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

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

Short answer: No. No I’m not.

Reasons I almost didn’t write this:

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

Reasons I absolutely AM writing this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I survived.

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

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

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

I’m making tremendous progress this year.

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

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

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

On second thought, don’t respond to that.


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

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

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


Takeaways for others, I hope:

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

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

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

a rainbow at night


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

There’s This Friend I Have…

National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco © a rainbow at night

Update: This post has been featured on ProHealth: Thank you, Julie and Rich!


I make sure they take their medicine on time and I’ve helped them figure out what’s actually helpful so they won’t have to take any more than necessary. I’ve helped them find interesting pill cases to take off the mental stress of staring at a dozen pill bottles always by their bed, which I know they have to reach for multiple times a day. I listen to the extensive list of doctors everyone wants them to see, and help them figure out which appointments are really important and suggest they prioritize those above the rest. I’ve called and written for them so they can get any procedure possible done from home, so they won’t have to deal with the physical exhaustion of leaving the house “just” for uncomfortable treatments, or the mental burden of being surrounded by a medical establishment that has traumatized them over the years.

I’ve helped them find clothes that were of soft fabric to help with neuropathy; helped strategize their budget to find money for important purchases that make their life easier, like an overbed desk, a smartphone to stay connected to friends that only exist outside their city, and a stereo that uses bluetooth so they can listen to anything instantly using their phone as the remote. I’ve introduced them to mindfulness and stressed how important it is to take care of their inner world, almost more so than their outer body, because they can’t always control their circumstances, their disease, or natural physical changes, but they can always decide how to think about them.

I’ve helped them make extremely difficult decisions about their treatment and supported them endlessly in whatever they had to choose, trusting that only they know what’s right for them, and that no matter what, it will be the best for them and subsequently everyone around them, including me. I’ve shared with them any and all of my collective wisdom to help make their travels on this earth a little easier, hopefully none more difficult than they must be. And I’ve done all this and more because I love them and want their life to be the best possible. I’m already so proud of them, for things sometimes I wonder if they even realize.

I’m proud of them for getting out of bed whenever they have the option. I’m proud of them for not giving up on life after it turned out so drastically different from their plans. I’m proud of them for continuing to try new things whenever they have the capacity, and for acknowledging, accepting, and loving themselves whenever they DON’T have it. I’m proud of them for taking care of their body even though that can be a full-time job in itself, and they’re disabled. I’m proud of them for continuing to do the things they love, even though they had to learn to participate in new ways; I think that’s so amazing. I’m proud of them for reaching out to others even when not many reached out to them. And I’m very proud of them for letting go of the ones who never reached out to them, because I’ve seen that it left them more energy to spend on the people who truly cherish them. I’m proud of them for not settling for anything less than authenticity.

And once the time comes–because it will–for them to move forward to the next phase of their existence? Don’t be fooled by the media or even friends and family: They’re not losing any battle against disease. They’ll simply be finished here.

To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle: You don’t “have” a life, you ARE life. They are Life. I am Life. You are Life Itself, and you cannot lose something that you are. And the friend I mentioned, is myself.

a rainbow at night

Coping with Chronic Illness: Your Life Is Not Over.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are going to be okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night


Relevant posts from this article:

How Did It Get Like This? I Was Not Raised to Be Peaceful.

© a rainbow at night

I had an unexpected moment of crying earlier, after realizing I had gone back to some old, unhelpful habits, but what actually brought me to tears wasn’t the slip-up. It was the sudden, immense gratitude I felt over having become this person I am today, who now not only has the tools to change and live better, but even the awareness to notice when they’ve regressed. We’re talking about me, this woman who was raised with a psychological and spiritual toolbox that could only ever bring about mental and emotional distress, whose relationship with almost everything and everyone was accompanied by intense suffering… Simply put: I was not raised to be peaceful.

I was raised to judge, be cynical, feel vengeful, hold grudges, be elitist, a perfectionist, and to never relax. No one wants to suffer like this, but we can only do what we know at that time. I am a completely different human being, now, although like anyone, I can slide back into old thoughts, habits, and behaviors when something or someone triggers my protective defenses, when I react instead of respond. But now I have enough awareness to pause, realize when I’m not happy, and decide what I can do about it. I now sit with the knowledge that I am worth my own happiness; that I’m worth investing in myself and my healing in all ways; that it’s okay not to be like everyone else around you; and it’s okay to be the first to change.

