I can’t even.

I’m in a bad headspace. Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, like I just need to give up. I know what sparked it. I got a bunch of blood tests done — things I haven’t had tested in 1 to 3 years — and they’re all still a mess. I’m still a mess. I haven’t made any headway in years. I just feel defeated. There are so many things my body is fighting and either I’m not helping or nothing I do helps. But mainly I feel useless and inept because I can’t manage to research something thoroughly, plan an attack and implement it. I can’t commit to anything because I have no faith that anything will work. So many pills. So much money. So much effort. So much information to process. So many competing theories. So much time scrambling in one place, getting nowhere. I do nothing but read how to help myself — hours everyday for years — and I just wind up feeling like I’m drowning more and more because there is too much.

I can’t seem to manage a methylation protocol, or a detox protocol, or brain retraining like everyone else can. Or a liver cleanse or lymph drainage or help my leaky gut or what about parasites? I can’t seem to manage any diet changes: watch out for histamine, salicylates, oxalates, sulphur, tyramine, too much/too little protein, too much/too little fiber, too many carbs, not the right kinds of fat, dairy, sugar, mycotoxins, pesticides, chlorine/lead/chloramine in water, your tupperware is plastic, your pots and pans are killing you… it never bloody ends! And why does everyone do so well with physical therapy, acupuncture, myofacial release, Bowenwork, craniosacral, reiki, feckin Feldenkrais and nothing seems to work for me? I’m thinking about NAET and muscle testing, frequency machines, homeopathy and EMF sensitivity because what if?? But I know they’re all just black holes. Everyone has a magic pill or a serious warning: Don’t sleep on foam! Don’t go in a hot tub! Your milk must be raw! Your dogs are killing you! Don’t stretch if you have EDS, don’t spend too much time lying down if you have dysautonomia, enemas are wiping out your good bacteria, you probably have Lyme–go on antibiotics, the longer you wait, the worse it is! You definitely have mold because you live in Seattle–leave your house and possessions behind and get clear! I’m so over all of it. There’s no point in giving me advice to just tackle one thing at a time because I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. Time is slipping by; I’m getting older just sitting in one spot. Everything is connected and as soon as I decide to do one thing, I read how that can tip another thing out of balance and I freeze… and wind up doing nothing. My brain does not work like it used to. This is most frustrating of all.

Imagine you’re suspended halfway up a cliff face, trying to get to the top. You’ve spent months researching the best path to take and you have some energy, you’re ready. As you start to climb, people abseil past you, screaming, “Don’t go that way! There are perils up ahead!”
Then others beside you say, “Nah, this is definitely the best way, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Then other people all around start chiming in and you listen–while clinging on to the crumbling rock for dear life–because so many have made this climb before you: “If you want to get to the top, go left.” So, you start researching that path.
“No, go right.” Better check out that option.
“It doesn’t matter which way you go if you don’t eat this meal first.” Oh shit, glad I didn’t start climbing yet.
“No, doesn’t matter what you eat or where you climb, you’re fucked if you’re not wearing the right gear.” Energy is draining out of you and the fear is creeping in.
“Don’t be silly, you just need to spend all day every day telling yourself you can get to the top and you will.”
“Nope, actually this mountain is insurmountable when you’re as weak as you are. Just hold on as long as you can and hope that you get stronger before your grip gives out.”
And… I literally can’t even.

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Anyway, I pretty much want to burn every book I own, cancel all my appointments, throw out all the supplements and extricate myself from every group and forum, go to bed and give up… and, if I’m truthful, it’s all sugar’s fault. I have a grade A, deep-seated, fully-in-denial addiction and my candida blood test came back twice as high as the high result from a year ago that I ignored. Or at least candida IgM did and that’s the antibody that shows active/acute infection, right? I don’t want to go on another elimination diet. I don’t want to deal with something that will apparently keep rearing its fungal head forevermore every time I eat some ice cream. I don’t want to take prescriptions for months and deal with die-off and herxing for weeks. I just don’t. Even my husband is clanging a warning bell about candida, gently encouraging me to just try to quit eating sugar temporarily and I’m like a petulant child. I hardly eat any compared to the old days! I’ve given up so much! And then I ate a bag of kettle corn while pouting. This is waaaaaaayyy harder than booze and cigarettes. Way harder than gluten, dairy, nuts or anything I’ve tried before.

So there’s that. And then there’s these:
Cholesterol and LDL are higher than they were 8 months ago.
CMV IgG, which has been negative 4 times in the past, is now high out of range.
HHV6 IgG is still high out of range.
Mycoplasma Pneumoniae IgG is higher than it was (out of range).
EBV IgG is much higher than it was (out of range).
Sex Horm Binding Glob and Estradiol are high, whatever that means.
Total IgA and one IgG subclass are low.
VItamin D and Vitamin B12 are both low.

I’ll be talking to my doctor about all this in a fortnight, stay tuned.

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Nothing Can Be Perfect

Not such a charm, after all. Every day that I’ve been in this rental, I’ve had the doors and windows wide open. It smells new, so I’ve taken precautions to air it out. After three nights, I finally mustered the energy to hang towels in the bedroom window to block the morning light and then didn’t open the window because I didn’t want the towels to fall… This coincided with a weather change and, because of the rain, I kept the other windows closed. It also coincided with my husband discovering a hornet nest under the eaves, so I started keeping the front door closed. This is all to explain what led to my perfect home away from home becoming an off-gassing cesspool.

