Congestive Heart Failure And Me

August 27, 2014 at 11:22 am (Congestive Heart Failure, Hospitalizations, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been diagnosed with stage 3, right sided congestive heart failure. Let’s break that down so you understand what that means. Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor and this is by no means meant to be a completely scientific lesson on heart disease. I am sharing the information I feel will help my friends and family understand how this diagnosis affects me and what it means. Feel free to ask your doctor for more information.

I’m going to start with the “congestive heart failure” part. Your heart is a wickedly smart little organ. It knows exactly how much blood each of your organs needs to operate at their maximum. When one or more of the organs needs more blood, the heart is able to increase how fast it beats, pushing blood faster where it’s needed.

The first symptom I had was that my heart was beating pretty fast – upwards of 120bpm. Obviously, that can be caused by a lot of less serious reasons, so although it was something my doctor was aware of, it didn’t cause any alarm all by itself.

Meanwhile, my right ventricle, the one in charge of getting the right amount of blood to my lungs, thought something was up. It wasn’t getting as much fluid back as it was sending out, which is cause for concern when you’re a right ventricle. It assume that there has been some trauma or injury to the lungs wherein there is blood loss, so it wants to pump harder to make sure the wound doesn’t drain the blood the lungs still need to function.

But in my case, it was not a wound that was causing the lack of fluid return. My body was soaking it up, in the form of edema. That’s the reason my feet and ankles, and then eventually my abdomen, got really swollen. The reason my heart thoughts my lungs were in trouble is because my lungs were really struggling with keeping my oxygen levels high enough to function. The struggle was primarily caused by my sleep apnea – I was using a CPAP setting from 2005, and a lot has changed since then. I need a BiPAP in order to get the right amount of oxygen at night, and the more oxygen and the less carbon dioxide in my system, the less the demand on the right ventricle.

CPAP? BiPAP? Is this like a Pap smear?
No, thank goodness. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is one way to make sure someone’s airway is open and functioning while they are asleep. If you’ve ever shared a bed with someone who snored terribly, that snore was likely caused because it was the only way to get the passages open enough to maintain enough oxygen. With a CPAP, it gently blows air into your nose (and mouth if necessary) to help keep the airway open.

With CPAP, there’s one number: the amount of air pressure the person needs to keep their passage open all night. However, if the person needs a very high amount of pressure, it becomes difficult to exhale without feeling like you have to use your exhale to push against it. What makes sense is to have two pressure settings: the higher one when you breathe in, and the lower one for when you breathe out. Thus: BiPAP. Bilevel positive airway pressure. BiPAP comes with a second usage, which is that it can also stand in as an external ventilator should someone have significant trouble breathing night *or* day.

I knew I needed a BiPAP for a few months, but I was dealing with a lot of doctor office monkeyshines and did not get it. But I will have one when I get home, as the hospital has taken care of that.

The Right Side of Heart Failure

Like I’ve said earlier, the right ventricle is specifically tasked with keeping the lungs happy. Because I was having severe O2 deprivation due to the apnea, my poor little right ventricle did all it could do. Now it is damaged from being overclocked for so long. Part of the reason it took so long to figure out what was going on is that the symptoms of heart failure are easily attributed to being fat, even if you aren’t really fat to begin with. CHF makes you feel tired all the time, it robs you of your stamina, you lose your breath even when you aren’t doing anything, and then the swelling comes. The edema is made worse when it gets to the abdomen, because then it is putting extra undue pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making it even more difficult to breathe.

Although I am still a little angry about it, I have come to accept that even though I was clear with many doctors about these symptoms as soon as I noticed them, many of them dismissed me and told me it was because I was fat and I should reconsider weight loss surgery. (In case you weren’t a reader when I wrote my many rants on WLS, look at the tags on the side of this page for more info). I mean, my weight is a contributing factor (but not the only factor!) to my apnea, so in a way it is also a factor in my heart failure. But lots of people get CHF, and getting it at my age is getting more and more common.

What does this mean? Are you going to have to stop traveling/teaching?

Well, Del is going to have to get used to a daily regimen. Not only am I increasing the amount of prescriptions I need, but there are other changes I need to track carefully. I will have to weigh myself every single day (whee!) and do it in kilograms because metric! If I gain even a little bit of weight, I have to call my doctors ASAP to see if it’s related.

I am also going to have to learn how to live with strict fluid intake rules. I am only allowed to have 2000mg a day of any kind of fluid – that’s 2 liters. I have a plan on how to measure this, so hopefully that will work. I’m just from a world where drinking fluids was a good thing, and there was no such thing as too much water.

The reason I have to restrict my fluid intake is because should my body have extra fluid, it is likely going to shunt it into edema, because the right ventricle will be all like, “Hey feet, I got some extra fluid here, so I’m a hook you up!” and my feet will be like, “No, dude, we’re already super full! I’m sure your fluid is tasty but I can’t even imagine another…oh. Thanks.”

The last part I’ll tackle is the Stage 3. There are 4 stages, with 1 being asymptomatic and 4 being severely damaged and in need of interventions like surgical implants, surgery, or transplant if the patient is young enough to recover. 3 means that I have significant symptoms, but we’re hoping that with a minimum of intervention I should be okay for a while. But I’m going to give it to you straight – this is not a thing you take a pill, you stop eating salt, and everything gets better. This will degenerate and become more bothersome as time moves on. At some point, I plan on writing about how this diagnosis takes some of the vagueness out of “Del is sick”. The monster in the closet (or at least one of them) has a name, a face, a sense of reality.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Just please don’t break my rule of offering treatment options unless you are a professional. I don’t want to know what your Uncle Tommy did to recover from CHF, nor do I want to read that article you saw on how CHF is a made-up disease to sell cardio meds. But at the same time, I want to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what’s going on with me and how it affects things moving forward.

*BONUS ROUND*

My blood sugar numbers were also wacky out on control when I got here, and I had a great endocrinologist who helped get me back to a normal-ish level. When talking about follow-up and finding the endo, I took a chance and mentioned that I was hoping to find an endo who would manage my diabetes *and* administer T. Without hesitation, he made me a recommendation to a Hopkins endo who does T for lots of different people. Even got me the number of the pysch I need to see for clearance before we can talk about T. He keeps reminding me that this is a maybe, not a yes, because I am so complicated; but he also said it may come down to an informed consent situation, where we go over the pros and the cons and then I choose what I think is best.

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Ten Hard Lessons I’ve Learned About Being Chronically Ill

February 5, 2014 at 1:14 am (Chronic Pain, Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been struggling with chronic pain and illness for over six years now. In that time, I’ve come to some difficult situations and choices, and for the most part had no source material to turn to. Being without a specific diagnosis means that there are less places to access wisdom by those who have gone before – I read some that share symptoms or challenges with my reality, but even those who have a name for what’s going on find that there are times when your only choice is to struggle through and make the best choices you can. Sometimes we choose wrong; we do something that makes things worse, or we choose a doctor who treats us poorly, or our behavior during times of stress alienates the very people who want to support you the most.

These lessons are by no means definitive, or the only lessons I’ve learned, but instead I’ve chosen these because in hindsight I really wish someone would have given me advice (or even a clue!) in hopes of avoiding some of the inherent pitfalls involved.

10. There is a difference between someone who wants to help you, and those who want to solve your problems.

The people who have been the most supportive in times of difficulty are the ones who chose to assist me specifically so I could do more for myself. The ones who end up burned out and resentful are the ones who chose to do things in hopes of either doing things for me, or doing things with the expectation that things will get better in some form of permanent fashion. I could continually ask people to scratch my back, or someone could buy me a backscratcher. (And here’s where I thank the anonymous person who did exactly that.) You could volunteer to take dictation when I can’t type, or you can help me find dictation software I like or suggest another way of sharing my thoughts (like a podcast). This lesson taught me not only how to tell what a person’s intentions are (to help or to solve), but how to phrase requests in very specific ways so even those who are inclined towards solving end up doing things that make us both feel good. If I know you’re a “solver”, instead of asking for something nebulous (like, “I need a way to move my legs more without causing pain”), I take a little more time and ask for something more specific (“I need one of those cycle bikes that rest on the floor and have a motor, here is a link to a few I like on Amazon.”)

If I’m unsure of what the specific need is, that’s when I turn to the helpers. Because they are focused on supporting my independence as much as they are focused on the challenge at hand, their brainstorming will naturally drive itself towards choices that give me more freedom and less reliance on others.

