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?

To Port or Not to Port…and how to ask the question!

During Rituxan, my nurses had noted that my veins were incredibly difficult to work with. This wan’t news to me. Every time I would go in for blood work, it would take multiple sticks before they accessed a vein. The only veins that work for me, are the veins in my hand. There are two exceptions, but neither is practical for every procedure or blood draw. The first exception is whatever sorcery the EMT’s and paramedics use. The only thing I can think of is that while I’m unconscious, or actively seizing, my veins become more prominent due to muscle contractions, and an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. They usually have to stick me at least four times, though, so it isn’t a total win even though they can get that one pesky arm vein. The second exception was what happened during this past hospital stay. After one nurse missed twice, and a second missed once, they asked for a doctor to help. The  doctor missed twice with an ultrasound machine as guidance. This was extra fun because of how deep the needle was during the process. I’d also been given nausea pills that hadn’t really worked, and no pain medications or fluids because, duh, no IV. They were drawing up IM medications when the special IV team arrived. They used another ultrasound machine, and even they struggled, but managed to get it in to a deep vein in my forearm. Luckily they used lidocaine that time, so it didn’t hurt nearly as much.

When I told the doctor that we were in the process of beginning IVIG, she said that it would be a good idea to get a port. I agreed with her, but admitted I was worried. Port maintenance isn’t a huge pain, but I do have vasculitis. I guess my fear is that the existence of a port, potentially increases my risk of blood clotting. (Granted you use heparin to prevent clots from forming, but still, terrifying.) I’m also afraid to ask my doctor.

If I had a port I’d have the option of administering IV Zofran and Phenergan, which would be an enormous help. Right now I’m using medical marijuana way more than I want to be using it. Having to use it multiple times, per day, just to function, is no way to live. I process nausea drugs quickly, so having a fall back option, like marijuana, is the only way I can be sure to avoid vomiting, and is the only way I’m able to consume anything at all. We could also talk with GI about home IV fluids, including banana bags to supplement all the vitamins and whatnot that I’m not getting due to my dietary restrictions.

Previously my doctor made it clear she doesn’t order ports for her patients, as most issues are temporary. I went through chemo, without a port, and it was hell on me and the nurses. Multiple nurses stated multiple times that I should have had a port placed. I was also not allowed to schedule any of the last spots of the day, as it took a good 20-30 minutes each time to find a useable vein. They couldn’t use hand veins, so we always used this same vein on the side of my thumb. It got really aggravated by the end of the six months, but could still be used. As an IV placement, it sucks though. It’s blown several times, and curves over 45 degrees.

I’m just anxious about asking. I’m also anxious about people looking at me weirdly. It’s easier to hide than a wheelchair, obviously, but it’ll still be there, and people may still ask. What will people I date think? How will I even be able to date? I could show up to most dates without a wheelchair, unless they wanted to go for a stroll afterwards. What happens when the time comes for them to see more of me, and this lump is right there by my collar bone?

It’s all hypothetical, of course, and I doubt my doctor will even okay the port…but I anticipate it is going to be necessary if and when we do IVIG. I just don’t have a good vein for it, and if we’re going to be doing it every 4-6 weeks, and if there is blood work like I’ve been getting, it’s time. Every ER doctor and nurse, has wondered why I don’t have a port. I’ve never had a valid answer other than, my doctor doesn’t think I need one.

I know myself. I’ll be anxious if it happens, and anxious if it doesn’t. If I do get one, I’ll be self conscious for a while, then snap out of it. The same goes for the chair. Maybe I wanted one with normal wheels instead of a power chair, but anything is better than my current situation, and I can always make it my own, make it unique.

Also, I’m 1/4 of the way to my goal on You Caring. I can’t wait to reach my goal, keep insurance, and kick some major Behcet’s booty!

To Port or Not to Port…and how to ask the question!

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

Happy Thanksgiving…Send Sorbet and Hugs

I was actually excited for Thanksgiving. Even though I can’t eat much with the gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility, I was going to be spending time with a friend I haven’t really had a chance to spend time with in years. Then Behcet’s decided it would be a good time to struggle with horrible headaches. I had a ride to LA, but given that it would take 2-3 hours without traffic, or just normal LA traffic, I knew it wouldn’t be the best decision to go. I pushed myself for the musical, then last weekend when another friend came in from out of town. My body is showing the effects.

