International group post: Love is portable

The point is this: love is portable. Real, solid love can handle time and distance.

I’ve been saying that for a very long time. I didn’t know, however, that even the formation of love can cover distance. It can cross the globe.

I grew up overseas. Since there wasn’t always a credible, accredited school where we lived, this meant we kids were sometimes away from the family for months at a time. I learned to handle it in a curious way …

I realized, in a deeply personal way, that the same sky covered us all, and the same world held us. If I could see the stars, I felt very strongly that my brothers and parents could see those same stars — if not today because of clouds, then perhaps tomorrow or yesterday — and knowing that we could look at the same stars was a powerful comfort to me.

Beautiful colored view of a star-forming region
Star-forming region in the Magellanic Cloud. Photo from NASA’s Hubble project.

It doesn’t have to make sense, if it works.

As an adult, I got a dreadful disease that requires more research to manage and understand than one person can do in a lifetime. It took me weeks in the Stanford medical library to realize I had something truly rare. Once I was finally diagnosed, it took me months to begin to understand the complexities of what I have.

I also got the internet and a membership in an online pain group … and eventually a blog and social media accounts.

And suddenly, I wasn’t alone.

That first group’s administrator got me through the second major test of survival. (This disease has caused quite a few.) She’s on the other side of the country.

As I’d reached out to her in desperate need, I found someone else reaching out to me in a similar fashion, and she’s a nearly equivalent distance North, in another country.

Then I met the Swede, the Briton, the Belgian, the Icelandic… then Australians, New Zealanders, Chinese, Japanese, more Britons, French, French-Canadian, Dutch, Danish, Mexican, Argentine, and on and on and on. Any country with a health system sophisticated enough to think of, and look for, rare diseases, seems to have people with CRPS.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

OK, that’s long enough. It’s depressing.

The truly international distribution of the disease is almost as penetrating as the international distribution of the internet.
The Earth's winds. Not a bad metaphor. By NASA's Goddard center.
I could go on about the obvious benefits — having someone to chat with at almost any hour is a good one; having such a wealth of perspectives on health, medical delivery, and self-care is another; being able to discuss findings in one country that aren’t yet known in another is a hottie; and, of course, there’s always someone worse off to make me feel humbly grateful for my little all; but these are pretty obvious and probably stated better elsewhere. I’m not doing too well above the neck this week and I have to keep it simple.

This disease has stripped me of many of my friends, my careers (both of them: nursing and software), almost all of my hobbies, most of my strength and stamina, and pretty much every illusion about life and humans that I ever had.

Life can be bleak when it’s this lean. There has to be more to live for than usual, not less, when every day is another stab at the same tedious, repetitious, miserable slog that would make me say to Sysiphus, “Quit your whining, kiddo. Trust me, you’ve got it easy.”
Sysiphus looking miserable as he pushes a rock up hill... with poor body mechanics.
But every connection that I make with my CRPS cohorts makes me stronger. And — how do I say this without sounding mushy or daft — these aren’t superficial connections. I would gladly stop a bullet for my friends, not that that’s likely to happen … but then, it’s easy to find something worth dying for. The trick is finding what, or who, is worth living for.

Any hour of day or night, I can log on and find a soul-sibling somewhere in this world, beyond first-languages and politics, beyond gender and race, beyond anything that might have mattered once.

I don’t have time to ask permission to use names before posting, so my own ethics force me to skip personalization, but the fact is, ladies and gentlemen, you light up my world.
Earth seen from the moon. Earth is gibbous.

When I get discouraged or disgruntled about this tedious, repetitious, miserable slog, and I can’t remember the self-care routines that can help me with it, instead I remember my friends: this one’s Celtic ferocity; that one’s wry wit; the painful eloquence of one; the utter gentle kindness of another; the ghastly spelling over the radiant sweetness of yet another; the shining fragile beauty and boundless courage of, well, all of them …

Every piece I write has to meet multiple tests of integrity before it gets posted: factually accurate, logically defensible, ethically sound, emotionally true (but as the rambling nature of this one indicates, brilliance is NOT a criterion, or I’d be posting a whole lot less.)

That list of criteria has a lot to do with who I think of when I write. It’s this absolutely global, polyglot, brilliant, loving, well and widely informed set of people. Each one of us has our strengths and our weak points, but collectively, we are astounding. Utterly astounding.

