The Illness of Addiction

I have a research addiction. A knowledge addiction. A thoroughness addiction. I always have had. It’s manifested itself in various ways. Most recently, the countless hours I have poured into reading about people’s experiences with Lyrica before I’ve even popped a pill. But, I’ve always been this way. If I were traveling somewhere, I would read endlessly about the place I was going ~ from the cultural history to how to leave the airport to where to eat (after having read hundreds of reviews) to what attractions I wanted to see. I would look at maps for hours, so that when I arrived I had an idea of where I was and could orient myself to north, south, east and west. Before traveling, I would spend weeks comparing airlines and alternate routes. I would compare the various ways that I could use frequent flier miles and what sort of credit card bonuses I could get. I signed up for an American Express card purely to get the new card bonus and it worked ~ After adding a card for my Mom and my husband, I managed to get enough “miles” to get two free round-trip tickets across the country for a family reunion.

When I was in college, before I started a paper, I would read as much as possible on the subject to get a basic expertise, before I even knew what my thesis would be. But, I would do this to a fault ~ wasting weeks in the gathering-information stage and then pulling an all-nighter to churn out a paper that I never had time to proof read.

When I decided to go to graduate school, I researched colleges endlessly. To fulfill prerequisites, I took anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry and biochemistry courses, paying with my tips from waitressing. I volunteered at the University hospital, I paid dues to the American Psychological Association, I applied for scholarships, I gathered many reference letters and compiled binders of all information. I wanted to be everything, so I applied to multiple programs in Ireland and America. I applied for Master’s and Doctoral programs in different fields: two clinical psychology programs, forensic psychology, social and organisational psychology, dietetics (one that was research-based and one that was hands-on and clinical), two nursing schools and a program called The Existential-Phenomenological Therapeutic Psychology Master of Arts. Jesus! I got into every program but one, which began more endless research into the minute details of the programs, the job prospects after graduating, polling my friends, families, and customers to get advice…

In the end, I scrapped it all to become the manager of the restaurant where I worked. Revisiting my history now, it shocks me that I put so much time, energy and money into something and then just walked away. But I think I had invested so much that it overwhelmed me and the restaurant industry was a known ~ it was comfortable, I was good at it and it didn’t cost $50,000. My perfectionism kicked into high gear like never before. I wanted to prove myself so badly. I was willing to work any number of hours, any number of days in a row, for any amount of money. I made flash cards about the restaurant’s sales and finances, vendors, brands, inventory… I wanted to be ready for any questions my bosses might ask. I would literally study during the day at home and then work 10- or 12-hour shifts, leaving work at 3am. If I knew then what I know now! I thought I had to do it all. Nobody told me any different. I thought I had to know it all. I was expected to. I taught myself how to do my job; I called it my Master’s in Restaurant Management.

That job turned into a regional position and, eventually, I was in charge of the operations of seven restaurants as the COO of the company. For years, I was never home at night. For years, I was on the road visiting locations. And, when I finally transitioned to the corporate office, the anti was upped. Now we’re growing bigger, performance has to grow bigger, too. I was finally home at night, but I’d snarl at my husband if he suggested I stop answering emails while we were trying to watch a movie.

