The wall, redux — with demons on the side

Sooner or later, deep and chronic illness (like, oh, let’s take an example at random, CRPS) will bring you face-to-face with your worst demons. It’s only a question of when, and precisely how.

When I came to adulthood, I realized that I felt a powerful need to earn my right to take up space and breathe the air. You’d think I’d be a cringing slave with that underlying attitude, but I wasn’t. I felt I deserved good pay, reasonable work/life conditions, and common courtesy, because that was fair; I just didn’t deserve to live.

Once I could no longer work, but had to fight like mad to live, this was a bit stressful. Like many, I almost didn’t make it. But then, as the very deepest trough began fading into memory, I noticed that something remarkable had happened.

Rewind about 10 years… I was a nurse for eight years, which put me in a critical relationship to others at critical points in their lives. I might have dealt with 10 patients in an hour, but, in the moment that I was dealing with each person, that was the most important person in my life. I may have coded hundreds of people, but every life I fought for, I fought for with all I had.

There were no caveats or conditions: if you were my patient, you had my absolute attention every moment I was with you.

I think this healer outranks me, but you can see
how focused he is on his patient. It’s like that.

I found that it’s impossible for me to work hard for someone’s survival, and not come to care about them – no matter who or what they are.

Fast forward to where we started, after the deepest trough, around early 2010… I had spent several years increasingly incapacitated, used up all my money, all my favors, all my savings, and lost a lot of friends – some of them to the Grim Reaper.

I won’t go into the brutal and abusive bureaucracy of California EDD or Oakland Social Security offices, because if you haven’t been through it, you wouldn’t believe me. That bad. Worse, even.

I woke up one spring day, with a strange sense of dawning inside. It took an hour or two to wake up, and to realize that I’d been fighting so hard, for so long, for my own survival, that I had become important to myself.

I no longer felt I needed to earn the right to live.

Ever since that time, I’ve never had a serious case of any kind of block – writer’s block, self-care block, learning block, anything – that lasted more than a couple days, unless it was explicitly disease-related.

Then, with this move to a strange area, with no connections, near a city I almost loathe… To get real care, for the first time in years, from seven highly skilled and capable professionals…

I hit a wall. Not just a block, but a huge, massive, precision-crafted, towering, deeply bedded, gateless wall.

Since writing “Frustration at the wall“, I’ve been faking it in the hope of making it. That’s a lot of weeks to keep running up against the same damn wall!

I finally started talking about it – I’m a writer; I’m a woman; I process by words; let’s move on – and began to get unscrambled. Then I had the deeply disconcerting pleasure of having my brain picked apart, cleaned with a dental pick, and neatly reassembled by the deliciously incisive Dr. Faye Weinstein. 

I can’t help thinking that the following is going to strike a few chords with some of my lovely readers…

I am, as she said with characteristic precision, “a helpful, compulsively self-reliant minimizer.” Really, why should I trust these people, who wield the power of Gods over what happens to me?

There’s a deep part of me that says “blow that, let’s go hide instead” and off I go, hiding behind advising on Facebook and diving into books and catching up on others’ crises; my condition is not that bad, so my care is not really that important, and it’s not like these people care more for me than their own crap anyway, so I’m on my own really.

My distraction activity is all very worthy, so I needn’t justify it. But, well, so much for the many new things I need to do to put together my own health…

Unconscious reactivity could be the death of me yet.

I said this illness would raise all your demons, even the ones you’ve hammered a stake through the hearts of. It turns out that the squat and fetid cranks who propped up my old conviction that I “don’t deserve to live” are still there, farting wetly and hawking loogies.

With apologies to Heironymous Bosch.

The demons of our earliest perils can shape our responses to major change forever. The trick is to see them for what they are, face them honestly, and put them back where they belong: in the past.

(Easier said… I think a booger just landed in my hair. At least, I hope it was a booger.)

To add to that, with years of excruciating work behind me and more ahead, my old motto of “change or die” doesn’t carry the same weight: Yes, part of me wants to lie down and die. The frantic, aching, endless weariness is beyond description.

But change is more interesting. A lot more interesting. And I only get to do this life once.

Conscious curiosity could be the birth of me yet. With luck.

With a better sense of what I’m doing, I’m preparing to turn and, with tactful and gentle persistence, come to terms with those monsters.

I might as well. I’m going to be here awhile.

Speaking of which…

Marathon training update

After one day to recover from the trip south, I was able to pull off my .8 mile route up and down this hill, and recover enough a few hours later to unpack the car (that’s a lot of steps!) and get some things done. Today was a lot of appointments, which involved walking at least a mile on city surfaces.

