COVID-19

PLS2

The Realities of COVID-19 for You and the Same Realities for Me

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog with a word from our author:

During this COVID-19 madness, which has become the New World Order for at least for the foreseeable few weeks and which feels like we’re all living out some surreal, Quentin Tarantino movie, there are still those among us who feel that this is all a wild over-reaction to something no more worrisome than a cold. I’m here to tell you that for me, COVID-19 is something much more worrisome than a simple cold.

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As an immunocompromised person, with several autoimmune disorders, I fit within that 20% high-risk group that would find themselves in danger should they develop this illness. I’ve considered this deeply from both an intellectual perspective and an emotional one. I’ve accepted that if I were to get sick I might not be able to beat it and that’s okay. I know you’re reading that right now thinking “What the actual fuck? What do you mean you wouldn’t fight? You would just give up?” No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my body is not equipped to fight this virus and gives a whole new perspective to “Survival of the Fittest” for me, and others like me. The kind of perspective that forces a wife to choose to tell her husband, “Please understand darling, I may not get through this.”

 

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I am not a soldier, but I am a soldier’s wife. And I remember when he prepared me for his deployment into a war-zone; all the potential disaster entailed and how my mind exploded with worry about a life that could potentially include one without him. How all of our future dreams could be snuffed out, and at every turn where I had always seen him by my side, he could be gone in a puff of smoke. All of this, in a cruel bit of irony, was now in reverse, and I saw that haunted look in his eyes instead and it killed me. I’m not a soldier. I wasn’t trained to go into battle; I wasn’t trained to expect or be willing to die and I wasn’t trained to potentially have to say goodbye. Having to look into my husband’s eyes and tell him that I might not make it was the most difficult, most gut-wrenching thing I’d ever had to do. But I certainly realized that day his job was much more difficult than I ever gave him credit for. I realized that no one can teach you to be ready to say goodbye.

 

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If you don’t have to be worried about Covid-19, you should count yourself lucky. If all you have to be concerned with is washing your hands for 20 seconds while singing “Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, Never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you,” then life is good. If all you have to do is focus on your family, make sure they are safe and practising good hygiene, and if all those you love are not in a high-risk group, then life is cake. The maddening, hoarding or opposite, disregard and denial are truly perplexing for me, however, ultimately boils down to the same common denominator: a lack of empathy for human life other than your own. You could say this is self-preservation, but how much toilet paper is truly required for self-preservation?

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While I am very much a realist in regards in regards to this situation, I’m not a fatalist, despite my acknowledgement and even acceptance of possible death and I’m hopeful that I will neither contract COVID-19 and if I do, that I will recover. Having been through so many frightening surgeries, experienced so many difficult pregnancies and given birth to two, tiny preemies, and now, living with these autoimmune disorders and chronic pain, I’ve learnt to accept life and death without prejudice. We’re here on this planet and it’s a one-way ticket. We get to enjoy so many beautiful experiences and I have. I’ve been so incredibly lucky. I have no regrets. I’ve lived on my terms and I’ve done things how I wanted and if I didn’t make it, it would suck but I wouldn’t be angry at the universe. I want to die on my terms and with whatever time I have left, I want it to be with my family and I want it to be peacefully. But there’s still hope in my heart that all this will pass and that we will learn from it.

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Learning from this is how I want to end this. We all may have our thoughts about COVID-19, but I think it’s very important to understand that there are a whole array of possible virus and germs (new and old) out there, lurking and waiting to find a host. As you have learned, it only takes one person to start a pandemic and it can spread very quickly. Once it has spread and once it has a foothold, things become very challenging to deal with. Not only does treating the disease become difficult to manage but you have economic repercussions and citizens who begin to feel that there is not enough being done to manage a critical situation. We the people, have to implore our government of the vital importance of Public Health and making sure it is properly funded and equally so, the CDC. We need to make sure that our Healthcare system is placed at the forefront of thought and no longer neglected so that people can get more than just adequate care. COVID-19 should be a huge wake-up call for the public, the healthcare system and the science community. If people continue to deny the gravity of the situation, I truly believe this will happen again, and next time we may not be so lucky.