I’m not saying one is bad and the other is good; I’m saying that in order to lean on my support system without burning everyone out, having a general sense of how someone feels helpful can expand and strengthen your team. Just like you go to Joe when you want to gossip, and choose to go shopping with Pat because they have a style sense that matches your own; knowing who is best qualified to get your through a hurdle makes it easier to ask and receive with the least amount of guilt. Which leads me to…

9. People generally want to help as much as they can; those that won’t or can’t will make themselves known.

It seemed somewhat obvious to list “Asking for help is hard”, because you don’t need to be chronically ill to know that. What I’ve learned about opening myself up to receive help when I need it is that sometimes the “obvious” choice isn’t the right one. One of my people who drive me to doctor’s appointments comes from 3 hours away to do so, usually coming in the night before and leaving that evening. They’ve done this even when my appointment is less than 20 minutes from my house. I have tons of friends who live closer, but many of them have legitimate reasons why they can’t help out. Before I figured this out, I would totally freak out when I thought I knew the absolute “right” person for the job, only to have them decline or just not respond to my requests for help.

Another facet of this lesson is that although it can be downright frightening to be honest about something you need – especially if it requires large amounts of resources like time, money, or commitment – it’s better to be forthright. Even if someone can’t solve the whole problem, they may be able to help you by breaking the ask down to smaller chunks and delegating it to a larger pool of people. It might be difficult for someone to drive to my house, then drive to a doctor’s appointment two hours away, take me home, and then go back to their house. Instead, maybe one person picks you up and drops you off; another gets you at the docs and takes you halfway home, where someone who normally makes that commute can take you the rest of the way. Or if you need to clean house because you’re having a party, instead of asking one person to come the day before and help you out, you can throw a “pre-party meet-and-clean” so your shy friends can both do something helpful and get to know a smaller group of people before the throngs show up.

Before I learned that, though, I would frequently ask not for what I needed, but for what I thought people wouldn’t be offended by when I asked. I had to learn the very hard way that although it might be easier to ask for someone to drop me off somewhere and I’ll just use my walker to get around; if I wake up that morning and my arms aren’t up to the walker, I’m totally screwed unless my friend is physically able to deal with the wheelchair and has the time to stick around for my whole appointment. Or if I needed money to cover some over-the-counter medical stuff, I would sit and agonize over what I “really needed” and what I could “live without” or “make due”. Usually, someone would find out that I was using duct tape to hold bandages on or stealing alcohol wipes from the doctor’s office. They’d sit me down and remind me that people generally want to help, because knowing that their friend is in a bad way makes them feel helpless. Giving them the opportunity to make a difference makes them feel like they’re really doing something.

I also had to learn that there are people who will tell you many times that you can call them anytime if you need anything, but they are only being polite. In fact, I think one of the reasons that chronically ill people usually dismiss vague offers of help like these is because we’ve learned that there’s a good chance they won’t come through. Not necessarily because they don’t care or don’t want to (although there are people who don’t), but because they don’t have the resources or ability to help in the ways you need. You just get to a point where you know asking is a waste of time, even if you think they might be a good choice for one reason or another.

8. If your friend has stopped inviting you to fun group things, it is sometimes okay to check in and ask why.

If you’re wracking your brain to remember what you might have done to offend someone, because all of a sudden you’re no longer “on the list”, it could very well be because you weren’t able to attend enough other events because you didn’t feel well. Or maybe because the place where the party is a fourth-floor walkup. Or maybe because they know you don’t drink and so inviting you to the bar seems mean. And honestly, sometimes they’re worried about reminding you about all the cool stuff your friends are doing that you can’t participate in anymore.

I tend to tell people that these days, I see an invite as a way of saying, “We want you to know you are wanted”. Even if it’s obvious that I can’t participate, just knowing that when they were thinking of the top 25 people they want to go skydiving with, you’re number 23. Sometimes, I use the opportunity to see if some sort of adaptation can be made so I’m included – my friend has an upcoming birthday bash, but her apartment is up several flights of stairs; I asked her if maybe a day-after brunch could happen in a wheelie-friendly restaurant. Done! Other times, people are being too cautious about what I can and can’t do; I might have to bring a chair and take lots of breaks, but I am able to go to the bonfire in the woods given enough time.

7. If you’re feeling left out of fun things, make fun things happen in places and ways you can handle.

There are lots of times when I’ve been home on a weekend night, mooning over all the cool things people on Facebook are claiming to do that I can’t for one reason or another. And it’s not always about health/ability; I might not have the money, or couldn’t find a ride, or required me to RSVP too far in advance. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me right away that the answer was to take charge and plan fun things that were tailored to my needs. Now that I live in a completely-accessible place (thank the Gods!), I have been hosting more stuff. Not only do I know the place is accessible, but if I need a quick breather or if I get a bout of nausea/vertigo/pain/etc, I can duck into my room for a little bit and let my guests entertain themselves. And if I need to check out of the festivities completely, it doesn’t mean everyone has to leave. I just elect someone to take over hosting duties and disappear into the Del Cave.

And if the fun things that I want to do are location specific (like going to the Drive In), I can do my homework to make sure the place is accessible. I can also set up somewhere to be the Temporary Del Cave, whether it be in the car, in a friend’s spare room, or even the handicap stall. I tend not to carpool, so if I need to check out early no one else is inconvenienced (except whomever’s driving). If food is going to be part of the fun, I can call ahead to see if the food on premises is Del-safe; if not, I can usually find a small thing to pick at and bring food to eat on the way home. Even if I am worried that I will have to cancel last minute, I can make sure that people are as invested in doing the fun thing as much as seeing Del at the fun thing, so if I have to back out I know people are still having fun.

Even when I’m at my sickest, I’ve still entertained guests. I just make sure they’re informed up front that I’m not doing well and they should bring things to entertain themselves, or maybe even make plans to go be a tourist or go shopping at the Outlet Mall, so I don’t feel like they’re sitting outside my bedroom door breathlessly waiting for me to feel social again. That way, we both get to spend some time together, and no one feels mislead or guilty if I need a nap. It doesn’t hurt that we have wi fi and an off-brand Roku device, as well as tons of odd books to read. The town we live in has a few cool things to do, and we’re pretty close to places like Gettysburg and Baltimore if you really want to get your tourist on.

6. Needing a lot of down time, alone, can be spiritually enriching.

At first, any time I had bodily-enforced down time, my gut reaction was distraction. What book can I read, what show can I watch, what silly online game can I get lost in? Those are still good stand-by distractions, but when I’m experiencing more down time than up time, it can feel like I’m wasting my life. It only emphasizes all the things I wish I could be doing, or things I expected myself to be doing at this age that have been replaced with this stupid reality I did not want nor asked for. I start slipping down that greased slope towards the maw of depression. Depression brings it’s own symptoms and challenges, and it complicates your health situation that way. I struggled a lot with depression last year, but what became the rope ladder that got me going in the right direction was finding purpose in my rest. I re-started my meditative practice. I found some great online videos of seated yoga, wherein the guide repeatedly tells you that if a pose or stretch is painful, to just breathe and wait for the next one. I began sitting in front of my altars and just letting my mind wander. I began writing for the sake of writing, instead of feeling pressured to cater every word towards a goal – a new post, a new class, a new ritual, etc. I started a personal diary.

The more I found the usefulness in stillness, the more I began to see bodily-enforced down time as something to look forward to. It let me choose to slow down, even if I didn’t have to, which helps keep me from overdoing it. Even if I’m away from home, being able to find a quiet place to sit by myself and just listen to the nature around me can help me enough so I don’t have to run home at the first sign of discomfort.

It also helped me clear out some cobwebs in my Godphone pipeline. Whodathunk it was easier to hear the Gods when you weren’t constantly doing things or thinking things? It also gave me the joy of feeling the presence of my Gods when I didn’t need them; to be able to sit and commune with them without any goal or purpose other than to be. It fills my heart with joy when I have the distinct pleasure of sharing my life with my Gods, even when all I can do is lay in bed and open myself to them. It has definitely strengthened my bond with Hel, who quite enjoys my company and a cup of tea from time to time.

Just finding ways that make stillness productive in its own way, while still being relaxing and stressless, makes me appreciate that my body reminds me to do it from time to time.

5. Be honest, with yourself and with others, about how much time you can spend with them, and how you want to spend that time.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I would rather have one incredibly long and windy phone call a month than seventy billion text messages a day. Not only do I know it is very likely I can find an hour to commit to said phone call, but it just feeds me better. I see text messages as a tool of necessity – I’ll be there in 20 minutes, Do you know BobJo’s phone number, Are you free for a phone call tomorrow, that sort of thing. This is also why I am rarely signed on to any online chat service. It feels too demanding – answer now or I will ask you sixty times if you’re still there!

