… I’d never get into the colleges I wanted to attend… it would be a black scar on my record for evermore… But, guess what, it made no difference in my life. You’ll be ok, no matter what the outcome of the leaving or the SATs or any of it. Life is much, much more.)

I put ear plugs in and sat secluded for hours upon hours trying to fill out the paperwork. My brain wasn’t working and I had to get my husband to help (“What symptoms do I have, honey?” “What hobbies do — did — I like to do?”). My hand was cramping and my vision was pretty much gone, so I went to bed and finished it the next day in a complete stupour of pain and nausea and bricked-ness. The SSA said that it was okay that it was late. I called 3 times to verify that and they kept saying it’ll be fine, so fingers crossed I didn’t screw myself.

On the 17th, I awoke in the middle of the night with an evil migraine, which is still lingering today. I have been chilled and achy and wired the last few days, trying to figure out if it is something I ate that caused the joint pain, muscle pain and migraine — is it because of all the histamine foods I have been adding in? — or is it just the unrelenting disease and the stress and overworked brain? Last night, I couldn’t get to sleep until 1am and I awoke at 5am with my heart galloping from a nightmare. I’ve been wide awake with my brain on fire ever since. Can’t deep breathe or meditate, can’t concentrate or be productive, can’t jump out of bed and tackle the day. Just have to lie here, my body a bee hive of activity and my eyes barely able to focus.

Chronic illness gods, I’m sorry I mentioned that something was working. How dare I?! Please give me some respite. I’ll be good.

January 1st, 2014

This day last year, I said 2012 was the worst year of my life. I also stated emphatically that 2013 would look very different. And it did. But not in a good way. In 2012, I was still working for 5 months of the year. I got to spend 11 days with my soul sister, E., when she visited from Dublin. I was able to run errands, go to the dog park, talk on the phone, and see friends for 9 months of 2012. Unfortunately, that all went away. Now, I can safely say 2013 was the worst year of my life.

The details are too difficult and depressing to describe or dwell on, but neither will I paint a silver lining around this dark life. It has been unspeakably difficult, what didn’t kill me did not make me stronger, and I’m not grateful for the lessons I have learned since being sick. I am a sadder, scared-er, weaker, lonelier person and I’d give anything to go back to the ignorance and energy of healthier days.

However, I am much more aware of things I used to take for granted and I am more thankful than I’ve ever been: For every bird, tree, and arc of sunshine. For every single dollar that I saved before the abrupt halt of income. For every time a snort of laughter escapes me; every day that my legs hold me; and every book, film, song that distracts me. For every time someone vents to me about their life or asks for my opinion or feels they can use my muscle-wasted shoulder to cry on. For every time someone braves the thin ice of chronic illness to ask what life is like for us or see how I am feeling or offer to help, knowing full well they risk breaking through to the deep despair beneath.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family. My father, mother, brothers, sister, in-laws, friends, husband and dogs. (Oh, husband and dogs! I am alive today because of you! And I fight for tomorrow because of you.) Each day that they are healthy brings me solace and I experience stark, unfettered joy at every festive Facebook photo of holiday parties, restaurant dinners and energy-filled activities. So, keep singing, fishing, working, exercising and traveling, everyone! And I will live vicariously… Just, please, promise me that you do it with an eyes-wide-open acknowledgement of how short and fragile our journey is on this earth.

Here is my 2013 wrap up:

January: Was sorely disappointed at the Chronic Fatigue Clinic; saw first private doctor, tried cranio-sacral therapy.
February: Not much except stool and saliva tests.
March: Was sorely disappointed at second rheumatologist visit; saw second sleep doctor; had the 4 best days between September, 2012 and now; Zyrtec trial.
April: Got teeth cleaned; started seeing wonderful physical therapist; started the awful process of getting an oral appliance for sleep apnea which still hasn’t happened, almost 9 months later; Seriphos trial; started Chinese herbs.
May: New nephew R. was born; saw dermatologist; phophatidylserine trial; Nasonex trial; tried Tizanidine; turned 40; dear friend E.S. died far too young.
June: My mother and D. visited; saw cardiologist; tried valarian; started Unisom; Gabapentin trial; added rice back to my diet.
July: My father visited; stopped weekly therapy; stopped phone calls for the most part; stopped Chinese herbs.
August: Stopped eating soy, citrus; added lentils, garbanzo beans; tried Trazodone; stopped all vitamins and supplements; J. and Z. gave me a scooter: my ticket to some freedom.
September: My mother and brother, T. visited; abdominal pain started; husband’s family visited; celebrated 15th anniversary.
October: Brother A. visited; saw ENT doctor; saw “environmental” doctor; saw neurologist; had bad reaction to Unisom; tried Xanax; Zetonna trial; had hellish 2-week repercussions to autonomic testing.
November: Tried low-histamine diet for 5 weeks; methylation pathway, mycotoxin and adrenal tests; started vitamins again and Metagenics shakes; tried iv fluids and caused anaphylactoid reaction; another zyrtec trial; saw allergist; steps per day decreased below 700 and haven’t come back up.
December: New nephew G. was born; Christmas with sister; saw ophthalmologist; started juicing; tried Ativan.

