Navigating Healthcare When You’re Chronically Sick *and a Chronic Pain Patient (1)

When I say the seven days of last week were the epitome of an absolute disaster of epic Murphy’s Law proportion, I’m not exaggerating. I am psychologically traumatized by the amount of roadblocks that emerged in just trying to carry out seemingly easy decisions the doctor and I agreed on.

It’s hard to convey how defeated it feels to be so desperately reliant on a health care system that appears to lack any incentive to see that you’re taken care of. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps is a phrase I’ve heard all my life. There was a time when that was possible and I had no excuse not to be totally self sufficient. But that all changes when you lose the reliability of your body. It’s like trying to beat a video game with a broken controller in your hands. 

I feel trapped. Chained to a medical network where in every domain outside of actual face time with the doctor, I am a policy and not a patient. Whether I have access to what is necessary to maintain any health seems to have become almost anecdotal.

My time and energy are consumed by the position of full-time liaison, constantly navigating the logistics between the doctor, the doctors own front desk staff, the pharmacy, the insurance company, and adjusting to the perpetually changing federal laws that affect the dispensing of my medications. Maybe it’s this easy to fall because there are so many gaps between doctor and patient, and they’re widening all the time.

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See? Here I am enjoying myself at the urologists office.

I can’t remember when this part of life with chronic illness became harder than managing the physical illness itself, but that’s where I am now. I’m also realistic and understand that in the context of a multi-systemic disease like M.E., a lot of my time will go to doctors and exams and bloodwork and prescription refills and pickups and insurance appeals etc. etc. etc. That’s simply part of life when you’re sick and I accept that part. (See photo)

What I struggle with is the fact that maintaining my healthcare has become a battle. Keeping up with the aforementioned aspects of my health between doctor appointments is a fight, as constant and reliable as the disease I wake to everyday. 

This probably all sounds generic and obvious to say; But I’m not actually referring to the conventional financial or accessibility issues of our system. I have health insurance. I’m not talking about having an inadequate plan or the absurd price of prescription drugs or the lack of access to good doctors. On the whole I have great doctors. So why, when it comes to that crucial part of fulfilling the medical plan that a doctor and I have decided is in the best interest of my health, am I met with constant resistance from the moment I step out of the exam room?

That resistance fought me at every turn, every day last week. Beginning Monday, the said battle of having my health needs met ensued due to simple administrative mistakes, systemic gaps, and changing federal laws that made shitteth hitteth the fanneth. I will share how the system tends to fail with the slightest pressure, but first I think it’s important to explain my current state of health and why I require the doctors, treatments, and care that I do.

I am writing about this not to pettily vent or point an ambiguous finger—believe me, I’d rather forget it ever happened. But last week was not a fluke. This happens constantly, and it will happen again. But if a chronically sick person with good health insurance and good doctors has to fight this hard and often lose when it comes to basic needs– like prescription refills and scheduling timely follow-up appointments– something is broken. Maybe by highlighting how laws, policies and medical personnel affect the health of an actual person, it may somehow in the end help fix or improve them. Maybe I’m dreaming.

**State of the Human**

Most are familiar with my physical circumstances. Quick status:  I’ve been fighting a chronic disease that lacks treatment or cure since I relapsed a decade ago. As a result of many things going awry in my body, I am in pain all the time. Without precise disease treatment, the best we can do is manage the many symptoms of M.E. In my case, fighting chronic pain is the hardest part.

In both legs I have something called small fiber neuropathy. This is a deep ache, basically everywhere there is skin, and typically a burning in my feet and calves, especially if I stand for more than 15 minutes. My feet often get physically hot and sometimes swell, as though I were some pregnant broad, but nope! All of this began around age 25, when the restless leg syndrome also worsened at the start of my relapse. It’s like an electrified current running up and down both legs that won’t turn off. 

Untreated, my legs ache and burn constantly, but worst of all, they make sleep impossible. At best it comes in one to two minute fits and bursts before the pain wakes me again. Imagine being pricked five times by a safety pin every 90 seconds throughout the night. You’re getting there…

Beyond my legs is my head. Or my brain I should say, because that’s where the pain feels like it’s emerging from. It’s as though my brain were swollen and pushing against my skull from the inside. It’s a chronic pressure and pain with very frequent migraines. Five years ago the pain moved into my face—not an acute pain, a widespread pressure pain like a tension headache, but beyond my forehead it extends to the top of my head, down to my cheeks, jaw, and even my mouth sometimes. On bad days it’s just my whole head.

Some other treatments have included steroid injections in my head and back of my occipital nerves, as well as lidocaine injections in my face to help control/ disrupt this pain.

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See those little bee stings? Those are injection sites. Is it fun getting shots into my temples and face? No. But neither is 24/7 pain, so a few seconds of needle pain is nothing in comparison.

Perhaps underscoring my head pain are the issues with my neck. I’ve had a “bad neck” the way a seventy-five-year-old has a “bad back” since high school. There’s a good chance some of these neck issues are driving the head and face problem, but we’ve not been able to land on anything definitive. Trust me, we’ve tried, and we will continue to. We’ve spent years and years searching for answers, visiting doctors, & trying a lot of techniques—from chiropractors to physical therapy to acupuncture/cupping to two weeks of ketamine infusions (That’s a story I’ll tell soon because…Damn.) 

Lastly I’m dealing with chronic interstitial cystitis pain that resurfaced in December with an infection. We treated and “cured” that with antibiotics, but the pain and symptoms of IC decided to stay. In July those symptoms worsened drastically and have added to my pain load. I am hoping and praying and trying a lot of remedies (including homeopathy) to get the IC under control, but it’s not been easy. I didn’t know it was possible to pee more than 30 times a day but guess what? I think I hit 40 once.

We recently had my MRI’s looked at by an M.E. literate 3rd party who pointed out abnormalities on my brain stem and cervical spine. One included a minor CSF blockage and bursitis on five disks. These structural issues would likely explain a lot of my pain problems and may even be responsible for other symptoms like those from dysautonomia.

Some of these abnormalities can be fixed with surgery, but I have to see a specialist who would decide ultimately the best course of treatment. If it meant the possibility of an end or improvement of this pain, I’d go under the knife tomorrow. I’m ready for my life to start in so many ways, and I do believe we will find an answer to all of this. In the meantime…

Due to this constant high level of pain, I see a specialist and take prescription pain medicine, as well as undergo nerve blocks, trigger point injections, and live with an ice pack on my head to help find relief. This combination of treatments help keep my high level of pain down to a more manageable one so I can have some quality of life. I have not changed the medicine in eight years or the dose in more than four. Want to see what I look like after a nerve block?

Creepy, I know.

I’ve provided my situation regarding pain because this is where most people have a strong opinion one way or another, and more often it’s that you’re just being weak, don’t really need it, or you’re treated like an addict. Often that attitude comes from front desk staff or a pharm tech filling my Rx! I wish this perception would change and that people understood there are millions like me; prescribed to this medicine for the reason it was created: to alleviate physical pain. We take it as prescribed and there’s no misuse. It’s a matter of livelihood. That’s. All.

Having to rely on medicine to evade my natural state of pain is not something I’m happy about or proud of. I’m also aware it’s not a ‘solution.’ But I do know my life would be unequivocally crappier and less functional if I had to face the world fighting such a high level of pain 24/7.

For that reason, I’m grateful for my doctor and for medicine that provides some relief. Until science catches up with understanding my disease and treating it, this allows me not to be tortured at all times. I don’t think that’s anything we should have to feel shame about.

There, now you’re caught up…on one part of the battle ;) More on last weeks clusterbiff and how to prevent it, coming up.

Health, Happiness, & a 10 on the Pain Scale

 

Summer Part 1: The Bill Always Comes

**The Summer of The Winter of Our Discontent**

There’s this key moment in Sudoku, when you find a clutch number that gives way to the others and begin to just fall into place like a waterfall. Much like the card you play in solitaire where you know you’re about to crack it. I had just written in a 6 I’d been trying to find for way too long. So began the waterfall, and I filled in the other boxes proudly– possibly smugly because this puzzle felt like it was out to trick me personally and now I had it in my hands! Until I didn’t, and in slow motion realized I had two number 7’s in the bottom row, and I just wanted to hit myself.

I tried to work backwards to fix it, but it was irreparably blown. I blew it. So, there went the last two weeks.

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Somewhat of a Doodler 

Of course, I’ve been up to other things. It’d be funny if after a month break all I had to show for it was a failed puzzle. Can’t all be winners.

For starters, summer reading. In July I was booklets after finishing Killing Commendatore, and sad I didn’t have more Murikami to lose myself in. Finally I scanned my own bookshelf for unread potential treasures and picked up Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, which doesn’t sound like much of an apropos Summer read, but it’s just that. It’d sat idle on my shelf for years, even though that white house on the cover had caught my eye a thousand times. I had no idea the brilliance I was missing! It’s like suddenly realizing an old painting in your closet is worth some absurd amount of money. Once I dove in I didn’t want out, which surprised me when it shouldn’t have. It’s a classic, what did I expect?

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The book was written in 1961, and given the passage of time I expected a natural  disconnect. I’ve been so wrapped up in modern fiction– for too long probably. Yet somehow the America and the People and Assumed Human Decency that Steinbeck depicted 60 years ago were all completely recognizable today. You wouldn’t have to drive long before finding a sister town to “New Baytown”or look very hard before confronting modern replicas of his primary characters. Ultimately he tapped into the problems, desires, personal demons and moral choices most all of us face at some point– it’s just astounding to me that Steinbeck unearthed such deep, quiet struggles and could discern which ones were engrained in us and would stand the test of time.

Maybe that’s a litmus test for what makes a book a classic; if the suppositions and ideas can weather the decades and remain solidly true, unbothered by time, then you’ve got yourself a winner. I guess that’s pretty obvious, but it felt remarkable to come across.

The book reads a lot like a memoir of protagonist Ethan Crawley, who is so likable, in the first place, it’s hard to put down. I felt a relief knowing there was someone else who felt these ways –about money and politics and social hierarchies and expectations. He makes a joke out of probably 85% of his replies, and rarely does anyone get it, or choose to acknowledge it with a laugh anyway. That felt… familiar.

I feel similarly when I watch SNL sketches that crack me up. It’s not in the scene itself, but in the imagining of the writers who wrote the sketch, and knowing that real people out there recognized absurdity the way that I do. It’s easy not to feel seen in the world, but knowing other people see things the same way you do, even perfect strangers, feels like the twin brother to feeling understood. One scene in the book hammered this feeling in…

Crawley and his wife have been invited to another couples house to discuss “business”, i.e. money, but they have to go through the obligatory song and dance first.  That means a formal serving of tea and then petty small talk. Everyone sipped tea and each delivered some anecdote on the subject of tea. He’s bored to tears. When it became Ethan’s turn to chime in, he brought up Danny, the town drunk, and a terrible nightmare he’d had about him. I laughed as he described feeling his wife’s quiet anger that he didn’t keep up the supposedly pleasant tea talk, and now everyone had to comment about a despairing subject. I wonder how many pleasant bouts of small talk I’ve Debbie Downer’ed with an some morbid comment that I found funny? Probably too many. Anyway, it’s a perfect scene.

A few of my favorite passages:

“So many old and lovely things are stored in the worlds attic, because we don’t want them around us and we don’t dare throw them out.”

I don’t suppose there’s a man in the world who doesn’t love to give advice.”

(Ethan)”Is Marullo part of the group?”

(Wealthy friend) “Certainly not. He goes his own way with his own crowd.” (The Italians. Marullo is an immigrant)

(Ethan)“They do pretty well, don’t they?”

(Friend) “Better than I think is healthy. I don’t like to see these foreigners creeping in.”

Sounds familiar eh?

“There is no such thing as just enough money. Only two measures: No Money and Not Enough Money.”

“No one wants advice–only corroboration.”

