Thursday, January 22, 2015

One More Test

I’ve been dreaming about quitting my day job as a disabled couch barnacle to be a more productive member of society again, go back to teaching or become an archaeologist, a scientist, or a jazz vibraphonist. Or all of the above.

But in the meantime, I’ve still got work to do. I’ve been writing about the saga of getting a firm diagnosis for likely Myasthenia Gravis for some time now and mentioned that I had another test last month at Stanford.

I had hoped to come home maybe with something definitive. A label to provide a tangible explanation.

But it didn’t happen.

I haven’t written about it because I needed to try to get my brain around it, try to logically work through the anger and frustration, so that I don't unleash it into the world. No one needs to see that. I was in a dark place last month and the holidays weren’t the real reason I took some time off from writing. I was seriously depressed. I’m doing a little better now but it waxes and wanes. It’s something I’ve battled my whole life and this strange ride through illness really amplifies it. Not even all the chocolate in the world can pull me out of it, but a little doesn’t hurt.

My husband and I made the long trek to Stanford so that I could do a Single Fiber EMG, an EMG that is specific to MG diagnosis. It wasn’t the test that disturbed me (more giant needles. Been there done that. Whatev). My doctor said that I couldn’t take Mestinon for 24 hours. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with breathing, a common symptom of MG. More than anything, the Mestinon is helping this symptom. I’ve grown fond of breathing. I’m accustomed to it now. Please don’t take it away.

I had already cancelled this test once. It had to happen. I booked us a hotel for multiple days. I can no longer make the trip to Stanford in one day. The hospital is only about 2 hours away, but with Bay Area traffic, we often spend 6-7 hours in the car. Along with a few hours for an appointment, it’s just way too much for me now. Sadly, my body requires that I treat it like the delicate flower that it is. I needed extra days this time so I didn’t have to travel while coming off the Mestinon. I bought some oxygen designed for athletes. I packed some books, some movies, my shower chair, my wheelchair, and we said goodbye to our cats and headed out.

My husband is a master organizer and packer. All those years paying Tetris really paid off for him
I splurged a little on the hotel since we had to stay there a few days, and it was worth it. It was an adorable little hotel and each room had it’s own enclosed patio. They even gave us the handicapped room, though I think the only difference was that it had a shower chair. We ate over-priced, underwhelming take out, re-watched The Lord of the Rings, my husband slept all day, and as the Mestinon wore off, the breathing difficulty and weakness intensified. Yet, I didn’t have to do anything but sit in that hotel room, read, and hydrate. It wasn’t a vacation but it was definitely ideal.

On the day of test, I put on my finery (workout pants and a loose fitting sweater) and we headed to Stanford.

They called me in and told me to lie on the table. I had flashbacks to exactly a year earlier when I did autonomic testing and a regular EMG in the same room. I thought that EMG was a breeze. They warned me that this one would be more painful and take much longer. They weren’t kidding. The needle had to be placed deep in the muscle and held for 20-30 minutes for each reading. I had to slightly flex my ankle or leg so they could get a reading of how the muscle was responding. By the end, I was convinced I had sprained my ankle. Once they removed the needle, it snapped back. It was fine.

They told me to dress this way so I couldn't get my #hospitalglam on unfortunately

My doctor oversaw the test but it was a different doctor I had never met before who performed it. My doctor came in periodically, making jokes and being jovial as usual. When they finally finished, he read the results. “Slightly delayed but normal.”

 Everyone in the room turned to me and said “Aren’t you relieved?”

I was not. No. I was not. It didn’t matter what the results were. There’s no way that I can accept losing most of my mobility rapidly over a year as “normal.” Or waking up repeatedly in the middle of the night because I’m not breathing as “normal.” What I’m living is anything but “normal.”

Honestly, I wanted to scream. I had made a detailed list of my symptoms before the test since I hadn’t been able to talk to this doctor since May. I wanted to tell him about how much I have declined since then. How I can barely leave my couch or bed. I just wanted to be heard.

Someone in the background said “your next patient is here.” They wrapped everything up and my doctor started leaving. I asked him to wait and tried desperately to compose myself. I was angry and frustrated. I hadn’t gotten a chance to say anything. All those notes I made and I had to try to quickly condense it into a few seconds.

