How I Spent 2018

Sideways Teal
A selfie where I am lying down and the picture is oriented sideways. I am wearing a teal shirt which compliments my green eyes

2018 began with an e-mail letting me know that the results of my Lyme test were in my patient portal.

I wouldn’t have my follow-up appointment with my doctor for another few weeks to let me know what to do about it, but there the results were. Positive. I hadn’t been mentally prepared for it, not really, even though my personal medical intuition-informed by literal years of reading about anything and everything related to my symptoms-had been honed to a sharp blade and I was rarely wrong anymore. I sought out a Lyme Literate doctor because by September of 2017 I was pretty damn sure. I wanted very much to be wrong. No one really believes in Lyme as a chronic illness. Tests are not the most accurate. The treatment is often not covered by insurance and treatment is physically hard on your body. The science is not 100% there…yet. And if I gave myself over to a treatment that amounted to nothing more than potentially hazardous snake oil? My credibility as the expert on my own body and competent caretaker of it would be shot through with doubt. I was not sure I would trust myself again if this went wrong, nor was I sure that other people would or could or should trust me on matters of my own illness. That was excruciating.

My husband and I talked about it a great deal. We talked with other people who had personally gone through diagnosis and treatment and had good results. I had a doctor who was insistent from the start that we would never overwhelm my body with more medication or supplements than I could take, that this was never going to be a miracle cure-I would always still have Lyme, it would just be an infection that was appropriately kept in check, that I had final say over what course of treatment I consented to-and that she would never pressure me into consenting to something I was wary of, that the goal was to get the infection (actually infections, as I have Babesia as well) in check and get me off of antibiotics and supplements sooner rather than later.

Do you know what it means for you to have faith in a doctor when so many failed to help you? There was only one doctor who was outrightly belligerent to me when I desperately needed help. Most of my overwhelming disappointment with doctors was that I would have a life-altering symptom, we would run the standard tests to see what the matter was, and when I walked away I would have a few negative tests results and a shrug. No information about how to control my symptoms. No clues as to what went wrong in the first place. Just shrugs. Doctors only spend every waking second trying to solve a mysterious diagnosis on TV shows. Most of my doctors were well-meaning but overworked, experts in difficult and widely known diseases I didn’t have that occupied most of their research time, and specialists who are dealing with different body symptoms who rarely consider that pelvic pain and hypoglycemia and hives and plantar fasciitis could possibly belong to the same systemic problem. I never gave myself over to unquestioning faith in my doctor, but I began to let myself have some faith in her.

I started treatment in late January 2018. I want to say I tapered off of the majority of my supplements and medicines by mid-March. The whole of February I spent the first half of every day in a haze, a fog so thick I mostly ate and sat and slept. I would take the kids to school, then take my medicine, then deal with the fog. By early afternoon it would lift. I would get the kids, complete the few tasks we needed completed to keep our world running and rest again. I recently looked back at pictures where I didn’t hide behind make-up. I looked grey. My face and lips and eyes looked like the color was drained away. I wore my softest clothes and binge-watched a lot of TV, something I’ve never really done being normally just a bit too restless for that. When I stopped the bulk of the serious medication, I kept on with maintenance supplements for a while. Many of my most problematic symptoms had faded away. Slowly I began working back up to my normal life (and my oldest broke an ankle just a few weeks after I stopped the bigger part of my treatment, so normal life wasn’t normal until about June). I still looked grey in early May. By one each afternoon I would fall into a dead sleep.

By July I realized that I passed out nearly in a dead faint after eating gluten at lunch, shaking with sudden chills, unable to stand upright. There is more to the story than that, but I’ve mostly told that story in an earlier blog post. Since August my youngest and I have been gluten-free. And my immune system seemed to come back on line. It sent my body for a loop. Suddenly immune-regulating medication I was on was dosed too high, and hormone replacement therapy I was on was dosed too high and I had skull-crushing headache verging on migraines for weeks at a time until I finally got the appropriate doses figured out just these last couple of weeks.

And I feel…good.

More often than not, I feel good.

I had given up on that ever being possible.