I lay in bed, breathing the chemical fog, trying to sleep, trying to convince myself I was imagining it. The next day I told my husband, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was coming down with a cold. My nose was all stuffed up and running at the same time, one ear was clogged, my eyes and throat were sore(er). That night, I couldn’t sleep in the bedroom. Did I reach some sort of chemical threshold? Or was this simply because the windows had been closed? After choking for an hour, I dragged everything to the couch: doubled over duvet on the bottom for my aching bones, pillow, sheets, top blanket and duvet… so much work for me, especially at 2am. An hour later, after being woken up every few seconds by rain hitting what sounded like a metal pail somewhere… Drip drip drip… Like torture every time I drifted off… I got up and put in ear plugs. At 4am, after waking up every time I moved because this couch is basically like concrete, I crawled into the bedroom, got an unwieldy camping mattress and wrestled it under the folded over bottom duvet. At 430am, I stumbled into the kitchenette and put duck tape over the blue clock lights on the oven and the microwave. At 5am, I turned off the porch lights that were keeping me awake. At 7am, I woke up from the morning sun through the window. Dear lord.

I asked the landlord about the IKEA wardrobes in the bedroom, knowing that I had bad reactions to my own IKEA wardrobe for so long and, sure enough, they are brand new a week before I got here.

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View from this rental's door

So, I’ve gone a little backwards. Two nights on the couch and a week steeped in chemical off-gas, I don’t quite feel as stable. I’m exhausted, heart palpitations started yesterday and I continue to have the cold symptoms above the neck and the flu symptoms below. I’m still going home today. I’m going to keep a segregated box of stuff separate that I don’t bring into the house in case I crash and burn and need to leave again. But, man oh man, am I excited to see my boys and sleep in my own bed. Fingers crossed that I can climb back up to where I was a month ago.

Dear Family

September 22

Dear family,

So here’s what’s happening. I had that terrible reaction to Cromolyn, but it continued for a few more nights than I would have expected. I’ve never felt so sick and urgently needed to change everything in case something —  anything — was contributing to this downfall. I was suddenly willing to take no meds or supplements, eat nothing, go bankrupt, leave the dogs, do anything to survive. I don’t know how to explain it. It didn’t feel like typical ME payback. It wasn’t my blood pressure or blood sugar or temperature, it wasn’t pain, it wasn’t my muscles… it was a feeling of system-wide poisoning. I realised it started the day after we got back from the coast (a dream come true, which I will blog about at another time), so I had to get out of my home, too, in case it was the cause. I wasn’t willing to stay one more night and risk being in the midst of whatever was poisoning me. It was that bad. It took me about one minute to make the decision. For two reasons: 1. If the house or the dogs were somehow making me sick, I had to leave immediately. 2. At the very least, I’m allergic to the dogs and getting away from them would help me heal and have one less assault on my immune system. Plus, Husband and I have talked about my staying somewhere else ad nauseum and always thought the first test would be in Seattle somewhere, it was just something that we hadn’t had the gumption to tackle yet.

My friend Erik, who has recovered through extreme mold avoidance, bullied encouraged me to not bring anything from my home — not my clothes, not a toothbrush, credit card, phone — in case mycotoxins were contributing/causing my illness and/or relapse. After arguing why I needed my own pillow, my sleep apnea oral appliance, my special food etc., I realised… No I don’t. My urine mycotoxin tests were high out of range. Eliminate all possible variables. Take nothing. Once I wrapped my head around it, it seemed like an obvious leap. I was leaving anyway, so why not go whole hog?

I found an AirBnB rental nearby that was able to have me check in last night. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than a hotel and incredibly nice. It’s a brand new studio on top of a garage. New enough that I’m risking using their washer and dryer, but not so new that I’m overly concerned with all the Ikea cabinetry and new sofa and bed. It’s only available until Thursday, but it buys me some time to gain some strength and figure out what to do.

Husband, the selfless angel supporter, bought me a super-cheap tablet, so I could have email access, food, a few toiletries and a cheap outfit (leggings, sweatshirt). I stripped on the doorstep of the rental, left my clothes in a bag there and went straight in and showered. I have an emergency kit outside the door: epipens, benadryl, inhaler, blood sugar tester, glucose tabs, my phone and thyroid hormones.

Last night was rough. The sheets here are washed in smelly detergent which makes me sneeze and keeps me up at night (I know normal people don’t believe this, but, yes, the smell wakes me up over and over and makes me feel like I’m choking), so I’m going to wash the sheets and duvet cover today. Their pillows are for giants — prop your head at a 90 degree angle — so, I went pillowless and my neck is killing me today. I couldn’t get to sleep until after 2am and then I woke up constantly, of course  — I have no cpap, no mouth guard for grinding, no ear plugs, no eye shades, no melatonin, no magnesium, no dogs — but it was better than it has been.

