Trusting Myself to Build Healthy Relationships After Surviving Narcissistic Abuse

Into the Fire

Sometimes, mental illness makes me overly reactive. Other times, as I’m “coming back,” I retain that “edge” needed to take constructive action towards the situations that actually needed it, all the tiny things that simmered low on my priority list because I had more important fires to tend. But even though fire burns, I remain grateful for its role in purification.

“Pre-menstrually we tap into our firepower — our ability to rage and destroy. … The greatest gift of our moon time is in learning to clear space and enter the darkness, in order to be reborn as fertile, creative beings once more. We learn that this letting go, this cocooning in the darkness, is integral to our health. Again and again we must learn to be comfortable in the formlessness of transformation, and rest in the mystery.”

— from Burning Woman, by Lucy H. Pearce

In the past, this edge had sometimes been the only thing connecting me to my power, the only thing to show me that the things I was upset about actually had merit and deserved greater attention. Lucy also paraphrases this very astutely in her other book, “Moon Time”:

“I use the sword of my intolerance to cut deep and true. I keep hold of my vision and manifest it.”

I can think of no better metaphor than this. Allowing the innate wisdom of our frustrations to guide us to their roots, the one place from which we can actually enact change, because we’re finally courageous enough to look at why these seeds have sprouted in the first place. So maybe…

Maybe I should pay more attention when people breeze past painful details I’ve chosen to privately share with them, because that’s a clear sign they lack empathy.

Maybe I shouldn’t keep any digital platform that worsens my mental health, especially just to stay in touch with people who have lots of other ways to stay in contact with me, if they wanted.

Maybe it’s okay if I don’t want to be the only one who tries to keep in touch, 100% of the time.

Maybe I shouldn’t give privileged access to my life to those who only want to be spectators, or to those who only want to get involved in the fun parts. Maybe it’s okay to not be okay with that.

Maybe I should remind everyone that you are not entitled to anyone’s personal information just because you ask kindly, because kindness should not be a manipulation tactic.

Maybe I should remind everyone that my “no” demands as much respect as my “yes,” and that I will not be coerced into feeling a sense of obligation to perfect strangers.

Maybe it’s okay to trust my intuition when things don’t add up and I feel someone isn’t being honest with me.

And maybe I’ll try appreciating myself more for carefully selecting the people with whom I’d like to build long-lasting friendships from here on out, instead of chastising myself for being cautious.

Because I want and need to get back to offering myself to this world, and maybe it’s finally safe for me to believe I CAN manage my new mental and physical limits, and get back to living within them on my own terms, instead of constantly apologizing for not being able to meet everyone else’s.

Responsibility

For the longest time I’ve been trying to find the right way to interact with others, as a survivor of all types of abuse. For example I used to think it was normal to build a relationship with someone emotionally unavailable, because in my formative years it was very dangerous to have my own needs, emotional or otherwise. What better way to emulate not having your needs acknowledged than to pursue someone who would never acknowledge them?

I think that’s another reason me being unable to be there for anyone during my recent downward spiral, affected me so drastically. It’s no secret I live with obsessive compulsive disorder, which constantly tells you that you’re an awful creature who’s going to end up hurting everyone and then tries to convince you secretly like hurting people. (Oh, did you think OCD was just hand washing?) So while all my mental illnesses were jacked up on steroids, OCD really latched onto the idea that by taking time for myself to heal, I was the abuser, now. It makes no rational sense, but such is disorder. Anyway.

Narcissistic types are drawn to people like this, and those struggling with codependency: people-pleasers with an addiction to approval and/or relationships, who feel their only value lies in being who or what someone else wants. I’ve been a recovered codependent for years now after at least ten years of treatment, but I still attract narcissists because they are also drawn to compassionate, empathetic people who enjoy listening to and validating others; you know, people who will give them their “supply” of attention.

Sometimes it’s still hard to trust myself about this, initially. When I start to like a person I immediately think, “What if I only like them because subconsciously they’re exhibiting behaviors that mimic those of the pathological human beings I grew up with, and this is just another quick dead end?” That does happen to me quite a bit, but that’s the chance any of us take in attempting a new relationship. Now, I can spot the red flags relatively quickly and be on my merry way, instead of wasting years in unfulfilling one-sided relationships that I unfortunately tolerated.

When things aren’t working out in your relationships, you have to ask yourself: Which patterns do I keep repeating, and what is my role in it? What are you putting up with that you probably shouldn’t? What do you need yet aren’t actually requiring of anyone? To put it bluntly, what aren’t you requiring of yourself?

It’s uncomfortable being around those who don’t have empathy, but if I see the red flags and still keep them in my life, I’m just as much responsibile as they are, for the pain that comes from being around them. You know the Maya Angelou quote by now: “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”

It’s painful when others don’t want to keep in touch with you unless you’re the one bridging the gap, but if you’re always the one meeting everyone else on their terms, you will eventually discover some friendships existed ONLY because you were meeting them on their terms.

And it’s jarring when people pop back into your life out of no where feigning interest in your well-being, only to disappear into the background again if you happen to be in a rough patch. But I’m the one who has to look that dead in the face and decide either “Yes, I’m okay with this person only being in my life in this superficial way,” or “No, I’m absolutely NOT okay with opening my life up to people who only show interest in being spectators, not friends.”

In other words, my dears, there comes a point in your healing from abuse where you understand you are no longer a passive victim but an active participant in the way your life and relationships are unfolding. When you know better you do better, etc. Victims don’t have any responsibility for their situation; that’s why they are a victim. This means they don’t have any power, either. That’s also why they are a victim. We may have been made victims in the past by predators of all varieties, but now, we are transitioning to survivors, which means we not only get to take responsibility for our healing, but we also have the privilege of taking responsibility for whatever new relationships we build along the way. We’ll make lots of mistakes, but don’t worry: Mistakes are just a natural part of burning through toxic bridges and outdated ways of existing, so that the fresh new ground underneath–fertile, healthy foundation–can finally be revealed.

Strength

I am a creature of many strengths, but I must regularly take inventory that I haven’t surrounded myself with people incapable of showing love. I have to remember that with my gifts of knowing how to make people feel heard, accepted, and appreciated, comes the extra need to protect those gifts from those who just want to take advantage.

I finally trust myself now to not be afraid of my own boundaries or the reactions of others once I set them. I finally see that it’s not my fault I attract predators, that boundaries are okay, and FOR ONCE–even if it’s only this very moment that I type this–I DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. It’s one thing to think these things and live by them just on their virtue, but now I actually FEEL this truth; the gentle power and mutual respect that lies within every human’s right to set healthy emotional boundaries.

The fact that anyone gets confronted with another’s healthy boundary and then runs away, is just a tell-tale sign they don’t like being told “no.” And I’ve realized that if someone is too weak to hear my “no,” they will never be able to handle my “yes.” They will never be able to handle me, at all. I am a force to be reckoned with, and I need to start surrounding myself with other strong, loving people who can handle everything I am. Sure I have difficult patches, but everyone does, and OCD be damned, that doesn’t make me a monster. I need more people in my life who know their worth, who recognize their resilience, who can hold their own, and who see boundaries as a sign of another healthy individual.

