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

It feels like I’m talking about someone else’s life, sometimes…

So, in my last post, I said I’d give myself another two weeks off treatment and then re-evaluate my state of health to see whether or not I should restart treatment for Lyme disease. Something happened to help me make that decision.

I got an ear infection. Just a minor bacterial one which I get about once a year if I’m not already on antibiotics at the time. (Well, at least compared to a VIRAL ear infection, they’re minor.) I’m a miniature pharmacy so I already had the Z-pack needed to treat it.

I took one pill (and you’re supposed to take two at first, but I didn’t think that’d be smart for me…I was right) and spent that night feeling unimaginably ill while trying not to have a mental breakdown.

Fellow Lymies already know this, but: Zithro is the cousin of the medication I’ve been on (Biaxin) to treat Lyme disease, and also a potent treatment option in itself, so taking it affected a lot more than just trying to help my ear. There was fever, chills, constant shaking, dizziness, numbness, nausea, and a host of other things, like not being able to remember my best friend’s name (?!?!). But the real “kicker” was that I felt that way from just one pill

After being off meds for a month and a half, I can’t even handle one pill. :|

I can only handle half-a-pill, which is less than a child’s dose, and I can only hope it will be enough to cure my ear infection… But it’s definitely not enough to treat my disease. If anything, these tiny half-doses may keep things from progressing too quickly, but will also make me a target for drug-resistant bacteria, and then talk about being in a mess…!

This does take away the choice (mostly) of whether to begin treatment again or not, because it’s obvious I physically cannot do it, and mentally, I am still so, so tired.

Toward the middle of November, I thought I was doing better. I left the house three times in a week, and (not the same days, but) I had three consecutive days with no pain. So I thought I was getting over the relapse, until this happened. I was just a little crushed… But it is what it is, right?

I’m not sure what’s going to happen from here. My friends say I can always begin treatment later after I’ve rested a bit more, but this is the equivalent of waiting until a cancer is stage 3 or 4 to begin treating. The disease is advanced, it’s harder to kill, and the treatment will be that much worse. (And the Lyme disease is stage 3, meaning it’s.. everywhere. And it does not wait for you to be able to handle antibiotics.) But regardless, this may be my only option, and all I can do is hope that with more rest, I will be able to begin treatment again in the future, and be able to handle it.

If not, well… C’est la vie, que sera sera, and all that jazz.

 

I stopped doing the ability scale checkpoints because they are a reminder of how I haven’t made much progress since finishing bartonella treatment. Now, I don’t want to make that sound mediocre… If that disease was still present, I wouldn’t even have the luxury of wondering whether or not handling treatment was an option; I’d just be dying very quickly again!

But the truth is still that I kept waiting for a stable period to make an assessment, and that has yet to happen. I repeatedly had to pause treatment, take such-and-such different medication, take this-and-that medication to balance out the first one, then relapse, recovery, relapse again, and whatever progress I did make, I just kept going downhill again.

I made my last checkpoint at the beginning of this year and I can honestly say I am still at that place, in general, with the obvious adjustment that my symptoms are more severe for the time being due to relapse. But at least I am not any worse than that. I like being able to breathe and walk on most my days. And I do think I am a bit recovered from this relapse that began at the beginning of October.

I can handle longer periods of light, I can be out of bed more, and I have longer stretches with less pain. The translation of that is: I can usually use technology for several hours a day instead of bursts of twenty-minutes until I couldn’t bear it anymore; I make it out of my room several times a day instead of barely once, and sometimes I can leave the house; and my “usual” needed dose of pain medication is once a day, instead of always twice a day…and I have random days where I don’t need any at all. So,

  1. without intervention of medicines like caffeine (which is the only thing that enables me to do things like take a bath, or have a stable blood pressure), or pain medications (which are the only reason I can be active at all); and
  2. with 100% being completely recovered,

I am currently at 15% physical ability and 20% cognitive ability. As we all know, there are better days and worse days, but in general…

And with 100% completely symptom-free, I am at 10% symptom severity. Though I think the chart should be in reverse for that section, because initially “10% symptom severity” sounds as if I only have symptoms 10% of the time, and it’s the exact opposite:

“Moderate to severe symptoms (6–8) at rest. There is moderate to severe pain (6–8) and/or sensations of illness/dysfunction throughout the body and brain for much of the day. Symptoms are severe (8) following any physical or mental activity with a recovery period as low as hours, or as long as days to months, or longer. It is all the person can do to just get through one day at a time.”

 

Thankfully I do have medications to help me get through this difficult time, and all the support in the world from my friends, fellow spoonies, and doctors, about whatever decision I have to make. (My family unfortunately has no idea of the magnitude of this… Right now, I’m not sure I’d want them to know, until I can give them an idea of what we’re looking at…) And I have an appointment with a pain management specialist next week, and I see my Lyme disease specialist on the twelfth. So this is where I am at!

a rainbow at night

(P.S. – Today is my 2-year WordPress Anniversary!! I never imagined so many people would be helped by the words I share. Thank you, all. Stay strong with me!!)

No more minocycline and guilt over happiness.

The reason I have this blog is to keep track of my symptoms and occasionally share a ramble. I never imagined I’d be getting thousands of visitors… Thank you, for your views and your comments, and I sincerely hope the things I’ve written can help someone else. Many of you have shared that they have, and I will always feel blessed by it.

