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 a term you can use for having a cold or 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

ARAN makes her first real post in months!

Something I try to do with this blog is make sure it makes sense and follows some semblance of “why yes I DO have a thought process,” but tending to either of those things is going to make this blog entry impossible, and I really need to write. So I’m sorry, people who like sentence structure and who like to translate my entries into their native tongue.

 

My birthday was in August. And it was incredible. Full of love from friends and family and the amazing gift that I was alive to enjoy it. I thanked my Lyme doctor for helping save my life, because without his aid I know I wouldn’t have made it. The whole celebration affair took two days to get through because I didn’t want to exhaust myself–I tried!–but let’s just say, next year I shall ask for more assistance, especially in opening gifts because I did the closest thing possible to arm-murder for someone with M.E. The eustress still affected me profoundly, and the muscle relapse I experienced took me weeks to recover from. By mid-September I did finally get to a place where I was okay enough to start typing, replying to e-mails, et cetera, albeit at a much-reduced level. I think that’s when I made my last entry… Anyway.

Since my last actual update I have been “officially” diagnosed with vasculitis, upped my Biaxin dose, and had to stop everything completely.

 

After a necessary car ride (read as: evacuation) put me in the sunlight for eight hours, my sporadically-present vasculitis-of-the-past-ten-years went into overdrive and has been bothering me daily, often severely, ever since. I have to avoid all sunlight and any temperature change…which I always have to do, but right now it’s even more important. I did get tests to see if anything autoimmune had been triggered, but the tests, ANA and the relatives, were all normal, so that’s good. I got the diagnosis of inflammatory vasculitis on the 6th of September, which ironically was two days after upping my Biaxin to twice daily instead of once daily, but the Biaxin was unrelated, since the problems began days earlier with all that sun exposure. My PCP told me all the weird quirks I’d been having–the INTENSE dizzy spells, the blurred vision, that the main vascular problems were in my hands and feet–were all related. She said it starts in the small blood vessels–ears, eyes, extremities–and spreads from there, and to manage it with ibuprofen, which for now, mostly works.

We want to avoid going on steroids if we can, because of how it suppresses the immune system… But I’ve been off and on Nasonex (an inhaled corticosteroid for sinus problems; I don’t have allergies) and it’s such a catch-22. I always feel better when I’m on it, but it also messes with my immune system so that other problems act up. Sigh.

 

For the most part I have been feeling GREAT with the twice daily Biaxin, but when I’m down, I’m really down. I have no idea what to say about my general health status, otherwise. :\ I always get a bad flare at the beginning of the month because this is one of the bug cycles (I think the Mycoplasma, but maybe the Lyme–I have no idea, I just know it’s not related to my menses because that has no reliable pattern, and hasn’t for years). Well, this month’s flare was absolutely terrible because of being on the doubled antibiotic dosage–”herxapalooza,” as one of my friends calls it.

When I was on Zithro (biaxin’s cousin), there would be one day a month I’d have to stop my antibiotics and let the herx die down, lest I end up it the emergency room. I came very close to going this month, not because of the herx itself, but because of a Migraine that was almost completely resistant to treatment. All I had at my house was off-brand medicine and name-brand Treximet, the latter of which  I cannot take with my type of migraine (which I DID NOT KNOW–need to discuss this with my new neuro!). So that was bad. Bad bad. The aura began with an awful episode of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome on Friday (Sept 28th) and the Migraine began Sunday (Sept 30th). Two days later, that was gone, but I have been sicker than sick ever since the whole thing started.

I have stopped ALL of my antibiotics in an attempt to recover, and I’m planning to resume them Monday if I’m able. If not, I’ll give it another week like I sometimes have to do. It’s been four straight months since having to take any kind of break, so that’s good. I hope it’s just the herxing (my liver is fine, by the way!), because this is a little frightening.

I haven’t needed my wheelchair in months, so I put it in the closet. Then yesterday I went to stand up and almost went to the floor. I’ve had NO trouble walking in months. Now my legs are very weak. It just hits me in “episodes”–one part of the day I’ll be sort-of okay; the rest, I am useless.  This would make sense if I were currently on antibiotics, but I am not. I have been sleeping a ton, and in bed all day regardless, only getting up for the essentials like restroom. And the pain… Oh, the pain. A day or two ago–they all blend together at the moment–I couldn’t so much as roll over in bed without vicodin. The headache phase (as that Migraine went on to irritate every surrounding nerve) has died down for the most part, but now I face exhaustion, flu-like sickness, numbness in my right leg leg and foot, a bizarre action-related tremor in my left hand/arm that has actually been progressing instead of going away… I am hydrated but my blood pressure is poor, I am resting but my heart is weak… My heart has felt weaker the past several weeks, at random. I don’t know what that’s about (side effect of doubled Biaxin?) but my next cardio appointment is in November.

It’s just such a drastic change, and I was doing perfectly fine (relatively speaking) on the doubled dose of antibiotics until this hit… And despite being off of them, it doesn’t appear to be getting better yet, which is concerning when I’ve literally spent the past week in bed and usually this combination lends to me feeling better… Or at least, when it’s M.E.-related, this lends to me feeling better. I suppose, with that in mind, I should stop thinking of it in those terms, because even though the majority of my troubles the past month-and-a-half have been M.E.-related and those ARE improved with rest, these problems I now face probably are not M.E.-related, and therefore there’s no sense in thinking rest will help them. Maybe I’m rushing things, or being impatient, I just wonder what happened that I’m taking so long to recover, and I hope this will all pass over without me being forced into a lower state of fucntioning in the mean time.

