Your Possible Pasts

mmm... a cuppa...

mmm… a cuppa…

It’s 7am on a Sunday and, in a fit of irked defiance, I made myself a cup of fully caffeinated Barry’s tea with milk — real, whole, pasteurized cow milk — and sugar. I’m shaking like a leaf now and don’t know if the sudden addition of dairy to my diet will have any effect, but, oh, make no mistake, there is nothing in the world like a proper cup of tea and I needed that comfort.

I went to sleep last night at 12:30am and awoke at 4:30am with my heart pounding from a stressful dream and I never went back to sleep. This isn’t uncommon — one of the sleep issues I’ve had since being ill is waking up at the end of every REM cycle. My sleep doctor couldn’t find any reason for it (apnea events, restless leg etc.) and it means that I remember multiple dreams every night. Unfortunately, they are all too often nightmares — tortured events that almost always revolve around my illness: I am being chased by murderers, but I am too sick to get away. My dogs are in peril and I’m too weak to save them. I’m homeless and being accosted by faceless strangers on the street and I have no energy to fight and no voice to argue. No voice is a recurring theme — the inability to yell for help, the inability to defend myself.

This morning, the breathless, heart-pounding awakening was caused by a dream about a friend who accused me of something I didn’t do 17 years ago. I won’t get into details because it is buried just enough to not engulf me in a tsunami of emotion and, when I finally deal with it, it will have to be parsed out in careful digestible bits, probably with my therapist. But, I think it is time to confront it. She was a friend I loved very much and with whom I had years of history. She is actually one of my facebook contacts because I don’t like letting anyone go, but my stomach turns every time I see her interacting with my old circle of friends, a combination of bitterness, jealously, embarrassment and mourning for the loss of that closeness and confidence in childhood loyalty. The situation actually changed the course of my life because, in the wake of it, I postponed a move back to Ireland and wound up meeting my husband soon thereafter.

Although I never believed it before, it occurred to me recently that maybe all this dealing with the past bullshit has some merit. In 2012, my counselor at the time tried to broach the subject of anger or hurt that I might be harbouring from my past and I shut it down. Emotionally, I felt fine until this horrific illness and all I’ve needed and wanted was help dealing with the abrupt loss of life as I knew it. Who cares about my parents’ divorce when I’m trying not to die every day and I want to die every night? But I’ve come through the acute stage of ME and have accepted where I am. My fear is justifiably about the future and the present feels pretty… matte. But the damn past has started gurgling up in my dreams. Last week I drempt that my old boss instructed me to open a bunch of restaurants in quick succession and I was too sick and ineffectual to do it. I woke up in a cold sweat of anxious panic and blunt anger at a job that always asked too much. There are demons in there.

So, today I’m starting with an email — or at least the contemplation of an email — to my old friend. Maybe I don’t need to go into the extended rant that always surfaces during those half-awake moments when I start to compose the letter. Maybe I just need to find my voice and say, for the record, I didn’t do it.

Title Credit


The Locations Effect*

Here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s coincidence that it has been so humid in Seattle this month and I have gone downhill. I have been using the dehumidifier every day and I didn’t have to turn it on once in the last six months. This is something I am so reluctant to write about because it causes me such terror and grief. More for my husband than myself. If this climate, this city, this house is making me sick, I would move. I could make that decision today. When you lose your career and your social life, become housebound and fear death, there is nothing that seems too drastic or impossible. I’ve been too sick to go anywhere, see people, call family, read books, so what do I care if I have to leave the place I have called home for 19 years? Well, I do care, of course. I have been too immobilized by fear all this time to even consider it, let alone talk about it, let alone do it!

But, the most difficult part for me is that the hardship falls on my husband. He is the one that would have to sell things, pack things, clean things. He is the one with hard-won seasonal landscaping clients. He is the one that has poured his heart and soul into this home, tearing down walls and building bathrooms, replacing piping and electrical, building porches, patios, vegetable beds and fences, tearing out the furnace and installing under-floor heating, slugging through the crawlspace and sweating around the attic, replacing every shred of insulation that was infested by rats when we first moved in.

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He is the one that has spent 8 long years growing this garden oasis. Every single day that he doesn’t work — summer or winter — he has been in the garden doing whatever it is that people who love landscaping and plants do. The trees he has planted are glorious and you all know the fireworks show of flowers that I have documented here.