“I always put it down to fact that a wife never likes her husband’s boss or his secretary.” “All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.” “Not only the brave get killed, but the brave have a better chance at it.” “For the most part people are not curious, except about themselves.”

I must have underlined half the book.

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Next I read Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, another of the greats that’d been collecting dust not far from Steinbeck. When finishing it I wondered why I haven’t read more of the classics, because this was a damn great book too. There’s no good reason I don’t have more of them under my belt, except that I didn’t take enough literature classes in college I guess, and I hardly know what the real classics are. So, I’ve begun a list. Who cares. Anyway I won’t go so far into this one. As tribute to Hemingway and his distinguished, succinct style I’ll say this: The book is rather great and you should read it. You’ll have a swell time. 

 

Especially if you love Paris, Spain, the Pamplona Fiesta, fishing, Bullfighting, and forbidden love. Hemingway was clearly a romantic. Did you know he was married four times? Only a true romantic gives marriage that many goes. 

The passage that stuck:

“I had been getting something for nothing. That only delayed the presentation of the bill. The bill always came. That was one of the swell things you could count on. …You paid some way for everything that was any good.”

If that’s not the truth I don’t know what is.

I kept thinking about it’s application to health. That very often, when you have your health, it’s free. They say your health is like your breath–you don’t pay attention to it until you lose it. I think back on life before the relapse, and how I’d done nothing to earn my state of ‘decent’ state of health. I’d also done nothing to earn the relapse that eventually followed. It felt like someone at my door, come to collect a bill every day, when I hadn’t purchased anything. When well, I was getting something for nothing, without even knowing it. Once sick I had to begin paying for those somethings, and surrender what I couldn’t afford.

My hope, and I think my belief, is that it doesn’t have to mean the surrender of those things that matter most. When you’re forced to give things up, it feels just that way. But learning to live without them has been an ongoing lesson in letting go of what I thought I needed in order to live a life I liked. You end up finding a whole other you behind those old roles. It offered a strange opportunity to see my own self without these external identifiers. That allowed me to see the world differently too. I’m (still) learning it’s up to me, more often than not, how I choose to see both.

But, as the man said, you paid for anything that was any good. Many things that allow me to feel alive and good come at a cost. It’s like a tax on fun, in the currency of health. Actually I also pay the tax when I haven’t had fun. REAL COOL BODY THANKS. At any rate, I feel fortunate I still have people and places and experiences to (sometimes) overindulge in at all.

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Like him. He’s worth it.

I imagine everyone has their respective “things” or indulgences for which a bill reliably comes. And maybe depending on what point we’re asked, during the playing or the paying, would we consider whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze. For me, mostly, paying the bill feels worth it when I’ve decided to splurge. Girls gotta live sometimes.

Health, Happiness, Paying the Tab

An Extremely Obvious Revelation

Captains Log: Day Four Million and Six. Still crashed, I guess. At what point do you stop considering yourself crashed and just accept that this new garbage state is just.…your new normal? Everything is acting up, like normal. But it’s been the challenge with my heart, wanting something it cannot have, which I’ve struggled hardest with. I don’t typically spend too much time in the “greener grass over the fence” world,  but something in me is willing hard for a life I don’t have. It’s also being imaginatively precise in the world it wants that cannot exist.

I’m in a rut, if that wasn’t clear. 

I’m reflecting on how it all began. I can at least say what helped inspire it: Ignoring what I knew I needed to do, which is one of those human behaviors I will never understand. My morale was low, which was linked to my motivation. It was still there, but it dissipated a little every day I went  on deflecting from the thing that would do me some good: writing. It was like a shooting star that burst in a short lived flash of light. But it would fade just as quickly if I didn’t act while it was illuminated. Then the sky would go back to black, and having failed to act, the brightness dwindled, as did the likelihood of me writing all the things pleading to be let out. 

That’s why they say strike while the iron’s hot, I suppose. Again and again and again I’d have the spark and ignore it. Or put it off. Or write in my notebook, which is something better than nothing, but I knew it’d little good there. It didn’t risk anything or challenge me in a way that makes me try harder whether the quality is better or not. Saying “tomorrow is just as good as today” became a dangerous motto I obeyed and it’s not even true. I was kidding myself and knew it inside, but I still couldn’t pull it together. 

Instead I worked on three sudoku puzzles from a Southwest magazine I snagged on my flight home from Miami. I made some dumb deal with myself if I could finish all three than I could trust my brain. I finished the Easy, then worked on the Medium for what probably took far too long, but finished, and then spent over a week on the Difficult until I messed up somewhere and it was impossible to fix. So I threw it out finally, assuming OK, now it’s time for writing. But then I studied Sudoku strategies online instead, which I’d never done before. Interesting stuff.

I went to Miami in the first place to see my real life hero, Dr. Nancy Klimas. I honestly feel little a star struck when I see her and I just want to run up and wrap my arms around her bear hug style and lift her off the ground. Do a twirl with her raised in the air! Hah, what a sight. She ordered a lot of blood work and neurotransmitter tests. One interesting thing she suggested was the use of a tens machine as means to stimulate the Vagus Nerve, which has gotten a lot of press in the MECFS world and has helped people with varying symptoms. One of those is headaches, and since I’ve had one of those for the last decade, I’m really hoping it will help provide some relief. 3 times a day for 15 minutes. I’ll report back. 

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Real Life 🦸‍♀️ Super Hero

It’s always hopeful to see a doctor who specializes in your disease, particularly when the other seven that you see have never heard of it. They’re doing your best, for obvious reasons, there limits to their help. Seeing Klimas was cathartic in that regard and other levels as I’m hopeful some of her ideas will help with multiple issues I’m having resolve, or at least improve. Particularly crashing almost every day about an hour after I awake. Also the cystitis and peeing every 10 minutes. And the daily migraines. And five months between periods. So, all of it, basically.

As for the rut, I think an envy began sprouting in me that at first I wasn’t so aware of. It started in a very dormant way, even though I was really enjoying my trip in Miami. I probably had more fun than I’d had in all of 2019 combined, which could fit in a thimble. It began with a very attentive observation of my surroundings, of simple things actually, and seeing up close how people who have their health are able to live and operate, day after day. I don’t know why this time I was so conscious of it and in such awe. On a general level at all times, I am amazed what man in a state of homeostasis can do. Maybe because 2019 had been such a burning trashcan of illness and life that I forgot what real health looked like. I was so amazed on one hand, and on the other, the envy for their ease of capability grew in me like a weed. 

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Singing the Beastie Boys

The logistics of family life, especially with four young children, is extremely difficult and doesn’t look easy. But it does look fun, too. I came from a family of six, so maybe some part of me naturally feels at home with that number. But to watch reliable bodies and all they could do became compelling and incredible. I’d listen to my brother and sister-in-law talk about plans, and I think I literally forgot about the concept of planning as a real thing. It’s not impossible and I still attempt it in my own life, but it is always tentative. Always. I am never, ever, a sure thing.  

Not a second thought about showers, grocery shopping, cooking big meals every night, meeting friends for dinner. How involved their social life was! I mean, they had one. How at ease everyday chores and tasks and errands (Or even just delegating them) were— not that they didn’t require work, but that no one was forced by potential physical repercussions to choose whether they would shower or grocery shop. They were solid people. They accomplished so much each day and were dead tired by the end of it, just when I’d start to feel a little more awake, strangely. They went to sleep with warranted exhaustion, and the sleep actually recharged them.

My sister-in-law was so alive in the mornings, which is incomprehensible to me. Both feeling alive at all, and being functional before 2 pm. When she wore workout clothes, it’s because she actually worked out. Not because she was a poser like me who wore leggings because sometimes just the thought of denim against my skin makes me cringe. 

I had truly forgotten what the privilege of health affords you across a day, a week, in all your many roles and expectations. I was amazed and then maybe progressively envious? Can’t say, but typically I’m overwhelmed watching the pace and the volume and the largeness of healthy peoples lives unfold. But for whatever reason, I finally felt it deeply in my bones, as though it’d been welling up there for years and I’d just never said it out loud despite it being glaringly obvious. To the point of it being useless to even repeat here. But it’s still flapping around in my brain, and I want to release it.  I’m warning you, it’s stupidly obvious: I am so, fucking, tired, of living life with this illness. 

How’s that for a Ted Talk?

It’s still there for some reason. It’s obvious, I get it, everyone in the world gets it– why it continues to circulate in my psyche like some grande revelation is beyond me. Maybe it just begged to be said plainly, without a “But” behind it or any justification for why having it has made me better in other regards! No, plain and simple. Just say it and leave out the decorum.

Pardon the F bomb, that’s just how the thought plays out. I write about hope and working with the hand you’re dealt and discerning ways to find meaning in the parts of life you don’t control. And suddenly it all faded quietly into the background. I felt like a hack. I looked around and could feel viscerally how much I wanted what I could not have. What was not mine to take. 

I can’t stay in that space long, even though I’ve still felt way a while now, though maybe not with such fervor. Zukav says that “The splintered personality must always choose between opposing parts of itself. The backbone of evolution.” I doubt it grows me any to want for what isn’t real. To live in a dimension where bad things happen without timely ways to always understand them. I am constantly walking the line between hope and despair. It is far easier to despair, I admit easily. I have to choose hope, consciously, with the intention that even if I can’t see the meaning in all of this yet, it will be revealed. Or at least if I’ll find salvation and treasure in it, the way I would try to in a life with my health. I can’t accept it’s all for nothing. I won’t.

Still, some days, some periods of time: So. Fucking. Tired. OK, won’t say it anymore. My mom will wag her finger.

Interestingly, I still had a great time in Miami. It wasn’t that I felt better there–I was crashed most the time. It was more of a simple enlightenment that being sick around people you love and like is better than being sick on your own. Obvious, I know. I  stayed in bed, sleeping on and off until around 3:30 pm. That’s when Olive and Miles (7 and 4) typically came home from school, and I’d reach down far for some strength and get up to greet them as they walked up the driveway smiling or skipping or holding art they made as though it were a proud flag.

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And the Tony Goes To….

It was nice being around them. I really do treasure my role as an aunt, even if I can’t do more and play longer without tiring out. I was able to see Olive’s first performance in a play: School Daze. It was about school, and how school is hard. Can’t disagree with that. It felt so fun to go and cheer her on.

I’d meet them at the beach, but it’d be four hours after they’d already been there. But that’s the great part about kids (and dogs.) No questions. No backstory required. They’re just glad you’re there.

A beautiful part of children is how adaptable they are. They don’t seem to mind that I’m supine 80% of the time we’re together. Kids can tire you out, but they can rejuvenate you too, much like the ocean. Luckily there, I had both. And those two made me feel more alive than I’d felt in a while.

I like these pictures because they fit in my fantasy world where things are normal and that’s fun to pretend sometimes.

I guess being around the whole family helped re-tether me to the world. Seemed I had floated away from it, or maybe it was the world that had floated on without me. Either way, once I was home, I didn’t bask in the solitude or the quiet, like usual. Reuniting with Monty always makes me happy, and is the symbol of “home” to me. Otherwise a harsh reality settled around me that suddenly I was sick with no one around during the day. But it didn’t feel like respite.

In Miami I would often just listen to Estee on the phone, or working on some project, prepping food for dinner that night, caring for the twins. As my grandma would say “She’s a busy body.” I got used to the background sounds of people living, and despite not participating in it, it was comfortable to me hearing it go on. Comforting. A reminder that life moves continues on, no matter what you’re wearing or what room you’re in. Of course that same fact when you’re in the same four walls for months can feel worse than unfair. It’s a pitiful thought, but it feels very real that the world doesn’t need you at all. (That is NOT true and I don’t believe that in any form at all. It’s your ego messing with you, and it’s dishonest. All of it)

I guess the drastic change, whether it was the lack of kids to make me laugh or of late-night life talks after the kids went to bed, they all made my life at home feel disconnected. My mom had left for a trip to Colorado the day after I returned and I suppose what I normally call solitude began to feel more like isolation. I had this feeling that I’d probably had enough solitude to last me thru another decade.

