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


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“Of Course It’s Easy For YOU” Syndrome

© a rainbow at night

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” (Oscar Wilde)

So how do you respond when someone looks at something you’ve worked your ass off for and thinks you only got it because the odds just fell into your favor? How do you process this inherent invalidation of all your struggles, and what does it mean about the person who said it?

When I look back at all that I’ve done over the past year, it really blows my mind. And I did it all because I first made the choice to live and enjoy within the confines of my circumstances, just like I did last year. I set in my mind what I wanted, made whatever arrangements I could on my own to help them manifest, and let the Universe work out the rest based on what I needed to experience.

If I wasn’t supposed to have something yet (or at all), well it wouldn’t have been from my lack of trying.

None of it would have happened if I just blindly accepted the identity of “sick person” that most family members and even doctors wanted to give me; that for too many years I gave to myself, as well. With this identity comes the belief that you must wait until you’re better before you can enjoy your life, whereas nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to long-term or chronic illness.

But in general people don’t want to hear that. Some don’t even want to hear about all that I was able to experience (although I’ve already written about my past endeavors-while-sick), and that’s okay. I know the things I lived, I don’t need further documentation. And because it involved a lot of travel, I don’t imagine they’d be all that interesting to anyone else, anyway, in the same way slide shows of your vacations need to be ambushed upon unsuspecting house guests if you plan to share them.

I might be a little biased on this next part, due to people continuously asking my advice on how to get something I have (emotional freedom and the like, usually), yet being very unwilling to actually do anything that’s even mildly uncomfortable in order to get it. Then they turn around and play this card:

They wish something in their life was as “easy” as I “seem to have it.”

More than a few people have said that to me within a week’s time, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Because nothing–absolutely nothing–has come easy for me. No one comes to acquire the traits that make life’s difficulties seem “easy,” because life actually WAS easy. No, they arise from having had so much hardship that you eventually learned coping mechanisms to deal with them. Even still, what one might perceive as my ease of living is actually my choice to experience it as such, and I’ve crossed over mountains to get to this place from where I was, because I was not raised to be peaceful. (Please read that. Okay?)

But people only hear what they want to hear, and until they’re ready to change, they resort to, Of course YOU did it, you [insert excuse for why it’s easier for everyone else besides them]. Or else they want to be spoon-fed the exact steps they need to take, as to (1) only do and invest as much work as is necessary and (2) eliminate the natural consequence of following less-strictly-defined steps: fear and anxiety.

This “Of Course It’s Easy For You” Syndrome is also troubling because it’s an unconscious confession of (more fear) self-sabotage. This is inventing excuses for why you can’t have what someone else has, to convince yourself not to even try. It’s giving yourself an “out” based on an external factor out of your control, or something internal you perceive yourself not to have but which someone else does, helping substantiate your belief that the situation is out of your hands.

But if you want things to be easier, it doesn’t start with changing your circumstances, because you can only manipulate your circumstances to the extent that you realize what is really yours to control.

And that all starts with manipulating you.

Society tells us from the day we step outside that your life is supposed to be about getting from point A to point B, and to pass your days filling in the rest with your to-do list of how to accomplish that. But that’s incorrect. Our lives aren’t defined by only the big decisions, goals, and occurrences. However much impact they have on the rest of our days, those major game-changers are few and far between.

Life is mostly made up of all the little moments you encounter between those perceived checkpoints. It’s all the smaller things you do day in, and day out, that make up the most of your life and help determine your happiness. You can have a radically different life without changing a single external circumstance, because the only common denominator in your entire existence, is You. In other words:

When it comes to enjoying your life and finding peace, it has nothing to do with someone else having something you don’t.

And I guess that’s why it doesn’t matter too much to me anymore to explain all that I’ve been able to do, even while sick. Although reaching those goals was inexplicably amazing, it’s the process of living and thinking that helped me manifest them at all, which holds the most value in the long run. And that’s the part I really want to share with this blog.

a rainbow at night

Freedom to write…just not on Twitter.