 

Three hours after I typed this I was able to come back and fix it up a little, so it’s not too bad… But yes, as to my absence…! I have been doing mostly okay, seemingly doing much better–even starting to prepare my own meals!–until “this” happened.

a rainbow at night

Alright, I caved.

I couldn’t take it anymore and started my Zoloft…even though it interacts with two things I take. I opted to just take it as far away from those as possible, and since I’m only on 12.5mg, it couldn’t be that bad, right?

Best decision I ever made.

And something interesting to share about my fatigue: It’s incredibly reduced! My wonky brain chemistry must have been contributing heavily to it, because after about five days I noticed I had a lot more energy. Antidepressants are actually recommended for “chronic fatigue,” and now I understand why! I thought fatigue was only a symptom of depression-related brain chemistry, but it would seem it’s just a symptom of off-kilter serotonin levels in general. My OCD is a lot better. The incessant thoughts are easing and I no longer need to keep hand lotion around from my constant soap use. :\

I take Flagyl Thursday thru Sunday, and usually by Saturday I am exhausted. This Saturday? I exercised. And by exercise I mean my usual stretching routine that I used to do for Fibromyalgia treatment. I got through it all! And the next day I stretched again, but at a reduced level. Today I took a break from it. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow. But I’m in shock that I was able to do that! It’s a very good sign. I’m elated that after five months in Lyme/Mycoplasma treatment, I am starting to get back to things I used to be able to do. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have my family’s support, emotionally and financially, but all I want is to be able to take care of myself again. At the rate I’m going, I think that will happen.

Neurologically, I’ve had a lot more numbness in my limbs. This is healing, right? I get the “hot foot” sensations daily, my feet itch like mad, and.. I remember an instance last week where a sharp, stabbing sensation went through my right leg to the bottom of my foot, and my leg immediately went numb. When the neuropathy was progressing, things got worse, and in new places; this is more akin to old problems flaring up with their last dying effort, so again, here’s hoping this is part of the healing process.

Headache wise, I’ve had what acts like a tension headache for about four days, now. It makes my teeth hurt. I say “acts like” because I never get tension headaches, and I’m not entirely sure if this is one, but based upon descriptions I’ve read… Then again I’ve also heard people describe Lyme headaches like this, so who knows. It could even be the Zoloft or it may be as simple as ibuprofen withdrawal after taking it for several months. Whatever the cause, hopefully it’ll go away, soon. It’s the least of my concerns! :)

a rainbow at night

Asthma, reflections on having PANDAS, and mycoplasma.

First off, I have to say I was shocked at the response I got on my last blog entry. I halfway expected people to yell at me for saying it, but I’m glad everyone connected with it so much!

As for me, I had no idea it’d already been two weeks since I last posted. I have been more social than ever (online), and also more fatigued than ever. Because of this (and my arms, of course) I’ve had to choose my activities wisely, and pick one main thing to do per day.

 

The most important thing to report this time is that my random cough continued to be persistent and began to worsen, so I saw my primary physician who says I now have asthma. (Well, asthmatic bronchitis–two in one, aren’t I lucky!) If I were to assume this to be infection and/or herxing related, I would say this:

Since I’m fighting Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a bacterium that usually causes pneumonia (but also loves to attack your nervous system), my best guess is that treating this beast has caused a lot of die-off in my lungs, where it’s most likely been hiding out, at least partially. And said die-off may be causing the inflammation that’s triggering this asthmatic response… I mean, it can’t be any coincidence that as soon as I start trying to kill the pathogen that has caused lung problems for me in the past, I get inflammation in my lungs, right?

If that’s not it, then I have genetics to thank. But I’m going to go with “will hopefully go away as I treat Mycoplasma” until it proves itself otherwise. At least I’m not having any trouble breathing. I just have this cough, which, after three days on Dulera (which is literally just my Nasonex in an inhalable form…mixed with formoterol), I’m much, much better. :)

 

Also, I’m convinced I had PANDAS as a child. It stands for “pediatric autoimmune illness associated with streptococci,” and is basically what it sounds like: An autoimmune response to a streptococcal infection that causes damage to the brain, primarily resulting in obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic-disorders. In the “My Story” section I ponder over whether or not something triggered my childhood disorders of OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome, whether it could have been a brush with tick-borne infection, or something similar. But this makes too much sense…

  • My immunodeficiency making me extremely susceptible to infections (especially Strep),
  • a history of autoimmune responses to things (like vaccinations),
  • the fact that my OCD and Tourette’s were acute-onset…

With that lovely combination of factors, I was practically a walking target to get M.E. in the future, wasn’t I? :\

People with a history of PANDAS are supposed to stay on prophylactic antibiotics until age 21… Why? To prevent additional episodes of this infection-triggered disorder that could lead to further brain damage. Now I wonder, if my doctors had known about that… If I had been on prophylactic antibiotics until age 21, and that had prevented the two years of slaughter my immune system went through, contracting every infection that passed my way after I got that Hepatitis B inoculation, if the bug that triggered my M.E. would have still triggered it, or maybe I wouldn’t have gotten it… It doesn’t quite matter, at this point. But. It’s interesting. Like another piece of my puzzle…

 

On that note, I have to state the obvious, that Mycoplasma and Strep are very similar in this respect: They usually cause upper respiratory infection, but in the immunocompromised, they can wreak havoc everywhere, especially the nervous system. You know what happened to me when I got both Bartonella and Mycoplasma a month apart from each other in 2008? My Tourette’s syndrome and stuttering flared up so bad I could barely talk to people; I also got extremely paranoid, showing clear neuropsychiatric involvement. Additionally, that’s when my movement disorder began worsening. I had the beginning signs of the dystonia since getting Lyme disease (even though I didn’t know I’d gotten Lyme, yet), but after those two infections, things progressed very quickly. (The Tourette’s and stuttering eventually died back down, though they love to pop up at random, especially when I’m under stress.)