It also means that if I’ve just spent a whole weekend with you in person, I can guarantee that I will spend the next week in lots of down time. I value in person time quite a bit, but I’m also content if it only happens once or twice a year. I understand that we all have busier lives now, and the convenience of immediate communication in McNugget sized bites is undeniable, but it just doesn’t feel right for me. I know this paints me as a luddite, and I don’t care. I care so much more about the quality of the time we spend together, doing things that we will remember and that matter to us, than trying to live up to demands of being always accessible and immediately responsive to all of the people who matter to me, all of the time. I am one of a few people I know who not only shuts off my phone from time to time, but I also leave it at home! Aghast, I know! (It may sound a bit crass, but now that both of my parents are dead, I no longer worry about there being an emergency I need to know about right away. I figure there’s nothing I can do about an emergency that can’t be done when I turn my phone back on, or check my email, etc.)

I know that I’ve been shit about answering email, but I’m making a real effort to get better about that. It’s not going to happen overnight, though. I get a lot of email, and the majority of it is the kind that implies a timely and personal response. I am also working on organizing my inbox so messages don’t fade into the abyss that is “the next page”, buried under reminders that Barnes and Noble is having a sale this week. I decided to focus on email because I enjoy exchanging written words with people; and email no longer comes with the expectation of an immediate response (unless it says so). I find that even if someone assumes everyone answers email in 24 hours or less, as long as I send them a thoughtful response that shows I took my time to think about what I wanted to say, I’m usually forgiven.

The point I’m trying to make here, though, is that no one has the right to dictate how you spend your time but you. Obviously, some kinds of relationships will want more time than others, but even then I consider quality over quantity.

4. “Go to the doctors” is not a solution of any sort.

Often, when I write about my symptoms, especially when I am worried about what they might mean, people tell me to see a doctor. On the outside, it makes sense. But the part that makes me want to pull my hair out is when people expect that a single doctor’s visit will somehow provide anything resembling answers. No matter how much information you bring with you, no matter if you write down your symptoms and questions beforehand, no matter if you’re self-educated about your condition or what tests might be necessary to figure out what’s going on, doctor’s appointments are rarely about answers. It only seems to apply if you’ve been seeing a doctor on a regular basis, have limited discussions to a certain subset of your symptoms, and have undergone tests and studies and what have you; then, maybe there might be some sort of resolution like surgery or treatment. 90% of my doctor’s appointments go exactly the same way; I come prepared to discuss my symptoms (including how they are limiting my ability to live life), and the doctor orders tests. The tests come back, and if I win the doctor lottery the first round of tests *might* show something treatable. Most of the time, it’s the beginning of a long road, where you are referred to several specialists, who all start from ground zero (because they don’t rely on prior doctor’s thoughts or opinions).

One of the biggest issues I’ve faced with the “go to the doctors” conundrum is along the way, someone will find an actual problem. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the more doctors you see, the higher the likelyhood that they will find something. This sounds like a positive thing, and in a way it is. It was good to know I had a giant abscess in my abdomen that needed to be removed. But it also meant that for the next ten months, it was the only thing I saw doctors for. Time and money being limited, it meant that I failed to follow up on tests from my neurologist, endocrinologist, and all the other specialists that weren’t related to the abscess. When I finally have the time to go back to these other specialists, I am always chastised for the lapse. Some tell me that I’m obviously not serious about finding treatment, and tell me to see another doctor.

On top of all of that, when I’m brutually honest with a doctor about the time issues involved, they act like they should be my only focus. I had been cleared for an uterine ablation three years ago (and I really need one), but the problem has always been that I have to schedule it four or more months in advance. By the time the surgery rolls around, I’m almost always in the hospital or about to be, for something completely unrelated. I have cancelled four ablation appointments so far. When I tell my OBGYN that the only way this will happen is if I can get it sooner, they act like I am asking for VIP treatment.

Another example: I saw a new neurologist last week, and I’m pretty excited about working with him. But I told him up front that I’m in a time where I can chase tests and make appointments and such, but that time is finite. I already know I have a new abscess growing in my abdomen, and there are a few other medical situations that are getting more serious. I explained to him one of the reasons I haven’t been able to get a diagnosis is because the doctor takes too much time to order and review tests and by then I have something more urgent to attend to. So what did he do? Schedule a test for a month from now, and a follow up two months from now. As I’m seeing my PCP this week about some stuff I am pretty sure will be determined to be more urgent, I might as well not bother.

Even with excellent insurance, there is a financial cost to all of this test chasing and multiple appointments too. I have to have money for gas, parking, and sometimes have to pay my driver. I frequently have to pay a fee so I can get copies of the results for other doctors (although this has gotten better since concentrating most of my specialists and my PCP through Johns Hopkins, since they have an electronic patient folder system where they can see what everyone else is doing). There are other kinds of costs, too, like spoons. I am worth absolutely nothing on a day when I have a doctor’s appointment, and doubly so if there some sort of test. Although Rave helps me a lot, I still spend time making the appointments, finding someone to take me, figuring out what I need to bring, if I need to fast or not eat certain foods, knowing and bringing what I need for comfort, etc. And none of that even covers the times I do all of this only to find out I can’t be seen, or if the machine won’t accomodate me, or if there’s no point to the appointment because the doctor hasn’t received the results yet. It’s ridiculous.

So yeah, when someone suggests I “go see the doctor”? I just laugh quietly to myself.

3. You are the only arbiter of what you put in your body/what you do with your body, and you don’t have to answer to anyone about it.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much shit I’ve been given about choosing to take opiates for pain management. Or about taking antidepressants (even though I take the kind I do because it also helps with nerve pain). Or about not eating healthy food every single minute of every day. Or about having an alcoholic drink (a single one) once every six months or so. Or about which supplements/vitamins/homeopathic remedies I should or should not be taking. Or people sending me articles about new medicines or treatments with the expectation that I will immediately talk to my doctor about it. And as those who have read the rules of this blog already know, I get tons and tons of people recommending alternative therapies, from yoga to acupuncture or reiki to magnets.

It can be difficult, because most of these people are legitimately concerned about your health and well being. They’re not trying to be obnoxious or naive. It is something they can do that makes them feel helpful. And oftentimes, they actually do know someone personally who has benefited from these choices in some way.

My decision has always been about quality of life over quantity of life. When I found myself breaking down into tears because the restrictive diet I agreed to try denied me the pleasure of having ice cream when I wanted it, (and this may sound juvenile but it is absolutely true) that I didn’t want to live if it meant I couldn’t gain what little comfort I can. I have been weaned off of opiates, and my quality of life went to zero (and doctors made the decision to put me back on, and chided me for agreeing to go off in the first place). I’ve tried to be open minded about alternative therapies, but especially now that I’m on a fixed income, I don’t have a ton of money I can invest in something that only has a small chance of making a difference. I can’t afford to shop in exclusive, trendy supermarkets in order to stick to a nutrition plan, especially if I don’t like what I do get to eat.

I make choices that don’t take my health into consideration. Everyone does. Whether it’s opting to forgo an exercise regimen, or getting tattoos when it may increase your chance of infection, or eating something knowing full well your body will hate you for it tomorrow,  or skipping a meal every day in order to fit into that killer dress this weekend, it’s not hard to find examples of people making personal choices about how they treat their bodies that we might not agree with. Just because I am chronically ill does not mean I surrender the same right. I have to pay the same piper everyone else does. A life that is devoid of pleasure, comfort, and the occasional indulgence is practically inhumane, in my honest opinion.

3. If all you talk/write about is being sick, then the only thing people will know about you is that you’re sick.

Being chronically ill or in chronic pain is a very lonely thing. It is full of complex emotions and challenging moments that one really needs social support to endure. It can be liberating to express your inner dialog – your fears, your frustrations, your sadness, your oddly funny moments – so people might better understand what it’s like. It can help when your words encourage others to share similar stories, or even just leave a “I feel that way too” comment on something you wrote in a moment of despair. I would never, ever discourage someone from finding ways to communicate their struggle that ultimately help them face their illness with more resolve.

But before I started my second blog, most of my friends and acquaintances used this blog as their sole source for keeping in touch with me. As I consider this a blog – a place where I have a general topic and all of my writing ties into that topic in some way – everything I shared related in some way to either my personal experiences being chronically ill, or my insights about chronic illness and spirituality and the intersection thereof. However, many of those friends thought this was more like a journal – an accounting of my day to day life experiences – they began to think that I was consumed by illness and did nothing but go to doctor’s appointments and sit at home in pain. They didn’t call or write or visit because they were afraid to impose themselves, what with me being sick and all. I even had some professional issues because of this blog, where people refused to hire me or offered me smaller contracts so as to not overtax me. I realized that the blog had become a real issue, and I had to do something to remind people that I am still a dynamic, passionate, and lively person who has a lot of life to live yet. One of the solutions was to start Sex, Gods, and Rock Starsand take some time to promote it and build a following of folks who were only reading this blog because it was my sole expression online. It has been a real challenge, as making sure I am writing enough to keep both projects worthwhile (and to fulfill the Purposes for both – including my spiritual agreements about them). Sometimes I write more here, and sometimes there, and sometimes neither site gets updated for a while. But in the end, it has helped tremendously in creating a more realistic image of who I am as a well rounded and vital person who happens to also have chronic pain/disabilities.