I work hard to maintain a calm, collected exterior in appointments and tests. This is important so you can communicate and to avoid that pesky label of being “overly-anxious.” I lost my cool. When my doctor looked at me, he must have seen it because he asked me, “are you going to punch me?”

I tried to explain the symptoms I was experiencing and my confusion. I had tested positive for the antibodies for Myasthenia (which aren't a false positive for anything else), I had the symptoms, and they were already treating me successfully for it. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck? He explained he was hesitant to provide that diagnosis right now. He doesn’t want me to have to start taking a long-term steroid. I understand this, but I don’t understand why we can’t just put aside the song and dance and just finally label the darn thing. 

He said we should do the antibody test again and perhaps the results of that would change the diagnosis and mentioned I should do pulmonary function testing. The results of my antibody test showed that they have doubled. I should probably contact him to ask about it, but I haven’t. 

I knew better than to have such high expectations for one test. This was one test in years of endless testing. I forgot that this is a process. There are often no delineating lines between symptoms, testing, diagnosis, treatment. They overlap and intersect. But this one time, I just wanted something solid. Just this one time. For once.

I was in bad shape at the end of the test. I was off my medication for over 30 hours, had just been tortured, and was exhausted. Yet, I still deeply regret losing my cool. Often when you are doing testing and even during appointments sometimes, you are just a body in a room. Doctors talk about your body to each other in front of you. Motion to your presence. You sit there silently trying to absorb the medical babble to listen for something familiar or understandable. The process can be incredibly dehumanizing.

I don’t regret trying to make my voice heard. The physical and financial costs for me to get to that table were significant for my husband and I. I don’t get to see this doctor again until May. I can’t keep waiting. I can’t keep suffering with no answers and no response. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to maintain my humanity and give voice to the experience of this body.

Another disappointing test. I cried most of the way home. My husband keeps asking “why does a diagnose matter so much?” I wrote a post about it here, but there’s more. There’s something very material about a diagnosis that counterbalances the nebulous, invisible experience of illness. It’s an explanation, a satisfying answer for my broken body and spirit. It isn’t the end game, but it’s a means to move onto the next stage in the journey, open possibilities for treatment, and I could finally put the label on documentation.

So I came home and went back to my job being a couch barnacle. Maybe I’ll make employee of the month soon. I'm still waiting and waiting for some answer. Still dreaming and fighting for a better tomorrow still.

Next week I have another test, pulmonary functioning test. I hope that I can finally have some proof for my breathing difficulties, but I’m not holding my breath (see what I did there). One more test. Not the last surely. Not the end of this journey, with miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Routines and Goals: Resting Counts!

Being ill and unable to work means you spend your days lounging on the couch, watching intellectually-stimulating daytime tv, eating bonbons—enjoying a permanent vacation. Actually, it’s nothing like that.

Being able to sit on your couch indefinitely may seem like a dream lifestyle, but trust me, it gets old very quickly. I have acquired new skills like being able to recite dialogue verbatim from my favorite shows and memorizing data from every documentary about prehistory Britain. These are marketable skills, right?

Becoming home-bound was always one of my greatest fears, but last year I could see it coming closer and closer on the horizon. I always read stories of Spoonies who were home-bound and I thought “No way. No how. Not me. Never ever.” Alas, here we are. I often wondered how they managed it and what they did. I’m a workaholic and an over-achiever, and going from spending all of my energy working and thinking about “what’s next” to being home-bound has been a shock, though I am slowly getting accustomed to it. 

I am trying to adapt my habits, goals, and interests to this lifestyle. If I do not adapt them, I lose my sense of self and the sense that I am accomplishing anything. One of the biggest hurdles with adapting to being physically limited is adjusting your definition of success and productivity. You can keep your expectations too high and then live in constant frustration that you can't reach that bar (note: almost every post on this blog). Once you can learn to live a life within your physical means, then you can finally feel like you're making progress and contributing to the world again. There’s a learning curve with this and I’m still making the climb to the apex.