Treating Bartonella helped it A LOT…a lot a lot. But the thing is, the antibiotics that treat Bartonella are the same antibiotics that treat Mycoplasma (or at least the ones I was on, except for Bactrim), so I have no idea of knowing which infection is responsible for it. It’s not gone yet (as evidenced by my oromandibular dystonia showing itself more lately), but the worst parts of it stopped progressing after a year on Rifampin (with other antibiotics). That would suggest to me that the Mycoplasma may have been the trigger, while Bartonella aggravated it because it agitates the nervous system so very much.

This is one of the reasons I can’t type up a post explaining my Bartonella experience and treatment: Because even though I can pinpoint a lot of which symptoms were caused by Bartonella–especially the ones that recurred every 5-7 days–I have absolutely no way of knowing exactly which infection caused what, specifically in regards to my dystonia and other related movement disorders. Because I got those infections a month apart from each other, and I treated them both at the same time. I can type about my theories, but I can’t put a bunch of information out there that people are going to read, without being sure. All I have are correlations, and patterns, which I happen to have a talent at spotting.

Two years ago I hypothesized that Mycoplasma (which I easily tested positive for on the first try, unlike the others which I had to coax out with speciality labs) was going to play a much larger role in my health issues than I had at first assumed… I had no idea how right that would be.

If anyone has any experience or information they want to share with me about PANDAS, suspected PANDAS, or similar things triggering OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome, feel free to comment or contact me.

a rainbow at night

Mini update, post-hive.

…Well, I have been coughing a lot, and I am very weak, but whether or not that’s because of spontaneous-flare, who knows!

I’m effectively bedbound again. I very nearly was yesterday, too, but I didn’t seem to get the memo that standing was very bad until almost passing out after answering the door. My heart pretty much said that was the last straw: You are going to lie down, or else.

So yes, my heart feels weak, and that’s my main problem. I’m more or less very stable as long as I’m in bed, slightly propped up. But anything else is met with a pain in my neck and an inability to breathe. I tried wheelchair-ing but that still causes those issues, so I’m only using it to get to the restroom. I’m also craving certain foods so I might be experiencing anemia, which would definitely not help. I do get anemic with flares so that would make sense… Hmm.

But as long as I’m lying down I am not in any other discomfort, which is nice. No nausea, no headache, no dizzyness, no palpitations, no dystonia… The most I have going on is minor nerve pain and brain fog, which is none too bothersome. My nervous system appears to be responding normally to things today, as well; and if it starts to act out, I have a cup of coffee next to me to take a few sips.

I have been listening to the pouring rain for about an hour and it is just magical.

a rainbow at night

On livers and Lyme and dystonia and…another antibiotic break.

On Thursday, the 5th of April, I upped the minocycline to 200mg a day. For the next few days I only noticed a greater need for sleep. Since starting the minocycline in general, I had a greater need for lortab/vicodin (at least once a day) to deal with the head and neck pain (read as: severe), so that also got worse temporarily before tapering off into less-severe pain.

Mostly because of this, my sinuses were really bothering me (hydrocodone causes a release of histamine, and when you stop it, then you can get a rebound release of it), so I had to take Nasonex for several days–it helped so much, and by days Three and Four of being on it, I was outside taking pictures of flowers!! I figure it might have been helping subdue some of the herxing because of its immunosuppressive tendencies. After day Four I was able to stop that, too, since my sinuses had returned to normal.

Then on the 9th I got a fax from my doctor saying my liver enzymes were very elevated. This, after them being perfectly normal two weeks earlier, and me still taking milk thistle three times a day!! I was upset, but I had to stop all antibiotics again.

I don’t know if it was from not taking my antibiotics, beginning that morning when I got the fax, or rebound inflammation from stopping the Nasonex, but I felt absolutely horrid starting that day, and did every day after/have every day since. We’re talking complete flu-feeling and just.. awful. It was the metaphorical equivalent of hitting a bear over the head once, and then standing there staring at it. Lyme is a very, very angry bear. To further my physical suffering, a few days later my Lyme flare up began! D:

And then an old Lyme-related friend came to visit me: Dystonia.

(I tried to kick it out–you must mean the house down the street, no rainbows at night, here!–but, that didn’t work.)

And not just dystonia, but that special brand of dystonia with parkinsonism thrown in there that makes me unable to walk, that makes everything on my left side either fail and freeze, or flail and dance. (Why does Lyme like the left side so much? No one can figure it out, not even the doctors.) It began on the 14th, when I got out of bed, took two steps, and my left leg decided it wanted nothing to do with this “walking” business. Luckily, there are wheelchairs. I still had a lot of movement problems even wheeling about the house, but standing up makes it so much worse in general, even if I’m not trying to walk. It got worse on the 15th and 16th…

I wish I could adequately describe what this type of movement disorder is like. A dear friend of mine in Pennsylvania has the exact same problems I do (also hypertonia, also brain lesions) and despite telling her this, she really didn’t “get” that we were having the same issues or that I really did understand what she meant when she explained them! Then one day I guess I explained it pretty well, and she understood, and didn’t feel so alone. I wish all of us Lymies could record ourselves having these problems and put them on YouTube to give each other some comfort that we’re not alone…but I don’t know how many would go through with it. I know I don’t want people to see me when I’m having these problems; like most, I’d rather just wait it out! :\

Anyway. So a typical “episode” of this happening might start with me attempting to walk. A varying amount of time passes before I slow dramatically and then my left leg will start to drag. If I stand in one place it often curls inward. If I try to walk it is essentially frozen, or moves so little that I might end up walking on the tips of my toes to compensate. Something around my hip/thigh happens and my leg jerks upward, causing me to simultaneously fall forward, often twisting my neck to one side at the same time “for some reason.” I don’t always have to be walking for this to occur. I know low oxygen (or at least low oxygen ratio) makes this worse, because supplemental oxygen always helped in the past.