I have to live up to that, and be translatable … and it’s an honor and a challenge, every time.

CRPS has taken much, but the internet, mother wit, and a quorum of luck has given me infinitely more. I’m a better being and a better writer because I share the world with people like this … and I’m aware enough to know it.

I have plenty to live for. Screw the slog. Sysiphus, move over and I’ll show you how it’s done.
girl on a flat beach kicking a ball high

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Being clear about being grateful

We visited our favorite hot springs last week. There’s a hot pool that’s very hot indeed. When I alternate between that and the cold pool, preferably dipping several times, it becomes quite a fabulous experience.

Stone angel with hands clasped in prayer, standing on a pillar, sun like a glorious halo
Halleluiah!

Whether it’s the lymph getting going properly for a change, or toxins (the few that are left) getting sucked out of my system, or my autonomic system finally getting a clue and just taking a break, or possibly all that and something more, I have no idea. But it can be really good.

gleeful woman grinning, sitting in a sailboat cockpit, sunny water behind her
REALLY good!

I did my dips and bounced gently on the balls of my feet in the hot pool, overflowing with something like gratitude. I’m no fool (I just take an off-road approach to life) … offering gratitude works, even with a conception of spirituality based more on quantum physics than religious dogma.

Things go better when I’m classy enough to express whatever gratitude I feel.

However, it has to be “true enough to write,” my ultimate litmus test of sincerity. (That really is my key phrase when I’m thinking about truth, writing, or both.)

George_Goodwin_Kilburne_Writing_a_letter_home_1875There’s no fooling the All, because I’m part of it and I know the truth, even when I don’t want to.

Letting my head fall back into the welcoming warmth, I thought a moment, letting the feeling swirl through me like water.

Grateful for my life?
I have to be honest (though it may mean I have an inferior soul or something) … I’d love to be. I think that somehow I ought to be. But really, when you get right down to it… too many caveats.

Grateful for this day?
Well, y’know, there was too much of the day left that could go wrong. Experience has been too strong a teacher to make me grateful for something before it’s in the bag.

Grateful for this moment?
Ah yes, there we go.

I felt my spine let go of the last knot.

I could say, without hesitation and with perfect integrity, that I was definitely grateful for this moment. Completely, unwaveringly glad to have it. I was truly thankful for that heavenly bit of space-time I’d found myself in.

Crab_Nebula-crop
Heavenly, beautiful… grateful for it

The moment stretched and smiled and wrapped me in blissful arms. It made me stronger and more content, and I faced the bumps and mild insults of the rest of the day with fairly unruffled peace.

It turned out to be a good day. A day to be grateful for.

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Persistence, chronic illness, mortality, and other perky subjects

I’m recovering from packing and moving to my homestead. [I’m sorry to say that I don’t have internet yet, and the library’s uplink is slo-o-o-o-ow. Images will be filled in once that’s corrected. In the meantime, you get to see how I flag where the images will go.]
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The cat is ecstatic. He’s getting muscular, too. He’s bigger than most of the cats I’ve ever had, and he’s only 8 or 9 months old. J is falling in love with his saucy sweetness — they’re a well-matched pair.

It took a week just to be able to think in a straight line again. I’m still very slow, but improving. Breakfast is my best meal, so I try to make it a good one — my stomach is not nearly as happy as the cat about all this.

Yesterday, as an aid to recovery, J and I went to the nearby hot springs for steaming and soaking.
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We usually get nicely parboiled in a couple of hours, but I got horrifically dizzy going from the hot pool to the cold. Usually it feels terrific (one reason I keep going back) but I think I stayed in too long — 2 whole minutes… When I was able to see, I noticed that my skin was bright red; I touched it, and it was as hot as if I had a fever.

That’s the hyper-reactive response we get with a twitchy autonomic nervous system (ANS.) This is why we don’t ice our injuries with most forms of CRPS.

All my skin’s blood vessels spasmed with the cold, then the spasming set off an alarm in my wackadoodle ANS, and my ANS ordered all those peripheral vessels to open wa-a-a-y up.

What does that do? Sucks all the blood out of my brain and out into my skin, that’s what. Result: dizziness to a frightening degree. J helped me get out of the pool without drowning, and got me safely benched.
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I realize I tend to overestimate my capacities, but that really was a first for me.

