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

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IVIG Can Help Eradicate Bartonella Infection: My Success Thus Far.

[estimated reading time: 5 minutes 12 seconds] © a rainbow at night
After almost seven years with this infection, I think the bartonella may be gone for good.

If you recall from this previous post, I talked about how my health was either about to nosedive, or finally overthrow this infection thanks to the millions of antibodies I now get infused into my body every four weeks (certainly many of which are bartonella antibodies, since this bacteria is so common)… Guess which one happened? Continue reading “IVIG Can Help Eradicate Bartonella Infection: My Success Thus Far.”

The Killer in the Crowd

♪ “Who is the betrayer, who’s the killer in the crowd?
The one who creeps in corridors and doesn’t make a sound.” ♫

Something I never considered the IVIG might do was the one thing I’ve diligently avoided doing at all costs for the past two years: Wake my immune system from its compromised state of complacence. Because that, in turn, as has happened every single time over the past six years, would reactivate my latent bartonella infections.

But that’s exactly what it did.

Some of you may not remember my ordeal with this infection unless you’ve somehow been following my blog since the beginning, but this short post from January 2012 might help a little.

I realized a year later that my symptoms were re-emerging and my bloodwork showed increasing signs. From then on I did everything I could to not stimulate my immune system, especially avoiding antibiotics at all costs (i.e., in the event I caught something extra; because as we know this entire treatment-failure conundrum was caused by me being unable to tolerate antibiotics to treat the Lyme, bartonella, mycoplasma, etc.). Because of this, and thankfully so, it remained somewhat latent in contrast to how quickly it spread the first few times it was active. From past experience, I’d seen that activating my immune system in any way triggered it to attempt fighting infections wherever they existed, despite my immune system not having everything it needs to actually fight, or even being able to use what it does have, efficiently. I’d found out the hard way that to reactivate bartonella was to initiate my imminent decline: The first time this happened, I was bedbound within eight months; the next, within just four.

Well. All the symptoms that have occurred periodically since the bartonella relapsed, are once again emerging VERY reliably every 5-6 days (usually five, as is part of the reason bartonella “quintana” got its name). There are the frontal headaches; the unusual rashes and bumps on my feet, ankles, lower legs, and hands/fingers; the foot pain; the shin pain; chest pain; more arrhythmia; more anemia; the volatile moods that occur the worst on that 5th day, leading to rapid cycling between hopelessness, suicidal ideation, rage, paranoia, and anything else you can imagine, before fading as quickly as it arrived; the worse “brain fog” and neurological dysfunction; low-grade fevers; excruciating fatigue; worse dehydration… Unsurprisingly, its pattern started five days after my first infusion in October, and has continued ever since.

A part of me just cannot believe this is happening again. The other part of me has not experienced something so dangerous since practicing Buddhism, and is able to be objective enough to find it fascinating how a body reacts to infection.

The worst flares–the ones that scare me–happen right before my infusions, when my immunoglobulin levels are at their lowest. I get IVIG every four weeks, but at my current dose the effects only last three weeks… So the fourth week, my system has fallen back to its usual, immunodeficient state, which means I am at mercy of a potentially-fatal infection with little to give it pause.

I discussed this with my immunologist today and he has upped my dose. We’ll see with my next infusion if this new dose will last long enough to stretch the entire four weeks, but if not, we’ll try every three weeks. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll have to do it subcutaneously every week just to stay stable. :\ (I hope not; I don’t know if I could handle that, mentally.)

I felt so horrible the morning of my last infusion, I thought I might more likely end up in the emergency room than their office, and wasn’t even sure if I should go. But within two minutes of praying for guidance, my doctor’s office called me and told me to come in, come in immediately. So I did, and by that evening I was a different person. For one, I was hydrated, but I also no longer felt like I was being mauled by a bear from the inside out. The flare completely stopped.

For the first time in over two years, I feel like I have a chance to slow these diseases’ progressions. And after seeing how my body can now fight back after receiving an infusion containing the parts of my immune system I’ve never adequately been able to create on my own, I have hope that maybe I can be like everyone else who gets a bartonella infection, and just kill it off before it kills me. This can really only go one of two ways.

If I can continue getting IVIG reliably then maybe several months from now my new-and-improved immune system, thanks to literally thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of donors, can finally overthrow bartonella (and maybe the other, less-rapidly-progressive bugs?), and I’ll never have to worry about it again. That’d be nice… Really nice. But if not, I know this is still my path.

I regret nothing.

a rainbow at night

Reaching Out for Support with a Misunderstood Illness

© a rainbow at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night


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

How Wrong I Was: My One-Year Anniversary Without Treatment

Working on my latest piece; if this doesn’t say “artist’s desk” I’m not sure what does…

I had an experience while having coffee with the squirrels the other day. Well, sitting on the back porch, but same difference.

I was watching all of the animals, listening to the birds, and feeling the gentle breeze. A chickadee–my favourite–was chirping in the midst. Any other day this would’ve been a normal backyard, but at that moment, it was a sanctuary.