“A major principle of body movement is that all muscles have an opposing muscle. Movement is possible not just because one muscle becomes more active, but because the opposing muscle relaxes. …Rigidity comes about when, in response to signals from the brain, the delicate balance of opposing muscles is disturbed. The muscles remain constantly tensed and contracted so that the person aches or feels stiff or weak.”

Other times it involves my face and neck–like an episode of Bell’s Palsy that isn’t so much the nerves (I don’t think, at least) as it is the muscles contracting, and causing issues like facial grimacing, an inability to open my left eye all the way (lots of times I cannot look upwards, which is truly disturbing–I don’t think this is dystonia but I wanted to mention it anyway), and my tongue might tremor, etc.

This time, much to my dismay, my arms were involved, interferring with my typing. :( It wasn’t the M.E., and it wasn’t the neuropathy that’s started to invade my arms causing the weakness, but something different. (It’s probably impossible for me to put the difference into words, but I know what that feels like.) They were doing the same thing my legs did–gradually getting slower and slower and it was as if the nerves were failing to send adequate signals, where in my head I was giving them the action I wanted them to perform but everything was going very..very…..slow…… :| (But not the paralysis and takes-five-days-to-recover like the M.E. muscle failure; this is far more neurological.)

And then the 17th happened. Or rather, the night of the 16th when I tried to sleep. I spent all night waking up every hour going “omg I’m going to vomit” and “omg why is everything moving” and then when I woke up once at 7am, the back of my head was killing me (figure of speech, of course). And thus began the cycle of the next five days. But at least after about the 18th, the dystonia and parkinsonism got better and I could walk again. Oh, the things I had happen every morning… One morning was like I described above, for another it was all I could do just to roll onto my back and take medicine, another was gastrointestinal nerve problems that immobilized me in pain, then to add insult to injury, I woke up dehydrated, because I usually do during Lyme flares; it has been an incredibly difficult couple of weeks! What got me through it was knowing that it would pass.

And it did.

The 22nd I felt good enough to take a ride to the city. Well, with the help of adequate medication for pain and inflammation. Right now I’m waiting for a supplement to arrive (tomorrow), so I can resume antibiotics.

I can’t thank God enough for such an absolutely amazing doctor to get me through all of this. Especially after so many years of people who didn’t know what they were doing, no idea how to help me, or just passing me around from doctor to doctor. (From primary to cardiologoist to neurologist to immunologist to infectious disease specialist to another cardiologist to another neurologist to a movement disorder specialist to…) I feel safe in God’s hands and my LLMD’s experience to get me better. He called and told me this herb collection to order for my liver, called Liver Chi. He says he has patients with Lyme-induced MS who are on triple IV antibiotics, their liver enzymes inevitably going high, but who can’t stop treatment for fear of their disease progressing. He thinks I am in that group with the rate that my symptoms progress the moment I stop antibiotics. And if this supplement (a mix of chinese herbs) has been able to bring theirs back down to normal, on all of those antibiotics, I’m sure it can help me get back in treatment! So he said to take a two-week break (which I have), and.. essentially, don’t wait, get the herbs, and resume treatment whenever I got them. And of course keep checking my enzymes.

 

I’ve been doing a lot of art lately to help me cope, so here are a few pieces. Three photos, three paintings. You can click on “Permalink” when they open in the gallery, to read more about any piece you want.

Things I want to add into this post but have no idea how:

  • Ibuprofen always helps. Always.
  • My PCP says I should tell my cardiologist about the fact that I feel like I’m going to pass out when I take a deep breath–I actually had to lie on the examining table this time, which is new. My first guess is my usual lack of my heart rate variability and the fact that it’s supposed to vary when you inhale deeply, but mine often doesn’t… But that’s autonomic neuropathy for you.

a rainbow at night

Remission from Fibromyalgia?

I don’t talk much about Fibromyalgia (FM) because it’s been so many years since I had it. A topic I read about even less, is the remission from this syndrome. But I still remember what it felt like and what it entailed, particularly before its supposed symptoms got muddied by research done on people who have innumerable other conditions, or co-morbid conditions.

I suppose I’ll start with an explaination of what is it/how it feels. Then I’ll explain what I did to help my own case, that eventually led to a remission.


Fibromyalgia is a a pain syndrome that is usually triggered by a stressful event, such as a car crash, surgery, accident, severe infection, or another illness worsening/starting; more or less, it’s the consequence of something else. The pain is primarily in the muscles, and the tendons that support the joints, lending to severe pain and joint stiffness, but without inflammation. The syndrome does not actually damage the joints or muscles–it just feels like it! There is an extreme sensitivity to pressure (allodynia). Things that would normally not hurt, such as getting a gentle hug, become extremely and lingeringly painful. The pain never stops, and is absolutely everywhere, all the time, but may focus more around the tender point locations necessary for diagnosis. Someone with FM will be hurting when they are sitting, standing, and lying down. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is very common, and a major contributor to headaches.