One thing that most helped me realize that I could trust that going into treatment was going to be the right thing to do? It’s that I had done a lot of work over the last several years to work through the grief of being sick and I had come to accept that my life-my smaller, less capable life-was absolutely still a valuable one. I really had accepted that feeling good might never be a possibility again, and I had made some amount of peace with that. But my heart-my heart was struggling to beat as quickly as it should have been. My heart was slowing down to dangerous levels. I had decided both that my disabled ill life was worth living and that it was in danger that needed to be addressed.

Lyme can infect your heart.

I wasn’t looking for a miracle cure, one that would let me climb Everest once treatment was done. I wasn’t in a desperate place grasping at straws, clinging to gold-plated hollow promises that I could be “fixed”.

I was looking to stay alive, because I loved the life I had in the middle of illness.

It was in that place where a leap of faith was possible and as measured as a leap can be. I knew what cardiologist I was going to approach if my heart rate didn’t recover or got even a little bit worse. I had an EKG through the local hospital that told me that my heart was strong but slow for some (to them) unknown reason. Now, about a year later, my heart rate stays within normal ranges for a person of my activity level. My heart is now beating in a way that makes it more likely that I’ll survive the next year, and the next.

This has been my 2018. I’ve done a million other things in the meantime, but from beginning to end it has been a year where I listened, figuratively and literally, to my heart. There were risks where I gained rewards I literally didn’t think were possible a year ago. There were risks that could have made this coming year a one of recovery from very bad failure. This isn’t prescriptive. If you don’t need to jump, maybe don’t? That leap can be very dangerous. Whatever your leap of faith is about, if you’re thinking about that leap, don’t go about it willy-nilly. Don’t jump with your eyes closed. Weigh everything. Research, examine your mental state, your motives, don’t jump out of a plane without checking your equipment five hundred times. Have contingency plans, and be cautious. But, if you’ve done all those things and you still find that the risk-whatever that may be- is worth it, I certainly can’t tell you to always play it perfectly safe. I didn’t. For once that worked out better than I dared hope.

Happy 2019 Everyone

 

Love,

Kristin

Essay at The Refresh

glacier-tour
Image Description: A family of four, two boys, a mother and father, bundled up in coats in front of a glacier

Hi Everyone!

I have an essay/article up at The Refresh called Traveling While Chronically Ill (clicking on the title will take you there). This is a reworked blog post from last summer about my experiences planning carefully before vacations. This version has some more information/tips that I find helpful.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Love,

Kristin

Essay at The Manifest-Station

Boys room
Image Description: A child’s bedroom with two beds and one wall that is mostly blue with paintings of planets, stars and a close-up of the moon on it.

Hi everyone!

Today I have an essay up at The Manifest-Station called Bedtime (you can click on the title to link to the essay).

This is a story of two bedtimes, one recent and one more than six years ago. Part of the story is about the painful limitations I encountered being a parent with chronic illnesses. Part of the story is about how miraculous getting to be a parent at all feels.

This is a chapter in the book I am working on called Quote/Unquote “Healthy”.  I announced here last summer that I hoped to have it done before the 2017-2018 school year. Well, illness gets in the way sometimes (and adds more chapters I need to write about!) but I hope to have the full manuscript done by November.

The Manifest-Station has given this story a wonderful home, and a gorgeous accompanying picture that is beautiful…and makes me smile as it doesn’t look much like the room this actually took place in. So, for you all I included the real thing, for authenticity’s sake.

I hope you are able to check it out.

Love,

Kristin

Happy Birthday To Me!

 

I took a walk today, for my thirty-eighth birthday, since it was beautiful out and all the flowering trees are in bloom.

It dawned on me that this, today, this walk, was a good example of what life is like with chronic illnesses, a good illustration that may clear up some misconceptions.

I am very allergic to spring pollen. Right now my chest feels tight and congested, my throat gummed up and my body generally achy. I could stay inside with all the windows shut-that would make my physical suffering considerably better. Some days, when life is stressful, I choose to do so because dealing with feeling miserable all the time (even with medications) can be hard. My life indoors is still full and interesting. There are still movies and music and books and food and cuddling and crafts and games that I can enjoy locked away from the outside world.