There was so much out there: I counted at least ten species of animal within twenty minutes. And as everything just went along with its life, I was suddenly very overwhelmed with the knowledge that life always goes on. It’s humbling and frightening and comforting all at once.

When I opened the door to step outside, everything had paused to look at me. I sat down quietly and started sipping my coffee. Everything went back to its business of finding dinner and fluttering about. Their acceptance reminded me that I was also part of it all—I belonged there.

I glanced over at my house and the walls that separated my quarters from their quarters. Theirs, a tree; mine, a room and bed made from the tree. There were walls to “separate” me from the outside air and ground, protect me from danger and the harsher elements just like any other creature, but all that really separated me from those squirrels and birds and butterflies were four inches of material that the earth provided me in the first place. The stars are always above us even if all we see is a ceiling. We are part of everything. And the earth made room for me to exist, right here.

A few nights earlier, I did that thing where you open your closet to get something and end up distracted by everything else you find. I snatched the sweaters and shoes I bought earlier in the year, for Autumn. Put on a hat. All layered on top of the dress I wore that day. Looking into my full-length mirror, witnessing how perfectly it all went together, I had another “moment.”

I was overcome by how blessed I felt to be experiencing all of this; all of this. Feeling okay with life, even if it is scary; sharing my days with the love of my life; being together during our favourite season; being close to my remaining family; miraculously having funds to take care of everything I need AND want; and being able to wear clothes that represented me, that I picked out instead of clothes discarded from others’ closets.

It happened in a flash of thought, but looking at my reflection, it was as if the clothes were symbolic of all the pieces of my life I’d changed and chosen over this year, hoping they’d eventually, somehow come together in the future; and the perfect way the scattered items “fit,” a reminder of how my life has worked out. All my preparation–in wardrobe choices and life choices–had proved to be more perfect than I could have ever imagined. I had a distinct sense of “I made it.”

My legs do give out more and more lately, but considering how quickly things progressed the previous times treatment failed, I honestly didn’t know if I’d even be walking at all, much less this well, after a year. I didn’t think any of this would have been possible… How wrong I was.

How wrong I was.


Today marks the first anniversary of my relapse in 2012, and the day I stopped treatment. Things aren’t going how I thought they would.

I did not experience remission from M.E. after ten years of living with it, like many do. I did not cure the bartonellosis. My pain continues to expand instead of resolve. I still have mycoplasmosis and I’m not “beating Lyme disease” and I won’t be going into any other treatment programs with the motive of being 100% cured, of any disease.

But I look at who I am now and who I am still becoming, and the people in my life, and the way I experience life, and I wonder if things could possible be any better for someone in this situation. I really don’t think they could.

a rainbow at night

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

Advance Directives and Treatment Planning, Part 1 of 2: Myalgic encephalomyelitis and Lyme disease

[ estimated reading time: 4 mins 34 sec ]
Updated Feb 12, 2016

There’s every possibility that I could be involved in some unexpected incident–a car crash, ANOTHER tree trying to land on me for a THIRD time, an abrupt, rapidly-progressive infection that takes me out overnight–but those aren’t the most likely situations. The only thing that makes sense for someone in my situation is to plan for some type of gradual decline.

I’ve had a living will for years, but someone’s situation recently made me wonder if what I had written down was specific enough to fully protect me. Living wills only cover you if two or more physicians declare your case terminal. If you want someone to express your wishes in the event you cannot communicate for yourself but aren’t yet deemed terminal, you need to declare someone your medical power of attorney. Not your power of attourney, but your medical power of attourney. You can also include in writing what you want just like a living will, and that’s a very kind thing to do for your family so they can have physical proof of your wishes.

This is especially important to me right now because it hit me that doctors just aren’t used to dealing with cases like mine. I’ve seen that time and time again over the years. Most physicians I’ve seen can’t even understand how I dehydrate so quickly. Too many times, I’ve even been told my symptoms are “impossible,” yet here I am. That doesn’t give me much hope for other situations, so if I want the best help in the event I’m unable to speak for myself–a situation which can and does happen to people with both severe M.E. and Lyme disease–I have to include specific instructions and appoint a Medical Power of Attorney.


In my current condition, where even half a child’s dose of the most basic antibiotic causes me immense suffering, I need to check the “no antibiotics” box, in the event my doctor wanted to try them in some optimistic attempt to save my life. The hospital won’t understand the consequences of someone like me going through something like that, but I do. For instance, I recently had to take ONE olive leaf extract capsule to quell the a relapsing h. pylori flare up, and ever since, my head has felt like it’s going to implode, even more than usual. That’s not even a prescription antibiotic! These extreme inflammatory reactions–herxheimer reactions–actually hospitalized me for five days in 2011, and that’s when I was able to tolerate treatment!

And if I’m unable to communicate, at what point will I think it’s no longer worth it to continuously visit the emergency room for IV fluids? When things got bad in previous years, I was going every two months, via ambulance, because the dehydration was so sudden and so severe. Right now I’m okay with that assistance because I’m still functional and it helps me bounce back. But at what point would I have to say, “This is just too much, it’s only prolonging my suffering; no more fluids, just keep me comfortable“…?

