I need to get that stuff, you know, it comes in sliced, in packages, you use it for toast?

That is a literal question I asked someone because I couldn’t remember the word “bread”. Brain fog isn’t anything new for me, but the increase in frequency, and severity of the lapses, has started to concern me. My professor thinks I’m slacking because I had things in at the last second, even when it’s something I already had an extension for. I reassured her that I wasn’t procrastinating. For me to actually retain even a few bits of the material, I need to take my time working on the subject matter. If I miss a lecture, which I have, I don’t just play it and write up a generalized summary to meet the requirements. I listen to a few minutes, pause to take notes, then continue on with the lecture.

Notes on a  two hour lecture typically takes me 6-8 hours.

I need those notes for tests, only in this class, test times don’t really allow for you to dig stuff up in notes or on the books. (I take classes online since I can’t make it to campus anymore.) Another reason for taking accurate notes, is that I love the material. It was different in classes I found incredibly boring. It was material I really wouldn’t use again, and I had no interest. In this class I am interested, it’s just also complex, and contains a lot of minute details. If I can’t remember that bread is what you use to make toast, how am I supposed to grasp the ridge counting system and pattern equations you use to fill out a fingerprint card? (Important side note…I had to take a few minutes to remember the word equation. Sometimes I’ll get annoyed and just look up key words I know related to the word I’m forgetting, but this time I’m proud I figured it out eventually.)

My brain and body are screaming at me to just sleep. I’ve gone from embarrassment of needing a wheelchair, to impatience regarding the length of time it will take to get one. I’m still worried I’ll end up single forever, but I also understand that right now the key is staying alive and protecting my brain from my body’s overly active and very confused immune system.

Most of us who are chronically ill, have had someone judge us as lazy, or we’ve been labeled as procrastinators. We’ve seen the eye rolls, or lost friends because we ran late to often, or cancelled plans.

If I have to be somewhere at 6pm, I start getting ready around 3pm, because I know I’ll need breaks. I also go to bed early, and sleep in, the night before.  If I’m sore, I shower more than once, and take baths to get my muscles as relaxed as possible. I longingly will eye my high heeled shoes, before grabbing my sensible flats. Picking an outfit depends on how long the event will be, and how swollen my various body parts are. Since most of my swelling right now is in my lower abdomen, I have to plan for how that looks. Shape wear?  No way. The pain that results from attempting to contain a bulge that is actually my intestines, colon, ulcers, and of course stool, is beyond explanation.

Last night I saw a movie. It was amazing to go out, but the process began the day before. I tried to be cautious about what I ate, as I usually am, but because I’d eaten a bit more than my intestines could handle, I had a very obvious swelling of my lower abdomen. No worries, we can just kind of layer two tops and hope that it isn’t as noticeable. Makeup? Yeah, that’s fun when you’re arms and legs are weak. I need to get a full length mirror so I can sit and do it easier. Right now I have a rigged up way of doing it that allows me to sit in my bathroom sink so I can use the medicine cabinet mirror to do my makeup.

No, I am not joking.

Forget cleaning up any mess that was made while doing my makeup and hair, if I clean it up, I’ll be too tired, and I was already running 15 minutes late. Now the whole trying to get to my friends house. He’s only like a 5-10 minute walk away, and the weather is nice, but I know that the walk would drain me. It used to be something I wouldn’t think twice about. My part of the city has a free ride electric car that goes around, but alas, there were no available drivers. Plan B was a Lyft Line, but the wait was 10+ minutes, and by this point I am so tired, I really need to take some Zofran. Shift to a regular Lyft which costs more, but doesn’t involve a wait.

So I get in the Lyft, and I’m regretting my large purse, but whatever, I can unload things once I get to his place. As much as  I want to see the movie, I’m considering just going back inside and going to bed, and it’s only like 4pm.

This is where things get really important: I didn’t give up.

I relaxed a bit at his place, he got food (I watched him eat it because that’s what I do now haha), and he was nice and got us a Lyft to the movie theater. Usually it would have been a walk, but I wanted to enjoy the movie. The mall had several flights of stairs that I needed to climb to get up to the theater. The elevator on the side we were on was broken. (Of course…) So we go up stairs, stairs I’ve climbed dozens of times. My legs hurt, parts go numb, I’m starting to wonder if I should just sit down, but I don’t want to make a scene. I start moving slower and slower, but eventually we get to the top. I’m in pain, but we’re there. After enjoying the movie, I remind myself that I need to make it back to see Star Wars, but that perhaps I’ll go alone so I can use the stairs or my walker.

