ME vs. CFS – They’re Not The Same! (via Documenting M.E.)

Brooke hosts this very new blog, intimately sharing her experience as a person with M.E. who is currently in hospice care, or, more bluntly put, expected to die from the disease within six months. That is her current situation, but she is also a person who loves dogs, languages, poetry, nature, and music. (I feel like I just wrote an explanation about myself, there!) I’ve enjoyed her few new posts ranging from recaps of who she is and has been, facts about the disease, and how hospice care can be of real benefit. I feel she has a valuable perspective and I expect however many entries that follow will continue to be enlightening and expressive. I also admire her idea to start something new when some might raise the idea of it being “too late”–her choice to express herself is testament that we are always, always evolving. In the entry I’ve chosen to reblog, she explains the huge detriment that calling Myalgic Encephalomyelitis “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” has caused patients, and how that ever came to happen.

a rainbow at night

” ME is not CFS. By CFS, I am of course referring to the diagnosis Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Everywhere you go, you see the two names combined. Many patients themselves abbreviate their illness as “MECFS,” “CFS/ME,” etc. This is incorrect. Doing so hurts literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Let me explain.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis got its name long ago based on what experts saw in patients with the disorder, as well as the autopsy results of many of these patients. What the autopsies showed was inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, deterioration of the dorsal root ganglia, and more. The name Myalgic Encephalomyelitis means “muscle pain and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.” It’s a perfect fit. In 1969, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized this fact and officially classified Myalgic Encephalomyelitis as a neurological disease.

Then the US got involved. In the 1980s, there was a breakout of ME in the Lake Tahoe area. The US sent a couple people to investigate. These individuals refused to meet with any patients, look at blood samples, or do anything productive. … There was not one single experienced ME expert on this panel. Rather than call the illness by the name already recognized by the WHO, the US came up with the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is where the two names became linked. “ Read more

via Documenting M.E.

What My Pain is Actually Like

It occurred to me one day several months ago that I’ve never stopped to answer a question people may have, the same question I often wonder about others in my situation: When I talk about being in pain, what am I actually talking about?

In my case I’m talking about severe head pain, and what some call “malaise,” but… Malaise is what you call it when you are sick and you feel “off,” and unwell, and basically.. gross. It’s also a term you can use for having something as simple as a cold or as insufferable as AIDS, much like a fever has drastically varying levels of severity.

In “malaise” standards, what I feel is like my immune system is fighting to save my life but it may or may not actually take me down with it. Pain is usually localized, or at least, if it’s everywhere, it’s an identifiable ache. This? Maybe I should invent a new term.

Deathlymalaise. Yeah that sounds about right.

What happens in my newly coined “deathlymalaise” (feel free to use that), is this:

  1. I always have “the” headache with it, the one I’ll discuss in a moment.
  2. I have a low-grade fever, and I alternate rapidly–or maybe there is only the sensation of rapid cycling–between uncomfortably warm and sweaty, and clammy, cold, with freezing and numb extremities. It’s like when you have the flu and every five minutes you’re either tossing the blankets across the room or clambering to collect anything made of fabric and burrito yourself in it. My GP says this is my immune system. Apparently it’s trying to figure out what to do with itself.
  3. I feel dizzy and there is often a “buzzing” sensation, but whether it’s nerves sending wrong signals or my vascular system trying to sustain normal circulation, is anyone’s guess.
  4. My lymph nodes, particularly the axillary and cervical nodes (under your arms, and around your neck), have a constant, dull ache, and get stabbing sensations.
  5. I get muscle spasms in my neck, back, and all around my abdomen in general, that are so sudden and severe I usually end up screaming.
  6. I feel a burning sensation in the nerves in my face, as if they were on fire from the inside-out. I think it comes from the same inflammation responsible for my headache. The trigeminal neuralgia is thus usually activated and I have to stop myself from clawing at my face–that wouldn’t help much, now would it?
  7. I feel as if I’m going to vomit, but I won’t let that happen–I take Zofran as necessary.
  8. My joints–moreso on my left–swell and get stiff, difficult to bend or move.
  9. There is substantial fatigue during these “bursts” of deathlymalaise, but sitting or–more appropriately–lying in one place is usually not an option because this is the kind of suffering that, on the pain scale, would be at the level that it interferes with your every thought.