2. It takes time to accept that the likely hood of “getting better” is not that great; not only do you need to accept it, but those closest to you need to, too.

Obviously, this is not applicable to every chronically ill person in the whole world; you may have relapsing-remitting MS where there will be periods of time where you feel pretty healthy. Or in a year from now, scientists will make a big discovery about your illness and there may be better treatments or even a cure. It’s possible that after years of not knowing what was making you feel so poorly, the right doctor will stumble onto a diagnosis that has known treatments to alleviate your suffering.

But for me, I’ve radically accepted that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. At the same time, I have no delusions that it will take one thing to completely treat my suffering and sickness. Even if I got a diagnosis, the chances of it being something curable are pretty slim at this point – I’ve been tested for most of that stuff already. When those closest to me string their hopes on a someday cure, it makes me feel like they are not only ignoring the present but that they aren’t paying real attention to my journey thus far. There’s optimism, and there’s self-delusion. I’m optimistic that someday doctors will know why I feel sick/pain that may lead to more targeted treatments, but I also accept that if that happens some of those treatments are things I’m already doing (like pain management) and others will almost definitely take time before they work. I mean, knowing you have cancer doesn’t mean that in a week you’ll be completely cured.

I need people who can dig in and see the reality of today alongside me. I can really only deal with this in small chunks – maybe not quite “one day at a time”, but close – and if all you want to talk about is some nebulous future, I can’t relate to that at all. Deep inside of that optimism, too, there are crunchy bits of judgement (if you only took this more seriously, you’d already have a diagnosis/treatment) and denial (it’s not possible to have these symptoms and there be no singular cause). I have lost important people in my life because they failed to accept the reality of what is, rather than keep their eyes shut tight, hoping for the pipe dream of tomorrow.

It also subtly communicates that the lack of a panacea is my fault – I’m not choosing the right doctors, getting the right tests, chasing the right diagnoses, talking about the right symptoms, etc.

One of the relationships I had to end because of this kind of thinking was my therapist. I sought him out to be someone I could work through my feelings about my medical situation with, but by the fifth session he was so frustrated that my doctors had failed to diagnose my “obvious case of MS” that I had to ask him to stop yelling. The next few sessions comprised of me gently encouraging him to be patient with the process, and when I finally realized I had become his therapist, I ended the relationship.

1. Do whatever you have to do to survive. 

I mean this literally and figuratively. Even if you hate taking daily medication (or in my case, testing my blood sugar four times a day), if it makes your life an easier place to live, it’s worth it. If you are starting to hate or mistrust your doctor, get a new one. Ending relationships that only complicate your life and cause you more stress and pain may be difficult, but if it will eventually make it easier to get through the day, do it. Taking a break from seeing doctors because you need to save the money you usually use for co-pays in order to pay rent/buy food/pay bills can be a legitimate decision. Telling your doctor that a medication is on your insurance’s third tier (the most expensive one) and that you need a less expensive option is completely understandable. Finding plans or cards from pharmaceutical companies that will net you discounts on your meds might make your doctor sigh because OMG paperwork, but ignore their huffing and bring it anyway. Asking your friends to remind you of cool memories so you can read them when you’re in despair is not selfish or self-centered. Saying “no” to a doctor is always an option. So is “I want a second (or third, fourth, fifth) opinion”. Refusing to settle for a physician’s assistant and wanting to see the MD in your doc’s office makes sense if you’re medically complicated. Late night trips to the ER because you are in excruciating pain, or having a symptom that is scaring you (like chest pains or not being able to take a full breath) are not wasteful.

Don’t let anyone ever make you feel bad for making the best choices you could, given your resources and knowledge. 

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Home

June 11, 2013 at 2:06 am (Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing

Wind that makes the tall trees bend into leaning
Suddenly the snowflakes that fall have a meaning
Sprinklin’ the scene, makes it all clean

Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back there
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again

Suddenly my world has changed it’s face
But I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I’ve watched it growing

~”Home”, The Wiz

I’ve been spending a lot of time here in the Apartment at the End of the Universe, as my current health situation requires it. I’m still healing a wound from the inside out, in hopes that by doing so it will create scar tissue where I’ve been developing these abscesses. I’ve been attached to a machine called a Wound VAC, that basically sucks out the fluid from the wound, helping it heal faster and keeping any pockets from forming. I have a nurse who comes to my house three times a week to change the bandage and check the wound, and in order to receive that service I have to remain “homebound” – which has been explained to me as “a state in which leaving the home is very difficult or a major effort”. There’s the practical side of it – the nurse comes here three times a week, so I have to be here for those visits, and can’t make arrangements to get the same service somewhere else (which was the opposite of what I was told in the hospital, but whatever). As I didn’t know that the home nurse could be taken away if I am no longer considered “homebound”, I mentioned to her an upcoming weekend trip, and that’s when I learned that I can’t even discuss with her leaving the house on a regular basis for anything other than a family emergency or somesuch. So I’ve just been having a few “family emergencies” lately.

It is a hard thing for me to accept, this idea that I’ve been classified “housebound”. I mean, I am deeply grateful that the nurse comes here, rather than me having to make arrangements to be driven to the local wound care center three times a week. Right now, my only means of transportation during the “work day” is a woman I pay an hourly wage to drive me places, supported by a few incredibly awesome friends who drive long distances to take me to appointments when my driver cannot. I flat out could not afford to pay to go to the wound care center three times a week; they have a van they could pick me up in, but then I’d have to use either my walker or cane to get around as there would be no one to push my wheelchair around, and the layout of the center would mean a great deal of walking. Walking has become more and more difficult for me, as my legs have been both swollen and very painful to touch, much less walk on. There are days I use my walker just to get around my house, which isn’t very big.

I also have been adapting to living in Hagerstown, which is in western Maryland, not close to either where most of my friends live, or a major urban center. It’s about an hour and forty minutes to Baltimore, and two hours to DC. I don’t have any friends who live close enough or who have open enough schedules to get together to do anything fun; there’s not a whole lot going on in the general area that could be done between the time Rave gets home from work and we go to bed without a significant amount of driving. We really feel like the “…at the End of the Universe” part of our house’s name has turned out to be more true than even we originally thought. We can’t jaunt out to a Tuesday night BR class or a Frederick munch without significant planning. There’s not a whole lot for non-drinking weirdoes to do in Hagerstown outside of going out to eat, which we can’t really afford.

This happens to intersect with a lot of other pondering I’ve been doing about the concept of “home”. The last few weeks, since I’ve been trapped at home a lot (save for a couple of weekend events), I’ve been spending my solitude doing a lot of mental processing about the divorce. It sounds ridiculous, but even though I suspected something was amiss in our relationship for months before the shit hit the fan, I was completely unprepared for the reality of our separation. Added to that, I really expected how he and I would deal with our separation completely differently. He continually swore that he wanted to remain “friends”, that he would uphold his oath to be my “family”, but other than terse emails about logistics (mostly money), he refuses to talk to me at all. I’ve offered to meet him face to face, talk to him on the phone, or even trade emails, but he doesn’t even say “no”, he just refuses to respond. Any time a conversation turns from logistics to anything personal, he cuts off correspondence completely and/or only responds to the parts of the messages he wants to. I find it so ironic, because I would never have guessed that it would be me reaching out and trying to start the reconciliation conversations; I am pretty honest with people that I am very, very rarely (if ever) friendly with my exes. This is not the first time that my partner tells me that they want to be friends with their exes, but then when things end they actively ignore me and pretend I don’t exist unless they absolutely have to deal with it.

I was very hesitant to get married a second time. My first marriage was pretty much a huge disaster, where I suffered emotional and mental abuse, and the relationship-I-call-spousal-even-though-we-never-got-married wasn’t much different, although to be transparent I feel that relationship was bad for both of us in hindsight. I also constantly struggled with my ability to trust my STBX, knowing he had a history of cheating on his partner and not much relationship experience under his belt. But what happened to change my mind had nothing to do with love or romance (especially since neither of us are particularly romantic people). I really had begun to feel that he and I had created a family unit; my love for him was as much familial as it was erotic.

I have a complicated relationship with my birth family. I love my mother and my sister very much, and I talk to them on a semi-regular basis. But that’s about all I have in my corner – I never really met anyone from my father’s extended family, so I don’t have any relationships there, and my maternal family…well, “black sheep” doesn’t even begin to explain how they treat me. I mean, they try to be friendly when we’re forced to be at a family event together, but none of them call me or know anything about my day to day life at all. And this lack is something I have keenly felt for a long time – I have a whole composition notebook I filled with angsty prose and poetry back when I was 24 or so, most of which was directly about my lack of “home”.

