So this is Christmas…

It’s Christmas Day. I was looking back at my blog archives and saw that in December, 2012 I wrote 13 entries. December, 2013 there are 3 and December, 2014 there are 6. This is actually indicative of how I was doing these years.

In 2012, I had recently become housebound, every evening at around 5pm, my whole body started to hurt in earnest and my headaches were blinding, but I still had (most of) my mental faculties and no neuro symptoms anything like what I experience now.

In December 2013, I was so sick… I was in so much pain, isolated on the floor of my bedroom, hour after hour, and feeling suicidal.

Last year, I was in a reactionary whirlwind. Christmas eve, my tongue swelled up and that night was truly one of the worst I’ve experienced.

This year, though… so far… things are better (she says tentatively, knocking on wood). This is only my third post this month, but it’s more to do with my brain not working very well than with being bedbound with sickness. I feel so much more stable this year. I haven’t had one of my bad nocturnal reactions in eight months, I think. I’m handling my immunoglobulin infusions well. I can eat virtually anything. I crash regularly and feel horrific, but bounce back quicker.

Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday were good days. God, I love being able to say that. I had three good days. My sister, her boyfriend and their dog arrived yesterday and, because I’m such a nightowl these days, I was able to function from 2pm until 2am, retiring to my bedroom a few times to rest. I had no headache! Let me say that again: I HAD NO HEADACHE! Lights and noise weren’t bothering me. I was tired, but no cognitive symptoms. It was a Christmas miracle. This morning I feel hungover, my head aches, my eyes are sore and I’m very tired and dragging. But it’s still early (1pm 😉) and I have faith that this evening I will be okay. I had one wish for this Christmas: no pain and no fear –and I think, besides dull aches and low-level silent pleading, that wish is coming true.

Gratitude is shooting out of my fingers and toes and the ends of my hair like I swallowed George Bailey’s moon.

Update: I forgot to publish this yesterday. It’s now almost midnight on the night of the 26th. This week came down on me like a pile of bricks today. I had a hypoglycemic episode, hit a wall, felt very nauseous, was having trouble talking, went to bed weak, trembling, shaking with chills. BUT– here I am six hours later and, besides being drained, I’m doing okay, able to finish watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my husband, crying at the end like we do every year.

All in all, this Christmas was a success. Great company, great food, great gifts, great-full. In fact, without a doubt, this Christmas was the best I’ve had health-wise since 2010.

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June Update

It’s been a while since I’ve had the energy to write an update. As usual, I have a lot to document in terms of doctors and tests, but, overall, not much to report on my life and illness. My mother was here from Ireland this past week and that was, by far, the highlight of the last 4 months. 6 days seemed like 6 hours, though, and I’m left feeling a bit barren after her departure, like there are tumbleweeds blowing around inside my chest and hollow silence echoing against the inside of my skull.

I’m still housebound besides healthcare appointments and the odd dog walk on the scooter. I do think I’m marginally better than this time last year, though, which is heartening considering the horrendous ordeal of last autumn. Mostly, I think this because I’m walking more steps than I have since 2012. I regularly hit 2,000 on my pedometer, which does wonders for my mental well-being to think there is forward momentum. However, the flip-side is I have had more severe muscle pain and out-of-character joint aches. I am stiff in the morning and try to make myself put on compression stockings and a back brace if I’m going to stand in the kitchen for any length of time. I know I should scale back movement because, when I do, the muscle pain is better, but I’m really grasping onto that measurable progress for dear life.

There are other slight improvements. My sleep is still better than it was the first 3 years I was sick (although, I still don’t get much and it is plagued with fitfulness, nightmares and pain). My headaches, although they have resurfaced somewhat in the last month, were gone for a few months earlier this year, which is utterly life-changing. My resting face goes from this :twisted: to this :? .

There are still, always, a lot of daily debilitating symptoms. For 3 full weeks after my birthday outing, I was not doing well. My flu symptoms came back and that always alarms me — chills, sore throat, extremely heavy muscles, pain. I also had a few bouts of the worst vertigo I’ve experienced since my tilt table test payback. One night it came on so quickly and viciously, I fell over and hit the floor on my way to the loo from bed. I was moaning out loud from the queasy out-of-bodiness, which is unlike me, and I was reminded again of Laura Hillenbrand and how unrelenting vertigo could possibly be the worst imaginable symptom.