I’m a complete and utter wreck. And please remember, this list is only covering the malaise part of the illness, something that has been very prominent since The Big Relapse. It’s not medication withdrawal, because these symptoms are part of the reason I started taking anything to begin with, and it’s not herxing. It’s just disease. It makes me uncomfortable to even type that, but it is what it is. I can’t sugarcoat something like this.

I usually feel aghast–but almost in awe–at the reality that a person could possibly feel so horrendous, and helpless at the thought that a hospital–the place you’re raised thinking can always help you during any health crisis–cannot do anything, because there is nothing to stop what’s happening. How do you explain to someone how terrible all that feels, with the word “malaise”?

Several of my friends who also live with Lyme & Company admit to feeling this, and even writing letters or notes to loved ones during the worst “episodes” because they think surely something must be about to go very, very wrong for the human body to give out all these warning signals.

They usually say, “I feel like I’m dying.”

We really do.

 

The progression of my headaches has been a monster all its own. Their onset began with occipital neuralgia four months after my tick bite, almost seven years ago. Bartonella came with its own, mostly frontal-oriented headaches; I don’t have those any more. But almost without fail, I have had a particularly severe headache for 4-5 consecutive days every four weeks since the Lyme invaded my nervous system. Now, that exacerbation happens about every two weeks, thanks to the Mycoplasma.

I used to need prescription-strength medications for breakthrough pain only a few times a year for the attacks of occipital neuralgia. As things steadily progressed (especially within the past two years), I went from needing them an average of 1-3 days per month, to having 3-week-long bouts of unrelenting head paid which alternated with 3-pain-free weeks, seemingly for no reason. Since my relapse in October, I’ve needed them every day except 1-3 days per month. I guess all of this is why needing them so much frightened me: I wondered–and still wonder–if there is no turning back from this point. Regardless…

This head pain is a throbbing sensation at the back of my head, the base of my skull and down into my neck. I wouldn’t outright call it occipital neuralgia, because my attacks of O.N. are even more severe and almost completely untreatable. But otherwise, it’s just like them. Baby neuralgias? They even exhibit the so-called “ram’s horn pattern,” and the top of my head often goes numb, and I am sensitive to anything touching my scalp. There is no sensitivity to sound, but extreme sensitivity to light. I get bursts of nausea. Since vasculitis has been such a major feature of this relapse, these “headaches” may have some vascular component.

As of right now, later this month my pain management doctor wants to try a shot in my neck. I’m uncertain is he intends a nerve block for O.N. or another route, but since this has gone on so long, it’s time to try something new.

 

There’s not really a pretty way to sum this up. But when I talk about being in pain, to all of this is what I refer.

 

a rainbow at night

Having determination does not always equal curing a disease.

I don’t think some people are prepared to hear that determination alone is not enough to beat a disease. You can do everything right and still get worse, and it’s not your fault. You can’t say being motivated and refusing your circumstances (“I got better because I wouldn’t settle for anything less!”) is going to get everyone well, because it gives those who aren’t so lucky the delusion that they’re somehow responsible.

This post is for you.

The people who stay sick still matter. The people who die from their disease still matter. It is not your fault.

No one talks about these things out of fear of being attacked for it… I guess it’s a lesson to be learned by those who have that journey. As Oscar Wilde said, “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

a rainbow at night

Guest blogger: “It is healthy to talk about what you are going through.”

I’m here to make another installment to my Life Lessons section, but this time, with the words of a very special guest blogger. And I don’t say very special because they are well-known, famous, or something like that. But they are, in my opinion, one of the most amazing people to exist. My dear friend–who has a birthday today, no less!–who has impacted my life in more ways than I could count, wrote this several days ago, and I thought it was way too important not to share (especially since they agreed to write something for you all sometime this year!).

I’m really tired of “not talking about your illness” equaling “being a stronger person.”  No.  It is healthy to talk about what you are going through. 

Illness is not something to be shoved away and ignored like it is dirty and shameful.  No.  Illness, disability, old age, and dying are a part of life.  It is natural.  It has been with us forever. 

Every single human being that has ever lived has dealt with it in some fashion.  Every single human being has died, or will die.  If they live long enough, those still among us will will watch a loved one die.  They will get older.  They will encounter disability in themselves or others.  They or somebody they love will get sick. 

