New month, new progress, new test results

Spider Web, Rockefeller Forest, Humboldt Redwoods State Park © a rainbow at night

I’m pleased to be writing that I’ve made many great strides in getting my life back on track over the last three weeks. I logged back into my Twitter account and began using it on a daily basis; participated in two “spoonie” meet-ups online, #SpoonieChat and #SCTweetFlix; am replying to some messages when my brain has readily-available thoughts on the topic; and have joined a sort-of spoonie/artist/support group/project, even if I only participate sporadically.

Other things haven’t changed so much. I have yet to open any e-mails, or even log-in to my account for that matter. And I’m still staying far away from the M.E. community and the Lyme disease community, i.e. anything to do with that style of advocacy or activism. I momentarily tried to look at how the Lyme community was fairing, but immediately saw memorial posts concerning a young woman’s suicide. I’m not psychologically prepared for that constant exposure again, as I think I’ve made very clear. I stepped into the M.E. community to test the waters, also, but that was equally a mistake.

Mostly, I’ve gained back a lot of personal power that I didn’t even realize I’d given away. I’m on a journey here, and no one has the right to tell me how far along, or at what point on their map, I should be at. I don’t even have the right to talk to myself that way. I’m also under somewhat less stress now that I’m no longer shouldering my family members through their own recoveries. I still have a lot of trouble communicating, particularly in person, but since being on antibiotics for two weeks, that has temporarily improved. In hindsight I wonder if all my temporary improvements in brain function were due to the antibiotics, or just this time.

Now that I’ve moved into the part of grieving where you can look back and see why you handled things the way you did, I realize that I didn’t do much honouring of the choices I made, even the unconscious ones. But I now have the opportunity to re-frame and integrate the experience, so I’m going to take it.

I honour the parts of myself that knew not make my drama everyone else’s responsibility. I honour the parts of myself that recognized I had to heal a little bit more first, or all my interactions would be coloured by distortions too thick to see through. I honour the parts of myself that knew I needed merciful stillness, not ruthless force, and I honour that which gave me permission to listen.

Whereas part of me assumed I’d be swallowed by deep regret over the time lost, friendships lost, and God knows what else once I finally got free, I very surprisingly feel gratitude. 

I’m grateful for even having had the opportunity to take that “time off” to recover. I’m grateful for all the fights I didn’t provoke out of my own pain, had I forced myself to socialize. (Although, in the state I was in, I can’t imagine I’d have been able to find the words for any argument, honestly.) I’m grateful for me being able to realize I was the one who was overburdened with grief, and that it wasn’t anyone else’s job to revolve their life around me to fix that. (Not that I would even do that, but I recently witnessed someone who was blaming an entire community for their own emotional suffering, to the point that they thought the community had to change to make them happy. It did make me think, “Damn, I may have trouble being around certain groups, but at least I realize this is a personal issue, and that no one owes me an apology for living their own life the way they’re entitled to do.”)

I’m still terrified that the day will come when I’ll wake up and everything will have changed without me knowing why, that I won’t be able to tolerate anything again, or another severe trigger or actual lived trauma will set me back months or years. Just as I fear that the next bad headache will be the start of another relapse. Just as someone with depression fears that that one day of sadness will turn into six months of crushing despair. The difference now is.. well, probably something neurological, as the antibiotics have shown me. But I’m no longer allowing that fear to stop me from participating in whatever ways I can choose to, while I’m able.

Thanks to meditation, I have long since found the place in myself that knows It’s not the feelings, nor the thoughts, but the One who is experiencing those things. That place in me is always still, no matter what. To be simplistic, that’s what we call “the lion’s roar” in Buddhism, the ultimate truth within us that causes all other noise to fall away, like beings from all four directions bow away from the sound of the mighty lion’s roar claiming its territory.

From my current perspective, I have two options. I can listen to the survivor’s guilt, the irrational shame, and ruin my life (or at least this stretch of it). Definitely allowed, but not recommended, and clearly unbeneficial. Or, while I’m healing, I can remember that the end point of treatment will be to eventually FEEL that those thoughts are untrue, as well as know that. But the way I see it, there’s zero reason for me to wait until I FEEL those things aren’t true before I start living better. I know the chaos is full of lies, regardless. I know they’re lies now, and I’ll know they’re lies after recovery. Why do I have to wait for my ever-so-fickle feelings to catch up with what I already know, when I can just start living that way, right now? Yes, I’ll still have the thoughts, and they’ll still feel true for the time being, but I know they’re not, and I’d rather have the thoughts while I’m attempting to put my life back together, than have the thoughts while I’m holed up in my house for months.

I can’t give away my power to change the things I can. Because this is how I gave away my strength, by forgetting the immensity of power lying within all the tiny, monotonous choices that actually make or break your life. When I saw myself writing in my last post that I’d started to self-perpetuate my suffering, I knew I had to change that, or it was not going to end well. It also gave me a little hope, because I finally saw a piece of this that was within my control. If there was something I was doing to make this worse, then that also meant there was something I could do to make it better, simply by making a different choice. So I did, and here I am, three weeks later, continuing the momentum that sprung from me publishing that last post after six months of complete silence. That post took me three months. This one took me three weeks. That should say enough.

I don’t doubt I’ll still have “good days” and “bad days.” I’m trying to mitigate the chance of another “disappearance” a bit by taking Sundays offline, in hopes that, like so many other symptoms, if I just rest for a bit regardless of how I feel, I may be able to prevent whatever it is that builds up and make me cognitively shut down. I’m not sure if it’ll work, as I still have no idea what causes that, but I’m trying, damn it.


My latest tests results are equal parts disturbing and fantastic. Good news first?

My last homocysteine level before this one–which, in conjunction with a methylmalonic acid bloodtest, helps determines the rate of your folate metabolism, as well as suggest your risk of stroke and blood clots–was almost 30 (29.4). It’s supposed to be under 10.4 at the maximum, which means it was literally three times as high as it should ever be. Not great! Before my folate deficiency really kicked into gear, it was a lovely 7.2 umol/L. Well as of March, it’s all the way down to 15.8, which is basically only 5-points-above-normal. I’m almost cured of my folate deficiency!

Similarly, when I began treating these methylation problems, I could only tolerate a meager 100 mCg of methylfolate every 3 days. Now, I can tolerate a wonderful *500 mCg* every 3 days, and I’ll probably be able to increase that, soon. (As well as B12, of course, but I need more methylfolate than B12 at this point. I’ve found the hydroxo-cobalamin works much, much, much better than any other type, for me. So heads up: If you have the MTHFR C677TT homozygous polymorphisms, in addition to being homozygous–that is, having both/two copies–of COMT V158M, COMT H62H, *and* MAO-A R297R, like myself, you definitely want to take the hydroxocobalamin form of B12 and just save yourself the money and suffering of trying the other forms. Yes, it works even better than methyl-cobalamin.)

My cholesterol levels are also fantastic and I don’t know if I mentioned here yet, but I’m no longer pre-diabetic after a lot of dietery changes to help treat PCOS. No relapses, there, either!