I spent the whole morning cooking, but I’m still starving and worried about losing more weight. I have no meat and no broth — my staples. I’m scared to eat chocolate and chips in case they’re contributing to how awful I feel, and it feels like breaking a heroin addiction. It’s a ton of work, washing, chopping, cooking, cleaning for myself, plus showering standing up…

Thank you so much for your generosity and support, family. I’m so grateful to not have had to run to the streets or, worse, had no option to leave and no husband to help. I’m not sure what my next step is. Go from rental to rental until I know whether I can return to the house? Or sell everything and get out? I don’t know. I’m scared to test anything right now. The reactions/symptoms I was having were too deadly.

Love you all so much. Especially you, dear husband. You give so much every day. I am so sorry this is ruining your life and dreams as well as mine. We have had such a rough time, but I will fight for us and our little family with everything I have. Every ounce of energy and every penny.

September 23

I’m not doing well. I spent all of yesterday on my feet and moving, which is crazy, obviously, but I’ve been so much stronger recently and I don’t have my typical payback muscle pain, so I’m not recognising the warning.

Last night was horrific. Drenching sweats, heart palpitations, hard to breathe, shaking, feverish without the fever, terrible head, this is all stuff I haven’t felt since the first year and a half I was sick. I’m worried that it is viruses rearing up, like Dr. Chia describes, and a catastrophic (what if permanent??) crash and I didn’t heed the warnings and stay still because I didn’t have my typical crippling pain and stiffness. I’m worried that I brought this on myself because I got cocky and stopped my preemptive rests. I’m worried that I just made myself much worse with so much activity.

September 24

Dear family,

Yesterday, I had a major breakdown. I’m horrified that I may have made myself much, much worse by not getting in bed and staying there, not moving. But I can’t tell you the level of hardship this puts on Husband — and myself! To shoulder the guilt and to have no sense of control over your life. Preparing my own food and taking care of myself may be making me worse right now, but it helps me feel less like a burden. But I’m very, very scared that this is simply ME and, in trying to help myself, I’m walking right into a much more disabled state.

I’ve been averaging about 3 to 4 hours sleep every night this week. Today I need to figure out where I’m going tomorrow. Now that I’ve started this, I can’t go home yet. I’m far, far too sick to be anywhere that isn’t pristine, pet-less, easy to maneuver around… My system (immune, nervous, lymphatic, methylation) is too precarious to detox any assaults. Husband had to remove the scented garbage bags from the rental yesterday.

Worst of all — honestly, it feels worse than anything — is the sudden removal from my dogs’ lives. I can’t even type that without crying. They are my guardians and have become so sensitised to my every breath, noise and movement. The codependence isn’t too healthy, but they’ve kept me company and kept me sane all these years. At least with human children, you can try explaining. I just keep imagining their confusion, knowing they run into my room every morning to cuddle. We have a routine. They will be neglected because husband and I are tapped out and that, more than anything , breaks my heart.

September 25

Very sick. Some things are better from not being home, reinforcing our choice to do this. Please trust me. Love you all.xo

September 27

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September 28

My current rental didn’t work out (literally have slept an hour or two here and there for the last three nights) because it is so loud. The entire room shakes when vans/lorries/trucks go by and the person next door gets up at 4am and stomps around in what sounds like tap shoes on wooden floors next to the head of my bed. So, Z is coming from Vashon this morning to move me.

September 29

Dear family,

I know I need to rest more than anything. Trying to listen to my body is very difficult recently. The return of acute immune system-shifting symptoms has been terrifying and horrifically hard on my body. You’re all correct — I did too much that first day and made myself worse. But that wasn’t because I was isolated and alone or being heedless — I’ve truly been able to do all those things the past few months. I’ve been strong! So, I just misjudged the sudden drop off in my abilities and, like I said, didn’t have my typical warning signs to stop. It was a bad mistake. And so was working 50-hour weeks for 6.5 months after I got sick. And so was joining an exercise class and taking massive amounts of vitamin B12 all the other ridiculous things I’ve done that have made me worse over the years. It’s very hard to rest if you’re not physically maimed. Really. It goes against everything in my nature and I will always fail at it, it seems.

I think the hard part came when I spiralled further down after that first day and husband had to leave work to help me. And that was a double-blow because it came on the heals of his taking a week off of work for the coast trip. But, I’d never been in such a poor state. I may regret that he had to abandon a few days of work and we’re losing so much money (I already do!), but who cares about jobs and money when you’re writing an “if I die” email? Only hour-to-hour survival has been on my mind this week.

There are no words to describe the gratitude I feel that I have a family who cares, that there are people worrying about me and wanting to help. I never, ever take that for granted for a minute. I lost a lot of people the last few years and many people deal with this illness with nobody on their side, so I know how lucky I am that you care and want to help. So, thank you, THANK YOU for your thoughtful responses, empathy and for wanting to keep me safe. That, more than anything, is my overwhelming emotion: thankfulness that I’m not alone in this fight.

October 1

My current rental has mold in the washing machine, in the evenings the whole place smells like secondhand cigarette smoke from the landlords next door (I literally got wheezy — imagine all those years of working in the smokiest of smokey bars!) and the blankets on the bed smell so bad that I asked if I could get them laundered and the man said he had never had them washed before!! This all made me want to get the hell out, so I felt like I needed to give up and go home … I’m so tired… And Husband actually persuaded me to stay away (here or somewhere else). He wants more time to de-dog-ify the upstairs of our house, move out the furniture, bring the carpet to the cleaners etc. He thinks I should give this experiment a longer trial… I’d like to stay away until my night sickness and sweats totally abate because they are such an indicator of how bad I’m doing and then see how I do at home.