Hair loss hasn’t stopped, but is better than last year. Or the short, choppy cut disguises it more. My eyes are their usual nightmare of blurriness and sore extraocular muscles, even though I am regimented about (gently) scrubbing the lashes and using preservative-free tears throughout the day. Tinnitus and skin are still bad, my neck is still banjaxed. I am still spending about 14-17 hours in bed each day. I guess that’s a bit better than last year.

Finally, there is no real change in my worst symptom: Brain Drain. Which doesn’t describe it. I’ve been trying to articulate this symptom for years — to doctors, to my husband, my mother. It’s not brain fog. What I call brain fog feels tired and cloudy, causes effort to recall and calculate things. My Buzzy Brain is like Stephen King’s The Long Walk: if you can imagine being made to walk until you physically drop, but then transfer that body feeling to the brain. The same way muscle exhaustion is physical, my brain exhaustion feels physical. My brain can’t take one more step to do anything. Can’t read, write, speak, hear. It comes on gradually, so I usually find myself wading through the quicksand of a conversation or article, slurring or rereading the same thing over and over. I get testy, dizzy, weighted down by head pain and then realise, Oh, duh, time to go to bed and stop everything. Not being able to push through the brain problems (just finish this sentence, this tv show, this meal) is much more depressing than not being able to push through the physical limitations. Take my body, just, please, leave my mind.

The outcome of this is nothing ever gets done. I never finish tasks and months slip by. I also never seem to get going on any plan of attack to conquer the myriad of abnormal test findings: candida, low immunoglobulins, high cholesterol, reactivations of viruses, methylation problems, high mycotoxins. There’s always a bigger fire to put out — the poisoned nocturnal reactions, the crashing blood pressure, the death of my bowel — before I can carefully address less acute problems, while tip-toeing through the minefield of menstruation mast cell instability. Although, given my track record, maybe the best treatment for my body is no invasive treatment at all, just lots of pacing, meditation, good food and the pursuit of laughter.

The few things on which I am actively working are my hormone deficiencies and my tanked thyroid (as per usual). Since last September, I have now quintupled my levothyroxine (T4) and tripled my liothyronine (T3) and nothing has changed. I’m spending an absolute fortune on compounded meds, hoping my body will absorb them better than the generic, affordable ones, but, so far, no dice. I will update soon about my new, wonderful endocrinologist and her thoughts (as well as my other doctor visits).

So, almost 3 years and 8 months sick and that’s where I’m at. If I could find relief from the social isolation and financial instability, there could be some sort of life here.

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But, as it stands, I take my joy from the incredibly beautiful spring we’ve had here in Seattle and every opportunity to lie outside in the garden oasis my husband has created and see my dogs run in the park.

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New In The Garden This Week: Faux-camping, Flower Fireworks and a Birthday Party For Me!

Our fairly new, fancy Kenmore refrigerator (which is about three times the size of the one I had growing up (which is still alive and kicking) and, being one of my first major kitchen appliance purchases, I researched very well, even going so far as to subscribe to Consumer Reports to read up on it) has broken for the third time in a month. Today, after the repairman’s third visit, we opened the fridge door and could hear the motor blade whacking off something, so he’s going to have to come back a fourth time. While our kitchen is a repair shop, I am sequestered in the garden with the dogs, cooking breakfast by camp stove and typing this post under a “parasol”. 🙂

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Our garden is like the world’s slowest fireworks show. Gone are the lilacs, cherry blossoms and tulips. As they wilt and brown, now emerge lilies, irises, peonies and my favourite: the pom-pom tree (not a technical term 😉 ).

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Perfect Peonies.

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Luscious Lilies.

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Stunning strawberries that I can’t eat anymore! 😦

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Irresistible Iris.

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Riley glamour shot.

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Romantic Rhododendron.

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Dr. Seussian Pom Pom tree that snows petals down everywhere.

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Another “rhody”.

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More irises.

Also new in the garden were people (yes, that’s plural!) for my birthday soiree. My sister, her boyfriend and dog and our best friends here in Seattle, Z and J and their beautiful little girl, A. With my husband, that’s 5.5 people and 3 dogs… And I did it! I was out in the garden, sitting up, listening to various voices and mixed conversations for THREE HOURS. How did I do it? I made it between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, my best times. I warned them (for the 700th time) that it had to be mellow, no big energy, no loud talking, no music. I asked them to bring their own drinks and food and totally took the burden of hosting off of me and my husband. I rested for hours before and after the gathering. I scheduled no appointments the day before or the day after. I made sure I had food in my stomach.