It’s frustrating. I would have rather spent Thanksgiving with my friend in LA, but because someone else had non-refundable tickets to visit last weekend, what I’d have preferred became unobtainable. If I’d utilized the wheelchair option at the zoo, I likely would be feeling much better right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still be stuck in this flare, but maybe it wouldn’t be this bad. Maybe going up to LA would have been the thing that pushed my symptoms over the edge.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my least favorite holidays, anyhow. My stomach issues have been in play for quite some time. Any holiday with a focus on food, is going t be low on my list of preferred holidays. Still, I wanted to see my friend. Symptoms wise, the headaches have gotten worse. I know I need IV steroids, nausea meds, Benadryl, and something else that always forget about. The glorious migraine cocktail, just tweaked a bit. We are 100% sure that my headaches are vascular spasm related, but nothing over the counter works on them. The headaches were bad enough…but then the oral symptoms arose.

I have GI ulcers. I know I do, because of the situation with my bowel movements. They’re infrequent because of the motility issues…but I do have a whole lot of scabbing and skin coming out. Normal people would probably panic, but for me? I’m just glad there isn’t too much blood. To make things extra interesting, I developed a yeast infection. I have medication for it just always on hand, because the infections used to be so frequent. Of course the fun is figuring out what is ulcer related, what is yeast related, and whether it really matters because you’re already taking all the meds you can anyhow…

Then last night, there was some fun. I’ve had some mouth pain and swelling, which I attributed to a few ulcers, and the likelihood that I was brewing up a few more. As the pain got worse, I focused on my chronic state of dehydration. Maybe I was in pain because my mouth kept getting so dry. Last night I ate some gluten free crust with just feta on it, nothing else. I followed that up with a Pedialyte ice pop. I’m eating this ice pop, when I start to wonder two things: the first was, “why does this ice pop make my mouth burn?” and the second was, “what is that taste?”

It turns out my mouth was bleeding. Not in a few spots…just literally all over blood, oozing out of what must have been super tiny blood vessels. 

Yeah. Thanksgiving is hard when you have slow or even no motility in your stomach and intestines. It’s hard when you have GI ulcerations. It’s hard when you aren’t allowed to drive, so you can’t be at all the fun events. Thanksgiving is impossible when your mouth is on fire, and actively bleeding whenever you eat.

All the doctor’s are gone for the weekend, so I’m going to check out urgent care tomorrow if things get worse. The headache needs a cocktail I can only get in the ER, but I’m borderline functional right now. I’d rather sort the headache out at home, rather than expose myself to the ER germ factor. My mouth is a whole other story. I’ll be making some Jell-o this evening, and looking into getting some liquid food options. The most likely culprit is a combination of arteritis, oral ulcers, and thrush. With the seriousness of the yeast infection I have, I wouldn’t be shocked to find yeast was also hanging out in my mouth. It’s gross. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing.

Needing a hug boils down to the reality I’m living in. My dog needs shots, I’m running out of items to sell, and I can’t afford to get textbooks, or even feed myself, if the money I should be getting for my book stipend, food stamps, and disability, never comes. I want to work. That’s the thing people don’t seem to understand. I apply for part-time jobs that I could theoretically do via a wheelchair…but there is a pretty major limit when it comes to the availability of such jobs. My education, my prior experience, it just doesn’t lead to jobs that I can do in my current shape.

I see everyone around me being normal, and I get so frustrated that I can’t just go and be normal, too. This is one of those days where I want to kick, scream, and cry. My body is sick, and aside from brain fog, my mind isn’t. Sure, I have neurological issues, but my mental abilities don’t match with what my body can do. Hopefully the doctors will be willing to push up my IVIG plan. It’s a long shot as it is, but with the symptoms lingering around, I’m willing to take all of the shots available.

Happy Thanksgiving…Send Sorbet and Hugs

Fun Fried

So my friend drove us up to LA on Wednesday, and back on Thursday. We left San Diego at about 4pm, arrived at the theater around 7:20, and the show began at 8pm. Afterwards we had a 30 minute drive to his parents place, plus a stop at McDonald’s to grab some food. All I’d eaten that day was four pudding snack packs that morning. I made sure to drink some Sprite during the show to keep my sugar up. I had a few fries, but ultimately couldn’t eat much. On Thursday morning I acquiesced, and ate maybe 2 eggs. It was a struggle. I couldn’t drink much water accept to take my pills. On the 3 hour drive back I made sure to drink some diet Pepsi to get my caffeine fix (I get headaches without it), and some water. Both were difficult because the egg was just sitting in my gut like a rock. When we got back to San Diego, I was sort of on autopilot. Some stressful things had happened with my roommate, and I was trying to just remain calm about all of it by detaching myself from all of it. That kind of came to an end when I stood up to get my bag, and the world went spinning.