Now the bad news, even though I don’t know how significant this is yet because I don’t see my neurologist until next week. First, I haven’t found the results of my intracranial pressure reading, or else they aren’t putting it on my online chart, so I don’t know what’s going on, there. I did however get the results of my spinal fluid analysis, and while my glucose is normal (I think?), my protein is normal (I think?), and my white blood cells appear normal (pretty sure?), there were two things that were present that were absolutely not supposed to be: Lots and lots of neutrophils, and blood. I know this could point to meningitis, but I’d like to think if that were the case, my doctor would have called, because that’s serious? So I hope there’s some other explanation. I refuse to Google anything and scare the hell out of myself over what could be going on. I’ll find out soon enough.

Also, while I know the results of my MRI must be in by now, they, too, have not yet posted to my online chart, so I don’t know the results. And honestly, with the wave of fear that overtook me while reading the CSF results, maybe that’s a good thing, in the event it does reveal something troubling.


The spinal tap itself went great, but the recovery was peculiar, and combined with missing my IVIG for two additional weeks, I was feeling beyond terrible. The most bizarre symptom was that I could not stand more than two minutes without severe shaking, all over; the kind of trembling that makes even your teeth chatter together. But I wasn’t cold! Luckily it resolved as soon as I lied back down, but that definitely wasn’t in the “this could happen afterwards” care sheet.

About a week after the lumbar puncture/several days after my eventual IVIG infusion, I had all the symptoms of fighting some type of infection, but without a fever. It was enough to make the room tilt and spin whenever I moved, have hot and cold sweats, cause ringing in my ears, and ultimately a severe headache toward the end, but no fever? Then I remembered, I rarely ever get a fever, no matter what is happening. So after several days of that hell, I said “screw it” and started my antibiotics. I immediately began feeling better, as quickly as the next day. I spoke with my immunologist and was given more antibiotics, and I moved my appointment up by two weeks so we can discuss why my immune system isn’t able to stop all these bizarre infections from happening these last six months, even with the IVIG. I’ll also ask about mold exposure, because that’s a real possibility that I haven’t forgotten about.

During all of that mess I spent most of my time tweeting to pass the hours, and in the process befriended some great people. I tend to feel like an outcast on Twitter the longer I’m on there, so we’ll see how long I last on there this time.

Until next time,

 

Kit

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The Path of Least Disruption

“You don’t have time for perfect,” reminds Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic.

I’m still alive. And one of the reasons I haven’t been around is because I knew when I returned, I’d inevitably hear about all the people who were not. That might sound a bit crazy, but, even when I’ve taken a month long break, anywhere from 3-6 people in our community will have died. With the winter stretch of the year always being the worst, I can only imagine who we’ve lost, now.

I don’t know how anyone is supposed to be okay with this. No one can possibly be okay when the only people they can truly connect with are those with similar diseases, and then to continually, year after year, watch all those people keep dying. Or otherwise become unable to communicate in a sort of living death, something that happens all too often in my communities. How do you not develop some type of complex around this? How do you deal with the constant stress of knowing that any time you go to make contact, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll be knocked out by grief for weeks by the death of yet another friend? If anyone knows (and most do) what it’s like to live with a loved one as they’re dying, it’s the same fear you feel that the next time you enter the room, they will have already passed. That’s been my reality for years now, and I feel backlogged with grief. This can’t be healthy for anyone.

I’m 100% out of the loop with everyone. It’s as if I ran off to meditate in the remote forests of India for six months without telling anyone, and just got back. I haven’t been in a position to be anyone’s friend, as cold as that might sound. Or maybe it just sounds honest. There’s a family that needs me here; to coax them away from their fears by being their voice of reason, which is really just their own voice that they haven’t yet given themselves permission to hear; to nudge them towards seeking help, seeking God, and taking care of themselves; to fight for and protect the needs of the children, who might otherwise be overlooked; to show them the possibilities of loving life even when nothing goes the way they expect, or desire; and most importantly, to lead by example that you can face life exactly as it is; it might not feel great, and you will probably feel overwhelmed for large stretches of time, but it’s possible. The pain of facing the hardship of life is far, far, less than the destruction of a lifetime that comes from trying to avoid or ignore it. I’m so glad I’m able to be this person, still, for those in my immediate vicinity. But with the condition I’m in otherwise, it’s both the least and the most I can do. My cup is always full, and any spare “spoon” I pick up I try to use doing something I enjoy so I still want to keep living. So far so good.

"If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog." Jack Kornfield, A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times (2011).

Of course, when I do feel happiness–which happens more often than my serious, direct style of writing here belies–I’m immediately courted by survivor’s guilt. I’ve come to accept those intrusive thoughts for what they are–mental lies–and try not to take them too seriously. I know they’re a sign I need help, which I plan to get, somehow. As I keep saying: I won’t abandon myself. I just wish it didn’t feel like I had to abandon so many others to get through my own life, at the moment. I might be pouring too much thought into that, but that’s just part of who I am.

Lately, most of my attempts at self-compassion immediately detour to shame and guilt. Only after meditation did I even notice this had been happening. One moment I was feeling gratitude that I was able to wake up and listen to music for an hour and meditate, the next I was thinking of children in war zones who can’t do that, and people with illness so severe they can’t listen to music, and my brain’s idea of logic was that somehow me being able to do those things makes me “bad”… Because of course, me feeling guilty over the things I enjoy will help other people feel better, you see. Sigh.

My succinct, “life lessons style of writing” was never something I planned to do, but the extremes of my life birthed it. What I’m going to try to do now, is to take my site back to old school journaling. If you like to read that type of thing, read it. If not, don’t. I’m still non-existent on e-mail and social media for right now. There are “good days” and “bad days,” good stretches and bad stretches.

“Needing to isolate has to do with us, the sufferers. Pushing you out of [life is a] way to have some control over what is going on… We can’t handle the shit going on with us when people are always present, adding little things to the swarm going on in our heads. Sometimes it’s just too much and having people around, especially the ones we really love, it adds to overload. We get feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and don’t want to put that on others. Being in a relationship with someone with PTSD means understanding a sufferers need to isolate, and all the other shit that comes along with it.”

via user “silver.” on MyPTSD support forum

With a few exceptions, this level of distance from others has been the case for me basically all of 2016 and thus far this year, after a period of extreme acute stress in late 2015; the straw that broke the camel’s back and turned my solitude into survival. When I read that bit above, it’s spot-on about how the presence of people, even people we like, somehow adds “little things to the swarm” of mental overload. Just asking me a question can cause my thought process to short-circuit, but it’s impossible to describe why. I know how I feel inside, and what I think inside, but getting that across is another thing entirely. It reminds me of a certain interview with Whitney Dafoe before he became 100% bedbound, where he said he wished sometimes he could just be around his loved ones without them talking to him, if they could just let him be around them without actually interacting, he’d enjoy that very much. I enjoy that immensely, as well, but it’s nearly impossible to experience unless you’re with another Buddhist or on a silent retreat somewhere.

Last Spring I got to thinking I was just in a rut, so while having a good spurt, decided to force myself to socialize in the event it might help. But while I enjoyed myself at the time, it backfired spectacularly. Even that which I actually want to do, accumulates into a ticking time-bomb of how long I last before I need weeks of isolation to counteract it. This has been worsening for years, and after the flood… I just don’t know.