On Thursday or Friday, I hope to increase my hill walking to 1.1 or 1.2 miles. We shall see. No more overdoing.

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Need more than "Dysphoria"

There’s an impressive clinical word for “feeling yucky” — it’s “dysphoria.” It’s literally the opposite of “euphoria.”
One of these people is Dysphoric and one is Euphoric. Guess… 🙂

The trouble is, there are so very many ways to feel yucky, or dysphoric, especially with a disease like CRPS, but only one word to describe it all. Our experience of life no longer maps to that of a normal person, but language can’t describe what we experience. However elegant it sounds, “dysphoria” is inadequate.

That’s about to change. Here are some words I’m adding to the lexicon, a short selection of the most common and most describable (because some are indescribable) of the dysphoric states I move in and out of…

Dysphoria Sunnysidedown
The particular kind of yucky I feel when I get up before I’m ready. It takes about an hour, usually, to avoid D-Sunnysidedown.

Otherwise, I get tremulous, nauseous, my heart races (but quietly), and I’m aware of a particular kind of fragile ghastliness in a minor key. If I really get up too fast, I fall over — muscles quit. This adds up to Dysphoria Sunnysidedown.



Flip ’em!

Dysphoria Darkofnoon
This is a natural consequence of D-Sunnysidedown and usually happens later the same day, but occasionally happens by itself. Darkofnoon involves feeling peculiarly ragged (as if my adrenals had been in overdrive for hours, which is accurate if I arose too fast), forgetful, physically weak, slightly shaky, and of course nauseous. Sometimes dizzy spells.

There’s a more solid kind of ghastliness, more in a dominant chord. Dysphoria Darkofnoon usually happens when the day is brightest, between 11 am and 3 or 4 pm.

Lying down periodically helps me get through the day, but I’m not likely to be quite right until a good night’s sleep and a proper start to the next morning.


Dysphoria Hate2Bme
Stunning levels of distraction, with a dense pale-grey cloud wound around and through my mind and perceptions, dissolving what it doesn’t hide.

It insulates me from such trivial issues as major appointments, where I put the keys, and the state of traffic lights. I can tell where my body is in space, but not how it feels. Likely to injure myself, risking further spread.

It would be tolerable if there weren’t any consequences or anyone leaning nervously away while looking at me with worried pity. When I’m experiencing Dysphoria Hate2Bme, the humiliation and underlying fear are the most dysphoric elements, though there is something intrisically unpleasant and destructive-feeling about the dense grey cloud.

Dysphoria Mitoshriek
This happens when I’ve overtaxed my body, though sometimes it happens by itself. I think of it as the mitochondria in my muscle and nerve cells all setting up a synchronized shriek of anguish as they fall over in a dead faint. (I don’t know how they scream while fainting, but they seem to manage it.)

It feels like my soft tissue threatens to dissolve when I try to get up or do anything. There’s a sort of wholesale, pitiable unpleasantness in mind, body and soul with the least physical effort.

My muscles react with a sort of “You’re kidding, right?” when I try to use them, and if I push through in order to get something done, it’s done by pure determination and then I’m out of commission for a couple of days. I pay hard for pushing back against Dysphoria Mitoshriek.

For all I know, my mitochondria have nothing to do with it, but mito self-care seems to help: tons of antioxidants, lots of vegetables, and as much horizontality as I can stand. I can tell when it’s time to start moving — about 3/4 of a day after I start really wanting to.

One thing that is no worry at all: I don’t ever have to worry about being too lazy.


Your faithful writer at 2 yrs old. I refused help; I was going to
cross that dry riverbed all by myself, come Hell or high water.
Photo: JLD Tifft, used by kind permission 🙂

Bodies and minds, like engines, were made to go, and I’m most at home when I’m going in mine.

After the intense inward training of living as usefully and zestfully as possible despite CRPS, can you imagine what it would be like to have all this determination and energy unleashed on the world if I were finally well again, and could focus on, remember, and do things on a vaguely regular basis?

Can’t wait to find out.

So this is peaceful ol’ me…

…saluting all that keeps me from that.

Speaking of which…

Marathon training note

I’m stable with walking 1.5 miles at a time, and recover fast enough to do more later that day. Will aim for 1.8 later this week, after recovering from this trip.