October 3

Dear family,

This new rental is great besides the moldy washing machine (again),  but, interestingly, I have a stuffy nose and the electric shivers in my leg came back the first day here — both for the first time since leaving home 10 days ago. Also, I have a new and different drugged feeling here and joint pain has not eased up. But, I’m still planning to stay a week and the good news is my sweats/shivers/shakes stopped (!!!) after 12 harrowing nights and I got some relief from the complete bowel freeze of the last week. I reintroduced a few things from my house (food, apnea device, supplements) with no adverse effects. Actually, the malarial nights went away 2 days after starting to wear my apnea device again, but they also started while I was wearing it, so there is no correlation.

Yesterday morning, my ND sent out an intern to do a house call to take blood and do a hydrotherapy “constitutional” in my own bed. I don’t care what you think about naturopaths, there are no MDs making free house calls and spending an hour, so I want to win the lotto and pour money into this clinic.

My testosterone, estrogens, DHEA, TSH, free T3 and free T4 are all out of range low. Sometimes I honestly think this whole illness is caused by my thyroid being dead. Grave’s disease is evil and most people who have gone through radioiodine ablation are on MUCH higher doses of hormones.

Fingers crossed this makes me feel a little better. X

October 7

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October 9

Dear family,

Ah, 6th rental is a charm. I kind of want to live here. The only downside is the bed is rock hard. I am so boney, have no muscle and have to deal with the fibromyalgia pain, so I really need plush bedding to not wake up in terrible pain. I’m force feeding myself. I get up, cook, eat, rest, cook, eat, rest, cook, eat, TV, sleep.

The first morning here, I woke up without a headache for the first time in a week, which confirms to me that something in the other rental was affecting me (and it started before I reintroduced Coconut Bliss ice cream and chocolate, so, thankfully, I have no good reason to continue to deprive myself of my sugar addiction ;)). I still have an achy headache, but it feels like it’s from a stiff neck and TMJ issues as opposed to a reaction to something. I increased my thyroid hormone and started a few supplements and low-dose Zyrtec. Feeling more stable.

The Other Shoe.

Whereas my preparation for this trip was incredibly thorough (I will write a post on that later) and the journey down to California went off without a hitch, once we got there, things went a little sideways.

I’d never been to LA and it was a learning curve. I’m very grateful that my therapist warned me about the vastness of the area and I had a few friends on which to rely for info (Patrick and SGV, I’m looking at you). For example, I was told to look at Palos Verdes, which is a bluff above the city, overlooking the ocean. I thought it must kind of be like a bigger Queen Anne in Seattle, a neighbourhood on a hill. However, Palos Verdes has 4 towns on this hill. There are multiple airports in LA and they are all legitimate, proper airports. I know that sounds silly, but, in Dublin, there’s Dublin airport, in Seattle there’s SeaTac and some landing strips. I like to say, in Seattle it takes about half an hour to get anywhere — give or take 10 minutes. A childhood friend of mine lives in LA, but she lives hours away from where I was staying, to see her would practically be a planned road-trip. They are obvious differences — it’s a huge city, after all — but I needed to make a mental shift that I never did in London or New York, for example.

Anyway, I was told that the heat and air quality in LA were awful — refineries sit very close to Dr. Chia’s office and stagnant air plagues the whole inland city. I was also warned of mold issues in beach areas. I was treating this as an 8-day retreat with my mother, whom I see rarely, a week to let my husband have some alone time and a test away from my home and dogs for the first time since I got sick. I was concerned about picking a rental in an area that made it difficult to sit outside. I imagined languishing in an air-conditioned house the entire time, with the garden being too hot and acrid and my being too sick to venture out to a different area.

(Aside: I had a few people suggest things I should do in LA ~ go to the beach, see the glass chapel ~ and it baffled me that they thought I’d be able to manage things after a grueling journey that I can’t manage when I’m at home resting. People can never fully grasp how limited we are, even people that see us, know us, live with us. They can never know the constant tally of energy expenditure versus energy conservation that goes on in our brains. The almost-subconscious weighing of necessity, desire and payback. The ever-present knowledge of what we’ve done that day and what we still need to do before bed that dictates our every word and movement.)

So, I found an AirBnB rental that was in Rancho Palos Verdes. The host was extremely nice, said it was quiet, there was no mold and they rarely had to turn on their A/C. It was about half an hour from the airport and 25 minutes to Dr. Chia. As we drove up the hill, the temperature dropped from the high 80s to the high 70s; it was perfect. The house was beautiful, with an expansive view of the ocean and it was sunny, but not too hot. I rested in the garden and watched the sunset, drinking up the view, so deeply submerged in gratitude, I thought it might overwhelm me. I never thought I’d be anywhere but Seattle again. Honestly, I thought I might not be anywhere but my house again. It was at once completely foreign and very familiar. I was taking in every scent and colour like an alien in our world, but it also felt completely normal, like the past two years were only two weeks and I was navigating just another part of the earth, like I have so many times before.