Louisiana Flood Damage Debris Pile, Before Pick-Up © a rainbow at night, 2016

It’s taken me years to realize that what I’m doing is a response to something else that’s happening internally, that I’m not just choosing to do this because I feel like being alone. I do enjoy being alone, and I will always make the best of things even if I can only tolerate my own company. As I read somewhere and found quite truthful, sometimes the fight to fit in becomes worse than the illness. But enjoying solitude is not the same as wanting to socialize and engage with your community, and care for the friendships you’ve cultivated, and in fact even knowing you need to socialize because isolation begets all sorts of awful things, but then being completely cognitively stunned by the first response you’re required to generate. I don’t know what’s happened, I don’t know why this is so much more difficult than other mental tasks or why it affects me so profoundly, but whatever this is, it is very clear to me now that it isn’t just some preference. And I have to stop beating myself up about it. I can’t be the only person who goes through this. In fact, I know I’m not.

The gist of it is: Sometimes interacting makes me worse, but sometimes I can handle it, and there is unfortunately zero difference in how it feels to me at the time, so absolutely no warning I can give if a disappearance is about to happen. It’s like trying to predict when my OCD or stuttering will suddenly worsen. Or like asking someone with RA or Lupus or MS when their next flare-up is due. It just doesn’t work that way.

Because of this, I’ve noticed it’s started to become self-perpetuated, also. There have been times when I wanted to finally reach out, only to then stop myself because I feared so much being unable to continue the momentum; that I’d just end up disappearing again. It’s my way of trying to minimize the damage of suddenly disappearing around people I thought I could keep contact with. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but this is all so unpredictable, so that feels inevitable. As one person said, “Who the hell wants to be around a touchy individual who tends to disappear off the map for reasons most people cannot fathom?”

© a rainbow at night

When I write this, and really look at it, I find compassion for myself in dealing with multiple, multiple diseases–of brain, of body, of thought–that make isolation my current reality. Being in stillness was, and can be, very therapeutic. I can find acceptance for where I am, and others tell me I’m some sort of inspiration for finding a way to enjoy life despite all of this, but I still end up thinking about my inability to be what others want, or need, or deserve. On top of it all, maybe I’m also grieving yet again for the loss of my former self, this time the person I used to be just a few years ago, who was able to engage with the world. Everyone I met, even strangers, would tell me that they could somehow feel my love for life when they were around me. And now…

More to say about my brain, so switching gears. Sort of.

Opportunistic infections are something I’ve been dealing with constantly since the flood. Skin infections, fungal infections, follicle infections, eye infections, repeated ear infections, repeated sinus infections, gastrointestinal infection from probiotics because I accidentally ate yogurt more than once… Then my seasonal winter relapse, followed immediately by a major health discovery that I’ll have to talk about on a different day.

Right now, I’m being worked up for multiple sclerosis, and/or increased intracranial pressure (aka intracranial hypertension), or both, or who knows what. Two doctors have confirmed my optic nerves are very pale and not getting adequate blood flow (suspected papilledema). My neurologist thinks this is because the pressure around my brain is.. well, pressing on things, and causing a significant amount of my symptoms. Yesterday I got a shit ton of bloodwork to make sure my kidneys can handle upcoming tests, then I’ll be getting another MRI with contrast, and an infrared-assisted lumbar puncture (spinal tap), both next week.

Much of the time I can literally feel a pressure in my eyes. Then with my ever-present headaches, the vision problems, worsening dizziness, tinnitus, and photosensitivity, alongside my significant changes in personality and cognitive decline, intracranial hypertension seems a given at this point. If confirmed, it will then boil down to why is it happening. There are endless suspects. I wonder if the IVIG may have either initiated this, or worsened something already in progress, because a lot of the changes I’ve experienced started immediately after that. Not that I’m complaining, because even if it did contribute to this, without the IVIG I would not have beaten the bartonellosis, or even be here to talk about this. I also wonder if the Lyme disease has any role, because while I haven’t had the symptoms I used to associate with it, these things currently happening are pretty much exactly what happens in late stage neuroborreliosis, which still, no ones knows whether or not is curable. You’d think it’d be as easy as checking for bacteria in my cerebrospinal fluid, but system-wide, borrelia prefer body tissue to hanging around in fluids where they’re more vulnerable. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s caused what, at this stage. And who knows, it may be something entirely new.

"I am scared. I'm scared that I don't know how many more good days I'll have. I'm scared of what this illness means, and I'm scared of what I know it can do to my life and my body. I'm scared that I'm not spending enough time with my family, I'm scared that I'm not telling the people that I love what I have to say and what they need to hear. I'm scared that I'm not living my life to its full potential. I'm scared that at any given moment my health could take a drastic turn in any direction that it wants to, and that it's out of my control. But no matter what happens to me, I know that my fears are because I care, my fears are because I still have good things in my life. I'm scared because things matter, so maybe it's not so bad after all." By @mrswelches

As for multiple sclerosis, I already meet all criteria for it, alongside a significant predisposition to developing it, so an official diagnosis could be imminent… But again I wonder how one would differentiate that from everything I already have going on? We shall see. But until the results are in, my IVIG infusions are on hold, because the possibility that an immune response to the blood product or a reaction to the intravenous fluids could worsen the pressure in my skull is too risky, not to mention getting others’ antibodies infused into me could alter my own test results. And “you have to do another spinal tap” is not something I ever want to hear.

I’m not going to say I’ll keep posting, because I’m not sure that I will, even if I want to. I won’t say I’ll try to get back to replying to comments and emails, because even though I want to, I’m not sure that will happen. I just know that I’m here, I’m posting right now after a huge effort to accomplish this, and despite 1000% evidence to the contrary, I still expect good things to happen in the future. Until next time…

Kit

A Relapse Within a Relapse

Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park © a rainbow at night

First, I can’t thank anyone enough for the response on my last post; it was quite unexpected. I’m glad to have touched the hearts of so many and to have received such a beautiful outpouring of love and support in the comments and e-mails that followed. It really helped me feel less alone, and you should all stop to think of how amazing you are for reaching out to a practical stranger. Thank you.

Right now the biggest thing on my mind is, a friend of mine who I wrote about several months ago, Brooke, is in the very final stages of myalgic encephalomyelitis. There were recently several weeks when insurance troubles denied her hospice care, during which she deteriorated very quickly. I do know she is getting at least some pain relief, and that is a blessing, and recent complications hint that it might not be too long…which is probably a blessing, too, if you ask me. She worked extremely hard to produce this post and a subsequent one to cover any confusion about her decision to deny “life saving” measures (questionable terminology) such as feeding tubes, which would only work to extend her suffering past her natural end. Her family will be delivering any updates as they occur.

[ETA: As of writing this, she’s managed to produce one more post clarifying that her amazing doctor convinced hospice to accept her for another 60 days. And amazingly, her bravery has led to being a part of an upcoming documentary about the severity of true myalgic encephalomyelitis, one that might chronicle her passing from this world in an effort that will accomplish her original goal of Documenting M.E. and all that it entails, to help spread the truth for us all.]


Also, I’m in the midst of a further relapse. My health has been in a state of decline since June, and additional stressor after additional stressor pushed my body over the edge. Or at least that’s what I assume happened, because I can’t pinpoint one particular thing that did it. I do know the emotionally draining act of writing a goodbye letter to my friend–because life happens–sent me into incapacitating illness for a straight week, during which I was struggling to remain conscious every single day. It was quite scary, but I’ve since become able to stay awake more easily…

It actually took me a while to realize I had relapsed. When I first felt the decline, I expected to recover in a few days, as my health is highly sporadic and changes every day, every hour, every ten minutes some days… And I even expected this recovery might be more extended because of the seemingly continuous stream of triggers… But while I was knocked out last week, it occurred to me that my waiting to improve back to my previous levels of energy had spanned about 8-9 weeks already.