Some days I want to expend the effort to be in the middle of of these beautiful things that make my life demonstrably harder. Literally, these gorgeous temporary blooms make my skin itch and my eyes water and my head hurt. But it is worth it, sometimes. It is worth the extra discomfort to get to enjoy something that is outside of my comfortable realm. I just celebrated Easter and a beautiful wedding on the same principle-the discomfort of knowing I might feel rough from overexertion was worth it to see family and to celebrate with them. But I did end up feeling very rough.

Just because I am happy, and happily occupied, doesn’t that I am suddenly healthy and well. Almost 100 percent of the time I feel at least a little ill, and the majority of the time I feel sick (maybe nauseous, maybe weak, maybe in pain, maybe just congested and stuffed up). I look well because the markers we use to figure out if someone is sick-a green pallor, a disheveled appearance, a frown, an inability to do the activities we want to do – are often absent when I am doing something I enjoy. So people mistakenly think I’m healthy.

And just because I feel sick in the middle of a happy occasion doesn’t mean I am automatically sad. When generally healthy people feel sick, they (for the most part) stop everything. Normal life is put on hold, and when you have the flu or a cold you give yourself permission to just feel bad. When you feel better you go back to normal activities. There is a separation between the two worlds-one is full of rest and recovery and feeling both emotionally and physically down, the other is full of activity and fun and feeling emotionally and physically up. For chronically ill people there is no clean division. I can be physically very unwell but still emotionally very happy. I can be physically well and emotionally unwell. Sometimes I do get upset about my limitations when something I want is outside of my reach. Sometimes I push my limitations as far as they will stretch to bring something I want in reach and pay the price later. But my life isn’t a stunted or limited one.

As long as I have agency over what I do, I get to decide for myself what I am or am not capable of at any given time, I have a good life. Not an easy life, no, but a good one. This is unthinkable to people sometimes, that its possible to have a good life in the middle of illness or disability. It leads to misunderstandings. I hope I can clear some of that up.

I was brilliantly happy to take a walk through my neighborhood today, snapping pictures of all the flowers, breathing in the scent of lilacs.

I also feel like I have a brick sitting on my chest, and I could use some ibuprofen and caffeine to combat this headache I’m getting. Or am I feeling worse because I ignored my hypoglycemia guidelines and had a cinnamon roll for breakfast and need some protein? Is it allergies or fibromyalgia making my neck hurt?

No matter, I have a birthday/therapuetically-necessary-every-six-to-eight-weeks massage scheduled for tomorrow. And a dairy-free dessert to make for myself for later.

Loser

wilted-flower

I have been meditating on the idea of loss this morning. Fear of loss, the imagined specter of what might be, is horribly powerful. The fear of attack, the fear of hunger, the fear of oppression, the fear of disability, the fear of failure, the fear of war. The loss of dreams, loved ones, security, ability.

What is one of Donald Trump’s greatest insults, one he uses all the time?

Loser.

We are terrified of loss, and terrified that that loss will define us in ways that make us less than. Others will see the taint of loss in us, and we will no longer be good enough, worthy enough.

Failures of empathy are often failures of imagination, we do not want to imagine how horrible it would feel to sit with the losses that other people do. It seems contagious. This is why many people shy away from the grieving, or take up protective denial at how bad a situation is. Truly understanding what someone else is going through makes us acutely aware that it could happen to us, and that is frightening.

Life is frightening, and having evidence at our fingertips that it is capricious is more so. Some people want to believe that when misfortune happens the unfortunate person brought it upon themselves-poor choices, lack of faith in God, excessive vices, ignorance. Some people don’t want to believe the situation is as bad as it seems-they diminish someone else’s hardships as a way of distancing themselves.

Those of us who have felt loss that was stinging and life-altering will wonder for a long time if we did something to cause it, we hide how bad it was away from our loved ones out of compassion as we don’t want you to feel frightened. But, if you have felt deep loss, deep oppression you know in your bones that Trump’s assertion is all a lie. Experiencing the losses of life are not indicative of your worth as a human being, they are an inescapable part of being human.