For me, it would be unhealthy not to talk about something so inevitable and universal. 

I talk about my illness.  I am sure it makes some people uncomfortable and has driven some people away.  But it affects nearly all of my life right now, and I see no reason to pretend like it does not.

– the author of Black Cat Saturdays

 

No one should be made to feel like they have to deny a part of themselves or a crucial part of their life in order to win the affection and/or acceptance of another. As with anything in life, it’s all about balance. We have to find a middle ground between talking about what we are going through, honestly, and yet not being consumed by it. I know people on both extremes–those who never talk about it, and those who talk about absolutely nothing else. It is detrimental either way. The person who never talks about it–perhaps to keep people around, not make others uncomfortable, or stay in denial about their own circumstances–ends up feeling cheated, abandoned, and can lose self-respect. The person who talks about nothing else, forgets who they are entirely, and sees themselves only as “the person with such-and-such disease.”

But we are more than sick, or disabled, or terminally ill. We still exist, and we still have purpose and love to share. But in order to get to that place, we have to realize–and hopefully be accompanied by people who realize this, too–that we are also people who have to grieve in a healthy manner, who have to express ourselves as we go through this part of life, and it’s not our job to make sure everyone else stays comfortable while we do it.

As written above, we will all go through these things at some point. It’s just that we, who are already going through it, simply don’t have the time or extra energy to spend worrying about someone else’s opinion of how much we’re “allowed” to share before they feel inconvenienced…

a rainbow at night & black cat saturdays

I feel the need to share again: “The Silence of the Dying,” by the Sara Douglas.

“Pay attention to me, pay attention to how I got this, and how hard it is for me to get my health back, so you can avoid it.”

I was going to make a more drawn-out post explaining why I’m not participating in any of the awareness campaigns of May concerning my illnesses…but then I came upon the realization that I don’t owe anyone justification for my actions! Or wise inactions, as they were.

And I am comforted by the knowledge that many other people with these conditions are feeling the same way I am: For those who can advocate–and I do it at random, it does have its purpose, particularly in our government to let them know we’re still here–that is fine. If it gives you purpose and belonging, then do it. For others like myself, my entire life is an advocacy campaign. I don’t need a month. Or a day. I get 365 days, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, of “this is what this disease does.”

Pay attention to me, pay attention to how I got this, and how hard it is for me to get my health back, so you can avoid it. Know that I was just like you, once. Know that I didn’t think it could’ve happened to me, either. That’s the biggest advocacy I can do.

Talking about Lyme or M.E. every second of every day for a month (and nothing coming of it, because people who have their minds made up are NOT willing to hear anything else) is not going to help me at all. I am not my disease. I am not Lyme disease, or mycoplasma, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, or autonomic neuropathy, or dystonia.

They’re just things that have passed into my life to help shape and change it into something else. That’s all.

I’ve spent the past decade in advocacy-mode. I’ve done my part, I think. In my absence there will be others. I personally think people learn more if you’re not yelling at them in desperation. I’ve been blessed to help several people find out they had Lyme, for example, and it had nothing to do with advocacy. You can’t force the information on anyone–if they want to know, they will seek. And if they’re interested, I am here.

So instead of advocacy, myself and several, several others I know, are focusing on what makes us feel normal. Sure, our every waking moment may be imposed upon by symptoms and dysfunction, but that is not all we are. No matter how sick I’ve ever gotten, nor how sick I will ever be, there’s always more to me than an illness. This blog is my health diary, yes, that is the POINT of this journal, to track my symptoms and such, but I don’t want anyone to get the idea that it’s all that I am. I have friends and family and pets and hobbies and interests (often obscure ones) just like anyone else. And I am an artist. Not because the title makes me feel important, but because at my core, that’s how I express myself, it’s who I become when my physical limitations allow.

“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.”

So yes, no posts about my conditions (though I did finish the “What is M.E.?” section a while back). It’s time to cultivate the parts of my life that inspire and enhance, what makes me feel human and normal, not advertise what makes my life a living hell for the other 90% of the day, mostly to people who already know what I go through, anyway. And I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking this.

I’ll leave you with this link: 60 Ways To Make Life Simple Again

a rainbow at night