Unfortunately, what often happens when you’re the first to make positive change within your circle–whether it’s your friends, family, or family of origin–is the very people you thought would be happiest for you actually ostracize you the most. Their egos feel threatened by you trying to become more or become better, because it makes them feel worse about the damaging behaviors in which they engage in their lives. They lash out and try to stop you from being true to yourself so they don’t have to deal with their own feelings of inadequacy. It’s heartbreaking.


I remember when this path first started, for me. Don’t laugh, but my internet broke for two full weeks, at a time when I had a craving for knowledge, for “something.” So I watched two weeks worth of spiritual programming on my television–perusing channels I didn’t even know I was paying for–and found all sorts of things. I had the realization that there were many other paths to peace than the one I inherited from birth, Southern Baptist Christianity, which teaches we’re inherently sinful from the moment of conception and that only Jesus can “save” us from their god’s eternal wrath. Meanwhile, Buddhists believe in original goodness, not original sin.

The next big step was ordering the Toni Bernhard’s book, How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers. Like Mara trying to mislead the Buddha, I could practically hear the voices of my family in my head as I tried to deprogram my former brainwashing:

Who are you to think you can do this? Who are you to think you have what it takes to find your own peace? Who are you to investigate what YOU want to know instead of trusting what you were taught? Who are you to take enlightenment into your own hands? Who are you to think you are even worth it?

The book gave me an introduction to meditation in the form of mindfulness, which was the perfect outlet for me, personally. I don’t enjoy visualization, and I don’t enjoy posing in awkward, painful positions just because they’re supposed to “take me higher.” But I did enjoy learning how to pause and pay attention to my life and what is happening RIGHT NOW, without a need to judge it. I desperately needed to learn how to do this. My life up until then was passing me by because I was never taught to find gratitude in the present moment; I was only taught to get to the next one, and almost all of my actions AND thoughts revolved around using time efficiently.

Underneath it all was the assumption that using time efficiently would equate to a life well lived, but all it actually did was equate to a life that I couldn’t remember living.

Why? Because if you’re always living for the instant gratification and self-congratulation of “efficiently” using the moments that follow, what happens to ones you’re already in? They’re ignored. Instead of living in your actual life, you’re living in your head about what you think could be happening next. How is the brain supposed to make memories out of your life if you only ever give awareness to what’s going on in your own mind? There was so much happening around me, but I was going through life asleep.

The-Time-Is-Now

There’s a saying, if you take care of the Now, the future will take care of itself, because the future is made up of nothing but present moments. Here’s an example, for those who don’t quite get how living in the next moment leads to a life forgotten. You could be reading this half-heartedly, picking up the remote or cellphone every few minutes, distracted, wondering what you have to do tomorrow, what you need to plan in order to make that happen… But is the time to plan for later, when you’re already doing something? You can pause, and realize what you’re doing right now. You may be lying down, or sitting. Your attention is on these words and how they might apply to your life. You may be sipping a drink, cool or warm. You may be comfortable, or uncomfortable. You might enjoy the colors on this page. You might take notice of your breath and realize it’s too quick and shallow with anxiety, and relax your body. Now what are you doing? You’re on the internet–connected to a system that is literally going to outer space and back to provide you with this very moment in time–reading an article. Who knew there was so much peace to be found right here? How has your experience changed since you began this paragraph?

Ironically, while writing this, I heard my mindfulness bell chime. It’s an app you can download for your mobile device (for Android or iOS) that you can set to periodically chime throughout the day, helping you remember to pause, breathe, and focus on what you’re doing in that moment. Toni Bernhard’s describes a method in here book of taking ten comfortable breaths while you focus on one sense at a time: What do you see? What do you currently smell? What do you currently feel in your body? What do you hear?

Is there a Mara in your life, or in your head, telling you that you don’t have what it takes to live a better, more present, enjoyable, peaceful life? Asking you, Who are you to think you can do this?

I leave you with the ever-beautiful words of Ralph Marston yet again, which gave me the courage to even write this blog entry:

“Start where you are, and do what you can. Make use of what you have, in the time available to you, and there’s much you can get done.

Don’t waste your time waiting for conditions to be perfect, for they will never be. Go ahead, with things as they are, and begin making real progress.