Making a routine and some goals is an effort to redefine my boundaries. When I was in school and working, I set goals in my planner every week. Now I’m setting goals to achieve what most people can do in their sleep, Sometimes molehills really are mountains, and that's ok. The key to making a routine and setting goals for the chronically ill is to make them specific enough to be achievable though nebulous enough to adjust to the chaos and interruption of illness. This is no small feat. I tried to create a routine based on what I know that I can achieve yet leave some wiggle room for the inevitable crashes that happen throughout the day:

-Wake up 8:30 or earlier
-8:30-9:30- eat breakfast and wake up, get all medication down (half to 1 spoon)
-9:30-10:30 exercise or meditate or walk (1-4 spoons)
-10:30-11:30 get ready and do some cleaning, rest (2-3 spoons)
-11:30-1:00 complete any medical business, eat lunch, rest (1 spoon)
-1:00-3:00 creativity time- write, play music, read, draw (2 spoons)
-3:00-4:00 keep going with creativity or clean, rest (1-2  spoons)
-4:00-7:00 spend time with husband, make dinner, rest (1-3 spoons)
-7:00-9:00- exercise if haven’t already, shower (2-4 spoons)
-9:00-11:30 watch documentaries or read and rest, meditate if haven’t already (half spoon)

This is still an idealized version of my daily routine. Often, I’ll get ready and try to clean a little and my energy is maxed out so I lie on my couch for an hour or more to recover, especially if I try to do something crazy like vacuum. My problem as a recovering workaholic is that I am always pushing myself way too hard, all day long. I included rest throughout as a reminder to sit and recover from each activity (otherwise, I’ll get to spend the day bed-ridden) and so that rest still counts as being productive. As I’m lying face down on the couch, I can still be kicking productivity’s ass. Honestly, not a day goes by that I don't think by the end it "Yep. I did way too much." It's a slow climb indeed.

I try to do most of the cleaning. I figure that is my contribution since I am not working, yet I have varying levels of success with it. I do some sort of physical activity every day, even if it’s just a short walk with my trekking poles. Exercise, for me, is the only way to get a return on investment for my spoons. Someday, if my body can reclaim a higher spoon allotment, I can add more to this routine. Something crazy like drive across town or go to a store. Big dreams.

I made some short-term and long-term goals. They include things I’ve been working toward already, things I have lost over the last year that I want to reclaim, and dreams I have yet to make happen:

Weekly goals: (make specific weekly goals in planner)
-Try to get at least one blog post up
-Practice at least 2 hours a week
-Try to finish one book a week
-Drive a little farther and farther every week
-Stationary bike 4 days a week, try to walk every day, do some physical therapy exercises most days

Monthly Goals:
-4 blog posts a month minimum
-Learn a new song and at least one new scale a month
-Complete one piece of artwork a month
-Learn at least one new recipe
-Read at least 3 books a month (depending on length)
-Be able to get on my stationary bike for longer (work toward more than 10 minutes)
-Try to do at least one major cleaning or organizing project 
-Start driving with some regularity again
-Plant some flowers and maintain garden

Long-Term Goals:
-Submit some blog writing to online publications
-Continue researching and start planning book
-Take an online teaching class
-Start regularly giving friends artwork
-Work toward performing again
-Re-learn the bass cleft and more complex chords and scales
-Be able to drive to my parents’ and friend’s houses again
-Be able to go to a store solo again
-Exercise at least 5 days a week
-Try trips to nearby places (hello Yosemite!)
-Walk past the yellow house and back with my trekking poles

I tried to break down these goals into manageable increments. I need to make a more specific exercise plan so I can keep track of all the physical therapy exercises. I’m trying to reintroduce some things I have been struggling with the last few months (playing music, driving, leaving the house). I haven’t been able to travel anywhere besides for appointments in an unmentionable amount of time. That’s one of my biggest dreams. That and performing again.

Even if I am not able to stick to my routine and don’t attain all of my goals, I at least can feel like I am working toward something tangible again. I didn’t include any medical stuff in this list because I’m carving out some kind of identity outside of that insanity.

Even as many of us are living the dream of spending a good portion of our time horizontal and semi-conscious, I think it’s still valuable to hold onto our passions and goals. Illness will take much from you but it doesn’t have to take everything. I hope this is helpful to anyone out there, especially to those who are also home-bound or physically limited.

And guess what? I’ve already met some of my goals: I have hit 10 minutes a few times on my stationary bike, I’ve gotten a blog post up every week this month, and I planted my daffodil bulbs, (with husband’s help but it still counts). Bam! 

These little flower nubbins make me ridiculously happy

I hope you are reaching your goals despite your own battles :)

Keep up the good fight,

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Beginning, Again

I am experimenting with narrative in this post. One of my goals with this blog is to mentally fit the pieces of the strange adventure I have been on together. This is an extension of my very first post and a look at how this crazy ride started:

“You didn’t have a heart attack. You can go back to school.”