You see, narcissists can’t handle being around strong people. That’s why the moment you show them you have a backbone–that you can say “no,” that you aren’t afraid to speak up for your needs–they find another target or lash out, because they know if you’re not looking for others’ approval they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to trying to manipulate you. You can’t be controlled by fear, obligation, guilt, or them playing the victim by being offended. There’s certainly a large gradient between “immature” to “narcissist” and then further down the line to “psychopath,” but I am DONE surrounding myself with these types. Any of them. All of them. I’ve had enough to last me twelve incarnations. For all I know it’s already BEEN twelve incarnations of me trying to do exactly what I’m doing right now: Learning day by day, month by month, year by year how to keep energetic vampires out of my life.

Recovery

I learned I do have multiple sclerosis. More specifically, the official diagnosis as of right now is “Clinically Isolated Syndrome,” one of the MS disease courses, which can present with or without optic neuritis; mine presented with, hence those particular symptoms. There’s less than a 15% chance I won’t have another attack, and a 95% chance this IS caused by my untreated neuroborreliosis (Lyme disease). This isn’t my first attack, or even my first documented attack, but since the last one (that they found by accident while I was hospitalized) was attributed to “post-infectious demyelination” or “atypical MS,” and most doctors hold the belief that neuroborreliosis and multiple sclerosis are not related, the “official” diagnosis–clinically isolated syndrome, atypical MS, relapse-remitting MS, neuroborreliosis–will change depending on which doctor I see and their level of understanding my history.

I am now mostly recovered from this most recent attack, and my ophthalmologist confirmed last week there has been NO permanent damage to my optic nerves! Also over the last couple of months, I’ve successfully been able to manage my problem of becoming too easily overstimulated, and I’ve been learning to identify the tiny things that precipitate a shutdown. For example I’m able now to share with people that I need to retreat, before I need to retreat, before I feel forced to disappear without any warning at all.

I’m also significantly better cognitively, after a short course of antibiotics for some random infection back in March. Maybe Lyme or Mycoplasma is playing a role, or it’s the PANS/PANDAS–an autoimmune disease that first presents in childhood which causes my body to attack my own brain when I’m battling any infection–or it could be related to the MS and its own inflammatory process in my nervous system. Or some combination of all of it, who knows. But! What I do know, is that I knew I knew I KNEW this wasn’t just something I was doing to avoid life!!

After finally coming out of my extended mental and physical relapse, after seeing the results of my lumbar puncture, after getting the diagnoses from my neurologist and ophthalmologists, and feeling my profound improvement after antibiotics, I feel… It’s as if I can trust myself again, because it gave me solid proof that my brain really was significantly altered, and it had very little to do with me “choosing” to isolate. I isolated because my brain was trying to process trauma, while being inflamed by lots of extra immune cells, while trying to prevent neurodegeneration and/or blindness, while fighting pathogens literally designed to spiral into my brain tissue, AND I have an autoimmune disease that makes these processes not only cause new mental illness but exacerbate all the preexisting ones. It makes perfect sense why I was unable to function normally or converse at any length.

I spent months rationalizing everything to the end point that I must just be inherently careless and awful. And I had started to believe it. Now I know better.

And if it happens again, instead of being terrified that I’ll lose everyone I love, I will know what steps to take to attempt treating the symptoms, AND feel more confident that I can share with whomever happens to be present that this is literally a symptom of disease, not just maladaptive behavior of my personal choosing. Between that and having unlearned the unproductive coping mechanisms I tried along the way, I have so much more faith that I will be able to deal with whatever happens…WITHOUT believing the guilt.

As I think my writing showed, I was making a lot of progress, and finding significant healing, until the flood happened… I feel back on track now.

Burning Women

Thank you Lucy, for teaching me and millions of other women that the energy in I’ve Had Enough doesn’t automatically have to be feared, especially for those of us who’d never seen it used correctly:

“In the heroine’s journey we realise that the dragon lies not in a far-off land, but curled within. And so we are called inwards. Into the dark cave of our unconscious. …

“This power is mine. I have come to claim it.” Repeating it until you, and the dragon, know it for truth. …

And suddenly the danger is gone. No fight necessary. That dragon had sat on your power for so long it had come to believe it was its own. You had spent so many years listening to the myths of the dragon, hearing him growl within, you got so scared of these stories, that you never thought to come and meet him for yourself. The dragon never was your enemy. The treasure never was his. It’s yours. It always was. All he was doing was waiting for you to claim it, protecting it from those who would steal or misuse it. He knew his job was to protect it until you were able to care for it as fiercely as he. Until you knew yourself as its rightful owner. Until this great wealth would be used wisely, not to do damage to yourself or others. Until you were learned enough in the ways of the world not to squander it or give it away. That was his sacred role, as your greatest ally and protector. …

[W]e are brought up to hand over our power, to let others take care of it, and ourselves, in exchange for us taking care of them, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It is a heavy burden, one usually done unconsciously, and yet expected culturally. A woman who is not willing to engage in this exchange is usually shamed as selfish and immature. But it is an exchange. So as Burning Women we make a new deal: I take back my power, and I learn to take responsibility for myself…and you in return take responsibility for yourself. We may share ourselves and our lives, experience deep love, care, intimacy and connection, but we are each the keeper of our own power. This is the move from co-dependency — the model engendered by our culture — into independence. Intimacy, penetration and sharing through choice, and consent, not obligation.”

Burning Woman

Thank you Marianne Williamson for also shining the Light on this topic with one of my favourite quotes from you:

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

And thank you Roshi Joan Halifax, for eloquently explaining the value of anger–again, especially for those of us who’d never seen that used correctly, either–when you spoke these words:

“I think one has to understand anger in perspective. Anger, for one thing, has within it the seed of wisdom associated with clarity, with discernment. If you cut the value of anger out of your experience, in a way you’re taking some of the structure that allows us to see clearly into things as they are. So the seed of wisdom in anger is discernment. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, our anger toward the experience of disempowerment that is going on… We should be angry. And that sense of moral outrage, in other words the violation of equity. . .gives us the arousal level necessary to mobilize ourselves into action.

“And it’s essential that we act. We can’t just sit there, gaze at our navel, and say it’s all love.

“Love does not mean that we are passive in the face of harm. I think Martin Luther King was clear about the relationship between love and justice. Anything that stands in the way of love is unjust. The absence of justice points to the absence of love. So I don’t separate love and justice in this regard. I see them as intimately intertwined.”

— Be Here Now Network: Mindrolling Ep. 183 – “The Integration of Justice and Love”

Until next time,

Kit


Relevant Links:

Advertisements

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

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

Facing My Worst Fears On Social Media: Am I Really So Terrible?

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Short answer: No. No I’m not.

Reasons I almost didn’t write this:

Because of a pathological and unwanted sense of obligation to protect others’ public image, especially if it involved abusive and/or shameful behaviour, even more so if it was directed specifically at me. Because of decades of being made to feel that it was never their behaviour that was shameful but rather my speaking about it that was the problem. Because of decades of spiritual abuse that, also, mostly condemned those who spoke about wrongdoings instead of the wrong behaviours themselves. Because I was programmed to have emotional loyalty to people no matter how they acted or treated me. Because old habits die hard.

Reasons I absolutely AM writing this:

Because the very act of publishing this is an act of healing. Because the God I actually believe in supports those who speak the truth, not accuses them of being “unspiritual” if their truths make others uncomfortable. And because I can assure myself that no names or identifying characteristics will be mentioned, nor are they even remotely likely to ever read this.