The place to aim is as high as you can imagine. Yet the place to start is right where you are.

Let go of any concerns about not having enough time, or money, resources or anything else. Focus instead on the great value and potential of what you do have and of what you can do right now.

See the real treasure that exists in your opportunity and ability to make good, effective use of this moment. Claim that treasure by going ahead and putting forth your very best effort.

Today is your day to achieve and to make your world a better place. Start where you are, and get yourself solidly on the way to wherever you wish to be.”

a rainbow at night

I’m No Longer at War with My Body

© a rainbow at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And I did make it through.


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

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

I do not want that for myself anymore.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

 

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

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

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

And this afternoon, I shredded all of it.

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

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

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

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

“Folic Acid is Not Methylfolate

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

Source: Kelly Brogan, MD

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night


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

Relapse Journey: Is Choosing Treatment Still Choosing Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite quote is the African proverb,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The choice is ultimately mine, I know.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

Attention: I’m not suicidal.

Unpopular Opinion? The Taboo of Gratitude Within Chronic Illness Communities

[ estimated reading time: 5 minutes 23 seconds ]
I don’t know why this is an unpopular opinion, but it is:

I feel blessed to live in a country where I can obtain so many accomodations to offset the effects of my disease.

If I were in many other places, or a third world country, I would have died within a few months of getting sick; there would have been no chance for me. Obviously that wasn’t the journey I was meant to take, it would not have given me the lessons I was meant to learn, so here I am.

Things are not perfect, but it is a wonderful thing that we do have support systems in place for people in my situation, regardless of how many politicians call us malingerers or how many bitter people try to loop everyone on social security/welfare into one big “something for nothing” group.

All these things–social security, medications, things like laptops that help us connect to others in a housebound state, and things like wheelchairs and adjustable beds and home IV therapy–give us a chance at life that many before us never had. (Hell, when I was growing up we had to endure illness without the invention of the internet! Can you imagine? Haha.)

This thinking I’m doing comes from a frame of mind that doesn’t expect other people to owe us anything. It comes from pondering Buddhist philosophies which seek to be realistic, accept What Is, and not live life in a constant state of wanting. Because that’s certainly not the mindframe of most here in the West. It comes from thinking that we are worthy of love and joy and peace simply because we exist, but hey, suffering also exists: as a fact of life, not a punishment.

Yes I am upset at the discrimination of the now-infamous “47%”; yes I think it’s our responsibility as human beings to try and care for one another and get help to those who need it; yes I think it’s our responsibility to speak out against injustice, when we have so many means to help people, and those in places of power are not cooperating. I’m not suggesting we simply turn up our noses, say “it is what it is” and not try to change it.

But while you’re waiting for things to change, you have to accept the way things currently are; you have to become aware of what you already have, and realize how fortunate you are to even have that.

It is amazing that you have methods to help manage your illness: Medicine to help ease your pain; soft beds to lie in; the right food to eat; indoor temperature control, which is an often overlooked accomodation. Many in developed countries, I think, forget that the majority of the world does not have these things to the exceeding surplus that we do. If you have something that the majority of the world does not, you are blessed.

I cannot forget that if I were somewhere else without these accommodations, I would perish. My daily life makes that uncomfortably apparent.

Of course it is disappointing when there exists external items to help you even further, that were created for the purpose of helping–like money, certain foods, medical treatments–and for whatever reason, you don’t have access to them. All the time, I see people with myalgic encephalomyelitis with no hope of getting better because research for our disease is not being funded (though the FDA did recently vow to find medications to treat both CFS and M.E.–not “ME/CFS,” but both separate, distinct conditions). All the time I see people with chronic Lyme disease and its related co-infections trying to raise their own funds for their treatment and cure, because our government does not currently believe we even exist and getting the proper medications can be impossible. And I see people who are disabled and who should be able to receive benefits to live on so that they won’t become homeless, but who are not getting them due to flaws in the system. Things are not perfect.

But what about what you do have? What about the things that help you face the day, without which you’d have been gone long ago? Does it truly not matter that those things have helped you stay alive up until this point?