After the movie I did a really dumb thing. We were walking around looking for a specific shop, but we couldn’t find it. We walked and walked and eventually we were almost back at his apartment. So he asked if I was cool with just finishing the walk and I said I was.

But I wasn’t.

Today, I am paying a price. Brain fog is extremely intense, the urge to just keep sleeping is preventing me from doing a decent job on my homework. Have you ever worked out really hard, and you have really sore muscles the next day, where even lifting your spoon is painful? That’s where I’m at. I was having muscle and joint pain before, but pushing myself beyond my limits was just plain stupid.

Lesson: regardless of what you think other people with think of you for using assistive devices, or refusing to walk when the distance is considered walkable, listen to your logical brain. 

I could go to bed right now, and it’s only 5:40pm. I have homework to do, so I can’t just sleep. I could take a bath to ease the pain, but eventually I’ll have to get out. Plus the hot water is a dangerous scenario with my autonomic nervous system being such a bastard lately. Plan is to take a lot of homework breaks, think as much as I can about the homework topics, and if I really need to sleep, then I will let my body sleep.

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I need to get that stuff, you know, it comes in sliced, in packages, you use it for toast?

Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Panicking

My friend Molly lives in Mexico. She works in the U.S., but she lives in Mexico, and she loves it. Lately I’ve been struggling financially. That’s a lie, I’m drowning financially. As I try and come up with ways to stem the financial hemorrhage, while my symptoms increase, my mind starts to scramble, I start to tell myself I should just run. It isn’t rational, and I know it…but I can’t help but embrace the flight after so spending so much time embracing the fight.

This is why you don’t make a decision while you’re panicking.

In the past month, I’ve thought about moving to Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Washington DC, Washington State, Los Angeles, and Texas. This isn’t an over exaggeration. If anything, I’m forgetting a state or two. The only real reason I haven’t moved forward is that I love it where I am, and the thought of having to move myself, and two dogs, wherever, is daunting. I’d also have to rent my room out.

It isn’t undoable, it’s just not something I should (or would) rush into. I have thoughts, though. I think about stopping my medications, seeing what happens. It isn’t because I want to get sicker, but because some part of me hopes that I would get better. There is no logic behind it, in fact, I know logically that it would be a terrible plan. Even on my current medications, I struggle to get by. I required IV fluids on Monday, and I’m sure gastroenterology tomorrow will decide I should be getting IV fluids more often. (At least I hope they come to that conclusion. Waiting until I’m sick enough to warrant an urgent care or ER visit, is just not good for my body.)

I want to go camping. I want to have a normal life. I want to ice skate on the beach. I want to fish off a pier.

It isn’t just about what I want though, it’s about what I need.

As I move forward with scheduling an appointment with the new mental health provider at literally the only clinic within 30 miles that takes my insurance, I have to face the reality that they’ll force me back into counseling. Don’t get me wrong, counseling is a wonderful tool, and it has definitely helped me in the past…but the type of counseling I would receive, isn’t the type of counseling that would help me in this instance. We could go through my history, and evaluate why I feel how I feel about myself, the causes for my low self esteem…but that won’t change the limitations that I have now.

I’ve found a lot of counselors don’t know how to approach someone who is chronically ill, which is a part of a the reason why I blog, and started an Instagram. It’s also why I plan on starting up a YouTube channel once I’m able to acquire the space and privacy. Us sick folks talk to one another, but we aren’t really honest about the emotional toll our illnesses take on us. We may joke about not having personal lives, being in long-term relationships with our heating pads, or cheating on Naproxen with Acetaminophen…but the thread in all of that is that we joke about it.

When you’re chronically ill, you’re more likely to make light of your difficulties, than to be honest about them. You’ve been judged for complaining, so now when you need to vent, you do it in a comical way. Friends laugh with you, even chronically ill friends…but who do you have that is willing to listen to you when you’re genuinely struggling?

I think the answer to that question is probably scary. I had a friend who would always listen to me, and I would always listen to her…until one day she told me my disease was consuming me. This was about a month ago, and I shut down. I threw myself into only being positive about my disease and the conditions that sprung off of it. And while I know that there is a lot of positive things that I can focus on as a result of having Behcet’s, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I grieve the loss of a lot of things, especially this time of year.

When I was younger I made plans. I was the insane planner. Even when I began to get ill, I still had plans. I didn’t think about my disease worsening. I couldn’t have imagined the path my life would take. While the divorce should have been foreseeable (it was to those around me), my Behcet’s becoming the severe was never even on my radar. My ex told me nobody would ever love a sick girl like me, but I had told myself he was only saying it to hurt me. He knew that I was insecure about my health, I still am, and he couldn’t have known at that point in time that my health would rapidly decline…still…the words haunt me.