Those words came after many appointments and discussions with Dr. Z, who had offered an embrace after every visit while promising his support. He was a young, handsome doctor who wore a sharp blazer instead of scrubs or the conventional khakis. His office staff always looked ready to go to a club after work. I was convinced the girl who prepared the EKG for me every visit was younger than my college students.

I had been seeing this doctor for months and had just informed him that despite the many times he answered my litany of symptoms with comforting suggestions that everything I was experiencing was “stress,” I had no choice but to leave my PhD program and stop working. I was unable to keep food in my body, I couldn’t safely drive because of the dizziness, my heart rate never dropped below 100 bpm, I was unable to stand, I had lost 15% of my body weight. What other choice did I have? I wanted to believe him, but these were the facts.

I actually initially liked Dr. Z. I made my first appointment with him out of pure desperation.

My husband and I moved to Nevada in 2010 so that I could start working on a PhD in literature, a goal I had been working towards for many years. The winter of 2010 had record snows in Nevada, and January of 2011 started out icy and cold. My husband and I adapted well to living in the snow and I actually liked when it was below 10 degrees in the morning and I made the long trek to the department to teach my freshman composition classes. The cold wrapped around me like a frosty breath, and the snow muffled the grimy bustle of Reno. It was almost beautiful.

I was working toward my second year as a PhD student in 2011, a time to really choose a path that would define my academic career. But something was wrong. I could feel it in my bones that something was wrong.

Constant headaches. Entire nights without sleeping. GI issues making it impossible to leave the house. Exhausted. Dizzy. Working on a PhD will bring out or aggravate any latent health issues. It will wear your soul thin. I was starting to think what I was experiencing went beyond the stress of the academic life.

I was an old, injured gymnast at 14 and then was seriously injured in a car accident at 21. When I was 25, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and started living with constant migraines. I’ve never been in the greatest health, but I always managed to never let it hold me back.

But this felt different.

I was trying to push it all to the side and keep my head above water. One memory stands out in the blur of early 2011. My university hosted a group of famous scholars, and all the grad students were gathering to attend the talks and meet them. I remember standing at the desk I shared with two other TAs in the basement of the English department unable to focus on anything because everything was spinning. I knew I was going to throw up from the dizziness. I could hazily detect someone in the background asking “Are you coming?” I walked the half mile back to my car and drove home.

I had to miss some of the classes I was taking and some I was teaching. All my life, I never called in sick to work. Never. No matter what I was experiencing, work was always a top priority. This wasn’t me.

Another memory stands out. Because all events in graduate school and academia seem to revolve around alcohol, one of my professors decided to hold our last class meeting in May at a restaurant so everyone could get wasted. I showed up but didn’t drink. I remember sitting across from my friend and trying to laugh and joke with her but the whole room was spinning. My professor had a drink that was an entire bowl of liquor, designed for multiple people. He finished it by himself and ordered another. Most of the grad students left the restaurant to walk to everyone’s favorite bar to continue the party. I had my husband pick me up because I didn’t think I could drive from the dizziness.

Two weeks after this I ended up in the hospital. As is often the case in my life since getting ill, the semester ended and I had collapsed into a puddle of sickness. My husband went to bed early one night because he worked at 4 AM every day, and I walked into our bedroom shaking and weak. I told him something was wrong. He felt my pulse and called his mother who is a nurse. We drove to the hospital.

They clocked my pulse at 175 when we got there. If you ever don’t want to endure the long wait at an ER, show up with a raging pulse. You’ll be fast tracked to a room and a CT scan.

The young doctor came into my room and I explained the bizarre symptoms I had been having, and he handed me an Ativan. I was dehydrated from the constant diarrhea. After an IV and hours of resting, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You had a panic attack. You can go home.” I know now that even with a diagnosis, many POTS patients are often told they are having a “panic attack” by ER staff. I didn’t know any better then.

Days after this, I couldn’t lie on my back anymore in bed because my heart was pounding so hard that I couldn’t comfortably sleep. This is normal, right? No, this isn’t normal. But, am I wrong? After leaving California, I had neglected to make appointments with new doctors unless I desperately needed medication refills. When you’re taking three classes, teaching two, and working seven days a week to keep up, there is no time for managing your health. I let it slide. I was busy.