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You Don’t Adjust You Just Live

You’ll adjust to the pain

Five years later…

Tell me when I’m going to adjust? I don’t think there’s any way to adjust to chronic illness. I think it’s just one enormous roller coaster ride you have to brace yourself for and hope for the best. When you reach the top of one peak, you stare down and close your eyes and when it shoots down, you scream, hoping nothing will happen. You hope the car won’t skid off the tracks and that you won’t go flying out of your little, boxcar. You hope your blood pressure and your heart can take the whips and bends and the peaks and slopes. And it will never be when you expect.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the days when I feel so badly that I don’t want to move from the couch? Where getting up to fix breakfast feels like a monumental task set forth by the Gods to Hercules himself, and I’m there in his stead looking dazed and confused? When I’m feeling so lethargic in my brain as I sit down to write, that I feel like I need a cattle prod to tease my brain awake and even then, it’s yawning and stretching without any sign of life, leaving me there to stare blankly at a page on the screen wondering if I’ll be productive or not today.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the ever-multiplying issues of what began as one chronic illness, that is now eight chronic issues. How do I adjust to my life when some of these issues are progressive? When walking with a cane now, and sometimes even needing a wheelchair will mean needing a wheelchair more than needing the cane later on in my life? How do you adjust? I read something, somewhere, talking about how older people with chronic illnesses have at least been able to make memories, whereas young people have not been able to do that. But where is the line? Where is the cut off of ample memories? Have I made enough memories 35 when all this started? Or 40 when it started to get bad? Or 45 when I’ve been reduced to the cane and wheelchair when I need? When is the cut off for memory-making?

memories

Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the ever-present, every increasing, pain that is in my life and that has control over every facet of my life in ways that I never dreamt of. Pain, that was once something that I dealt with on a localised basis, mainly in just my head, which was enough on its own to knock me down for two weeks sometimes, if the migraine was that bad, has now become something I deal with in multiple areas, where the pain doesn’t go away and that I live with 24/7. I never, in any terrifying dream, thought it possible to exist in the manner I find myself existing, and yet, here I am. But I wouldn’t call it adjusting. Adjusting implies that you’ve found some balance in your life with your condition and there is no balance. It’s just life on one big see-saw. You’re either up or you’re down.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? Friends will understand and so will family. They will adjust to your life as you know it and they will support you. Tell me when that will happen? My family, for the most part, understands, but adjust? I think they have adjusted about as well as I have. And the kids- the kids shouldn’t have to adjust to life with a mom who can’t participate in life the way other moms can. It sucks. My kids have taken on like as caretaker for me. They drive around Miss Daisy. They worry about their mom all the time. It sucks. My friends? I don’t have any outside of my computer. They all left. They couldn’t deal with a sick friend. They couldn’t deal with someone who maybe needs to cancel plans at the last minute, or who can’t eat the same things or can’t jump around and do crazy things. I probably have more in common with folks in a Senior Living Home (and that is not a dig, I’ve actually always got on better with people older than me- the plague of being an only, imaginative, sensitive, intuitive INFJ-T, child). Even now that my children are adults, it’s difficult to do things. We’ve broken down and purchased a wheelchair for when the events are too much walking for me and my cane. But it’s still difficult. They can’t make plans without taking into consideration their ol’ mum. Tell me when they’ll adjust to that? Never, because it just gets worse from here on out.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To a progressive illness? It may not happen in five or ten years, but at some point, things are going to go from bad to worse. How am I going to adjust to that? I can barely adjust to my life now and I will be expected to adjust to things then as well. How can it be so easy to just say to someone, adjust? Forget how life used to be before your body betrayed you; ignore how your body failed you and pretend that you don’t live in pain 24/7. It shouldn’t be that difficult right? You are only human, with flesh and bone and nerves and blood.