So here’s something I’m actually excited to write about… Last month, or maybe the month before, I’m not sure but right before I returned to social media because I had healed enough to start responding to messages and e-mails once again… Some time ago, I faced my very worst fears in social media and relationships:

Someone not only misunderstood me, but thought the very worst of me, used my benign actions to justify their irrational belief that I was of ‘bad character,’ insinuated that I was being selfish with my time, and looked at things I’d written or shared on social media with an authentic energy and interpreted it instead as directly passive aggressive or malicious against them. Then they said what they thought they needed to say (I’m being generous, here), and blocked me everywhere, before getting to see the physical proof that they were actually 10000% wrong in their assumptions. Not a single conversation about what had been bothering them. Just accusation, character assassination, gone.

They took some of my worst fears, (1) that someone would use my words against me, (2) that I should never speak because people will just misinterpret it to mean something completely different and probably malevolent, (3) that someone would stalk things I did or said on social media to concoct a narrative in which they assume the worst of me, (4) that someone would guilt-trip me over the time I needed for self-care and (5) respond to it with accusations of selfishness and/or view it as an ill-conceived personal attack on them, and (6) that any or all of it would be used to justify abuse, character assassination, and/or emotional abandonment, and rolled it alllll into one. big. grand. gesture.

And guess what. I immediately recognized that it was completely unjustified.

I refused to accept blame for things I hadn’t done, because I knew none of it was true.

I didn’t go into hours, weeks, or months of self-abuse thinking I possibly deserved any of it.

And I survived.

Not only did I survive, but I even assertively stood up for myself (before they bailed, at least).

And, as a bonus, I didn’t move to contempt. Hurt over being thought of in such a way by someone I’d started to trust, yes; anger at being mistreated (a good sign for someone who’d always been punished for expressing anger), yes; disappointment and confusion, yes. But not contempt, not hatred, not a sudden need for self-protection by going on the offense, and no thoughts of “what a terrible person you are for doing all this.” They’re not. I know why they did what they did even if they don’t understand it, themselves. I’ve been a version of them in my past, believe it or not, when I didn’t know the true depths of my mental illness. And because I have compassion for the situations in my life that caused me to behave irrationally with others, I can have compassion for the situations in their life which caused them to do this. (Plus I lived with an infection for 7 years that reliably turned my brain chemistry upside down every 5-6 days. But anyway.)

As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic, about a woman who’d read her book and imagined a narrative within it that wasn’t actually written: “Their reaction doesn’t belong to you.” I’m only responsible for what I put out, not how it passes through others’ personal filters, for better or worse. I know now that I don’t have to allow those “worst fears” to have power over me anymore, because I know I will not only survive should it happen again, but that I have healed so much in at least this area, that I won’t be sent into a spiral of self-loathing, automatically assuming I deserved it. I can’t even explain the pit “old me” would’ve had to crawl out of in the past, the way it would’ve stirred up abandonment depression and sincere beliefs of “maybe I am everything they think.”

I’m making tremendous progress this year.

This isn’t even counting what happened at the beginning of the year, when I warned people about someone who had copied and posted my work but changed the words around to reflect their own story and history. Instead of any “thanks for letting us know,” and despite me sending them the link to my piece, I was met mostly with people incredulously claiming it wasn’t mine, and how dare I say such things. Ha! So part of my path this year seems to be learning to not be affected by blame or praise. But especially the blame.

“How equanimous are you when people express their views of liking or not liking what you do? Do you take it personally or understand they are simply expressing their own bias? Does praise or blame disturb your balance?”¹ “As the Buddha said, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute constantly arise and pass away, beyond our control.” He said, “There is always blame in this world. If you say too much, some people will blame you. If you say a little bit, some people will blame you. If you say nothing at all, some people will blame you.”²

I think I’m doing pretty good so far. Don’t you think?

On second thought, don’t respond to that.


I cannot live my life letting fear of what someone might misinterpret decide what I do or don’t do, what I say or don’t say, what I share or don’t share. I’ve lived most of my life walking on eggshells for everyone else, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the remainder of my life doing it, too.

Even now as I write and edit, I feel fear over what others will think about this. Maybe that won’t ever go away. But it doesn’t have to: I’m going to write, speak, share, and live, regardless.

I’m happy about all the progress I’ve made, even if it took something painful to help me realize it.


Takeaways for others, I hope:

  • I didn’t include this part of things, but make sure you’re not accusing someone of something that may actually be partly or entirely due to a technological glitch.
  • Don’t take your thoughts so seriously. Some meditation practices help us contemplate situations from the perspective of, “Do I really know this is what’s happening?” Much of the time, we truly don’t. This can help us find that place of spaciousness from which we can choose to respond instead of react out of past hurts or abuse.
  • If you have mental illness, try to remember your sick brain may colour your perspective of what’s going on. Although not everyone has the luxury of being able to find that spaciousness, not even myself, at all times; the key word is “try.”
  • Likewise, remember if someone has a disease affecting their brain, there’s very little chance it won’t also affect their thoughts, as well as the way they process information. Have compassion.

Above all, remember everyone is doing the best they can with what they have to work with, and for goodness sake, try to think the best of each other.

"To love somebody is to let them be who they are and do what they have to do."

a rainbow at night


1. Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity, by Shaila Catherine, 2002
2. http://www.dharmanet.org/samples/bv4a.htm

This one is for you.

[ estimated reading time: 4 minutes 27 seconds ] © a rainbow at night
Dear reader,

As you may have discerned by now if you’ve been witness to the longest unintentional hiatus this blog has ever undergone, my creative expression has been paralyzed lately. Not only due to the sheer mass of change, but the rate at which it’s taken place. That’s not the only reason by a long-shot, but it’s the quickest explanation I can give.

For the past several years, my posts have mostly read as a chronological account of everything I’ve experienced and how I’ve felt about it, generally accounted for as it happened. Up until recently, I didn’t realize the latter was actually a luxury, and one I could lose. Again, I’m circumventing a lot, but after a certain point that way of writing became impossible, because to write anything new first required procuring necessary back story; that itself became impossible, because I’ve been coping with unprecedented difficulties concerning processing and integration. How could I summarize for others what I was unable to decipher for myself?

There was also guilt involved. One post in particular I made last year was about finally experiencing an extended period of emotional stability after killing off the bartonella (infections). Yet fast forward and what came next were some of the most daunting and powerful months I’ve ever experienced, and they were anything but serene, anything but peaceful, with no stability, save for that quiet place inside my soul. I didn’t know how to magically jump from what I wrote before, to that, without any explanation in between. It was inconceivable. I was afraid my inability to appropriately narrate the explanation would make it seem like I’d just been avoiding my emotions until I could no longer keep up the denial and hit a brick wall. Which was not/is not true at all. Continue reading “This one is for you.”

A Very Special Way of Life

© a rainbow at night

I’m not used to living this kind of life. It’s so different from what I was supposed to have.

I barely see anyone. I barely go anywhere. I have no local friends and I think I’ve permanently lost my ability to drive. Disease puts me in bed an average of 23 hours per day, or at least to somewhere I can lean back and my legs are propped up to ensure proper circulation. When you tell people these things, they immediately pity you and interpret it as a bad kind of life, or a sad kind of life. “Oh you poor thing…” But I feel neither sad nor pitiful. And if you knew how much worse things actually could have been, you’d understand that only 23 hours in bed is a fucking miracle.