He has done work-trade for plants and materials, used reclaimed stones and bricks to build paths and retaining walls… he has mulched and pruned and dug and mowed every day for 8 years and, until recently, I could never see the art that he knew would reveal itself. While I was confused by his choices, he could see the future colourful landscape and, one day, there it was… Ooohhh, that’s why you cut back that hedge so aggressively! Ooohh, all that green actually blooms eventually! That’s why you put that tree there! There was a reason for every brush stroke, only it took years to see the full painting. And we thought we’d have forever to enjoy it. My heart aches for him more than anything — that he might have to walk away from his slowly-created and lovingly-tended artwork.


I know how lucky I am. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who takes care of me. I know I’m lucky to have had this home and to have had some savings. I know I’m lucky to have possessions in the first place to be able to sell. I could have started off from a much less stable position, without family support. But it doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t want to leave this house. My husband and I said our vows in the back garden. But, it is an inevitability because of loss of income. Leaving Seattle entirely is a different matter.

I have never taken Seattle for granted. Every year I am grateful that I don’t live with crushing heat and air conditioning… we don’t have freezing storms, frozen pipes, snow drifts, hurricanes or tornadoes…. don’t have to worry about mosquitoes, biting bugs, fire ants, huge spiders… I love all our doors and windows open 5 months a year and never having to think about insect repellent or ticks or West Nile virus…. I love the mountains and Puget Sound, the abundance of good food, farmers’ markets, clean water… I love the laidbackness and the passion of the people here… the music, art and theatre here… the politics, universities, the companies that make their homes here… I don’t want to live anywhere else in America…. But… what if?


Recently, Jen Brea, who is making the film Canary in a Coalmine, had some remission of her symptoms in Utah. I looked up today’s temperature and humidity in Salt Lake City and it is 88 degrees and 24% humidity. Here in Seattle, it is 61 degrees and 63%. Dublin, Ireland is about the same. My whole life I have lived in this climate and I need to test something different. I want to not only test a different house, but different air. If I could, I would travel to the Carribean or Europe, but the reality is, if I can be healthier in, say, Winnemucca Nevada, shouldn’t I go there? Can I separate living from all the things I thought equaled living? If I have no friends, no dogs, no home, no job, no possessions, but I’m not (as) sick, is it worth it? If I’m healthier, but I have no access to community because I’m living so remotely, can I be happy?

I can’t even begin to describe the lives of extreme mold avoiders. I have delved into that world for about six months now — watching videos, reading blogs and articles, listening to discussions in Facebook groups — it is harrowing and heartbreaking. No one can comprehend the pared-down, nomadic lives that people lead, leaving everything and everyone behind to travel the country looking for a safe place to sleep, their few possessions in garbage bags. Putting down shallow roots until something goes wrong — water intrusion, insecticide spraying, air quality changes — and then having to move on again to the next motel, campsite or friend’s driveway. I don’t know how they find the strength. But, my first step has to be getting out of here and testing how I do somewhere else. Part of me is hopeful and excited that it might make a difference and part of me thinks our little family will never survive such upheaval and I’ll somehow have to go it alone. As it stands now, I have to figure out where to go, when to go and who will take care of me until I can take care of myself. Gratitude pours from every fiber of my being for those of you that have offered to travel with me and help this quest: friends, siblings, parents and dear husband, I wouldn’t have a chance without you.



*The Locations Effect is the name of an online forum and Facebook group started by Lisa Petrison to report “on places where people have experienced improvement in chronic neuroimmune health conditions.” She is also executive director of Paradigm Change, a “not-for-profit organization with a primary goal of encouraging the exploration of the hypothesis that certain diseases involving the neurological and immune systems may be ones of toxicity.”


IV saline experiment… causes angioedema and histamine release.

I had a total meltdown yesterday. As my throat grew more swollen and I grew more alarmed, I finally put it together that I was experiencing an acute angioedema episode. I didn’t recognise what was going on because I usually get a swollen tongue and lips. On Friday, I chalked the edema up to fluid retention from the saline. The spot deep in my throat under my jaw that I mentioned in my last post always itches when I am having an allergic reaction – it’s the canary in the coalmine of my body – but I don’t pay attention to it as closely as I should. This was a slow cooking reaction: laboured breathing and swollen eyes, fingers and sinuses (stuffy nose) on Friday evening, itchy throat spot and heart skipping/arrhythmia started Saturday (both continue today, Tuesday), flushing/extreme overheating on Sunday, and throat closing on Monday, coupled with what felt like body edema – swollen bowel, abdomen, muscles…

Now I know throat closing/laryngeal swelling calls for me to use my Epipen, but, like I said, I didn’t cop on to what was happening until late in the game. Also, I would really have to be on death’s door to voluntarily inject myself with epinephrine. But I was very, very scared. Hence, the meltdown. I actually said to my husband, “Why can’t I just have a peanut allergy – something I can try to avoid?” I actually said, “Why can’t I JUST have M.E.?!” I don’t say those words lightly and, of course, if I could barter away my illnesses, ME would be the first one to go, but it is terrifying to feel like you have no control over anything and living with the threat of a fatal allergic reaction that can’t be identified is the ultimate loss of control.

