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…

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Don’t Make Decisions When You’re Panicking

Grieve and then Grow

I woke up today several times. It was one of those mornings when nausea wakes me up, so I handle it with medical marijuana because it’s the fastest working thing that won’t increase my seizure risk…then go back to sleep until it returns. My rheumatologist messaged me back and basically had said that I needed to see my primary care doctor, or go to urgent care/the ER. My primary care doctor didn’t have openings, and urgent care is closer.

At this point I know what I need…fluids and nauseas drugs. I also know the reality is I need something to make this flare go away. Nothing is going to make this flare go away, at least not anything that can be reasonably sustained over a period of time. The ER this time of year is a just a pile of germs, especially after a holiday weekend, and unfortunately urgent care wasn’t much better.

The first doctor was sort of baffled by my symptoms, and wanted me to go to the ER and be admitted to the hospital. She recognized what I already knew…anything they did today, was just going to be a stop gap measure. I needed treatment of the underlying cause, not just the symptoms. Preaching to the choir doctor…but I’m not going to hang out in the hospital while confused staff rheumatologists go through my charts and realize we’ve tried all of the conventional stuff. She also said the marijuana could be causing my constipation. The day I used the most was the day I finally went to the bathroom, probably because I was able to drink enough water that day…

So she gets a bit flustered and says she can’t make me go to the hospital, and I ask if I can get fluids and nausea meds there (in urgent care) and she says yes.

Let the process of trying to draw my blood and place an IV commence…

Look, I have bad veins by all standards, but toss in the vasculitis and even the best nurse is going to struggle. They manage to get the IV in, but drawing blood requires two nurses, because one has to keep the needle in place while the other swaps tubes. I also bleed super slow, so that was making it extra fun. After this point a new doctor comes in, because of shift change, and he’s a laid back guy. He agrees I’m flaring, contemplates trying a different steroid, but after talking about my prior issues with steroids (needing super high doses for any sort of efficacy) he agrees that my original plan makes the most sense. Get the fluids, check the labs, and switch over to a high fluid diet in lieu of solids. It’s better to eat ice pops and Jell-o, than to end up in the ER because I’ve had solids but no fluids.

When you’ve been sick for so long, you learn to sort of gauge what the right response is to whatever symptoms arise. It’s only when something new pops up, that you’re truly thrown off. My doctors, especially ER doctors who haven’t seen me before, are going to struggle a bit to process what the best course of action is. I get it. If I were any other patient, you’d keep me until I had symptom control. I won’t get symptom control that can be extended after my exit from the hospital. It isn’t a pessimistic view, it’s reality. At this point in time, there isn’t anything they can do for me during an admission, that is going to extend beyond 1-2 w weeks post admission.

That is the depressing part. I want a normal life, LA with my friends for the holidays, ice skating, and running around the beach. I want to join a sports league in my city, so I can meet new people, and bowl!

Could I bowl? Absolutely. Could I plan in advance what days I would be physically able to bowl? No. That is the part that sucks. I am normal, but I can’t be normal. I want to work, I want to buy things on Cyber Monday, and I want to make holiday plans. There are so many things my friends and family members are doing, that I just can’t, at least not consistently.

This has been the struggle with disability. There are some days when I am able, but other days when I need medical intervention just to obtain adequate hydration. I don’t get to choose which days are which. I can choose when I get some of my medical procedures, but again, that doesn’t guarantee what days I’ll feel what way.

It isn’t all, “I hate my life!”

One thing I’ve been wanting to do lately, is bring people together who struggle with chronic illnesses. I am optimistic, and I do cope, but I definitely have days when I just can’t, and that is okay! Kick, scream, cry, do whatever it is you need to do. Embrace the anger and the sadness. Why? You need to make peace with the negative parts of your illness. I always thought it was black and white. That if I was pessimistic, at all, I would be giving power to the disease. The truth is that we can’t be honestly positive, until we have embraced the things we’ve lost to our diseases.

How can I appreciate the interest I’ve found in investigative forensics, unless I own the fact that I’ve lost my ability to really be in a laboratory environment on a consistent basis? How can I appreciate the absolute amazingness of my friends who have stood by me, or have come into my life during this difficult journey, until I grieve for the friends and family that I’ve lost because they couldn’t handle my illness?

Turn the losses into gains, by acknowledging just how beautiful your new circumstances are…because they’ve grown from the loss of something else.