What about breathing assistance? I like the nasal oxygen, but I’m against any ventilators or breathing machines.

And I know I don’t want to live off of a feeding tube, if I’m otherwise completely incapacitated. To me, that is when it’s time to let nature take its course. People with severe M.E. are faced with this particular decision often. Many concede to a feeding tube in hopes of getting better later, or because they’re still able to participate in life in some accommodated way which makes it worth it to them to stay around. But I wouldn’t see a point, if I had so much else going on. Plus you have to add my Lyme disease to this… I think I’ve been through enough.

The only reason myalgic encephalomyelitis doesn’t kill more than it already does is the availability of life support measures. Otherwise, there would be many more people–all or almost all from the 25% severely affected group–dying of wasting syndrome, dehydration, inadequate oxygenation of the major organs, and infection.

And what about a DNR/Do Not Resuscitate? If/When my heart were to go into life-threatening arrhythmia, do I want them to try to “help” me? Right now, I say yes. But later on, I might want to sign forms telling emergency dispatchers to not electrocute me or break my rips trying to “revive” me.


There’s no way I can predict right now when I’ll decide enough is enough–these decisions can’t be made overnight–but I do know when I reach the point of not being able to communicate with my loved ones, that will probably be the breaking point.

I do not want to continue past the point that I cannot communicate, being kept alive only by machines and tubes, and I don’t think it’s even natural to want that, when the body is obviously trying to pass on in a way that would actually limit the suffering involved, if only we’d get out of its way.

We should all think about these things, whether severely ill or not, to help relieve the burden on our families when that time comes.

“The suggestion that modern western medicine can and has made life easier is countered with the fact that sometimes, it can prolong life too far, and then allows more suffering than was necessary. It is up to each person to decide what’s enough.” *

To be continued…

a rainbow at night


* Thank you, Ruth. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on it, but this statement was perfect.

The Choice of Someone With Progressive Disease to Stop Treatment, Part 2 of 2: The Call to Start Living

[ estimated reading time: 5 mins 9 secs ]
Since making my decision, I’ve continued to be pulled in this direction, even when it scares me to think of where it might ultimately lead. So much has showed up in my life to gently guide my realization into, “It’s okay,” and I’m entering a place where I truly believe that. Otherwise, there’s no way I could have any peace at all with what I’m doing.

My family supports me, as do my closest friends. Others are unable to talk about it, which I understand for now. The latest recurrent theme popping up in my life (we’ll call them, Intuitive Affirmations from the Universe) is how much better a lot of people do after their decision to live life instead of treat disease. My most recent encounter was with a woman buying something from me. Out of no where she mentioned her father and uncle who both had cancer, and how her father only made it a year after choosing to attempt treatment, while her uncle made it two and a half after he chose to not.

And of COURSE that’s not always how it works, and people are allowed to choose whatever they think will bring them the best life and most happiness. And yet this is the story the universe brought to me, and it’s been doing that a lot, lately. I’ve also been confronted repeatedly with people in our spoonie community who have passed on, not from their disease, but from their attempts to cure it. Every time, I feel the calling in my soul that this is not how I want to go. I’ve said repeatedly that I do not want to be one of those “die trying” people. That still holds true.

All this helps reaffirm to me that I really am going to face the best outcome by doing things this way. That this way, I will have some enjoyment in life and get the most out of what life has to offer.


I mentioned before that my darkest hour was when I felt like I had to make the decision the Universe approved of, lest I be abandoned by all things good (brainwashed much?), but perhaps that wasn’t entirely accurate. I did think about suicide a lot.

It was worrisome because I’d only ever thought of it when I first got myalgic encephalomyelitis. But I don’t want to harm myself in any way! I love myself and I love my body even if it struggles to be a fully functioning body. After much introspection, it came down to me actually just wanting to be relinquished from the decision of what to do, so I wouldn’t have to feel the agony of “what if I screw up.” Again, in hindsight, I can see why I thought that. If, in that state of mind, my options were to make a decision that would leave me miserable (treating disease again), or choose what I felt to be right but which I was also convinced would leave me abandoned (not treating) … It’s in these moments I have compassion for myself having had to sort through all that.

And I did make it through.


Toward the end of it, I sat and wondered if I would regret my choice to not go into “treatment mode,” having knowledge these genetic polymorphisms exist, and having knowledge of what untreated systemic infections can and will do. Would I blame myself in the future, for not taking action right now to “fix” it? There’s only a tiny possibility it could make things better, temporarily, but it’s just another way to prolong the inevitable.

The loss of life that I would experience trying to keep up with everything involved in “fixing” this, is not worth any benefit I might gain in health, later on.

I do not want that for myself anymore.