I had plans to have kids around the age of 30. I’m 31, single, and am on several drugs that you absolutely cannot take during pregnancy. It also isn’t known whether or not the Cytoxan impacted my fertility or not. My run in with cervical cancer also cost me a chunk of my cervix, right in the center. While I was lucky not to need further treatment, just a few more biopsies and regular tests each year, I was warned that I would potentially need a cerclage during pregnancy to prevent preterm labor. Two different doctors also told me, point blank, that I would be high risk from the second I conceived. The second told me that even without the drugs I’m taking that cause issues during pregnancy, I would still need to carefully plan any pregnancies. It isn’t a case of deciding when I’m ready to start a family, it’s about actually seeing doctors months in advance for blood work, supplements, and other tests.

It isn’t just the idea of starting a family. I know that I theoretically have time for that, and there is adoption and surrogacy if carrying a child myself isn’t possible. The other issue is that it’s the holidays. While most people love this time of year, I find it utterly depressing. For years I was in an unhappy marriage, and the holidays meant making sure to put on the correct face and attitude. I had to be convincing. I had to go to my ex’s coworkers’ parties, and while there were some good times in my marriage that I could lean on for support, there were many many reasons why I was anxious in these situations. Would I say something wrong? Was he looking at me in a way that meant something I should be able to pick up on?

I had thought being free of that would mean that I could relax, but because of my health, I haven’t really been able to enjoy the holidays. While I’ll never truly know what he, or anyone else for that matter, is actually thinking during the holidays, I know that I look around and feel so utterly alone. Thanksgiving? I can’t eat. Christmas? I desperately want to ice skate this year…but I know that doing so would require adaptive equipment and I don’t want to be the girl with a walker on the ice skating rink. Perhaps I’ll go see a movie on Christmas day, to try and distract myself from just how alone I feel…but there is so much of me that resents my body during these periods of time.

Plus time! Holidays remind me that time is passing,g and I can remember last year choosing to do all of my chemo treatments near holidays so that this year the holidays would have to be better. Instead I’m being reminded that I sacrificed those holidays and now I’m stuck fighting for a treatment that manages my symptoms better. I don’t regret doing chemotherapy, it was the right choice, I’m just desperate for something that can make me enjoy my days in general.

The holidays are just anxiety provoking for me. I want so much, but am so limited. Even the idea of getting my wheelchair has been bogged down by the reality that the process takes some time…and my insurance coverage is going to be gone soon. The up and down and go-go-go of the seasons, probably give most people with chronic illnesses a bit of anxiety!

I told myself for Halloween I’d carve a pumpkin, but I didn’t. I told myself for Thanksgiving I would find gluten free stuffing, and spend time with my friend in Los Angeles, but I couldn’t. There are things I want to do for Christmas, but I’m afraid to even say what they are, because I don’t know how to make them happen. Perhaps I will go ice skate on the beach, even if it means using adaptive equipment, but I would have to do it alone. Nobody I know could afford to go, hell I can’t afford to go, but I really want to do it. (It’s on my bucket list.) The people I do know who could afford to go, probably wouldn’t want to see me with one of those stands children use to keep themselves from falling.

To be honest I really wish I could just spend a weekend in a cabin, and see the dogs play in the snow.

Well, I guess I put it into words. Perhaps the idea is to have ideas, but no expectations. I wanted to be somewhere else at this stage in my life, and I may just have to accept that my path has shifted. It doesn’t mean I won’t have the things I wanted, I just have to find a new way of getting there…

Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Panicking

Gastroparesis:1, Me:0

A few years back, prior to my Behcet’s diagnosis, I was having some serious GI issues. One of the concerns was gastric emptying, so my GI doctor ordered a gastric emptying study. At this point in time I’d had some major issues with constipation, as well as weird diarrhea even though imaging would show I was still constipated. That is a special level of fun, to be in the ER, massively struggling with diarrhea, while doctors remain confused because you’re clearly backed up on imaging. Anyhow, my new GI doctor was amazing, and ordered the study to see what my stomach was doing. During the study, the medical facility screwed up. Despite being told I couldn’t eat dairy, or gluten, they provided me with toast, milk, juice, two eggs, and some peaches. I hate peaches…but without them, I’d have only eaten juice and eggs. I choked don the peaches, eggs, and juice, and was told not to bother with the two pieces of toast, or the glass of milk. This wasn’t the proper protocol, because while they were checking to see how the eggs went through (they had the radioactive tracker on them), you’re still supposed to be measuring the gut emptying with all that stuff in it.