After spending a week considering a one month break from Twitter (and other social media outlets), I “stumbled across” something I wrote two years ago on my personal blog when I first tried this. (I say “I stumbled upon,” but I do not believe in coincidence.) Almost exactly like now, I had just relapsed (the one that necessitated I stop treatment) and found myself needing to prioritize my energy in order to adapt to my new normal. I’m posting it here partially as a testament to my growth, partially to explain my current social media absence using words I’ve already written (no spoons!), and partially that others might identify with any of the struggles I had back then. But trust me, this is NOT an anti-technology rant!


Tuesday, 18th December, 2012

I feel a need to be more free in my writing and not always have it dictated by a clear “purpose.” I mean, obviously there is always an intent, but this All or Nothing mindset that has still somehow managed to stick onto my creative expressions is getting me no where.

I fear having a bunch of unfinished projects because in my brain I’ve associated that with something “bad.” It’s “bad” to not finish things, and it’s “bad” to start something new before you finish what you’ve already begun. And perhaps for many things, even most things, that’s true. How will you see what you can do if you don’t see anything through? But this isn’t a major life decision–it’s expression. The All or Nothing mindset was drilled into me since I was a child, but it’s time to evaluate why I think the way I think. Do I really feel that way, or do I think that because someone taught it to me and I never stopped to question it, question them? No, I get to choose which rules I live by, which ones will serve me, and my common sense says there are exceptions to everything.

If there is an option between writing nothing because you cannot write everything, or writing a little even if it might take a while to make sense… I don’t want my brain to implode from a lack of expression.

On that thread, I really am more focused and thinking in more complete thoughts since being off of Twitter. I didn’t tell many about that experiment and I wasn’t blogging again yet, so I’ll recap. I read this blog article–“I quit Twitter for a month and it completely changed my thinking about mostly everything“–and it struck me because of this section:

“I used to believe that time was the most important thing I have, but I’ve come to believe differently. The single most valuable resource I have is uninterrupted thought.
“I’ve realized how Twitter has made me break up my thoughts into tiny, incomplete, pieces-lots of hanging ideas, lots of incomplete relationships, punctuated by all manner of hanging threads and half-forked paths. I am perfectly fine with unfinished work-in fact, I doubt I’ll ever be a better finisher than I am a starter. But I’ve found that my greatest joy, deepest peace, and most valuable contributions come from intentionally choosing where to let my focus rest.”

After reading the potential for this social networking site to do that to one’s psyche, combined with the fact that I’d recently been putting thought into what purpose Twitter served me (something I feel is important to do from time to time; weed out what doesn’t bring you where you want to go), I had to try it for myself.

It’s barely been two weeks since I told everyone on Twitter I’d be leaving until the new year, and I haven’t tweeted since…save the automated ones that post from my health blog. I have logged in occasionally to see if there were any mentions or replies, but no. Is that unusual for someone with almost 200 followers that are otherwise pretty chatty?

One major part of Adam’s Twitter ramble was how much he CARED, and how the site was draining him emotionally because he couldn’t really do anything about the bits of information that were posted. I can thoroughly relate to this because my main use of Twitter was participating in the support system us “spoonies” formed. There are lots of tweets about suffering. (It was easier to release the thought there, where people at least understood, instead of “bothering” friends or making Facebook posts.) So sure, he wanted to do something for people, but–much like myself–he liked to show sincere care and do something real to help, and how can you do that for the hundreds of little tidbits posted? Truly, they leave more questions than anything. “Twitter is outsourced schizophrenia.”

And one major facet of people like us, the “carers,” is that.. we care a whole hell of a lot more than most, meaning we get close to people and form connections with them easier than most. This is never clearer to me than when I leave behind any social networking platform I’ve ever used: I want to take people with me, but they don’t care where I go. I want to keep in communication with those I’ve formed bonds with so I leave e-mail addresses or new account locations, but they never contact me again.