Grieve. I grieve the loss right now, of my ability to do the things I would normally do this time of year. I grieve the opportunity to join a sports club. I grieve for my financial losses. I grieve because it’s natural, and because I know that I will be able to connect these losses together once something beautiful has grown up from their roots.

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that positivity allows you to make sense of the things that have happened in your life.

Grieve and then Grow

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

Bonus Blog – Stress and You

So I wasn’t going to write anymore today, but I had some things come up that I’ve realized could be beneficial to others. For over two years I’ve been locked in a chaotic divorce with my ex-husband. The relationship ended, and it was a mutual decision, but it became clear that he hadn’t expected me to actually leave for good. The relationship was bad. He cheated, or tried to cheat, and there was extensive abuse. He was cunning enough about the abuse to stop actually putting his hands on me once he realized the marks were obvious, but it didn’t stop there. He would slam on the brakes in the car to scare me, and once it was so violent that my shoulder dislocated and relocated. I ended up in a sling. He would throw things, and if they hit me, insist that it was an accident. There was a lot of verbal and emotional abuse. Screaming right in my face until the spit was just hitting me as I sunk to the floor.

Point is, it was bad. 

It took me too long to leave, but I did eventually break free. I thought we had a decent agreement in place, but after he began playing the same games he played during our marriage, I got a lawyer. There were assets that needed to be divided, including savings and the house, not to mention alimony. As soon as I got a lawyer, all hell broke loose.

I have bad luck, and soon after landing a decent job, it became hectic, and my health flared up. I had kidney infections, and when I didn’t have kidney infections, I still felt miserable. It was something I couldn’t keep under control well enough to work full-time, but I tried, because the position was supposedly transitioning to a work from home for part of the week. This angered the manager because she wasn’t allowed to work from home (we had very different roles, in fact, I was the only one not selling in the office, and everyone else that was selling distracted me from the work I had to do. ) Then I blew out my knee and that was the end of that. Everything got worse, and the stress got more and more unmanageable, which was when my Behcet’s, of course, started to really press down on me.

I have autonomic neuropathy, linked somehow to the Behcet’s, and when my disease flares, the neurological symptoms flare along with it.

Now we’re 2+ years into it, and I thought we were done, but of course, the saga continues. I had blocked his number which led to me getting tons of odd calls from his area code where he lives, as well as many hang up calls from blocked numbers. Worse, his girlfriend (possibly fiance) knows my number, as he’s used HER number to contact me while his number was blocked. Yeah, I’m sure she’s just sitting on the information when he’s telling her, and both of their families, that they can’t get married because I’m the one holding up the divorce.

Everyone says don’t get stressed, but when you have to answer the phone because you’re waiting on information for a repeat three day EEG, and your wheelchair assessment so you can get at least more mobile, it’s not fun to be getting calls from people pretending to be doing a sex survey, or sell you random stuff. On top of it, I’m facing homelessness because I cannot afford my apartment, and my other bills. My dogs need to eat, as do I, and at some point if this divorce ever finishes, I’ll have to pay for my insurance as well. I could be homeless as soon as January, and nobody realizes it. 

So what do we do? I’ve just sort of accepted it and leaned into it. If I freak out hardcore for a while, then calm down, it seems to work better than if I try and bottle up the rage, and fear. I vent to those who are willing to listen, and take advice as it comes. Mostly I just allow myself to feel the anger, and anxiety, while telling myself that my nervous system was already in overdrive, so the shaking and sweating will eventually slow down. It’s not a good feeling, and I hope the people reading this don’t have to deal with it often, but maybe my words will help you feel a little less alone.

Personally I find his actions despicable. To treat someone, even someone you don’t know, the way he’s treating me, is just so wrong. I would never treat a stranger like this! To take advantage of someone in a weakened state is so sociopathic. There isn’t any reasoning with him, either. Things have to be his way. I don’t use the term sociopath lightly, either. We had testing done, and he was off the charts for both narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. The best part was that he was so insistent the forms had to be done right, that he wouldn’t let me fill them out by myself. Instead, he came in and added things to the lists, which only drove him further up on the scale. My doctor told me that I needed to consider getting out, that he wasn’t capable of changing because he lacked empathy and remorse.

The stress is there. I can’t live in a stress free world, and I don’t have money for massages or anything that would help me destress. (I would sell one of my less than stellar kidneys for a nice long foot reflexology session right now!) Put on a nice smelling candle, play a stupid game while listening to stupid tv. Take pleasure in your pets. Remind yourself that you are fighting, and fighting hard, but that you’re also still human. I’ve had so many breakdowns recently, and I’ve started to really wonder if I can keep going on without someone carrying me. While it would be amazing to have someone living with me to share the household chores and ultimately make sure I don’t fall on my ass, that just isn’t the case. I have a roommate, but he’s much smaller than I am, so if I were to take a fall, it would be on the dog to get me vertical again.