Sleep problems include an inability to fall asleep, but particularly staying asleep. Someone with FM may wake up every hour, all night long, without anything to help cure the root of the problem, which is the brain’s inability to conduct normal sleep waves. FM is thus also accompanied by a great degree of fatigue, that may or may not be managable. Cognitive problems are multiple and very prominent, including things like an almost complete lack of short term memory, working memory, any ability to recall the names of every day items, and silly things like placing the television remote in the freezer and the frozen peas on top the entertainment center. (Or pouring your milk in the trash and the tea down the sink… I may or may not be speaking from personal experience…)

Other symptoms include tingling and numbness of the extremities (your arms and legs), muscle spasms, cold sensitivity (someone with FM can always tell when the weather is about to change), and a high rate of restless legs syndrome. Stress is not the cause of fibromyalgia, but stress exacerbates any chronic disease, so proper management of stress is essential to keeping your pain, fatigue, and sleep problems as mild as possible.

Fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory disease. It is also not a progressive disease, though symptoms wax and wane over the course of several months, and can be disabling. If you are experiencing inflammation and/or illness progression, see another doctor for other illness possibilities besides fibromyalgia, which may only be a symptom of another, more serious disease process or underlying infection.


We know Fibromyalgia can disappear when it is associated with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. But what about otherwise? Does treating the main disease causing the FM, make the FM go away? That certain wasn’t the case when I fell ill; my FM stayed when the M.E. went into remission, and went away after I got Lyme disease! What makes this even more difficult to determine, is its consistent over-diagnosis. For instance, there are probably thousands of people who have been diagnosed with FM who actually have M.E., who just had the unfortunate circumstance of being diagnosed with FM first, and just stopped looking for other explanations. And nearly everyone I know with Lyme disease initially had a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia (or both) before they found out the actual cause of their symptoms; I wish I were only exaggerating!

I’m not sure where I fit in with that group. Things happened to me in the reverse order that would otherwise “make sense.” But I will write about that next, in a post describing the differences between CFS, M.E., FM, and Lyme disease.

For right now, I want to talk a little about how I treated the syndrome, in case that might be of help to others. I don’t claim these to be the cure–I think it most likely remitted of its own natural accord–but they did help me immensely, and I could always, always tell when I was forgetting one of them. Maybe someone else will also find relief?

  1. Magnesium.

    You’ve probably read about this all over the internet, right? Sure you have. Well, it’s not just hype. I’m not going to pretend to know the mechanics behind why it helped, but daily supplementation with magnesium not only reduced my Migraine attacks (a condition I was born with) from twice a month to twice a year, but greatly reduced my muscle pain. I’ve read many an article overanalyzing the right “type” of magnesium to take for Fibromyalgia, but I can only tell you this: I bought the plain ole Magnesium oxide with chelated Zinc from Walmart and it worked without fail. One important thing to note before you dismiss this one: I’ve always had normal serum magnesium in blood tests. The amount in your blood is not an accurate way to determine the actual amount of magnesium in your body.

  2. Foam mattress topper

    This might should actually be number one… It’s that important. You have to understand that fibromyalgia is made worse by contact (in general, really, but especially) with the pressure points…which, if you’ve been diagnosed, you might know are practically everywhere. It should then be easy to grasp why relieving this pressure whilst sleeping is absolutely essential to easing your symptoms, especially when you’re pressing on them for eight hours at once. Invest in this, no matter what. You will not regret it. I couldn’t sleep on something that didn’t have my two inches of bed foam for even one night. When I would try to visit friends and family and sleep there, I would wake up after a couple of hours in excrutiating pain, from the pressure on these tender points. Sleeping better will also help your cognitive abilities (memory and mental functions) improve.

    • Also, for TMJ-related pain and/or head pressure, invest in an amazing pillow. You deserve it, and you need it! It’s all about support and relieving pressure on a body that interprets pressure as pain. I’ve personally been using Simmons Latex Foam Pillow (I cannot stand memory foam) and mine lasted 7 years before needing replacement–you will get your money’s worth!
  3. Protein.

    You know what honestly made me start increasing my amount of protein? It was back in the day when Montel Williams still had Sylvia Browne (a world reknown psychic) on his show on Wednesdays. Every time someone mentioned having fibromyalgia (which was largely unheard of back then), she’d tell them to eat more protein (and less sugar). I figured, it couldn’t hurt me one bit to try it, so I did. And I’ve been doing it ever since. (I’m not vouching for her abilities or inabilities one way or the other, but that information helped me. I now also know that people with infections requires 50% more protein in their diet than those without, so that’s another reason for me to continue.) I made a pact with myself to get an adequate source of protein every single day for two weeks to see if it made a difference. Obviously, it did! For me, it was chicken, and luckily there are hundreds of ways to prepare it so I didn’t get bored. For vegetarians it might be soy, or something similarly protein-rich that contains all essential amino acids, but I noticed I had more energy and was not as weak. I highly recommend you try the same test.

    • We all know too much sugar is bad for us. I switched to honey instead of sugar in my coffee, and cut down on my intake of white-flour, empty-calorie foods (which admittedly wasn’t very difficult since I didn’t eat a lot of that stuff to begin with). Honey is structurally different than sugar, containing mostly fructose and glucose (instead of sucrose), so your body can use more of its properties for energy instead of donating it to your fat reserves. =)
  4. Aloe vera.