One of the terrible things I had taken away from me when I went through my shamanic transition was that the town I grew up in, the only place that really had any nostalgic magic for me, I lost that connection with it. I used to go there from time to time and go to places I used to hang out at when I was a kid, and I would get a sense of deep love and belonging from the place. I could “fill my cup” of having a place that fed my need to have a place I knew intimately, a place where I could find my way around without a GPS or a map or Yelp or anything like that. Where I could speak to the land spirits without much difficulty, on a regular basis, and knew what kinds of offerings they liked and where to leave them. When I left NY for MD, it was like someone went back to my hometown and turned all the spirits away from me; I describe it as “tasting like ash”. It feels like it belongs to someone else, someone I used to know, but isn’t accessible anymore.

When I married Mike, we were also making a commitment to live in Maryland for at least 10 years. We had discussed it at length, considered buying a house and creating roots. Before then, we weren’t sure if we would go back to NY (since we were both natives there) or maybe hang out in MD for a few years, or what. No, we made the considered decision to created family-of-choice ties with our friends and lovers in Maryland. That’s why our wedding was less focused on us declaring love for each other, and much more focused on the concept of “creating a family”. For me, this was so incredibly important and emotionally satisfying, because it gave me something I had been looking for; a sense of “family”, and a sense of “home”.

This year, due to a lot of little and big reasons, I decided that I would start looking for new-to-me events to teach at, and maybe take a break from some events I have attended for many years. So far, it’s been pretty good; but tonight I’m dealing with an unexpected consequence of that decision. Due to the “housebound” stuff, as well as some other medical stuff going on, I am home on this night for the first time in at least seven years. This week is Free Spirit Gathering, a Pagan camping event in Northern Maryland that I have attended since 2003. This is one of those events that I don’t even contemplate when I make a year’s calendar; I just know I’m going to be there. The last few years, I’ve been the department head of their mobility and roving security department, as well as teaching a few classes. It was the first big event I attended after moving to Maryland. I know probably more than 50 people who attend the event, and most of them I consider to be friends, if not family-of-choice. I stay in the same cabin with my Leather family every year, and we all know which beds are for which people. It’s not even discussed or thought about, it just happens.

Over the past month, it became clearer and clearer that I couldn’t go, at least not for the week. I tried very, very hard to change that, because this depressive funk I’ve been stuck in would definitely benefit from being around my family of choice, being in a place/time that feels homey to me. I love the campground where this event takes place, and feel connected to it as many others do. And there is an energy that awakens the land during this particular event that I do not feel when I am there with other groups.

At the same time, many of the things that make the event feel homey were starting to fall apart. My partner Winter decided not to attend; this was the one event we attend together where we spend a lot of time just hanging around each other (rather than running from one thing to another). I understand why he decided not to go, but then we got into a very strange place in our relationship where we stopped talking. I’ve reached out to him and told him I would really like to talk, and, like the STBX, I just get silence. I decided that must mean he needs time to deal with this strangeness, so even though today is his birthday, I decided not to call even though I very, very much wanted to. I feel the lack of our connection deeply; not just the lack of communication, but like I do not matter to the Clan we both belong to – another family I have tried to make my own. I feel like decisions are made without even thinking to let me know, much less asking for my input. I don’t understand where I stand in the structure, so I have decided not to push the issue and just let things happen as they do. But I can’t say I’m happy about it.

My Bear Family, another family-of-choice I love dearly, has also declared that this year is the last that they’ll attend FSG. I completely understand this decision, as the FSG community has been very negative (and at times, downright nasty) to some of us, and it’s just best that we leave places where it’s clear we’re not wanted. However, there isn’t another event that we all attend en masse. In fact, we haven’t all been in the same place since the STBX left us. I don’t know what the future of our family will hold, as we used to have a clearer vision as to who we were and what we wanted to do, but we don’t spend enough social time together to talk about it or actually make anything happen. I’m hoping that maybe, if we mutually decide to skip FSG, that maybe we can all decide to go somewhere (an event or not) together once a year, if not more often, just so we can all hang out together.

So maybe you’re beginning to see why I feel so…divorced…from feeling like I’m at “home”. The place I live in is nice, I love this little house, but it feels so much like a “landing pad”. I don’t want to put down roots here, because I don’t like living so far away from any of my close friends or any semblance of a social life. I’ve been openly thinking about moving to Massachusetts, but I don’t know how I’m going to afford that, or deal with many of the issues that I’d have to settle before I could do that. I’d have to find a completely new medical support system. Granted, I do have a group of friends who live within a two hour radius of each other, so at the very least I wouldn’t feel quite so solitary in the sticks.

I remind myself that this is supposed to be a year of contemplation, and living in a place that feels temporary does contribute to that, as well as being forced to stay home more often. I’m just having a terrible time keeping “contemplation” from becoming “rumination”, where I start to think about all the things that have gone wrong in my life in the past two years and how I ended up where I am now. A lot of my current situation was not by choice at all – I did not choose to move to Hagerstown, it just sorta happened. I did not choose for my STBX to completely cut me out of my life. I did not choose to develop new illnesses that make leaving the house even more difficult than it was before. I did not choose to have my financial situation tank quite this badly. I don’t want to sound like I was just standing there while all these things happened to me, as though I had no control at all; I know that’s not true, but that’s another contemplation/rumination issue again.

So here’s the question, then: Am I meant to have a family? Or is this something I am too much of a monster/non-human to ever achieve? Is anywhere ever going to be “home”? Am I ever going to look at a mountain, a river, an open sky, a horizon and know that this particular place sings to me like no other? Am I ever going to collapse into a bed and really feel 100% comfortable to be myself in that space? What do I need to do to make these things happen? Is it worth it, if I think I don’t have much time left?

I have this (pretty standard) desire to die “at home”. I absolutely do not want to die in a hospital. I want to be somewhere I feel totally comfortable, where I feel loved by both the people and the vaettir of the place, where I can release my attachments in the safe knowledge that the love I feel will go with me to the other side. And what I’ve realized this past month, is that I don’t know where this place is, or who will eventually end up being in that circle. It’s tempting to look at the people I hold close right now and know they’ll be there, but if you asked me eight months ago, I would have given you a much, much different answer than I would today. Nothing is permanent, everything is possible. I’m starting to wonder if I should just embrace the idea of dying alone, so I don’t have to worry about all the drama and heartache that goes into finding these things. I’m so tired of it. I’ve put so much work into making so many families, only to have to leave them in ruins, or be asked to leave as they outgrow me, or find out they never took it as seriously as I did, or whatever. Maybe this is why when I reach out to my ancestral line, I get crickets. I belong to no family, I have no line, I have no home.

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Am I Lying?

May 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a difficult time. This past trip to Johns Hopkins has left me running on very low energy. There’s been a lot of sleeping, a lot of powering down, a lot of what I call “spoon banking”, times where I purposefully go into low energy mode because I have a lot of high energy commitments coming up, and I want to feel as good as I can when they happen. I’m looking at one of them this weekend, going to an event I’m kinda nervous about for a lot of reasons.

It’s been hard. The wound VAC experience hasn’t been as wonderful as no one told me it would. Basically, to be a little graphic, three times a week a nurse comes to my house to rip out foam that’s been stuck inside my wound, under negative pressure, which has partially adhesed to the wound. It hurts, each and every time, and it was only my mentioning that they used lidocaine when I was in the hospital that the nurse even thought of it.

I’ve started many blog posts, both for here and my other blog, but none of them have grown into anything worth posting. I usually only have a few paragraphs in me before I start to fade, or when all the drugs I’m on kick in and I get all fuzzy and it becomes very hard to focus. I know that people are interested in what’s been going on, have been waiting to hear how I’m feeling and how I’m recovering, but I don’t know how to make a meaningful post out of ‘Ow, sleepy, more ow, more sleepy.”

But even when I’m not actively blogging on a regular basis, I still do check in with WordPress. I read some of the other blogs I subscribe to. If I feel like I need a kick in the pants, sometimes I took at my stats. Mostly I just look at the numbers as they slowly decrease – and that makes sense, as less people read my blog when I’m not writing anything – but I also enjoy reading the search terms, the phrases that people put into search engines that lead them to my blog. Most of the time I find them either educational (I may actually write more about my experiences about both panniculectomies and hernia repairs, as many people come here looking for information about them), or humorous. My most favorite of all time is “If I eat a crow, will I get sick?”, which I assume lead the person to my post about going gluten free.

This week, however, I had a search term that made me ponder. I read it, and it made me think. It said, very simply, “Is Del Tashlin lying?” (I added the capitalization to my name.)

I am not as surprised as you might think I am. I have detractors, and I’ve written about them before. I’ve always been the kind of person that people either really like or really hate; very few people meet me and think, “eh, whatever”. I never delude myself into thinking that there aren’t people out there who have had extremely bad experiences at my hands, or reading my words, or being a part of my life. I know I’ve hurt people, I’ve alienated them, I’ve done or said something that made them think I’m a terrible person.