Just think of the things and people and places, that you love. Go there in your mind, breathe in the scents, touch the related items and textures. Breathe through your nose and out your mouth. Center yourself and remember that you’ve had days like this before, and you can conquer this one, too…even if you have to throw a few things and cry first.

Bonus Blog – Stress and You

Failure Isn’t Always Failure

Sometimes I do stupid things…like apply for a job and accept an interview, even though I feel like utter garbage. I told myself that the hours, 12pm-4pm, and the fact that it was doable in a wheelchair, meant I could totally handle the position. Friends got behind me, encouraging me to give the interview my everything. These friends weren’t aware of the extent of my relapse, at least not what is going on internally. They know I’m nauseas, sleepy, sore, and that I can’t eat much. They also know that my balance has been off, and that I have the shakes. What they haven’t known is how much pain I’m in, that the shakes are more than just the shakes, and that my situation is expected to just keep getting worse. I cancelled the interview for today, by calling in and saying I was sick, and  moved the interview to next Thursday, because I have rheumatology next Tuesday.

I felt like the biggest failure.

All these people from here and back east, were cheering me on, and telling me to try. I did try, but I just couldn’t pull myself together. I went to take a shower, and each step was so painful. My colon definitely has ulcers in it, and the fact that I’m not going to the bathroom isn’t helping matters. Gastroparesis is a gnarly thing, and I have a weird form of it (of course). I don’t just have issues with getting food from my stomach, into the rest of the GI tract, I have issues with my entire GI tract. I’ve gone to the ER with bad abdominal pain, knowing I was constipated, and ended up with baffled doctors because I had no GI sounds whatsoever. Your stomach and intestines make noises, even when you’re not hungry or eating something. You can’t always hear them, but with a stethoscope you really should. They medicated the hell out of me, and barely got a gurgle. I ended up refusing the enema because it’s super uncomfortable, and doing it at home is much easier than being given one in the ER. (I’d also had a really traumatic experience with a prior enema because the medical staff didn’t do imaging first, and I bled severely. I am on the fast track to enema town right now, and I am doing my best to avoid it.

The other issue for today is just the tremors and weakness. I saw my neurologist yesterday, and he was definitely concerned. The last time I had a flare that progressed to neurological symptoms, I ended up incapacitated in the hospital, with the possibility of being placed in a skilled nursing facility. I couldn’t feed myself because of the shaking, I couldn’t walk at all. I couldn’t even be touched without my body locking up and spasming. Yesterday my neurologist said that he felt I needed to be back in chemotherapy, but I’m not sure that is an option. For one, it’s hard on the kidneys, so they limit the number of sessions you can get. The other thing is, it worked, but only during the sessions, and for a few months after. We know that you can’t stay on chemotherapy for the rest of your life, at least not what I was receiving…so what is the point?

I want to work…but if I were to get this job, and then find out I was going back into invasive treatment, I wouldn’t be able to keep the job. Additionally, taking the job impacts my disability claim. So if I took the job, and then had to quit the job (or be let go), because of my health, it would be a huge letdown. I would no longer have a job, and still be less eligible to receive disability.

I am not a failure, though.

My health isn’t in my control. Yes, I can do things to help myself, like supplements, and watching what I try and eat…but I can’t think myself well. Staying positive is important, and does help how you feel, but knowing and accepting your limitations is important, too. I knew from the second I woke up today, that I was not going to make it to my interview. The interview was scheduled for literally right now…and it still hurts to try and lift my arms or legs. I’m wondering how many ulcers are in my colon, because it feels like a billion. If I had walked in, looking hungover, miserable, and unable to walk straight, they’d have questioned my sanity, and my ability to perform the position. I did the right thing moving the interview, instead of canceling it all together. If I get bad news on Tuesday, I can call the company and explain that something has come up medically, and I will no longer be able to fill the role successfully.