What I actually feel is peace, and I’m content and I’m happy and this fact truly boggles my mind.

This isn’t complacency. I know intimately the “lurking dangers” of this life and never have my head in the clouds–it’s not my style. Just last month I tried an herb that had once helped me for seven years; it failed. The month before I temporarily stopped a medicine I was on to see if it really makes a difference; it does. Two weeks ago I upped another med because one of my symptoms has worsened. And I’m only narrowly avoiding having to start a new neuropathy medication. Meanwhile, with much help I’ve planted spider lilies and a peach tree as investments in the future, bought a chaise lounge for my back porch so I can be outside more, have written and advocated a lot (obviously), put new wind-chimes directly outside my bedroom window, made reservations for a four-day beach vacation with my family next month before it gets too hot, because four days means at least one of those days I’ll be able to actually see the beach…

And I also have neurologist, immunologist, pain management, primary care, and endocrinologist appointments, although I struggle immensely with getting to them. As well as four semi-important blood tests to do that will probably never actually get done because I’m sorry, it is just not possible that someone as ill as myself can awaken and get up four hours earlier than usual without any caffeine, any pain medication, or any food, while having autonomic neuropathy, suicide-levels of pain, and pre-diabetes thanks to polycystic ovarian syndrome…

No, I’m not complacent.

There’s no wool over my eyes so that I can smile in the opposite direction. I’ve spent enough of my time in emergency rooms and hospitals and grieving the deaths of others from my same diseases that a bubble of blind optimism offers me no protection. Nor have I given my resignation to life, although I know I’ve exhausted my treatment options. Even if this was as good as it ever got, I’ve done enough living for many lifetimes, I think. And when the theatre season picks up next month I do have plans to go and to see. There’s a choir, another chamber orchestra, another beach, another ballet, all evenly spaced so that I’ll have time to rest then go then rest again to ensure my attendance at the next.

But for the past four months I’ve been what can only be described as a recluse, and I am so perfectly fine with it, that my peaceful surrender actually gave me pause. I had to stop and make sure nothing was wrong with me, that I wasn’t secretly anxious or scared or complacent or depressed or suffering a lack of motivation, because in my naiveté I thought those were the only reasons anyone could be in their own company for as long as I have and not crave “more.” As it turns out, my definition of “more” has changed dramatically, and being peaceful this consistently just isn’t something I’m used to, so I’ll sit with it for a while until I understand it fully, like Buddha under the Bodhi tree.

Most of my life has been spent in some form of chaos. Even growing up, I had no idea what it meant to relax, although ironically I never put it together that such a hellish environment was the very definition of stress, because that fact was so vehemently denied by the chaos-makers in favor of the illusion of happiness. It occurred to me later in life that this may be why I only accept authenticity and facing life head-on: I know what it feels like to be surrounded by fake emotions and others’ delusions instead of reality, and I never, ever want to live that way again. Life is much less frightening when you face it, trust me. There is safety in the truth.

Even though this is the kind of life that most would consider boring–especially my fellow Americans–I am so happy, and my quiet existence fills me with such joy. After living chaotically for such a long time, there’s now a sweet comfort in my predictable routines, an intense pleasure to be found in what most call mundane. The paradox is that I’m faced with allowing myself this happiness.

Confronted with better alternatives to old toxic patterns, there’s a bridge I must cross every time solutions seem too easy, too good to be true. I used to feel guilty for feeling calm amongst awful situations that were tearing other people apart, situations that in fact used to tear me apart, also. You think I just woke up like this one day? Oh, definitely not.

I still remember where I was the first time I noticed everyone around me was crumbling under a crisis, yet I, instead, was overcome with internal peace, finally aware that I could still not only feel calm, but I could actually be the calm, even as I acknowledged the situation’s dark potential. The difficult part was no longer finding that quiet internal space, but allowing myself to be as okay as I sincerely felt, and understanding it didn’t mean I was any less concerned than everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s how everyone else interpreted it even as I openly expressed otherwise, but you can’t please everyone.

I’m learning to be okay with this type of stability.

People do everything they do because they want to be happy, feel safe, have an impact on the world around them, and live in harmony. I used to think there was only one way for me to get there.

Thank goodness I was wrong.

a rainbow at night


See also:

Advance Directives and Treatment Planning, Part 2 of 2: It’s YOUR Body and These Are YOUR Choices

[ estimated reading time: 3 mins 29 sec ]
What made me even more motivated to do all of this is a situation I’m in with my pain management doctor. Words can’t express how thankful I am for his help, but the office is crowded, and sometimes they are more interested in swiftness than quality time. You’d think adequate communication was fairly important when discussing things such as burning away your nerves as a type of “treatment”?

The conversation has always been, We’ll try to numb the nerve, then if it works, we’ll burn it. Never once was I asked how I’d feel about this, or if I wanted to do it. So much so, that I nearly forgot to contemplate it, myself!

Because of the side effects I got just from the “trial” shot, doing something semi-permanent like radiofrequency ablation–or radio frequency nerve lesioning as it’s also called–would probably result in the same bizarre side effects, only forever: Never being able to recognize myself in the mirror, and never being able to keep my balance even with my eyes OPEN.

Does that sound AT ALL how I want to spend what could be my last stretch of life able to truly function? NO. I still don’t know why those odd side-effects accompanied my injection, but that’s what happened.

They were very willing to work with me when I discussed how I absolutely cannot have the steroids that usually accompany the nerve block/make it last longer, but I’ve still had a lot of anxiety about discussing how I don’t want to obliterate one of my nerves in an attempt at “relief.” That’s the exact opposite of what I view as self-care and treating my body kindly. But I don’t want to seem like I’m not wanting to help myself, something everyone with chronic illness has been accused of at least once but more likely a dozen times.

I also don’t want to come across as just wanting pills and nothing else, and get some unwanted reputation as a pill-seeker. As much as pain management advocacy groups make it sound like everyone has the right to pain control, I’m sorry, but being mislabeled still happens. A lot. Part of the reason it took me so long to seek pain management in the first place is because in the past I was always denied at the ER: They didn’t believe me and unjustly assumed I was only there for drugs because my conditions (Fibromyalgia, at the time) were so poorly understood. I know my anxiety has stemmed from all this, because what if my current doctors also don’t understand? But I’m at the point now where I’m too frustrated with the fact that my opinion over what I want to do with my body was never even requested, so they will either understand, or I’ll have to find a new clinic.  We have to talk about how I do not want to do that to my body.


My point in this two-part entry, is this:

You don’t have to do what’s “expected” of you, when it comes to your health. Whether that concerns end of life care, medical treatments, or prescription options: If you want them, and you think they’re worth the risk–and they all have risks–then try to get them. But don’t feel pressured to get them just because someone else thinks it’s right, because your doctor thinks it’s right, or because other people wish they could have it, if it’s not really what YOU want for YOUR body and YOUR life.

For a long time I even felt guilt over turning down my Lyme etc. treatment because there are people who want to get treatment, that can’t… But that doesn’t do anyone any good at all. It doesn’t make sense to kill myself with antibiotics just because someone else wishes they had any antibiotics at all.

And don’t forget to consider what it means for you in the long run. Many people want to stay around for as long as possible, no matter what the cost; for their children, spouse, best friend, others who need them, without stopping to think of how those emotionally-charged decisions are actually going to affect their life. It’s worth the extra thought.