I honestly believe that’s true of just about anyone. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to find people who think a specific person is a terrible, awful human being, than it is to find someone to stand up for them and speak to their strengths.

When I first met the now STBX, I asked around about him. I didn’t know him very well, and we didn’t have any friends in common, so I was hoping to find someone I could trust who would calm my fears about dating someone so far outside of my social circle. And as the story goes, he had a few friends who I knew tangentially through others (gamer geek circles tend to overlap) who told me he was a stand-up fellow, and I decided to date him. He even admitted to me on our first real “date” that he had cheated on his first wife. I took that to mean that he was willing to be honest with me about both his strengths and his weaknesses, and that was attractive to me. I admire someone who is willing to offer up a full picture of who they are when you’re starting to get to know them. Usually, we’re too busy trying to put our best foot forward, to look as attractive as we can, in hopes of roping the suckers in. It meant a lot to me that he was so honest. It gave me hope.

And before we jump to the end of the story, there was definitely a middle. There was struggles and successes. I refuse to lock all of my good and uplifting memories of our relationship into a box and only focus on how things ended. I am doing everything within my power to continue to see him as I did in the beginning; someone who is neither all-bad or all-good, but a complicated person with as many successes as failures in his life.

In that vein, I’ve asked my lovers, family, and others close to me to keep their thoughts and feelings about the separation to themselves. I have asked them to be civil with him and his new family when they find themselves in social situations with them. Even though many of them are as hurt as I am, feel personally betrayed by the whole situation, because they bought into much of what they saw and felt about him as being not just a good partner for me, but a good person in general. But I think part of what makes that complicated, is that we all try hard to see our friends and family-of-choice as being generally good people. We try to downplay the parts of them that we don’t agree with, or aren’t as pretty or good or civil. How many times have you been in a relationship where you’ve done something to hide your partner’s lesser qualities? I think we’ve all been there, whether it was me explaining away the rampant anti-social behavior of my first husband, making excuses for the anti-semitism of another lover, the untreated alcoholism of yet someone else, etc. I don’t claim to be perfect, and I don’t date perfect people either.

In fact, when I fall in love with someone, I try as best I can to fall in love with their weaknesses, their imperfections, the things that most people would see as negative. I don’t go rooting around looking for them – I know they’ll show their face in good time – but when they become apparent, I open my heart even harder and tell myself that if I’m really in love with this person, I’m in love with all of them – even the parts that embarrass me, or that aren’t socially acceptable, or the parts they hate the most.

Sometimes this can be healing: I’ve loved many people’s bodies when the owner of that body couldn’t. I’ve loved people’s fight with their sexual orientation or gender identity. I’ve loved them as they made choices that would turn out to be bad for them, or bad for both of us. I strive to love beyond just the good parts, the hidden parts; to me, that’s the ground where real intimacy lies. When you can look into someone’s inner monsters and tell them they are loved.

How does any of this have to do with whether or not I’m a liar?

I used to be a really big liar. Growing up, lying was like breathing. I remember telling kids in the new school I found myself in, 4th grade, that I had a metal implant in my leg. Whenever I felt ignored or left out of something, I would go to one of them I had spun this tale to, and would say something like, “My ‘ML’ hurts!” and they would immediately leave whatever they were doing to spend time with me.

I find that story funny now, for somewhat obvious reasons. Now a days, I am terrified to talk about the depth and breadth of my disability, specifically for many of the reasons that I lied about it when I was 11. I don’t want people to be my friend out of pity. I don’t want people to stay away from me because my chronic illness makes being my friend/lover more difficult. I don’t want to shake the “I’m in the hospital” banner too often, lest it start to feel like a child crying “wolf”, and not being able to rally support when I really need it.

I also had to face a big challenge from Loki during my shamanic crisis. One of the things He demanded from me was that I never lie. I can bend the truth, I can embellish for storytelling purposes, I can avoid talking about something or omit details: some people see these things as equitable to outright lying. And maybe it is. But the promise I made was that I would never say something that was out-and-out untrue.

I am not perfect. When I am upset, especially when I am in an argument, I am apt to say whatever comes to mind in the moment, including things that are said merely to wound the person hearing them. Frequently, these things are untrue. In the moment, I find it extremely difficult to hold back from doing that; my passion takes over and my desire to hurt the person who is hurting me takes over. I hate it, it’s a part of me that I see as imperfect, a part of me I would hide from people if I could.

I sometimes know what I have to say in order to get a certain response. People who see me in the hospital sometimes comment that maybe the reason I run into problems with pain management is because I can look at a doctor and calmly tell them I’m in 9 out of 10 pain. I’m not crying, or rocking back and forth, or breaking down. I can be emotional about some things, but pain is no longer one of them. I deal with pain so often, almost always, that it is totally possible for me to truly be in excruciating pain and still have a calm demeanor. With these new bandage changes, I would be completely wrecked every other day if I let the pain take me to such an emotionally rendered place. I need to stay stoic so I can get up, go on living my life. If I let all the pain I feel all the time control my emotional state, I would very likely never get anything done ever, and would spend every single day in bed falling apart.

That’s part of what has made the last two weeks especially difficult for me. I’m not far from that. The bandage changes are Monday/Wednesday/Friday, first thing in the morning, and I find that at least for now, those days are basically “survival” days. I’m happy if I do more than just watch streaming video and use the bathroom those days – feeding myself is a victory. This weekend will be a test, to see if I can heal enough from Friday’s change that by Saturday, I can have a little fun and teach some classes. I’m totally up for the challenge, and I have to be: sometimes wound VAC treatments can last more than three or four months, and I have a very deep, very big wound. On the brighter side, I am showing some small signs of healing already, but it’s not going to be a short journey. I will be working in and through this for a long time, and I know that I am going to have to start making those days more productive if I’m going to get through this mentally.

I understand that I could choose to take more time off, to decide that this isn’t going to get any better and just close myself down until the wound is better. The problem is? I just did that, from August to February. I don’t want to do that anymore. I have a strong emotional and mental need to get out of the house, to get back to a semblance of a normal life, or as much of one as I can handle. I know I can’t be a superhero all the time, and that I will have to make choices all along the way to remind myself that I’m still not “well”, whatever that means these days. But I refuse to just sit in my house and feel sorry for myself and my pain for a year or longer. Seven months was enough.

I also accept that this is the new normal. I know a lot of people use the idea that “someday things will get better” as a way to keep their spirits up and hope alive. I have learned, through the last year’s experiences, that saying that to myself is lying. I struggled in my marriage to remind my spouse that there was no magical day coming when I would no longer have chronic pain/illness/disability, that there was no magic doctor out there waiting to give me a magic diagnosis that was going to fix everything. To me, where I am in the process, that sounds about as realistic as winning the lottery and marrying royalty and living in luxury for the rest of my life. I know that’s not my road, I know it in my bones, and I refuse to let anyone around me live in that illusion, so I have to start with myself.

I have to accept each moment as it is, not as I hope it could be, or how it might be someday. I have to accept that even if the wound VAC does what it’s supposed to and keep me from getting any more abscesses, it doesn’t mean that I won’t still have chronic pain, worsening diabetes, diminishing mobility, etc.

When I was in the hospital this last time, someone I’ve been kinda sorta flirting with came to see me. That was a big deal to me, because I still struggle with being completely open with potential lovers about the reality of my health situation. My STBX really made me gunshy about that; I don’t want to feel like I’ve sold someone a bad bill of goods by convincing them I am more healthy/painfree than I reall am, but at the same time, I don’t want them to think that every single day of being in a relationship with me will be about doctors and hospitals  and medical devices. It was hard for me to have my crush there, but it was also important. I needed to know that they understood that this is an integral part of my reality now; that for me, being in the hospital is a somewhat “normal” event, rather than the earmark of an emergency. I needed them to see what it’s like to wait for days as doctors try to figure out what they’re going to do, which is very unlike the image we get from television that doctors are obsessed with just your case and is putting all of their resources towards you until they have an answer. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait in the world of dating someone with a chronic illness.

It’s hard, because in some ways it’s like leading the conversation with your inner monsters. You don’t get the option of hiding it, or waiting until something happens to reveal what makes you less than perfect. From the moment you spend more than a few minutes with me, my imperfection is brutally honest with you. It’s there, in a way I can’t lie about.

Am I lying? Man, I wish I were. I wish I had the luxury of making all this shit up, when in actuality I’m in great health and having a wonderful time day to day. I wish my life was full of all the things I wish I could have, the things I expected I would be doing at this age. I wish I could go out tonight to a bar, have a few drinks, hang out with my friends, and go dancing. I wish I could create a world where this wasn’t my day to day existence, believe me.