I surpassed my wordcount by about 5,000 words. I have too much to say because I put this off too long too long and that’s what happens. I’ll let this fly and hope things lighten up inside me, then I’ll do a little better by saying more with fewer words next time. That’s the ticket. Between now and then, Stella is working on getting her groove back. I’ll get there. I always do. 

Health, Happiness, Grooves

One Arrow Only

Want to hear a funny story?

Well first, some housekeeping. It’s been more than a while, I know. I feel like an idiot bear emerging from hibernation 3 months late and everyone’s like Dude, what have you even been doing? Getting crushed, that’s what.

A health update for 2019: mine is still mostly missing. Hate it when that happens! 2019 has continued to be a slow-rolling, sick train, punctuated by outings to every type of doctor, assuming I don’t call in sick to the appointment. Calling in sick to the doctor; what an absurd reality.

This elongated crash state feels like some kind of warped dream when I reflect on it. I would blame this on the repetitiveness of days that can start to feel indistinguishable from stagnancy. It feels like…

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Day
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After day…
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After Day…
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After Day…
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After Day…
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After Day OK I think you get it…

That last photo was on my way home from a cystoscopy, which they put you under for, thank Gawd. But I was a little…out of it. The procedure is supposed to help the interstitial cystitis, but low and behold, I still find myself having to pee like a racehorse a LOT, soooo, maybe it’s just taking a while to work. Here’s hoping.

As always the creative challenge of life with chronic illness continues. What a strange conundrum, living with a body that doesn’t know how to function as a body. So, what to do?

Reading Murikami’s 19Q4 followed by Killing Commendatore, which I’m sad to have just finished, have kept my imagination wild and busy, and I wish I could thank the guy personally for what joy he’s brought into my life. Reading Murikami’s stories doesn’t just give you ideas to reflect on–it’s a really involved experience just reading one of his books. It’s very involved somehow. As though a real exchange were taking place, but I don’t know how that is possible.

Before walking home from my parents some nights, I think of the characters inside the pages, waiting on me to get into bed and open the book so they can get on finding their way. It’s by far the deepest I’ve fallen into a body of work, fiction anyway, and I have absolutely no idea how he does it. I’m just glad to get lost in something so positive. It’s too easy to fall into counterproductive thoughts or habits when you’re so physically limited. So as always, it takes a good chunk of mental exertion to stay on the right side of the experience and to be cautious in how I tell myself this is all unfolding.

***

For no good reason at all, I get into bed at night and truly believe I’ll be improved tomorrow. I imagine all the things I’ll do. All the catching up and even what clothes I’ll wear while I’m busy bustling around the house. I can see myself cleaning out closets and on the phone, checking things off my list–Monty following me, room to room. I can envision it all, and drifting off, I always expect that tomorrow will be better. And yet for roughly 120 tomorrows, I’ve awoken to mostly a repeat of the day before. Oh real great Universe! 

Now and then I receive some improved feeling that I’m finally rounding the corner of this thing and the worst is over. Perfect! Then either hours later or two days later, I’m paying a high price for what feel like very petty offenses. The invisible line of this thing– it’s the most frustrating part. It makes any kind of management of it feel impossible.

It’s like driving through a backwoods town in the middle of the night without any headlights on. The “warning signals” of this illness are meek and inconsistent. You have to pay such careful attention to what can be a trigger, but even still, it seems sometimes you crash for no reason, or have a full month of migraines for no good reason. It can be hard to see straight at all and you wish you could just turn your danged headlights on!

I  am surprised this crash has endured so long. But maybe it’s silly to be surprised. It’s certainly worthless to take it personally, and yet it’s easy to feel that way. Waking up to the same fight day after day can easily fuel the ego, which will try to convince you of just that. That it’s personal and unfair, and going down that route doesn’t do one bit of good. I have to keep things straightened out in my mind and brush off ideas that are useless and untrue. Maybe the truth is simpler more often than it’s complex. As Tolle says, “It’s neutral. It always is as it as. Nothing more.”

The truth here is, this is the nature of the illness I have. It waxes and wanes, so there’s no reason to be caught off guard or believe I’ll never improve. The fact is this is a disease behaving like a disease. The physical toll and reality are hard enough, no sense getting hit with a second arrow, right? The second arrow is feeling bad about the first arrow. The first arrow is being chronically sick in the first place. One arrow only, please and thanks.

Defaulting back to simple truths is how I’ve been trying to handle all of this, psychologically, but of course it’s not always so easy. Actually it’s never really easy, but it is meaningful when I can find joy and purpose despite it. I’m happy to at least know what ideas and thoughts aren’t helpful to the situation and to vanquish them before they have a chance to take hold and grow. I’m happy to have the counsel and ear of my mom, who hears me out and comforts me when the struggle feels too big, without me barely having to say a word. Talk about gifts you cannot buy.

Despite knowing certain truths consciously, I find myself always questioning myself. I lay in bed thinking This is obnoxious. There must be something I can do. But some days really are just bed-to-bathroom days, and I have to be honest about what I’m capable of. My life feels split in two sometimes, because so much of my communication with people is through text. So I’ll be lying in bed feeling deadly, but texting smiling emoji’s with plenty of exclamation points to show my love and enthusiasm for other people, and I think how strange it is, the dichotomy of the life I project sometimes and the one I’m actually living. I imagine maybe everybody struggles with that, in their own way. We all contain multitudes.

The timing of all this is crappy, of course. There’s never a good time for a crash, I suppose, like there’s never a good time to break up. But there are worse times for each. Being this crashed in the middle of trying to pack and prepare for a move is like the timing of getting dumped on your birthday. Oh well. Even after birthday breakups, people recover. I think.

***

The story!

Last week I was tired of waking up and feeling like I was on my deathbed, naturally. So, I figured there had to be some good meditations on waking up and getting your body psyched for the day. Right now, waking up feels like I went to sleep by getting hit in the head hard with a frying pan, like the characters in cartoons. I’ve also been very weak in the mornings and getting out of bed has been really challenging.

So, I find a mediation easily on youtube, geared toward waking up and energizing the body. It’s 15 minutes. Great. I press play. 25 minutes later, I wake up to a commercial playing and realize the meditation meant to wake me up peacefully sent me back to sleep. Swing and a miss! So, I try another.

This one is also 15 minutes and looks promising. Energizing! it claims. So, I make it through the first 13 minutes. I’m having a hard time focusing because I’m really weak, I’m fighting the bone-crushing fatigue and my migraine is back. But on with the show. The woman guiding the meditation says to repeat the phrases she’s about to say out loud. OK… “Repeat after me” says the slow, assertive voice emitting from my phone. “I feel strong and powerful.” I can’t help but let a smile melt across my face. I say it anyway. “I feel strong and powerful!” “I feel energized and ready to take on the day.” My smile grows bigger. “I feel energized and ready to take on the day.” Now I can’t help but actually laugh. “My body is healthy and my state of mind is focused.” Ummmm…

At this point I am half repeating and half laughing, because I don’t feel these things the woman is saying, like at all. But the fact that it’s making me laugh feels like a success all on its own. A few minutes later, I fall back asleep. BUT, it’ a very peaceful sleep. So maybe it wasn’t a total loss. I imagine once asleep I was “energized and ready to take on the dream.” ;)

Maybe when I’m a little stronger it will work. I don’t think it will be long now, yet I still have no idea why I think that. Owell, it feels good to believe it anyway.

Health, Happiness, and I FEEL STRONG AND POWERFUL

 

The List of Broken Things

Everything has been breaking lately. The dryer, the tractor, my phone, the pressure washer, leaks in the ceiling, moisture stuck in the windowpane. (I could go on.) And for the last I don’t know how many months: me. Just add my body to the list of broken things. That was the thought I had while my mom listed everything going ka-putz on us.

I am getting in to bed and once again praying for the normal things, that we can find the right people to fix what’s broken, expressing gratitude for all I have, all I’ve been given, and a special intention that tomorrow will be better than it was today. A prayer I’ve been saying basically since Christmas.

2019 has been such an immense challenge. I feel like there’s some secret virus within trying to take me down, then I remember that Oh right, this is what a bad crash feels like, I’m just not used to them lasting so long. The last few weeks have been really trying.

I haven’t been getting out of bed until after 3–not really waking up I mean. As soon as I feed Monty then feed myself, I’ve reached my limit. The first ‘mini’ crash of extreme tiredness and weakness rolls in like a heavy fog, and I feel like I can do nothing but collapse under the weight of my newly dense body and immediately fall asleep. This isn’t so typical of my crashes. I rarely actually sleep that much at all. I’m horizontal, but not dead asleep. This feels new and I just can’t figure out what’s going on.

I’m writing this on my phone because trying to type on my computer from this position just doesn’t work. I have so much I’ve been writing and wanting to write and post, but finishing anything has been nearly impossible. I feel so angsty leaving the blog blank, so I figured I’d let it be known that I’m alive, I’m just probably asleep as you read this now.

It’s been hard accepting the strict terms of this crash, which has been very little upright time, and littler awake time, so it feels anyway. The weather has been beautiful, and this being my last Spring in this house, I’d prefer to enjoy more of it before I go. But for whatever reason I have really been taken down by such a “late blooming” crash. Typically by this time, the inevitable “Christmas Crash” has faded, and the good weather usually gives me a health boost. I don’t remember ever being so debilitated in the Springtime, but me no likey.

My parents are busy trying to prep the house to go on the market and cleaning and fixing things, yada yada yada, but I’ve been more of a useless flesh tube than ever! It’s crappy timing because I know they could use the extra man power, but luckily people like the amazing Matt has donated so much of his time to help any way he can. And I know friends like that are something to stay grateful for during all this.

And Miss B, the woman who cleans my house and literally makes it a sunnier place as soon as she walks in. She calls me “sugar” and “baby” and when she leaves she hugs me big and says “I’m prayin for ya Mary.” I tell her the same and she says “I love you, you’ll be better one of these days.” I tell her thanks. That I love her too. And that I believe her. And for whatever reason, I do. Cleaning lady? No, she’s like some angel who happens to clean up while she’s around.

She was here this morning and I slept through 3 of the hours she worked. The sound of the vacuum tracing lines in and out of my dreams. I never sleep while she’s here. We normally talk and laugh and even cry sometimes, covering all the bases while I drink coffee and she cleans in circles around me. I watch her energy in amazement.

Then Matt came around 2 and has been pressure washing all the cement around the house outside. Talk about back breaking work. I tried it for 10 minutes yesterday and had to come inside to take a breather. (Pathetic, I know) As soon as the machine started, I laid my head down and fell immediately asleep, not waking up until well after 5, feeling terrible. Matt was still working and I watched him outside as he worked, his headphones in and in his own little world as he managed to clean so much surface area. It feels like a miracle when I watch capable people do hard work. But these things that seem like miracles maybe actually aren’t–it’s just what you’re able to do when your body knows how to be a functioning human body. The miracle is the kindness of people who are so willing to help. I guess it’s just been so long, I can’t remember anymore what that physical capability must feel like. But let’s just say I fantasize about it more than ever.

I believe I’ll get there one day. That all of us will. I can’t explain it, but there is this solidity in my gut, magic ball that shows me living a life where I’m well, usually I’m outside pushing a kid on a swing. My kid? Don’t know, I hope. But I just have to believe this will happen in my lifetime. If I’m 60 well then, I’m 60. But my gut shows it far earlier than that. So just hang on yall. I know we will get there, we just have to make it through this ridiculous, tough middle part. It’s only like the 3rd hardest thing in the world! But we can do it. Our time of health is waiting for us. In the meantime, I’m lucky for people like Matt and Miss B, more grateful than ever.