Progressive illness

Tell me when I’m going to adjust? I see more doctors than my 83-year-old father. I’ve had more tests and surgeries than he has too. Tell me when I’m going to adjust to seeing my body in the mirror and looking at the scars left by countless surgeries and stitches that have tried, in vain, to fix me? The hip surgery (total hip replacement) and spine surgeries (lower lumbar fusion and sacroiliac fusion)? Those are just the visible scars. The scars on the inside are more difficult to bear. The scars on the inside are more difficult to contend with. The mental illness can be more debilitating than physical illness. But coupled with the physical illness, it can be unbearable. You don’t adjust; you just live. You live hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute, fighting tooth and nail along the way because you refuse to give in. Because you still have so much to live for.

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That’s what this ends up being all about. Not trying to adjust to this life of illness and pain, but about living. Living the best way, you can, through the worst times imaginable. You just live, because you can’t adjust to pain and illness, ever. You can’t adjust to it because it’s always changing. Symptoms are always evolving and sometimes you find out that you have new things wrong. There’s no adjusting to that. You just live. You wake up in the morning and you feel grateful that you can start the day. You feel grateful that despite the pain you can see your kids and plan a future with your husband. You take it hour by hour and minute by minute if that is the only way you can do it. Grateful for the seconds in between. You don’t adjust. You just live.

Living Life

I Want My Old Brain Back

Other Wistful-cisms…and Conclusions

 

I want my old brain back. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that could remember an entire grocery list on her own. The one that didn’t need to write everything on post-it notes or List-App’s on the phone or computer. The brain that made me a pretty successful mother of four small children, under the age of 5 and then when they got older: returned to school and later on, returned to work as well. There was a lot of juggling going on and I was managing alright. Looking back on it now, what I saw as overwhelming was stressful, but not as overwhelming as it would be for me now. It amazes me the volume of information I could store in my memory without needing to write it down. Entire lectures got banked up there with little need to study. I could remember my medication (for the few I took) without needing to write it down or needing an alarm on my phone. I stored in my brain at least five family and friend’s numbers and now I can only manage my husband, the rest are in contacts on my phone. Some of this can be attributed to getting older, and our lives stored on our phone, while others are truly a memory issue that is a direct result of my autoimmune disorders. Many of us are familiar with brain fog; this is like brain fog on steroids that can be positively alarming.

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The clarity is gone. The crystalline keenness in which I had been so accustomed to seeing things had now dissolved into feathered edges that forced me to squint. It makes me angry and frustrated and deeply sad because everything that I want to do well, like sitting down to write, which I love, is twice as hard. Words don’t just fire off the synapses like they once used to. It feels as though they are blanketed in a thick, low fog and I have to search for the words, sometimes using Google, or the Thesaurus like a fishing rod, several times to hook and reel the right words I am searching for. There are times I will slam the laptop shut, frustrated that this is how things have turned out. Frustrated that this is my calling and that the universe has seen fit to throw in another challenge as if life itself weren’t challenging enough. But I refuse to allow it to rob, what it is I love. If I just lay down and die, it wins. I’m sorry, but if there’s one thing that people with chronic illness have in reserve is strength.

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I want my health back. I’d settle for my health at my 30’s. I had migraines every few days but now, when I get a migraine on top of everything else that makes my body feel like someone’s punching bag, it makes me feel one hundred times worse. I want the freedom of being able to eat what I want and not have to worry about it making me sick to my stomach. You forget about how food makes you feel; you forget your vanity and about the calories because you’re losing weight from the terror waged every day in your digestive system and all you want to do is enjoy food for the sheer sake of pleasure because food has now become your Moriarty. Worse than that because you can thwart your nemesis, but you can’t thwart food. Food is life.

lotus

I miss my old body and freedom of travel. I want the luxury of being able to travel whenever and wherever I want and not have to take into consideration my illnesses and how travel will impact my body or how the stress of everything will tire me out or be too painful for me. I want my 20’s and my 30’s when I could run and jump and climb and do yoga. I wake up in the morning and the first thing that greets me is pain. There are different levels of pain: some is throbbing and aching in my joints and muscles, while others radiate and spike down from my lower back down my leg. It’s not something I get used to and I have to breathe a little humour into it, thinking, “Well, if I ever wake up and not feel pain, I know I’m dead.” A little dark humour, but that isn’t anything new with me. People would probably find it surprising to hear that I would like to go out more. I am most comfortable in my house, given my anxieties, but there is still an explorer in me. However, because I feel fragile and I’m afraid of unknown terrain hurting me, I distrust going out. Hence, missing my old body and freedom of travel.