I’m too tired to explain thoroughly and scientifically, but, basically, angioedema is the same mechanism in the body as urticaria, only in deeper tissues. If it happens in the tongue and throat and lungs, it can kill you. Often, as in my case, there are no identifiable triggers, so you just deal with it when it happens and hope it isn’t serious. It can present with urticaria or without and it can be as severe as anaphylaxis or very mild. If you want to learn more, Medscape has a very comprehensive set of articles (many tabs at the top with many pages per tab- just click on the next page at the bottom and you will go through them all). All of the better information on these types of conditions is relatively new. When I was diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis 12 years ago, blood tests turned up no allergies, so the doctors washed their hands of me. That was it. When I suggested alcohol as a possible culprit, the doctor was disdainful and dismissive. When I mentioned that most times this happened was during my menstrual cycle, I was ignored. Here’s an Epipen, go away. Nobody knew about mast cell activation or histamine intolerance. And, of course, I was right! With my limited knowledge at the time of all things medical, I came up with the common denominators that made sense: booze, period, ibuprofen.

For an excellent article read this:
“The ingestion of histamine-rich food or of alcohol or drugs that release histamine or block DAO may provoke diarrhea, headache, rhinoconjunctival symptoms, asthma, hypotension, arrhythmia, urticaria, pruritus, flushing, and other conditions in patients with histamine intolerance.”

A few years ago, when I was diagnosed with autoimmune urticaria and angioedema and the doctor warned me (2 years too late) that people with this condition are more likely to have autoimmune thyroid disease, I asked him why the doctors years ago hadn’t looked into this autoimmune component. He said it was unknown then. He said it was something that only recently came to light. The only other thing he suggested was prophylactic treatment with Zyrtec, which I half-heartedly tried for a few months. No mention of H2 antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers. No mention of H3 or H4 or diamine oxidase. No discussion of mast cell activation, mastocytosis, histamine intolerance, low-histamine diet or any tests – whether reliable or not. No interest in looking into acquired angioedema, bradykinin-mediated angioedema or estrogen-dependent angioedema, all of which don’t respond to antihistamines. So, all of us – the patients – are scrambling along the edges of science. I feel like a surfer on an excruciatingly slow-moving wave. I come up with theories and do my own research and I see it mirrored in others’ blogs, but no doctors are accessible to help and no tests are robust enough to firmly diagnose.

For an excellent summary from another ME-afflicted blogger with mast cell problems (as well as EDS), read Jak’s blog: Mast Cells & Collagen Behaving Badly.

Which brings me back to my meltdown. For the most part it was a silent, immobile and tearless meltdown. I was simply frozen with fear. Saline probably caused a massive histamine release – right in the middle of my low-histamine diet experiment. I brought this situation on myself by requesting the saline. I had a reaction to an innocuous substance that is used to treat allergic reactions! Just like I had reactions to the antihistamines that are used to treat allergic reactions.

I can’t live with ME and angioedema and histamine/mast cell issues and sleep apnea and thyroid disease and crippling periods and a headache that never goes away and reactions to so many drugs!!

Fear of my throat closing more while I slept, fear of sleeping without my CPAP, fear of being woken up constantly by my CPAP, fear of taking an antihistamine, fear of not taking an antihistamine, fear of eating things that cause inflammation or histamine release, fear of losing more weight, fear of being on the pill, fear of having to weather my periods off the pill, fear of living the rest of my life in pain, fear of being in so much pain I have no choice but to take painkillers. What if I break a bone? What if I’m in a car accident? And then, swiftly on the heals of that thought, the fear that sent me into a tailspin: What if I have to go to the hospital? IV saline… IV painkillers… IV Benadryl… Contrast dye… Anesthesia… Surgery… What do I do when I’m older and I can’t avoid some procedure? When I break an already-osteoarthritic hip? What do I do if my body reacts to everything? I’m dead.