I had only eaten the eggs and some juice.

When they did the testing I wasn’t dealing with extensive symptoms, but I did test just over the time limit. (I think they said you got 90 minutes to empty your stomach, and I took 92 minutes.) The doctor said I had some mild gastroparesis, but was bothered by the fact I hadn’t eaten as much as they would usually feed patients. Sorry, but it definitely wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t fed things I could actually eat.

Now, years later, with my symptoms completely kicking my ass, the have definitely diagnosed me with gastroparesis, and the oh-so-fun issue of periodic intestinal dysmotility. What is that you say? Well, it’s period of time when my intestines decide they’re just not going to move effectively…or even at all.

You want to confuse the hell out of an ER doctor? Go in for abdominal pain, and watch their face when they realize you don’t have any bowel sounds. They tend to change stethoscopes, look at you with a smile and confused eyes, before finally realizing there is no sounds at all.

I’ve gotten used to living in this space where I’m just not hungry. Sometimes I’m even nauseas. During chemo I got breaks where the steroids would instigate hunger, and I was moving things along…but now I’m back to feeling gross and not having much motility. One day a week I’ll have a bunch of bowel movements; Sometimes I’m lucky and get a second day, so it’s less horrendous. I take medicine, both traditional and alternative, to help with the nausea and appetite issues…but this can lead to more problems.

When you eat, but you’re too slow to process the food, things get gross. 

I definitely need to throw up right now, but once I start I can’t stop. All I’ve eaten today is two cups of cereal. The problem is I ate a lot of cereal yesterday, because my GI system had been moving the day before…but it has since stalled. Now everything I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours, is just sitting and it’s painful and nauseating. I made the mistake of giving into hunger rather than following the strict limits I know keep me from this level of pain. This morning I literally thought I’d ruptured something because I couldn’t stand straight. It was so bad I gave my dog to my roommate because I didn’t know if I could continue to walk him today and tonight.

On the 1st of December I’ll see my new GI doctor, and we can hopefully sort out treatment options. Personally I’d love to just swap to liquid food and not have to think about eating for enjoyment anymore. I just want to get adequate nutrition without having to think about it. We know a few things contribute, including a blocked celiac artery, and poor blood flow in general. I also have ulcerations that can tie things up. The diet I need to follow excludes so many nutrients, though. I would love to eat a salad. It sounds so insane, but I definitely miss salads!

Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, meats, fried foods (except for french fries for some reason), dairy, and anything high in fiber? They’re all not tolerable. Fruits and vegetables are definitely the worst, and anything high in fiber.

Today will be spent sipping on water, enjoying my carafate, and wrapping my abdomen in a heating pad. My abdominal pain actually making me short of breath, and my eyes are watering because I’m trying so hard not to throw up. This is the reality of GI Behcet’s. I just hope I never have a rupture, or full obstruction. I’ve had a few partial obstructions, and pseudo-obstructions. I don’t go to the ER anymore unless the symptoms prevent me from urinating. Yes, I’ve been so blocked up, I couldn’t even pee. That was a horrible situation because the small town ER didn’t really know what to do with me. They kept giving me enemas, and all I was doing was bleeding as the enema liquid came out…I also was throwing up some gnarly stuff until I was dry heaving. That was enough to make me try to avoid the ER after that.

Keep your chin up folks. Even when you’ve had tubes shoved in horrible places, things go on. Today I’m grateful for the people who help me while I struggle. I’m grateful I found a free version of my textbook, at least I think. I’m grateful for my dogs. I’m grateful for friends who bring my dog  home for Thanksgiving so he can be spoiled. I’m grateful to be crashing somewhere that doesn’t smell like my apartment smells.

Find the things you’re grateful for.

Gastroparesis:1, Me:0

Cytoxan (Cyclophosphamide)

So much drama, and so much going around and around, but I guess that’s the joy of being chronically in. I swear, we should all write passages for a book called, “Chronicles of the Chronically”. This week my pain levels have hit a new level of horrible, and since I can’t really take narcotics without having to worry about potentially having a seizure, I’ve basically just had to suck it up and deal. This has meant a whole lot of showers, heating pads, and surprises. Surprises? Well, for example, one day one set of joints will hurt, the next day, a whole different set will flare up. Yesterday my feet opted to get in on the fun, which I wasn’t really aware of until I got out of bed. Every step, you could hear cracking, and it felt like bones were breaking.