Then the other shoe dropped. Huge, billowing rolls of fog came in off the ocean and the humidity shot up and the temperature dropped. The damp soaked into my bones and gave me a chill that never really went away.

The fog rolling in. In person, this was huge ~ the photo can't do it justice.

The fog rolling in.
In person, this was huge ~ the photo can’t do it justice.

I went back into the bedroom to rest and it reeked. It was like walking into a wall of mildew. The en suite bathroom had no fan and the shower head couldn’t be turned to stop the water from spurting all over the floor. The closet was moldy, the duvet was musty and the blanket was crusty with something spilled on it. There was more, like stained pillows, toilets backing up, dirty dishes in the cupboard, moldy food in the fridge, a filthy oven, loud construction in the lot next door, but none of that bothered me like the smell of the back rooms and bathrooms. Even my husband, whose nose doesn’t work as far as I can tell, commented on how bad the bathroom was. The whole house felt damp and heavy. Between 7pm and 11am, the humidity never dropped below 78% and the temperature was in the low 60s. I didn’t have very many warm clothes with me, but I put them all on. Every day, I would sit on the couch, wearing three layers of clothes, and wait for the first beam of sunlight to break through the clouds and then go out to that spot and bake myself, like trying to dry out a water-logged book. The day we left, the humidity was 96% and it was completely overcast. That’s, like, raining indoors.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I've never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

RPV bedroom on the left, my room at home on the right (humidity on the top, temperature in Fahrenheit on the bottom). I’ve never been so happy to be back in Seattle dryness in my life.

After much deliberation, we decided to leave early. I was fine for those few hours that the sun was up and I could be in the garden, but with the forecast calling for a chance of rain and even more clouds, I had to get out. My breathing felt heavy and I didn’t know what I was inhaling while sleeping in that room, so I didn’t have a “safe” place to lie and rest. So we changed our tickets for the evening flight the day after my Dr. Chia appointment. There were only two flights a day out of Long Beach Airport and the morning would be too difficult on my system. If I don’t rest in the mornings, eat properly, poop properly, hydrate and salt properly, I tend to have crashes of one sort or another: blood pressure, blood sugar, weakness etc.

Note to self: don’t choose the last flight of the night when you are sick, in a wheelchair and on a special diet.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm, which was already pushing it because I wouldn’t get home until around 11pm, well past my bedtime. We were told the flight was delayed at around 7:15pm — there was engine trouble and a mechanic was coming to take a look at it. Of course, I knew immediately it would be canceled and it was the last flight to Seattle that night. They could have moved quickly and gotten us to LAX for one of a number of nonstop flights to Seattle, but, instead, we waited over two hours to be told at 9:30pm that the mechanic had finally arrived. My husband actually had us transferred to a flight leaving out of LAX at 8:55pm, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it there in time. Actually, we probably wouldn’t even have been able to get my suitcase in time. We asked about getting a hotel and were told there were no open rooms in the city. No hotel rooms in the whole of LA. Hhmm. By then, I had finished all the food I had brought for the flight (not much: carrots, cucumbers and a bunch of Terra vegetable chips) and was curled up with my feet on a chair and my head on the wheelchair, feeling woozy and slurry. Through all of this, my heroic mother stood in line to talk to a gate agent with the throngs of other people and did everything she could to fix the situation.

I had already spent a lot of time on my phone looking for a hotel to no avail, but I didn’t trust my efforts, so I asked my husband to help from Seattle (he had only come to L.A. for two days to drive and help get us settled). He texted me three motels that he found through Expedia, but we didn’t know if they were places that Alaska Airlines would refund, plus my mother still was holding out hope that the engine would be fixed, so we held tight.

The little engine that couldn't.

The little engine that couldn’t.

When we finally got word that the flight was canceled, I wasn’t in the best shape. Two of the places my husband had found were now full and the last one was a $60 motel in Anaheim, charging $657 through Expedia. In desperation and delirium, thinking the airline would reimburse us, I booked it. And, when I called to tell them we were on our way, got thoroughly spooked by the very shady sounding person who answered the phone and seemed half drunk and not the type that should be in charge of a motel. Or even, of operating a phone. I had a meltdown. We were the last ones in the terminal, maybe in the whole airport. Everyone else had, presumably, gone back to their friends’ or family’s homes. My mother was busy begging the gate agent to help us since I was so ill and needed to get home. They offered to call the paramedics for me. People with M.E. love emergency rooms. I said, “If it’ll guarantee me a bed with no doctors bothering me, sure.” My mother said, “She’s not that kind of sick; it’s a chronic illness.”

They told us there were no seats on any flights the next day. I melted down a little further. The gate agent said we could fly out of LAX at 7am or John Wayne Airport at 12:30pm. We chose John Wayne because it was closer to the Anaheim dive that I was trying to get the nerve up to go to, but we couldn’t get the disabled bulkhead seating and we couldn’t get two seats together. Then my husband texted that there had been a mechanical glitch in Expedia’s system and my shady motel reservation didn’t exist. Oh, thank god! Because I had already realised Alaska would not be refunding any $657 for a dump in a different city. But… that left us with the airport floor to sleep on. Melting down…

My sister, A, who was on a camping trip in Eastern Washington with no cell phone service had asked if she could help. So had my friend, Z, who was probably asleep after working and caring for her baby all day. I didn’t think there was any hope. I had tried (ineptly) to look online, my husband had tried from Seattle, the gate agents had tried every contact they had… even the airplane crew was stranded at the airport.