I may write further posts on this and other topics, soon, but right now it’s easier for me to do other things that only require small periods of focus. I’m updating my website behind the scenes, mostly.

Please continue to send your prayers, metta, and positive thoughts to our dear Brooke, her husband, and the rest of her friends and family. Also, to everyone who has recently subscribed here, thank you, and rest assured I will continue to write. (The Life Lessons section has a collection of my favourite posts, in the mean time.) My girlfriend might even be helping write a few sections and/or articles. If you want to contribute either with writing or links that you’ve found particularly helpful, don’t be shy about getting in touch! This site is for my expression, but the information I stand behind should be for the benefit of all.

I shall be focused on finding stability in this relapse.

a rainbow at night

Reaching Out for Support with a Misunderstood Illness

© a rainbow at night

I was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of posting this… So you know what that means: I must.

I wish I had companionship with other people who identified with my particular variant of living with disease. Diseases for which there are barely any doctors who can or even want to help you. For which patients have to help each other find physicians. Who have had to fight to find even a sliver of support because the public is so disastrously misinformed about the true nature of their illness. Who have had limited or no help from the same group of organizations that would otherwise smother you in understanding and compassion, had you gotten a more acceptable or understood disease.

I wish I knew of the other people whose diseases didn’t have a cure and who’ve also exhausted all of their treatment options; treatments that tiny organizations of doctors have had to figure out, mind you–sometimes at the risk of being jailed–because if we did things the government’s way, we’d already be dead.

Where are the other people who simultaneously are so happy to be alive, valuing life immensely, yet who are also exhausted with day-to-day living? Who understand my uncertainty about the future because they, too, may be redirected from even having one? And the grief… Oh, the grief. There is no turning back this time. I grow more fatigued, more nerves die, my pain meds become stronger, and on rough days–in rough patches–the grieving is literally all I can handle. And it’s incredibly difficult to handle, when I feel I have no one to talk to about this who understands. Where are the support groups for people like me?

It’s almost impossible to find someone who’s tried the fight against late stage Lyme disease, in particular, and come to the same wall that I have: The understanding that the treatments have a greater chance of killing me than the disease itself, and that despite the severity, I stand a better chance at having a life if I let go of the need-to-treat and focus on LIVING.

No, most people aware of having advanced neuroborreliosis–aware that they have ANY progressive illness, really–approach it with a “die trying” attitude, no matter what. That works for some, as I’ve said many times. But I have neither time nor valuable energy to invest in treating a disease that cannot be treated without bringing me down with it. It’s because I’ve watched too many people actually die trying, that I know better. I’ve experienced on my own and witnessed enough in others to know that–unlike the inspirational recoveries in Under Our Skin–some cases are too advanced to treat, and attempts to do so actually cause the disease to advance quicker because the treatments are so harsh on systems already worn down. I am one of those cases, and I am not making that “mistake” again. I barely got through the first time I “woke it up”: We’re talking brain damage, endocarditis, almost needing a heart valve replacement, being bedbound 98% of the day and being plugged up to an oxygen machine. I fought back against all of that, but now, even attempts to gently fix the parts that are worn down, have almost hospitalized me, for the umpteenth time. And I don’t want to be remembered and honored for fighting a disease until it killed me, I want to be remembered and honored for living in spite of one.

It’s not as easy as just finding support groups for other people who are Buddhist, or have myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic Lyme, or bartonellosis, or mycoplasmosis. I was once part of a Buddhist support group for those with illness, that tried to enforce a sense of general support instead of conversation about specific diseases. It worked very well when people followed that, but people bring with them all of their life experience and inherited coping mechanisms, for better or worse made amplified by their chronic disease, and it became difficult to enforce that rule without the group splitting into camps. Not very helpful, and it just added stress.

The M.E. communities are usually full of people who don’t even have M.E., but CFS, so they don’t actually live with my symptoms or prognosis. And the only community specifically for M.E. I ever found actually barred users from even mentioning Lyme disease. It’s not my fault I got both, and I need to be able to talk about it. Since a major part of M.E. is accumulation of infections coupled with an inability to fight them off due to reduced natural killer cell function, one would think it extremely important to talk about how to deal with this…? Let’s not even get into the fact that bartonella is more of a threat to my health than Lyme, because most people don’t even know what bartonellosis IS.

AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED on the Lyme disease “support” groups. I am the horror story people use to scare others into getting treatment: Treat now, or the disease will turn into a serious, disabling condition and then it could be too late! Yeah, well…

And try telling those people that you’ve made the heart-wrenching–but I think very brave–decision to stop treatment, and it’s like you’ve told them you murder bunnies in your spare time. How can you do that? Don’t you know what will happen? There’s still hope, don’t “give up,” you’ve just done it all wrong, just try this, and that, and this…

I’m sorry my story scares you. No, we didn’t catch it in time. Yes, it is too late for either natural or pharmaceutical treatment to do anything (besides give me life-threatening herxheimer reactions). But my life still matters, and I still need support. And yet when I’ve reached out with a fragile heart, I’ve gotten judgment and condemnation instead.

For some reason, I had so much more support when I was still in treatment. Well, I’m still fighting for my life, I’m just doing it in a different way. 

It’s similar to when people with cancer realize they need or want to stop treatment and focus on life, and must tell everyone. It’s not always pretty, I get that. I researched a lot of support resources similar to this when I made my decision a year and a half ago, and it was extremely helpful… But I’m tired of researching help other people have gotten who aren’t me. Sometimes I don’t have energy to research support, I just want to talk to a friend who already understands what this is like and get things off my chest.

It’s essential for people with severe and especially misunderstood illness to build a support network, and the circumstances here are critically relevant to how someone experiences being sick in this way. Lately I’ve felt it particularly important to address this before things get more.. well, you know. But how?

So, if you understand this post, or know someone who might relate to it, please don’t be shy about sharing, commenting, or contacting me. To everyone else, thank you for letting me share my story.

a rainbow at night


ETA, 2014 August: This organization might be a start, for some: Online Patient Communities — National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).
ETA, 2016 Feb: Something of a miracle happened when my immune system started bottoming out due to my ever-growing infection load: My insurance approved me for IVIG, a $50k per year immunoglobulin replacement therapy for my primary immunodeficiency disease.

Coping with Chronic Illness: Your Life Is Not Over.

[ estimated reading time: 4 mins 39 secs ]
Update: This post has been featured on The Mighty: Thank you guys!


I received a message asking for advice from a person who was new to chronic illness, having just found out they had late stage Lyme disease. In construing a reply, I came up with a bunch of things I wished someone had told me. For a good book to accompany you on this road, I once again recommend How To Be Sick.

The first thing I believe most people want to know when they get sick, is that their life isn’t over. You’re scared, and you think your life cannot possibly continue unless it continues on the path you were already on before the illness arrived. I offer you my compassion.

Things are going to change, but I assure you, your life isn’t over. I ask you to consider that it never even paused at all. Your plans might have changed, but life is still happening, which I’m sure is evident as you watch others continue their own plans while you are forced to reconsider yours. Reconstruct, don’t abandon. The ultimate goal of everything we do in life is happiness for ourselves and others, so that we can enjoy ourselves and our time with loved ones, and if you’re still here, your ability to do this has changed but isn’t gone.