Until the bitter end, I compulsively studied the company to be prepared for any questions the bosses might have. For a long time, I knew every employee’s name in all three states. I reviewed costs, sales and schedules daily and made inquiries into anomalies. Why didn’t you have a host scheduled? Why were there only three people in the kitchen last night? Why was your labor so high on Saturday? Why did you clock out so early? Why are you ordering a different brand of oil? Why did you 86 salsa? Are you doing interviews? Why is your liquor cost so low? Why did the alarm go off last night? Have you completed your quarterly report? Why did you work 60 hours last week? I knew we had a different diameter straw and a thicker beverage napkin in our newest restaurant, two states away. I would work at rectifying those problems on the same day that I would have meetings with the PR company and interview general managers and discuss complaints with the executive chef and try to mediate HR controversies and taste the food in one of our restaurants, inspect the cleanliness of the bathrooms, talk to a server about dress code, review health insurance plans, listen to a manager’s frustrations, talk to lawyers about a guest that slipped, review and compare P&Ls, coordinate work on one of our build-outs (camera installation, chair order, lighting, employee training, liquor order, POS set up…), and talk to the owners about their next restaurant concept. I put together job position plans and, under “responsibilities”, mine said: “EVERYTHING”. This was true ~ my position had been formed under pressure, without much organisation, in a very quickly growing company, with incredibly high demands ~ but, it was also self-imposed. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be indispensable. I wanted to be an understanding boss and a strong, knowledgeable leader. I wanted to be fair, but cut-throat. I wanted to be an exemplary employee who was never disloyal, money-grubbing, offended or overwhelmed. It was the most acute and most chronic addiction I’ve ever had. It was the hardest addiction to break and, in the end, the only thing that could stop me was a Myalgic Encephalomyeltis Intervention. After six months of trying to maintain that level of functioning, I gave up. I was getting sicker and sicker, crying in my car, worried I wouldn’t be able to make it home, shaking and sweating all night, unable to eat normally, unable to remember things, unable to get up stairs. And, once I left work, a new addiction began.

Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this post. All day, every day, I read about ME/CFS. After I wake up, I lie in bed for over an hour, reading blogs and articles and books on my phone. I go to bed at 9pm, but spend three hours reading, lying on my side in the dark. I have countless books to read and hundreds of websites bookmarked. I scour medical studies and newspaper archives looking for treatment information, new theories, any tests I haven’t had done, research being conducted. I troll patient forums, looking for advice on drugs, asking what has helped them, taking my own poll of how many have recovered and where I stand on the Continuum of Evil. I have Nook books and real books and magazine subscriptions. I have emails with suggestions from my family and comments on this blog with advice from others with ME. I don’t watch tv without also reading my ipad (a gift from my former bosses). I don’t take a bath without reading an ME/CFS book. When I do my stretches, I listen to podcasts about chronic pain, mindfulness and meditation. I have underlined, highlighted, copied and pasted. I’ve emailed my doctors, corresponded with other patients, I have notes on pieces of paper, in the margins of books, in email drafts, and in apps on my ipad and a voice recorder on my phone. I beg my husband to help: “Please, there is so much to read, I need you to start helping me research. I don’t want to miss anything…” Like he wants to read about this shit when he has to live with it!

Last night, I lay in bed reading for three hours. After having a terrible day (IBS hell, headache, terrible back pain, aching hands, sore leg muscles, burning eyes, sore throat, low-grade fever, indescribable stiffness), I didn’t retire to darkness and peace to rest my brain and body… I read feverishly…addictively…as if there were a deadline…as if it would save my life. I get very distinct symptoms when I overdo things in this way. My eyesight goes haywire ~ blurry and jumpy, the words moving all over the page and what looks like Vaseline over my retinas. I get horrendous tinnitus, like the sound effects of someone’s brain after a bomb goes off in a movie. And, of course, my head throbs and my neck seizes up. Last night, my husband strongly suggested I stop reading and turn off the light. My hands were completely numb from all the blood draining out as I held my ipad up, my shoulders were tense and my eyes burned. “But, I need to figure out how to fix me“, I said. I did stop, though, until, a half hour after lying there trying to sleep, I grabbed my phone again and started reading blogs by other ME/CFS sufferers. And I did the same thing when I woke up at 5am. And I did the same thing when I woke up at 8am. And, as soon as I finish this unbelievably long post, I’ll probably go do it some more.

The irony is, I make myself worse trying to make myself better. Even now, writing this, I know I will pay dearly for how long I’ve been typing, but I’m compelled to finish. I need an intervention again. And I need an exorcism. I need Father Damien to stand over my bed and yell, “The Power of Health compels you!” while splattering me with fish oil. Maybe one day ME will stop possessing my body and I’ll move off the grid where there are no computers, mobile phones, electricity hums, florescent lights or Xbox games. Somewhere that’ll allow me to become addicted to cooking or walking or gardening or laughing. Or living.