After the ER visit, I made an appointment with a primary doctor everyone recommended, Dr. Z. I wanted to see some specialists. He instead told me, “I can manage this. Don’t worry about it.” I wanted to believe him.

The medication I had been taking for years for migraine prevention was causing tachycardia suddenly. He had me stop that med and start another, which also made my tachycardia much worse. After many visits where my vitals were always anything but normal, he finally referred me to a cardiologist.

This cardiologist had an unpronounceable name. I checked in to his office and as I sat down I saw the office attendant lean over and comment to another attendant about how young I was. Being the youngest person in the waiting room to see specialists is common now, but it terrified me then. That cardiologist told me “it’s just stress. Stop drinking coffee.” You can’t stop coffee if you’re a grad student. That’s a death sentence. I would wake up in the morning that summer and take my pulse. The monitor would show 140 bpm and I would roll my eyes and then drive to Starbucks.

He ordered an echocardiogram, which was my first experience with disturbing medical tests. A nurse pressed sound waves into my chest and I stared at a monitor inches from my face that intimately and vividly displayed my beating heart and veins. It was like an initiation ceremony into the many medical tests over these years and the ever-constant reminder of my own mortality and vulnerability. It was the beginning of a glamorous life as a lab rat. I have a poem about it here.

There were some good times during this mess. That summer, my husband and I got a few hikes in, including one in Tahoe with some close friends. One of them lost his glasses in Lake Tahoe and we spent the day searching the murky waters looking for them while laughing. I was teaching a summer class with underprivileged high school students who wanted to earn college credit early. I was ill and wearing a heart monitor under my clothes while I was teaching, but that is still one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taught— probably the most rewarding. My husband and I saw the re-release of The Lord of the Rings in the theater. In a packed theater of fellow nerds and grown men in homemade chain mail, we communally cried through every bit of it.

These happy memories are filled with color and vibrancy that contrast the other memories of that year that are a grey haze. I didn’t know then that my days of hiking were coming to an end.

Summer ended, fall semester started, and I pushed all the health stuff to the side so I could survive another semester. Yet, by the end of October I had gone from 135 pounds to 116. I was unrecognizable. Handfuls of hair were coming out of my head. I was still trying to show up to my classes and to teach. All of my time was reserved for that, so I couldn’t find time to fit any appointments with doctors in. I felt powerless, hurtling toward disaster.

I emailed the head of the grad program on November 2nd to tell her I had to go on leave. My psychiatrist, the only doctor who took me seriously then, gave me the note so I could go on leave. I should be sending her flowers every month still.

I won’t lie and say I enjoyed working on the PhD in literature. In fact, I had already been contemplating leaving.  I had been initiated into a world that was incongruent with my real desires. I’ll reserve my true criticisms of it to say only that in that world you pledge your fealty to an academic plutocracy who throw mere crumbs of glory for every ounce of 70 hour work weeks and neglected relationships you put in. That glory becomes something of a drug, a drive for validation. I learned the real meaning of “diminished returns” doing that work. There were many times I wanted to stand up and have a Fiona Apple moment, proclaiming that "this world is bullshit."

But I got out. I feel like a cult victim sometimes looking back, thinking “what kind of screwed up mind game was that? What were those bizarre rituals? How many sacrifices did I participate in?” Some people are well-suited to academia. More power to them. All I wanted was to get back to my real love—teaching—where I could see the fruits of my work in my student’s lives, without the distraction of pretending to be a scholar.

After I finished my MA in 2008, I taught as an adjunct at two community colleges. My plan was to take time off and apply to PhD programs with the ultimate goal of teaching literature at a state college, where I could bask in the splendor of teaching and research. I was a bright-eyed, newly-minted MA thrown full force into the life of adjunct. I learned that I had a real passion for working with developmental classes (below college-level). I enjoyed teaching despite the grueling life of an adjunct and driving 150 miles a week commuting between the colleges. I had a new plan: get a PhD and teach full time at a community college. That was my dream scenario.

So I focused on studying for the GREs and preparing applications as I was teaching. My entire life, I have always been preparing for what’s next. I have never felt wholly invested in anything because I was preparing for some determined, carefully planned future. If illness has taught me anything, it has taught me that a “carefully planned future” is an illusion. Life makes other plans and you have to roll with it, but I hadn’t learned that lesson yet.

