My So-Called Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title Credit

Hope for a great sea-change

One of the things I never realized about chronic illness is that it is easier to drive than it is to take a shower. If you see someone driving their car to an appointment, you might think they’re doing okay, but that person may have needed help to wash their hair that morning. And, by “morning”, I mean afternoon because it probably took a number of hours to get from waking to bathing.

I can drive myself to nearby appointments and I can talk for the whole time I’m there – half an hour sitting up with a doctor, an hour lying down with the physical therapist – but, if someone witnessed this, would they understand that I couldn’t write a blog post that day, I had to put on clothes in increments over the course of an hour, I had to rest in a dark, silent room immediately before and after the appointment, and, if I had slept poorly, I would have canceled?

My husband has been washing my hair lately. I sit on my seat and he leans awkwardly into the shower while I rest my forearms on my knees and hang my head. He also helps me dry my hair. I sit on the toilet in much the same position as I did in the shower and he stands above me with the hair dryer.

My sister comes over to help me with laundry. It’s been a long time since I’ve expended the energy needed to fold or hang clothes, so there are wrinkled piles of clean, dirty and not-clean-but-not-dirty-enough-to-be-washed items in various rooms. I never thought my husband would be scrubbing my scalp while I sit naked and motionless or my sister would be sorting my underwear while I am supine, watching.

It seems like a new low, especially in light of the fact that I’ve been housebound for a year, I’m walking under 1000 steps a day and it takes about 15 minutes of activity to wear me out. But I don’t think it is a low. I feel hopeful; overall I may feel healthier than a year ago. I’m more debilitated now, but less ILL. More chronic, less flailing, flaring, uncontrollable. A year ago, I was freezing all the time during the day and drenched in night sweats whenever I slept. I was in constant pain and felt fluish every day. I was still going to the dog park and grocery shopping, but I was scared and overwhelmed. Maybe most of the improvements have been mental– now, when the viral symptoms descend, I don’t panic. I understand that this could be lifelong and any progress will always be at a snail’s pace. I understand there may not be progress at all, it may only get worse. I know now there will be spans of no pain and I just need to take one day at a time. In fact, every single night when I go to bed, I am excited at the prospect of another chance in the morning– at the knowledge that a new day may bring a better day.

My husband says, it was a long road down, so it’ll probably be at least as long back up. I try to relax into the ride, do all I can to unburden my organs and facilitate healing. When my inner workaholic and constant student starts to writhe inside this straight jacket, I soothe her: You are working. You are writing, reading, learning about yourself and opening your eyes to suffering. I remind myself that I don’t have to talk to people that annoy me, drive during rush hour, meet deadlines or bow to bosses. When my night owl howls, I tell it nothing fun happens between 9pm and 2am. You’re not missing anything, go to sleep. I try to believe it. I remind myself that I never have to hear an alarm clock. I ease into bed with a solid routine and, when I wake, I lounge for hours. This is healthy, don’t resent it. When cabin fever and loneliness threaten to make my mind come apart at the seams, I pretend I am monastic. I am on a retreat. I am cleansing, enjoying solace. This is a temporary stillness. It is needed. Revel in it. I get to enjoy the garden and the sun. I get to spend every day with my dogs, even if it is lying flat on my back. I promise myself: The world will be there when your body is able to meet it again.

Maybe this low is where the slide stops and it’s all uphill from here. Listen carefully: “Believe in miracle and cures and healing wells.”

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

Seamus Heaney,
The Cure at Troy
R.I.P.

Oh, Happiness is Happening

After the exhausting week that I visited the Good Doctor and had my traumatic trip to the massage, I emailed my family and close friends and said that I wasn’t going to talk on the phone or skype for a few weeks in order to rest up for and recover from my father’s visit. I cancelled all appointments, also. It wound up being 18 days with no human interaction other than my husband and the 4 days with my father and sister here. After such a long quiet spell, I didn’t feel any better physically, unfortunately, but it was freeing to not have to go to counseling or a doctor or physical therapy… the incessant quest for healing is quite exhausting.

During that time, I put away the heavy ME/CFS books and inhaled David Sedaris’s “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” like it was fresh, mountain air (note to people with ME: he writes in short, easy to digest, hilarious vignettes ~ highly recommended for our brains). I injected some music into my daily rotation of meditations, visualizations, brain wave CDs etc. One day, I listened to every Radiohead album in chronological order (bar the very first and the most recent, neither of which I own).

Those schedule-less days helped me prioritize pleasurable activities (reading) over obligations (appointments), which is a very hard thing to do. After the necessities (getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting on sun creme, preparing food, walking up and down stairs to the toilet, a few emails or bills), there is very limited extra energy and it is hard to put it towards a happy activity when the kitchen is a mess and you’ve no clean clothes. I even see my rest times and meditations as obligations. They can be pleasurable, but who wouldn’t rather be chatting with friends, watching a good film or even blogging? For a long time, I had one phone conversation planned a day, but it was too much. Although talking on the phone is pleasurable, it usually precludes all other activities, so I had to reassess. I want so desperately to be a good friend ~ to have some sort of interaction with people that goes beyond their reading about my illness on the internet ~ and I wonder, if I go dark, will I still be welcome back one day?