So, this is it.

Today I went for a follow up with the infectious disease doctor that I saw in May before I had to leave my job. I wanted to ask him about a few things that have been rattling around in my brain, namely: Could I have caught something from my dogs (through squirrels or birds or whatever)? Does he not think I have some sort of virus since I have a daily sore throat, hoarseness and low grade fever? What does he think about antivirals to treat Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and/or cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and/or HHV6? I also ran Guillaine-Barre and bacterial endocarditis (SBE) past him and asked him about vaccines.

He is a wonderful, knowledgeable doctor and he took the time to explain things in detail to me, but I’ll sum it up by saying I am grasping at straws. He said, point blank: “You have chronic fatigue syndrome and, from here on out, you should work on treating the symptoms. Patients can get better, but they never get back to where they were before being sick.” It was very final. It left me feeling empty. This is it. I’ve spent a year researching, reading, going to doctors, getting tests, asking anyone and everyone for help and advice and ideas… It’s time to move on. This is it. It’s long term and I need to move on with treating my symptoms and stop searching searching searching…

Regarding the other stuff, the ID doctor said they had ruled out active viruses and, in his opinion, mostly ruled out autoimmune problems, so, what is left is allergy — immune activation/allergic response. His experience (and what the medical community knows) is, a virus triggers CFS but then the virus is long gone and I’m left with the body’s ongoing response that causes the symptoms. So, antivirals will do no good and antibiotics definitely won’t. He is the 4th doctor to tell me there is no way they would throw broad-spectrum antibiotics at a patient without any clear target – especially in CFS patients where side effects can really cause hell. I have tested positive to past infection or exposure to EBV, which most of us will (and I had this test done years ago with the same result, so I know this didn’t cause me to get sick, although you can get reactivated EBV) and he said I am negative for HCMV, which many people aren’t.

He doesn’t think there is anything that the dogs could have given to me, I would be paralysed and hospitalized if I had Guillian-Barre and I’d be dead if I had SBE (he said, before antibiotics, SBE was one of the few infections that was 100% fatal. People might survive rabies, for example, but not endocarditis). Finally, he said my husband should get a flu shot ASAP because flu would be “very bad for you” and that I should never get any vaccines until I’m over 65 and then reassess. Wow.

I also had a follow-up with the Good Doctor. She is the one who will be helping me with symptom management going forward. Since I spent three weeks “washing out”, I am going to add in one thing at a time, very carefully. We’re starting with foods, moving to supplements, then we’ll tackle other things down the road, like heavy metal testing, hormone testing, Chinese herbs for Gu Syndrome, even medical marijuana… Anything!

I added back in rice last week and, yesterday, I added back eggs. I’m pretty sure I had a reaction to the egg, so I’m going to steer clear of them for now. I was feeling almost great (yes, I said great. Yesterday afternoon was really the best I’d felt in months) and, within half an hour of eating the egg, I had a raging headache. And then I had allergy-type symptoms in my nose: runny, stuffy, swelly etc. (although, that is still with me today and could just be me ~ or maybe I’m finally getting the cold that’s been threatening for a year.) Thursday, I add back dairy, then corn, then tomatoes, then legumes…other grains… If/when I want to start the Lyrica, I do it three days after the last add-in and three days before the next.

She also had the results of my stool sample (how long did that take? Three months?). No parasites. Inflammation not as bad as she thought it would be. Yeast levels not good and, even though I take a too-expensive probiotic every day, the good bacteria in my gut are nonexistent. She said “this is actually quite concerning”, so I have a new probiotic to order and, after that, she is going to start me on herbal supplements to combat the yeast. I’m staying on the ferrous gluconate (watch out, iron causes constipation – who knew?! I thought it was from coming off the pill) and, down the road, we’ll add magnesium and zinc and the other supplements.

Gratitude today is given to last week’s headache: You were SO ALL-CONSUMING AND PAINFUL that I never gave one thought to my first period in nine months.