If you’re reading this, and you’re chronically ill, remember that you can only push yourself so far, and that’s okay. We can’t give up entirely, because then we’re just as bad off, but we also shouldn’t be pushing ourselves into the hospital to appease others. The longer you’re sick, the better you get at predicting how you’ll feel, and what you can and can’t do. I never know from one day to the next how horrible I’ll feel when I wake up, but I do have a basic idea once I am awake, how I’ll be for that day. It’s okay to cancel plans. It’s okay to stay in pajamas. It’s okay to take a few naps!
What we want isn’t always what is best for us. Loving yourself starts with accepting your limitations, while working with medical professionals to expand the things you can do. There are tools and resources to assist with independence, it’s just a matter of finding them, and using them.

Failure Isn’t Always Failure

Neurological Symptoms Getting Worse

Things haven’t been good, and between the livedo reticularis getting seriously bad, and my neurological symptoms flaring horribly, I know that my Behcet’s is winning. I’ve been on a steroid taper, but there just doesn’t seem to be much relief. I went to neurology today, and we’re increasing my seizure medication and my neuropathy medication, but he really doesn’t have a ton of faith that it will help my symptoms, including my shakes and ataxia. It could help other issues, but there really isn’t one drug to help my specific set of neurological symptoms.

We don’t know what is happening in my brain/spine/nerves to cause my shaking, ataxia, and hyperactive reflexes. I present a lot like an MS patient, but I don’t have MS. Also, because the symptoms get worse with flares, and do improve slightly during high immune suppressing treatments, it makes logical sense that it’s related to my Behcet’s. With my GI system crashing though, there is a question of how to adequately treat most of my symptoms…while also having to embrace the reality that I’m sadly unique in how my neurological symptoms present.

Today the doctor mentioned IVIG, but we aren’t there yet. I’ll bring it up with my rheumatologist next week, just to see if that combined with other therapy options is an idea. I’ve also read some things about plasmapheresis, though again, it would be experimental because Behcet’s is so rare. If I had to do more chemotherapy to live independently, then obviously I would, but I’m desperate to try other options first. Some of the things I want may seem odd to someone who isn’t chronically ill, but for me they’re everything.

First and foremost, I want a port. I know there are a lot of risks, and the risks do scare me, but because I’m so hard to stick, if we were to take on another IV treatment, I would want to have an easy access situation. The other benefit of a port, is we could talk about hooking me up to IV fluids, and even IV medications. With my poor GI motility, it just makes sense for me to bypass my stomach for a lot of things. My seizure meds, and my immune suppressing drugs, as well as my nausea medications, are the first things I think of. Also, I have to choose between eating or drinking, which sucks. It is so painful to do either, that I’ve been giving up on food so I can drink enough fluids. Doctors are still saying I’m dehydrated though! This has gone on for years, with doctors always insisting I need to drink more water, but my body just can’t handle more water orally. IV fluids at home would really benefit me, even if we just did them every other day.

The second thing is the wheelchair, and while I’m disappointed at needing one, I appreciate that it will be a tool for me to use to become more independent. At this point, they have approved me, so I’m just waiting for the company to get in touch, and to work on what kind I’ll be getting and when it’ll be arriving. I’m still really embarrassed to need one, but I’ve fallen several times in the last few weeks, and with my diet so limited, the weakness is even more pronounced. We know from the way my body has declined in the past, that my neurological symptoms are only going to get worse. It doesn’t make sense for me to put pride over my well being. If I wait until I’m fully unable to walk, then ask for a wheelchair, I’m going to be stuck waiting for however long it takes.

The third thing is nutritional supplementation. I refuse to get an NJ or an NG tube placed.  I would likely need an NJ as my stomach is the issue, and they’d want to bypass my stomach. My gag reflex is just too strong, and living with a tube from my nose into my intestines would not be something I could handle. I also don’t feel like I’m sick enough to warrant a surgical feeding tube, and wouldn’t want one anyhow. I can still intake things orally, and I feel like if we got the right supplements I could get by. I’ve been choking down Boost, and I can tolerate potatoes, PBJ (sometimes), and sorbet. My issue is I’m not getting enough protein, or other nutrients, on my limited diet. Today I had a cup of sorbet, and that was it until 6 when I forced myself to eat some potatoes. If you’re wondering, it hurts, and I’m miserable, but at least I kept it down thus far.

I need a support network. I need people who get what I’m going through, and don’t judge me for being negative. I had a friend who was really close to me, who had multiple medical conditions as well, so I’ve been venting to her about my health lately. She is also someone I go to when it comes to how to date with chronic illnesses, and how to talk about health issues with someone you care about. Unfortunately we’re not friends anymore. She felt as though I was becoming wrapped up in my illness and letting it define me, and that my casual dating situation with the guy I’ve been seeing was unhealthy for me. Yes, I want to find someone to seriously date, but at this point I don’t have the energy to put into dating. (Not to mention I can’t eat much, and alcohol is a big fat no at this stage.) Yes, I have other positive things going on in my life, but everything has changed course because of my illness.