    If I had a dime for every person who told me “thank you” for telling them about this one! Fibromyalgia is, without fail, associated with some degree of irritable bowel syndrome; if ever a case existed without IBS, I’ve never heard of it. This stuff will help if your digestion is too slow or too fast (and most IBS sufferers cycle in-and-out throughout, sometimes, even the same day). I’ve had people tell me they’ve even been able to start eating foods they previously couldn’t touch! Hopefully, if you try this, you’ll have the same reaction?

    Puritan’s Pride recently changed their aloe vera gel capsules, and I’ve noticed that even though the strength hasn’t changed, I now need two of these daily to give me the same effect as one of their old-model capsules. :\ But I’ve been taking one (well now, two) a day for at least eight years. It has many other health benefits, but mostly, it’s to protect the intestinal tract and help keep things from acting out, whether one extreme or the other. Note that it’s very important to consume the inner aloe vera leaf gel, not just the ground leaf, like you may also find if you’re searching for an aloe vera product. People have also told me they get relief from drinking it, but the gel capsules are much simpler, if you ask me.

  5. Flexeril.

    This is one of the first things your doctor used to give you for Fibromyalgia before Lyrica came around. It’s a muscle relaxant that some say is similar to tricyclic antidepressants (but you’re not taking it to cure some delusional illness belief), while others say it’s more similar to cyproheptadine (which is typically an allergy medication that has an extensive list of other uses)… My vote is on the latter, because I’m extremely sensitive to it, like I am to cyproheptadine. The point is this: People with fibromyalgia do not enter the restorative stage of sleep as often as healthy people, so whenever you do, you have to make it count.

    Flexeril (and other similar drugs, but this is the one usually handed out) makes it to where your muscles relax during those rare restorative sleep stages, allowing your body to heal more than if you hadn’t taken anything. The difference is noticable, particular when you’re in one of those “waking up every hour” phases that leave you a zombie during the day, and contributes substantially to the “fibro fog” part of the illness. You may not be able to keep from awakening fifty times a night, but at least you’ll get the most out of whatever sleep you do get. Now, I eventually had to switch to Robaxin (methocarbamol, another muscle relaxant) because I couldn’t tolerate the sedative effect of Flexeril, but just be sure to try something.

  6. Exercise daily.

    If you’ve made it this far down the list, I hope you’ll stick with me through this section! I cannot stress enough (1) how much exercise is essential for fibromyalgia, nor (2) how difficult it is to get started. Second to no other treatment does it improve fatigue and stamina, and only second to the mattress topper did it improve my pain (i.e., it helped a lot). I could always feel my symptoms worsen when I hadn’t exercised for a day or two. The type of exercise I’m talking about is, for all intents and purposes, graded exercise therapy. This is the type of exercise that studies claim helps chronic fatigue syndrome, but don’t mistake this for being a treatment for M.E., which again, is not the same as CFS. I absolutely could not exercise until my M.E. began to go into remission. Only then was I able to very slowly start doing exercise, gradually adding on more and more activity.

    The first goal is to have fifteen minutes of activity a day. At first, I could only walk laps around my house in five increments of three minutes each, spread out across the day. Next, I moved on to three increments of five minutes each (i.e., more activity at once). Also, every morning I would sit up, and very slowly rotate all of my joints, to fight the terrible morning stiffness; it was practically the only way I could move, particularly during the colder months. Then I started adding in the gentle stretching, using a similar method: First, five minutes a day of very slow, gentle stretching, only as far as my muscles could go, and eventually I was able to stretch for a full fifteen minute routine at once, with some music to make it more enjoyable.

    Do not try to do it all at once at first, nor force yourself to stretch like a “normal” person would–you are not normal! Even with this graded approach, it was still unbelievably painful, and followed the next day by a huge increase in pain. But with fibromyalgia, you don’t stop just because it hurts the next day; you cannot, or you will lose whatever progress your body has accomplished. The first two weeks were absolute hell. I was exhausted and beyond sore the next day, and moreso the day after that, and so forth, until “the pain stage” (as I not-so-affectionately call it) finally passed. Then I started to reap the benefits of my very hard labor, and noticed that my symptoms were actually worse if I didn’t exercise. (Only someone with FM can understand how mind-numbingly painful it is just to try and stretch for five minutes at a time!)

    Important: This is the exact opposite of treating myalgic encephalomyelitis, and in my opinion, the biggest proof that M.E., CFS, and FM are not the same thing. If your muscles become inconsolably weak and begin to fail the next day, and worser still every additional day to the point that they may even literally stop working, you have more going on than “just” Fibromyalgia. Additional exercise will causes illness progression in M.E., so STOP. (Also possible, if not M.E., is that you may have Lyme disease and/or Babesiosis, chronic viral infection, hyperthyroidism, et cetera; i.e. other illnesses that cause muscle weakness in response to exercise, with no eventual benefit.) But this is NOT the same as experiencing more pain or fatigue like you would with Fibromyalgia, because let me be the first to state the obvious: You are going to hurt, and be exhausted, and not want to continue. But I can also tell you on behalf of myself and everyone else who’s ever successfully initiated an exercise routine with Fibromyalgia: It will help you.

Am I cured forever? Maybe. I have days where something strange will happen–a herx from my medicine, a day of severe stress, a storm passing through–where I will get a rush of pain that feels just like fibromyalgia, and leads me to think the mechanisms behind it may not actually be gone as much as they’re just not currently active. But I no longer suffer from its trademark symptoms. Even the type of cognitive problems I experience now, with the M.E. and Lyme disease, are different than that which accompanied the Fibromyalgia. And I no longer have chronic pain in all of my muscles and tendons, irritable bowel syndrome, or trouble waking up 10-20 times per night.