Two(ish) eggs, a diet Pepsi, and some water, does not sustain you for 9(ish) hours…especially when you take a second to realize you’ve consumed nothing with actual sugar in it. Oops.

I managed to get some Gatorade in, and a few bites of a rice crispy treat bar, sat up, got up, and went into my apartment where my small dog immediately began alerting. He wanted me to sit down, immediately. I obliged, and forced myself to choke down the rest of the cereal bar. Normally I love them, but I wasn’t hungry. It was literally just something I needed to do. I was running on 5 or so hours of sleep, no sugar, and I was edgy.

Now, I’d like to point something out…I do not regret going. The show was absolutely amazing, and the seats were front row center. All the physical suffering after the fact was 110% worth it. The issue is just not knowing how sick you’ll be afterwards. I knew I’d be tired, but I hadn’t expected this level of exhaustion, soreness, or dizziness. I could use a liter or two of fluid, but I’m still waiting to see if there is a way to have it done at a doctor’s office rather than going into an ER or urgent care. (I would go into urgent care if needed, but I’m trying to avoid as many germs as possible right now.)

I’m also having to process the new treatment plan. We’ve increased the cell cept, again, which sucks given my already persistent GI issues. If I don’t see adequate results by January, we will look at starting IVIG. That is, of course, if I’ve managed to keep my insurance. Plasmapheresis is not an option, at least at this point in time, per my rheumatologist, and the rheumatologist at NYU. I am doubtful that the increased dose of cell cept is really going to make a difference, given that 2 grams hasn’t worked, but why not give 3 grams a shot. At least I’ve got some extra padding to make up for the weight I’m losing, but it’s still not great to see your body give up like mine has.

Do the things that you really want to do, as long as you’re not putting yourself in mortal danger. I’ve started realizing that trying to do everything is a bad move. I just agree whenever someone suggests something, and I end up with a daunting schedule that I know won’t be doable. Then I find myself crying and stressed because I feel like a failure. I end up feeling like I’m letting everyone down, despite also knowing that I’ve given it my everything.

My GI appointment is on December 1st, though, which gives me some hope. The lack of motility in my stomach and intestines has really started to create a lot of problems, as has the nausea. If I do eat, I know I’ll pay for it with pain and nausea. The only way I can have a bowel movement is to take a lot of softeners and laxatives. I don’t want to be dependent on them, but by day 4 or 5, I start to worry I’ll end up with a pseudo obstruction again, and an enema. ER enemas are not my friend…insert enema enemy jokes <here> haha.

I don’t regret Hamilton, but I do regret committing to plans I can’t get out of this weekend. It’s a huge struggle right now to just get up and get in the shower because I’m honestly that exhausted. I also know I need to take my cell cept, but I don’t feel like gagging all afternoon when I need to be packed and out the door in about 4 hours. This is the reality of chronic illness. You can be positive most of the time, but sometimes it’s okay to just look at what you’re dealing with, and say, “Wow, this really sucks.”

I also may have forgotten to do homework this week…which I just realized as I was writing this. Time to shower, pack up, get my wheelchair, and find a way to push through the minefield that is my current situation. I just can’t wait until Monday, when I can catch up on some sleep and focus on myself.

Fun Fried

The Financial Impact of Chronic Illness

As I’ve mentioned before, I am in the process of getting divorced. In my case, it has been over two years, and the divorce still can’t been finalized. Financially it’s been a difficult two years, with a cross country move, knee surgery, and severe worsening of my Behcet’s. I’ve been lucky to have insurance that covers most of my medical expenses, but when I lost the ability to work, things became difficult. After tearing through my savings, selling whatever I could, and doing my best to keep my bills as low as possible, I’ve found myself and an economic cross roads.

I want nothing more than to go back to work. For my entire life, I’ve worked, and being out of work makes me feel bad about myself. When my Behcet’s began worsening, I just job hopped, hoping I could find something that worked for me, while I got my symptoms under control. The problem was that my symptoms never really got better. During chemotherapy, I was getting temporary disability, which made the basics affordable, but not by much. I moved to a more affordable apartment, but then lost my temporary disability, making it just as unaffordable as the more expensive unit had been. My first two applications for disability were denied, and I was told to await a court date. That date would like be 18-24 months away. On top of that I lost my electric discount, and my EBT benefits, because both required an IRS form that I didn’t have. Last year I made so little, that what I did make was technically owed to me. I also expected to get more back on taxes if my ex and I filed jointly, because I had more in deductions than I had in earnings. Too bad he filed without me, and didn’t tell me.