And it is what it is, truly. I realize people are meant to come in and out of others’ lives. But the fact is I end up caring about others far more than they care about me, which–in Twitterland, especially–means I extend energy toward irreconcilable situations and incomplete relationships. This is not something that is conducive to what I want, need, and am entitled to as a human being. (Maybe, too, I’m just from a different time, before the internet when people called and wrote and relationships weren’t so throw-away.)

And my thoughts, it’s like they all had their potential to become something, but the goal really did become fitting them into character limits instead of expanding them. It filled the temporary niche for an expressed thought, but then it died there. Did I explore any introspection or make blog posts when I was on Twitter? No. (Of course there were other reasons I haven’t been blogging on this account, but.) It’s honestly kind of amazing, when you think about it.

I do miss Twitter, though, for when I REALLY DO have tiny incomplete thoughts. I must have been using it wrong, something it wasn’t designed for, at least not for people like me who are creatures of many words. So I call this experiment a success! More useful knowledge to bring with me into the new year. I was never a Twitter addict, but when I return to it next year, I will not be checking it as much, I will know my limits when I start to become irrationally emotionally invested, and I will be more mindful to use it in a way that adds to my life.

I thought I had been doing that, but when I started to delete people, I felt like I was doing something wrong. I felt guilty pruning through the lists of users to leave only the ones that inspired me to be greater–a thought that, when I type it, seems absurd! As Adam wrote,

“Ultimately, I still *like* a lot of those people and like much of what they have to say. I don’t believe that restricting the people I follow to only the ones I agree with 1000% of the time is healthy.”

But if I cannot find a way to keep balance with it, it has to go until I can do so. As I always say, if you’re not going to use social media for what you want out of it, why is it in your life?

I knew the Universe had something to show me when it brought that article to me right when I was contemplating my relationship with Twitter. As Oprah would say it, I have learned to listen to the whispers before the bricks start flying!


I remember how well that one month break ultimately worked for me the last time, and reading this old post solidified my decision to do it again. I laughed at how, even in my old entry, I mentioned Adam’s post appearing right as I was contemplating a break. This time, my own old post came to me! The Universe always sends us what we need, if we pay attention. With my newly-limited energy, I need to focus. I don’t have spare energy to do it all anymore. The situation has changed, and I must change with it.

If it’s not bringing you where you want to be, let it go. “Let go or be dragged.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

The Darker Side of Relating Christianity to Chronic Illness

church edit
Photo © a rainbow at night

My experience is not uncommon and yet no one is talking about it. Christianity never helped me deal with being sick. It told me–or maybe it was just the people involved–to “hold on to God’s promise” and if I “just believed hard enough,” God would restore my health. Yet what I actually found was just how threatening the reality that is chronic illness can be to people with deeply held religious beliefs.

While reading a few days ago, I realized I’m still so angry at the people who hurt me that I instantly recoil at the mere mention of Christianity. However, much of what the religion has become today is a mockery of what Jesus actually stood for, and I owe it to myself and others to focus more on the type of person Jesus was and less on what people have done with him. I need to stop judging Christianity by the actions of people calling themselves Christians. This anger arising in me is a healthy response to having been wronged, but it is also a message and warning that something needs to change. I of course cannot change what has already happened, but I can work toward forgiveness before it turns into a lifelong bitterness that I blindly accept instead of rightfully question.

Forgiveness for the brainwashing, when I was at my most vulnerable;
Forgiveness for the innumerable times I was told in a manner of words,”If you’re sick, it’s your own fault for not believing in God strongly enough“;
Forgiveness for the years wasted on false promises, year that could have been used to help me find real meaning.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

In our context, “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different,” and “in order for forgiveness to happen, something must die.” So I understand I need to stop clinging to what I wish would’ve happened and move forward…after I properly grieve.