My body has a lot of disease, and I cannot devote my precious resources into planning doctor visits; going to doctor visits; finding more doctors based on test results; researching what supplements to take and how to take them; or having to be a part-time researcher in general just to validate what my doctors tell me, because I’m sorry, they just haven’t proven themselves to be competent at all and their ignorance was almost the death of me on more than one occasion, if I hadn’t trusted my gut…

In a personal post I wrote the other day, I described this as using all my energy to prolong my life, just so I could continue on with the task of prolonging my life. Where is the actual living? I wouldn’t have time or energy to do both, and I cannot, cannot, cannot put my life on hold anymore.

Some people would be driven mad if they didn’t go into treatment mode. I was like that for, what, almost thirteen years? Now, I would be driven mad if I did. Enough is enough. A season for all things, and whatnot. (All seasons are beautiful and necessary…)


These are the most personal words I’ve ever written, the most personal things I’ve ever shared. And I share them in hopes that someone out there will benefit from it. I don’t personally know of anyone else choosing this path in response to my particular “set” of diseases, so if you happen to know of someone, please send them in my direction.

As I often do, I leave you with a quote from Ralph Marston:

“You have nothing to prove and everything to be. What matters is the truth of who you are, not the way you appear to others.

Give the honest truth of yourself, and you have no reason to strive or worry about making a good impression. Give the authentic truth of yourself, for it is the most loving, compassionate, uplifting and enabling thing you can do.

You do not have to strive against your own thoughts of limitation. Allow your unique beauty to continually unfold, and experience the power of how good and right it feels.

You do not have to be held captive by the thoughts or actions of others, or even by your perceptions of those thoughts and actions. You can allow yourself to be, positive and whole and fulfilled, now and always.

You have everything to be. Feel the miracle of your existence, and fill the world with joy.”

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

 

What My Pain is Actually Like

It occurred to me one day several months ago that I’ve never stopped to answer a question people may have, the same question I often wonder about others in my situation: When I talk about being in pain, what am I actually talking about?

In my case I’m talking about severe head pain, and what some call “malaise,” but… Malaise is what you call it when you are sick and you feel “off,” and unwell, and basically.. gross. It’s also a term you can use for having something as simple as a cold or as insufferable as end-stage AIDS, much like a fever has drastically varying levels of severity.

In “malaise” standards, what I feel is like my immune system is fighting to save my life but it may or may not actually take me down with it. Most types of pain are usually localized, or at least, if it’s everywhere it’s an identifiable ache. This? Maybe I should invent a new term.

Deathlymalaise. Yeah that sounds about right.

What happens in my newly coined “deathlymalaise” (feel free to use that), is this:

  1. I always have “the” headache with it, the one I’ll discuss in a moment.
  2. I have a low-grade fever, and I alternate rapidly–or maybe there is only the sensation of rapid cycling–between uncomfortably warm and sweaty, and clammy, cold, with freezing and numb extremities. It’s like when you have the flu and every five minutes you’re either tossing the blankets across the room or clambering to collect anything made of fabric and burrito yourself in it. My GP says this is my immune system. Apparently it’s trying to figure out what to do with itself.
  3. I feel dizzy and there is often a “buzzing” sensation, but whether it’s nerves sending wrong signals or my vascular system trying to sustain normal circulation, is anyone’s guess.
  4. My lymph nodes, particularly the axillary and cervical nodes (under your arms, and around your neck), have a constant, dull ache, and get stabbing sensations.
  5. I get muscle spasms in my neck, back, and all around my abdomen in general, that are so sudden and severe I usually end up screaming.
  6. I feel a burning sensation in the nerves in my face, as if they were on fire from the inside-out. I think it comes from the same inflammation responsible for my headache. The trigeminal neuralgia is thus usually activated and I have to stop myself from clawing at my face–that wouldn’t help much, now would it?
  7. I feel as if I’m going to vomit, but I won’t let that happen–I take Zofran as necessary.
  8. My joints–moreso on my left–swell and get stiff, difficult to bend or move.
  9. There is substantial fatigue during these “bursts” of deathlymalaise, but sitting or–more appropriately–lying in one place is usually not an option because this is the kind of suffering that, on the pain scale, would be at the level that it interferes with your every thought.

I’m a complete and utter wreck. And please remember, this list is only covering the malaise part of the illness, something that has been very prominent since The Big Relapse. It’s not medication withdrawal, because these symptoms are part of the reason I started taking anything to begin with, and it’s not herxing. It’s just disease. It makes me uncomfortable to even type that, but it is what it is. I can’t sugarcoat something like this.

[ETA, 2016 Feb] In Dr. Hyde’s book about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (which back then in 1992 he abbreviated as “M.E./CFS”), he describes our malaise like this, under “Pain Syndromes Associated with [M.E.]”:

” ‘Malaise has probably occurred in every [ME epidemic] described in the literature.’ Malaise is accentuated in the Initial Stage and it recurs for as long as the disease process exists. Malaise is almost impossible to describe. It is often referred to as the pain and discomfort that one has during the acute phase of an influenza. However, it is not always the same. The patient feels terrible, feels as though he is about to die.