As it all piled up, I began to become more depressed. Lately there has been a lot of anger, too. It isn’t as though I’m being lazy on purpose. I genuinely don’t know from one day to the next, what I’ll be physically capable of. Sure, once I get my wheelchair, my ability to work a desk type job, is more likely, but it’s definitely not guaranteed. Friends have begun pushing me to find something, because they think I’ll be happier once I’m working. What they don’t realize is the level of stress taking a job would create.

For starters, I can’t drive. My work day, even if it were short, would be lengthened by the commute factor. If I’m really sick, I’d end up using Lyft or Uber, which would of course cost me more. When you factor in the lower wages of most desk jobs, it just doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. Then you have my inability to be reliable. The day of my interview, I couldn’t walk because of my pain level. I was also insanely weak. I don’t have an adequate warning for this. Lately I’ve felt bad most days, but the days when I literally can’t function, are hard to predict.

Perhaps the biggest issue is whether or not I’m going to continue deteriorating, and what treatment options I’m going to undergo. Neurology suspects my neurological symptoms are going to get worse, and if the past is any indication, they’re correct. My GI issues are definitely worsening, and that means I’ll likely be getting another endoscopy and colonoscopy. (I’m fighting this as hard as possible because of issues I have with the preparation.) Neurology wants me back on chemo, but as I said in a prior blog, I plan on suggesting other treatment options first. The various treatments I could undergo, would all require days to weeks off of work. At the moment I require insane amounts of sleep, and I suspect treatment would just increase the amount of sleep I’d need, at least around treatment days.

It has been really hard, and then I got word that my divorce settlement went from something I was okay with, to something that would prevent me from being able to pay even basic bills. To say I was crushed is an understatement. I love the city and state that I live in, and facing the possibility of having to move because I cannot work, is heart breaking. I’ve looked into low income housing but the wait lists are 3-5 years. It’ll take about 3 years when all is said and done, to get approved for disability. What are those of us who are unable to work, supposed to do?

Those with chronic illnesses are more likely to face unemployment or underemployment, than others. When you have multiple doctors stating that a person cannot work, and you repeatedly deny based on age and education level, it’s mind boggling. (Those were the reasons I was given for my second denial.) I look at my degrees, gathering dust, and I’m heartbroken. Recently I had to swap from a laboratory focus, to an investigative focus with my Master’s degree, because I could not make it into school, nor could I safely manipulate the laboratory equipment. When you’ve spent decades deciding on a career, falling in love with the career path, and pushing yourself to achieve school goals despite many moves, it’s disorienting to lose it all.

I will be able to work, eventually, but it could be a while before I’m capable of working full-time, unless I can find something that allows me to work from home. Doctors have stated that I may only ever be able to work part-time, and that’s if we get the disease under control. I want to work, and I need to work, but my body just can’t handle it. Financially I’ve stopped opening bills, because I know I can’t pay them. I’ve even contemplated switching banks because of the amount I owe on my credit card. The monthly minimum payment is making me unable to afford food.

This is not unique to me. Most people I know with a chronic illness that impacts their neurological or gastrointestinal health, struggle to maintain meaningful employment. If they do work, it’s at the expense of their health, and that obviously isn’t ideal. I’ve witnessed members of my family, who really shouldn’t be working the hours they’re working, continue to push their bodies to the breaking point. As my divorce slowly works towards resolution, I have to face things like insurance. How will I afford my medications? I need insurance that covers them. Of course I’ll need to buy insurance…

My goal is to find a work-from-home job that is legitimate, and support myself, but it will take time. The issue is that it’s time I may not have. I find out Tuesday what the treatment plan will be for me, and I’m hoping that it’s something effective, but not debilitating. I keep telling myself that plasmapheresis could be the answer, because it’s important to stay hopeful. Perhaps it will work, and I’ll be able to work part-time, scheduling work around my plasmapheresis appointments. Maybe I’ll find work that I can do from my own home. Whatever the case may be, being chronically ill definitely creates a large amount of stress around the issue of financial security. The disability system is definitely broken.