At 10:41pm, my sister dropped what she was doing with her friends to help me, but I knew it was hopeless. I had a a new fun symptom develop around this time: my voice started coming haltingly, words coming out broken. It sounded like I was having a bad neurological problem, staccato speech, each syllable coughed out separately and slowly. It scared me. The incredibly kind and empathetic gate agent helped us get my suitcase and then wheeled it upstairs so my mother could push my chair. She showed us a couch where I could sleep and got us water. I got out my pillow, sheets, eye shades and ear plugs and texted my sister that I was done, signing off.

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That was 11:22pm. At 11:52pm, she texted to say she had found a room in a hotel — not a motel — for $164 — not $657 — across the street from John Wayne Airport — not in Anaheim or Palmdale, which is where the plane crew eventually found a room, 1.5 hours away. How could it be possible? I called the hotel: “Do you really have a room? For two of us? Even if it takes an hour to get there??” “Yes, Elizabeth, I talked to your sister, it’s all ready for you.” Disbelief.

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We packed up and — another angel restoring my faith in humanity — a woman also sleeping in the airport helped wheel our suitcases downstairs and outside the airport. Everything was deserted. The airport was effectively shut down. Tumbleweeds. And, then, as we were searching for a taxi number, one pulled up to drop someone off. Heaven sent. $75 later, we got to the hotel, they had a wheelchair for guests and a man helped us to our room. It was gorgeous. Two beds, a big balcony, swimming pools… By 1:30am, I was in bed. It was glorious. My sister moved mountains from the middle of nowhere and I will never be able to thank her enough.

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I didn’t sleep very much, of course, but I was able to recover more than I could have in the airport. My voice went back to normal, although I woke up nauseous, shaking like a leaf (not blood sugar) and with odd heart tremors. I mentioned how I felt on Facebook and Erik Johnson, of extreme mold avoidance fame, answered: “Take a shower. Wash your hair extremely well. Change into completely different clothes and put the ones you are wearing in a plastic bag.” It was like someone slapped me upside the head. Of course. I am in the habit of not showering in order to conserve energy, but showering is the only way to decontaminate — if not toxic mold spores, at least airplane germs and travel stank (from which I was definitely suffering). So I showered and changed into the only other clothes I had: a fun mix of compression stockings, shorts, tank tops and pajamas. I drank a salt and potassium water and was good to go. The shuttle to the new airport took about 3 minutes (again: how did my sister do it? Right across the street!) and the flight home was uneventful. My body even cooperated having only survived on plantain crackers, Rice Chex and vegetable crisps for 24 hours. And my husband greeted me at the airport with chicken and kale bone broth. Liquid life force.

Home is where the broth is.

Home is where the broth is.

Although I don’t think the journey to see Dr. Chia was worth it (as in, I wouldn’t advise someone else in my situation to go — but more on that in my Dr. Chia post to come) and the rental was not ideal and the journey back was filled with Travel Worst Case Scenarios, I don’t regret the trip at all. I didn’t feel terrible after either flight. I thought they might be carrying me from the airplane and that I might spend days in bed with my meningitis-type symptoms in full flare, but that wasn’t the case. I was actually just fine. The worst I’ve felt since before I left is the last three days and I don’t even know if it’s payback from the trip because it’s so delayed. It could be something in my home. It could just be M.E.

The whole expedition cost a small fortune and it was too much planning, packing and mental gymnastics for the few short days we were there, but I did it. We did it. My mother and husband were unimaginably brilliant and took every precaution to make it successful. And now we know how to do it, if we ever have to again. And I got to spend time with my Momma and create new memories. Priceless.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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*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.”

 

Dr. Joseph Brewer and Mycotoxins

I have had the Real Time Labs mycotoxin panel done and had high levels of Ochratoxins, Tricothecenes and was at the very top of the reference range in Aflatoxins. This blog post from Chris over at CFS Patient Advocate summed up an interesting study and outlined a possible new treatment direction for me to explore.

CFS Patient Advocate

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dr. Joseph Brewer and Mycotoxins, an update

Dr. Joseph Brewer of Kansas City was one of the physicians who did not attend the recent IACFS/ME conference. Dr. Brewer is an infectious disease doctor who has been working with AIDS, Lyme and ME/CFS patients for a very long time. Over the years he has become interested in various treatments for ME/CFS – and has been open to thinking about associated subjects such as Mitochondrial impairment (or down regulation) or Mycotoxin involvement – to describe two of his recent interests.

About two years ago now, Dr. Brewer stumbled upon Mycotoxins and their potential involvement in ME/CFS. Dr. Brewer and his associates, Dr. Thrasher and Dr. Hooper, published their first paper on Mycotoxins and ME/CFS in April 2013. It can be view here. In this study, Dr. Brewer reveals finding 93% (104 of 112) of his patients positive for one of three mycotoxins (there are hundreds of mycotoxins) through a test at Real Time Labs in Carrollton TX. Zero of 50 controls tested positive.