In the documentary film Wake Up, the wonderful mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee said to the struggling man who sought his help,

“I just see the divine within you struggling to make itself known to you, and taking you on a journey IT wants to go on…which may be not the journey YOU wanted to go on, your ego-self had in mind, but is the divine journey in you beginning to manifest.”

This really, really spoke to me on a core level, even though the film is not at all about illness. I don’t necessarily wholeheartedly believe that disease is predestined for a learning opportunity–illness and death are natural processes and not punishments–but I do believe the Universe can guide us through any situation so that it works out for our benefit. I think my spirit wants to get the most out of this hand it’s been dealt, and you might consider that yours does, as well. “What has awoken in you is not a passing phase.”

It’s okay to grieve the direction your life is no longer going. Just know there is more out there, and grieving is a part of joy. I repeat: Grieving is a part of joy. Don’t try to force yourself or your loved ones through the stages of grief faster than any of you can handle, and remember the process doesn’t follow a straight line.

You are going to be okay.

At first, you may be entirely focused on cure cure cure. You may seek validation that your symptoms are real and try to prove it to others through research, because the people in your life may not believe you, especially if your illness is invisible. If you eventually find a cure to be unavailable, you may spend long periods of time–weeks, months, or longer–trying to find a treatment to slow down your disease; your loved ones might go through this, as well. If that doesn’t work out, still, your life is not over.

Buy yourself nice things. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve nice things just because you’re sick or have to go on disability; this is the only life you have. Don’t wait to begin your life again “when [this or that] happens” because your life is already happening right now. Remember that the future is made from nothing more than present moments like these, and

“If the present moment has peace and joy and happiness, then the future will have it also.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Don’t let your surroundings be drab; make sure they make you feel good, mentally and emotionally. Get comfortable clothes. You probably spend more time in bed than anyone you know, so that needs to be comfortable, too. Invest in a pill organizer that doesn’t psychologically drain you. Make pain management a priority because uncontrolled pain is its own disease.

Learn to gracefully allow people to leave your life, but don’t close your heart when they go: You’ll need that open space for better people to walk into.

Be compassionate with people who don’t believe you. Remind yourself that if they truly knew how much you were really suffering, they would never treat you that way.

It’s okay to not treat your disease, because many advanced cases are incurable. It’s okay to treat your disease by any means necessary, also. If you choose one at one point, it’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to treat some aspects of your illness and not others. You may not have any control over the disease, but don’t let anyone–not even yourself–convince you that you’re not in control of which treatments happen to your body.

There are different groups in what many call the “spoonie” community, and you’re going to find where you belong. You’ll also probably change roles many times. There are the advocates; the emotional caregivers; the writers and bloggers; the medical advisers, some of whom are actual physicians; the philosophers…

For the people who continue to advocate and fight for advancements in how to help us, including medically, thank you, for you play a part in us being heard. For those who spend their energy enhancing their mental and/or spiritual growth, thank you, for you teach us how to live day-to-day. For those who help us navigate the scientific waters and avoid snake oil salesman, thank you, for you help us use our time and money wisely in a world where physicians may not even exist to help, yet. We are all in this together.

a rainbow at night


Relevant posts from this article:

Reflections on a Year Lived with Illness

Welcome to 2014. May all beings be peaceful.∞May all beings be happy.∞May all beings be well.∞May all beings be safe.∞May all beings be free from suffering.

I had all sorts of things planned following the end of my treatment. It delivered me a burst of energy, alongside my new-found awareness that if there was anything I wanted to do, I needed to do it now. And I had so much on my heart to do, experience, and visit. And I did them all! But I think it led me to believe there might be something wrong with me, now, for not wanting to do so much. The truth–which I just realized after starting a documentary called Raw Faith–is there simply isn’t anything calling to me right now. In perfect honesty, I feel I’m being called to let go of so much, now. And maybe that is okay! If every season is beautiful, and nature is perfect, then maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and what I’m supposed to be doing right now, is just this. I’ve spent a lot of brain cells wondering if I had unintentionally turned off my intuition in the wake of so much loss from the past few months. Until today, it never occurred to me I could still be right “on track,” even in my assumed inactivity.

Last year was a whirlwind, but mindfully so. I wanted to visit close friends, revisit old friends, make new friends and visit with them, too; visit with family I’d never seen, or rarely saw; I did all of this. And I wanted to get out more because I was so tired of only ever getting out for doctors… And did I!

I spent three weekends in a row in the French Quarter, and for my birthday I stayed there for a week. I went to orchestras, ballets, aquariums, zoos, beaches, coffee houses, new restaurants, tea rooms, historic landmarks, stayed in the ritzy hotels with ocean views and two-room suites, swam in water fountain pools, saw the Dalai Lama, learned more French, took up Tai Chi, redecorated my room, sold my car for a newer one, “read” a new audiobook every month, dressed up for every holiday, spent my birthday with my best friend, fell in love, bought tons of flowers, ate tons of amazing food, took tons of amazing pictures, listened to tons of amazing music, and saw tons of amazing films, in theatre instead of at home.

I also slowly but surely upgraded my technology (even my bed) to better suit my ever-changing needs, from a bluetooth speaker that negates the need to get up and change CDs, to a television that’s now mounted on my bedroom wall with a resolution I can actually see and the colors of which I feel are a spiritual experience. These things made being in bed in between all of those excursions–with however much pain and relapse–much more easy to bear. I only went to the ER twice.

There was also heartache. When you begin to change, either your circle of friends changes along with you, or the Universe asks that you let them go. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever; most aren’t, actually. One friend and I parted ways early in the year, but it was safe to find closure, so we did. Another had patterns of making it unsafe to share my feelings, so it didn’t end with the closure I’d hoped, but I ultimately had to let them go, too; at least I learned self-care from it. Another simply didn’t wish to find closure, and left. Two did that, actually. I had a girlfriend for several months, but due to dishonesty it ended badly, even though I am thankful for the lessons it brought, including a profound awareness of my own commitment to authenticity, something I am entirely unwilling to sacrifice for anyone or anything. Little did I know, I had already met the woman I would fall deeply for, afterward… ;) She and my best friend for the past thirteen years, join me in 2014.

© a rainbow at night

I don’t expect this year to be like the former. I guess for a while I expected to have a similar desire for activity, but I don’t, and I’m okay with that now. My fatigue is so much more prominent, though my pain levels have stabilized for now. In March, a good friend and I shall attempt to drive to California to see the Redwood Forest and San Francisco. That’s my big plan for this year, but even if we only end up driving aimlessly, instead, it will be wonderful to adventure with someone who shares my appreciation of nature.

You may have heard the quote, it doesn’t matter what you do as much as who you’re being while you do it. 

Who do you want to be for the next 334 days?

a rainbow at night

I’m No Longer at War with My Body

© a rainbow at night

Today marks the 11th year of my getting the virus that triggered M.E. — 13 years total of living with chronic illness.