The Financial Impact of Chronic Illness

Self Advocacy and Alternative Treatments

I am not a Google doctor…but I do have to do some research on my own behalf. With a rare illness, and even rarer manifestations of that illness, my own doctors often take to the internet in search of treatment options. Having failed literally all the conventional treatment options for Behcet’s, I’ve entered the realm of last ditch efforts, and when it comes to trying random things, Google isn’t really the worst thing.

The other idea is searching treatments for more common ailments, like Lupus and MS. Everything is theoretical, which would be fun on paper, but is much less fun in real life. The current idea I have, is plasmapheresis. Behcet’s is actually listed as one of the disorders plasmapheresis treats, but it’s not something commonly done. Whether or not my rheumatologist will be willing to try it, I don’t know, but I’d prefer to try something new, instead of committing to another round of chemotherapy.

How desperate do you have to be to ask doctors to literally filter all of your blood? I don’t know. I’m having constant tremors and muscle spasms, and neurology knows that this is the beginning of a serious neurological flare. Since we don’t know exactly how the Behcet’s is attacking my nervous system, it’s not possible to concentrate on the specific mechanism of attack. I compare it to a nuclear bomb. I know that we will be basically attacking everything, including the innocent parts of my body, but that’s what we did with chemotherapy, too. I’m embroiled in civil war right now. My body is attacking itself because it genuinely doesn’t know how to target the true hostile entities.

Another alternative treatment I’m already utilizing is medical marijuana. It’s something I never really thought I’d be a proponent of. As a teenager and young adult, I never even tried marijuana. It wasn’t something I was interested in. Then the nausea became unbearable, and I was going days without eating. Marijuana became the only option  I really had left. The effects of the right strain, are beyond description. IV Zofran is amazing, but not something I can do at home, and the oral options have to be processed before relief is delivered. I don’t always have 30-60 minutes worth of vomit avoidance in me. Marijuana relief is 5 minutes or less with vaping. The right strain (for me the best is Blue Dream) provides more relief than anything else I’ve tried. It also provides benefits beyond nausea relief, that would usually require additional medications.

There are those who judge me, and it frustrates me. I’m not vaping to get high, I just want to be able to eat some toast. I want a moment where I’m not consumed by nausea. Yes, there are strains I use that do cause a high, but I generally only opt for those strains if I can’t afford Blue Dream. The cost is, unfortunately, becoming something prohibitive. I’ve contemplated asking for Marinol, but because it’s a capsule, it still takes time to process. This is an issue because I have gastroparesis. You want fun? Struggle with nausea, but have a GI system that doesn’t process food, drink, and medication, correctly.

I don’t have a port. All of my chemo nurses, and phlebotomists, wish I had a port. If I had a port, we could get me IV medications, like Zofran, but my neurology team has begun to worry about Zofran anyhow. (Supposedly it has an increased risk of seizures, but so does severe dehydration.) I would love to do IV fluids. I would love to push most of my oral medications IV. All of this, but I would still utilize medical marijuana however possible, because it really does hit most of my symptoms effectively, and bypasses my horrid GI system.

Honestly, being chronically ill is all about finding what works for you. It starts with a wonderful medical team, extends to developing a support network, and ends with self advocacy. Some of my doctors aren’t big on medical marijuana, but after seeing me shrink to 120 pounds (I’m 5’10”) they mostly gave up telling me what I should and shouldn’t do in the marijuana situation. Vaping some weed was preferable to placing a tube for feeding me.

You are your best chance at receiving the care you deserve. It took me a long time to feel comfortable standing up to physicians, and asking for second or third opinions. I’m still not fully comfortable, but I know that I need to in order to get the weird care that I need. Having a rare illness can be extra challenging. There will be plenty of doctors who tell you that it’s all in your head, but if you know the difference between mental symptoms and symptoms of an outside condition, you need to push. I was told for years I was crazy…then they found out it was Behcet’s. Everyone who had told me I was nuts, felt bad, but I didn’t scream and shout, “I told you so!” I knew then, what I still know…I’m a weird rare situation, and it makes sense why nobody could figure it out for so long.

Be your own advocate, and seek advocacy if necessary.

Today I emailed a social worker to see if she could help me navigate the system I’m stuck in. If she can’t, then I’ll seek help during my next hospital stay. I’m not naive. I know there will be another stay, and it’ll likely happen sooner rather than later. As my symptoms increase, and my ability to care for myself decreases, the likelihood of going inpatient increases. Next hospital stay, I’ll be talking to a social worker affiliated with the facility. I want to navigate a difficult system, and I want to come out with whatever is best for me.

Self Advocacy and Alternative Treatments