Most Christians I was exposed to back then felt they had to protect their image of god through bizarre logic, such as:

  • If you believe in Him, you will be protected from anything “bad” ever happening to you;
  • If something bad does happen, it’s because you weren’t doing something you were told to do; and
  • Bad things will continue to happen until you get rid of all the “evil” in your life allowing the bad things to happen.
  • In other words: Everything is your fault.

The Christians I encountered literally blamed me for this disease. They told me I must have been doing something wrong in my life for this to be happening, and said God was “allowing satan to punish [me]” for it.

During my first few years of illness, some of their suggestions about this “evil” were:

“Stop drawing dragons; they’re symbols of the devil!”
“Someone in your household has been watching pornography!”
“Get rid of that gargoyle; it has a ~bad energy~!”
“This is a generational curse because of your parents’ sins!”

It was all about other people telling me what I needed to do in order to earn their god’s love, nevermind that being “perfect” is completely unattainable; was that the catch? Trying to appease “The Church” in order to be loved by their god will only leave you struggling in self-hatred. But apparently, then and only then would their god take away this “curse” of illness, a plight bestowed upon my physical form because I literally wasn’t good enough to receive his mercy.

Does this mean Tammy Faye Bakker died from cancer because she didn’t pray the right way, was tainted by original sin, didn’t repent enough, or had a generational curse?*

From what I’ve seen, things like this are the main reasons people stop believing in any religion, especially Christianity. They are led to believe that God hates them for being a lowly human, that God is punishing them for “original sin,” and they can’t wrap their minds around anything “allowing” so much suffering in this world. (Side note? Buddhists believe in original goodness.) But a belief in Something Greater is not your opt-out of experiencing anything painful.

Disease is a not some freakish anomaly that shouldn’t exist. Anything with a body can and likely will get diseased at some point, and it’s not a punishment from either the underworld or spited gods. There will also come the morning where you will see your last sunrise, and you will die. Yet instead of being one of our greatest, most revered teachers, Christianity describes death as our “last enemy.”

I have a different view on how spirituality and illness intertwine. Is it not true that disease is one of the main conditions drawing people to religion in the first place?

Within the many boxes and ellipses of spirituality and religion, I mostly fit within Buddhist Unitarian Universalism. I believe there are infinite ways to connect to the divine, and anything claiming to have a monopoly on that force should be approached with caution and skepticism.

In Buddhist practices, there’s a common misconception that “life is suffering.” But as Thich Nhat Hanh elaborates in his book, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching“:

If we are not careful in the way we practice, we may have the tendency to make the words of our teacher into a doctrine or an ideology. Since the Buddha said that the First Noble Truth is suffering, many good students of the Buddha have used their skills to prove that everything on Earth is suffering. … But in other parts of the same sutras, the Buddha says that he only wants us to recognize suffering when it is present and to recognize joy when suffering is absent. . . . We need to say, ‘The basis for this suffering is such and such an affliction,’ and then call it by its true name.”

I believe, before we incarnated, we all agreed to the conditions of this earth and the existence of suffering, illness included. I don’t believe God/the Universe/whatever-your-preferred-title controls our actions. This Source Energy might want to pull us toward Love, toward our connection to this Source, but cannot stop us from hurting ourselves or others. We are all beings in our own right, not puppets, and free will exists. “Bad” things do happen to “good” people. Natural disasters happen. Terrible diseases happen. People abuse each other in unthinkable ways. And from those situations emerge some of the strongest people on this earth.

To admire strength but then deny that this is how strength is actually born, is to ignore that steel results from setting fire to iron. As Viktor Frankl famously said, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Wonderful things can come from having experienced illness, and its’ timing in our lives–truly the timing of everything in our lives–is absolutely essential. Most are stopped in their tracks and have a chance to ponder how they arrived there. Near-death experiences invariably bring people closer to, if not the divine, then what they consider divine in their own lives. What’s really important to them? And what’s really important to the people closest to them, who often obtain a second-hand awakening by osmosis?