So it’s back to my usual routine– getting in bed, saying my prayers and asking God to please, PLEASE (just to make sure she’s paying attention) give me some energy tomorrow and let my rest actually refuel me. There is so much I want and need to do. Like take a shower– it’s not asking so much! I know I will break from this crash soon, or I am hopeful and expect that outcome. I also know the toughest part of the game (for me) is surrendering while you’re in it. Remembering this too shall pass. Right? Right.

I feel I’ve been doing too much surrendering, and I wish there was a way to successfully fight back against this thing. But I’m out of ideas. And I’ve been sick long enough to know what happens when I do push against it. Might as well run my head into a wall. I can’t afford to pay anymore. I’m broke! Body broke. I know I just have to wait it out, and I will emerge eventually.

At any rate, maybe God reads blogs in all that spare time she must have. So maybe she can check this one out and throw me (and a few million others) a bone. Oh and Monty too, not because he likes bones but because he injured his leg yesterday and now he’s out of commission too. When I say everything is breaking, I mean it. Just great.

Anyway, I’m laying my trust in the universe, in an intelligence that knows more and better than me. But I am hopeful too, always hopeful, that tomorrow might be the day things start to turn around. And if it’s not, well, maybe I need to send a package of pill bottles and a petition to Heaven and get their attention up there.

A final thing- next to my bed is a medicine stick that was given to my dad by a traditional Indian medicine woman, back when we lived in Colorado. It’s made with a coyote skull on it and has a bunch of different symbolic items painted all over it, with feathers hanging down and other things I don’t know the meaning of. Of course my dad was sick and dying from cancer when she gave it to him. But I remember him in his compression stockings walking laps through the kitchen, living room and dining room, carrying that stick with him, with a smile on his face. Obviously it didn’t cure him, but maybe it made his struggle less. Maybe it gave him courage in the face of pain and fear. Maybe it gave him strength to fight for just the right amount of time before he knew his work here was done. At any rate, I look at that coyote face and ask my dad for my own kind of help, whatever kind I need the most. Hah, I don’t even know anymore. But it gives me hope anyway, having it here, having seen me through some very sick times and also seen me emerge through them as well. Not breaking. That’s about as much as I can hope for, for now.

OK, time to sleep for the seventh time today. I have many more happy things to write about, once I’m able to stay awake long enough to put them together and edit them properly. My mind of course has struggled too lately and been a bit scattered. It can hardly distinguish between dream life and reality anymore. Which makes sense considering how much time I spend on the other side of things. But I don’t think it will be much longer now. Hoping this coyote skull will bring some healing this way. Or at least the strength to smile through it, just like my dad did, who was up against far more than I am. Now that’s remaining unbroken. I’m so happy he showed me that was possible.

All the best to everyone, and I expect to be back on the up and up soon.

Health, Happiness, & Unbroken Things

Confronting Change You Can’t Control (Part 1)

It could always be Great. 

My mom told me to write that on every wall and mirror around the house. I was on the phone with her, basically in a downward spiral of apprehension about a major change happening this year that is mostly out of my hands. Allow me to rip off the band-aid: My parents made the decision to move to Colorado this year, back to my hometown. Pause for dramatic effect.  

Many reasons played into that decision, a big one being that a majority of my moms family lives there and we will have a tighter community of support. Given that 2/3rds of our fam is sick and one family member is a dog, the move makes sense. It can be a tad isolating out here on the ol ‘farm’.

My moms casual reminder that it could always be great was a nice departure from the supposedly optimistic adage “Hey, It could always be worse!” I’m not sure that phrase has ever really made me feel better while in the midst of a struggle. It’s like “Well hey, both of your legs could be blown off!” “Riight. That’s true. I could have zero legs right now. Cool, thanks. I feel better.”

So yes, I have both legs, but I am still pretty afraid of the whole thing and I guess that makes sense given the scale of this. It’s a big change, and since I don’t have the health to live on my own yet, it’s one that’s out of my hands, which always adds a pinch of frenzy. I’ve sort of tortured myself thinking of ways to stay here, but I just don’t have the physical stability to do it. This last crash that’s held me down since Christmas just reinforces how mercurial my *health* is and how unreliable  I am as a result. A few weeks ago the crash finally let up for roughly a week, then returned angrier than before, and I’ve been essentially a half-living disaster since then. Yeaaaah wooooo! 

You can see how thoughts like that (I’m sick, my life is chaos, I don’t have jurisdiction over my own life) can play with your mind the way a cat bobbles a feathery toy around. It can take your whole outlook and shape it in many variations. 

One of the hardest parts the last few months has been maintaining an open mind that this might actually be a good thing. It’s meant a lot of reigning in of my thoughts, which tend to go default mode into armageddon type thinking. It’s as though some small part of me decided early on that since I didn’t choose this, it wasn’t a good idea and it would end in disaster for my life. And it’s pretty crazy how easy and quickly those thoughts can assemble, pile on one another, and leave me completely convinced that I’m going to melt away and die in my parents basement…or some other absurdity. I don’t know where that fear stems from—I mean I’m pretty sure they have internet in Colorado. 

I’ve had to work to clean up the useless, unhelpful thoughts that tend to mess with my mind and sense of wellbeing. By that I don’t mean I dismiss all the thoughts or feelings I have about this—which are of course, a lot. Certainly there is a legitimate sadness and type of grief that comes from leaving what’s been home the last 18 years. Those feelings deserve their own validation and processing because, damn, it’s sad to leave the people and place you’ve come to know and love so much. Louisiana has felt familiar and comfortable for a long time, and it will be tough to leave, even if I do plan to come back. ;)  

What I am referring to are the haunting thoughts, the ones that make you feel bad about things that are not within your control.

This kind of thinking totally blurs and limits my perspective about the life I have. It dismisses all the good and incredible parts of it, doesn’t see possibility or feel hopefulness or gratitude. It downsizes the significance and value of people and things just because they aren’t in line with what I had planned. (I think humanity might have an addiction to plans but that’s another day) These are just hypothetical scenarios based mostly on fear and a future no one can actually know. Like Tolle says, it is always more empowering to face facts. Even when the facts are scary or we wish they were different, it’s in acknowledging the real and being present in the now that we have access to our innermost power and strength. 

I realized early on how incredibly contrasting the outcomes are that emerge just from framing things in my head one way vs. another. This is something I do have control over, and it’s become pretty important that I put this ability to use, otherwise the ugly thoughts take over and down the rabbit hole I go. 

It’s been a good but difficult exercise to step back and try to just watch the way my mind can interpret the same reality in two completely different lights. The modern mystics would advise to consider the circumstance from the point of view of an objective observer. Watch your thoughts, but don’t become entangled in them. Allow them to appear, then let them go. Easier said than done, of course. But at any rate, the mind astounds me in its duality. For instance..

Here is one side of my mind thinking about the move: Reiterate the story that my life is out of control, that the disease makes all the choices, that I have no say so about things and thus can’t really be happy because it’s not up to me. My personal growth and goals and contentment will all be stunted or I’ll cease to pursue them because my lack of health and other people have the wheel and I’m just a passenger to my own life. What’s the point in trying? As a passenger I don’t decide where I go and thus my happiness isn’t my option but one left up to others or whatever new circumstances materialize without my consent. I don’t want to go. It’s not fair I have to leave what feels like home. What about my family and friends here? What about my dream to live in uptown New Orleans one day? Now it will never happen. I guess I’ll go eat worms. 

I can’t tell you how easy it was for each of those negative thoughts to formulate, one after the other, building on each other like a lego tower turning into a whole city…

Now here is my mind consciously thinking about the move: Colorado? That’s cool, I guess I’ll get packing. 

Could the differences be that dramatic? And is it actually possible to participate in your own life that way?  In The Untethered Soul, Singer makes the point over and over that of course it’s possible! We don’t always decide what happens, but we always the ultimate say so in how we react toward the circumstances of our life. And it’s those decisions, not what happens, that leave us either content, at ease, joyful, whole, or bitter, angry, jealous and depressed.

All it took was a few negative thoughts to quickly unravel into my making the choice to play no part in my own autonomy or the trajectory of my life. Just because I’d be living somewhere else, I removed myself from having any accountability in manifesting a life I wanted or that I could be proud of. That’s a crazy conclusion to make! But when you’re present and you actually break down your thoughts, you see what a huge majority of them are insane and simply need to be let go of. That’s not so easy when you’re hit with an onslaught of frenzy and angst, like a whirlpool that takes you down, where there’s no clarity.

So I have to practice at disarming the egoic force from taking over in my head, which I do by sword fighting the air with a Star Wars lightsaber. Just kidding. Like Tolle teaches, whenever I have a future based thought made mostly of fear, I replace it in my mind with facts that are actually true. I try to repeat positive reminders instead of playing a record of apprehension on repeat with a sad ending.

In other words, I do the thing basically all chronically sick people must learn to do at some point: surrender.

As always by ‘surrender’ I don’t mean give up–ever. I mean to leave a neutral space open in your heart and your head where good things can happen because you allow a new path to be paved even though you didn’t design it. If I had understood earlier on in my relapse that reality doesn’t really care about your plans, I might’ve saved myself a good deal of pain from what was already such a hardship. I thought I could fight things that were already in place and moving quickly forward. Life was just waiting on me to catch up to what was real, instead of trying so hard to hang on to the way things were.

All I know is that there is a pulse to life, a certain beat that resonates deep within us as individuals and as a collective. We can typically feel through that pulse a general sense of what direction life is moving in. We can resist. Be the fish swimming upstream. Or we can lean in and greet life with an open and adventurous spirit, despite limits and changes and things beyond our control. It’s true I am afraid and I’m sad to leave what I thought would always be home. But I have been shown over and over the miracle of surrender, of allowing life to ‘move me’ and the amazing outcomes that can result when we feel fear but move forward anyway. It always comes down to following that thumping compass we hear deep within and far beneath us.

Here’s hoping that it just might be great.

Health, Happiness, Hello Colorado

IMG_E1484

 

Why Is It So Hard to Pee Into Those Urine Sample Cups?

Is it just me?

If it is, then I should feel pretty vulnerable and embarrassed after this. I’m sorry mom. I really do try and make you proud.

Is it just women? Unknown-3.jpeg

It’s hard to say but I don’t think so. I do think requires more skill on behalf of the woman, I would think. Then again I wouldn’t know, I’ve never peed into one of those “specimen catchers” standing up. It seems like all you have to do is aim and shoot. Though I imagine splash-back could be a problem. Also I’ve heard dudes talking about the “split stream”, which would make producing a clean catch pretty tricky. But that happens to the lady folk too. So I’m a making a leap of faith in assuming I’m not the only one who has issues here. Right? Guys? Right guys? 

I’ve had to give so many urine samples via those small plastic lidded cups over the last ten years, you’d think I’d at least have a technique mastered by now. But there’s just so little prediction in the direction that things will go once the golden exit begins.

You know the order of operations. First you go a little to see what direction your body has decided for the sample to go that day. Cool, you have a good idea. Place the cup in position. Aaaand begin. Aaaaand what is happening. 

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Somethings gone wrong.

It starts to go awry when a renegade stream breaks off from the group for no reason at
all.
Whyyyy. I can’t yell at my pee mid stream and direct it on where to go! It doesn’t respond to verbal orders or worried yelling.  Why would half of this small waterfall decide to break apart from the its fluid crew and travel backwards? Return to the team you idiot!

 

Obviously, things don’t get better from there. The cup can’t catch the rebellious run off and the original stream simultaneously because they’re too far apart, so now I have to guess which one has a higher volume and catch that one. And because I’m indecisive, I start to get a little panicky, I can’t tell which is better. Now I’m going back and forth with the cup between streams because I’m worried the collection isn’t enough, and I’m right. I often miss more than I catch in the chaos. Great. Now there’s pee in places I’d rather there not be pee.  It’s just my hand don’t freak out. (I’m talking to myself now) I mean urine is sterile, so I hear. That was the whole point of those deep breaths I took before beginning the process. You can do this Mary, just pretend it’s a game at the carnival, you’re a competitive gal.