Are they still getting “you” if your attempts to stay alive rob you of your body and mind? Is it in the best interest of your values and morals? And are your morals and values in your best interest?

Cellphone photo #10
“I will live. we all one day will. but where’s the difference between life and living?” (Photo and text credit: Leni Tuchsen)

At what point is prolonging your being alive with the aid of modern medicine only going to promote your suffering?

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

 

MTHFR Deficiency Cannot Be Cured, But Treating To Cure is All I’ve Ever Done

Earlier this month I found out I had another new diagnosis, another piece to my chronic illness puzzle.

I found a doctor with experience in the area, and spent three weeks gathering the past 18 months of my medical records and filling out their extensive forms.

And this afternoon, I shredded all of it.

I found out I do, indeed, have the MTHFR gene mutation genetic polymorphism. Two of them, two copies of the C677T mutation, or MTHFR 677 TT, put another way (homozygous). This is not the worst case scenario, which would be one C677T and one A1298C polymorphism. What it does mean–as far as I can tell–is that while people with only one copy of the C677T polymorphism might have mild problems or generally do just fine, people with two copies are at a higher risk for the associated diseases. And it’s a reason why I cannot detox properly. Maybe the reason.

At the biological level, it means my body has trouble converting folic acid–the synthetic, unnatural, manmade form of Folate/B9–into a form that I can use. And because properly converting folic acid is what allows you to properly convert B12 to use, I have trouble there, too. (Or at least, I’m supposed to…?) So because these polymorphisms cause my body to be less efficient, I don’t make enough methylfolate. But you need methylfolate to use folic acid, and you also need methylfolate to use B12 (that is, to convert the common manmade-B12, cyanocobalamin, into the body’s natural, useable-B12, methylcobalamin).

Depending upon how much you randomly know, you may have noticed that says I cannot convert the forms of Folate and B12 that are added to everything, including 99% of vitamin supplements: Folic acid and Cyanocobalamin. They’re in everything because people are supposed to be able to convert them and use them. But I can’t do that very well, so if I consume things that have these, such as in vitamins or enriched foods, I am going to have a build-up of these unusable-to-me forms of vitamins, while never getting adequate amounts of the ones I can use.

This is why taking a multivitamin makes me sick. Even when I was taking my B-complex, I always had to chop them into pieces and only take them a few times per week to avoid sickness. Now, FINALLY, I know why this happens!!

“Folic Acid is Not Methylfolate

“Synthetic folic acid does not exist in the human body. It is found in vitamins, and thanks to the FDA’s wisdom, in enriched flour-based foods (yet another reason to shun flour!).  Multiple enzymatic steps are necessary to convert folic acid into its active form beginning with dihydrofolate reductase in the gut.  Individuals with gene variants, but specifically homozygous C677 should avoid folic acid because of the concern for limited breakdown and subsequent accumulation of this man-made agent. One study has implicated folic acid in suppression of important immune factors called natural killer cells.

Source: Kelly Brogan, MD

All of this is supposed to mean I should have elevated levels of some things and low levels of various other things floating around because I can’t convert them properly… And these excess levels can cause all sorts of problems. But, according to my recent bloodwork–particularly the homocysteine–everything is within normal limits. It’s kind of astonishing, really.

To say I’m appreciative of my body finding ways around this, and making me crave food that would give me what I need, is an understatement. Go body, go! I will help you.


You know what medication makes this worse? Bactrim. This probably helps explain why my liver was fine until I needed Bactrim to finish killing off the bartonella infection. Should I need it again in the future, I will know to take milk thistle or something similar, to offset the effects, BEFORE my body gets too stressed…

And that’s pretty much how I’m going to approach this entire thing. I’m going to learn about it slowly and do what I can do offset the effects–symptom management, palliative care–and let my body continue doing what it can for as long as it can. I may do further research into mild supplementation, but mainly, my outlook is that this is another quirk I get the OPPORTUNITY to manage. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, but:

I am not going to go into “treatment mode.”

And it took several weeks of lamentation for me to really understand I had that choice, and that it wouldn’t be the same as suicide. As one person put it,

“The media constantly bangs on about how to live. . . They tell you how to preserve your body surgically and chemically so you look younger, slimmer, healthier. Why? Nature is perfect in herself. Every season is beautiful.

To be suicidal is to want to die and take actions to facilitate it. But I want to live. It just so happens that humans are subject to disease and death, and if I continue on the path which I have for the past almost-thirteen years, I will not be able to enjoy my life, the only one I have.

I am going through a whirlwind of emotions with this, and if you think you’re able, you can take the ride with me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared, or happy, in my entire life. To be continued

a rainbow at night


PostScript: I’ve been doing a lot of photography lately in honour of Jeremiah Katches‘ passing, so I’ll be posting some of my pictures at the bottom of my posts. This may be a temporary thing or ongoing (much like life, really), but here you go:

Relapse Journey: Is Choosing Treatment Still Choosing Life?

Here, let me type this so you all won’t think I live in a happy-land bubble. (That’s not really why I’m typing this, but it’ll probably confirm it unintentionally.)

This relapse has sent me on quite a ride, physically and emotionally. I did need to take the full two weeks off of treatment, and I’ve only been back on treatment one week before hitting the point of “why am I doing this,” because I’m still relapsed, feel like hell, and I can’t handle this. I’m generally better than I was during the initial crash, but I haven’t bounced back from that point, yet. And the pain…

I have been on twice my usual pain medications, every day, for almost the entire past three weeks. I think there was maybe one day I was okay without anything (and I really wish I knew how it happened!). This has mostly resulted in me subjecting myself to psychological torment over needing them. I used to be able to take breaks from ibuprofen, for the well-being of my stomach; now I cannot. I used to be able to take Lortab (vicodin, as most people know it) once or twice a week to get through the worst of things; now the pain is so bad I cannot function without taking it daily.

Even typing that–that I can’t function without painkillers right now–makes me feel guilty!

In my head, all I hear are family members who took them, who REALLY DIDN’T need them and therefore think no one else actually does, either; other spoonies who have said incomprehensible things like “this suffering is unbearable but I ‘don’t believe in’ taking pain medication”; and society saying that anyone who takes Vicodin is probably one step away from being House, MD during one of the really bad rehab episodes. So yes, cue the shame over needing something to make it through the day, when I previously could just tough it out.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, dissecting it from various angles… It’s like I feel I am somehow responsible for needing it, as if I did something to make this happen instead of realizing my body is severely ill. Well…

My favourite quote is the African proverb,

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

Which translates to: Someone’s ill-conceived judgement of you is not going to hurt you unless you actually believe what they say to be true. I even wrote it on my mirror in dry erase marker a few months ago, to remind me of it. This helped me realize that it wasn’t what I thought everyone else was thinking that bothered me–it was actually what I was thinking about myself. I was the one condemning me, not anyone else.

The people who love me were actually very glad I had adequate pain relief! It was (is) the only way they’ve gotten to see or hear from me at all the past three weeks!

It all boils down to a loss of control, I think.

  • Maybe I’m just not ready to accept that I’m still under the effects of this relapse and haven’t bounced back from it yet.

  • Maybe I’m scared my disease is worsening or my Lyme treatment isn’t working or has done all that it can do.