Periodically — and with increasing frequency — I get FED the heck UP with having these diseases — CRPS, FM, MCS, POTS, GERD … I’d have to be a British peer with medals and degrees to have that many letters after my name, in any other context.

These diseases are not recreational. They don’t just pop in, have a good time, and then take off.

They’ve moved in. They’re here for the long haul, or at least that’s what they seem to think. They take the concept of “persistence” to a whole new level.

It reminds me of something… H’mm. Oh yes.

In February 1999, I got a phone call at 4:10 am from my stepmother, telling me my father was dead. I still remember the way the word “no” kept echoing off the walls, until I realized it was me who had cried it out. I won’t describe the next few weeks, except that there was a lot to do (he had died in Egypt) and I learned a lot about the people in my family (interesting, not worrisome.)

After a few months, when the acute grieving was more or less behind me and I could drive safely and notice the birds and sunshine in a more normal way, I found myself unconsciously expecting him to be alive again. As if dying of a double heart attack face down in the water was like a curable cancer, horrific but eventually over. Then I’d catch myself, and that awful “no” would stab through me again.

There was a part of me that just could not get the permanence of death.

I haven’t spoken to anyone who has had this same experience. It may be so peculiarly daft that it could only happen to a wing-nut like me.

Death, take a holiday? Only in a Terry Pratchett novel.
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Over the next couple of years, I had plenty of opportunity to come to terms with the persistence of death, as I was bereaved of friends and extended family about once every other month. None of them came back.

I don’t recommend it.

And this is where Walt and Pogo come stumbling in from the past:
[IMG: “don’t take life so serious, son, it ain’t nohow permanent.”]

It’s impossible to have a rotten, devastating condition and not face my own mortality once in awhile, if only because the blank spot that bereavement leaves in the world sometimes seems better than this mess. And it’s a persistent mess, too.

The real question is, is it just as persistent as death? Will there really be no end to this? The poetic injustice is, that question might not be answered until my ashes melt into the sea.

There are good times and strong times and, of course, I’m almost constantly panning for those nuggets of gold, so don’t worry.

It’s just that anyone vile enough to stick a gun in my ribs and say, “Your money or your life,” is going to have to hold me up with both arms, I’ll be laughing so hard.

Nice work, Clint, but I think me and my cohorts could top this delivery…

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The Red Pen Technique (dramatic music, please)

This is probably the simplest, most powerful tool for getting your complex care back into the realm of sanity.

It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth it. More valuable than words can say.

It’s a fairly simple 3-step process:

  1.  Get copies of your medical records.
  2.  Prepare: understand the records, get a colored pen, and stock up on post-its.
  3.  Mark it like you own it.

Here’s the step-by-step rundown of this process, with insider insights, tips and suggestions. (I apologize in advance for the clunky formatting. I’ll work on it.)

1. Get copies of your medical records

[Updated 3/2018 to reflect current trend towards soft copy documentation.]

In the US, you are LEGALLY ENTITLED to all the information in your medical chart. (Worker’s Compensation is a special case; you can still get copies through your lawyer or sometimes directly from the doctor, but don’t talk to the insurer about any of that.)

To get copies,

A. Call the hospital, clinic, or office and ask for the Medical Records department.

B. Ask what their process is for obtaining copies of your medical records. Most MR departments are honest, understaffed, and extremely literal-minded. Be clear, frank, and polite-but-not-wimpy; that seems to work well with the MR mindset.

i. Some will let you come into the office and make your own photocopies. They may charge you for the copies. Some may have soft copy they can send you on a CD or provide a secure way to download.

ii. Some don’t allow non-staff into the department and will make the copies for you (and it’s best to provide them with a list of what you want, so they don’t provide you with the usual thin, doctor-oriented version. More on that later.) They will probably charge you for pulling the record, making the copies, reassembling the chart, and packaging your copies up for you. They might fax them to you, but, if they don’t require you to come in personally and show ID, then the chart copy is usually mailed or FedExed. Soft copy may be free or cheap. Ask about the cost for each method, and if they don’t offer the method you want, ask if they can provide it anyway.

iii. Some will give you the runaround. In that case, be polite but firm, and let them know that you have a legal right to the information in your chart, so let’s figure out how to get it to you. (Never buy into a power struggle with petty power weilders. Just refocus on the goal — like with toddlers.)

iv. If you had films of any kind (X-ray, MRI, CT scan, ultrasound), ask how to get those films. You usually get them directly from the Radiology or Sonography department rather than Medical Records. They’re most likely to drop a CD in the mail for you. You’ll need software that can view DICOM images — do an internet search to find the best current free application for reading DICOM files.