“It particularly injures the sensory and dulls the cognitive abilities of the brain. The pain seems to originate everywhere, both on and within the chest and abdominal areas, head and extremities. The rapid muscle and brain fatigue that is normal in [M.E.] becomes accentuated.”

As you can see, what I described when I first posted this in 2013 is almost exactly what Dr. Hyde wrote; I was absolutely floored when I read it, and honestly, most of the book is like this: full of specific, uncanny validation about all the quirky things that occur in this disease. If you have M.E. I highly suggest you buy it while it’s still available.

Some of the other things I wrote are very specific of Lyme disease, such as the burning in my face where the infection damaged multiple nerves, and the “buzzing” sensation, which many Lymies describe as, it’s like you’re sitting atop the hood of a car while it’s running. [/ETA]

I usually feel aghast–but almost in awe–at the reality that a person could possibly feel so horrendous, and helpless at the thought that a hospital–the place you’re raised thinking can always help you during any health crisis–cannot do anything, because there is nothing to stop what’s happening. How do you explain to someone how terrible all that feels, with the word “malaise”?

Several of my friends who also live with Lyme & Company admit to feeling this, some even writing letters or notes to loved ones during the worst “episodes” because they think surely something must be about to go very, very wrong for the human body to give out all these warning signals.

They usually say, “I feel like I’m dying.”

We really do.


The progression of my headaches has been a monster all its own. Their onset began with occipital neuralgia four months after my tick bite, almost seven years ago. Bartonella came with its own, mostly frontal-oriented headaches; I don’t have those any more. But almost without fail, I have had a particularly severe headache for 4-5 consecutive days every four weeks since the Lyme invaded my nervous system. Now, that exacerbation happens about every two weeks, thanks to the Mycoplasma (or at least, I assume).

I used to requite prescription-strength medications for breakthrough pain only a few times a year for the attacks of occipital neuralgia. As things steadily progressed (especially within the past two years), I went from needing them an average of 1-3 days per month, to having 3-week-long bouts of unrelenting head pain which alternated with 3-pain-free weeks, seemingly for no reason. Now, since my relapse in October, I’ve needed them every single day except 1-3 days per month. I guess all of this is why needing them so much frightened me: I wondered–and still wonder–if there is no turning back from this point. Regardless…

This head pain is a throbbing sensation at the back of my head, the base of my skull and down into my neck. I wouldn’t outright call it occipital neuralgia, because my attacks of O.N. are even more severe and almost completely untreatable. But otherwise, it’s just like them. Baby neuralgias? They even exhibit the so-called “ram’s horn pattern,” and the top of my head often goes numb, and I am sensitive to anything touching my scalp. There is no sensitivity to sound, but extreme sensitivity to light. I get bursts of nausea. Since vasculitis has been such a major feature of this relapse, these “headaches” may have some vascular component.

As of right now, later this month my pain management doctor wants to try a shot in my neck. I’m uncertain is he intends a nerve block for O.N. or another route, but since this has gone on so long, it’s time to try something new.

 

There’s not really a pretty way to close this article. But when I talk about being in pain, to all of this is what I refer.

a rainbow at night

What do you really want your good health for, anyway? (Don’t wait.)

It probably shows in my recent posts that I’ve gone through a lot of changes in the past few months, physically and mentally.

When you’re in treatment for an illness like chronic Lyme disease, ideally you have to put off certain goals or extra activities because letting your body heal is the priority. And when you have something like myalgic encephalomyelitis, you shouldn’t push yourself too much because abstaining from chronic over-exertion will give you the best long-term prognosis; repeated self-induced “crashes” will harm you.

But faced with two relapses, the possibility of another gradual decline, and the complete mental and emotional exhaustion that arises after four consecutive years of fighting for your life, I came to some big conclusions in early December:

This is the only life I have, it’s okay to make whatever decisions I think are necessary to live it, and I cannot put anything on hold anymore.

There is no longer a “things I’ll do when I get better” category in my brain. And it’s not that I don’t believe I can get better–I believe anything is a possibility.  (And how I love that word. “Possibility.” Almost as much as I love the word “indefinitely.” Indefinite possibility means, at once, what is uncertain is also limitless.) But like I said a few posts ago, even looking forward positively is still not living in the moment. You can’t get caught up in all the things you’re looking forward to having or being or doing, because you’ll miss the opportunities of the only life you actually have–the life you’re currently living.

Besides, what do you really want your good health for, anyway? I realized that many of the things I wanted to do were still possible if I just went about them a different way and stopped waiting for that imagined “better time” in the future… A future I’m not even guaranteed to get.

Would you live your dreams? Well, find some that are still achievable, and get started. If there aren’t any, create new ones.

Would you spend more time with your family? You can still prioritize that, you just have to do it differently than when you were “healthy.”

Would you be a better spouse/parent/friend? Don’t wait to unveil that version of yourself you’ve always imagined. They’re in there, and you can get closer to being that person moment-by-moment.

