Friday, January 22, 2016

A Day in the Life

Instead of an update post this week, I have something a little different. My best friend Carrie Anne suggested I write a post like this and I thought it was a great idea. I outlined a typical day for me to show what managing illness looks like and what it means to enjoy life while battling life-limiting illness. This is what a pretty good day looks like, without any major catastrophes. I included a little of my thought process also. This is the Spoon Theory of illness in practice :

“It’s 9:00. I meant to wake up at 8:30. I set my alarm for 8:30. What happened? I didn't even hear my alarm. I always feel better physically if I can get up before 9:00. Oh well. I feel like I didn’t sleep. How many times did I wake up last night? Just the once or twice? I woke up when I heard husband leave at 3:30. Did I wake up because I wasn’t breathing? No. Not this time. Intestinal pain? Probably. I can’t nap so this will be as good as it gets today”

I get up and make the same breakfast I have every day: instant oatmeal with a scoop of peanut butter and extra salt. I had to give up any hope of eating real food in the morning a few years ago because my GI problems are the worst in the morning and I will instantly be lying on the bathroom floor if I try to eat real food. I’ve had a few disasters from trying to eat solid food and I'll just leave it there. I get most of the oatmeal down usually and my morning meds, which are my tachycardia med, Mestinon for Myasthenia (I can suddenly breathe again!), Florinef (oh how I hate thee but I cannot function without thee), imodium (food and I can be on speaking terms again), and a salt pill. 

I start hydrating as soon as I wake up and drink fluids (tea, water, V8, Nuun) non-stop until bedtime. That's what it takes with Dysautonomia. I do some of my vestibular exercises in the morning (standing still for 30 seconds and trying not to fall from the swaying). This is supposed to help counteract my balance issues, even though they aren't vestibular related. It usually helps slightly.

“I’ve been sitting here watching mindless television for an hour. I got my food and meds down. Do I attempt exercise? I could get on the stationary bike, or try to walk, or do some strength, or just meditate instead and try to exercise this evening? It’s a risk either way. I could waste all my energy on exercise and risk not being able to make myself lunch or be able to do anything else. I’m going to risk it. Exercise seems to be going better in the morning. I might not have any energy left this evening. I better do it now.”

I do one of those options but never push it too hard so that I have enough energy still left. The “exercise” I do is only 10 minutes or less and very minimal. As a former athlete and someone who has always been very active, it feels pathetic but I know it is still a huge success if I can do it and if the weakness/paralysis isn’t bad enough that I can get some use from my legs. With Myasthenia, the more you use a muscle, the more weak it gets and if I'm having a rough patch, the paralysis could set in for days or weeks. I have to be very careful with how much exercise or movement I do because my legs especially will completely shut down if I ask too much from them. Sometimes I end up spending all of my energy on exercising and sometimes I finish exercising feeling slightly invigorated with more energy. It’s a crapshoot every time. 

I put my compression stockings on (if I exercise, this happens first), get dressed, do my makeup, brush my hair (maybe curl it), and listen to NPR news. I may be home-bound now but that hasn’t changed my perpetual desire for news and politics. I need to know what’s happening in the world even if I’m barely part of it. I’m still a citizen of the world.

I usually waste copious energy on getting ready. This is a controversial subject in the spoonie community. I get dressed and do my makeup every day, even when I’m not leaving the house, and I willingly waste much energy on this. It is my war paint, it is my normalcy, and it is how I know the difference between ok days and horrific days. Horrific days are ones where I cannot get dressed or put make up on or leave my bed. It’s a dash of vanity too. I don’t want anyone to be able to look at me and see the struggle etched on my face.

My mother taught me so much about self-presentation and feeling good about yourself through that presentation. Even when we were destitute and she was a single mother, she always looked fantastic and had high esteem about her appearance. It’s something I still value even if I don’t leave the house most days. I like to know that if a miracle happens and I have enough energy to leave the house or if someone comes by, I will at least be ready.

I won’t feel the part but I’ll at least look it.