Fear of dying. Fear of living in this fear.

My answer to all of it was to throw caution to the wind and eat a bunch of forbidden histamine foods.

This is a perfect segue into part II of my diet post. I realise you are all on tenterhooks waiting to read it, but not yet, not yet.

The most recent article describing IA (idiopathic anaphylaxis), written by Karen Hsu Blatman and Leslie C. Grammer, explains the distinction this way:

Patients with IA-A experience urticaria or angioedema with upper airway compromise such as laryngeal edema, severe pharyngeal edema or massive tongue swelling without other signs of systemic anaphylaxis. Patients with IA-G suffer from urticaria or angioedema with bronchospasm, hypotension, syncope, or gastrointestinal symptoms with or without upper airway compromise. Reference.

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, 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!


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.

New Beginnings

68 weeks sick.
45 weeks gluten-free.
40 weeks unemployed.
26 weeks on autoimmune diet + supplements.
23 weeks housebound.

This is my update.

For those of you just joining us, six months ago, my doctor put me on a anti-inflammatory diet that is supposedly good for autoimmune conditions.

These are the rules:

  • No gluten (that is, no pasta, no muffins, no pizza)
  • No grains (that is, no gluten-free bread or baked products, no rice, no popcorn, no tortillas)
  • No dairy (that is, no yogurt, no ice cream, no cheese)
  • No legumes (that is, no peanut butter, no hummus, no beans)
  • No nightshades (that is, no red pasta sauce, no mashed spuds, no hot sauce)
  • No sugar (yeah, right)
  • Only lean meats and fish

I have been horrifically strict (as in, I won’t eat soup with corn starch in it or the soy yogurts made with rice starch). However, I have allowed myself oats (must have granola for breakfast) and, although I’ll stay away from, say, foie gras, I am eating beef. A lot. Sugar, also, is difficult. I’ve cut down drastically, but I still eat dark chocolate every day and sweeten my granola with honey.

I feel no different from this diet. Besides the fact that I have no joy in food anymore. In my other life, I would have had fun researching recipes and learning to cook with new and interesting ingredients, but I don’t have the energy. I couldn’t stand in the kitchen long enough to cook a meal. So we rely on a lot of salads, stews, roast chicken with veg etc. And I eat more nuts than anyone on the planet and buckets of fruit. Ick.

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My Food Shelf

The other day my husband had a long chat with one of his old friends. Afterwards, he said, “I caught him up on how you are doing.” I scoffed: “So, you told him nothing’s changed?” He said, “Well, no… you’re worse.”

It took me back a bit… Yes, of course I am worse. I can’t do half what I could last summer ~ no dog park, no grocery shopping, no lunches with friends. I am only driving myself to places that are very close, I never have more than one phone conversation a day, I can’t walk as well as I could six months ago ~ my body has degenerated from so little movement. I’m in MUCH more pain ~ my spine, hips and muscles. The fibromyalgia-type pain only started in earnest after I left my job. I look worse. The lack of sun and fresh air have taken a toll on me. My sleep problems and emotional turmoil have aged me.

BUT, although I’m worse, I’m better, too. My sickly, shaky, evil nightly sweats are gone (except for the odd night) and that completely changes my life. I will never be able to adequately put into words what those malarial nights were like. Sleeping with the enemy. Also, my “nightly flu” has gotten better ~ the sudden increase in chills, aches, sore throat at around 6pm. There were so many evenings I would say, Okay, this time I’m really coming down with something. I still have those symptoms, but they are muted. The headaches eased up. Did you watch Mind The Abyss? After watching it, my husband said, “When the headaches came on…the man’s head held in his hands… that’s what struck me the most.” The severity of my headaches and the accompanying noise and light sensitivity altered my life more than perhaps any other symptom. The constant chills are gone… The ice in my bones, shallow breathing, tense muscles, uncontrollable shivers… This time last year, I COULD. NOT. GET. WARM. I rarely progress to the point of “bricked” anymore: where I hit a wall and I am grey, ashen, can’t move, can’t speak, weeping in a ball on the couch. My sleep is still a major concern ~ constant waking and endless adjusting from pain ~ but I get 8+ hours a night and that is a huge step forward. And, finally, my outlook is better. Don’t get me wrong, I mourn A LOT and feel alone and desperately sad (mostly when my symptoms increase), but, I laugh now and there is a semblance of acceptance. There was a point in time when I couldn’t smile. I tried, but they just weren’t there. It wasn’t depression, it was from pain. Pain sucks smiles away. And I had the knowledge that below the pain was the flu and below that was exhaustion and fear and a life I wouldn’t recognise.