If someone can look at me and say that God, however you define It/Him/Her, has not healed me and transmuted my life, they’re not looking closely enough. I was a horribly angry person, swarmed by negative emotions, spiritually and psychologically fractured. Like so many others, I thought chasing The American Dream would give me happiness. Nothing could have ever given me pause like the experience of disease. I can say in all honesty that I wouldn’t change a thing, because no other turn of events in my own life could have possibly created the person I am today.

In a perhaps ironic twist, I actually do believe my soul helped decide this life. Not all the specifics, but I do believe we help choose our time of birth, our place of birth, our body, even the parents to whom we incarnate, and have decided beforehand which main lesson we wish to tackle this round of life. Reincarnation is a given, although I don’t yet see any evidence to support we were once ants, trees, or tigers; the energy of other types of life operates on a different vibration than we do, I think.

But am I enacting the same blame upon the sick as the Christians I rejected, by saying our soul chose to experience disease?

I don’t think so. Saying our souls choose a specific outlet for the powerful alchemy of suffering in order to grow, is not the same as saying you are inherently bad, that some omnipotent being is punishing you and you must appease it to make the pain stop, or it will continue to berate you with suffering until you “love” it enough. As a survivor of many types of abuse, I can say with some authority that sounds no different than being under the control of an abuser.

The people trying to tackle my experience of disease through Christianity didn’t know they were hurting me. They didn’t realize they were blaming me for my disease because of their own desire to protect their personal understanding of god; their inability to reconcile the version of Him in their head with the thought of Him “allowing” illness to happen; and because they saw illness as a curse to be delivered from, not a fact of life with which all must cope.

They didn’t know it all ultimately came from their fear of not being in control. 

Those people should not have turned this devastating illness into my responsibility to “pray away,” but inside I’d like to think that if they knew any better way, they would have done so. Even if I am still working on my forgiveness, I am glad I have not become that which has hurt me, so I will not hurt others in the same way. And may it be so.

a rainbow at night

Updated October 2015
* Of course not–don’t send me hate-mail.

See also:

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.

“‘Just try harder’: The Health Bootstraps” (via this ain’t livin’)

People who don’t complain and try harder are rewarded, says the messaging, while other people deserve their situations because they don’t appreciate what they have or aren’t willing to cooperate with the people who are just trying to help them.

“Health is a highly variable thing. … Two people with asthma, for instance, can have radically different experiences. One of them might respond extremely well to medications, could experience some benefits with dietary changes, and might find that the asthma is very controllable. … This is the good asthma patient, the one who tried harder and succeeded and is doing well and is a model for other patients.

“The other asthma patient tries a series of inhalers that don’t work very well. … The patient tries complementary medicine to see if it will be effective, but it’s not, really. This patient is constantly relying on a rescue inhaler, wheezes on short walks up the stairs, has poorly controlled asthma. …

“Yet, this patient is trying, and is following all the directives. This patient is taking medications and considering other options and meeting regularly with a care provider. The patient’s asthma just isn’t very responsive to treatment, which means there’s going to be a lifetime of struggle with hospitalizations, endless switches between medications, and other problems. Not because the patient is a bad person unwilling to bootstrap out of chronic illness, but because the patient’s particular manifestation of illness is refractory.

“Illness is not uniform. …

Anyone who does’t [sic] ‘try harder’ is thrown away like so much garbage and deemed unworthy of assistance, and the mectric [sic] used to determine if someone is trying hard enough is always based on the views of an outsider. (Emphasis added.) Read more

via this ain’t livin’

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

[ estimated reading time: 2 minutes 24 seconds ]

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

I’m really tired of “not talking about your illness” equaling “being a stronger person.”  No.  It is healthy to talk about what you are going through. 

Illness is not something to be shoved away and ignored like it is dirty and shameful.  No.  Illness, disability, old age, and dying are a part of life.  It is natural.  It has been with us forever.

Every single human being that has ever lived has dealt with it in some fashion.  Every single human being has died, or will die.  If they live long enough, those still among us will will watch a loved one die.  They will get older.  They will encounter disability in themselves or others.  They or somebody they love will get sick.