  • Maybe I’m uneasy because I’ve never been dependent on a controlled substance before.

  • Maybe I’m not ready to accept that I’m a chronic pain patient again.

  • Maybe it reminds me that things WILL eventually get worse.

  • Maybe I’m scared that there is no turning back from this point (even though there probably is).

These are the ways relapsing makes you feel. I’m frustrated over my Lyme treatment, and all these medicines, and I’m just.. so tired of all this. I’m so tired of this fight to prolong my life.

Sometimes I just want to stop taking everything and see how far I make it. But I also feel that’d be almost the same as suicide.

I just think, Well, if I’m going to keep going downhill, at least let me not fight/make it happen even quicker; it’d be better to enjoy what I still have than waste what’s left on a battle I can’t win. My doctor once told me that, even. If the treatment is as bad as the disease itself, to weigh my options. Treatment for chronic Lyme disease is like chemotherapy for cancer; don’t let anyone tell you differently. And even if you get relatively symptom-free, it can always come back. My old bartonella infection could always come back, even.

So for now, I’m returning to once-a-day Biaxin for the Lyme disease and Mycoplasma treatment. It’s either I go back to that, or I stop treatment completely. I’m emotionally worn out from getting better and then relapsing, with each event being worse than the one before it. (Quite a predicament to be in when my subset of myalgic encephalomyelitis is relapse-remitting–that’s pretty much all that my future holds!)


This might all seem like a 180 from my last post, but it’s not. Maybe I had to express how grateful I am to be alive, so I wouldn’t think this (what I’m feeling) was because I wasn’t… Because I am grateful, and all of this isn’t because I’m not.

My being thankful to be alive and also tired of fighting are not mutually exclusive.

I am so happy to still be here, to have all these things that help me, and people who love me… And sometimes, I just want that to be enough. Sometimes, I just want to embrace my accommodations, enjoy what I have, what life I have left, and live out the rest of my days in as much peace as possible, without the fighting to stay alive part every day, without the medications that are keeping one disease from progressing but which may be setting me up for worser things in the future.

The choice is ultimately mine, I know.

I don’t often say this, and it might be a bit crude, but I should get an award for not offing myself yet. I have friends with this disease who have tried, and friends who have succeeded, and I don’t blame them at all. No, I don’t blame them at all, in the face of a disease that takes you oh-so-slowly. To hold on when there is little hope of a cure, and you know what you’ll face later on: that is a true survivor, no matter what the disease does to you.

Well, actually, I did get an award; a blog award, and I’ll talk about that… In my next post. Along with some facts about the me, the person behind the blog.


For others going through a relapse right now, I offer you this:

What is a relapse?
It is an unexpected deterioration in the condition of a sick person after partial recovery.

Conclusion: A little Allegory
Imagine, if you can, a tranquil English breakfast table. The kettle steams, the electric toaster is in action, but someone forgets to adjust the thermostat. Suddenly the smoke alarm shrills from above and is wrenched from its socket before upsetting the neighbours.

Despite our wonderful self-regulating kitchen gadgetry, all is in chaos! In future, pay careful attention to your body’s thermostat, your daily variation in energy and activity and remain grateful for the commotion set up by your immunological stress alarm if it prevents another set-back. Good luck!

http://www.tymestrust.org/pdfs/nosmoke.pdf

a rainbow at night

Attention: I’m not suicidal.

I am not my body.

digital painting by a rainbow at night, based off the original photography of Heather Bybee

And yet, I am.

I am not my body because I am not the sickness, the weakness, the pain, or systemic dysfunction that prevents me from doing what I attempt on any given day. I am not my body’s shortcomings. I am not what my disease does, whether physical or mental, and I will not feel guilty because my body is sick. It is not my fault that it cannot function like that of the next able-bodied individual.

But I am my body because this is the vessel through which Life is expressing itself, and we have one very important thing in common:

No matter what is going on, it always functions to the best of its ability. Each and every moment it aims to support and accommodate me in all that I–and disease–attempt to do. You’re never going to wake up one morning and have it go, “No, don’t feel like giving my all today, sorry.” It may feel like it sometimes, but it never slacks off. It’s always calculating priorities and options and will always do everything within its power to run as smoothly as is possible for the situation.

“Your body didn’t betray you. It just compensated and compensated until it couldn’t anymore.” *

Have truer words been spoken?

This morning I woke up with a rash on my neck; it’s always been a telltale sign that my immune system is strained. My first instinct was to berate my immune system for not working properly–don’t I go through enough?–but wait a minute…

Did it purposely fail me? Did it not try hard enough to function properly? Did it just get lazy and decide to rash me up? No, not at all. It’s actually trying its best to support me.

Sometimes what our body is able to do isn’t enough to give us the outcome we desire. Sometimes it might even attack itself out of confusion, causing us more suffering. But our body–like you and I–will always do what’s perceived to be right, will constantly accommodate changing circumstances, and always aims to do the very best.

Repeat after me:

My body is doing the best it can to support me.
My body is doing what it thinks is right.
My body is not my enemy.

:)

a rainbow at night

* This profound statement was shared by the doctor of one of our fellow Lymies.

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.

Thoughts on Emily Collingridge and Being Judged for Our Disabilities

© a rainbow at night

These two topics complement each other in an unexpected way.

First, the recent death of fellow myalgic encephalomyelitis sufferer (or person with M.E., if you prefer) Emily Collingridge has shaken me, and I’m ready to be honest about why. Usually I would skip this part and post the conclusion of my thoughts, but it’d probably be therapeutic for myself and for those reading (whoever you are) to read a different part of the process.


I have many friends with either M.E. or what is supposedly M.E., that have never known the level of sick that even I have, much less something like what Emily endured in her final years. And that’s good, really! But it’s scary to think that this could be me, because of my susceptibility to this level of sickness. (And goodness knows not anytime soon, because she had the illness twenty-four years and I’m just at ten, but…) It’s not even the death itself, but the way it happens.

Most illnesses so severe will take you out quicker than this. There aren’t many that drag on and on in such a way… Professor Mark Loveless served as Medical Director of HIV/AIDS Programs at Oregon Health Sciences University, and in 1995 he said in his Congressional Briefing that someone with M.E. “feels effectively the same every day as an AIDS patient feels two months before death; the only difference is that the symptoms can go on for never-ending decades.” It broke my heart to hear of her suffering so much, for so long, and, just like Sophia, with her knowing that if she got hospitalized it’d be the worst possible thing to happen… Then sure enough…

I wonder if they’ll have hospice options for people like us in the future.

My “Lymie” friends say that even when they were at their absolute sickest with Lyme disease, they could still listen to music softly or watch television with sunglasses on, and they can’t imagine being that ill and suffering that much, not being able to do anything whatsoever. I can’t imagine it, either. I was only like that for a short amount of time, my symptoms being exacerbated by the trauma of those additional infections, and it just sucks all the happiness out of you; being unable to listen to music, in my case, was particularly difficult. How do you cope with the pain of hearing someone with the same disease as you–your sister or brother in this struggle–enduring that for so long, to be on morphine from so much pain, only to not make it through?

Had she not had the illness for twenty-four years, she likely would have been able to bounce back to a less-afflicted state of sickness as she previously had; as many do, going in and out of the severity levels. When you get it young, like Emily did, like I did (though certainly not as young as six years old), you usually do experience a remission; most, at around four years after the onset. A lot of people stabilize after that. Most stabilize after that, actually, into a moderate or mild affliction. It’s just this 25-30% that get it really, really bad, and it continues to progress over time; almost all the deaths occur from this group.