I look back at this time between 2006-2010 as some of the best years of my life, but I regret not being more present. I had a rewarding job, my husband and I were hiking all the time, I was surrounded by my friends and family, I was playing music and performing regularly. But I relented to the nagging “what else?” that looped in my brain. Ambition is a vehicle that delivers you to your goals but it can also blind you to a fulfilling present. I had no idea that my days of enjoying those passions were going to violently end. If I had known, I wouldn’t have wasted the last of my pre-sick days in grad school. Some of my bitterness about grad school stems from this hindsight view, but I’ve tried to learn lessons from lamenting lost time.

When I left the PhD program in November 2011, I started an arduous journey through the absurd labyrinth of the medical system. I rejected my primary and my cardiologist’s assessment that all I was experiencing was “stress.” I started a two year cycle of going from specialist to specialist looking for answers.

In total, I have seen four cardiologists, three neurologists, three gastroenterologists, two endocrinologists, two dermatologists, one rheumatologist, two primary doctors, two psychiatrists, two psychologists. There’s more, but that’s what I can remember at least. I should turn this list into a “12 days of Christmas” parody and call it the “12 Referrals of Illness.” I would have 3-5 appointments a week during this time, which was grueling while I was ill.

One of the buildings I had to visit regularly for appointments made me uncomfortable. Even the sight of it right now would make me shudder. Walking into it, you would suspect the building was surrounded by Dementors. I was always the youngest patient in that building by at least 30 years. One day while riding the elevator up to the second floor, a young UPS driver got into the elevator with me. As the door closed, he leaned over and said, “coming here always makes me really scared to get old.” I was thinking the exact same thing at that moment. My husband swears he had a zombie encounter in one of the waiting rooms while I was in an appointment. I had entered a disturbing world many young people never see.

Despite the constant appointments, endless vials of blood work, and co-pays, I was getting nowhere. Some doctors recognized the extent of my health issues but my symptoms were outside of their expertise. Shuffle her off to another doctor. Some doctors continued to dismiss me.

I saw an endocrinologist in the Dementor building who patted my head and said “you’re fine.” Before he walked out of the room, he listened to my heart.

“Huh,” he said. “That’s strange. The heart should accelerate when you inhale but yours is over accelerating. This may be an autonomic issue.” This was the first time I had ever heard that word. Again, this was outside his expertise. He sent me on my way.

My rheumatologist convinced me to see another cardiologist because she thought my excessive heart rate was still concerning. When I walked into this cardiologist’s office, my pulse was 135 and my blood pressure was 70/50. I was trying to hold onto consciousness when I drove there on a snowy, icy day. He mentioned the word “POTS.” He told me to stop taking all of the drugs my primary had me take because they were making me worse. Yet, when I saw Dr. Z again he tried to convince me to stay on them.  I stopped taking orders from him.

Not long after I left school, I had convinced my husband to move back to California. He thrived in Nevada. He was shooting in the desert every other day, and he loved his job and the people he worked with. But every time I left my house, I felt a blanket of failure wrap around me. I had to get out. I wanted to go home, rest, recover, and reclaim my life. We made a deal and my husband started the process of transferring back to California. We still discuss moving back to Nevada because he loved it so much.

We moved back home in March 2012. I was happy to leave Dr. Z. To this day, my husband swears if he ever ran into him in public he would physically harm him. Someday when I write my book, I want to mail him a signed copy. His lack of care (literal and figurative) set me back in my diagnosis at least a year. Unfortunately, I have learned that many Dysautonomia patients have a “Dr. Z” who dismissed them, made them feel crazy, and were an obstacle on their road to diagnosis. I hope that someday, with more awareness, this will no longer be a typical story.

In my youth, I liked to dream. If I had to ever go hungry, I swear I could subsist on my idealism alone. That idealism was the driving force for most of my decisions in life. Over the last few years, those possibilities and the vastness of those dreams have narrowed and narrowed—until now I can fit them in the small of my hand. Yet, life can take you in unpredictable directions sometimes. The strength you obtain from surviving that unpredictability is worth every battle scar in the end. 