Sick, month 11

E., that last post was for you. A tribute to our youth that has taken on a different meaning now.

I spent the weekend in bed for the most part. Today starts a fortnight of medical appointments every single week day. I’m worried about this. I should probably reschedule some, but they’re all ones I’ve been waiting for: overnight sleep study, neurologist, the Good Doctor follow up, a ten-week group therapy class that allows me to keep seeing my therapist for a little while longer for a much lower price tag, albeit in a group. Eek. I’m not a big public sharer, believe it or not, although maybe it’ll be okay because I am an open book, especially after this illness: I have never cared less what people think of what I say or how I look. That doesn’t mean I don’t care if I offend people or I don’t care if I smell, rather, I have no problem wearing no make-up, crying snottily, and talking about my bowel issues and crushing grief. Why disguise? What is there to hide?

Physically, I think I am worse than I’ve been since I left work. The pain is not as bad as it was in the days after my Big Day Out on the 13th, but, when the debilitating pain eases up, the regular pain, aches, exhaustion and flu-like symptoms are waiting underneath. As I mentioned before, I’ve only left the house 3 times in 11 days (for doc appointments). I haven’t gone to the grocery store, the drug store, the dog park ~ I haven’t done anything and I usually would be feeling a lot better by now. I feel faint, I am clammy, I keep getting a pitter-pattery heart and tight breathing, I am absolutely exhausted, I have a bad headache (this morning, there is an expanding and contracting ice pick in the back of my skull on the left), my muscles are stiff (I’m trying to come up with a better description ~ I walk and bend like the Tin Man, like I have immobile metal braces attached to all limbs), both hands and all fingers are in pain (haven’t had that in a while), and a new one: my leg muscles ACHE. They feel like they need to be moved and stretched, which is probably exactly what it is, but, it hurts. I lay in bed jiggling them, tensing them, punching them, trying to get the throb to ease up. And my brain is mush. I’m excited that I can type this morning because last night I could barely form sentences and not feeling smart is scary. Actually, the worst is not feeling quick anymore. The thing I valued most about my brain was how fast I could interpret, anticipate, respond, reason, argue, predict, accomplish… and I could tackle 10 things at a time. The ultimate multitasker. Gone.

Medicinally, I am taking a quarter of a Norco before bed, as well as my thyroid hormones, antihistamine nasal spray, albuterol inhaler, birth control pill and all the supplements and IBS-helping products. That’s it. I want to start something new this week ~ antibiotics or Lyrica or the Chinese herbs or something. I have an electric blanket on my bed, have changed to flannel sheets (heaven) and I’m trying a sun light box thing, which “is sure to deliver a therapeutic sense of well-being in any setting”, says the leaflet.

Emotionally, as I’ve said, I’m not in a great place. When you really start researching M.E., you realise that people don’t recover very often… hardly ever. So, I’m in this terrible shock-plan-grief cycle.

This can’t be happening. Okay, I’ll try X/Y/Z treatment. But, why? I’m just going to get X/Y/Z side effect.

I can’t believe I’m getting worse, not better. Okay, meditate, stay positive, have hope, keep going. But, there was so much I didn’t do, there was so much I didn’t try, there was so much I didn’t accomplish… Now, it’s all gone.

Wow, based on case studies, this can actually get much worse. Okay, I will concentrate on constant rest, every day. What’s the point? I’ll never have a life back, I’ll never have my health back, I’ll never have happiness.

My husband said, “You had the same problem riding a motorbike. You have to look where you want to go and lean into the curve with your eyes ahead of you. You have to focus on the point you want to get to.” I never looked at the end point; I was always afraid of the lean. I was always looking at where I was ~ scanning the ground for danger, watching my speed, making sure I hadn’t left my turn signal on ~ and not where I was going. Which is ironic since I know I am a future thinker and a constant planner.

For example, I have planned the documentary that I am going to make about M.E. I am going to travel this world and interview patients, doctors, people who have recovered, caregivers. It’s going to be informative and moving and it’s going to make some noise.