I liken the stress to that of being on a motor bike and panicking that you’re going too fast but in the frenzy you keep hitting the gas, gunning it, instead of the break. You increase in speed until you crash and your shoe flies off. That actually happened to my friend Cody and I once. My shoe really flew off!

Anyway I guess it’s just the stress of getting it right and knowing there’s a limited amount

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The Hell is she doing in there?

of material to work with that I end up internally yelling with my head down “WHAT. IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?! GET. IT. TOGETHER!” It’s like yelling at some kids I’m babysitting who I can hear are misbehaving in the basement. I hope I’m not accidentally
yelling that out loud in the stress of those 30 seconds. I can just see the nurses faces upon hearing the racket inside the bathroom, shaking their heads in resignation, Where did we go wrong with our children?

Now I have to place the cup on the counter, but why is the counter always wet? Is that someone else’s renegade pee? Impossible to know. Also, eeeew. So I awkwardly wipe down the counter, (still squatting on the toilet by the way), place the cup down, screw on the lid, make sure that’s wiped down and examine my sample. It’s like I want the nurses to be impressed with it. “Wow, did you check out Gelpi’s specimen cup? Not even a droplet on the outside!” I realize they’re wearing gloves and couldn’t care less about any of this.

Then you open that little stainless steel door to drop off your cup, and you see all the other specimens. Woah! I’m always surprised by the array of yellow colors that make up peoples urine. It’s like 50 shades of pee in there! I can only hope mine is the right shade of neon.

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This is clearly Ms Gelpi’s perfect clean catch. How DOES she do it!?

It feels like an unnecessarily stressful event that I’ve had to do so many times, I just can’t figure out why I’m not better at it. Is there some method I’m unaware of? I had to give a sample yesterday just like I did last week and the week before that and a month before that, for all kinds of fun reasons. And still, I entered that bathroom, wrote my name on the cup, took a few deep breaths, and once again the urinary chaos began.

At least this time I didn’t fall. Yes, that is a true and exceptionally unfortunate story. It happened in the E.R. and I’m pretty sure they gave me a horse tranquilizer or something close to it prior to calm down the excessive adrenaline. I was in SVT (Supra Ventricular Tacchacardia) and flopping around like a fish out of water. Then I was tranked and expected to give a sample without help! So yeah, I fell. Let that image settle in and make the rest of your day happy.

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Wait, where am I. 

Anyway, maybe I’ll develop a better method over the next few months. Or maybe giving urine samples will always just be one of those things we all have to do that are oddly more difficult than they should be, like hanging curtains. Don’t worry, because I know you might, I’ll let you know if there’s improvement. Stay golden yall! (I had to)

Health, Happiness, A Clean Catch

Lost: Life Force. Answers to ‘Mary’

*I Wrote this last week. I’m feeling better now ;)

Universe, God, sky, grey clouds, screeching frogs outside– helllp meee. Someone drained my life force in the night, and now I lack the will power to even use an exclamation mark. Not sure what happened. But I couldn’t go on letting myself be buried by the wet blankets of my mind. I had to do something. Something positive, and fight back against the road to stagnancy. I felt like I was slowly turning to cement! Hey look there, I used an exclamation point. 

Of course the weather is that in between weather that makes entire cities look like they could use therapy. Not sunny, on the cusp of rain but not raining, just a wet, grey, dish rag that drips sometimes and peeks the sun out in others and never definitively decides what it wants to do. So, can’t rely on the weather to help put humptey dumptey back together again. Find something else. 

I would bathe but I don’t have the energy. My arms are getting weaker. I need to lay down again. I’ll try to think of good things. 

***

OK, I’m back. It’s been almost two hours. I didn’t sleep. My willpower seemed to be dropping like a heartbeat beeping slower and slower on the heart rate monitor. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeeep. She’s a gonner. It’s like all the feel-good, or feel-right chemicals in my brain have truly drained. The stuff that makes you want to go and do and play were drying up. Or already dried. 

While I’m a little weak, a little dizzy, the residual migraine still thudding behind my eyes, it’s not my body making today so hard. Well maybe that’s the setup for this mindset, but it’s calming my frenzied mind when I have no physical ability to match it that feels impossible to do. Keeping your mental sanity while waiting on your body to come back to you is probably the hardest part of all of this—a challenge that needs constant knowledgable reminding about from people who know better. I’m amazed how easy it is to forget simple truths. Clearly I’m still learning. I guess that should probably always be the case, if only I were a bit quicker at picking these things up. 

I feel the need to do so many things, but most of them aren’t doable right now. Then I feel doubly bad about not being able to do what needs getting done. I guess that’s why I’m sitting at this chair and typing, because writing is one thing I can do. 

I have learned that you can fight back against days like this. Despite nothing sounding good—for example, no type of music sounds decent to listen to, and the idea of watching TV or a movie feels even more depressing. (During the day) Even reading the book I’m thoroughly enjoying (19Q4) doesn’t feel right. I read fiction at night. None of these give the impression they would fit. If I were healthy I would go for a run, or to the coffee shop, change up the scenery and get those endorphins going. But since that’s a no-go, it’s another creative challenge to figure out that comes with the territory.

Sometimes just admitting that you’re having a crappy or hard time helps create the tiniest gap between you and the experience you’re having. This is what Tolle teaches—finding space between you and the circumstance so that you might see it from the outside objectively and not get lost in it and take all of it personally. (The Why Me Route) 

You can write it, say it, draw it, sing it, whatever it is. But transferring some of the weight onto some other medium helps prevents you from becoming tangled up and trapped in it—where every thought flowers at once and the idea of living the rest of your life frantically swirls around your head like a hurricane and feels impossible. The enormity of it all piles up because you think I can barely get through today…how will I ever get through the next three months? You start thinking 5 years into the future, your will power plummets, until something—in my instance, Monty scratching at the door— snaps you out of this useless futuristic angst and brings you back to right now. 

All I have to do is survive right now. Which sounds easy but when your willpower is at a zero, it’s actually a praiseworthy task to achieve. I survived another day!  I can’t survive anything 3 months from now, I’m right to think it will be impossible, because I can’t have a clue what will be in 3 months from now. It’s easy to think everything will be the same, and it might. Or it’s easy to see a dozen problems that all feel unsolvable. But all I have to do is look at the history of my life for proof that it can change in a snap, and 90% of the time, you don’t control the change, or predict it. You only go about figuring out how you’ll respond and adapt to it when you get there.

So how do I make now better? Unfortunately having a rebuttal for your mad mind doesn’t make it simply stop in it’s tracks and suddenly you’re grounded and fine. I’m not that good yet. Just knowing what’s helpful and what isn’t doesn’t immediately make you feel happy and give you your life juice back. But it might help slow that thought whirlpool down. It might allow for the smallest stillness to get through to you and allow the truth to calm your fast beating heart. Mostly it involves just having to live through the tension of the feelings and the knowing simultaneously that they won’t last. They may not even be true. As hard as it is to work against something inside you that feels like it’s actively dragging you down or drying you out, I know that trying anything is typically better than rotting on the floor like roadkill and trying nothing at all. 

On my two hour break, I listened to a podcast called Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. I highly suggest listening to it, but it surprised me how just hearing someone else’s voice and someone else’s story can help pull you out of the thought whirlpool of your own. It’s nice getting out of your own head and being exposed to what people before you have met and endured in their life. I listened to Sammy Davis Jr.’s story A Hug Heard Round the World and hearing of his life and challenges put things in perspective, at least temporarily. This is the importance and power of story telling, I think. It straightened me out for a while.

I also downloaded some foreign language apps on my phone a few days ago so I can start to remember and re-learn french. I’ve forgotten so much of it and I miss it. I plan to visit France for a while when I’m better, so I’d like to get back to moderately fluent. I can’t wait to sit on the sidewalk again, drink my cafe au lait at at a table with a white tablecloth, and write in a fresh notebook Well, I’ve finally made it back to Paris. 

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I didn’t want the invisible vacuum of thoughts inside me to win, so I had to fight back and share these crappy thoughts with you, sorry guys. I guess writing these thoughts out was my way to create the gap. The ability to step back and watch today unfold was my way forward. Otherwise I was slowly being swallowed and nobody wants that. This was my version of winning! Hey look at that, I used another exclamation point. That’s my comeback for today, using an authentic exclamation point. A sign of life. Beeeeep. Beep. Beep. She’s back people!

I think for now that has to be enough. 

Health, Happiness, Surviving

Day 5

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*my general editors note here would be that maybe writing through one of my more serious crashes in the last few years wasn’t the best idea because I imagine it can become a little daunting on the reader to read over and over again. Of course, that is the reality of living chronically ill, and it’s surviving the resilient day after day after month after month that is the most difficult part. But also this wan’t exactly intended for people to read and enjoy, although that would be a SUPERB secondary outcome. It was to clean house.

BUT,  if I’m going to document such tough times, I have to be very cognizant about not letting the work feel tortured, even if I do. Torture in general is not the most entertaining subject matter, I think we can all agree. The point is not to let the sickness win and be the teller of the story. It should be the lens but not the primary subject matter. The challenge is to express and respect the experience authentically, be honest when it feels like torture, but allow enough distance and space from the part of me that wants to try to make this personal (the ego) so that humor and optimism and hope can carry at least half the narrative, the ‘happenings’–or ‘non-happenings’ as it were.

I thought I remembered by day 5 things were beginning to improve, and I read here that my weakness had finally started to just barely let up, and yet it was still an incredibly difficult day, mentally. I was still in really rough physical shape and I remember well just staring out of those windows and feeling an absolute absence of willpower–to do anything. I felt an emptiness inside and a certainty that anything I chose to do made no difference whatsoever. Talk about fun times! But I do remember seeing the bright red of that type-writer, this project I told myself I’d start and finish, and in my 1% battery charge of life force, I made my way and just started to type. It felt like a long exhale.

I actually remember the moment I began to feel better, in the midst of writing this piece. When I wrote “It seemed like a better idea to write at the type writer than to continue staring out the window, wishing things were different,” I realized how huge my role was in keeping my brain and mind active in positive ways when my body wasn’t strong enough. It makes a difference where you look, what you’re looking at, and how long you let your thoughts take the wheel away from you. In that paragraph I knew writing was a big way  of living through something unpleasant and of changing how I felt about it, just by making a lot of small decisions that were opposite of what I felt like doing.

That role is so crucial, and like baby-sitting a two-year-old, you have to sometimes run around after your meandering mind, make it sit in time out, and remind it of true and happy and important things. Facts, not stories. That’s where you find gratitude and humility and grace and remember love and kindness and hopefulness. (All below the surface) You have to reach down far, and the willfulness to reach is for some reason so incredibly difficult it feels next to impossible. And yet when you do reach and feel something reach back, your entire outlook, even for an hour, can change massively. I think done enough times, we can remove a lot of the unnecessary pain we feel no matter what we’re going through..

For me, it’s sitting in time out and not letting toxic thoughts convince me of anything that isn’t true. Its not that I can’t acknowledge how extremely hard this situation is or allow the deep emotional parts of it to rise and let them out. In fact I have to do that. All parts of the spectrum need an outlet.  It’s not about making those thoughts forbidden. It’s about acknowledging them but also then to keep going. Not to stay glued to some idea about fairness or unfairness that eventually keeps you from trying, keeps you from remembering who you are–buried underneath all the hardship that can feel piled on top of you. Writing is magic for me in the miraculous way it reminds me of the truth when I can’t think of or remember it on my own. It will literally turn bitterness into gratitude in just a few sentences, and that’s why it’s important.

Well, I’ve veered off track again. I just felt like taking some notes that maybe I’ll refer back to in the future.

Dammit, I just remembered the Super Bowl is tomorrow and how as a Saints fan I’m boycotting it, but as a curious person I’d like to watch some of it and also observe what 15 million dollar commercials the ad people came up with. I imagine my mom will be dressed all in black and if we had an American flag on our porch, you can bet it would be hanging at half mast. Hah. Football.