For me, it would be unhealthy not to talk about something so inevitable and universal.

I talk about my illness.  I am sure it makes some people uncomfortable and has driven some people away.  But it affects nearly all of my life right now, and I see no reason to pretend like it does not.

— the author of Black Cat Saturdays

No one should be made to feel like they have to deny a part of themselves or a crucial part of their life in order to win the affection and/or acceptance of another. As with anything in life, it’s all about balance. We have to find a middle ground between talking about what we are going through, honestly, and yet not being consumed by it.

I know people on both extremes–those who never talk about it, and those who talk about absolutely nothing else. It is detrimental either way.

The person who never talks about it–perhaps to keep people around, not make others uncomfortable, or stay in denial about their own circumstances–ends up feeling cheated, abandoned, and can lose self-respect.

The person who talks about nothing else, forgets who they are entirely, and sees themselves only as “the person with such-and-such disease.”

But we are more than sick, or disabled, or terminally ill. We still exist, and we still have purpose and love to share. But in order to get to that place, we have to realize–and hopefully be accompanied by people who realize this, too–that we are also people who have to grieve in a healthy manner, who have to express ourselves as we go through this part of life, and it’s not our job to make sure everyone else stays comfortable while we do it.

As written above, we will all go through these things at some point. It’s just that we who are already going through it, simply don’t have the time or extra energy to spend worrying about someone else’s opinion of how much we’re “allowed” to share before they feel inconvenienced…

a rainbow at night & black cat saturdays


I feel the need to share again “The Silence of the Dying” by the late Sara Douglas.

Thoughts on Emily Collingridge and Being Judged for Our Disabilities

© a rainbow at night

These two topics complement each other in an unexpected way.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a lot of triggers at once.

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

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

I was exasperated with anger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

a rainbow at night

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

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

I mentioned this on facebook.

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

I deleted the comment immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

Frustrated rambling: I simply feel sick.

Yesterday I felt.. really good! It was just a simple not-sick feeling that is pretty rare. I had enough energy to take a bath in the middle of the day. But I was also really, really moody, and I had a lot of random derealization. I don’t know why I bother to say “I’ve lost track of my bartonella flares” because every time I announce it, it’s as if they hear me, and remind me. I was irrationally angry (and this was after finding peace with whatever issues had actually been on my mind) and volatile for no good reason. My feet really hurt, particularly my right one. I had stabbing head pains. But no fever yesterday!

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by how well I’ve been feeling. I felt really good when I recovered from the hospital in March. Then I entered three weeks of feeling horrid in April… Then I came out of it by May. Then the end of May come around and I started to feel horrid again.

Yesterday was the end of my Lyme flare. My headache was completely gone and again, I felt good. Today has been the exact opposite. I was so out of breath for about three hours, it was scary. It wasn’t “air hunger.” If I’d had my oxygen I would have used it, and I think I needed it, because I fell asleep like I used to a long time ago when I was unaware of the infections and couldn’t stay awake from the extent of my weak breathing, slipping into this involuntary semi-coma because of my O2 levels dropping. Trying to move only made me further out of breath. I had not taken anything unusual, nor eaten a big meal. When I woke up, the “spell” had passed, and I’m not having any trouble breathing, otherwise. I’ve no idea what it was. It started at about 3pm and lasted until I woke up at 6pm. I’ve been in bed all day, too generally out of breath to stay upright.

