Resuming Antibiotics for Lyme-Induced Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

© a rainbow at night

In case you missed it buried within my last post: I learned I do have multiple sclerosis. My neurologist said the official diagnosis as of right now is “Clinically Isolated Syndrome,” which can present with or without optic neuritis. Mine presented with, but I recovered well from that attack and my ophthalmologist confirmed there is no permanent damage to my optic nerves.

CIS and MS are the same disease process, but since MS literally means “multiple scars,” CIS is what you call the first episode, because there are a few people who never go on to develop another attack. But that wasn’t actually my first attack, or even my first documented attack. Because I refused to get a spinal tap at the time, the last lesion was attributed to “post-infectious demyelination” or “atypical MS.” They wanted to test my cerebrospinal fluid for Lyme antibodies at the same time as MS markers, and I couldn’t afford to risk a false-negative Lyme test, which my insurance could’ve used to deny coverage for my antibiotics. I have personally watched someone have their treatment revoked until they did additional spinal taps to prove the bacteria were there, and there was no way I was going to chance that happening to me, as horrendously ill as I already was.

I’ve had about five neurologists since 2008 because they keep moving, so my current neurologist is under the impression this is only my first attack, hence the CIS model. Most doctors rigidly hold the belief that neuroborreliosis (Lyme disease that has spread to the brain and spinal cord) and multiple sclerosis are not related, so my “official” diagnosis will change depending on which doctor I see and their level of understanding about my history. At any given time it’s one or more of the following:

  • Post-infectious demyelination
  • Clinically isolated syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Atypical MS
  • Relapse-remitting MS
  • Neuroborreliosis
  • Inflammatory disease of the central nervous system
  • Demyelinating disease of the spinal cord
  • Disease of nerves in arms, legs, hands, and feet (what even is this diagnosis?)
Image from “LYMEPOLICYWONK: Misdiagnosis of Lyme disease as MS” by Lorraine Johnson, JD, MBA, and the Chief Executive Officer of LymeDisease.org. Click for more information.

Without medication, I regularly and predictably relapse about twice a year, about 5 months apart. I think the reason for this is, when my immune system starts to run out of options against the accumulating spirochetes, I usually develop a bacterial infection and require a short course of antibiotics, and those antibiotics also beat the Lyme back into remission for about 4-5 months max. But then the bugs build back up again, and my immune system gets stressed again, and I can’t fight off another bacterial problem again, requiring another short course of antibiotics which tithe me over for another 5 months… And so on. Rinse and repeat for the past five years since stopping Lyme disease treatment in 2012.

It wasn’t always so much like clockwork, though, for many reasons but largely because since “the big relapse” in 2012, I’ve only been able to tolerate an infant’s dose of antibiotics for maybe two days before my brain felt like it would explode. That is, until this year’s miracle happened:

In March, I was able to complete a 10-day course of antibiotics with absolutely no problem, for the first time since The Big Relapse. So, coupled with my new diagnosis, I decided to brave Lyme disease treatment again.

Yes, you read that correctly. What I wrote here five years ago has finally come to fruition:

“My friends say I can always begin treatment later after I’ve rested a bit more, but this is the equivalent of waiting until a cancer is stage 3 or 4 to begin treating. The disease is advanced, it’s harder to kill, and the treatment will be that much worse. … But regardless, this may be my only option, and all I can do is hope that with more rest, I will be able to begin treatment again in the future, and be able to handle it.”

My God, to be typing these words… There have been a lot of tears this past week. Over all my suffering, over all the life lessons learned, over all the years it looked like I would never make it here because of the constantly relapsing infections, over all the miracles that took place just in time, every time, so that I evaded further damage, and that I’ve actually healed from much of the damage already sustained… But mainly, over the fact that I am now here, having survived it all physically and mentally, and in a position where I am able to do something about it.

I made it.

And I’m starting treatment again.

We’re going to push it back into remission ON PURPOSE with an ACTUAL TREATMENT PLAN and an ACTUAL DOCTOR, not just skate by on whatever antibiotics I end up on, hoping it’ll be enough to fend off MS for as long as possible. The diagnosis is here! Time is up!


I’m doing pulsed antibiotic therapy this time–please research if you haven’t heard of it–because it turns out this is the best way to handle late stage Lyme disease that anyone knows as of yet. Continuous antibiotics may be necessary at first, but it will eventually come time for maintenance dosing instead of sustained eradication, because while chronic Lyme disease cannot be cured, it can be managed.

And please don’t come at me with your “it CAN be cured!” comments: People can be functionally cured, where the bacterial load is so low that it cannot cause problems, but there is no known way to permanently cure late stage Lyme disease, yet. It goes up there with all the other infections your body just learns to adapt to and live with, but which can cause problems again if conditions arise, and that is okay.

I wish someone had told me this when I first got diagnosed, but we truly are so much more advanced as a society in our knowledge of “chronic Lyme” than we were 11 years ago when I got infected. Back then, biofilms in Lyme were just a hypothesis, as was the idea that antibiotics were causing the bacteria to hide instead of die, both of which are proven facts, today.