And I thank God for that, because if I had to deal with that terrible illness on top of the severe disease I already battle, I don’t know what my life would be like, or if I’d even still have one. I can only keep hoping that it never gets re-triggered, especially since there is practically no information out there about the reoccurence of FM in myalgic encephalomyelitis… I have the feeling though, that with all I’ve been through the past five years, if it were going to reappear, wouldn’t it have already done so?

a rainbow at night

Almost finished with bartonella treatment!!

I used to post much more often than this, I know, but… Things are somewhat monotonous! I don’t have to constantly be on top of symptoms every five to seven days to post updates as regularly. Or at least I don’t think I do… Last month, around the 5th, and then the 10th, I had the same symptoms as this month, around the 5th, and then the 10th… I’m not sure what that’s about.

The past few weeks I’ve still been antsy over my random symptoms. Flu-like, fever (99.5 on the 6th–probable Lyme?), severe headaches, neckaches, dizziness, legs going very weak/requiring wheelchair, POTS, poor mental state. All very possible Lyme symptoms! But this is my last chance to make sure there’s no reliable pattern before we stop the bartonella treatment. These are possibly my last few days on Rifampin, after being on it a year! I also don’t think I’d be able to tolerate a maintenance dose of my Bactrim (i.e., two single-strength tablets per day) plus the Minocycline and Tindamax I think he’s switching me to this week… But! I am comforted by the fact that Minocycline has bacteriostatic action against bartonella (and mycoplasma), so even if there are some remnants, they won’t be able to replicate! :)

At any rate, Lyme is being.. interesting. I have not have a headache for about a week! Which is very ironic, because they’d otherwise become daily events! (Also ironic is I didn’t have a headache the last time I posted!) I just don’t get the bartonella-related headache anymore, the ones that hurt in the front of your head like a sinus headache might. I have about half of the symptoms I had at this time last month. The inflammation is way down so I haven’t needed any ibuprofen. Severe fatigue for several days, weak legs, numbness in my legs, episodes of arthritis, an internal tremor all day yesterday… What has surprised me with its reoccurence is the sensation of a bruise on the back of my left ankle, just like last month! It’s not an actual bruise, I don’t think, because it just spontaneously happened while I was lying down, and then I was limping the rest of the night. It makes no sense, but it’s obviously something Lyme related. It’s like achilles tendonitis that only lasts one night, haha.

I don’t have the results of my thyroid ultrasound yet but the technician said I only had like three little cysts??? That’s very good!

I leave you with a quote from Ralph Marston. :)

“Frustration comes from focusing on what you cannot control.
Achievement, on the other hand, comes from focusing on all the useful and valuable things you can do.

Resentment comes from seeing yourself as a victim.
Effectiveness comes from stepping up and taking responsibility.

If you constantly complain that life is unfair, you’ll blind yourself to the best opportunities.
Yet by simply accepting that what’s done is done, you’ll find a way to make the most of it.

Don’t waste your time arguing and fighting with life.
Instead, invest your time and resources in inspiring and encouraging the best in yourself and in those around you.

There is good, positive, fulfilling value to be lived every day, in any situation.
Choose to be the person who shines a light on that potential value and who brings that value fully to life.

Let go of the frustration, resentment and despair by letting the positive possibilities fill your awareness.
Embrace and enjoy the immense power that comes from taking full, unconditional responsibility for all you are and all you experience.”

a rainbow at night

First post of 2012! (Some pictures, a painting, and a recap.)

Your 2011 year in blogging

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

In 2011, there were 99 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 123 posts. There were 37 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 29th with 83 views. The most popular post that day was How I Forgave the Doctors That Called Me Crazy.

Well thank you, everyone! I’ve recently begun getting a lot of hits on my black bean brownie recipe, too? Who would have thought!

I hope 2012 will be a productive year. In just a few weeks I’d have completed my bartonella treatment, hopefully. More on that once I actually get there, but I haven’t–to my knowledge–had any reliable exacerbations every five days. ;) My LLMD was impressed, and said one more month of treatment, to be sure.

Okay, so I’ve managed to post about life lessons, recipes, and articles lately, without any mention of how I’m actually doing… So symptom charting, right! I had a mini-flare (???) around the 16-23rd of December but it wasn’t too severe–the main symptom was excruitiating fatigue. For the past five days (about) I’ve had lots of what appear to be Lyme symptoms. This is pretty typical since I often have a Lyme flare up at the beginning of the month. The “fire foot”/”hot foot” sensation, in my left leg. The “dragging left leg” thing, yesterday. Numbness in my left leg, and today in my hands. Facial nerve disturbance (pictures I take of myself during this scare me a little!). Severe cognitive dysfunction. Joint pain, nasty headaches (but none today!), worse fatigue, minor palpitations, internal tremor, eyes going every-which-way, seeing things, temperature of 99.5, complete lack of appetite, needing ibuprofen every evening. I stopped having headaches for I think a week…then they were back. The past week I’ve also found several bruises–one on my ankle, one on my shin, one on the back of my arm, and another on the back of my elbow on the other arm. One actually appeared on a day I know I didn’t hit anything, so I’m assuming them to be sporadic. Anemia-related? It took me about a week to recover from Christmas, but it went very well–I took lots of rest breaks!

Randomly, my new favourite thing to put my lemon juice in, is pineapple juice. Three ounces of pineapple juice (natural, not concentrate!), 1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and three ounces of sparkling water–detoxing never tasted so wonderful!