Another thing I learned is that I can’t expect people to understand where I am with this, if they haven’t been here.

My blog is (for my expression, but) less for people who are just now starting their fight than it is for people who have went a few rounds with their disease until they had to just Let It Be. I’ve had people think me delusional for their lack of understanding, just as I probably would have thought of someone like The Current Me, back when I was just starting out. And that’s okay. I hope they find this place gracefully if they also end up navigating it.

So with that in mind, I made some resolutions for this year. To be continued…

a rainbow at night

Pill Fatigue or Pill Failure?

It feels like I’m talking about someone else’s life, sometimes, when I go to write about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with 100% meaning completely symptom-free, I am at 10% symptom severity. Though I think the chart should be in reverse for that section, because initially “10% symptom severity” sounds as if I only have symptoms 10% of the time, and it’s the exact opposite I contacted Jodi about this and she switched the chart around, so with the new version, I’m at 8/10 severity level:

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

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

a rainbow at night

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

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.

Slowly but Surely: The Beginnings of Improvement, and Adding Azithromycin

…I think the pieces are coming together. I had several “episodes” since I last posted, and.. let’s be clear, that by “episodes,” I mean the thing that happens when my face and tongue go numb, my arms (or arm) goes numb, I shake and temporarily cannot swallow, which may or may not be precipitated by an urge to urinate. I’ve had lots of different types of numbness over the past several weeks, so I felt a need to clarify.

I eliminated several other things that had any timing whatsoever to do with these attacks and/or Migraines: Ensure, BOOST High Protein shakes, things with Vinegar, things with nitrates, caffeine, black tea (even decaf), coffee (even decaf), Truvia, Splenda, and Aspartame (which is the devil anyway).

Because anything and everything can give me a Migraine attack these days. I had something marinated in apple cider vinegar and my body had a general meltdown. I had green olives with half a protein shake and had another “episode” almost immediately, so I can’t tell which was the culprit. But, having done all this, I actually haven’t had a Migraine in two days. I can’t believe that’s an accomplishment, but I’d been getting them every day, otherwise. I even left the house yesterday, and didn’t get one! And in the mornings, I don’t have much numbness in my arms and face, but I can’t yet determine if it’s the absence of Truvia or just a well-timed symptom. I’m scared to find out the hard way, right now. The general battle is finding out what cluster of symptoms is the bartonella, what cluster has to do with my Migraines, and how do we prevent them both. One interesting thing though: It happened this morning, and I hadn’t any Truvia, or any.. anything! Which means it can’t be purely the Truvia, despite me having a decrease in overall numbness since ceasing it. (And there’s the kicker. None of this is purely anything, but it seems to be a lot of stuff happening wrong at the right time. Which is another characteristic of my Migraines: They don’t happen until a lot of triggers add up, and then just one more will push it over the edge.) Now, what affects me worse in the mornings? Bartonella. So, which is it? My conundrum should be apparent.


My LLMD put me back on Rifampin as of the 17th since I didn’t have anything crazy happen after a month and a half on it. Then, instead of adding Doxycycline, which is driving me out of my mind with its effects and herxing and messing with my throat/vague nerve, we’re adding the Zithro! I’m pleased to report I can handle all temperatures of food and drink and have no trouble with food texture. :D I’m on just 250mg, but considering this lowest dose still makes me feel like I have the flu every evening, I’m glad we’re starting so small. I’m still on a normal dosage of Rifampin and therefore we’re killing the bartonella at a reliable level, so that’s great news for me. I will still improve at a fairly decent rate, and can expect a change in ability levels within just a few months. I’m also lucky to not have developed any reaction to Rifampin, which can happen when you stop and have to start it again. It’s apparently still working as well, because the bartonella flare I had after I restarted it (which happened to be the next day) was insane. As in, curled up in a fetal position in a dark corner of my room, sobbing hysterically, not knowing what’s going on, or even how I got there, insane. So… We definitely have to kill them bugs. Kill them dead. (This goes in the category of “things I’d never admit did I not know they happened to most people with chronic bartonella.”)


The Topamax is amazing and I’m at the full 25mg right now. My Migraines… Well, I’ve had them a long time. So I can identify when they’re coming on, but lately they have been so complex, it’s ridiculous. Usually, my migraines affect the right side of my face, with numbness and pain and temporary facial unresponsiveness; my speech slurs and I cannot tolerate any sound or light. Bartonella attacks the right side of my face too, though. :\ This recent development where my arm goes numb and my tongue goes numb? It’s anyone guess whether that’s part of a Migraine or part of a bartonella flare or herx. (It’s sometimes accompanied by this “zap” sensation as well, which I’ve never felt as part of any Migraine.) But after searching LymeNet I found out that other people with bartonella are experiencing numb tongue accompanied by numb arms. How strange is that?! One thread even talked about the general numbness that’s been creeping up on me since I started the Rifampin! And on that note, twice after taking Rifampin this time around, I couldn’t feel my legs, and all of my limbs generally have that “fallen alseep” feeling at various parts of the day now. Especially at night, when I wake up and notice my limbs are cold and numb. That’s a bit scary, but as long as the sensation returns, I can deal with it. So! The mystery of the random arm numbness and terrible headaches that often precipitated them, may be solved! My severely increased Migraines may just be an unfortunate consequence of treating bartonella. If this is true, then it makes sense why they gradually got worse throughout treatment.