But I will always have detractors. I will always have people, for whatever reason, who feel the need to either highlight the honest imperfections I have (which I don’t mind so much), or make up shit to make me look bad (I mind a bit more). But in the end, the only weapon I have to win something like that is to keep on keepin’ on, living my life as honestly as I can, and prove them wrong by just being as open and honest as I can.

So in case you Googled “Is Del Tashlin lying?”, the answer is yes. Every day, Del Tashlin is downplaying how much pain he is in. He is pretending to be totally okay with all of his chronic health problems, and that his disability never depresses him or makes him angry. He lies to himself, all the time. But to you? That’s up to you to decide. Google won’t know the answer.

 

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What about it?

February 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Living With Chronic Illness) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“What about Dying for a Diagnosis?” Winter asks, in that way good friends, or sometimes shamans, ask someone about something they’ve been overlooking for longer than they should have.

“I know, I know…I just don’t know what to say. ‘Things are going the way you’d expect’ doesn’t make for an interesting blog post,” I reply.

I’ve made several fairly popular and viral posts over at Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars lately, and have three or four posts sitting in my word processing program, unfinished. (I tend to jot down ideas as they come to me and then develop them in small segments until I reach a stride in my writing and finish a post. Sometimes, either possessed with a strong opinion or a timely matter, I will conceive and write an entire essay on the same day, but most of the time I work in starts and stops as spoons allow.) But none of them are for here; and there are more reasons than merely not having anything earth-shattering to say about my current roost in my medical journey.

And it’s not untrue: things have slowed down incredibly since the surgery. I assume weekly posts that entail mostly of “I’m still healing, still dealing with post-op pain, and the doctor visits have been pretty routine.” Other than one of the surgical drains developing a crack and having to be removed at home (by me, not knowing that there was a significant amount of tubing inside my body – I just knew that the drain was no longer holding suction (which is how it works) and the stitch had blown, so it was going to fall out eventually anyway) and a bit of swelling around the center of my scar that I plan on having checked out by the surgeon’s office sometime in the next week or two, there hasn’t been a lot of dramatic action in our hero’s story.

It’s also not entirely true, either. My chronic pain has shot through the roof, with more days finding me in bed doing the bare minimum I need to get through the day than days where I spontaneously decide to do something like catch a movie or go out on an errand. I was also doing something I call “spoon banking”, where when I have a commitment coming up that will require much more energy than normal, I will spend the week(s) leading up to it getting extra rest and being judicious about what I really need to do, in the theory that if I don’t use the energy now on less important things, I will have (a little?) extra when the time comes. I attended my first teaching gig/event in six months this past weekend, and I think that the practice paid off, as it really wasn’t until Sunday evening when I started “feeling it”.

It was good to get out like that. Not just because it was an important personal step in healing from the separation, but because too much introversion makes Dels depressed, and depression comes with its own tangible consequences in levels of pain, sleep disturbances, and mental health symptoms that only muddy the waters in terms of figuring out what the heck is wrong with me. It wasn’t easy, as it was one of those events where I felt like I was running from one thing to another, rather than leisurely enjoying my first large-scale test of my constitution by giving myself liberal amounts of rest between commitments. It’s a side-effect of being one of the programming director’s right hand men as well as his roommate; should something come up where he needed someone with skills I possessed to fill in, it’s hard not to turn to your lovers and say, “Um, hun, is there any way you could…” Of course, this is not how Winter tends to ask me to do stuff: it’s more like, “Dammit! I still can’t find someone to invoke Water or Fire at opening ritual! And it’s in two hours! What am I going to do?” And like most decent people, if there’s anything I can do to ease his stress and make him feel good, I’ll do it. So my “workload” at the event shimmied up from teaching two classes, to three, to also helping produce a ritual, to being in a second ritual, to judging a contest, to helping him find other people to fill in where I couldn’t, and so on.

But this entry is not about that. It’s about my avoiding this blog, and knowing damn well that Baphy only let me start Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars if I promised not to forget that this was my first and most important commitment. It doesn’t help that I was offered a book deal last week, a collection of some of my more spiritual blog entries, and when I submitted links from both SGRS and Dying for a Diagnosis, most of the DfaD essays were relegated to the category of “Cool Things Del Has Written”, which was to say “Not Really Meant for This Book”. Now, I’ll say that the publisher has offered me a few options, including providing formatting services should I want to put out a collection of blog entries that fit this category (but not carrying it under their watermark), and I find myself once again feeling like I may be neglecting this blog, not just in the writing sense, but also in the sense of it being considered part of my voice on the Internet (and beyond, when/if the book(s) come to manifest.

It’s also true that when I was praying about whether or not I should (or could) start the second blog, I bargained that whereas reading about my frustrations with the health care machine and/or my funeral arrangements and/or the spiritual revelations being chronically ill has given me weren’t exactly going to get me international stardom (or many blog subscribers – I had always assumed that the majority of DfaD’s readership was made up of people who already knew me, plus a smattering of other spiritual folk suffering from chronic conditions who found solace in what I had to say on the subject), SGRS was much more in my personal wheelhouse. I already have a reputation and/or following from my vocation as a kink and spirituality educator, as well as a shaman and spirit worker, and the bargain included the idea that once people found SGRS, they might wander over here to see what else I was writing. And sometimes that’s true; but I definitely have twice as many subscribers on SGRS than here. When a new post goes live here, I get something like 150 people clicking links on social media to see what’s up; on SGRS, it’s almost double that.

It’s not surprising; there are many more people interested in, well, sex, Gods, and rock stars than they are about death and dying. This blog is much more personal, and so it may not be of interest to those who don’t know me personally. But it doesn’t help when I use my essay-writing spoons on developing things for SGRS and only waiting until something major (good or bad) happens in my life to blurt out something on DfaD. I could very well be doing more research, thinking, and praying about the spirituality of illness, pain, death, and dying; which would, in turn, inspire me to write more essays here that aren’t so reliant on knowing the particulars of my medical situation or my history with terrible surgeons/lazy doctors/pain management techniques/etc. In fact, I felt bad when I saw that a small handful of people, upon seeing that I had a new blog with much snazzier and less agonizing essays on it, unsubscribed from reading this one in favor of the other. I’ve also seen a decline in how many people bother to click on a social media link to read what’s here, whereas more of them are inspired to give me a few moments of their Internet browsing time when I’m writing about spirit work or devotional practices.

It doesn’t erase the fact that I still don’t have a diagnosis, after almost eight years of suffering. That one of my primary spiritual identities is that of the Dying Man, the person who speaks for those who are much more aware of the limited time we have on this planet, and the messages we desperately wish those who patently ignore this impending deadline (ha! pun!) would pay attention to. I’ve had “The Five Top Regrets of the Dying” essay a friend emailed to me sitting in my bookmarks for probably a month now, meaning to write something about it for DfaD, but instead I’ve been spoonbanking to go to a spiritual kink event and enjoying the blush of a book deal.

What it does, is it lets me feel like there’s more to me than this. It’s something I’ve written and spoken about quite a lot; this fear that what I leave behind will only be linked to the fact that I’m chronically ill, when in fact I’m a much more multifaceted and vivacious person who just so happens to also be chronically ill. It lets me taste this feeling of being a rock star, even while I’m being pushed around in a wheelchair and sleeping rather than partying late into the night/early into the morning. It comforts me, and those around me, to know that all the information and experiences in my head will be passed on to the next generation, so they won’t find themselves having to rebuild a modern form of shamanism/ordeal mastery/spirit work/ritual creation/etc from the shreds of those who were too sick to take a moment and write it all down. One of my mentors and friends, Raven Kaldera, churns out book after book, not taking any time to promote one or the other for very long, because he too feels this need of getting all the information/experiences out there before his chronic illness takes him (or, since we both believe in the concept of being able to communicate after death, at least makes it harder for us to get the point across).

So here’s the skinny on what’s going on with me medically: I have noticed that I am losing weight at a scary rate again; not only the 40lb weight loss I had on Dec 28th, but more than that. And yes, I’ve gotten my handful of “you look great” compliments, and it’s hard to sift which ones mean “You look really good for someone who had major surgery a month ago” from those that are really saying “You look thinner, and thinner for you always means healthier, right?” I’m still wearing supportive garments over the surgical area, although now I do it more when I’m going to be super active or if my abdomen hurts, rather than every day. There’s a growing swelling around the center of my abdomen that is causing the scar to heal inverted (dipping inward rather than keloiding), and I’m going to see Dr. Sacks about that sometime very soon.