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I miss unfettered laughter, a quiet mind, a carefree spirit. Did I ever have these things? I’m 45 years old and when looking back on my life and grasping at memories of my childhood and teenage years and older I wonder if I ever did truly have these things. Was I shaped by a bipolar mind with anxiety? The PTSD is a condition that was developed, but surely, I was a clean slate at some point? But the truth is, I don’t think the slate was ever clean. And still, I would take it over some days now, because I can taste the levity on my tongue; the sweetness of it and recall the serenity and carefree spirit that allowed me to take chances I don’t think I could take now. Mental illness paints things a shade darker. Creates shadows where there aren’t any or ought not to be any.  I can briefly grasp at what was during manic episodes, but it’s never right. They’re either pale comparisons or too bright and too clean. Like I jumped into Wonderland. I wonder what it’s like to be in a normal head and experience emotions normally and not acutely because as I miss the unfettered laughter and quiet mind, I also miss the natural ability to arbitrate emotion. Instead, I feel with every atom of my being- every pore. I love with every ounce and feel with every tear, those losses that may be minuscule to someone else, are devastating to me every time, taking a bit of me with them.

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I want my old brain back, and my old body back and- but I always stop. Because whining about it and venting about it is different than actually getting it back. It’s necessary to do. After all, you have to grieve what you’ve lost, because in a very real way you have lost a part of yourself, but in another way you’ve gained a different part of yourself and that is the part, I’m not willing to let go of, as much as I might complain. Why?

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Because my chronic illness, while being a pain in the ass 99% of the time has taught me three very important things: Being Compassionate toward others, Listening without Judgment, Living Life Despite The Pain. It’s pretty simple and while I could probably add more things, these are pretty much the foundations by which I try to live my life. It’s not always easy; I’m not a saint, but I try. Compassion is not something I find difficult, especially when encountering so many who find it difficult to be compassionate toward me. I’m already naturally empathetic. Listening is almost as easy, but listening without trying to interject opinions or thoughts and just listening to a person is more difficult. People often want to speak about how they relate to a person’s situation, or how they would deal with it, or how they feel about it. The keywords here being they/themselves. Listening and focusing on them, and not yourself is more difficult. It is something I work on every day- not making it about me. Living Life Despite Pain, of just Living my Best Life is strange, the most difficult. My life has been focused around my family- my husband and four kids and learning how to live life in a way where it also makes me happy- where I am doing things so that I thrive as well, feels selfish. But we need to make the most of every day we are living on this earth, so that is what I am working on.

 

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They Call That Fashion?

[image: Getty Images]

KimhēKim fashion brand posted videos from its September 24 Paris Fashion Week show, which features a model walking up the runway in a T-shirt labelled Sick across it with an IV as an accessory instead of a purse. The collection is described as “energetic,” as models sported black sunglasses and either carried selfie sticks or IV drips. Among some of his reasoning for this line: “This collection is about attention-seekers spending their summer vacation in a hospital.” He also says, “These days we all want attention and positive reaction from people, especially on social media. But instead of hiding it, let’s just be honest and admit that we want it, but do it with elegance.” (Burlet, 2019)

Okay. There is a lot to cover, so let’s get down to it. As a person with chronic illness (autoimmune disorders), who goes every six weeks and sits for roughly two hours with an IV for infusions, who is SICK, and who doesn’t give a crap about being elegant about it because I’m not an attention seeker- wow! This takes absurdity and shock fashion/art to a whole new level comparative to Bstroy, which showcased their bullet-like hole hoodies, and names of schools who had experienced mass shootings. It’s difficult for me to grasp why any designer would want to take these tragedies and exploit them in this way. But by his very own words, “attention-seeking” and “spending their summer vacation in a hospital” he truly doesn’t understand the difference between sick and trendy or fad. Where the rich or elite go to IV Infusion Bars to receive vitamins and rehydrate after a night of partying. I also considered that this collection might be in part to poke fun at these rich and trendy types, with their IV drips and selfie-sticks but I think it failed because of the manner he went about in showcasing it that would have been solved with one word: Not Sick.