The weather was surprisingly lovely that day (surprising because the forecast said it would be overcast and cool). We sat at our garden table and munched on snacks and I watched from behind my sunglasses and listened… just took it all in. This was the first time having multiple people over in eight months and, the last time we tried this, I was in bad shape after half an hour, even though I hardly spoke.

I don’t remember much from my birthday. I had to ask my husband if everything went okay because I think I meditated myself into a state of Zen trance most of the time. I remember trying on the clothes my sister got me and I remember accidentally spilling boiling water on my dog’s back. I remember marveling at how beautiful and sweet little A is and loving my sister’s dog tearing around the garden (“zoomies”). Mostly I remember swimming in my loved ones’ company, listening to their chatter and laughter and feeling so lucky that they wanted to come see me and so grateful for every moment that I was able to participate.

I love getting older. Every year will be a celebration that I’m still here and I’m still living the best I can.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I‘ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou
R.I.P.

Caregiver, caregiver, give me some care, take me somewhere, help wash my hair!*

*Sing to the tune of Matchmaker. Yes, this is how I pass the time. I have multiple verses. 😉

This is day 8 of my husband’s cold. You might remember how paranoid I am of catching a cold or, god forbid, the flu. It has been exactly 2 years and 4 months since I had a cold and bronchitis (colds never stayed in my head ~ they always went to my chest) and I find myself grateful and, also, sad, knowing that a few months after that last cold my immune system turned on permanently. I read about other people with ME/CFS suffering with viruses and I knock on wood, cross my fingers, spit over my shoulder, pull on my earlobes and say toba toba to protect myself (yes, really. That’s not excessive, is it?)… But I also feel a stab of jealousy because that probably means their immune systems are healthier than mine ~ that they have calmed down enough to allow a virus to infiltrate the fortress.

That’s not to say I want to get sick. I don’t even want to test it. When my husband gets too close, I shoo him away. When I have to walk past him, I pull my shirt up over my nose. It’s comical, as if he horribly reeks. And I am an utter nag:

“Can you PLEASE cover your mouth when you cough?”
“Have you washed your hands?”
“Please don’t breathe near me. Just stop breathing.”

At least I say please.

He hasn’t taken a day off of work and, even on the weekend, he was in the garden, raking leaves and doing winter clean-up. I find myself fretting about him – not wanting him to push himself when he’s sick. This has probably been the most stressful year of his life because of my illness, plus he has had more landscaping work than many recent years and his job is all physical labour, out in the elements. I know I can’t implore him to spend a day on the couch, sipping Lemsip and chicken soup. It’s not in his nature. I’ve never seen him have a day like that. On Sunday, as he was in and out of the house doing chores, I said, “I really wish you’d rest.” He said, “This is resting.”

My husband could never get ME, though. That’s not in his nature, either. He sleeps well, never takes even a painkiller, he can eat and drink anything, can handle extreme weather… I’ve always had the sensitive system ~ I would love to have skiied in the winter, but hated the thought of cold and snow. I would have loved to lie on a beach all day in the summer, but have always wilted in the sun or become faint and headachy.

I’m convinced the main difference between us, though, is that he doesn’t care – in a good way. He isn’t a perfectionist, he doesn’t worry, he doesn’t feel guilty. I’ve always been an over-achiever. I want to do everything and I want to be the best at all of it. I’m turned into knots because there are tumbleweeds of dog hair all over the house and I haven’t sent thank you cards for the birthday gifts I received 6 months ago. I am guilty about my dog’s anxiety and sad that I don’t feel attractive anymore. I beat myself up about the sugar I can’t seem to kick and the money wasted on supplements that I couldn’t tolerate. I worry that I’m a bad friend and I’ll be forgotten and I haven’t made my mark on the world yet. My husband is happy to never socialise and doesn’t think twice about what people think of him and seems to always be perfectly content (not counting the last few years).

Yesterday, after he had worked, gone grocery shopping, gone to the pet store, picked up my prescriptions and cleaned the kitchen, I tentatively reminded him that the dogs need baths and my bedding needs to be washed and I’d really love help making my granola and detox soup (more on that later) and… if it is at all possible… we really need to hoover sometime…. I whispered this last one as I slunk out of the room and around the corner, out of eyesight (notice I still say “we” because I can’t bring myself to say, “You need to clean the house.”)

All this on top of his cold. Caregiving sucks. But I am lucky and very thankful to have one of the best caregivers and husbands out there.

Caretaker, caretaker, take care of me, stay by my side, help fight M.E.!

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

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