If you’re reading this, and you have a chronic illness, don’t feel bad about feeling bad! When you find yourself in a rut because your disease has taken over, it’s okay to process it for as long as it takes. In my case, I began losing more and more things that I’d discovered about myself in the last two years. After my marriage ended, and I was free from an abusive situation, I really started to find who I was as a person. Then, my disease progressed, and I began to lose things I’d started to enjoy. That process is ongoing, which means my frustration and sadness is ongoing. I don’t dwell on it publicly but I do vent to friends because I need help finding me. Yes, finding yourself is a personal process, but I think being sick it’s important to have people in your corner to help you. If I didn’t talk about my health, I can honestly say I would get lost in suicidal thoughts.

Really? Yes, really. There have been points in this journey where I’ve just wanted to die, and I think it’s something anyone with a chronic illness deals with. Whether or not you’re truly suicidal, or just feeling overwhelmed and the thoughts crosses your mind, it’s a real issue that requires real help. I am on anti-depressants, and I’m setting up more counseling sessions. I don’t want to actually die, so I need to make sure my mental health is being handled by professionals.

Please seek professional help or go to your nearest emergency room if you are feeling suicidal. Various countries and states have numbers you can call if you need someone to talk to. Call 1-800-273-8255 in the U.S. for the National Suicide Hotline. You can also chat anonymously. 

So that’s an update on my situation. My brain is starting to become worthless, so I’m off for now. Please address issues you have with your illness, and know you aren’t alone if you’re depressed or anxious. We can get through it, you can get through it. Your life (my life) OUR LIVES, are worth fighting for.

Also the only thing that’s working on my nausea is medical marijuana. That makes the part-time job hunt harder because I can’t take anything that they drug test for. At the end of the day, I can’t work if I’m up all night dry heaving, so it’s worth it for me to forgo those positions in lieu of the medical treatment that actually works for me.

Neurological Symptoms Getting Worse

Navigating the Potential Work Force

More like the “What the F*ck” force…

Before getting really sick, I worked. In fact, I worked so much, I’m pretty sure the stress of it contributed to an increase in flares, and symptoms in general. My relationship at the time was also extremely abusive. Going home was more stressful than being at work, and sometimes I would finish a shift, and just sit in my car in a parking lot because I wanted to avoid my ex. (Yeah, I was winning at life back then.)

Since leaving him and moving across the country, my health improved, before taking a drastic nose dive. As far as we can tell, I was exposed to a fair amount of mold in my first solo-apartment here, but a nasty flare was on the horizon from the moment I moved anyhow. It was a stressful time in my life, and my medications weren’t totally effective anyhow. I got my shit together, found a part-time bartending gig, and made that work…until dehydration, exhaustion, and just general autoimmune issues, led me to having a massive seizure…at work…

After that things got worse. That was when the Rituxan didn’t work, and I couldn’t walk, and we ended up finding out I wasn’t tolerant of Remicade. NYU said do chemo, so we did, but obviously that has failed…so here I am.

The thing is this: I never had a hard time finding work. Even when I was sick, I could find something, I just wasn’t ever sure if I could keep it. When I found out my doctor would be submitting for my wheelchair, I was both elated, as well as disappointed. I don’t want to be the girl in the wheelchair, but being the girl who stumbles around and falls a lot, isn’t a huge bonus either. Plus, with the wheelchair, even shaky and sick days, could still be work days, since I wouldn’t have to worry about fainting, etc.

But how does one find a job that one can do while in a wheelchair?

I cannot work in my degree field, at least not at this point in time, because of issues with shakiness. I’ve decided to move into clinical research guidelines (I think) and do some management of the clinical research that goes on in my area. I figure I may not be able to get into things on a straight laboratory level, but I can still provide oversight. If I don’t get into that, I’ll get into something with public health, maybe even my MPH. In the meantime, though, I have bills to pay. With my divorce hopefully nearing completion, I’ve had to face the reality that I won’t have healthcare anymore. I can pay to keep it, for $475 a month…money I don’t have…and even that won’t give me dental or vision.