The Real Time Labs test is a urine sample for Ochratoxin A, Aflatoxin and Trichothecenes (MT). (Real time labs will soon have a blood test for gliotoxin, a mycotoxin associated with Aspergillus.) The initial test costs about $700 and appears to be partially reimbursable. On Dr. Brewer’s initial study Ochratoxin A showed up the most, although a good number of patients had more than one and some had “the trifecta” – of all three. Dr. Brewer feels that mycotoxins are not good for patients to have in their bodies –  and that they represent a major factor in their ME/CFS illness.

Dr. Brewer reports that these mycotoxins impair mitochondria function and interfere with cell membranes. Loss of mitochondrial function can cause detoxification problems with other toxins. Poor detoxification might have something to do with clinical response.

Dr. Brewer’s previous experience with mold or mycotoxins was non-existent. He is an infectious disease doctor who looks for bugs and tries to kill them. In no way can Dr. Brewer be described as a “mold doctor”.

In December 2013, Dr. Brewer, Thrasher and Hooper published a second paper on Mycotoxins and their connection to chronic illness – “Chronic Illness Associated with Mold and Mycotoxins – Is Naso-Sinus Fungal Biofilm the culprit?” In this study they laid out their case based on examination of existing literature, citing case studies.

Faced with this high percentage of his patients with potential mycotoxin involvement, Dr. Brewer was both surprised and perplexed. He began treating some of his patients with heavy duty anti-fungal infusions. In time, again through researching the literature, Dr. Brewer concluded that the most likely reservoir for the mycotoxins was the sinuses. This involved a bit of guesswork. It is Dr. Brewer’s thesis that these mycotoxins get into the body and colonize in the sinus. Once colonized and protected by a biofilm, the body cannot get at them and they just stay there forever. It is his belief that they have to be rooted out. He finds in his patients that the exposure can be from the distant past, up to 20 years ago. From Dr. Brewer’s point of view, focusing on the sinuses in no way excludes other reservoirs harboring the mycotoxins – the gut, stomach and lung.

Dr. Brewer began treating his patients with nasal Ampho B – and he started getting results. Dr. Brewer works with a nasal drug delivery company called ASL pharmacy. They have a nasal delivery system called Nasa-touch which atomizes the medicinals. In time Dr. Brewer added another nasal drug to bust up biofilms that he believes are harboring the mycotoxins. This is nasal EDTA in combination with surfactant, an ingredient in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.

Two side effects of this treatment are noted. One is that the Ampho B can cause nasal irritation and even mild nosebleeds in a few cases. The second is that the treatment often causes a strong herx reaction as the mycotoxins are exposed and the drug kills them. In both situations, Dr. Brewer moderates or cuts back the treatment and all cases have been manageable.

Dr. Brewer has been surprised, astonished really, by the results of treatment. In his first 100 patients treated, 70% showed improvement, including six whose symptoms completely resolved, including all symptoms of their larger illness.

With treatment, the successful patient’s urine Ochratoxin A will go down to zero in a matter of some months. The Trichothecenes (MT) takes longer but it too will diminish with treatment.

Three quarters of the patients treated had preexisitng sympotms of sinus problems. One quarter did not. Both segments showed equal improvement.

Dr Brewer has continued testing and treating more patients. He has now tested 350 patients, 325 of whom are positive for one or more mycotoxins. More Trichothecenes (MT) have been showing up recently in his patient population. He is now treating up to 200 patients and I believe another paper will be coming out soon. Dr. Brewer reports that those patients who have fully resolved and ended treatment tend to relapse and have to go back on treatment.

Dr. Brewer’s absence at the recent IACFS/ME meeting has already been noted. How could this happen? How could the emergence of a target for treatment not be acknowledged at this conference? This is all the more unusual in that Dr. Brewer published his first paper a year ago and then gave an exciting presentation at the Lyme conference in October 2013. In this situation, there seems to be a target, a treatment that is relatively benign – and Dr. Brewer is getting results. Doesn’t this warrant more attention? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what is happening here?

Of course, in spite of this, there was quite a lot of discussion of the subject of Mycoyoxins in the hallways of the IACFS/ME conference.

Regarding mycotoxins and ME/CFS we have to ask some questions. The most obvious one concerns the validity of the testing at Real Time labs. At the moment this seems the only lab that does mycotoxin testing. Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker has not been overly excited with this test, or with the idea of nasal colonized mycotoxins. If it isn’t mycotoxins that are being knocked out, what is the activity of Dr. Brewer’s treatment? A 70% response rate of over 100 patients is impressive. Dr. Brewer himself says that he has never seen such success with a single treatment.

Meanwhile other physicians are beginning to test their patients. A West Coast physicians group has tested over 100 ME/CFS patients for mycotoxins at Real Time labs – and are getting the same high positive results. Preliminary reports on Dr. Cheney’s testing of his patients also indicates a high positive response, especially for Trichothecenes. Even Dr. Ian Lipkin indicated that mycotoxins were dangerous, and warranted looking at in ME/CFS. Other physicians, Dr. Chia, and Dr. Enlander, are aware of Dr. Brewer’s work and have been encouraged to test their patients. 