It’s actually a comfort to know that even the strongest of bodies cannot keep these spirochetes under complete control, because it keeps in perspective that this is not just “my” body’s failure, or “your” body’s failure, but it’s not even a failure at all: It is the natural course of this disease to relapse and remit, and it is not your fault. There is nothing you were supposed to have done to keep it from doing whatever it’s doing, what it already did, or what it’s trying to do. I repeat, it is not your fault that you still have Lyme disease, and again, late stage Lyme disease CAN be managed. Alright.

Now, according to this 700 patient survey, only 55% of people with Lyme-Induced Multiple Sclerosis get better with antibiotics once the disease has advanced to this level. However, I’ve beaten the odds many times before, so I’m just going to do what I can do for as long as I can do it. This online research has many limitations but it does mirror the general consensus I’ve heard throughout the years.

Image from “LYMEPOLICYWONK: Do antibiotics help patients with Lyme disease who are also diagnosed with MS?” by Lorraine Johnson, JD, MBA, and the Chief Executive Officer of LymeDisease.org. Click for more information.

The reason for these hit-or-miss success levels is believed to be because killing the bacteria when they have already initiated an attack on your nervous system has the potential to further advance the disease instead of abating it, because when the bacteria die they cause an inflammatory reaction. Adding further inflammation, in the form of your immune system going in to clean up dead bugs, to an area that is already inflamed because the immune system is already active there, will make things temporarily worse. The $64,000 question is whether the brain will recover or is there so much infection that this additional inflammation caused by the dying bacteria will be just as bad if not worse than the inflammation caused by just letting the disease take its course.

People with tapeworms in their brain face a similar dilemma: Because a dead worm in your brain could trigger such a massive immune response to clean it up, many must simply live with the parasite latent in their brain instead of attempting to kill it, which could actually turn around and kill them, too. We need to realign our focus with living a good life, not becoming “bug free.” They are not mutually exclusive.

I couldn’t pulse antibiotics five years ago because treating bartonella was the priority, and you cannot do pulse therapy with bartonella bacteria present. They mutate far too quickly in their attempt to survive, and become resistant to the antibiotics used. Some antibiotics like Rifampin can lose their efficacy after just one break in treatment, rendering it permanently ineffective against the strains present. So, long story short, I needed continuous antibiotics for bartonella for about two years, with lots of complications, it still relapsed, and only starting IVIG two years later saved me. But before all the latter happened, I made it about six months on continuous Lyme-specific antibiotics–the same ones I’m on now–before I hit the infamous treatment wall and became too ill to tolerate absolutely anything. I.e. “The Big Relapse.”

(I feel like I repeat myself a lot here, but I know most people don’t have the time or energy to go back and read how I got here or why my treatment is taking/has taken this route. All that is available, though, if you’re interested–there’s a directory of categories and tags/content at the bottom of this site.)

We’ve no way of knowing how I’ll respond to things this time, but just based on how I responded to mere Amoxicillin at the beginning of this year, I think I stand a chance to respond favorably. I’m running out of time to do something here, regardless. According to my last MRI, there’s a potential “something” in the front part of my brain that they’re going to “watch.” I just did two spinal MRIs and should find out the results this week.

One amazing thing I learned, though–again, only by getting a copy of my MRI results–is that I have successfully REmyelinated! The biggest brain lesion from my first Lyme/MS attack is fully healed!! About a year or two ago, I suddenly realized I could walk in the dark again without falling over, which I hadn’t been able to do since my hospitalization around 2010/2011. I assumed my brain had found some way around this damage by using its innate plasticity (i.e. maybe it formed some new pathways to circumvent the lesion) but no! Even better! It HEALED!

I am so proud of my body and its resilience. It’s things like this that inspire and remind me that it’s not too late to heal, and that my body still prioritizes towards homeostasis and wellness.

I’ve finished my first pulse, and I already feel so much clearer in my head it’s ridiculous. I owe this entire post to those antibiotics. In fact the last several blog posts I published before this one were antibiotic-induced (haha), where I hadn’t been able to finish anything since they wore off. The only thing I managed to type for this post before starting treatment last Thursday was one paragraph that took me an hour and a half, that absolutely exhausted me and ultimately made such little sense I had to delete it altogether, anyway. But after antibiotics? I typed the entire draft of this post you’re reading, in one day. Another day was spent editing, and today I finished polishing it up to be scheduled for tomorrow morning. But go ahead and tell us, IDSA, how antibiotics don’t do anything for us, will you?

Experiencing this phenomena again essentially confirms to me (1) how I was ever able to maintain this blog all those years ago, and (2) why I steadily and progressively lost the ability to write the longer I went without antibiotics, eventually getting to the point where I could only post when I’d taken an antibiotic or two, or when I’d scraped together one paragraph per month until I had something legible:

All I ever needed was treatment for this disease.

Damnit.

Until next time,

Kit

Advertisements

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:

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