Now, if you’ve got Behcet’s, or are familiar with it, you will know that having vision coverage when you’ve got it, is kind of a big deal. I was lucky to have only had posterior uveitis, but it was scary, and knowing that I could get a more severe form (anterior uveitis) that could leave me with decreased vision, is even scarier. I’m already dealing with neurological issues, and GI issues, I don’t need to go blind on top of this. Having some sort of vision coverage, is a priority. My teeth also suck from years of throwing up, acid reflux, poor nutrition, and ulcers. Dental is kind of a big deal, too. I’ve also lost several fillings and have just gotten my fourth crown, because I like to apparently screw up my mouth during seizures.

I want to work. I don’t want to be at home sick. I want to get my own apartment. I want to be as self-reliant as reasonably possible, and I can’t wait 18-24 months for disability to decide what to do with me. I could do office work, but not full-time. I can’t do anything full-time right now because of the GI issues and fatigue alone. The wheelchair will mitigate the balance and coordination concerns. Commute is a nightmare in general because I can’t drive, but I could make public transit work if needed.

All the informative websites say that you don’t have to disclose a disability in the application process, but obviously if my ass rolls into an interview in a wheelchair, they’re going to know. Plus, a lot of the office jobs even state that you have to be able to bend, lift, etc. Even more want you to have a valid driver’s license! Since when was being able to legally drive, critical for being able to answer phones and file patient charts? If I were healthy, I’d have been working all along. If I’d have gone into remission, I’d be working now. The fact that I’m being forced to own up to my limitations, is the only reason I’m so stressed about all of this.

Then there are the scary thoughts. What if my seizure drugs become less effective, and I have a seizure at work? I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but it has happened before, and it’s embarrassing. What if I’m in the ER again, and they turn me black and blue? I’ll show up to work with what looks like track marks running all over my body. How will I answer questions about why I’m in a wheelchair in general, when people know I can walk? It isn’t as though I would be using it regularly, though perhaps at work I would just to avoid the awkwardness of having it around some days and not on others.

Why is disability so damn hard to get when you have multiple medical professionals insisting that you cannot and should not be working?

That’s the kicker for me. My doctors, who have treated me for years, are not comfortable with me entering the workforce again…yet the government has decided I’m too well educated and too young, to actually be disabled. Please come live in the shambles of my life, and tell me all of that again. My ex may have been a bad person, but I keep running through his final words to me, about how nobody would ever love me because I’m sick, and I worry that there was some truth behind his twisted words. What if I don’t find someone who can love me, because even though they may like the healthy version of me, that isn’t the me they’ll always get.

I spend a lot of time saying that I’m not my illness, but it is part of who I am, and I cannot deny that. An oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips, isn’t technically a chocolate chip cookie. My drive and determination may be at one level, but my actual ability to function and do the things I want, and my partner would want, may not live up to that level. The irony in this situation is that I want to go meet up with this chronic illness support group, but I can’t afford the $30/session fee…because I’m chronically ill and cannot work. Thanks universe…the one thing that could have offered support and assistance emotionally…is out of reach financially…because I’m chronically ill.

F*ck me.

So yeah, the depression game is real right now. I feel useless, lonely, and stressed out. The things I want, are out of reach, as are a lot of the things that I need. I’m hoping I’ll find something I can do part-time, just to make me feel productive again, and to help me pay basic bills, but only time will tell if that’s attainable. Everyday I get mad at my body for letting me down. I know I should be grateful that it’s fought as hard as it has, despite the things that its been through, but I just can’t be grateful right now. Overseas they’ve done bone marrow transplant for GI Behcet’s and neuro Behcet’s patients, with 100% remission in all patients. Some patients got transplants for something else, but also had Behcet’s, and all went into remission, too. Granted it was a small pool of patients, because obviously it’s an extreme procedure, and there aren’t that many people who have Behcet’s to begin with…but I still find myself willing.

How bad is that? I want to be admitted to a hospital, have my entire immune system nuked out of my body. Probably throw up everything I’ve ever eaten since childhood…then have someone else’s cells pumped into my body in the hopes that I don’t die from secondary infections during all of it…just because it may give me a shot at normalcy again.

Maybe the question isn’t how bad is it that I want that, but rather, how bad must my current situation be, that the entire scenario actually sounds like a relief?

For now? Steroids and tons of Cell Cept…along with all of the other meds for neurological issues, sleep, and nausea. Truth be told, the most effective thing right now is medical marijuana…for literally everything. I have a strain for the depression, a strain for sleep issues, and a strain for fatigue. All have nausea benefits because I have to have that regardless.

Navigating the Potential Work Force