I’m trying to forget about 70% of what I know about ME/CFS and follow my heart. So, yesterday, I threw the ball for the dogs and scooped the poop in the yard. Afterwards, I had a much harder time moving, but I thought, “Maybe it’s not a CRASH. Maybe it’s just because your muscles aren’t used to it. Maybe you’ll be okay. Tomorrow is a new beginning.” You never know what someone is going to say that will stick in your brain and help you through the days. My friend Z. suggested I think of new beginnings. Obviously this makes sense in the grand scheme of this new alien life. It’ll never be what it was and I have to eventually look at it as a new beginning and stop fighting it… But, I’m not quite there yet. I’m not ready to embrace this mortal coil as a new, permanent realty. However, every day can hold hope as a new beginning. Every hour. It’s kept me going through a bad week. After this bath, maybe I’ll feel better, maybe a new beginning. After this meditation, a new beginning. This moment, a new beginning.

Today I am grateful for all that is better and new hope for the future.

Launching my wish for the future, with husband and friends Z., J. and D. Thanksgiving, 2010.

Launching lanterns with our wishes for the future, with husband and friends Z., J. and D. I wrote, “I wish that we have long, healthy, happy lives.” My husband wrote, “What she said.” Thanksgiving, 2010.

Girl, Interrupted

Last Sunday, my husband woke up, gave both dogs baths, hoovered the downstairs of the house, tidied the kitchen, emptied the dishwasher, took the dogs to the park, went to the grocery store, came home and hoovered the upstairs of the house, emptied all the garbage bins, put the cover on the duvet and made the bed look nice and inviting, washed and replaced the unwieldy dog bed covers, scooped the dog poop in the yard, cooked dinner and also cooked soup for me to eat for lunch the next day, took out the rubbish and recycling, loaded the dishwasher and I’m sure there are many things I didn’t notice him do… I washed my cpap parts, soaked in an epsom salt bath for 15 minutes and did a few minutes of gentle stretches. That was the extent of my activity. Other than that, I sat or lay in different rooms of the house.

I spend an inordinate amount of time lying down in dark rooms. Meditating, resting, sleeping, trying to sleep, reading, thinking, crying. Somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to walk laps around my house, so I haven’t been outside in weeks ~ except to walk to the car for doctors’ appointments. I long to be outside. I want to breathe in great gasps of cool outdoor air. I want to feel my heart pumping and my muscles contracting. I want to see my dogs run and be able to dance along with them and not be crippled physically or crippled by the fear of movement. I imagine my brain functions like any other negative reinforcement situation. If you are bit badly by a dog, you may avoid dogs and be seized by fear when you see one. When I move a lot, talk a lot, cry a lot, react to a pill I take or don’t sleep well, I am overcome with foreboding about the backwards tumble that lies ahead. It extends to smaller things, too. I forgot my sunglasses yesterday for the drive to the doctor and I wondered if the light would take its toll on me, not only in the moment, but today. I had to move quickly to catch the phone when my Mother called the other day and I became annoyed that I hadn’t stopped myself… and then became afraid that the 3 seconds of faster movement and the 3 minutes of annoyance would worsen my symptoms. I’m trying to do less so I don’t continue to slip backwards, but not do less so I don’t decondition anymore in my body and mind. It’s a hard line to walk.

Last month, we were watching The Walking Dead (spoiler alert: if you are watching but aren’t caught up). There is a scene where the father runs across a large field carrying his dying son who is a not-so-small 9 or 10 year-old. I can’t stop thinking about that scene. Not because the kid got shot – (spoiler alert) I knew he’d survive – but because sometimes we will have to exert energy. There WILL be trauma in our lives and, somehow, we will have to weather it. I watched that scene, thinking, I would give anything in the world to know that I could run flat-out across a field, carrying a child and that I would be okay. That I wouldn’t then be confined to my bed for the next decade. I would give anything to know that I could handle an emergency and emotional upheaval without regressing into worse shape for who knows how long. At the bare minimum, I would give anything to simply be able to run across a field, minus the bleeding child and the chasing zombies.