The story doesn’t end here obviously. The adventures continued when we moved back to California in 2012. The road to diagnosis is long and winding (and I’m still on it). That story is forthcoming.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year

I don’t really go for sappy sentimentality but I do like the power of reflection, reflecting as an impetus for learning and changing. 2014 was a rough ride to say the least. It was the most difficult year for me health-wise and I felt like I was perpetually trying to claw my way out of quicksand. 2014 was a re-play of the nightmare of 2011: bizarre symptoms that only got worse and worse, trying desperately to hold onto a career and some normalcy, constant tears and heartbreak, low after low. But I don’t want to think in those terms anymore. 2014 also brought gifts that I never expected and wouldn’t trade for anything.

This was the year that I essentially “came out” with my illness and started to be comfortable talking to people about it and even feeling empowered by what I’ve survived. Starting this blog in February was a catalyst for this. As I look back through the posts, the chaos and desperation is palpable in almost all of them but I tried to use writing to regain some power over my life and to understand that chaos. It allowed me to stand in the eye of the storm and sometimes even laugh at the absurdity of it. I had been thinking about starting a blog for awhile but resisted taking the plunge. This has helped me be able to externalize my experience to try to make it useful and educational for others. I’ve also met some great fellow Spoonies along the way.

This is the year I became comfortable with the term “disabled.” I put off getting a cane, then the walker, and then the wheelchair as long as possible. I didn’t want people to see me for what I truly am. Now, I don’t care anymore. I’m more than happy to take my wheelchair or use an electric cart. They mean being able to leave the house safely and comfortably. They also have the added bonus of wearing less sensible shoes and using mobility aids as an accessory, like the glitter cane my husband made me . You also get VIP parking wherever you go when you’re disabled. There has to be a perk somehow.

Glitter cane!

I’ve been reclaiming some things I lost over the last few years. When I was ill, working, and resisting my illness, I was an empty shell of a person. I had no energy for anyone or anything. I was living in a perpetual state of terror, maintaining a calm exterior and an interior in profound disarray. Not living. Only surviving. Living a double life. Now I’ve been reading more, watching endless history documentaries about Neolithic Britain, and trying to write and play more music. It’s nice to have other interests besides working.
2014 was filled with strange enhanced interrogation medical testing, including getting stabbed with needles repeatedly, doing a balance test designed for NASA, and having hot air blown in my ears. Some people can talk about their adventures in travelling over the year, but I wonder how many of them have had a doctor say to them, "Ok. Now it's going to feel like you're peeing." Now, this is how to party.

I have made some progress toward a diagnosis. We know I have some kind of neuromuscular autoimmune disease that is likely Myasthenia Gravis but my doctor is hesitant to provide the official diagnosis. I'm trying to get comfortable continuing to live in the grey area. The plot twists of this medical story just keep getting more and more strange. Even without an official diagnosis, they started treating it and I can do more than I could a few months ago, including doing some sort of exercise every day. I hope to keep up the momentum of that success this year.

Since I’m home-bound now most of the time and creating a permanent indentation in my couch, I really savor moments spent with family, friends, my husband. I am more present than I’ve ever been in my life and that has given me real joy. I’ve stopped taking on things I am not physically able to do with the idea that “things will just eventually get better and I’ll be able to do it” and instead started thinking about living a life within my physical limitations. The process of attaining these gifts was brutal but in many ways it was worth it.

The best gift 2014 gave me by far is acceptance. I spent a lot of energy the last few years hiding my illness, feeling shame and guilt, and fighting it. This had a predictable outcome of only making me worse. I am no longer fighting it so hard and resisting every change and every low. I truly learned how to get over it. I no longer feel the need to explain, apologize, or justify, even with my doctors. I no longer have the energy to do this anymore and it is emancipating as hell. I am what I am so take it or leave it. I want to scream from the mountaintop “Screw it! Whatever! I don’t care!” Then sip some tea and go back to lying down.

I don’t have any resolutions, just a few goals. I really hope to reclaim some of my independence that I have lost over the last year (including driving), conjure more creative output (maybe even some recording), and keep working toward acceptance. (And maybe, just maybe make more progress with diagnoses). I hope to get back to being in tune with the world again. 

I hope that you are also able to celebrate everything you have overcome and achieved this year and I wish you all the best in attaining your goals. I wish you good health, lots of rest, tons of chocolate, and genuine joy.

Thanks for being part of this journey :)

This song by one of my favorite artists perfectly sums up my year. Not sure how Tori Amos managed to tell my story way back in 2007.