“It’s 11:30. I have a little time before the Big Crash comes. It’s just all downhill until I can take my afternoon dose of Mestinon at 4. So many hours from now. This is the worst time of day for me so it’s time to sit. Sit and rest. My to-do list still has so much left on it for the week. I have phone calls to make, appointments to set up, paperwork to fax, I have to talk to the disability insurance company again. I can’t believe I have to call them again this week. It never ends. There’s never a week where I don’t have to do something related to managing my own care. What if I took a week off? Maybe in June? A whole week where I don’t do any of this? Maybe.”

"Sit still. I have to make lunch somehow in an hour and I need to rest for that. I’ll make the phone call after lunch. After I use my afternoon dose of my inhaler. That way I won’t be gasping for breath once I get off the phone. The only way I can sit still is if I force myself to read or watch something. I’ll watch another episode of Time Team. I never get tired of Time Team. One episode is enough time to be still and rest before I have to make lunch. Do I have enough energy to make myself something besides the usual eggs I eat for lunch every day? It’s a nice thought. The pain in my intestines tells me that I shouldn’t risk trying to eat other food anyway.”

I watch an episode of Time Team, one I’ve probably already seen and have the dialogue memorized, or a documentary or live music on YouTube. Then I try to get enough energy to make myself lunch and maybe unload the dishwasher in stages. I take an hour to eat lunch, which is the amount of time I need for each meal. Because of the Dumping Syndrome related to Dysautonomia, I have to eat very slowly. That way I can get enough calories and the food has a good chance of actually staying in my body long enough to digest it. 

All cooking is done while sitting, of course!
“It’s 1:00. I guess I’ll make that phone call. Then I’ll sit outside in the yard for a bit. That sounds lovely. That will be my reward for getting this off my to-do list. The birds in my yard always hang out with me when I’m out there. They make me feel like Snow White, if Snow White was a crippled, recovering academic with a Zeppelin habit. I’ll read or work on some writing while I’m out there. Or just listen to music. Or read the news. Either way, it will help me sit still and rest. I’ll check Twitter and see what my friends and spoonie friends are up to, or what political nonsense is happening. Look at the sky. Feel good about life and my place in the universe at this moment.”

Husband gets home in the afternoon and we talk about how his day went. He lets me vent my frustration about American politics or whatever news I read. We laugh at some random thing we saw online or heard and banter about our nerd interests. Then he usually plays video games and I read or work on some writing for awhile.

As my morning Mestinon dose starts to wear off, the afternoon is a slow climb. It’s the worst time of day for me so I try to spend most of it resting. My inclination is to keep moving, try to clean, do things, so I really have to force myself to rest during the day. If I push myself, then I can end up bedridden and struggling to breathe and move. Then the day is completely over. It's a constant balance to try to stay mobile and active enough while resting significantly. By 4 PM I can take my afternoon dose and then things start to turn around a bit. I can breathe better, have more energy, and more use of my limbs. I can maybe try to go for a walk or do a bit of cleaning or play my keyboard for 15 minutes. Usually I keep resting. If I don’t eat dinner by 6 PM, I start crashing again.

Husband makes dinner most days. Cooking complicated meals is just not something I’m able to do anymore, so he does the cooking. But it’s a fair trade because I do all the clean up. I don’t mind doing that part. It feels like my contribution. I take my vitamins with my dinner since I have the best success with food at that time.

The evening is the best part of the day because that's our quality time. We usually eat our dinner and watch whatever Sci Fi show we’re currently watching. I also watch the news at 5:30 every day. We sit on the couch and watch our show with our cats and then husband goes to bed around 8:30. I go to bed later than him so sometimes I’ll go in and lie down with him for awhile. We’ll grab one of the cats and have a team snuggle for 15 minutes and then husband falls asleep.

I usually shower, a very quick, lukewarm shower with my shower chair as one with Dysautonomia must take. A hot shower is one of the worst things you can do with Dysautonomia because it dilates the blood vessels and your body is already having a difficult time keeping blood flowing to your heart and brain from blood pooling. Gravity combined with heat is Dysautonomia kryponite. That’s how one ends up unconscious on the shower floor, which is not sexy. Even with the fast, lukewarm shower while sitting on my shower chair, I can feel my brain start to turn off by the end of the shower so I rush through it. After I shower, I sit for a bit and rest. I can’t shower in the morning anymore unfortunately. If I do, it could take me all day to recover from it. Evening is usually a success.