I kept reading his words over and over again trying to understand his reasoning for this outrageous collection. It did not seem like a purposeful attack on the chronic illness community, however ignorant it may have been. But before you become angry with me, ignorance is never a defence and yet, I would still try and understand him. What I zoned into was the part he says “we all want attention and positive reaction from people, especially on social media. But instead of hiding it, let’s just be honest and admit we want it, but do it with elegance.” I read this and interpreted from him that these people who are flying off to these resorts they call “hospitals,” for their IV drips and “medications,” because they’re “sick,” should perhaps be honest about what they’re doing, be more authentic about themselves and while they are doing so to be more elegant and fashionable. But he widely miscalculated this interpretation and in doing so offended another community who is Sick and who is Not Attention-Seeking. Those suffering from Chronic Illness.

My first reaction when seeing the Instagram posts were quite visceral. I was instantly angered that someone could be so obtuse that they would throw this “Fashion” out there to be oohed and aahed over by fashion gurus and the general public everywhere. I may not be a fashion follower, but I know enough to know that Paris Fashion Week is a big deal and something like his collection can suddenly shift chronic illness and the people suffering from it into a negative light. We already bear enough scrutiny in our daily lives from the public that seeing this on the catwalk made me mentally scream and then take to social media to vent my anger the only way I could. But because I blog, I decided to use this platform as a way to explain to readers why this angered so many. However, I thought it was only fair to research why he may have created this collection, to begin with, hence the reason the introduction is laid out the way it is, which is only a logical guess. He’s been pretty cryptic about the meaning and inspiration of the collection and I did my best to be fair. He’s a fashion designer, successful from what I have read, dealing with an element of society that we might call the 1%. I am not implying that the 1% doesn’t deal with chronic illness, but what I am saying is that they can check into hospitals on a whim, for summer vacation, whereas the working class do not.

So, I’m wondering if there’s a bit of ironic humour going on with him somewhere there. A stab at those elites who think that checking themselves into the hospitals for a summer equated to being “sick,” and not vanity? His collection backfired among those of us who are sick. Did it backfire as a whole? Did it do badly at the Paris show? I don’t honestly know? Will it draw chronic illness into a negative light? Will people think that we are attention-seeker’s more now than we were before his collection? I don’t think so. Was it in poor taste? It’s aggravating to me as a chronic illness advocate, as someone who struggles with chronic illness, to wake up one day and see things like that. It’s frustrating. But then I remember, that’s why I am here. I’m here not only to bring awareness and to bring positivity to people who are sick, and their families, but also to those who know nothing about the illness and the chronic illness community, like him. So try not to despair when you see things out there like that my friends. Band together and redouble your efforts to spread awareness.

chronicadvocates

In a More Holistic World Why Am I Still Treated Like A Part?

The necessity for a more integrated medical approach.

 

Let’s face it, everywhere you turn you are blasted with information about how important it is to treat your body, mind and soul. While it may have begun as something of a New Age thing, or maybe something that only those Yogi’s did, has quickly integrated itself within our mainstream society, philosophy and medicine. These non-medicinal reaches extending into our surgical units, where recent research has been done regarding the use of aromatherapy to combat nausea after surgery. The reason I bring this up is that every day we are being introduced to more and more reasons why maybe, we should step back and take a look at the bigger picture of our body and why we should perhaps not reach for this or that pill. But when we go to the doctor seeking help, we are often treated like a car on a conveyer belt and directed to this specialist or that specialist. While this is fine in some respects, for many of us with chronic issues, it’s a nightmare. Especially when you have 7-8 specialists and they don’t communicate with one another. This needs to change.