We can compound the effects of loss upon people by being too frightened to face it, to look it in the eye. And if you have yet to really experience loss you will be even more frightened. This is where privilege comes in. I had the privileges of being white, straight, middle class, educated, thin enough, pretty enough, Christian enough, free from sexual abuse. By the time I got to college, I had two beloved grandparents die, and that was the most I really knew of loss. And my fear of losing anything was palpable, it felt, at the time unendurable. When you haven’t lost much yet, losing feels like it will be worse than death.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who have had more than their share of loss, and looking at other people’s losses might sink them with the weight of all the unfairness of the world. Adding other people’s losses onto their hearts is too great a burden, and they may turn away.

Loss is something we will all have in common, if we don’t already.

To have a leader who looks at anyone who has ever lost anything as a “loser”, with all the degrading connotations that implies, is unconscionable. If that was the only despicable thing he had ever done, it would have been enough for me.

Although, I suspect he is more frightened of loss than any of us will ever be. He has done everything in his power his entire life to ensure he never has to endure the sting of loss even once. And his lack of human feeling matches the measure of his fear of being a “loser”.

The antidote, the key to empathy, the key to really understanding and alleviating suffering, is then bravery. Facing down your fear that something horrible will happen, because if you live long enough something always will, is imperative. Difficult and excruciating, but imperative. Face your fear of loss with as stout a heart as you can, knowing that this scares every single one of us, too. Then we can actually take practical steps to truly help each other

Why My Posts Have Been Sporadic Lately

sky.JPG

My posting on the blog has been a bit dodgy this summer (dodgy, huh, I must be reading too much Harry Potter with the boys). Sometimes, in the past, less-than-consistent posting has meant good things are happening (feeling healthy, vacation, etc.) and sometimes that has meant bad things are happening (you know, feeling sick and such). This time around it has meant something different, something I have never attempted before.

I am working on writing an entire book, and it scares the bejeezus out of me.

80,000 words is a fairly standard length for a collections of essays or memoir. My goal is to get at least those 80,000 words into a first draft by next summer. I began about a month ago. So, three hundred words at a time I have plugging along with occasional super productive days of 600 words. This gives me weekends off and is achievable even on bad health days (like earlier in this week I had written about 500 in the morning and spent the afternoon in the ER with shortness of breath). Which is really important considering…

It is going to be a collection of essays around what it is like to be one of those people who floats on the edge of healthy and sick all the time. It will have episodes that illustrate what the depths of brain fog feel like, what being in pain does to your ability to parent, how hard it is to get dairy-free food in Wisconsin. Some chapters (like that last one) are sillier than others. It alternates between the hard and the easy, just like my life does. The tough ones take it out of me as I relive times when I felt overwhelmed and uncertain and scared. And as anyone who ever did theater knows, making someone laugh can be harder than making someone cry, so the goofier chapters aren’t a walk in the park either. It is kind of more exhausting than I had anticipated!  At any rate, it certainly wouldn’t do to sacrifice the healthy days I have overextending myself writing too much at once. That would be quite self-destructive.

There is also the emotional tightrope I’ve been walking daily between anxiety and audacity, humility enough to say, “This isn’t working” and the confidence enough to say, “Now this is working!” Not going to lie, it is messing with my head. It is simultaneously as terrifying as jumping out of an airplane and as boring as a 1.2 on a treadmill facing a brick wall. I am beat tired.

So there have been fewer other posts. I have some in the works – I want to write about our glacier tour in Alaska, about the beginning of the school year, about a Little House on the Prairie Cookbook – but it is going to be slow going.

Thank you for your patience and understanding!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to calculate how many words I have written so far against my goal total…

Dang, only five percent.

But that’s a lot higher than zero!

