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.

Buffers can help, but sometimes not enough…

My brain MRI was fine. No evidence of MS, no sign of something causing my headaches. My c-spine MRI showed that I have mild intervertebral disk space narrowing and mild central disc osteophyte complex, centered at C4. I won’t go into the history of my neck problems, but if this is “mild” I feel very, very sorry for anyone with moderate or severe problems. When my neck has “gone out”, the pain is 10 out of 10. It is like nothing I’ve felt before. Can’t lie down, sit down, move arms, head, back… I’ve showed up at the doctor’s office twice at 7:30am, without an appointment, crying and begging for help. Both times they gave me injections in my butt that knocked me out for almost two days. I guess, if the bone problem is mild, the muscle problem can still be severe. My physical therapist said I had the worst case of hypermobility in my neck that she had ever encountered. It must have been from all my head banging, rock ‘n’ roll days and all the extreme sports I played. That’s sarcasm. I didn’t do anything!

My neck first went out a week after a particularly bone-rattling roller coaster called The Iron Wolf. It was a stand-up roller coaster and they had head buffers on both sides to minimize injury as you were being tossed around. I was too short for them to buff properly, though, and my head and neck took a battering. My brain felt blended. One week later, I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t. The neck pain was excruciating, radiating down my limbs. I was so unfamiliar with bone/muscle pain, that I thought I was going to be paralyzed. I thought my spine was fractured or something. I lay there for hours with tears running into my ears, waiting for my husband to get home. That one healed on its own since I had no health insurance at the time, but I’ve had problems ever since. I guess I did go into the history of my neck problems, after all!

Anyway, back to the present: I added back in rice to my diet with no adverse effects. Unless this exhaustion and pain are caused by the rice?? Haha. Just kidding. I’ve added flax to my smoothies and started taking the zinc and ferrous gluconate supplements. The latter is meant to be taken 1 hour after food and 2 hours before food and, let me tell you, it is VERY HARD for me not to eat for 3 hours, so I’m cheating a bit on that one.

I stopped taking the birth control pill yesterday. My headache is all day, every day and is crippling me. I’ve spent a lot of time lying down in dark rooms in the last 3 weeks, my face is permanently pinched, I can’t deal with too much light or noise. I am constantly alternating epsom salt baths, ice packs, arnica, IcyHot spray, TENS unit, meditation, breathing exercises, anything I can think of to ease up my neck and back muscles and hopefully help the headache. After much research on my headache support group forum, I’ve convinced myself that it is caused by the pill, so I am going go stop taking it for a month and see what happens. I also want to quit the pill because I’m extremely sedentary and that contributes to the risk of blood clots (and being over 35 years of age). I actually think I would prefer any other pain to this headache (except for maybe the aforementioned 10-out-of-10 neck pain… and, when my period hits, I’m sure I’ll amend that statement).

I woke up full of gratitude this morning. There are people out there dealing with this and other illnesses with little to no support, starting their journey with so much less than I have. My heart breaks for them. Without my income, I am terrified of losing our house, our savings, our health insurance, but I could have started this illness with no house, no savings and no health insurance. What do people do? I am blessed and grateful to have a slight buffer. Like The Iron Wolf’s buffers, it may not be enough to save me down the road, but, for now, I can ride the roller coaster.