Sometimes when I am grieving the things I’m “lacking” but “should” have, at some point I try to practice gratitude for those that do have them. I.e. I try to be happy for those whose test results and various means of funding enabled them to get the PICC lines and ports and hyperbaric oxygen therapy and infusions. And somewhere out there is a person who cannot get any antibiotics, who wishes they had the medication I do; a person who wishes they had a doctor who believed them, like I have; who wishes they had adequate pain management; had funding to get daily living accommodations; friends who were there for them; family who supported them…

I’m still going to be extremely disgruntled when my head feels like it’d be better off removed than attached to me.

I’m still going to feel like crying when I hear another child with M.E. has been forced into a mental asylum because their doctors do not understand the harm they’re inflicting.

I’m still going to be bothered by the fact that I will never be able to get IV antibiotics with my test results, just because my immune system functions too poorly to make those tests show enough positive antibodies.

Again, I am not saying we are to be emotionless zombies without a reaction to anything. I was honestly scared to post this. I feel like, if absorbed in the wrong way, it will seem like I’m saying, “You’re lucky to get what you get, so shut up,” and that is not my intention. I also don’t want to type this and make it seem like I live in a fantasy world where nothing bothers me. I’m trying my best to improve my state of being through whatever means available, just like the next person, even if often my body cannot cooperate yet.

I just find it better to guide our thoughts into gratitude instead of dedicating our limited, precious time and precious energy to all the things we don’t have; self-compassion is better than self-pity.

I find it better to realize that having anything to help us through disease is a miracle, because we are not, in fact, entitled to it, but blessed that we got sick in a place where anything at all could be done for us.

I just find it better to live in gratitude.

a rainbow at night

(Postscript: I know I’m not entirely responsible for how people perceive my writing, but I do hope I’ve framed this enough in the way of, “You are lucky to get what you get, and I think it’s best to focus on that while you try to get whatever else you need.”)

I am not my body.

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

And yet, I am.

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

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

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

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

Have truer words been spoken?

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

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

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

Repeat after me:

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

:)

a rainbow at night

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

Having Determination Does Not Always Equal Curing a Disease

© a rainbow at night
© a rainbow at night

I don’t think some people are prepared to hear that determination alone is not enough to beat a disease. You can do everything right and still get worse, and it’s not your fault.

You can’t say being motivated and refusing your circumstances–“I got better because I wouldn’t settle for anything less!”–is going to get everyone well, because it gives those who aren’t so lucky the delusion that they’re somehow responsible.

This post is for you.

The people who stay sick still matter. The people who die from their disease still matter. It is not your fault.

No one talks about these things out of fear of being attacked for it… I guess it’s a lesson to be learned by those who have that journey. As Oscar Wilde said, “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

a rainbow at night

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

[ estimated reading time: 2 minutes 24 seconds ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

— the author of Black Cat Saturdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night & black cat saturdays


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

My Life IS My Advocacy: Pay Attention to How I Got This So You Can Avoid It.

by me
original zentangle-inspired art, by me

I was going to concoct a more drawn-out post explaining why I’m not participating in any of the awareness campaigns of May concerning my illnesses…but then I came upon the realization that I don’t owe anyone justification for my actions–or “wise inaction,” as it were–and I am comforted by the knowledge that many other people are feeling the same way.

For those who can advocate–and I do it at random, it definitely has its purpose, particularly in our government to let them know we’re still here–that is more than fine. If it gives you purpose, and belonging, and you feel pulled toward it, then do so.

For others like myself, I feel my entire life is an advocacy campaign. I don’t need a month, or a day: I get 365 days, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, of this is what this disease does.

Pay attention to how I got this, and how hard it is for me to get my health back, so you can avoid it. Know that I was just like you, once. Know that I didn’t think it could’ve happened to me, either. That’s the biggest advocacy I can do.

Talking about Lyme disease or myalgic encephalomyelitis every second of every day for a month and nothing coming of it–because people who have their minds made up are NOT willing to hear anything else–is not going to help me OR anyone else, at all. I am not my disease. I am not Lyme disease, or mycoplasma, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, or autonomic neuropathy, or dystonia. They’re just things that have passed into my life to help shape and change it into something else. That’s all.

I’ve spent the past decade as an advocate, and I think I’ve done my part. In my absence there will be others. I personally think people learn more if you’re not yelling at them in desperation, but that might just be my personal experience. I’ve been blessed to help several people find out they had Lyme disease, for example, and it had nothing to do with advocacy. You can’t force the information on anyone: If they want to know, they will seek. And if they’re interested, I am here.