Despite spasms and cramps etc., I made it all the way home in 1 day yesterday, instead of splitting the drive into 2 days as I usually must. This amazes me. My eyes didn’t cross and my mind didn’t splay into a messy 10-pointed star, both of which usually happen after 4-5 hours of driving with hourly breaks. So, there are some key neurological pieces that are definitely doing better.

Yay cerebral blood flow! Yay exercise!

It might be smart to take today off and stick to PT exercises and tai chi. No more bloody relapses. But boy, I sure am heartened!

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Marathoning, murder, and masses

Who the hell would bomb a marathon? The shock and fury make my eyes hot and narrow.

Second thought: what a way to go – accomplishment, adrenaline, euphoria, and a quick blast.

Yesterday, ironically, I realized I was fully recovered from overdoing. That only took 11 days… I took careful walks around the park while recovering, so as not to lose much ground.

Leading myself along, and minding my posture.
Today I roughly doubled my walking distance and I’m back up to ~18 min. On a flat.

I’m grateful.

I grew up in Egypt, a Middle Eastern country. We were there in the relatively tranquil days of the late 1970s: Sadat was secure in power, a secularist who stood no nonsense and could be bought – excuse me, persuaded – into a peace treaty that ended several thousand years of war. (For the meantime.)

Islam was a thoughtful, neighborly religion. Guests were treated like the loveliest royalty. A blonde 13-year-old girl with a forward figure could (at least, did) walk the streets in daylight fearing nothing more than vile remarks and, in a crowd, a vile grope.

That was the key to life in a tourist country: avoid the crowds.
 
When terrorist attacks happened, and they were rare then, they happened in crowds. My family was constitutionally adventurous and put off by mob thinking, quite apart from the (really tiny) chance of bombs, so we just did what came naturally and took off on our own.
 
We saw crowds the way a sailor sees sandbars: a lot of work, and not much fun to get stuck with.

Moreover, I’ve always been an introvert in the Myers-Briggs sense, meaning that I recharge in solitude and that I find society in large doses simply exhausting.

Now, with CRPS, this distaste for crowds has become a deep aversion. The physical dynamic of being in crowds is unbearable: when people bump me unexpectedly, it’s horrific; the noise overwhelms my sensory brain, which, let’s face it, is overworked already; and, of course, my hotwired autonomic nervous system is ready with the fight or flight response… with nowhere to go that isn’t in the crowd.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

I was reading Angela N. Hunt’s book about living while training for a first marathon, and her description of the starting crowd was appalling. For me, it would be like being inside a tiny electric fence, cattle jostling around against the outside, bashing and zapping me mindlessly and endlessly.

Not do-able. Not even think-able.

But that’s just a problem, and problems are meant to be solved.

There are several possible solutions: invoke the ADA and start in my own class behind the crowd; rustle up about five good buddies — preferably large, sturdy types — to run around me for the first half, and be a better fence until the crowd thins enough;

run a different marathon course over open country, with only a handful of others; or abandon the whole thing.

I can hear some strenuous votes for the last option. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, I’ll ignore them. Completely.

I will go on. If distance is not an insuperable barrier, then neither is willful fear. I’m a woman, weakened, disabled, and rather poor; I have enough to be afraid of. I don’t let it stop me. Why should this? I’ll wear the names of the dead, if it helps. I won’t let it stop me.

I will go on. I’ll find a way to avoid the crowds, in some creative and tasteful fashion.

I will go on.

“Watch me go.”

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Slow reboot

Recovering from:
– the logistical hell of last week,
– seriously overdoing my training,
– and a phenomenally complicated iteration of the well-worn drive North…

Well, I arrived at my NoCal home at 9 Monday night, and am only just coherent enough to post.

I’m taking both the resting and activity seriously. This is the great juggling act of being a Type A (-ish) with CRPS: taking rest seriously without going too far into it, and taking activity seriously without getting too far into it.

“Pacing” is the term, but when it consists of sitting down for 20 minutes after a leisurely 15 minute walk, it’s hard to give it such a dense-sounding word.

But I am learning.

Pardon the shouting up ahead. Sometimes it’s the most apt way to express a thought. And with that said, let me be perfectly clear:

NO MORE OVERDOING. This desperately slow recovery is NOT BLOODY NORMAL and I can’t afford many more like this. I’m NOT GOING TO LET CRPS OUTSMART ME.

Even though I can be reeeeeally thick at times.

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Overdoing…the first time

My walking time in PT went from 5 min. to 10 min. when we decided to start training for the marathon. My walking at home took the 10 min. up to nearly 20 min., a third of that uphill.