The radiology departments no longer use film. They used to recycle it every 2 years, so the only way to keep those records was to get the physical films and hang onto them despite promises they’d demand to return them. That didn’t mean you were any better or that the film was irrelevant in two years!

C. Follow the instructions they give you for getting those copies. Be sure to request copies of the following:

i. Doctor’s notes, both narrative notes and forms.

ia. Consults’/Specialists’ notes. (Yes, they need to be specifically requested in some facilities.)

ii. Medication orders. This is what was supposed to be given.

iii. Medication Administration Record (MAR.) This is what was actually given.

iv. Nurse’s notes, both narrative notes and forms. (These days, some places only have forms.) These should include Nursing Diagnoses (which gives a good idea of just how worried or confused they were about you) and daily tracking of what care was needed and provided.

v. Vital signs and intake/output sheets. (Includes fingerstick blood sugars when used.) This is usually background information, but every now and then there’s a nasty surprise. There is no substitute for the clarity and simplicity of this info.

vi. Results of tests. These include labs taken from your blood, urine, stool, saliva, tissue samples, or whatever else they examined. It can include psych tests, behavioral tests, and any other test.

vii. Readings. This refers to what a trained specialist concluded from looking at your films, ultrasound, EEGs, EMGs, EKGs, and so on. It’s usually a couple of paragraphs.

viii. Rehab notes: narrative notes, test results, and forms. This is what your PT, OT, and other rehab specialists saw.

ix. Discharge planning notes. Discharge planning is supposed to start as soon as you’re admitted. These notes will tell you what they knew or assumed about your context and abilities. Very useful info between the lines.

x. List of charges. This is what they’re telling the insurance company they did for you and how much it cost. This should include pharmacy charges as well as “floor” charges. Another place to find both corroborations and surprises.

xi. If they say, “Would you also like [something else in the chart]?” The right answer is usually, “Why yes, thank you, that would be helpful.” Sometimes they offer it because they’re so detail-oriented, but sometimes they offer it because it fits into the pattern of the care you received. Feel free to ask why they suggested it or what it relates to.

D. When you get your chart copy, either scan it into your hard drive before you do anything else, or make 2 more copies and put the original (clearly labeled) somewhere safe.

Some people consider this step optional. I won’t argue with someone else’s working style or legal situation; you’re the one best-qualified to decide how protective to be of your chart copy.

I have everything on my hard drive. I have dealt with a hospital, a federal agency and an insurance company that forgot, mislaid, misread, or destroyed part or all of my chart. I don’t trust any institution to get it right any more.

2. Prepare

When your original copy of your chart is as safe as you want it to be, take a copy to mark up. This is where the real fun begins.

A. Read the whole thing over once. Try not to get bogged down — this quick run-through will help you familiarize yourself with the lingo and the special way of thinking that’s used in the health care field. It will also give you an overall idea of what you’re working with and will shine a light on the most obvious gaps — in your knowledge or vocabulary, or in theirs. Put flags in the strangest, most egregious or excitiing parts, so you can refer to them quickly. Use post-its to comment on the page.

B. Whether or not your first read-through is quick, your second read-through will be a LOT more informative. Pick out and investigate the obvious holes in your own knowledge, looking up words and concepts that aren’t clear, or checking your assumptions about what they meant.

C. (You can start doing this in 2.B., but you’ll be better-equipped if you wait until you’ve got your vocabulary and assumptions squared away.)

GRAB A COLORED PEN. Mwahahahahahahaaaa!

Red, green, dark  pink, and medium purple are all great, because they stand out so well from the black and grey of the copy. Use a color you enjoy commenting with, in a pen that feels good to write with.

No black. No grey. Blue if you must, but it’s a very “normal” color and easy to overlook.

3. Mark it like you own it

Now that you’re prepared, are familiar with the chart, have the hot spots flagged, and know the vocabulary, you’re ready to TAKE BACK YOUR CARE.