I just hate being in this limbo and not knowing why, because then it becomes impossible to figure out if it’s something I’m doing or something inward that I have no control over. I suppose the best I can do is just to do whatever I can correctly, and chalk the rest up to my body being my body. Perhaps I just got a little too excited with my last improvements, that things were going to keep being like that. Maybe they still will…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

Self-Respect and Friendships: Standing Up for Yourself While Chronically Ill

black and blue butterfly temporarily caught in spider's web
[ estimated reading time: 5 minutes 51 seconds ]
If you live with chronic illness, you may put more thought into not making people angry than the average person. You don’t want to risk rocking the boat because you’ve learned that “friends” leave you quickly enough as it is, even when you’re being perfectly kind. Not in obvious ways, no, but by “losing contact,” “being busy,” or just choosing not to say anything. You feel scared to say what you really feel, at the risk of actually making people angry, because the ones who have been wanting an “out” use this as their excuse to finally leave. Others might think these things don’t really happen, and surely we thought at first that it would never happen to us–we have the “good” friends, don’t we?–but it does.

“After a while, and only a relatively short while, people grow bored with you not getting any better and just drift off. Phone calls stop. Visits stop. Emails stop. People drop you off their Facebook news feed. Eyes glaze when you say you are still not feeling well. Who needs perpetual bad news?

“This is an all too often common experience. The end result is, of course, that the sick simply stop telling people how bad they feel. They repress all their physical and emotional pain, because they’ve got the message loud and clear.”

Well, I’m here to reaffirm that I don’t care if I make anyone angry anymore.

Last year, my health took its second drastic turn for the worst that landed me here today. I experienced a lot of actual abandonment, even from my good friends, the ones I absolutely expected to be have been there. In my most crucial moments–when I needed someone to bring me to a doctor, when I needed help in packing up the house I’d become forced to leave–everyone from friends, to family, to friends of family, decided there were more important things to do. They just. weren’t. there. Even my landlord, who had treated me like I was her own for three years, bringing me dinner and checking on me when no one had seen me outside for days, abruptly ignored that I was losing my fight with life itself and turned on me over the last $175 of my rent (which I did pay her). These events severely damaged my trust and belief in a supportive community that took care of their own.

One of my M.E. support group members just died because there was no one there to help during her time of need. These things do matter.

And it’s so heartbreaking that we’ve been brainwashed by society and past abuses into thinking that it doesn’t matter, into thinking we’re really not worth the time and bravery it takes to care for another human being… Because we are worth it.

It’s still a struggle for me to find a balance between forgiving them for not realizing how much they hurt me, and not letting it happen again. I know people aren’t perfect and I know I will accidentally hurt others just the same. It happens. But I’ve recently started to backslide. I wanted to “settle” and let people back into my life who haven’t been there, and.. for what? Out of Guilt? No sense of worth? Fear of being alone?

But what purpose could you possibly have in my life if you’re only willing to be a friend when I can come to you, when I can be your idea of fun, or when I can help you?

What purpose could you possibly have in my life if I’m in a hospital, or feel like I should be in a hospital, and you can’t even be bothered to call, check in, or heaven forbid even send a text or e-mail?

What purpose could you possibly have in my life if, when I’m unable to be the person I was prior to illness, you jump ship, deceptively referring to it as “giving [me] space” and decide that we’ll talk “when [I’m] better”?

No.

If you leave a person when they’re down, if you don’t think they’re worth staying in contact with just because they’ve gotten a disease that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be surprised when they don’t want anything to do with you, whether they get better or not.

As the adage goes, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” And that I’d personally even think of becoming friends again with someone who left me–so that when I succumb to disease in the future, they can leave again?–only shows me where I still have work to do.

I don’t want to be that person I used to be, who let destructive trespasses slide by without saying anything, who allowed others to neglect their side of the relationship but still come to me when they were having a bad day. I need to feel appreciated just like everyone else.

I am so much more than any disease, and if you can’t see that, then save us both the hassle of pretending we’re “friends” and just get lost. I’m tired of placing my worth and value in the hands of people who don’t think I’m worth it.

My ultimate decision was to stop trying to “keep” everyone and instead use my very precious energy on those who are there for me. Everyone else, I just let them go. And oh, it hurt to figure out which ones didn’t think I was worth the effort, who weren’t strong enough to deal with this extra challenge with me. It hurt even more to have assumed someone was one of the “good” friends, only to find out otherwise. That was the worst.