Ok Mary well it’s been real. Yeah Mary I agree. Have a happy Saturday. Yeah cool you too. See you tomorrow. Same bat time, same blog place.

 

Day 3

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OK, there’s a lot of crap in this piece that needs to be re-written or scrapped. Taking on a writing project in the midst of a heavy crash may have been a bad idea in terms of writings to share because than crap like this emerges and I told myself I’d stick to the rules. Even reading it now I can see how convoluted my mind way, how easy it was to stray off topic. I’ve begun to improve since Sunday, particularly cognitively, and the writing really does emulate what’s going on during fog. I had to cross some out because it just meandered and was so clunky and unclean, it was very far from conveying my ideas properly at all. Anyway, as uncomfortable as I feel posting writing I don’t like and probably 2/3 of which I would change, or burn, this was partially the point of the project. So just trust and let go. Besides, there’s like 11 people reading this. I think we’ll all be OK.

Anyway, hopefully I’ve written a little better for day 4, or perhaps I’ll have more crap to share! Either way, it might be enjoyable. Just let go Mary. OK, I’m going. So go then. I’m gone. So go! I’m going! Just. Press. Publish. You Nitwit. Alright, see you tomorrow.

A Few Things Happened

Let’s talk. I’m just going to write in list form. It’s easier on my brain for whatever reason right now.

  1. I SHOWERED.

I can’t explain how good it feels to be clean to such a degree as an hour shower will get you. But even better is the smell of my shampoo emanating from me now. I have so little to brag about, but I have to convey how good it feels to smell this FRESH people. It needed to happen, I was too sick for a while, and now finally it has. I sat on a geriatric shower chair instead of taking my typical bath. My wobbly, cinderblock legs are smooth. My skin is clean and feels almost cottony.  I spent more than 30 minutes picking out Shampoo at Walgreens a while ago, searching for the perfect scent and I seemed to have found it. It’s left my hair emanating the scent of some subtle, tropical, white flower with tiny pink buds (and no nitrates!) Whatever that means. The scent is what Jennifer Anniston’s scarf closet would smell like. A shower is nothing, I realize. But in my bite-size, do-nothing world, a shower and this residual perfume of the Gods makes headlines. “Local Girl Smells Good!”

2. Secondly, in insanity news, the SAINTS JUST LOST. (Pause. Pour some beer out.) It was no one’s fault, it’s just that sometimes a defender leads with his helmet and interferes with a receiver in order to prevent a reception and somehow he doesn’t get called on it and essentially the whole outcome of the game changes. The non-call smelled like the opposite of J Anniston’s scarf closet. It smelled like what an old Southern man with leathery skin would say as he put down his beer with his eyes glared at the TV: AH HORSE SHIT!

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3. Oh good LORD, my hair. This foresty, soapy, new car yet feminine fragrance…How is it even possible?!

4. OK. It’s not like the Saints losing was any one persons fault. These things happen. I mean just like sports writer Jack Baer wrote “If it wasn’t pass interference, the helmet to helmet hit almost certainly should have been called a personal foul. Either way the Saints should have received a 15 yard penalty and a fresh set of downs with a minute 45 remaining, which almost certainly would have effectively ended the game.” See? These things just happen.

5. Idea. Maybe I could charge money for people to smell my hair up close. This is how I can pay for the research that the NIH will not. $100,000 per whiff. It’s also how I can earn some kind of money if my Sofia-Dorothy relationship with my mother goes South or she dies in her sleep and I need to make money to keep the farm afloat. Either one. (Kidding mom, you know you’re my hero and you can never die)

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“Hey Can I Smell Your Hair?” “Yeah, it’ll be $100,00. Make it quick.”

6. I can’t believe that non-call just happened. I still feel so shocked and bummed about it. At the same time I feel so hashtag blessed to smell like flowery beechwood that it diffusses the sadness a decent amount. What if I smelled bad and the Saints had a playoff game that was STOLEN right out from under them? Talk about feeling crappy and smelling like craigs-list. I mean I wouldn’t say the game was stolen from us…it’s just that

7.

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The New Orleans Causeway Tonight. We’re subtle with our emotions.

8. Monty has gas. I realize Monty always has gas, but this seems specific and particular gas. It’s smells sad. It feels like especially offended gas that could only be expelled for a special occasion. He’s looking more sad than guilty, as though farts are the only way he can physically grieve. They are the tears of a game getting blown. The gas makes me sad, but then I smell my hair and feel glad. It’s funny that smells can make us temporally happy or sad. The realm and cause of human emotions is really pretty extraordinary.

9. Were we really supposed to lose that game or was it a comic hiccup? Some existential mistake? Tolle would say it was no mistake that we lost, because it’s the experience we endured. “The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness,” he says. But I fear tonight the light will burst from cars lit on fire and a ref that requires a 24/7 security detail. I joke I joke. I believe

10. I wonder if my shampoo truly comes from Maui. Something tells me it doesn’t. But due to the beautiful potency of its scent how could I care from where it emerged?

11. Cleanliness is Godliness.

12. Monty’s gas has begun to transition into “It will be OK. But that call was true and authentic stinky bull-dung.”

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“Just can’t help my grieving gas!”

13. Like my mom says, at least we don’t have to be tense next week.

14. BUT MOM I WANNA BE TENSE I JUST WANNA BE TENSE WITH REFS THAT MAKE SURE THE PLAYERS DON’T BREAK EACH OTHERS HEADS!!!!!! Fine I’ll go to my room. No, YOU’RE being obnoxious! …Yeah I have some darks I need washed.

15. Saints, I’ll be your forever fan. Next years is ours. But on a personal note, you’ve given so many of my Sundays a happy distraction from what hasn’t been an easy year or years. Watching you play has energized me to a happy place, and I’ll always BELIEVE DAT you’re a team of good men, win or lose. I’m grateful you’ve made it as far as you have. You’ve been the joy of Sunday’s for much of my family and I, and I hope you feel the pride of the whole city behind you, my dog Monty, and me. See you next season.

Health, Happiness, Who Dat

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Thank You for a great year! 

 

Two Way Radio

God help me, I think I lost the signal.

Writing is my two-way radio, particularly since I spend so much time in solitude, which really depresses me only four to five times a year. A very specific void opens up and I know I need to see and visit with people who find the same things as funny as I do.

Otherwise, Monty and my parents and staying up late drawing or reading or writing have taken up a lot of my life. It’s been a hard but good life, and I imagine all the time what it will be like when I’m not sick anymore. I watch people working their everyday jobs, knowing they can’t know how lucky they are to do such mundane things without a second thought. That’s the typical way, and it will be a really incredible moment when I shower and don’t give two thoughts hesitation until I’m applying face lotion later and realize I didn’t have to plan that shower I just took.

But back to my two-way radio. Something happened. I’m on one channel and the world is on another. Somehow the signals became switched over the last few months, maybe years…I’ve lost count. I only know it was much easier once, this writing. Suddenly the process became very arduous and tied into webs. I still write everyday. I still turn to it. But I know I’ve grown afraid, I’ve let the voices inside get to me and keep me from sharing what I’ve written out of fear. That’s pretty foolish Mary. Thanks, I know. Which is why whether this post is good or bad, I apologize but I have to post it. It’s the only way I know how to hush those voices and thoughts. It’s the only way to grasp some kind of momentum, move on, and not lose my inner voice completely and my ability to hear the world through my radio. I haven’t stopped listening, it’s just been harder and harder to make sense of the output.

This is halfway because my cognitive function has felt toyed with. I lack mental clarity ken-wong-art-painting-goldfish-girl-design-inspirationand trust and staying on route. My thoughts meander and pivot like goldfish in the back of my head and it’s impossible to catch one before they’re swimming in a whole other direction. It’s so easy to convince myself there’s too much at stake (really there’s kind of barely anything) and throw in the towel when I’m inches from the finish line.

I’m going to try hard to stop doing that. I’m going to go ahead and hang my dirty laundry out to dry, that way it can’t convince me in some corner of my mind that a fleeting thought should make up such a definite decision.

I can barely keep my eyes open. But I promised myself I would finish this, because I know I’m the only one who can get myself out of this sticky web that has me all balled up and disoriented.

It’s been a terrible a day. I’ve been crashed for weeks and weak as hell. I finally regained a little strength today, but when trying to fill two prescriptions at my old stomping ground, Walgreens, one was denied by insurance and the other has some manufacturers shortage. They told me to try calling back in a month to see if they would have it then. A month? It’s not socks lady, it’s medicine I need and take everyday! All my energy and emotion went to trying to fill this simple prescription, and my poor mom was back at putting out fires all day while still trying to recover from the Holidays herself. Matt has been a lifesaver with his reassuring voice and enthusiasm to help–an encouraging voice that we’ll get what is needed. I’m lucky to have good people in my life. I know it.

I have enough medicine to last me until tomorrow. If Walgreens doesn’t come through tomorrow, I don’t know what I’ll do. Figure it out like we always do, but I hate how much of such precious, limited energy I have all goes to figuring out how to fill a prescription that life is not doable without. This medicine controls my extreme restless legs/body and the skin crawling I get on top of it. It is pure hell trying to exist without some type of medicine to quell the feeling. It’s also hell that suddenly you call to refill what should be easy and are told there’s a manufacturers backorder and “good luck finding that.” It’s a complicated world, and every month is like this. Never is it a simple refill and go.

Still, I’m lucky I don’t have to handle all of this on my own. But it’s just too much some days, and all you can do is let out a good cry and remind yourself it will be OK. It’s just overwhelming, and this is one aspect of navigating an orphaned disease I wish the NIH could see. This tiny aspect of it–nothing compared to what others endure– and still the amount of time and space and energy it takes up in my tiny little life is uncanny. You’re left to fight battles left and right, but you’re not left with any energy to do it. If you’re lucky you’ve got someone to help you–but that is pure luck it seems.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a post that explored my response and take-aways to the NIH reply to our petition. But I’ve been trying to finish the last 10% of that blog for a month now. Everything is slowed down–mind, body, talking for gosh sakes. I will finish it, but first I have to find a way to get the medicine I need, then I need to slow down long enough to get my radio back on the same channel as the rest of the world. It’d be easier if I had some strength and didn’t feel weak as feather carrying a stone of a body, but I imagine that will come back to me in time.

I can’t stay awake anymore. But I didn’t want to let the voice, the hindrances win. The web tangle me up to where I couldn’t emerge whole. I’m the only one who can get myself out of this writing mess, so I’m hellbent on doing it. I ask you to wish me luck that tomorrow goes better, and I can concentrate on ideas and not convincing Walgreens reps that I’m no drug addict and would just like my medicine so I’m not living in misery, with a cherry on top, please.

OK, I’m sorry this isn’t more substantive. It’s just the first step through this damn ring of fire keeping me from doing what I know I’m capable of, what I feel called to, but I’ve somehow been convinced there’s not any value in. I’m breaking through the wall, if only to remind myself that fear gets me no where and if I could just trust myself like 10% more, I’d probably feel better about everything.

At any rate, thank you to those who’ve stayed with me through these writing ups and downs. I know there’s been a lot of downs, but I believe there will be more ups to come.

Health, Happiness, Goldfish In the Brain

The NIH Response to the Petition/Package

Since not everyone receives emails from change.org, which is how the updates regarding the petition are delivered, and it’s the beginning of the year, I wanted to make the NIH response available here so everyone had a chance to see it. Get everyone up to date and on the same page. I can’t thank all of you enough for helping make this happen. I’ll post my and some advocates responses to the letter in the next post. So stay tuned.