That was nearly a mile. In a burst of what I thought was genius, on Friday I decided to walk down to town (0.8 miles), run a couple of errands, sit down on a sunny bench if need be, and walk back (0.8 miles, all gently but steadily uphill.)

Then, I thought bouyantly, I’d throw necessaries in the car and take off for my two week vacation.

Well, I got as far as making it back to the house. I knew, as I started back from town, that this had been a bad idea, and that there were three outstanding questions: would I have to find a place to sit down en route, exactly how hard would it hit me, and how long would it take to recover.

Saturday was a dead loss.

Sunday, I packed in small loads, resting for an hour or two between each trip to the car. No kidding: an hour or two. By Sunday around 4pm I was beginning to recoup a little. I left at 5.

I had forgotten what a mitochondrial shriek-fest felt like. An almost devastating feeling that my flesh turns to rot when I try to get up. I don’t recommend it.

Mitochondria are the wonderful little hitchhikers that house our bodies’ energy factories, in return for a warm place to live. They are most thickly concentrated in nerve cells and muscle cells. I knew all along that rebuilding my mitochondria was going to be perhaps the most essential part of training, but after my stellar success on the Hill, I thought I had more to draw on than that.

A delightful piece of training advice I got years ago was, “You can do all the cardiovascular you want.” Perhaps that was true at the time, although I noticed I did better when training four days per week than five or six. Perhaps I should’ve remembered that last week.

I think I should’ve rested for a day after my Hill expedition, for one thing. More importantly, I should’ve had a backup plan on my “adventure”, so I wasn’t stuck with the hike back. And I probably shouldn’t have done this around the excitement of going to see my sweetie.

My kitten just typed $. I have no idea…

Perhaps he’s telling me that overdoing doesn’t pay.

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Unexpected adventures with the rent

Yesterday I did 10 minutes on the treadmill. Today, I walked almost a full mile of this hill in 18 minutes and 16 seconds — no shuffling, no stopping, lots of striding, not much slowing down. Woo hoo!

I’d better start scouting trails and footpaths around here. I’m going to need more options soon.

As I calm my breathing in preparation for my autogenic exercise (more on that later), I have to admit that I had some angst to work off, and that probably had something to do with the pace I kept up.

Last night, I realized I’d lost my ATM card. I have one bank, one card, and one checkbook. … Er… had…

The card was gone.

The checkbook was empty.
I’m fresh out of cash.
And rent is due.
Suuuuuuuuuucks.

Welcome to My Brain on CRPS!

To be completely apt, these should be thoroughly scrambled.

I went to the landlady’s bank to see if we could do a wire transfer.
Turns out they’re closed on Wednesday.

I called a different branch and asked if they could.
No, not without an account of my own.

I asked if I could open an account with a wire transfer.
After 20 minutes on hold, it turned out that I could only open an account with cash or a check.

Rather than repeating myself, I said, “You realize that does me no good.”

I called my bank (a local savings bank) in Massachusetts. They were pleased to tell me that someone had called in my missing card and it had been cancelled promptly. 2 weeks to get another one.

They couldn’t do a wire transfer because they’re rather old-school, and I hadn’t gone into a branch and filed the appropriate form in person.

But — and this is why I stay with them — they didn’t end the conversation there.

After exploring several possibilities, which turned up as dead ends, I thought of Cougar, one of my angels (a word with specific meaning.) He bears a passing resemblance to a slimmer and semi-shaven Jerry Garcia..

A recent photo by yours truly.

But, more importantly, he takes my mail. Why?

In case you hadn’t noticed, I move around a lot. (I’m looking for a place that has an affordable cost of living, good soil, first-rate medical care, and no extra pollution or radiation, and one day I’ll find it.) I’m here in California for awhile for medical care, BUT, no matter where the rest of me goes, my mailing address remains the same.

The benefits are tremendous:

  • Not only is my steel-sieve brain spared the affliction of changing my address every time I move,
  • Not only are my ridiculous paws spared the trouble of wrestling with envelopes and handling papercuts (a task which cougar claws are apparently well-adapted for),
  • But my memory and cognition issues get a real break from having to deal with pieces of effing paper. I have developed a mental block around dealing with pieces of effing paper, so I get them into softcopy as soon as possible.

Or, rather, most of the time, Cougar does… Because he doesn’t just take in my mail, he scans it in and sends me softcopy of anything I ask him to open. This means I have COMPLETE RECORDS of everything I need to keep track of.