Around 8 PM, I usually get my second wind or at least a small surge of energy. I usually finish the dishes if I haven’t already or try to do some of my very easy physical therapy exercises. In the summer, I sit outside and read since I can’t go outside during the day. I loathe summer now but eating my breakfast outside in the morning and then sitting outside in the evening and reading are both real treats. I look forward to that bit at least.

“It’s 9 PM so I have an hour or so before I take the next round of meds and start preparing for bed. Should I try to exercise more? No. I did enough today. I have to save some energy for tomorrow. Do I watch some crappy tv? Or read? Maybe I could try to mop? I’d give anything to mop. I need to invent a vacuum cleaner/mop that I could ride because I just cannot successfully do that now. I miss the days when I could clean our whole house in an hour. Now so little gets done. Thank god no one ever sees our room and bathroom. I need to learn to live with it. It’s not the end of the world. I did enough today. It was good enough.”

“Maybe I could try to drive tomorrow? It’s been almost a year. Maybe I could walk all the way across the street? It’s been so long. Maybe I could go somewhere with husband? I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’ll just take whatever my body throws at me and accept it. I had an ok day today so I just need to be satisfied with it."

"I didn't have to spend any time in bed, and that my dear is glorious.”

“But I need to sit and rest before bed. I should do my evening dose of my steroid inhaler now. I may need a hit of my rescue inhaler before bed since I’m not breathing great. Hopefully they’ll both be enough to breathe ok through the night. I don’t want to have to use them back to back right before bed. That will lead to endless coughing and could keep me up. I’ll use it now.”

Then I take my evening meds and try to get to bed before 11. I usually feel my best if I can get to bed by 10:30 and wake up around 8, but I’ve always been a night owl. I wish I could stay up later, but those are days are over. I lie in bed and read for awhile, my cat climbs up next to me, and then I eventually fall asleep to start the day all over again.

What I hope to show with this is a little of what it’s like to manage chronic illness day to day and a little of what it’s like for those who are so ill that they are home-bound. This is actually what an ideal day looks like, without having to spend any time in bed and accomplishing a few things. Perhaps I'll outline a really bad day sometime, but it won't be an easy read that's for sure. I hope I showed not just the constant battle of managing illness, but more importantly, what it means to live a good life despite it—what it is to attempt to thrive despite a body strained by affliction and in constant chaos. 

This wasn’t my normal a few years ago because I was working still. I left the house every day. I lived among the rest who have a career and a sense of purpose. But this is my normal now and I have adjusted to it. My sense of purpose has changed significantly and often that purpose is just to try to make the most of each moment, in the hopes that I’ll feel well enough to enjoy it fully. 

I never know what I will wake up to each day or how I will feel moment to moment. The day can vary so widely that it is often impossible to predict what I’ll be able to do. But no matter what the day becomes, I have learned how to feel satisfied with whatever I get and whatever I'm able to do. It's not an ideal life, but it is still a good life. A good life indeed.


  1. It's interesting to hear what your day's like, Stefanie. Thanks.

  2. Hello, I have pots as well , I was wondering if you had any advice or tips when it come to applying for dissability. I have been putting if of since last year only because I feel like they will not take me seriously because people dont consider this to be a real debilitating illness. I honestly can not see my self waking up early everyday to work an 8 hour shift. I think i would die honestly. Im just so frustrated and sad because this is now my life. But my financial situation is causing me extreme stress. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi anonymous. I'm sorry you are also living through this. I had private disability insurance so the process was different. I recommend getting and keeping copies of all of your medical records and getting a lawyer if you can. I could not find one who would take on a private disability case unfortunately. Hopefully you have a primary doctor or another doctor you can rely on to help you get the benefits. I'm just now starting the process for state disability. Here is a link that may help:

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