Yesterday I was watching The Bachelor (spoiler alert: in case you thought I was remotely cool) and the contestants were canoeing and riding horses. This was rough to watch. In my youth, I used to do both of these activities a lot. I loved them and felt confident in my skills (at least with canoeing. I made a number of trips through the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, isolated, carrying food bags, portaging from lake to lake. E and I took a trip together when we were, what? 16? That was ballsy. I don’t know if I would let my child disappear into the wilderness and hope that she and her friend would appear on a different lake a week later. But it was amazing and, now more than ever, I am so grateful for those memories). I watched those Bachelor contestants sit passively on top of the dozy, plodding ponies and then paddle over and over again into the shrubbery on either side of the river and I wanted to scream, AAaahhh! Give me that fucking paddle! Let me sit in the back of the canoe and steer for the next 5 hours, loving the ache in my shoulder, the strength of my biceps, the pull in my triceps… the sound of the canoe cutting through water and peace of surrounding nature. Let me sit on that horse! I can smell his coat and the saddle leather. I can feel the power beneath me and I just want to tap him with my heels and hold myself up with strong thighs and reliable calves, lean forward with no back pain and gallop. Or, at least, canter. The best feeling.

horse riding

Television and books ~ even watching my husband doing chores ~ are constant reminders of the things I can’t do and cause an endless roller coaster of emotions. Desire, jealousy, despair… and then gratitude for what I still have. I got up today after another bad night with no sleep and texted my friends that I felt like a walking corpse. The Walking Dead. But I don’t really walk much. And, I’m not dead, dammit. So, maybe my life right now is a bit Requiem For A Dream or Vertigo or Groundhog Day… But, maybe one day it’ll be Run Lola Run or Dances With Wolves… Or, simply, wonderfully Staying Alive.

oregon coast

Warning: I’m Talking About Poop

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Again. Still. I don’t know my body anymore and I don’t know what’s around any corner. The thing I try not to talk about is: every single time I have collapsed on the first day of my period, it was triggered by a morning bowel movement. Also, I have come close to passing out and had the paramedics called twice from bowel pressure/ cramping without having my period. See why I don’t like writing about this and now you don’t like reading about it?

So, for months I have had these little bouts of tight chest and heart palpitations. They come on very quickly, very strongly ~ making me gasp for breath ~ and then leave just as quickly. I finally figured out they were triggered somehow by my bowels. Within minutes after a breathing/heart episode, I will have “movement” of some sort down below ~ maybe even just a gurgle ~ that wasn’t even perceptible when my lungs tightened and my heart pitter-patted. I assumed it was some sort of vasovagal reaction and have been ignoring it.

Well, this past week, I have had an uptick in IBS issues. I don’t know why; I’ve changed nothing with my diet or supplements. With the increased gut distress, has come much more prolonged chest symptoms. This morning, I spent hours with my heart skipping and racing and, once again, such a tight chest that I was spooked. I ate salt, drank water, lay on the ground with my feet up, did breathing exercises, canceled my sleep doctor appointment and kept the phone close. I knew my chest would release once my bowel calmed down, but it didn’t help my fear of the future. IBS is not one of the related ME/CFS conditions that I worry about. I worry about the fibromyalgia and chemical sensitivity (especially since the codeine reaction). But, if things don’t calm down, it’ll now be my prime focus. I don’t want to be on beta blockers or any other drugs to “manage” arrhythmias or blood pressure drops.

Lastly, for a week or two, I’ve been dizzy. This is a new symptom, too. The rooms spins when I move my head and when I just move my eyes all the way to the right or left. Again, if it gets any worse, it will be the number one most debilitating symptom. All of these (drug reactions, food reactions, IBS, dizziness) could make life much more difficult than it already is. I feel like I’m standing on a precipice on one foot… with my arms tied behind my back… in gale-force winds… eyes blindfolded, so I can’t see what new evil is coming at me or from where…

Not sure what I’m grateful for today. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

February 1st Addendum:

I think things are better today. I ate like a baby yesterday (apple sauce, cooked carrots, squash etc.), avoided supplements and I hope things will resolve themselves. Maybe it was just magnesium. I’ve been taking 500mg of mag oxide wondering why it wasn’t giving me any gastrointestinal issues… Maybe it just caught up with me after a few months. My doctor’s only two suggestions were anti-spasmodics for the bowel (uh, no) and a tilt-table test to address POTS. Let me repeat: I will do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to avoid taking a test that induces scary symptoms that I try to avoid every day of my life just so a doctor can confirm that I get dizzy and sometimes my blood pressure and pulse bottom out. I already know that; I don’t need a test. Unless I have to do it for disability. But I haven’t got the nerve/energy up to tackle that yet.