My ex, being the wonderful piece of garbage that he is, has decided that, rather than just go through with the divorce as we agreed, he wants to get a lawyer, disagree with everything, and force the proceedings into court. He doesn’t realize that this will drag things out even further, and worse, cost him a whole lot of money. I’m hoping I won’ get slammed with court fees because I’m disabled and he should have to pay my fees, but we’ll see how it works out. For someone who wanted this over and done with, he sure picked a stupid thing to do. Of course he’s one of the stupidest people I know, so that’s not exactly a huge surprise. He probably figures, since I can’t make it to court, he’ll get a default agreement, or get what he wants. The idiot forgets that I am severely ill, and have a fantastic lawyer. one doctors letter, and boom, I’m officially excused from court proceedings for at least six months, and it also makes him look like an ass because it clearly states I haven’t been able to work, and will continue to be unable to work.

It doesn’t mean the news that he was pushing it to court didn’t stress me out. I found out he’d done this shortly before I found out we were officially moving onto chemo. As far as he knew I was already doing chemotherapy like treatments, which I was, so in his mind I probably wasn’t as sick as I truly am. My misfortune has become his misfortune though, since his girlfriend is due in February. If he truly wants the baby to be able to get Tricare, he can’t have a wife as a dependent, who isn’t the mother of the child. I’ll be doing chemotherapy until mid-April, so unless they want to pay out of pocket for the appointments and birth, he’s going to need to stop being unrealistic.

I think the hardest thing for me has been knowing that he’s supposedly expecting a child with this young woman, and  may be losing the ability to have a one myself. The odds on my regimen range from 60-70% in terms of ending up infertile. Knowing that leaves me 30-40% is comforting, but not really as comforting as having eggs frozen just in case. I found out this week that freezing my eggs isn’t an option. My doctor doesn’t want to delay the start date, and we’re talking about starting next week if the infusion center has an opening. We did talk about Lupron, but there isn’t a ton of clinical evidence it works, and she’s concerned the side effects of menopause could mask whether the Behcet’s symptoms have started to abate. There is also some concern about hormones again, and how that impacts my disease. Would putting me into menopause, then pulling me out of it, end up making me flare immediately after we reverse it? I did have a lot of flares concurrent with my menstrual cycles.

The guy, for his part, has been supportive, joking about whether there is anything sexual that can be done with bald heads, and chatting with me about wigs. He’s also repeatedly told me how he’s here for me, despite my concern that I may vomit and he may hear me. Other friends have come out of the woodwork, too, and it’s nice to know that I’ve got people. Most can’t physically be here, but I know they would if they could. I did cry because I have lost a lot of friends being sick. I was talking about it with the guy, and I told him I felt lonely, a lot, like my illness drives people away, and then on top of it, it prevents me from making new friends. Being introverted just magnifies the effects.

My shitty insurance, while it covers things financially, often only offers me shitty providers, and in terms of mental health providers that’s majorly clear. I liked my counselor, but the doctors regulating my psychiatric meds have no clue what they’re doing. It’s scary when you’re looking into black market ways to keep yourself plugged into society because your doctors have gone crazy themselves. (I’m talking getting backup meds from a friend, not street meds, though there are a lot of drug deals going down as of late.)

Who would I talk to about this stuff besides other sick people though? The guy asked if I thought about looking for support groups, and while it’s a good idea, I also had to chuckle because any support group for the chronically ill, is bound to have a lot of absenteeism. I know I’ve folded under pressure lately, feeling like crap, and wanting to just sleep a little longer. I force myself to wear actual pants to the guy’s place, but the truth is, I’m in pajamas so often ,buying a few more pairs seems like a good investment. (Note: long legs = buying mens pajama bottoms to be cost effective. Victoria’s Secret works, but is the cost worth it, really?)

So chemo. Legitimate chemo. My mother oh-so-kindly pointed out that it’s not real chemo, like cancer chemo…even though it’s the same drug. True, my schedule is less rigorous and involves less drugs, but the side effects, and dosages, still make it a shitty thing to look forward to. As the guy has said, though, I can think about it and prepare for it, but I also need to think about and plan for the end of it. Remission. Vacations. FUN. I had to postpone my trip to Mexico, sad, but I didn’t she the funds anyhow. I’m determined to get to a nice hot tub, somewhere it snows, at some point during the treatment, maybe around New Year’s. I can take a real vacation once it’s all over. I’m also kind of hoping my hair just falls out at this point. Post Cell Cept and steroids, it’s just falling out and breaking constantly. I don’t know how I have any left except that I had super thick hair before hand. My scalp has hurt lately, and more hair has been coming out, so I’m thinking with chemo, it’s bound to just abandon ship.

Cytoxan (Cyclophosphamide)