The response from the NIH was interesting for a few reasons. Just for clarity’s sake, I’ll say it was not an official response–it was a personal letter emailed strictly to Matt. While they never mention the package and only briefly acknowledge the existence of the petition, I know that Collins receieved the whole kit and kaboodle. How? Because a receipt was sent to my email that the package was delivered and signed for by none other than the big MAN himself! Santa Clause! Or Santa Collins…you know what I mean.

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So, now we don’t have to wonder. Anyway, I’ll begin by posting the letter Matt wrote (rubber-banded to mine) that we included inside the box. Following it is the response from the NIH.

Matt’s Letter:

Dear Mr. Collins,

My name is Matt Tyler. Until just a few years ago, I had never heard of anything called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And that’s kind of what’s so crazy about the disease. It’s hidden from the majority of us. It wasn’t until I ran into an acquaintance from my younger years, someone who had sort of disappeared from my circle of friends when I was in my mid-twenties. I just assumed she had relocated, had become consumed with beginning a family or a career. You know, normal late-twenties life stuff. Turns out she was dealing with ME/CFS. She had faded into the background not because she had other things in the background to do, but because she was forced to recoil into a bed by a mysterious disease that most of us had never heard of.

I’ve grown very close to her recently and in turn have grown very close to the life that suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis brings with it.  She’s not even on the most severe end of the spectrum, but it still baffles me how she’s able to get up every day (most days, some days just have to involve being in bed all day) and deal with the pain and exhaustion that she feels just because she’s awake. Because she made a sandwich and then walked to the couch.  Because she needed to bathe. And she never complains or whines about her circumstance. She has every right to, but instead she fights however she can. She does things like create the included petition. She exerts the very limited supply of energy she has to give a voice and some hope to the millions of people suffering with this debilitating disease. The millions of people who have been robbed of years of their lives.

You once lived a life where you searched for hidden genes responsible for these types of things. I remember reading once that you would put a sticker on your motorcycle helmet every time you discovered a gene responsible for a disease. I’m sure it was a proud moment applying the sticker representing Cystic Fibrosis. I know that’s not the life you live anymore. Now you get to direct and inspire young versions of yourself. Young scientists trying to make a change in the world. That’s why we need your help. Your influence. Your voice.

The reason for this petition is simple: Allocate more funds toward the research of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. That’s what we are asking. That’s what the people behind the more than 50,000 signatures are requesting. But I’m sure you understand more so than most of us that by doing that, you are immediately impacting all those millions of people who have been pushed into shadows. If this increased funding happens, not only will the impact happen long term with better diagnostic tools and possible treatments, but you’ll give the people suffering an injection of hope. Hope that they can return to their jobs. Hope that the life they once had and enjoyed is not forever lost. Someone with as much prominence in the scientific world as you making a decision to increase research funding and speaking out about ME/CFS spreads the word about the disease. It might inspire some grad student somewhere to decide this is going to be something they want to attempt to tackle. Some blossoming scientist might decide they want to put a dent in or even end this terrible disease.

I understand that giving more funds to ME/CFS research likely means another diseases’ funding might be reduced. I don’t envy you having to make those decisions. But I can say this. I would imagine in the world where your career exists, the phrase “return on investment” is not foreign. I run a small family business and it’s something I have to consider almost daily. I’m sure it’s a much more difficult metric to calculate in the domain where you must apply it. But I’ll leave you with this: any additional money put towards ME/CFS research, especially if some sort of formal announcement or press release is attached, will yield an exponentially higher return on investment than most other diseases. Because outside of simply robbing people of their careers, health and happiness, ME/CFS robs people of hope. And a life without hope is no life at all.

You have the chance to not only bring about scientific change to help millions of people in need, but the chance to reinvigorate them with hope.

Thank you for your time,

Matt Tyler

P.S.  If you do decide to do what is being asked for in the petition, I will design, make and hand deliver a sticker representing ME/CFS for your motorcycle helmet in hopes that in the very near future you’ll be able to apply it.

***The NIH Response***

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Tell your friend Mary and the supporters of this petition and the me/cfs community to go find the fattest worms they can find, take a seat on a nearby stomp, and eat them at a slow, slow, pace. OK? Thank you and we’ll check back in with you in roughly 10 years from now, mkay? Happy Holidays gbyyyyyyyye!

KIDDING. I had to. OK, Here is their actual response.

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Thank you for your letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis S. Collins concerning myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).  We appreciate your kind words about his work.  Dr. Collins requested that I respond to you on his behalf.

I am sorry to learn that a friend of yours has ME/CFS.  Your description of her experiences underscores the devastating effects of this disease.  With your letter, you included a petition that asked the NIH to increase funding for ME/CFS research to $100 million.

We at the NIH understand the necessity of improving diagnostics and finding effective therapies for ME/CFS as quickly as possible.  We agree that there is a tremendous need for quality research in ME/CFS.  It may be helpful for you to know that the NIH system is open for any researchers to submit their best ideas for funding excellent science in ME/CFS.  The NIH grant system primarily funds work performed in individual laboratories or clinics by teams of scientists working at academic, medical, and other biomedical research institutions, including industry.  Individual investigators interested in pursuing ME/CFS research can submit detailed proposals through their institutions to answer a broad range of research questions.  Proposals can be submitted three times per year.  Proposed projects undergo a rigorous peer review process at the NIH and are then considered for funding.  Investigators receive critiques of their proposals and have the option to revise them and resubmit.

The Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group recognizes the acute need to cultivate more research and investigators to work on ME/CFS.  In pursuit of this goal, NIH plans to bring scientists together with patients and ME/CFS advocacy groups in April 2019 to discuss the opportunities in ME/CFS research.  We also plan a meeting intended to engage early-stage career scientists in ME/CFS.  More information about these meetings is available at https://www.nih.gov/mecfs/events

In addition, the NIH is conducting a study on ME/CFS at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  This study, led by renowned neuroimmunologist Dr. Avindra Nath, is exploring the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression.  Recruitment of healthy volunteers and people with ME/CFS is underway.  The study is currently recruiting patients who have had ME/CFS for 5 years or fewer.  You can read about the study at this website:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/index.html  The following site provides a contact email address and the telephone number for the NIH’s Office of Patient Recruitment:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/contact.html

Please be aware that the NIH generally does not stipulate the amount of funds for specific diseases.  There have been times when Congress provided funds to the NIH for specific purposes, but those instances have been rare—HIV, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more recently, the crisis resulting from opioid overuse disorder.  In special cases there are NIH-driven exceptions, for example, when one or more NIH Institutes set aside funds by issuing a Request for Applications (RFA).  The RFAs for the ME/CFS Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs) and Data Management and Coordinating Center (DMCC) are examples.

As a result of the RFAs, in September 2017, the NIH awarded four grants to support the creation of a ME/CFS research consortium composed of three CRCs and a DMCC.  These centers will help to build a strong foundation for expanding research on ME/CFS.  The CRCs will each conduct independent research but will also collaborate on several projects, forming a network to help advance knowledge on ME/CFS.  The data will be managed by the DMCC and will be shared among researchers within the CRCs and more broadly with the research community.  You can read about the awards at https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-announces-centers-myalgic-encephalomyelitis-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-research  We hope that the new centers and other NIH efforts will attract researchers from other areas to propose research on ME/CFS and increase the number of young investigators entering the field.

The awards are just one result of the NIH’s efforts to advance research on ME/CFS with the goals of identifying its cause and finding biomarkers to study disease progression and monitor response to treatment.  You can read about these plans in the following NIH news article from October 2015:  https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-takes-action-bolster-research-myalgic-encephalomyelitis/chronic-fatigue-syndrome  As part of these actions, the NIH has renewed the focus and efforts of the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group, which is carefully exploring the gaps in our knowledge and identifying the opportunities for research on ME/CFS.  The Working Group will continue to discuss next steps to attract more researchers to this field and expand research on this disease.  You may wish to visit the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group website at www.nih.gov/mecfs

The NIH continues to post research funding opportunities related to ME/CFS in the “Funding” section of that site.  In addition, the information at the “Resources” section of the site may be helpful.  If you would like to receive periodic updates about NIH activities related to ME/CFS via email, please go to that website and click on the link to “Join our listserv” at the bottom of the left sidebar.  The NIH hosts regular telebriefings with the ME/CFS community to provide updates on our activities and answer questions.  Announcements about upcoming telebriefings are emailed via the listserv.

In addition, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is the lead Institute for the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group along with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently formed a working group of its advisory council to provide scientific guidance on how best to advance ME/CFS research at NIH.  The working group includes basic scientists, clinicians, Federal partners, advocates, and people with ME/CFS.

We hope that the steps the NIH has taken over the past 2 years and the future progress of the Centers will grow into a major scientific effort in ME/CFS research funded by grants submitted to NIH.  We look forward to working with the community to gain further insights into ME/CFS that will lead to the development of effective treatments and improve the quality of life for people coping with this disease.

Sincerely,

Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D.

Chair, Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group

*****

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“This is great! We got a response from the NIH!”                                                                        “Yeah, this is a big deal!”                                                                                                                                 “This is bullshit.”

Don’t worry, this may not be exactly what I/We might’ve hoped for, but this provides us good information straight from the horses mouth. There is a great deal of value in seeing how the NIH looks at this issue and what they consider “enough” in terms of how they’re approaching the situation around MECFS. Since some of their advice involved going to congress, this letter can help convey the exact issues we’re talking about when we say there’s a lack of urgency and an overall tone-deaf, dismissiveness when it comes to this disease. Either way, I’m very happy and grateful we received this response, and trust me when I say it will be put to good use. Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, More to Come!

I’ll Take ‘New Years Eve From Bed’ for $1000, Alex

Sometimes life is so tragically hilarious that you could laugh or you could cry, but when you’ve shed enough tears to fill a pool, laughter is nearly the preferable way to go. If you can swing it.

I’m laughing because it’s New Years Eve, I’m in 5 day old pajamas and have only left the house by being driven by my parents to urgent care over the weekend and for x-rays, blood work and an ultra sound at the clinic today. Now I’m at home, listening to the coonass neighbors set off what sound like homemade bombs, Monty is never more than a foot away from me as he’s afraid of what I can only assume he must assume are the end times out there…

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This is basically the funniest picture of Monty I’ve ever seen. It’s like he’s trying to play it cool like he’s not scared, but it’s all gone horribly wrong 

OK so then on top of this somewhat sad, funny setup, there I was watching The Antique Roadshow with my parents. Marc was already half-asleep in his chair. Well, I’m 34, I’m going to kiss Monty for NYE, and it’s anyones guess how late I’ll stay up. Then around 10ish my mom told me she was exhausted and going to bed. I’m at home now, attempting to write, which I’m deathly afraid I’ve forgotten how to do so excuse the caca that may emerge through the next few posts while Stella gets her groove back. The point is, I’m 34 and peeing every 20 minutes and I doubt I’ll make it to midnight. Unknown  Now that’s comedy! At least we’re not watching My 600 Pound Life…that show can really get you down.

Anyway, I wonder how many other asses were kicked besides mine due to the intrinsic chaos attached to the Holidays. Because you can considered mine booted. Crashed and burned. And it’s raining outside! Some easy reasons to be blue, but rain is actually a huge part of why I love living in the south. My dad always said rain was a sign of balance–and on every occasion some small shower falls from the sky and comforts us all in some way that he’s still there…still looking out for things, even when they’re a catastrophe. Maybe this year it means the scales will tip a little further in the direction of help for the MECFS demographic–help even the ‘playing field’ when it comes to our efforts for change. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic. But hey, he’s helped out before.

The biggest bummer besides my body failing is that cognitively it’s been spaghetti brain all over the place a lot of this year. Especially the last 6 months. And it seems like the brain needs rest the same way a physical crash requires one. But writing is my outlet. I feel angst when I don’t write here. Doing it forces me to remember, be patient and grateful and most of all, to help restore my hope. It’s aways been something I can do despite being sick. So to not feel like I can creates a void among voids I’m already fighting. It’s hard to know when to just stop and take a break, or when to just keep writing through it, even when it seems to kind of…suck.