A. Go through the chart with your colored pen.

B. Mark everything that is wrong, misleading, or unclear. (Feel free to color-code, if that works for you.)

C. Comment on:

i.  what the real deal was,

ii. what was wrong with what they wrote,

iii. your own observations,

iv. any evidence or witnesses,

v. and — this is usually relevant! — where else in the chart this error, confusion or lie is brought into question. (This is why you get the nurse’s notes. They tend to be accurate, front-line reportage of what happened at the bedside.)

Generally, you can keep emotions out of it. The facts WILL tell the story, and the reader’s own emotions will fill in the blanks.  If you can do this, then you will wind up with a much more powerful piece of documentation than if you’d given into the natural urge to editorialize. Sometimes, if I’m just too mad, I editorialize (and use expletives and call names) on separate paper, then, when I’m calmer and my thoughts are clearer, I go back and write in a calmer note.

D. Write (or tabulate, or draw; whatever works for you to nail your understanding) a summary of issues with the chart.

i. Pick out major issues, overarching issues, and the points where things really should have gone differently. (If you’re writing, use headings — that impresses the heck out of people.)

ii. Summarize the whole thing in a paragraph or two at the end.

4. Now what?

It’s up to  you. You have documentation that is worth presenting in court. (Yes, believe it or not, you can talk until you’re blue in the face and be only tolerated, but if you really want to persuade highly-educated people, then put it in print — with annotations. They will believe exactly the same thing in print, that they’ll be incredulous of when you speak.)

Regardless of what happens next, you will have a whole new approach to medical care. Your perspective on the whole business will change as a result of doing this exercise. You will be much more collegial with your doctors — much less the supplicant praying for something beyond your control. You will speak about your care with more clarity and authority, and your care providers will respond to that, usually with more forthcoming-ness and respect.

Depending on the issues involved (and whether your case is already part of a legal process, such as Worker’s Comp), you can:

  •  Send a (color?) copy to  your attorney. You can always do this. It’s guaranteed to get some attention, and your attorney is liable to  respond well to the nonverbal message that this is important enough to you to go to all this effort. That’s a big deal. Most clients of attorneys are kind of helpless. You set yourself apart with this.
  •  Take it with you to your next visit with a key physician — the worst offender, or his boss, or the one who’s on your side and can help you figure out how to proceed most effectively. Be prepared to let the “good guy” take a copy, and consider bringing a copy for the “bad guy” since you don’t want to let your copy out of your hands there.
  •  Arrange a meeting with the facility’s adminstrators to address the hot issues. Take it with you (or scan copies and show it from your laptop — lots of tech assumptions there) and let them know, kindly and clearly, what you want them to do about it. Administrators tend to be goal-oriented, so give them a goal. Tip: If they have legal counsel present, it’s good if you do, too. In any case, it’s not a bad idea to bring a couple of respectable-looking friends (“my assistants/associates/posse”) who have faith in you, for moral support — and so you’re not all alone on your side of the table.
  •  Send a color copy to your local paper, your congresscritter, the medical board for your state, or the Department of Health, with a cover letter explaining your concerns and what you would like to see change. This could raise some attention, all right. (If your case is currently in a legal process, it may be illegal to do this. Ask your lawyer.)

If you’ve never done this before, you’re in for a transformative experience. Even if you do nothing further with it, your situation will feel very different, and you’ll find yourself facing future care with a stronger, clearer, more in-charge attitude.

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Imaginative experience and rebuilding the brain

In 1986, the course of neurologic treatment changed forever when Mark Block, one severely spine-injured young man, chose “imp-possible” over “impossible” and, every day, spent hours imagining how it would be to walk again, imagining his “wires” getting hooked back up again, riding a wave of inner certainty that can only be called a gift.

 

He mentally rehearsed endlessly. Day after day after week after month.

 

And then, months into his care, he told the nurse, “Watch this,” and made his foot twitch. The first nurse dismissed it as a spasm. The second or third nurse got the doctor.

 

The doctor stood over the foot — really close — and said, “Do it again.” Twitch.

 

“Again.” Twitch.

 

“Again.” Kick.

 

One of the great moments in medicine.

 

Upon discharge, he walked out of the hospital.

Some of the meditations from my pain psychologist are visualizations. They’re made for a mass audience, not for people with chronic illness generally or CRPS specifically, so a certain amount of tolerance with the language is required. (At one point, the narrator says, after a pregnant pause, “Looking good.” Oh for heaven’s sake.)