But in the end, what remained was only true friendship, because instead of wasting time catering to others’ needs who didn’t give a second thought to mine, my energy could be devoted to those who would actually return the love and consideration and support when it really counted. If a relationship doesn’t meet those standards, it isn’t truly a friendship at all. 

It does matter to have people around you who are mature enough to handle what Real Life entails. At this point in my life, I don’t have energy for anything less.

“I am sick of this tawdry game. I am sick to death of comforting people when all I want is to be comforted. I am sick of being abandoned by people for months on end only to be told eventually that ‘I knew they were thinking of me, right?’. . . I am tired of the discomfort that surrounds the chronically and terminally ill. I am tired of the abandonment. I am tired of having to lie to people about how I am feeling just so I keep them around.”

Source: “The Silence of the Dying” by the late Sara Douglas

a rainbow at night

Media Portrayals of Resilience in Disability and Illness

[ estimated reading time: 3 minutes ]
A friend and I were having a brief discussion about people with disabilities and how we are portrayed by the media. You’ve all heard the stories: Despite their disability, so and so did ________.  However, how often do hear about the people who are severely disabled to the point that they can’t do ________? (And please don’t mistake me for being bitter, because I’m not. I’ve been there, when “despite having fibromyalgia, I made it to college.”)

This sends the message that disabled people are okay to be around only if their disability still means they can be somewhat-able, if they can still inspire people (i.e. “inspiration porn”), but not if it crosses a line into stopping them from “being productive” (of which unrelenting sickness is an example). 

I feel this is just too scary a concept for most people to acknowledge. Imagine, having to find meaning in yourself and your life when you can’t always be “doing something”! As my friend mentioned, “People don’t know how to place value on someone who can’t work.”

You’re somehow not near as much a hero as those who “don’t let it stop them,” even if you have no choice but to be stopped. We don’t make good news stories, this lot. However, I’m here to affirm that I am no less of a survivor and a warrior just because I am too ill to be inspiration porn for the news stations.

And pity is absolutely out of the question. Don’t pity me, because chances are I may actually have more strength than most people you meet, due to what I’ve been through. Don’t value me based on whether I can lift the gallon of milk that day, or how many university classes I can still take “in spite of being disabled.” Value me because I’ve accumulated wisdom, compassion, because I’m a good person.

An article printed in U.S. News & World Report:

“It is a primary example of what I have been calling the myth of the ‘superkid,’ who walks between raindrops, confronts any challenge and emerges unscarred and unscathed, never experiences a moment’s pain,” says Washington, D.C., psychologist Sybil Wolin…

“The notion we try to put forth is that resilience embodies a paradox,” she says. “We’re talking about the capacity to rebound from experience, mixed with all the damage and problems that adversity can cause. It’s not an either/or thing. And this ‘media resilience’ does kids who are struggling no good, does professionals no good in understanding them, has downright dangerous policy implications, and frankly, gives resilience…a bad name.

I get so tired of observing film and writing where the characters going through these awful situations–illness, abuse, tragedy, or other trauma–are made to appear completely unharmed and “resilient” to the point of pure fantasy. Tuesdays with Morrie, however incredible it may be, immediately springs to mind. It usually goes something to the effect of, “Every day of his life was misery, but he never complained about it,” or, “Despite the haunting memories of her past, she put it all aside and went forth without hesitation.”

NO ONE DOES THAT. It’s wildly inauthentic and really bothers me.

Yes, he may be resilient and strong and continue to value life despite his situation but of course he complained. No, she may not let her past hold her back and yes, she chooses to move forward but of course it was on her mind every step of the way, and of course she hesitated.

Resilience is not some fantastical application of optimism to the point where you cannot see anything else. Resilience is seeing everything very, very clearly and yet moving on in spite of it!

“The greatest human achievement is not success, but facing an unchangeable fate with great courage.” (Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, author, holocaust survivor)

a rainbow at night