He’s the Magnificent Mail Mage, and I’m grateful. Take that, Pain-Brain!

He’s my current Cash Carrier, now. The management staff at my lovely little bank have agreed to work with him as my designated agent, and will provide him with the cash I request — which he will then send to me via Western Union, so I can take care of business here. And with it, I’ll pay rent, open a bank account locally, and try not to let this happen ever, ever again.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get my heart rate down from the clouds and that strangely full feeling out of my tissues. Easier said…

While the excitement is over for the moment, I have a vivid memory of the stress-tracking line on the biofeedback machine, and how bloody hard and bloody long it takes to get the level to drop after it goes up over something as small as one giggle.

This was no giggle. In fact, it was several hours of no giggle. None. A totally giggle-free period.

I found it stressful.

The walk helped. And I hope — when I find some good forest trails to explore — to spot some wildlife.

Meanwhile, I’m off the hook for laundry and shopping. It all has to wait until tomorrow. Bonus!

Everyone should have a little cougarosity in their lives…

 

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Putting together the team

I saw  my counselor this morning and told her I was thinking of running the marathon. She waited for me to go on, then said, “Wait, you’re not laughing. You’re serious!”

I waved a hand generously and said, “Take a moment to have your reaction…”

It was priceless.

After talking it over a bit, she began to get behind it, rather  breathlessly but with real glee.

I saw my PT just now, for our first conversation since his rather cryptic reply to my email. He doubled my treadmill time (up to 10 minutes from 5), and said without preamble, in his cooly unflappable way, “That marathon idea of yours? It’s going to be slow, it’s going to be hard work, but I think we can do it. It’s a good goal.”

I nearly burst with relief and delight.

He set a 5-mile limit on my exercise over the coming 2 weeks of my vacation, then checked and said, “You’re  going to come back and say, ‘He-e-ey, I did 15!”

Finally… a PT I don’t have to train.

Last, I saw my rheumatologist, who laughed in a pleased fashion and said, “I’m glad you’ve got a good PT for this. That makes my job a lot easier.” Didn’t turn a hair.

I’m seeing my primary care doc and my pain doc on Thursday.  As for data (I am a geek; gotta have data!) I have current baseline levels for all basic chemistries, immune globulins, and a complete blood count, plus vitamin C and D. I have cortisol reports from when I was in adrenal exhaustion.

I’d like a baseline cortisol test now, and talk over what other stress/adaptation/compensation markers we could be tracking and how often.

I might have to shop around to different labs to keep in budget, if insurance can’t be persuaded to cover the lab-based data collection, or if I can’t get it covered some other way.

I’m dead serious about not hurting myself. I’m also dead serious about going for this. In any case,  we might as well collect data, so if nothing else, we’ll have one damn good case study to publish.

See you on the trails.

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Marathon — second thoughts

I’ve gotten some interesting responses to my marathon proposal, some of them very worried, bless their excellent, loving hearts. I feel I owe some explanation.

My tiny handful of fellow “imps of the possible” are all for it, completely understanding the uncertainties and sidetracks and possible (even probable) different endings in store – and knowing that it’s the reach that’s important, that spreading

Making progress

Yesterday was my first workout: walking 0.8 miles around the block. I live on the side of a pretty steep hill, so that’s not completely trivial.

On the steepest part, I wanted to stop, but my old athletic training kicked in: do anything *but* stop, because it’s worth it to get the hill behind you. So I moved forward less than one foot-length at a time, giving the sick feeling in my chest enough ease to pass. (At least I know it’s not a heart attack. One of the wonders of chronic CRPS is, your physical experience of life has changed so much that words don’t exist to explain it. But I know for sure it wasn’t a heart attack.)

Today was my second: the same distance, but noticeably better – on the steepest part, I could maintain something close to a walk, and I never got that sick feeling in my chest.

Wonderful progress!

Today was also my first lesson in biofeedback. I thought I was hot stuff, because I can knock 10 to 12 points off my blood pressure at will. Today, though, we measured galvanic skin response. It’s much more subtle, and a lot harder to finesse. I got compelling evidence that the physiologic back pressure of this disease is pretty much as bad as I’ve ever said it was. I won’t go into that, because it’s depressing.

I’ve been thinking about a blog entry on breathing, the simplest and most profound of our daily actions. I have to absorb today’s lessons first… I really see why I haven’t been able to put it together yet, even though it’s been on my mind for weeks. Breathing, like living, is so fundamentally simple that I have to think it through very carefully before I try to put it to words.

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