Fortunately, she’s dropped pearls of wisdom about what’s important in these exercises, so I’m (naturally) mulling over a new set of scripts which attain those ends a wee bit more gracefully. (Of course, the files will be freely available to download.)

The key point is, it’s important to imagine what it feels/looks/smells/sounds like to be really well, really functional, really active, really smart again. Here’s the lowdown:

  • It’s not just a set of images, it’s a multisensory experience that I imagine as clearly as a good memory.
  • It’s important to do so vividly and frequently.
  • It’s important to think of imaginative experience as a good working hypothesis, rather than a hopeless quest or pointless daydreaming.

That’s key. Making it seem real, and not dismissing it afterwards. Over and over again.

That’s how the brain is persuaded — molecule by molecule, link by link, cell by cell — to give up its current structure, which pins so much of the neuro-anatomical, neuro-chemical and neuro-endocrine dysfunction in place.

Then, in many cases — and with suitable support from nutrition, psychological care and physical activity — it’s possible to reverse-engineer a healthier, more functional neuro-setup.

It takes time. It takes dogged persistence. It takes a vivid imagination — which can be developed, if it’s not already there. (Like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.) Last but not least, it takes a smidgen of luck.

The imaginative experiences, if all goes well, help your neurological structure leap the chasm between what it is and what it should be. It’s an enormous leap of faith to get started, let alone keep going for as long as it takes to rewire such an astoundingly complex structure.

Of course, inner resistance and outer events are liable to leap out and knock us off track, because that’s what they do… and we have to find ways to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get back on track as soon as possible.

It’s a huge job, inside and out — all that leaping.

Trapeze_artists_1890

But it’s not impossible.

I’ve been mulling experiences that I can imagine failing to do with my current body, but remember doing with my healthy one.  I think I’ll write them out (word-painting at its most precise) and build really great imaginative experiences to come back to, again and again.

Running; sailing; riding; studying; traveling; writing complex books; lecturing on neurology, pain, and healing — you know that’s what I’m thinking about.

What would your imaginative experiences be? What would you leap the chasm for? What could you immerse yourself in, week after week, month after month, maybe year after year, for the chance of pulling yourself up to it?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I have a feeling my list will change with time. As I sit with these imaginative experiences, I’ll see which ones really keep on giving, and which ones were better in theory than practice — and, of course, I’ll find the one I haven’t thought of yet, which will turn out to be key.

At the moment, the hard part is coming back to reality afterwards. That can really suck. But there are ways to deal with that — instant distraction, for instance — and the more I think it over, the more I think it’s worth it.

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Marathon update

For weeks, I could hardly move outside without injury. It was maddening. I completely ran out of arnica pills, my best tool for keeping soft-tissue injuries from turning into flares or spreads of CRPS.

At the same time, I couldn’t make myself do the meditation exercises I’d been assigned, where I’m supposed to let some strange man tell me what to relax. Getting anything but my appointments done has been nearly impossible.

Today, I walked half a mile, half of it uphill, and most of that at around 15 degrees’ slope — really. And so far, I’m just fine. It seems  a bit miraculous, after the past few weeks.

For the past few days, I’ve also been wrestling with my dead… and at the risk of appearing to complain, I’d probably better explain that.

I’ve been interested in re-remapping my brain to a more useful cartography (so to speak) for years; that’s what holds the most promise of moving CRPS aside and leaving more room for life.

Sheer gall, determination and bloody-mindedness can only get me so far. Pretty damn far, but I think I’ve hit the limit. I need to move beyond, because frankly, life is barely worth it and I won’t stand for that.

To gain enough mastery over my brain that I can really push it into a different shape means getting my conscious mind and subconscious mind to play well together. Sooner or later, THAT means coming to terms with a few things I’ve shoved under the floorboards. Then I can put them in their proper place, and make a reliable path around them. It’s no good trying to build new paths in a brain that’s booby-trapped.

It’s impossible to discuss these losses and bereavements and horrors without sounding pathetic or whiny, so I won’t. Tell you what, though, I’ve stopped editing them out, when they’re relevant.

Something’s come loose. It’s true. It does seem to be working.

I’ve finally gotten myself scheduled into my meditation exercises, PT, and cleaning up… and I’ve walked half a mile today, much of it really steep… and I seem to be fine.

Every marathoner knows… you really run it from the inside.

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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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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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