And I feel really good right now, emotionally. Like I’m doing everything possible to ensure my body will function its best for as long as it can. I sleep enough, eat well, get proper nutrition with lots of what I need and still have things I enjoy, like ice cream. I drink a lot of water, supplement for my genetic things and muscle dysfunction with the appropriate foods and pills, but have medicine to reduce the inflammation. I also take what I need to help out my neurotransmitters, and manage severe pain. My feet get massage to slow the neuropathy. I get whatever exercise I can without causing disease progression. I do tai chi to balance my energy and improve my strength, balance, and muscle tone. (ETA: It took me a long, long time to realize, but this was a bad idea. I thought it was gentle enough to not cause relapse, but after the THIRD time I found myself worsened for weeks or months after a week of very, very gentle tai chi, I figured out it was the tai chi.) I do stretches, and walk, and a very small amount of yoga (just the poses I enjoy). Spiritual fulfillment is number one in my life and sets the stage for everything else.

I like taking care of myself. My eyes, my teeth, my skin. It can be a chore on some days–and during some seasons, most days–but I enjoy it.

So many years were spent in a battle against my own body, trying to take care of it even as I pumped my blood full of toxic medications to fight the infections that were trying to survive within me. And because of that, I’m still here. Ironically, they’re still here, too.

But that season of my life has passed, and now, it feels so good to just take care of me, to really take care of me, and know that everything I put into my body and do for it is going to help it do its best for me (which in turn, is the best for others, also). Because that’s all I have left. I love the amount of self-compassion I’ve been able to cultivate and harvest, not just in the past few years in general but since being off of Lyme disease treatment in particular. There’s something about not having to focus on pathogen elimination that’s very conducive to self-love. Even as any or all of my diseases advance, I’m not “losing the fight” in any way.

It’s amazing after all these years, even with all of my symptoms, to finally not be at war with my body.

What do you do for your body that makes you feel good about taking care of it, so that it can take care of you to the best of its ability? How do you help it along?

a rainbow at night

Creativity and the Fear of Being Forgotten

a piece I only previously attached to the bottom of one of my posts. quote by David Bate.

It was about seven months ago that I made a post begging the question, What all could you do if you just changed your expectations of how to do it? And I affirmed that I was bringing out my art supplies again, because I could still paint if I relaxed the restrictive expectations I put on myself of how it needed to be done.

And thus, over the course of two months, I made this watercolour painting.

Then last month, I had a major epiphany.

It started as a sort of existential crisis, seeing a different butterfly on Instagram which I immediately wanted to paint…until I thought about the actual process of doing so. Then I became very drained, and I couldn’t tell if I just didn’t like painting anymore, or maybe I was just really overwhelmed by all the work it would take. Those seemed the most probable reasons.

And yet the entire week prior, I’d been schooled by the Universe from every corner on the differences between who we once were and who we become. How we progress into completely different people, if we’re doing it right. Even the “us” of several years ago, we appear the same, but–to pull from an episode of How I Met Your Mother–it’s as if we are our own doppelgänger, after having changed so much.

I mulled over my mysterious lack of artistic enthusiasm all day, a bit thrown off at the idea that someone with so much talent might not want to “art” anymore. Do people really just stop being artists? How was it that I identified such a need to paint, yet all I felt was frustration? How was that even possible?

Then something happened that knocked me off my metaphorical feet.

There was a PBS special airing the ballet documentary Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow: Never Stand Still, and at the moment I caught it, they said something really profound about one of the men in the business.

Ted Shawn, toward the end of his life, wrote,

“It is a paradox that I, who have a strong desire for what will endure, and will be permanent, should have chosen the art form which leaves nothing but memories. And yet I am satisfied this is my medium, and my destiny.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear to tie together all my pondering of the past several days. The Universe had been preparing me to let go of who I was trying to force myself to be just because it’s who I’d always been, and embrace all that I was now. And in the moment I turned on the television, I was receiving a wake-up call.

Hearing that segment helped me recognize I wasn’t so much being an artist as I was clinging to the idea of being an artist, to escape a common human emotion.

I realized that I wanted to paint and produce art, not out of a genuine desire and love of the process, but out of fear of not leaving something behind more than memories.

That was a difficult pill to swallow, but finally everything made sense. I was frustrated because the act of painting, in that moment, was no longer about expressing joy, but controlling anxiety.

And maybe I’m not as much of an artist as I used to be, but I am multifaceted, as are we all. Since relieving myself of that burden and seeing things as they are instead of how I want them to be–or otherwise through the lens of fear–I also realized that over the years I’ve slowly made the transition from Artist to Writer. And I say transition because in the past I’ve always been an artist first and a writer second, but now, my creative spirit flows much more effortlessly through the medium of words. I also enjoy being an amateur photographer; the key word being enjoy.

I have the desire to create, and I still very much enjoy painting, and photography, and writing. And this time, I know better than to jump from one label to the next with the implications that it will save me from the fear of being forgotten.

a piece I did a few days ago, out of the blue, for fun, with random inspiration
a piece I did a few days ago, out of the blue, for fun, with random inspiration

a rainbow at night

A Dose of Reality: Flare-ups, Symptoms, and Emergency Rooms

First off, a huge thank you to those who have expressed their support and gratitude of my recent writing… I was not expecting it. I have read your words and I want to reply as soon as I can. Right now I feel an update of sorts is in order. Forgive me while I use my spoons for expression, but know that I am actively awaiting the right words to respond to the support you have offered in my direction. :) You help me feel less alone, and on weekends like this one, I really need that…

At the beginning of May I wanted a mini-celebration of the fact that I’ve been off treatment six months and I am still walking okay. So what better a way to affirm my functioning feet than with new shoes!

K9 by Rocket Dog® Odetta Floral-Print Ankle-Strap Pumps, $30
K9 by Rocket Dog® Odetta Floral-Print Ankle-Strap Pumps, $30

This event was right before my monthly Lyme disease flare, which still happens around the beginning of the month. I forgot about it this time, so it wasn’t until day three of being in bed that I realized why all these symptoms were suddenly happening.

I effectively went from walking “normally” in new shoes, eating at my favourite foodie joint, to being in bed four days, excessively sleeping through over half of it, and having seizure-like activity again.

Yesterday, I felt as if every inch of me was buzzing, vibrating from the inside-out. I also tried to wash my face with sunscreen; use toilet paper as moisturizer; pour my milk into a sauce bowl instead of a glass; made accidental purchases online; and found myself standing in places I didn’t have any memory of walking.

Yes, I remember all of these symptoms, unfortunately.

But still it helps to know why it’s happening. Not only that, but I’ve noticed I’m typically worse on weekends, again, i.e. every 5-7 days…an ominous sign from my bartonella era, but a fact nonetheless. Please, no.

 

My ego said, I would rather all this NOT occur immediately after I finish celebrating how relatively well I’m functioning after six months with no antibiotics! Why did you have to remind me, right now? Maybe I wanted to forget for a little while, just how much my body is going through, just how sick it is…

Another part of me is saddened at the reminder.

And another part of me is actually thankful for the reminder, because it won’t let me float away into denial, while at the same time hoping that I won’t sink into despair…at least not for too long.

See, I go through the same emotions as everyone else. I don’t ever want to seem like I don’t.


I’ve been relatively doing so-so. I never imagined stopping treatment would have given me so much of my life back, these months that I would have otherwise spent in misery with no real benefit except more worsening. Instead, I have more good days right now, I’m determined to use them fully, and I can be mostly comfortable.