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I’m not rebuking Western medicine here, nor saying that we need a complete upheaval of our current medical care. In fact, I’m only suggesting one, small change. Talking to one another. This has been the subject of other posts as well because, in an age where we literally have the power to talk to someone at our fingertips, I don’t understand why doctors can’t talk about their patients. And some do. Some are very involved in how they treat a person, while others remain quite apart from it, leaving it to the patient to relay messages and information that might be muddled before it gets to the doctor’s ear. We’ve all played telephone, right? How does a doctor expect a patient to relay information to the next doctor in the same, exact form in which it was received? What if the doctor has questions about what was advised to the patient? Where is the debate about treatment when the patient has no medical background? But sadly, it hardly ever gets to that point. You go to the neurologist and he gives you medicine for problem A. You go to the gastroenterologist and he gives you medicine for problem B. You go to the Rheumatologist and he gives you medicine for problem C. You go to pain management and he gives you medicine for problem D. But, what if problems A, B, C and D are all interconnected? What if it’s not the medicine that you need at all but someone to connect the dots and take stock of the whole you?

 

Integrative Medicine: A form of medical treatment that combines practices and treatments from alternative medicine with conventional medicine. There is an emphasis on the “whole person,” and focuses on wellness and overall health, rather than only treating the disease.  

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My favourite part of that whole definition, besides “whole person,” is “rather than only treating the disease.” We’ve become, in my opinion, rather over-zealous in the treatment of disease and the use of pharmaceuticals and I think this has been our greatest downfall in our application of conventional medicine. Once upon a time, to become a doctor was as sacred a calling as becoming a priest. It was generations of fathers (as a male-dominated field) who had sons, who were followed this path of healing. “First, do no harm,” was an oath breathed out upon the lips of these doctors with reverence. A reverence that extended to the profession, the body that they would be treating and the manner in which they would be treating them. I’m not saying that there weren’t bad doctors in the past, what I am saying is that the approach they took for the treatment of the body was more holistic than what we have now. There was a relationship between the doctor and the patient that you cannot cultivate in the 15 minutes you may have to speak with a patient now. There was an emphasis on the treatment of the whole person, which meant taking into account what they ate and what they did for a living and what they did in their leisure time that you may never know about a patient now. The prescription of medicine was given with far greater care and with an honouring of how these medicines might affect the rest of the body. Western medicine has never been as holistic as Eastern medicine, however, we are looking towards pharmaceuticals to solve all of our ailments, without looking far closer to home first. And to be fair, it’s not just physicians or pharmaceuticals, it’s the patients too who want these “quick fixes,” without regards to how much of a chemical cocktail they might be putting into their body. I’m one of them. We all want to feel better. And we all want to feel better right now. But at what cost?

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My PSA: I’m not pushing the No Medicine/Totally Holistic philosophy. I fall somewhere in the happy medium. And I greatly understand the need for medicine. It saves lives. No doubt in my mind. What my message is here, is balance and respect for both the pharmaceuticals and for your body. I respect people’s decision regarding their treatment. This is my decision.

 

The cost equates to side-effects from medications that begin to impact your body and where you develop symptoms and other (possibly) long-term problems from these medications, which end up requiring more medications. It’s a vicious cycle and one that I’m half-convinced that pharmaceuticals count on to keep you as a patient. Think about the long-term revenue that both doctors and pharmaceuticals earn from those of us with chronic problems that have no cure? We’re cash-cows. We’re the Golden Ticket. Keep us functioning; keep our symptoms managed and you have steady millions of patients who have to be prescribed countless pills, including pain medications and who will never get better. Is that not the perfect plan? But what about those of us who aren’t content with managing symptoms? What if we dream of something better? What if we dream of something more than “conveyer belt medicine,” where you’re rolled through in 15 minutes and written a prescription by a specialist who doesn’t care about x and y problems and only cares about z. Our body, our future; we need to advocate for ourselves this balance until our medical community is once again reminded of its roots. 