The thing is, I started this blog with severe M.E.–my condition having been worsened by secondary infections–and I was very privileged a couple of months ago to remove the “severe” classification from my blog description: fromChronicling a very special way of life, that of someone living with severe M.E.,” to “living with M.E.” I remember a year ago, just wanting to be able to brush my teeth whilst standing up. Now I have a chance to get better still than I already have, but if I even so much as look outside, I can’t help but be reminded of all the people who can’t even do that, due to this disease. There’s certainly some degree of survivor’s guilt, here. 

In my day to day life, it’s not often I have to really think of the M.E. anymore, because the things I do to keep it in check are just routine, after all this time. Really, fighting the Lyme disease is my focus and takes up most of my energy, but after hearing of this, it brought me back to the reality that even once I get the Lyme subdued, I’ll still have this terrible, terrible, disease.

My niece, who I live with, has been sick with a viral-induced cough, and I’ve been thinking, at least it’s not the flu (which would hospitalize me) so it wouldn’t be that serious if I did accidentally catch it… But then I remembered that it was a viral ear infection that ultimately made my M.E. relapse five years ago. And it was a viral ear infection that also sent Sophia Mirza into irreversible relapse, all the way to her death. So there really is no such thing as a “better” virus when you have ME. On top of it all, there’s now the paranoia of living with an immunodeficiency disease, and the anxiety of knowing the consequences if I were to catch something so minuscule…

It was a lot of triggers at once.

And it came at a particularly awkward time, after reading an article about a woman with muscular dystrophy who has found a way to enjoy painting, despite the muscle weakness:

“With her condition, most people would just be vegetating, watching TV, enjoying checks from the state. But she does a lot of work. She stays strong.”

I was exasperated with anger.

It’s just another example of how you’re only allowed to be a “worthy” disabled person if you still do things. If you can’t, if you’re really, really sick, then you’re just “vegetating and watching tv and enjoy checks from the state.” Nevermind that we need those “checks from the state” to survive, or that watching television might be the only relief we have from the every day, nonstop suffering…

People don’t want to hear of the severely disabled. They only want to hear of people who are disabled “and yet still.” They don’t want to hear of people who are bedbound to the point of being unable to do anything at all but exist, like so many people I know; like the person I have been and will be again one day; like Emily, when she became too ill to even eat on her own.

I found that article because I was wondering if there were any tricks to navigating muscle weakness that might allow me to still do artwork, besides just taking an excruciating amount of time to complete things. With its similar progressive muscle weakness, muscular dystrophy was the closest thing to myalgic encephalomyelitis I could think of that might have information out there about how to manage it while being an artist.

Then I find an article whose interviewer says that if I can’t do it, if I can’t “and yet still,” I’m just lazy and not strong enough in character!?

It was infuriating, and the reason I wrote about “Media Portrayals of Resilience in Disability and Illness” two years ago. I really don’t take it as a compliment anymore when people say I’m “so strong” because I’m still doing something…

Because what, when my M.E. gets to the point that I can only lie there and breathe, then I don’t matter anymore? Am I still strong if I cannot do? Are we not still worthy? It’s awful being reminded–and now, of all times–that there are people out there who think you, as a human being living with a disability, are inferior, weak, and lazy, for the sole reason that you dare to exist without also inspiring them.

As fellow blogger and severe M.E. sufferer Laurel stated in her post, “In Memory of Emily,” she embodied “strength, spirit and determination–all of which she continued to demonstrate to the very end,” and which was not determined by how much she did.

She did do a lot when she was physically able, even though it took so much out of her. There were causes she thought important enough to spend her very valuable resources on, but when she became unable to continuing doing in her last years, that did not make her any less strong or determined.

I never knew Emily personally, though I was a big fan of her her book for sufferers of severe myalgic encephalomyelitis, and linked to it here several times. It is an indispensable aid to those forced to navigate these unstable waters, one that could have only come from someone who knew its unpredictability and devastation first hand.


In closing, I would ask you to take the time to read Emily’s Appeal, which she wrote over the course of several weeks while she was still able. Additionally, Emily’s story, from her own words, can be found here.

a rainbow at night

Guilt Be Gone! (via Chris’ Companions of Lyme)

“Emotional pain can’t be cured by logic, and Lyme comes with an incredible amount of emotional pain.  You are the cause of a drastic change in lifestyle, are a financial burden, and can’t be there for the ones you love.  Lyme becomes you world, because controlling your Lyme is your survival.  All of that brings tremendous guilt.

It’s not your fault.

“I keep telling Cee it’s not her fault.  She didn’t go running into a hot bed of ticks with a Bite Me sign on her.  She didn’t plan to be in pain for years and almost die just for the fun of it.  It happened.”

Read More

via Chris’ Companions of Lyme

I’m sick and disabled AND I’m allowed to have some enjoyment in life.

I do have a facebook. And today, I watched movies on television practically all day. I can’t remember the last time I did such a thing. It’s very draining for me to watch movies, but commercials help as I can mute and rest every 10-15 minutes to avoid overstimulating my nervous system. So today, that’s what I did!

I mentioned this on facebook.

Someone replied with, “I wish I could have a lazy Saturday.”

I deleted the comment immediately.

It strongly struck a nerve with me, for this and every other time someone has said anything to the effect of, “I wish I could just do [insert something that people usually find relaxing] instead of [whatever hard “real life” thing they’re doing].”

Now, I know this person, and I know they didn’t intend anything offensive or upsetting by it, but I highly doubt they thought it through, making a comment like that to someone who is chronically ill and disabled. And I do understand it’s a normal, knee-jerk reaction from someone who is very busy and exhausted. But you just don’t say that to a group who struggle daily with finding enjoyment in part because their primary stigma is of being “lazy welfare moochers.”

It brings up every bit of elitist ableism we’ve suffered over the years that constantly tries to strenghten the divide between the sick “us” and the healthy “them”, in order to affirm the following:

You can only do “sick people” things, because real sick people don’t have any fun;

You have to prove to us that you are actually ill by acting ill;

You’re not allowed to be anything other than miserable because if you really felt so bad then you’d show it every second of the day;

I’d smile too if I “didn’t have to” work;

You are different, we are not the same, so be what I expect you to be.

It alludes to all the judgmental remarks and accusatory looks we’ve gotten when we’re seen buying a movie instead of a bottle of medicine, a chocolate bar instead of a salad, a CD instead of something “medically necessary,” or spending any small amount on something for us instead of putting it into savings; a savings which, I assure you, is only dollars a month, at best.

It alludes to all the doctors giving us strange looks when we still manage to laugh in their office; people in parking lots giving us dirty stares because we park in the handicapped spaces (with a tag!) but still don’t “look disabled enough” to be there; and the fact that the government literally spies on some during “good days” and uses that to argue a legal case that our payments need to be stopped.

So, no. Don’t say things like, “I wish your relaxation was all I had to worry about,” unless you really think being unable to function due to disabling illness 95% of your waking hours that is every so often intervened by very short moments of reprieve where you’re actually able to enjoy yourself, sounds like your idea of a vacation.