Symptom-wise, this has developed:

  • I consistently see the squiggles, black dots, and smoke-fog illusions in my vision.
  • My hands go numb more often, and various irritated nerves cause intermittent curling of my fingers.
  • There is more numbness in my feet, and more of the old “fire foot” sensation.
  • I have more heart palpitations and trouble staying hydrated.
  • My left leg buckles more frequently.
  • I get more spasms in my back.
  • I get choked more easily.

I recently returned from two ER visits with a random virus…and just like after my last viral attack in December/January, my vasculitis is temporarily on hiatus. So for now I’ve been able to stop the daily ibuprofen that helps keep it in check, but which has also resulted in more trigeminal neuralgia episodes and eye pain.


The shot in my neck they gave me to attempt treating the occipital neuralgia did not go as intended, giving me very odd side effects like falling backwards and an inability to recognize myself in the mirror (?!), I suspect because of the brain lesion(s?). Even just sitting down in my wheelchair, I was so spaced out and off balance that everyone in the office thought they’d given me a sedative–nope! On the plus side, it did seem to interrupt the constant barrage of pain signals coming from the area, so it’s not as constant as it once was. Being on only half the pain medication that I was on before, unmasked many of the neuropathy symptoms that up until then I didn’t know were developing; another thing I wasn’t expecting.


My favourite bit of news is that, I found out if I cover myself in sunscreen before being exposed to sunlight, the vasculitis doesn’t flare up. :) Annnnnnd as of my most recent echocardiogram, my heart function hasn’t worsened, so they don’t want to see me for another 18 months!

a rainbow at night

 

The Choice of Someone With Progressive Disease to Stop Treatment, Part 1 of 2: Wrestling With the Universe

the-choice-of-someone-with-progressive-disease-to-stop-treatment
[ estimated reading time: 4 mins 20 secs ]
I did not arrive at my decision lightly. I experienced… Ah, I experienced a lot. The Caring Connections organization put together a great example list of the emotions involved in living with serious illness:

Emotional changes that you may experience include:

  • Fear – about what will happen as your illness progresses, or about the future for your loved ones
  • Anger – about past treatment choices, about the change in diagnosis
  • Grief – about the losses that you have had and those to come
  • Anxiety – about making new decisions and facing new realities
  • Disbelief – about the changes that will be taking place
  • Relief – about ending difficult treatments and setting new goals for care”

They also have a list of various myths, truths, and things to remember, such as:

Myth: Accepting that this illness cannot be cured means that “nothing more can be done.”
Truth: When the focus shifts from cure to care, a great deal can be done to relieve physical pain and emotional suffering, and to ensure a good quality of life.
Remember: Have conversations with your loved ones about what you do and do not want. Designate a healthcare agent to speak for you in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself.”

I can talk about this more clearly and rationally now, after several weeks of living with my decision, but like I wrote earlier: It was anything but easy. (This entire post is quite embarrassing to write, actually.) I experienced extreme guilt for not wanting to get treatment.

Since I don’t believe in coincidence, it was difficult to figure out whether I’d learnt of the MTHFR gene mutation to get it treated so I could get back on Lyme treatment (but I thought of this more out of habit than any true desire or intuition), or to just be more aware of how I could help my body… I was living too much in the trying to find the Lesson and not enough in the living the Experience (which ultimately gives you the lesson). I heard something like that during Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday several weeks ago.

I knew I’d lose my mind if I tried to do “the Lyme fight” again.

I’m 99% sure I’d lose my mind if I fought my own body at all, at this point, to be honest.

So I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to do. I knew what I wanted, but I felt guilty for wanting it. Probably as a remnant from my more religious upbringing, I actually felt like God would be angry with me for my decision. I automatically felt like choosing to live without fighting disease, would be choosing to die, so how could The Universe possibly support me in that? I felt like I couldn’t trust myself anymore.

But that same day, the guest on Super Soul Sunday started talking about God’s Love, and it really brought me back to my core beliefs… The Universe bringing me back to Itself, surely.

It reminded me that I am not being judged. That God–whether a He, She, It, The Universe, whatever that Source may be–does NOT hold anger or negativity toward me for my decisions, that those feelings come from my interpretation and not reality. It reminded me that I could NEVER be a disappointment, and the most important of all: That there is nothing but Love and Acceptance for me; Love and Acceptance for What Is; Love and Acceptance for what I decide…

As a recovering codependent, I had to realize The God Force I believe in is not like so many humans I have known, who bestow their version of love based upon how much what I do agrees with their opinion.

Probably the craziest part of it, was that in my darkest, anxiety-ridden moment, I felt like if I made the “wrong” decision then all my suffering would be my fault and I would deserve to be punished and abandoned, for not being in alignment with “God’s will.”

Oh, thank you, gene abnormality, for helping me bring all of this to the surface and release it. Those old brainwashed ways of thinking are NOT who I am!

I was so focused on What if I make the wrong decision? that I wasn’t able to stop panicking long enough to figure out from where my suffering was arising. And I was so absorbed in assuming my thoughts were a form of escapism–I must be running from my fear of going to a new doctor, I must be terrified of the new treatments not working, I must be running from the reality of another health problem…right?–that I completely neglected the idea that turned out to be the real problem:

I was actually running from the fear of not treating, and what would happen when I did that.

Treating felt too wrong to possibly be right. But choosing to forego it is something I’ve never done. I can see now, in hindsight, this discovery WAS the lesson in itself. It wasn’t a lesson in what to do. It was a lesson in how to Not do, something I’ve never known how to.. well, do.

I had no idea how much courage it takes to let go. To be continued…

a rainbow at night

 

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

[ estimated reading time: 2 minutes 24 seconds ]

I’m here to make another installment to my Life Lessons section, but this time, with the words of a guest blogger:

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 late Sara Douglas.

Video: How Lyme Disease Changed My Relationship with Nature (Post Trauma Experience)

This video is not mine, but it helped me feel less alone, because my view of nature has drastically changed. I can’t even get bit by a few fleas without contracting whatever the little beasts are harboring, much less ticks, which are so much more inconspicuous.

I am so glad to know I’m not the only victim/survivor who feels this way. (Note: The music introduction only comprises the first thirty seconds.)

“I had no idea how easy it was to contract. And that it’s present everywhere. Trees, grass, dogs, people… Just about everywhere. So when I journey out into the world now, wherever there is nature, I have to be extremely careful. And I feel very conflicted, because the very thing that used to soothe me, and give me a place to go and get perspective on life, is now a place of danger. Oh, it always was, I just didn’t know it.

And when I go out, I observe people putting themselves at risk… But I can’t do anything about it.

Because if I say something, people think I’m loony. It’s just simply hard to believe, that you can get SO sick, by being in nature.”

Sometimes I wonder, if people thought ticks carried cancer, if they’d be more cautious. Or if it was common knowledge that Lyme disease can equal Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/ALS), Alzheimer’s, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), just to name a few. :\ Chances are more likely than not you won’t ever be diagnosed with Lyme if you’re not looking, but instead you or someone you love will be diagnosed with one of the above (or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/CFS, or Fibromyalgia), and then what?

Special thanks to LymeDisease.org, formerly CALDA, for sharing this on their Facebook page.

a rainbow at night

How I Forgave the Doctors That Called Me “Crazy”

jagged leaf shaped like a heart rests upon wooden boards on the ground
© a rainbow at night

This year I feel I’ve really evolved as a human being. A lot of my focus has been to get rid of the anger I’ve felt. One major thing I finally let go this year, actually, was the resentment aimed at those who got to enjoy things I may never get to do, ever. Sure, I couldn’t be angry at friends or family, that was easy enough, but put me in the room with a stranger who’s telling me about how they’re going to a party that night with all their friends, and… You get the idea.