During this period of reassessment-of-activities, I read Jackie’s post on LethargicSmiles. She articulated this problem perfectly. Her doctor told her to do something pleasurable every day to aid recovery and healing. Jackie writes, “It feels wrong to ask someone to come do my laundry when I was able to go to a park for awhile that day…” I’m a bit more limited than she is, I think, but it’s even difficult to watch tv while your husband fetches you water, so we all have to work at feeling less guilty and asking for help more.

With this in mind, I took a leap of faith on Monday. All year I’ve pined for the days that I used to take my first-born pup, Bowie, for walks in the cemetery. It was our private, quiet time together. As you all know, he is very sensitive and has been severely affected by my ME. He is depressed and nervous and doesn’t understand why the happy pack that went to the beach and the park all the time is now indoors, stressed, sad, scared and sedentary.

Monday, I was going to skype with my Mother and then my sister was to come over in the evening. When my husband wound up taking the day off and offered to rent a mobility scooter and take us to the cemetery, I hemmed and hawed. No, I have plans tonight… I’m about to talk to my Mum… My heart rate is high today… What if the effort of it makes me worse?… We can’t afford it… And then I thought about doing things that make you happy. This would make me happier than pretty much anything else.

Our smaller dog can’t walk off-leash. If he sees a squirrel, the rest of the world doesn’t exist. He would run across highways and through rivers and over mountains and across deserts to catch a critter. And god forbid I leave him at home feeling abandoned or my husband holds him on a leash while Bowie gets to run free. Luckily, the doggy daycare is adjacent to the cemetery and charges by the quarter hour, with no reservation -and the Little Guy loves it. So, we dropped him off and my husband assembled the scooter and … Bowie and I got to go for a walk for the first time in 11 months.

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Weekly scooter rental: $160
Doggy daycare: $5
“Walking” with my baby: Priceless

Title Credit

You Make My Heartbeat Mo Mo More…

I’m a few years behind the times here, but I finally bought a heart rate monitor. I actually ordered one from Amazon ages ago when I was looking for a pedometer, but wound up returning it because I didn’t want to deal with the chest strap and bulky watch. Little did I know that it could be a very useful tool in managing ME. So, after watching this video made by Dr. Nancy Klimas, director of the CFS Clinic in Miami, I decided to buy another one with the goal of increasing my fitness level and muscle tone ~ carefully, over a long period of time. Apparently I still wasn’t convinced it was going to be a good investment because I went for the cheapest option with decent reviews and got this monitor made by Pyle. I don’t want to go to the trouble of returning it again, but, be warned: it is huge. It’s working and I’m managing to use it with consistent results, but the chest strap – as tight as you can make it – slips down a lot and I know there are straps and watches made for women out there. I wish I’d researched a bit more.

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You can see all three of Dr. Klimas’s videos and get more info at the Exercise Group page created by Dan Moricoli of the ME-CFS Community website (you might have to create a username and password to access it). If you are interested in more details, I recommend you read this article by Bruce Campbell and this post by Sue over at Learning to Live with CFS.

The upshot is, people with ME/CFS should stay in aerobic “exercise” because, once your body goes over the anaerobic threshold, it is using energy pulled from the muscles and this can cause post-exertional malaise. If you can’t afford to fly to Florida and get all the fancy testing, you can roughly calculate your anaerobic threshold as 60% of your maximum heart rate with the following formula: (220 – 50) x .6 For me, that is 108 bpm.

What I have learned in the last week of wearing the heart rate monitor is amazing. I set the alarm on the monitor to go off when I hit 105 bpm, which, it turns out, is a lot. Lying down, my heart rate is in the 60s. Sitting up, it is in the 70s. Doing any movement puts it in the 80s and 90s. The over-105 alarm goes off every time I stand up. It doesn’t stay up if I continue standing, but it takes a few minutes to come down. The alarm goes off when I do anything to do with laundry ~ the motion of reaching down, pulling sheets out of a washer or dryer jacks my pulse up and keeps it up. I’ve started to do laundry sitting on the ground, moving my arms carefully (luckily, we got front-loaders last year). The alarm goes off every time I climb the few stairs to the bathroom and, surprisingly, EVERY time I pour a glass of water and drink it. I don’t know if it is the action of pouring from the filter jug or lifting the glass to my mouth or swallowing or all of it. That’s some serious exercise! Whenever I take a bath, my heart rate stays high for a very long time afterwards. I drink a lot of water in case it is caused by low blood volume, but it doesn’t seem to help. The flip-side is, I can walk my laps around the garden without going over 100 bpms ~ as long as I don’t move too quickly and take little breaks. I’m still only doing 3 or 4 laps a few times each week. I CANNOT WAIT until I am able to take a proper walk. I just want to be able to walk for half an hour straight. In the dog park. It would be glorious.

If anyone has any experience with using the heart rate monitor program for ME and can give me advice, I would love it. I’m trying to figure out where the parameters are… I guess I just have to figure it out the old fashioned way: if I crash after activity, I did too much. My “better” days ended on Easter. I’m not feeling terrible, but I’m not feeling good. If those days of slightly-more-strength came back and stayed back, I could see myself working again. Maybe even thinking about life every day and not the incessant head-to-toe analysis of what my body is doing.

Note to E. and my brother T.: name that tune before you look: Title Credit.