So yes, I need to update on a few things for future reference… The first one being: My brain fog. If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: Flagyl gives me the worst brain fog ever. I’m glad I only take it four days a week. My typing has been fairly atrocious lately (sometimes worse than others) so I apologize in advance if this entry doesn’t come out right. I know some of you have to translate it into your native language and this one might not be.. erm.. see, I can’t even think of how to finish that statement! :\

My eyes have been hurting for weeks. I’m so sensitive to light, and I get stabbing pains in them. I’ve spent the past week in the dark. My nervous system has been very sensitive, in general, since I started treatment, however my eyes don’t usually hurt this much… I’m wondering if the Nasonex has anything to do with it. I’ve taken it for.. probably a decade, now? But I had a two year break, and I don’t recall it having an accompanying Glaucoma Warning in the past…? But it does, now. I’ve stopped needing it, so I stopped it two days ago. Today my eyes ARE better, but it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from that. It’s probably just coincidental timing and I’ll get a severe case of eye pain tonight like I did yesterday, aha. If in the future, however, I start Nasonex and get crazy eye symptoms, I’ll know something.

It would appear that warning-hive I got a few weeks ago held true to its title. On the 12th of May, I got very, very sick, and had to stop all antibiotics. Aside from the fact that I felt completely flu-ish with a severe headache, I’d gotten to the point that I could not eat anything, even drinking water was becoming difficult, and amassed in me shaking, becoming dehydrated, and needing Zofran three times a day to keep my nervous system from having a meltdown. These are the same things that the Doxycycline did to me last year before I was hospitalized for five days. We were worried that the minocycline might do this, too, which is why we’ve been easing into it for all these weeks… It’s clear now that I can no longer handle the tetracyclines. I’m just glad that (1) I knew what was about to happen so I stopped the medicine in time, and (2) that I basically had available to me the same medications that they gave me last year to pull me through it (except re-hydrating took a tad bit longer without an IV). After three “missed” doses of antibiotics I was able to eat a chicken sandwich, and it’s been a steady improvement since then…well, at least in regards to being able to eat and keep food in my system.

Wednesday I couldn’t breathe again, having much the same symptoms as two weeks prior. And I’m still having that problem: I cannot breathe when I sit up, but as long as I’m lying down, I’m pretty much okay, though I still have to gasp for air every so often.

Now, I’ve had flare-ups every two weeks for almost two years, now–since summer of 2010, I believe, when I took grapefruit seed extract (GSE) for a few weeks–so this isn’t too much of a shock. But I usually have Lyme symptoms during those flare ups. This time, I haven’t. At all. I’ve had lung pains, and coughing a lot, and an inability to breathe right. That can’t be Lyme disease?

The reason I assumed the GSE had woken up the Lyme disease when I took it, and gave me flares every two weeks instead of every four weeks, is because GSE is a supposed to be a destroyer of Lyme cysts (i.e., the cysts that the bugs were hiding in, open up and start causing symptoms, then you can kill them with antibiotics)… Well, I’m on Flagyl, which is THE cyst buster, so could that have anything to do with my minor Lyme symptoms during these flares? Or is this not Lyme disease at all, and is it Mycoplasma? My money is on the latter for this particular scenario, given the hive and the breathing problems and lung problems which are all the things that I was worried might happen. :\ Because I tell you, my other symptoms are very mild. Shockingly so. When I was off antibiotics this past week, my neuro symptoms barely even flared up! I’ve been having mild “hot foot” sensations in my right leg, and that’s about it. (My tags say I last had that.. well, let’s just say that every time I’ve mentioned it, I’m also talking about Mycoplasma… The evidence mounts!) Nothing went to attack my arms, nothing started quickly progressing like a starved animal waiting to pounce… That is very exciting, and makes me feel like we’ve at least done something the past four months. As I usually say, time will tell! I’ll keep updating on it, and hopefully a pattern will emerge.

Until then, we just make sure I’m on both Lyme and Mycoplasma antibiotics. So I started Biaxin today! I’ve heard great things about this one, and it treats borrelia burgdorferi and mycoplasma pneumoniae and even bartonella, in the event that some of those critters have survived and are saving up for a revolt. Also, the pills are bright orange!

Ah, and so far, I feel accomplished with my goal to not be advocacy-frenzied. I’ve reposted/retweeted a few things, but that’s about it. Life is good, despite everything. I’m happy, even though I feel like I have society and ten thousand other sources telling me I’m not allowed or shouldn’t be… I’m sick, I’m “supposed” to be complaining about everything, right? Ha. Last week I felt the urge to announce, “I’m so happy to be alive.” Because I was. Because I am. And afterward I felt so odd about it. One friend said, “You feel odd because society tells you to complain about your woes. You’re happy because you see what matters most.” Which is pretty dead-on. Another said that people see someone like me “who is thankful for another day and enjoys life as much as possible, and they make a hateful comment” because they’re trying every materialistic avenue available to them and still can’t feel happiness and appreciation.

I suppose when it comes down to it, I was worried someone would take it in the wrong way, or find a way to interpret it negatively, or think I was just “saying it to be saying it” even though I really do mean it. Also, I didn’t want it to sound conceited? I know people going through minor troubles who are very bothered day in and day out, and I have.. erm, well, a lot of daily troubles and suffering and yet lately I have maintained happiness. It’s just a fact. So I don’t want it to sound like I think I’m better than anyone, or something. Because I used to be bothered by daily insignificant things, too! I’m just so happy to not be that person anymore, to have inner joy no matter what, and I want to keep that balance between expressing that happiness about it, but not rubbing it in everyone’s faces. Then again, I only have so much control over how other people interpret what I say, especially when I know my heart is in the right place: Again, balance.

a rainbow at night