In general, the “episodes” and my migraines are getting less severe and less frequent. I still have trouble when I eat sometimes, however. (Things that HAVEN’T been happening, barely at all? No dystonia, no air hunger, and no troubles with low oxygen.) I will be sticking to this “Migraine diet” until I feel safe enough to come off of it. The Ensure drinks are once again off-limits, but that’s okay because my appetite is very healthy and I’m not losing weight! I’ve been gradually adding back my supplements and herbs as well, and I’m able to tolerate them again. I’ve actually been walking around more in the past few days than I have.. possibly since January, which is amazing. As long as I don’t overdo it, I think I’m finally at a stable point again. I’m not tired, so I’m having to force myself to rest and not do more than is necessary, which is.. well, it’s annoying. It’s like sitting a healthy person in front of an amusement park with unlimited tickets and telling them they can’t get up. :| But if I’m good now, in the future I shall be able to be active without dire consequences, so I must be patient. God’s given me the best opportunity for having rest, so I need to take advantage of it. On the scale right now I’d say I’m at, 20% physical, 30% cognitive, and still 7% symptom severity. The symptom severity is definitely the worst part of this right now. They are still terrible and flare so easily, but I do have a lot more cognitive functioning so I can at least use my brain more. :)


I saw my primary physician. I had to update her on everything that’s happened during the past three months. She says not to be too worried with the brain lesion unless it changes…which is good advice, right? It’s there, it’s done; it’s if it changes that will be cause for concern. She also wants me to see another cardiologist in case something else is contributing to the mitral regurgitation. Which is, again, sound advice. Just because I have things that affect my heart doesn’t mean nothing else can be going on. So for peace of mind, my mother is taking me to one Tuesday to get a bunch of tests run, just to make sure there’s nothing there we can potentially fix.

I’ve had the same doctor for ten years. She’s seen me from the moment I started going downhill, and through the M.E., and through the remission, and then through the relapse and these infections… So her advice means more to me than any other doctor. She briefly mentioned to me something that.. sort of startled me, in a strange way. She said something to the effect of:

“I know you’re at a race against time to treat these infections, but you know, even in cancer patients, if the chemo is going to end up killing them… Sometimes it’s wise to just let things take their course, if the treatment is going to be just as bad or worse than the disease, so I really hope you can get on something that will work, soon, because it pains me to see you continuously going downhill like this.”

Hearing her say that just sort of drove everything home for me, I think. These past three weeks–goodness, nearly a month!–since ‘all of that’ happened, have just been one big blur and me taking it one hour to the next, to not upset the delicate balance that my body is struggling to maintain. Consciously I do realize what I’m up against, but there’s something about talking to your doctor for twenty minutes and having her sum it up all into that

It was never a surprise that things might get this bad. Even in my old journal from the past year, I found where I’d written things like this:

December 5, 2009
“Two weeks ago I couldn’t make it down my hallway. Tonight I shuffled around in the yard, and made a snowman. No, I wasn’t exactly running around, but I was STANDING UP and doing so for more than two minutes…
I’m making this post now because if what I feel right now is any comparison, tomorrow is really going to suck. No one wanted to come out in the yard and make a snowman with me. They walked outside for a minute then watched from the door as I shuffled about, but… Hell, I have no idea what condition I’ll be in next time it snows, especially if that’s a year from now. I could be better, yes, I hope, but I could very well be bedbound yet again, or worse; anyone faces these risks for some reason or another, but that knowledge is always in my mind because of.. you know.”

I guess it’s sort of like when everything tumbled in July of 2010, and I ended up living with family again, barely having a spare moment to think because things had reached a new level of bad and it all happened so fast… It just happened again, I guess. And now I’m realizing it. (Granted, I’m back on my olive leaf extract, so I’m much more “aware” of everything again!) But somehow–and the media doesn’t help–you just imagine that with enough determination you won’t “let” yourself get this sick. Ahaha. Like it’s a choice…

a rainbow at night

After the Hospital: Where We’re At Now

I’m having a random moment of lucidity, so I figured I’d try to type this entry. In general I’m still not “recovered” from everything that’s happened. I feel very.. I think fragile is a good word for it. Still not back to my pre-hospitalization level of functioning, but not a phone call away from going back, either. Everything’s up in the air with this weekend being my next bartonella flare, but so far so good. And like someone on the Under Our Skin documentary said, it’s good to try and keep it in mind that these things will be temporary. I’ll get most of these abilities back, if I just keep fighting… I’ve been through this hell before… Just not quite at this level. But we’re all the wiser for it.