HealthyLife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Only Think You Know Tired

To those of us with chronic illness or autoimmune disorders; to those of us with chronic pain, being tired has taken on a whole new level of meaning. It’s something that without meaning to, becomes this group of exclusivities, where you find yourself saying things like, “You don’t know unless you’re experiencing it.” Which, sad to say, is true. And in one fell swoop, gives you all the perspective you will ever need because you suddenly have this point of view of what it was like before you were sick and after. My life has suddenly taken on a B.R.A. [Before Rheumatoid Arthritis] and A.R.A. [After Rheumatoid Arthritis] among other fun comorbidities, like I’m some epoch of history. 

BC Comic2

But how do you explain to someone who is healthy how you experience fatigue? Especially when people use it so commonplace and not necessarily wrong? Fatigue like pain can be relative and what they are experiencing is relative to what they have experienced up to that point. They don’t have a wider point of reference like you do now, and that doesn’t make them wrong. It just means that you have to paint the picture better. So how do we do that? It can be extremely frustrating for the masses of us out there who are trying to explain to friends, family, bosses, or anyone else what we experience when we tell them how tired we are and their response is, “Oh yeah, I know. I only got four hours of sleep last night.” It’s one of those moments where you want to face-palm because you get it- you feel sympathy, but you also know its way beyond 4-hours sleep.

Fatigue is like treading through a vat of Jell-O for hours with no sleep, after running a marathon and lifting weights while you are feverish, have flu-like symptoms, are suffering from a migraine and have swollen, aching, joints. It’s all of this compounded with needing to keep up with your work and home-related activities and anything else that is expected of you, while you feel like your body is leaden from exhaustion and you wonder how you are going to type the next sentence on the computer, because your eyes want to close and your fingers don’t want to work. It’s always pushing yourself about 150% just to make it to about 30% of functioning. And no one understands it. Not unless you are living it and going through it and trying to figure out how you are going to manage from the day. I could try to explain it to you and every other chronically ill person who deals with it could try and explain it to you and still, you’d only be able to grasp the tip of it. A theoretical understanding of how it is to live with chronic fatigue, because until you are in it, experiencing it, unable to call in sick afraid you might lose your job, having to take care of sick kids and a family despite not being near 100% yourself and struggling everyday- you’ll never get it. Not ever.

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But does not understanding it means that no compassion can be extended to those suffering from chronic fatigue? Does it mean that those on the other side of this, must continue to look at us with scepticism? I would hope not. I have never adhered to the philosophy that you have to experience something in order to offer some kind of empathy. I understand I might not ever understand it in the way the individual experiencing it will, but I can try to understand what they are going through and I can try to ease their suffering and perhaps educate others. People should not have to needlessly suffer at the hands of ignorance, and this is why I do what I do. So, if you know someone who says they experience chronic fatigue, or you experience it and have someone who doesn’t understand it, maybe reading this will help them a little.

 

Being Told to Give Up

If you follow me on Twitter you’ve learned that I found a new pain management doctor. Not because my previous one was horrid (I know you can read a lot of horror stories on various blogs) but because our vision was going in different directions. So, I found a new doctor and he’s great. My first time seeing him where he evaluated me, he had this great idea for an intrathecal pump. Now, for of those of you who do not know what this is, it’s a pump that is implanted into the flesh of your belly and where the thin, catheter tubing goes up into your spinal cord and the medicine would go directly into your spine. This eliminates the medicine having to detour into the liver, and with the medicine going directly into your spine, it also allows them to give you much lower doses of medicines like morphine, to help with the pain. This all sounded pretty good to me, minus the pump implant and catheter tubing that has to go into the spine, but the theory behind it was great. Better meds and bypassing the liver. Cool. I scheduled a trial, where they deliver the pain medicine to the spine via spinal tap to see if it will help. But I had to be cleared by a few doctors, one of which was my neurologist who hit the brakes hard. So much so that I had a head-on collision with this great idea. He would not discuss it without actually seeing me so I made an appointment and sat down to talk about things.