Traveling While Chronically Ill

Alaska Books

This trip was supposed to happen last year. We wanted to go to Alaska last summer, but we didn’t. The reason sounds spoiled and selfish when I explain, “Well, we didn’t have quite enough frequent flier points to fly first class, so we waited another year.” I sound like a twit. But I really struggled with being okay with flying six and a half hours without guaranteed food, without a guaranteed bathroom, without space to stretch. I have chronic illnesses and I can only push myself so far before I collapse.

It happened when we went to Puerto Rico two years ago. A four and a half hour flight with barely any food left me feeling sick, so sick in fact that my body cramped and lurched in the hustle of a 90 degree airport and I nearly passed out when we finally stopped and ate. On that same trip, which I do recall happily as one of my favorites, I threw up one meal where I was assured there wasn’t any dairy (but I’m pretty sure there was), and had to turn around on a rain forest hike because I felt like I couldn’t breathe from anxiety and humidity. I spent a lot of afternoons recovering from busy mornings.

Last year, in Wisconsin, I had to take an impromptu walk when my muscles cramped up so painfully I was going to get a migraine. A few times I had to prepare and drink a protein shake in the middle of the night because my blood sugar went too low.

Three years ago in Kentucky I was up in the middle of the night crying because my body hurt so much.

I am packing for Alaska now, and each item I put into a suitcase reminds me that I have to plan for the inevitability that at some point on this trip, my body or my mind will fail me. It is going to happen.

I keep my prescription medications, glucose meter and supplements in my carry-on bag. I cannot afford to lose these items. Also in the carry-on will be a 12-pack of dairy-free protein bars that can act as meal replacements or a quick fix for low blood sugar in an emergency. One of my few precious fluid ounces will be my Flonase.

One of our large suitcases holds winter jackets, gloves and hats. In some parts of Alaska it’ll be in the fifties and rainy, and my body cramps up wildly when the temperature drops too quickly. My ergonomic pillow will also be in that bag, so that I don’t wake up with back spasms each morning.

One bag will contain our guidebooks in which I have researched which restaurants near our hotel will have a diverse enough menu that I have a chance of finding dairy-free food. I have a grocery list and the address of the nearest Anchorage Target ready for when we land so that I can get enough non-perishable snacks to last me on a twelve hour bus tour of Denali and a 6 hour glacier tour out of Seward (lunch will be provided, but of course it all has dairy and if I go too long without eating at all I might pass out).

I bought seasickness bands for all of us because we’ve never been on the open ocean and I can’t handle being sick for 6 hours at a time.

We have backpacks, but I have to make sure I don’t overload mine, or my shoulders will cramp.

I can’t wear flip-flops anywhere where we will have to walk a long time, because my legs will cramp and my feet won’t uncurl.

I need to have ibuprofen available at all times, because even a storm rolling in can push me into severe pain  (I have been checking the weather obsessively to try to steel myself).

I will bring make-up because there will be times I get very sick, and I don’t want to look very sick in our vacation pictures forever and ever.

I will bring my notebook with all of our information everywhere we go, because when I feel sick sometimes my brain goes foggy. When that happens I can’t remember simple words, nor can I figure out how to navigate my normal life much less a brand new environment. Knowing my brain is unreliable is scary, and then my anxiety kicks in making it even harder to take care of myself and small children.

Sigh.

All in all it sounds as if traveling is more trouble than it is worth. But if chronic illness has taught me anything it is that anything you want in life is going to take work. An uphill battle just means that the view from the top of the mountain is going to be that much more spectacular once you get there.

Puerto Rico was amazing and tropical.

Wisconsin gave me time when I could just enjoy being with my kids without nagging them about cleaning up toys or doing homework.

Kentucky gave me a chance to see family I love dearly and wouldn’t get to otherwise.

And Alaska? I have never had the chance to see anything like it. I don’t live near mountains, or the ocean, or moose or bears. I might never get the chance to see these things again. I want to see my kids’ faces light up when they touch a glacier, and my husbands eyes widen when he sees an orca. I want to feel the weight of a fishing pole as my son hooks a salmon. I want to smell salt-spray. I want a chance to see Denali.

I want to prove for myself that the trouble, the pain that goes into everyday life, and the pain and trouble of reaching for the extraordinary is always worth it.

Alaska Clothes