So instead of advocacy, myself and several, several others are focusing instead on what makes us feel normal.

Sure, our every waking moment may be imposed upon by symptoms and dysfunction, but that is not all we are. No matter how sick I’ve ever gotten, nor how sick I will ever be, there’s always more to me than an illness. This blog has been my health diary, yes, but I don’t want anyone to get the idea that this is all I am or all I do. I have friends and family and pets and hobbies and interests just like anyone else. And I am an artist. Not because the title makes me feel important, but because at my core, that’s how I express myself, it’s who I become when my physical limitations allow.

“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.”

So, there will be no post specifically about my conditions (although I did finish the “What is M.E.?” section a while back). It’s time to cultivate the parts of my life that inspire and enhance, that make me feel human and normal, not advertise what makes my life a living hell for the other 90% of the day, mostly to people who already know what I go through, anyway. And I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in this.

I’ll leave you with this link: 60 Ways To Make Life Simple Again

a rainbow at night

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

Letting Go of Society’s Expectations (…and Bartonella)

Despite the fact that my brain has been functioning a lot better recently, I haven’t much felt like updating; completely the opposite of several weeks back, when I couldn’t think to save my soul but desperately had things to say! I’m learning a new language, so most of my spare brain energy has been going into that. This minor study will also help me decide if I may be able to attempt finishing my degree come next August. If I cannot, however, I think I’d be okay with just letting it go. After all, I do have at least one degree–even if it’s not what I set out for–and my health is too precious to waste on going to university to finish a degree I may never be able to use, and which may worsen me irreversibly trying to obtain.

I have fought too hard to get to this point, and I don’t want what society says I should be doing to dictate what would actually be best for me. I reject the idea that my only purpose in getting well should be to immediately resume the life I once had, or try to get it as close as possible. If I do reach the point where I am finally stable, I would love to try and finish and become a researcher. Or at the very least, a counselor. But that would take a lot of trust in the fact that I’d still be stable and healthy enough to actually do those things after completing my degree. One of the main reasons I’m disabled is that my symptoms vary so dramatically: I cannot reliably plan even a week in advance, much less years. So if I never again become well enough and well long enough for that, wouldn’t it be better to attempt some type of small job with the degree I already have, than to use up every bit of health I’ve finally gained, in pursuit of something that won’t do me any good? And even doing that would require much more health than just enough to make sure I don’t starve on my own, which at this point is all I can realistically expect, if anything. If I only ever improve enough to take care of my basic needs, I will be thankful.

Illness has taught me my worth is not defined by what I can do, how much money I make, what level of degree I have, or what job I have, if any, if ever. I am worthy because I am here, because I exist.


Okay, let’s see. From the 16th-23rd I was having a typical Lyme flare… How is it possible that this pattern hasn’t changed, practically since the time I got it? Is it really THAT predictable? But yes, severe headache and neuropathy issues, and I also recall being more cognitively impaired during then, as well as thirsty–again, all typical.

I felt it’d be okay to restart my stretching routine a couple weeks ago, so every other day I get some “exercise”! No relapse, yet. I’ve been able to cook a lot lately, also, which is encouraging. It’s still difficult and frustrating because my muscles fail the day after using them, but hopefully that will improve more, soon. If the muscle weakness got worse when I got these infections, surely it will improve as I continue to treat them.

Dare I say that the bartonella eradication is going as planned? The Bactrim is amazing, and I think the bartonella is.. well, it might be gone, or at least, finally beat into submission?! The protocol is to continue treatment two months past the cessation of symptoms. I talk to my Lyme specialist next month, so we’ll see what he says! Then I can start Tindamax to finally treat the Lyme disease! The antibiotics I’m on now do treat it, but only minimally: just enough to keep it from taking over. I’ll be stopping the Rifampin since I can’t take it with Tindamax, but I may stay on a maintenance dose of the Bactrim since bartonella has a crazy-high rate of relapse, and I do not want to go through this again. I feel I’m probably being unrealistic that I should never face it again, with the way my immune system is, but… For now I’d really like to enjoy my improvement.

 

Til next time,

a rainbow at night

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

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

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

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

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

via My CFS Life

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

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

I mentioned this on facebook.

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

I deleted the comment immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

a rainbow at night

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