WARNING!!! Things NOT to say to someone with a disabling chronic illness: ...but you don't look sick ...everybody gets tired ...you're just having a bad say ...it must be nice not having to go to work ...i wish I had time to take a nap ...if you'd get out more ...you're just getting older ...if you'd get more exercise ...it can't be that bad ...it's all in your head ...you're just depressed ...there are people worse off than you ...you'll just have to tough it out ...you just need a more positive attitude ...this, too, shall pass (I wouldn't wish what I have on anyone, but unless you get it, you just don't get it.)

a rainbow at night

Battle of the Pills: What Managing Chronic Lyme Disease Really Looks Like

I always said I’d do this one day. Post a picture of all the medicine I have, about a third of which I must take every day; a third of which are as-needed/to save me from worse things; and a third of which I take several times per week depending on symptoms. But I never did, and getting to the bottom of why is almost more of a journey than I’m prepared to write about. I still feel ashamed.

I feel ashamed that I need so many medications while the majority of people in my age bracket might take one or two, or maybe none at all.

I feel scared at the reality that if you were to take them all away from me, I would crumble, my body becoming a non-functioning mess, encompassed by disease before it slowly withered away; it’s painful to be reminded of how much I need them.

I feel resentment at myself, because a little part of me thinks that posting this only sends the message, Hey, look at all this medicine I take, I must be really bad off if I need all this medicine, doesn’t this make me seem attention-seeking, and that it will attract a more vicious crowd. Because that’s not what this is about and “sick” is not all that I am by a long-shot…

But it’s impossible to separate yourself from what is–a human being living with chronic disease–when every three hours you have to remember to pop one of these pills, “or else.”

I feel anger, and guilt, and any other number of emotions, after constantly being told, “You can’t possibly need that many pills. I don’t like taking pills because they have side effects and they might cause something else to happen; I just don’t know how you take all of that!”

Well, it must be nice to have that choice of whether or not you get to take something, because not everyone has that. I certainly don’t. Not if I want to function or be able to do anything at all, like breathe or eat or walk, on a good day; not if I want to give myself the best chance at having a “normal” life, one that will never, ever be normal anyway.

These are all of my current prescriptions. There are twenty-five of them here, that are still useful and/or necessary. These are excluding the ones I’ve taken in the past but no longer need, such as Nasonex, Ambien, Doxycycline, Sporanox, Nizoral, et cetera…

…and these are my prescriptions plus all necessary supplements and herbs that I have to buy myself. This doesn’t include the three from other rooms I wasn’t able to get, so the total comes to forty.

This, after years of dwindling them down to the ones that genuinely do something.

 

The main reason I remember wanting to do this, was specifically because I had a problem with it, and I don’t like anything holding power over me. I didn’t want to show anyone this post. Sure, when my family and friends visit, they see the eight or so bottles I have stacked on top of my bedside table. And they see me grab a bottle or two in the middle of our conversations, either because it’s time for another dose of something, or symptoms have arisen. But it’s easy to allow those very close to you to see what you go through. It’s something else entirely to disclose it to the world and expose yourself to scrutiny. But…

This is the pharmaceutical side of having myalgic encephalomyelitis, a disabling neuroimmune disease that has no cure, only symptom-based management.

This is what it’s really like having chronic, late stage Lyme disease, and bartonellosis, two potentially-fatal bacterial infections of the nervous system that may persist after months, or, in many cases, years of attempted treatment.

And this is the shame resulting from years of subtle and not-so-subtle messages from society, friends, even family members, that say, “Be quiet about your disease, lest you make the rest of us uncomfortable.”

People need to know all that these diseases can do, not just the side that makes the newspapers because someone “miraculously recovered.” Pardon me if I don’t want to be quiet about it anymore.

a rainbow at night

When You Do Everything Right But You Only Get Sicker

[estimated reading time: 4 min 3 sec ]
The past several days, I’ve encountered more suffering and symptoms than is typical, including more Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and losing a fairly decent chunk of time (read as: Tuesday), which hasn’t happened in a while. Today was the first respite I’ve had from this mild progression. I had a few things I was going to write about, like what it’s like during “A Day of Bartonella,” which was raging on the 28th/29th of November, and a small rant I had in my head for a couple days about.. something I can’t remember anymore, but. I can see now that’s just not going to happen. So I’m going to just let it go. Which is a small triumph in and of itself, really!

Basically, starting my herbs did not work out. I herxed, flared terribly, and got cardiac irregularity after just a couple days, so I wasn’t able to continue them during the final week of my Sporanox like my doctor had wanted me to. I’m not pleased with this, but what can you do? I am doing everything possible to beat this, and if it’s not enough, it’s not enough. I really have to stop feeling personally responsible every time my body fails me, and get rid of the idea that it’s somehow the other way around.

Anyone with chronic illness is usually surrounded by one or many people who are convinced if only the “sick person” did things their way, all would work out. You’ve spent the past decade with your illness, know it inside and out, but still, there are those who think a quick “What do you have to lose?” and “It can’t hurt to try, right?” are sufficient evidence for you to trial-run whatever happens to be circulating on Google or daytime talkshows.

The truth is, we’ve learned the hard way–either through personal experience or shared horror stories–that what you don’t know can hurt you. So it’s frustrating, to say the least, hearing someone willing to take a gamble on your delicate health just because they haven’t yet learned to deal with their own feelings of helplessness. So of course if you didn’t do it their way, if you didn’t give their ideas a shot and you got worse, it must be your fault, right? Didn’t they “tell you so”? Wrong.

My family is one that is lost to the mechanics of all these diseases I live with, and often they don’t understand all I must actually do to try and get well. I do try to explain how things work when I’m able, but I can only expend so much energy on it. Having moderate-to-severe cognitive dysfunction at any given moment means The Art of Explanation isn’t always on my ability list, and if it is, it’s usually not at a time when anyone is around to listen. So they are understandly confused when all these things that were supposed to work for me, don’t.

I tell them, I know what I’m doing… And the truth is, I do know what I’m doing. I could write a book on these illnesses by now. But I guess somewhere along the line I’ve equated “knowing what I’m doing” with “I’ll get better if I do this.” So when things aren’t getting better–like now–I feel as if somehow I’ve let down my friends and family, as well as myself…  But I’m finally starting to realize that is false. You can do everything right, and it still not work. I think that warrants repetition, even.

You can do everything right, and it still not work.

Funny thing is, I’ve known this for a long while. Nothing quite says, “It doesn’t matter what you do, I’m going to act however I feel like,” as much as having a completely unpredictable illness about which little is truly known. But I think this is the first time it’s really settled in, become integrated. I’ve gone through constant trial and error over the past nine months, in which things that should have conquered my treatment complications long ago, simply haven’t. And I think, if there’s anything to be gained from this situation, I appreciate the life lesson. I appreciate it being driven into my psyche that no matter what any doctor, family member, friend, or inner nagging voice says, if I’m doing all I can and things don’t go the way they’re “supposed to,” that’s all right, because it’s not my fault.

I can have all the knowledge in the world–and I put what I have to use every day–as well as all the tools to work with, and I still will not have complete control over how my body responds.

I can only thank God that I do know as much as I do, because without that knowledge, I’d be much worse off, and going downhill at a much quicker rate.

God, grant us the
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.

a rainbow at night

For a 2012 edition to this entry, see my newer post: Having determination does not always equal curing a disease.