I have also planned the business I am going to start to bring services to home-bound patients. It’ll encompass everything: walk/wash/groom/play with your dog, wash your dishes, change your bed clothes and do your laundry, clean your home, mow your grass, cut your hair, take care of your feet, talk to you, listen to you, help with your meds, help you fill out paperwork, help you organise your files/calendar/appointments, bring a mobile library of movies, music and books from which you can borrow for free … I will have subcontractors that bring their services to your home. For example, landscapers, vets, acupuncturists, massage therapists, physical therapists, reiki practitioners, reflexologists, guided meditation helpers… It’s going to be epic and so fulfilling.

I have also planned to get a medical degree and go into research on M.E. Or, even better, doctor education. When I have some letters after my name, I will find a platform in the medical community and make some noise.

I have also planned to become a yoga teacher, a salsa dancer, a chef, a marathon runner, a gymnast, a horse rider, a dog trainer and, of course, a writer. Although, maybe, after years of this, I’ll be like Laura Hillenbrand and just not want to go there ~ Not want to write about M.E./C.F.S. because I live it.

Hope is hurting me, but only because I so desperately want to conquer the world. I am grateful for every minute of every day that my legs hold me up and my brain still works.

Things You Can Do To Help

Some of you have asked how you can help me. I have a tendency to say, “You just did” because knowing that people care to help and that I won’t be left to die makes things so much easier. But there are a few things that occurred to me the last few days that you can do to help me (or that you already do do) (do do ;-)):

  1. When you leave comments on my blog, leave voicemails, send emails, texts etc., it means the world to me. I may not get back to you right away or ever ~ the blog is about as much sitting in a chair at a computer as I can manage ~ but, I thank you and appreciate you and can not adequately express what it means to have your support.
  2. If anyone is ever bored, I need help finding a C.F.S./M.E. specialist and figuring out if there is anything I can do to get better or contribute to the research. Can I be a guinea pig? Do I need to fly to some doctor somewhere? And not just good doctors like the ones at the Mayo Clinic, but doctors specialising in this disease. Aren’t they just dying for textbook cases like mine? Don’t they want to take biopsies of my muscles or give me tasks and see how my pain and strength change? I would think there are an awful lot of people out there who are chronically fatigued or chronically in pain or suffering horribly but who do not, in fact, have the classic M.E. symptom of feel-okay-do-something-physical-and-practically-pay-with-your-life (as well as the vertigo at onset, debilitating exhaustion and pain, headaches, sore throats, temperature problems, night sweats and chills blah blah blah). I’m not over weight, I don’t drink or smoke, I have no home stressors, all my labs are normal ~ Aren’t the specialists gagging to study me? And all the other people I am in communication with online who are suffering at home? Shouldn’t the specialists and researchers be coming to us?? I’m just too exhausted to research all the links, all the info, read all the books… it’s such overload and gives me nightmares and makes my fears deepen.
  3. I was given the gift of a house cleaning (you know who you are, thank you). The money it cost was better spent than on any therapy session, massage or acupuncture I’ve had. This woman was so wonderful, so thorough, so kind. My house has never looked so good and it is pure joy to have that luxury. When she was leaving, she asked me, “Have you prayed to God?” I said, “No, I haven’t gotten to that point yet.” She said, “I will pray for you every day, Miss.” And it made me think about all those studies I read in college that showed patients healed better, faster, and more completely when people were praying for them even if the patients themselves didn’t know anyone was praying for them. These were statistically significant results. Call it what you like; I call it the collective unconscious, energy, intention. We are more powerful than we know and intention ~ brain waves, the power of the mind ~ can give results. So, my third and most-odd-for-me request: if you are so inclined, please say a prayer for me. And, if you are not inclined, maybe just throw a thought out into the universe that this affliction will leave me. I will do the same for you in my daily meditations. Even if I don’t get better, we might cause Mount Rainier to erupt or something, which would add some excitement to my life.