Like last year, there were births, deaths, doctors, drugs, symptoms, setbacks and disappointments. And, like last year, what I see when I look at this is how lucky I am to have family that would travel across the city, country or ocean to visit me in my home and offer love and support, without judgement.

Happy new year to you all. 2014, please look different than 2013 ~ only in a good way.

Hubby sweeping in the new year, a family tradition. :)

Hubby sweeping in the new year, a family tradition. 🙂

Remember the little moments,

like this,

that were good.

Cheers.

~James Gandolfini in The Sopranos R.I.P.

Rag and Bone Blog Anniversary

I started this blog one year ago today. I never thought it would become a permanent part of my routine and something that gives me such pleasure. I started it as a daily tracker of treatment with low-dose naltrexone. The original url was ldndiary.com.

Since then, I have sacrificed most correspondence and contact (emails, cards, phone calls) and used my limited energy to write blog posts so that friends and family will all have a place to go to see how I’m doing. Of course, relationships are a two-way road and my hope is that my loved ones will continue to contact me. I will answer or pick up the phone when I can. If I can be an ear for someone or a shoulder to cry on, it makes me feel like my old self again ~ a reciprocal, functional friend.

This is a very tough line to walk for everyone involved. I’ve had friends tell me they thought I just wanted to be left alone. I am a very private person in some ways. I will lay bare my feelings, my opinions and my thoughts, always ~ I can’t be shocked or grossed out, I am rarely offended ~ but, I’m oddly private about sickness because I don’t want to accept that this happened to me. I want to believe that I am healthy and vibrant. I left my job and only told my bosses why. And I even told them half-truths. Everyone I had worked with for over 8 years didn’t really know what had happened. Eventually, I sent a select few individuals a link to my blog and said, “I’m not purposely out of contact. This is what is going on.” So, I understand completely why people didn’t contact me ~ they didn’t know and, if they did, they were trying to respect my privacy and hermit-ism.

Recently, a friend on Facebook commented on what a good book Unbroken is and I took the opportunity to comment that the author Laura Hillenbrand‘s story is as incredible as Louis Zamperini’s. I also mentioned that I was dealing with the same illness. I’ve been sick for almost 2 years and that was the first time I had said anything about ME/CFS on Facebook (and it’s not because I have thousands of friends on there ~ I’m selective; I’m only friends with people I know and like).

I don’t know if I’ll ever accept my limitations. I used to think of myself as a workhorse, a rock, an efficient multitasker. I spent my life feeling exuberant, passionate and ambitious. At work, I had huge responsibilities, I was in charge of seven restaurants and, no matter how stressful it was, I felt trusted, knowledgeable and accomplished ~ all traits that help self worth. This illness stripped me bare. Suddenly I felt weak, dependent, unattractive… Suddenly, my dreams for the future were out the window. I worked so hard to get where I was in my career and I had only just got there ~ I’d only just started to feel comfortable in my expertise and financially secure. My support network and any activities that gave me joy vanished… This on top of my new broken body.

I guess, after being sick almost two years, I’m finally coming around to the idea that it’s not a failure, not shameful. We all will grow old and health will fail. Mine just happened a little earlier and a little more abruptly. That’s what I tell myself. And I squash the voice that says No, this is worse than the majority of health problems. What do I know? I haven’t walked in anyone else’s shoes.

I think finding friends in the blogging community and making contact on ME/CFS forums has helped in ways I could have never imagined. I truly care about these people that I’ve never met face to face. I wonder how they are and I worry when they don’t write. They have made me laugh and cry. They comment on my blog and I feel like, I may be housebound, but I’m not alone. I’d never read a blog in my life until this day last year and now I am so incredibly grateful for my little circle of online friends who understand what I am going through and give me strength.

Thank you to my family for visiting, cheering me on and sending care packages to cheer me up. Thank you to the friends who call me, confide in me and tell me all the time that they’re thinking of me. And thank you to my blog family ~ my blamily. 😉 You know who you are. I wouldn’t finally be finding acceptance and hope without your help.

Title Credit