I owe that in huge part to reading Toni Bernhard’s How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, for actually giving me the tools to know how to do that: How to acknowledge those emotions without feeling I was a bad person for even having them, and focus on how much more wonderful it was that they did get to do those things, than it was that I could not.

But I honestly don’t have any explanation for how I came upon the realization I’m about to share in this post, besides that my brain has apparently developed some kinder, more mature, more well-rounded ways of viewing things I’ve thought a thousand times before.


Probably close to 95% of people who have either Late Stage Lyme Disease or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis–or, if you’re like me, both–did not arrive at that diagnosis very easily. (As those are the main two diseases I have, they’re my focus, but feel free to apply this to similar illnesses.) No, it probably went something more like:

  1. Go to the doctor expecting a quick fix for unusually-persistent symptoms
  2. End up getting passed around to every specialist known to medicine because primary care physician has no idea what’s wrong with you
  3. Get called crazy by every single one of them when the tests either come back negative or don’t show anything significant enough to explain why you feel like you’re dying
  4. Possibly get prescribed the most strongly contraindicated “treatment” for your disease because no one knows what you actually have, yet, which makes you immeasurably worse
  5. Get called crazy a few more times, and thus end up being evaluated by numerous psychiatrists who don’t find anything wrong with your mental state, or who
  6. Blame everything on a mental disorder that doesn’t actually cause anything you’re experiencing
  7. Finally get the correct diagnosis years later, through what seem like the most random series of events that ever played out in your life

Am I right?

All in all, the stage of acceptance known as “anger” doesn’t really ~just go away~ like some of the others.

The resentment and anger at all the doctors who could have helped you sooner had any one of them just not been so determined to say it was “all in your head”; the anger at those who said there was nothing wrong with you, when you actually had a progressive disease; the resentment at those who thought you were faking just because the tests were negative; the anger you experience all over again at remembering any and all of the horrible doctor visits where you were pleading for them to do something, anything, only to be told you just needed to get out more, and probably see another psychiatrist.

Trust me, I’ve been there. So when this sort-of-epiphany hit me, it was like a ten-year burden had been lifted off of me:

Did I truly, honestly think, that any one of those doctors who called me crazy, had any idea that I was actually suffering from a progressive neurological disease? Did I really believe that those people, those fellow human beings, somewhere inside knew that I was dying, and just decided to recommend exercise and antidepressants for the sheer fun of it?

If they had known that what a terrible disease the original “chronic fatigue syndrome” was–that it was actually myalgic encephalomyelitis, that it was made worse by exercise, that it was progressive in 25% of cases and fatal in roughly 1 of 20–would they have just told me to “get out more,” or “exercise more,” or “get back to work, you’ll be fine”?

If they had known that chronic Lyme disease (or bartonella or mycoplasma) exists where I live–that it would lead to multiple sclerosis, that the tests are often negative even if you do have it, that I still needed long-term antibiotics based strictly on the clinical presentation–would they have told me there was no way I could have it, that it was harmless even if I did have it, or that it was “only fatal in people with AIDS” and that there was “no reason to treat”?

Absolutely not. What kind of monsters did I think these people were?

No one in their right mind, especially a doctor who has sworn to Do No Harm, would know the truth of a disease so destructive and still call their patient crazy.

If someone was suspected of having MS, or HIV, or cancer, or a neurodegenerative disease, these physicians would have done everything they could to identify and fix the problem. If they had known what I was up against and the right approach to treatment, they would have done it.

But they didn’t know. And that wasn’t entirely their fault. Sure, there are always some doctors who go in it for the money and don’t care that much one way or the other, but they are few and far between. And sure, a doctor who keeps up to date on the latest research and alternative therapies is going to be more open-minded when it comes to a rare case. But when it comes down to it, there is a whole cluster of reasons why most of the specialists we saw were completely incapable of giving us an accurate diagnosis, the biggest of which is lack of information.

The reason we patients advocate so much is because in our hearts, we know that if someone else has the information we didn’t, they might not have to wait so long and suffer so much before getting accurately diagnosed and treated.

We also can’t forget that it’s not 100% the doctor’s responsibility to figure out what’s wrong with us based on absolutely nothing: We have to be honest and not afraid to be our own advocates. My LLMD says: The passive patient never gets better.

Now, there are some exceptions. There are doctors who know the facts and, because of legal reasons and public position, choose to turn and look away whenever one of “us” come their way. But that is also very, very rare. Most all of the dozens upon dozens of specialists had no idea what was wrong with me, what was wrong with you, and could only give us the best advice they knew, based upon what they thought was happening. In hindsight I really do understand how someone could think I needed psychological intervention, if they had no clue that my disease really did do all the things I was reporting.

You don’t throw a paralyzed child into a swimming pool–as happened to one internationally-recognized M.E. patient–to try to “snap them out of faking ill,” if you honestly believe they are sick. You do it if you honestly believe they are faking ill, because you have no knowledge of what M.E. actually does. If there is anyone to be upset with, it’s those in charge of spreading facts about these crippling diseases, and who don’t do it; not the doctors who have been armed with information they believe to be true, who just so happen to be completely misinformed about what we have.

So I finally just stopped being angry at them for not doing what they weren’t even capable of in the first place.

You may have heard before that, Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different, a quote popularized by Oprah although she’s not who originally spoke it. And in my realization, I also let go of the thoughts that any of the doctors who had mistreated me out of their ignorance, could have ever treated me any differently based upon what they knew. If they knew better, they would have done better.

I am now going to instead focus on how blessed I am to finally have my diagnoses, and be glad that I am one of the lucky ones who still had time left to begin treatment. I hope this can help some of my readers move past their anger, also, perhaps just a little more quickly than they would have, otherwise.

Be blessed in the New Year, and always!

a rainbow at night

Fireflies, Coyote Arias and Friendships Adrift (via My CFS Life)

I’ve been struggling a lot again lately with feeling marooned. In my spirituality, I am increasingly aware that I am intended to live differently, and that it is both grace and blessing. That doesn’t make it easy – this feeling of being left behind.

As I stand here at the edge of my world, on my shore, friendships drift into the distance. Caught by other currents, destined for other ways of life and sailing for distant lands I can barely remember exist; they embrace lives I cannot have and for which I often ache. Ever greater expanses separate us and though their signal flares can sometimes yet be seen, I cannot quell all pangs of sadness as I stand with my feet planted in the shifting sands of my shore.

I look over my shoulder at this place where I stand, there is great beauty here and much to be discovered, but it comes at a price and I get so weary of paying. Sometimes supply ships come to my shore, my happiness to be among them mixed with challenge to my peace. They bring things I need and also tales of larger life that can be hard to hear, fanning the ember of longing into dangerous flame. One ship’s crew, a frequent visitor in the past, asked me how I manage here and when I said “I pray and God helps me” they left with laughter. Oh well, they asked and what was I to do, lie? I did not preach, only answered a simple truth.

Some of the ships arrive less and less frequently, more fulfilled at busier ports of call. Some, I suspect, will not return, and though difficult to accept – it may be for the best. I can do nothing to change it anyway. Read More

via My CFS Life