Also randomly: I’ve developed a new migraine trigger of…cheetos. Yes, cheetos. Apparently fake “cheese flavoring” is not something my brain likes. Nor is the sucralose (splenda) I found in my antacids, of all places!

Since my last ability scale checkpoint in October (which was right after I started Bactrim, but before the Lyme had a chance to hit me again) I have gone back down a bit. In general, I was thinking last week that.. as much as I hate to admit it, I think I’ve overestimated myself on the ability scales, out of genuine forgetfulness of what it’s like to be healthy. I have been ill for a length of time that begets forgetfulness about what normal people, with their non-diseased bodies and mitochondria, are capable of…
I remember enough to know that I could go go go all day then sleep it off and be fine; that I could lift things all day and just be sore from it, not experience muscle paralysis; that I could think about a tedious problem (technology or math) and not get physically ill from the mental exertion; and that I could keep things in my short-term memory for more than a few seconds. But for the most part, I forget that my level of improvement is completely relative, and that my 40% or 50% is completely different than someone else’s. Perhaps those who read my blog and happen to be less ill, or those who are healthy, don’t realize that, either. It might really become a problem if I were to tell someone in charge of determinig my disability status what level I think I’m at, because 50% recovered to me, just means being able to take care of myself and my basic needs!
None the less, since my last checkpoint, I am for now at: 15% physical ability, 15% cognitive ability, and 40% symptom severity. I’ll reiterate that bad days are worse, and good days are.. well, better/higher up on the scale. For instance, today I was up a lot more, and New Year’s Eve was also a better day in which I stood up a lot and didn’t need much assistance. But in general, this is where I am. I need caffeine to take all my baths, and even then they are often an immense task, but I’m just so glad I still have those options!

I’d like to end this with some pictures I took on a day when I was bedbound, as well as one I took when I wasn’t! Afterward, a painting I did a couple of weeks ago, when my days were horrible but, for some reason, I felt better for an hour or two each night (probably from resting all day).

Clicking them will obviously enlarge them in the gallery, then if you want to read more about a particular picture (or comment), click on “permalink” and it will take you to the individual description page. Happy New Year, my fellow spoonies!

a rainbow at night

So, is everyone surviving the holidays?

I’m making it a goal to NOT be hospitalized or require any emergency services this December, as the past two years haven’t been very kind to me. First a ridiculous bartonella flare, then almost going into probiotic-induced septic shock… Always within the week closest to my family celebrating Christmas! Well! I’d like to be able to fully enjoy my holiday season, and not have to spend it recovering from an exacerbation! I think I could probably handle a minor infection now, if it passed my way, but it still wouldn’t be without consequence and it’s something I want to avoid if at all possible. Family members have colds and sinus infections, but I have face masks! I joke about drawing hearts on them to make them more stylish. If Japan can do it, why can’t I?

So that Lyme flare got pretty bad. My muscles twitched constantly, and I soon started getting the internal tremor–the sensation that your entire body is vibrating, and that’s a Lyme symptom I haven’t had in a long while. I experienced severe muscle weakness in my legs for several days in a row and was wheelchair bound most of the time, even though using it was almost impossible. (I may or may not have mentioned, but I use a transport wheelchair instead of a normal self-propelled wheelchair. It doesn’t have wheels on the sides, so I self-propel with my legs, which are stronger than my arms because I don’t use them as much… That probably makes little sense, but when you have M.E., the muscles you don’t use very often are actually the strongest ones, and the ones you use the most become the weakest.) I remember starting to become concerned about it, but as the flare lifted, so did all the neurological quirks. A few days ago I went to the store without any assistance from mobility scooter or even a cane–a stark contrast to the previous week! My cognitive abilities have been poorer than usual, but these things go in cycles (every three weeks, remember?) so I may just be in a poor-brain stage. Since the flare though, I’ve had an increasing amount of headaches… I’m not sure if this is a three-weeks-of-headaches thing happening, or if it’s because of me not treating the Lyme, or what, but if it doesn’t lift after I begin specific Lyme treatment, I shall need to see a neurologist. Or perhaps I’ll just ask my LLMD next week when I speak to him, and see if he thinks I should go now…

It’ll be hard to decipher what is what, since I KNOW my headaches are going to explode once I start Tindamax next month. I told my primary doctor today about everything, and she’s excited about me starting it because of the recent in-vitro research that showed Tindamax kills up to 90% of both round (cyst) and normal (spirochete) forms of the Lyme bacteria. She also armed me with a new bottle of Lortab, so I’ll be ready for the insufferable headaches.

I have to write about a small bit of worry I have, though… On the 5th of December I got a severe headache, and that day I awoke with a bump on my finger. This is usually something I’ve associated with my bartonella flares, in the past… Then on the 10th, I got another bad headache, but I’m not sure if there’s any determinable pattern because that’s also the day I started M.E.-flaring from the trip to the store two days prior. :\ Could these finger bumps be Lyme, instead? And I HAVE been a tad more irritable, but again, nothing that screams bartonella at me… I’m just very wary of anything forming a pattern that would suggest it may not be disappearing afterall. I sincerely hope it’s just other factors. I’ll know as time passes whether or not things are being reliable enough to consider a threat.

Well, that’s all for my update right now, though I’m sure there’s more to be said. Oh, but I did update my picture on the right of the page. :)

Take care, my dears.

Keep going. No matter what you do, no matter how many times you screw up and think to yourself “there’s no point to carry on,” no matter how many people tell you that you can’t do it–keep going. Don’t quit. Don’t quit, because a month from now you’ll be that much closer to your goal than you are now. Yesterday you said tomrorow. Make today count.”

a rainbow at night