I write through a lot of it and post very little. I tell myself I’ll stop doing that because that fear of bad writing can really tailspin into no writing, and that’s the worst you can do. Inspiration can hit you in the middle of doing what feels like crappy, worthless work. And it seems less likely to be struck by anything meaningful when you’ve turned your back on trying because you’re afraid it will be bad. Sometimes it will be…I think you just write through it. Or you become a lowly loser blogger whose only readers consist of your sister and your aunt Amy. They were the first followers of this blog :)

Writing and thinking and speaking coherently have become so much harder this year. Half of it do to the meds I have to take to control the RLS and skin crawling, where life is just not possible without the treatment. When I picture my brain I see a six lane highway with bumper to bumper traffic that spans for miles with no way to exit besides getting out and walking. It’s so cluttered up there, forgetful and all out-of-order. Luckily it is the pace of writing, its’ patient ability to wait for me to think of words, that allows me to continue. Unluckily, it takes me so much longer to write than before, and by the end I can’t gouge if it makes any sense so I skip it and say I’ll come back to post later. Guess who doesn’t post later? So there’s about six….thousand… of those suckers just open on my computer, waiting to go somewhere. I just need to stop being a pansy and post. What’s with this damned hesitation? Good grief.

It hit me this year how hard it is to be around people who aren’t sick simply because it brought me up close to what a typical life looks like. I tend to forget how dysfunctional mine is. I watched as they would make breakfast and listen to loud music in the morning and carry babies and take showers like it was nothing. Of course it’s nothing. That’s what a healthy life permits you, and so it can be a bitter reminder of the things that are marathons for you, when you see just how easy they could be thoughtless tasks. But this is why sickness is always encouraging consciousness if you’re to live with it and find peace at the same time.

If you kept a list of “can no longer do’s’, you’d run out of paper and possibly lose your mind. In day-to-day life, you have this *creative challenge* we’ll call it, to just hang tightly on to what you can do, what you have, and squeeze the hell out of that lemon for all the juice inside it. Years ago I had to learn to start counting up, not down, in my everyday life in order to keep going. To find momentum, purpose, laughter, creativity–all that cheesy crap they write on picture frames at TJ Maxx–you’ve got to find your small pieces of joy and feed them until they start to return the favor tenfold.

It would be easy enough to be depressed on a day like today. It’s New Years Eve, and I know my friends are picking out fancy outfits for the night. They’ll drink and dance and party. Since we spent most of today at the doctor getting x-rays and ultra sounds and blood work after a bladder infection seemed to move to my kidneys, I think it’s safe to say there’s no partying for my NYE. But that’s OK. I mean it sucks, it’s OK to say it sucks, but it’s OK too. I mean here I am talking about my bladder to strangers on the internet! Should I get into my bowels? I won’t, they’re fine.

I really wanted to write tonight because I was thinking of all the people in similar situations as me–particularly all the sickley’s out there. I just wanted them to know that if you’re feeling low, well 1, that’s understandable. But 2. try hard to remember you’re not alone in all this, even if you’re by yourself. I know it’s difficult  to take that seriously. But I also know how isolated it can feel when you turn on the TV and see two million people partying in Time Square while your miles away in PJ’s, in bed, etc. I hope you remember how many others of us there are, going through the same or similar experience, missing out on overhyped parties and whatever else is happening out there.

We’re still connected to each other in some way, and I don’t know how to convey it exactly in a way that really eases the loneliness that nights like these tend to reinforce–but the numbers don’t lie. There are millions of us, all in similar boats. And we don’t have to know each other deeply to know we’re out here. I’m one right here!

Let’s also not forget, we tend to imagine these elaborate parties with tigers on leashes and super models serving champagne on a rooftop with views of NYC, but they’re never as good in reality as they are in our minds. Tonight is just a change of numbers. Tomorrow will be back to normal.

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The difference is that it’s 2019, and I plan on working so hard and creatively with my efforts in getting the NIH to see what they don’t appear capable of seeing. -We’ve already made a breakthrough, (more on that next time) and established an important connection. Was their response satisfactory? Haha, NO. Not by a long shot. But this was just one of the first steps, and there will be many more to come.

I would ask anyone at midnight to just stop and focus their attention for even a few seconds on major change for MECFS. Think about the things you want to happen, even if it seems obvious, and send it out into the world. Maybe the desperate changes we need will converge somewhere in the universe, meet over some remote place above the Atlantic Ocean and help make things work in our favor. I believe we can do what we’ve set out for. We just have to continue to help each other, support and carry one another through when the work is too heavy, and never lose hope that we will get through to the right people and that the work we’re doing is crucial.  We will attain the change we need, I know it. At midnight that’s what I’ll be thinking of, and I hope you’ll join me.

I truly hope everyone had a happy holiday, sick, well, or in-between. I’ll see you tonight in the stars somewhere. I wish you all the best, and if you’re like me and you’re going to kiss your dog at midnight, maybe also make your wish, kiss your fingertips, and blow it out into the cosmos. I believe in the power of energy if nothing else. Whatever you do, don’t lose hope, as impossible as that can feel. Try to imagine how amazing it will feel when our efforts come to fruition. The advocacy world has made some major progress this year. Now, we just need to get the government to follow our lead :) easy peasy! I think 2019 will have much bigger things to come, so hang in there with me. I need ya.

Health, Happiness and HapPEE New Years!

**I promise this is the last blog that’s so long. I’m fixing it, ok? My brain is thinking in non-sequiturs. I’ll fix it.

Meaning in the Mud

Family, Friends, Strangers, Enemies, Grandmas, and the future class of 2019: hi. I’m not dead. Figured I should get that out of the way.

It’s been so long. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed writing here. I have an underlying angst that eats at me when I know zero words are emitting from the blog of roughly 12 readers a day. Still, I don’t like it. Mostly because I still so often spend hours a day writing, , but reading it back over it the next day, the coherency is lacking and it’s clear my spaghetti brain is hindering a collective blog, so I don’t post it. The next day I write, I try to edit, and the process just repeats itself. All of it resulting in DEAD AIR! Boooo.

Anyway, as you might’ve guessed, I’m still crashed. Or on very shaky ground anyway, and I’m not really sure why. Weakness comes and goes, my restless legs/crawly skin is constantly flaring, but it’s this damn pain in my head that is consuming, constant, and just plain exhaustive. More than weakness or any other symptom, it’s a resilient pain like this that keeps me from writing long enough to edit and post, which makes me hate it all the more.

This head/face pain started to get to me psychologically a few months ago. I’d find myself looking forward to sleep given the escape it offered from the pain. That’s not a grrrreat way to live, but it is A way to live, so there’s that. It’s just the reality right now, but I do genuinely believe we’ll find the answer to this. Or we’ll at least find a remedy for the pain. Even if it is some South American JuJu bean sprout mixed with Norwegian honey bee oil and antler-fuzz brewed into a tea. I’d drink that crap-tasting tea 10 times a day. The point is, I know it won’t feel like this forever, so I’m just hanging on and HOPING THAT A FIX COMES ALONG PRETTY QUICKLY. Sorry I thought if I shout-typed it that God or someone might hear me better.

For now there is pain medicine, dousing my face in peppermint oil, and putting a frozen ice pack on top. Then I lay there, like a useless slug waiting to get stepped on. I’m destined for greatness!

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#Useless Slugs Unite

On Monday I had my face injected with steroids and lidocaine to see if that would do anything. I do think it helped the back of my head, but so far not a lot of luck on the face or top of the head. Although the injections did give me temporary human horns, appropriately in time for Halloween. This picture is actually after they’d gone down a bit.

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She-devils Unite!

Walking back into the waiting room I told the secretaries not to judge my she-devil horns and they burst out laughing. I guess in a place that is usually so serious and nearly tense like the sign-out counter at a doctor’s office, something about that interaction made me feel lighter. 

Other than that, life remains a constant search for balance in-between hope and despair. Obviously, it feels much better to be hopeful. But damn if despair doesn’t grab you by the feet like an anchor and drag you under. It can be so easy to fall down that hole, and much harder to make your way out.

I know I write about it a lot, but it’s because chronic illness is such a marathon. Staying optimistic, believing your life can be good, finding meaning in the mud, laughing when it’s funny even though it’d be just as easy to cry, are all your job on top of the physical battle. It’s so hard not knowing where the finish line is or what it even might look like once you get there. If you’re like me, you’re always trying to calculate how your life might go if you’re sick 2 more years, 5 more years, 20 more years. It’s infinite…

It’s an impossible hypothetical that will only leave you confused and anxiety-ridden. Marc Nepo said confusion is the result of trying to make sense of things too soon, and I am constantly trying to do that. Make things fit before they’re fully formed. It’s hard to trust that wherever you are is where you’re supposed to be, and yet in hindsight, it seems that somehow it always turns out that’s the case, even when things have resulted in pain or anguish.

Nepo also said the repeated hindrance to joy in his life over and over has been hesitation. So I’m continually trying to just live the moment I’m in–1 because honestly it’s all I can handle. But 2 because when I start thinking too far into the future or assuming I could possibly change things that have happened in the past is when I actually suffer. When I interrupt my thinking and say Mary, all you have to do is make a cup of tea right now, I’m brought back to the only thing that matters and where I have any power, which is now.

It’s been an interesting experiment, this whole chronically sick life thing that I think I may have signed up for ambitiously before I was born because I’m stupid and don’t think things through. Still, it’s interesting, because it’s a perpetual challenge, especially creatively and in thinking. Like this idea–that you can be in a lot of pain, but also laugh hysterically in your living room, alone, at something you’ve seen twice before. This week I was watching jeopardy casually with my parents and I filled up with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and despite my raging head and restless, squirming legs, such a strong positive feeling made it’s way to the surface anyway.

The same happened when Matt brought me lunch out of nowhere on Tuesday, because he happened to be eating at a place nearby. I had a migraine, but when I woke up I had a meal to eat and didn’t have to think about it or muster the strength to make one. Just deciding on food can be totally exhausting. My gratitude was overflowing. And when Monty was afraid during the rainstorm and I laid with him on the floor, because I could, petting his velvety ears as the poor guy shook with fear at the rumbles of thunder, the love I felt for him welled up inside me, to where I could feel an actual warmth in my chest. I think how lucky I am to have such incredible people (and dogs) in my life and it makes the physical pain feel less powerful.

There are many, small moments like that, where gratitude and humility and laughing out loud at something stupid all pop up and show their beauty despite whatever physical pain I’m feeling. The dichotomy of those two things and experiencing them at once is an intriguing piece of the puzzle that’s teaching me how to be a human being. I think I’m getting pretty good! But I’ll never be as good as Monty, the happiest, most grateful, and present person I know.

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Actually Destined for Greatness

Case in point, he was not at all upset when his ball became stuck under a huge flat rock that was filled with muddy rain water underneath. He spent 30 minutes digging and splashing and maneuvering for that ball, and a half hour later he came trotting to the porch, a newly chocolate lab, victorious with said ball that was almost a goner. Seeing how happy, proud, and brown he was made me laugh so hard, I couldn’t help but feel happy to be alive, despite feeling like death. Witnessing the fulfilled, unflinching life that Monty lives, it’s fair to say that dog does not hesitate or miss lifes’ moments. His joy is infectious, and I will always be grateful he’s been by my side for as long as he has.

My head is starting to fill with pressure and expand like a balloon, or so it feels, so it’s time to slug it up for a while. Then maybe I’ll enjoy Wheel of Fortune with my parents. See? I have to laugh at it. Was this the life I envisioned at age 34? Would I have chosen this? Maybe not. And yet I am learning, learning, how to find a sense of fulfillment and wander in the unchosen existence that is uniquely my own all the time. Each time I inch toward trusting this experience, the more momentous life becomes, the brighter the mundane moments explode into something special, and the more my soul awakens at how incredible it is to be here at all.

Health, Happiness, Muddy Waters