DIETS Part II: compounded eliminations and low-histamine hell. I mean help. :)

It’s 8am and I’ve already been awake for 3 hours. I’m sick and unemployed, I should be sleeping ten hours a night. I should be sleeping late and luxuriating in the fact that I no longer have an alarm clock going off, a company to oversee, and bosses to answer to (… and bosses to whom to answer). My brain should be able to shut down and heal. It’s February, for fuck’s sake. Time to hibernate. I’ve been missing exciting life and getting absolutely nothing done for 17+ months now ~ why does my brain feel like it has to be on high alert ALL. THE. TIME?

Throughout the day, I’m a dizzy zombie, unable to accomplish anything, but my mind is weakly turning over like the Little Engine that Could trying to get up that hill: What do I need at the store? What could be causing my forehead rash? What will I eat for dinner? Will I try a sleep drug tonight? And then the night rolls around and that little engine reaches the top of the hill and starts to fly down the other side: HOW DO WE NOT END UP DESTITUTE? HOW CAN I MAKE MONEY? I NEED AN M.E. DOCTOR! WE NEED TO MOVE!

So, it feels like ~ and I think it’s the reality ~ I never deeply sleep and I never truly awaken. I am existing in a netherworld, a slightly off-center plane of existence where everything is blurry and too bright, where everything is too loud, but also muffled under ear-ringing… a place where you try to do something month after month, but, during the day, it’s too much energy and, at night, it’s too… sepulchral.

Case in point: I honestly thought it had been about one month since I wrote my diet post, but I see it has been more than three months. That’s a quarter of a year. Three months from now, I will be 41 and it’ll have been a year since I wrote “birthday present thank you cards” on my to-do list (they’re still on the list). Actually, three months from now it will be exactly 5/19 (in American date writing) and those closest to me know that that number means something (what, exactly, I don’t know. One day I’ll write a post about my weirdness with numbers).

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raspberry pop tarts

Today, I woke up starving. It’s now 11:30am and I have already eaten a raspberry “pop tart” (click above image for recipe), some apple, a beef breakfast burger with acorn squash and coconut cream, and a mug of bone broth with sauteed kale, asparagus and parsley.

To continue the saga of how I got to this strange way of eating: When we last discussed food, I had just started a strict low-histamine diet. Before ME, my crazy heath history included idiopathic anaphylaxis, autoimmune urticaria and angioedema, flushing, vasovagal syncope/shock, and a slew of other things that could be caused by histamine intolerance and/or a mast cell disorder, such as medication reactions, dysmenorrhea, osteopenia, headaches, tinnitus etc. I thought if I were very strict with the diet, I’d be able to quickly tell whether or not it would make me feel better. I poured over online histamine lists for weeks. Information is very conflicting because histamine levels fluctuate based on where the food was grown, when it was harvested or slaughtered and how long it has been in storage. Also, if you listened to the interview with Dr. Joneja, you know that histamine is a very important neurotransmitter in your body, but it can build up over a period of time and, if your bucket is overflowing, you will have a reaction. In other words, the salmon with lemon on Monday may not do any harm and neither might the wine and chocolate on Tuesday, but the eggplant on Wednesday might just put you over the edge and you have flushing, a migraine, hives. Or worse, anaphylactic shock. It is a process of trial and error for everyone attempting this diet. You have to figure out what affects your body.

The two best histamine food lists I found were Dr. Joneja’s and this one out of Switzerland, which shows histamine liberators and DAO inhibitors (more on this later) as well as foods that are naturally high in histamines. If you are as insane as I am, you can look at the strictest list possible, which I compiled from the two linked lists as well as about five others. My list is so short because I wanted to know the foods that everyone agrees are probably safe.

I ate strictly low-histamine foods for about month and, let me tell you, it was far more difficult than all the other diet modifications put together. Even a loose attempt at low-histamine is a slice of hell. The dilemma in which I found myself was that I kept adding elimination on top of elimination. So, over the course of 20 months, I had eliminated gluten, tomatoes, eggs, and strawberries; then dairy, legumes, all grains but oats, nightshades, and most processed food; then soy, citrus, pork, red meat, lunch meat, shellfish, condiments, maple syrup, and honey. I added a few things back (rice, red meat, honey), but everything else stayed out. Once you adapt to certain meal staples, it is difficult to change ~ especially when someone else is shopping and cooking for you. And then, on top of these, I went low-histamine. I stopped eating most herbs and spices, spinach, avocados, sweet potato, chard, all vinegar, all fruit except apples and pears, all fermented foods, leftover foods, all fish, chicken… and red meat was out again. It was these last few that set me up for the fall. Having no leftovers in the fridge left me scrambling to find things to eat. I hadn’t figured out how to buy the freshest meat or the process of cooking and freezing to ensure I had meals on hand. I hadn’t figured out how to get enough protein when I wasn’t eating dairy, legumes and most meats. I decided not to give up nuts and seeds, which are avoided on the strictest histamine lists, because they were providing the vast majority of my protein. Still, they weren’t enough and my blood sugar started crashing daily, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes in the 40s and 50s.

If anyone has experienced severe hypoglycemia, you know how scary it can be. Suddenly I didn’t care about any other symptoms, I just needed my sugar to stablise. Mainly veg does not work for my body. And so my husband became the Fresh Meat Scavenger and I became the Great Meat Eater.

To be continued (sooner than three months from now) with honourable mention to ketogenic, alkaline, low-salicylate, migraine, mold, AIP, and low-sulfur/thiol diets…