Probably the best news of all is that, since I decided to take my antibiotics this weekend so I wouldn’t encounter the bart flare unprotected, I’ve.. well, started back my antibiotics! This weekend I’m on 200mg of Doxy, but for the long term I may have to cut that in half, at least for right now. I’m not sure what my LLMD will want me to do (I speak to him Wedneday), but I’ll be on SOMETHING, and that counts. I’m unsure of my bloodwork, which means I don’t know how my liver is handling this, but we’ll be getting that checked on Tuesday. If things are still not functioning best, I may have to stop again and take a longer break… I’m trying not to think about it, and just focus on happy thoughts. I’m also not back on my herbs yet, but those will be added as soon as possible. My brain really misses the olive leaf extract.

A lot of my friends have been asking me what will happen if I’m not on my medicine… Well, I’ve been saying it online and saying it to people in person for a while now, that if I don’t take it, I.. well, unless a miracle strikes, I won’t survive. This recent hospitalization, and finding out the test results, have brought this fact home to all of us. I’ll develop an MS-like illness (which I’ve already done), acquire further heart problems (which I’ve already done), and die. Having Primary Immunodeficiency Disease and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis means I can’t fight things off like others can, and the latter takes off about 30 years from my lifespan, but with these infections progressing as fast as they’ve been, I won’t get the chance to find out. So that’s what will happen if I’m unable to tolerate treatment. But as long as I’m able to handle even a little bit of medicine, I can eventually improve, or at least not get any worse until I’m able to tolerate higher doses of medicine. The risks are of course, damage from the antibiotics, but compared to the alternatives…? You can survive damage to kidneys or livers. Brains and hearts? Not so much. That’s why every treatment failure is such a letdown. It’s essential that I get this treatment now, before something truly terrible occurs.

Thursday I had an appointment with my neurologist. I think he’s given up on me. I’m too complicated a case, and he’s just not sure what to do about it. He gave me the name of a new neurologist that’s in my city. As far as the brain lesion, he’s trying to get in touch with the neuro-radiologist who discovered it, and find out why no one mentioned it before now! But otherwise he just didn’t know what to say, and it was basically a case of “please see another doctor.” He also couldn’t speculate on whether or not the spot had anything to do with these “episodes” I’ve been having, but he knows the doctor who took care of me in the hospital, so they’re going to talk about my case and I suppose get back with me this week. Ultimately, no answers, but I left with medicine for seizures and migraines, Topamax and Treximet. I got a Migraine followed immediately by one of the “episodes” as I was leaving his office, so I got to try out the Treximet right then and there. First Migraine I’ve gotten rid of without caffeine in over 12 years! The Topamax is primarily a seizure medication, but it can reduce the number of migraines as well, so even if I am having seizures that just didn’t show on the EEG, I’ll be covered. Amazingly, I’ve had minimal numbness during the past two days, and no “episodes” yet! I’m not sure if it’s just timing, or the Topamax, but I am so, so happy to be on it. Hopefully it will calm down my poor nervous system during the “headache phase” of my treatment, which is the first few months, when everything is really irritable and prone to spazzing. (Well, like we’ve seen.)

In other good news, I can tolerate drinking Ensure again! But I’m going to limit it to one a day and hopefully that will ward off any further problems. So yes, that’s great news as well! I’ve had a normal appetite and limited swallowing difficulties, so we’re all thrilled.

Slowly but surely I am regaining strength, which I will desperately need in the following weeks. On the ability scale I’d say I’m at 4% physical activity (3-5), 7% cognitive ability (5-10), and 7% symptom severity (5-10). We just need things to keep getting better… Considering that the antibiotics will make me worse at first, I’m not sure how that will happen. But that’s why I’m going to be on such a small dose. Even if it’s baby steps, we have to do this.

Also, completely out of the blue, someone on my forums told me there’s a Lyme Disease support group twenty minutes from me. So we will be attending soon! A Lyme group in my part of the country, how ironic. Turns out this part of the state is sort of infested, which is kind of crazy considering the CDC only reports a few cases per year, if that? Things like that make me wonder if a random tick really was the cause of my Tourette’s as a child.

This doesn’t blend in at all with the rest of what I’ve been typing, but… My friends have surprised me. I know that might be wrong to say in a way, because I’ve known a lot of them for almost or over a decade, but… I guess I was still halfway expecting people to not care or think I was important. Or maybe that’s the bugs talking, I don’t know. (Probably. That sounds bug-like.) But everyone has been so supportive, and sweet, and understanding, to the point that I almost just want to cry. It’s comforting to get to this stage in my life, where you honestly have no idea what’s going to happen, and know that you are surrounded by people who genuinely love you, just for being you. ♥ It keeps me going, to know that there are people rooting for me, and not just passer-by support like you get on a Twitter list or support forum, but people who consider me a major part of their life, even part of their family. I love them so much. ♥ I never could have imagined things would get like this so fast, but that in the midst of it, I’d be surrounded by close friends on every side. To someone fighting illnesses such as these, which often rip away all of your friends and most of your family, that is some sort of miracle in and of itself.

a rainbow at night