It began with the fact I had a seizure in January, and because he is a neurologist he knows exactly what the intrathecal pump is and how they would do it and because we have no idea why I have these seizures (undefined seizure disorder), he is afraid that I might have a catastrophic seizure during the procedure and end up in bad shape in the hospital. Okay, I thought. Do I have to wait a few months to be seizure free? What if I wait and everything is fine and schedule it and have another seizure before the procedure date? I’m pretty sure he could see the questions racing in my head by the expression on my face and that is when he stopped me cold.

“I don’t think you should have it done at all. I think you have to accept you are going to be in some amount of pain, and possibly significant pain, for the rest of your life.”

Let me say that he’s been treating me for a long time. He can be abrasive and won’t shy away from telling you he’s an asshole, but he’s the farthest thing from an asshole. What he is, is honest but sometimes honesty is not something you want to hear as much as a version of honesty that offers some hope. There was no hope in his statement and I cried with the impact it made on me. There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. All I could think was:

“But why?”

He gave me a lot of reasons. The seizures. The fact I’ve had several failed back procedures. The fact I’ve tried many things already, to help with the pain that has not improved my situation. Finally, what he feels is the biggest reason: I’m Bipolar. Why is this the biggest reason and why should it matter that I am bipolar or not? I didn’t understand even after he explained it until I began to research it. Me, the person with bipolar, had to research why her bipolar was the biggest reason to give up. Why was my mental illness the sudden obstacle between me and the Holy Grail of cures?

The theory is that there is a link between chronic pain and bipolar, one which worsens chronic pain and symptoms of bipolar over time. The idea is that psychological pain comes with depression and that depression worsens chronic pain. One big vicious cycle. In learning about bipolar you understand that physical pain is often an underlying symptom of anxiety or depression. For example: “Muscle aches, chest pain, gastrointestinal cramping and other types of pain can be symptoms of bipolar disorder. They can also coincide with bouts of extreme fatigue. Aside from the emotional trauma of depression, these symptoms can only add to the burden, especially since they may not go away with traditional pain treatment methods.” [https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-laid-bare/2016/09/bipolar-disorder-is-linked-to-chronic-pain/] As I read, I was kind of blown away. It suddenly hit me that maybe bipolar and chronic illness were a tandem unit in which the one (bipolar) made the other (chronic illness/pain) more difficult to treat and perhaps, vice-versa.

It’s been almost two weeks since that appointment and it feels like I’ve spent all of it ruminating on his dispiriting words. My mood has been terrible. I’ve been at turns, bitchy and emotional and picked a fight with my husband for no reason. When I apologized to him and we talked about it, I explained to him all of what I was thinking and blamed it on my bipolar. He shook his head and simply told me:

“You’re upset because he took away your hope.”

This shouldn’t have been such illumination to me but it was. While I understood everything that my doctor told me and everything the research, I had read concluded, does it give someone else, like a doctor, the right to single-handedly, extinguish the possibility of hope? Not for me, although I understand his intent and I don’t think it was maliciously done. The problem lies in the nature of chronic illness and chronic pain and how it affects the psyche of the individual suffering. It diminishes hope. The physical deterioration can be slow for some people, where things that we could do are slowly taken away one-by-one, while for other people it can feel as though you went to bed healthy and woke up in such debilitating pain that you can no longer walk, but the hope that ebbs away is real no matter which side of the spectrum you are on and I believe we need every shred of it.

I understand that this intrathecal pump may not be the best option for me. In my personal case, with seizures of an undefined origin, it may be too risky. I’ll even extend this understanding to the bipolar disorder, but only because I understand on an intellectual level that it may have a hand in my pain. However, as to what role it may play in this drama, among which all these comorbities of mine play? The jury is still out until I see some very thorough studies. I can see that on one hand it may unlock many mysteries pertaining to chronic pain and illness, but on the other I am afraid it may de-legitimize the pain and illness of many who suffer if we simply chalk it up to the by-products of mental illness. My final thought here, which was the purpose of this post to begin with, is that I don’t believe it is right for anyone to take away the hope of a chronic illness/pain patient. Hope is one of the few things we have left. It is sometimes the only thing that keeps us going. If you are a doctor out there, reading this, please, protect your patient from un-needed or dangerous surgeries, but do not take their hope away.