My chronic pain has been a devil to me, and my muscles have been locking up, misbehaving, or cramping painfully much more often than they did prior to surgery. My pain doctor was…I was going to say “less than thrilled”, but it was much more like “really pissed off”…at the drug combination I was given by Johns Hopkins (although I did mention that JH tried to contact his office many, many times, both to get his consult on what to give me, as well as to secure that it was okay to release me on that combo, to no avail). And it’s not helping as much as you’d think. I mean, it is helping with the surgical pain for the most part, but my chronic pain eclipses it. I’m very worried, because there are three tiers of pain management – think of it this way: there is “have some occasional Vicodin for when things get really bad, but mostly rely on NSAIDs to get through it”, there is “okay, here is some OxyContin, and have this other narcotic when things get really bad” (which is where I’m currently at), and then there’s “We need to start talking about permanent pain management options, like implants or lifelong narcotic plans”.  Basically, I’m at the place where if I get anything stronger to help with my pain, it will be considered going from tier 2 to tier 3, and there’s nothing above that. So if I accept going to tier 3 now, if things get worse as I age, or if I grow a tolerance to the tier 3 treatments, there’s nowhere else to turn but learning to accept a very painful reality. So there’s really nothing he can do to help manage it, except offer up lifestyle changes.

I am looking into getting a mobility scooter (y’know, rather than a Vespa) in hopes that by the summertime, where I do a lot of events at a local campground, I will be able to get around independently rather having to rely on golf carts to get around. (Renting a golf cart just for my own purposes is rather expensive, even just for a weekend, and hoping that one that is being used as the camp-wide “taxi” will get me around in a timely manner has been..less than optimal, as a teacher/presenter/busy person. There are also places a golf cart isn’t allowed to go, that I’m hoping I may be able to access on a personal scooter.) It will also mean that I won’t need someone to push me around unless wherever I’m going makes bringing a scooter with me impractical or impossible. This weekend really drove home how dependent I am when I’m using a manual wheelchair I can’t self-propel; twice I was trapped in my hotel room because the person I relied on to get me around was unable to do so. It wasn’t their fault – in one case, poor Rave had been running herself ragged and really just needed a nap, which was completely reasonable – but it is a somewhat terrifying feeling when you really want to go somewhere but you can’t do it because no one can help you. Having a scooter would make both the camping events easier, as well as the hotel ones, as the model I’m looking at is built to handle both. I just need to hope my insurance will cover it – which it probably will – and I can get it settled in time.

I’m also thinking about alternative forms of pain management, but it’s hard. I really feel that acupuncture didn’t help, and the therapist I was seeing is someone in whom I have full faith in their abilities. I’ve been told that sometimes you need to shop around to different “schools” of acupuncture (there are several different techniques), and maybe a different one would be more useful. I’d give my left arm to find a massage therapist, but as I’ve said earlier, current none will treat me because of the infection issues. (Which I still find incredible on a long-view basis – since all the ones I spoke to, I told I would just have to rely on amateurs who were willing to rub my muscles, and who wanted to learn better techniques so they could help, and they were fine with that, but they weren’t willing to work with me professionally – but I totally get it from a smaller-view, as it was a ‘cover your ass’ move on their part.) I’ve been working on learning some basic stretching exercises, and moving around a little bit each day with intent, in hopes that maybe something like chair-yoga or chi-gong might be useful in loosing up my spastic muscles. It’s just difficult because I’ve tried so many of these ideas before, in a variety of ways, and they’ve never done more than given me a few hours relief, if that.

Okay, I’m out of blogging spoons now. I’m half-slumped over and my hips hurt from sitting upright. But there, Winter and Baphy, I’ve written a Dying for a Diagnosis post. Now let’s just see if I can keep finding interesting things to say.

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He’ll Look Around the Room; He Won’t Tell You His Plan

January 1, 2013 at 1:59 am (Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Maybe it’s all the opiates, but I keep wanting to say something profound about how this year was full of upheavals for me and sound all poetic and mystical and intelligent. But really, I think it would just be rehashing stuff I’ve already said and done, and after surviving my ordeal I have very little desire to look backwards anymore – at least for now. I am choosing to look towards potentiality, towards the empty status update box, the (mostly) empty Google calendar, the blinking cursor at the beginning of the open Word document, and taking a nice deep breath.

A lot of my recent Underworld journey* put my feet on a very specific path, and the first step, 2013, is about being a year of contemplation – and really, things have all fell in line to make that very easy. I’m moving into a house where I will need much less help taking care of myself; both in that it is all on one floor and therefore I can make my own food, do my own laundry, and the like, but also because I will be living with my full time slave who receives such joy in her service. (And boy howdy does it make a difference when someone who you rely on for assistance does these things with an open and happy heart, rather than a resentful and lazy one.) I have much less teaching commitments, and I’m not really planning on chasing down more. (My plan is to submit to events I’ve never taught at before, just to see what’s out there, and possibly choose to ::gasp:: attend a few new things, too.) I have enough money to pay my bills and just a little extra to have a nice day now and again. I have the ability to focus on doing a little more work from home when I need more scratch, and a little less when I don’t.

Except for the all the follow up doctor’s appointments and the regular medical merry-go-round, I really don’t have a lot of reasons I have to leave the house. I mean, I love my friends and will want to see them from time to time, but there’s something to be said for the fact that we looked really hard to find something in the much more accessible city of Frederick, only to end up in the much more out-of-the-way city of Hagerstown. A casual trip to Baltimore or DC would be much more of a drive now than it was before, and we really only have a handful of friends who live less than 30 minutes away from H’town. On top of that, we found a tiny little complex that’s mostly meant for senior citizens (who were cool with us moving in when they found out I was disabled), so I expect our neighborhood to be quiet and respectful as well.

After the crazypants monkeyhorseplay that was 2012, the idea of spending a year in sacred contemplation sounds absolutely, well, divine to me. I know it scares some of my closer friends and lovers, because I do have a tendency to cocoon away from the world and not notice how long I’ve been gone until someone comes in and pulls me back out again. But I will have to find a balance, because I need this time of quiet, stress-free thinking and feeling if I am going to truly figure out what happened to me on Dec 28th.

I know many people are waiting with somewhat baited breath to hear about what happened to me and why it was decided that I was to return to the land of the living, but unfortunately it’s going to take me some time to piece it all together. Instead of something like having a dream, or even a living/waking experience, it was more like I came to in ICU with a head full of foggy memories that weren’t there before, even though I didn’t have the physical connection to those memories. I am fumbling at words here, and most of the examples or metaphors I would use might only serve to confuse the matter. For those of you who have had ecstatic trance experiences, or dissociative episodes, or perhaps even possessory experiences when you were the seat/horse, it kinda felt like that – like you’ve come back to your body, and you know it’s seen and done things that your consciousness wasn’t present for, but every so often something triggers a memory, a foreign thought, that feeling of being right on the tip of your tongue but not quite there.

Luckily, Rave was at my bedside and ready to jot down notes of the things I remembered in the immediate hereafter, when I was still in ICU and hadn’t yet fully realized what my brush with death was. I just had all these memories that both did and did not feel like they belonged to me. Like I said earlier, I’m grasping at words and failing quite a bit.

Over the next few days, I did some talking to various mystical types who were able to just listen to what I had to say and give their insight when they had any. I know when I get to the new place and set up my altar, some of the images will coalesce. When I get time to journal freely, and to get back into a meditative practice, and do all the shaman/spirit worker type things I have been putting off for a while now, it will all come into view.

So for now, I leave you with two thoughts based on my Journey:

1. Everything you do is a choice. You may feel like you have no say, like it’s the proper thing to do, that it is required of you, but in the end, the only things you have to do is “stay black and die!” (-Joe Clark, Lean on Me) That is, everything that is outside of your autonomic system is a choice. Spend a day being conscious of all your choices, every one. Do you always drink coffee that way, only because it was the way your mom drank coffee and so that made sense to you? Do you have to be someone’s girlfriend just because you slept with them last night? Do you know why you chose not to shower today, why you put your hair up, why you were mean to your coworker? Think about it, and become painfully aware of every single choice you make, and wonder what would happen if you fell out of step, made a different choice, went in a completely different direction?

2. Every time I go into surgery, I get a song stuck in my head. I have no idea why this was the song of my panniculectomy, but it was also heavily used as the background music for my Ordeal. It is “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. It is about school shootings, so that you’re trigger warning.

I like this second version a little better; and yes, I first heard this song on The Voice. Sue me.

 

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Things are Looking UP!

November 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I get comments sometimes that this blog has turned into one gripe after another about how negative my life is; a “bitch fest”, “too much focus on the negative, and not enough positive thinking”, etc. So I thought since I’m having a pretty red-letter day that I would take a moment to let all of you know some of the positive things that are going on in my life.

First and foremost, when I was seen for my post-hospital stay follow up, my surgery team jointly decided that there was no need for me to be seen again until my pre-surgery appointment on December 14th. This is great news, and basically turned 4 appointments into one. We decided to leave the drain in until surgery, both to reduce the number of appointments and also to keep the abscess from cultivating more ick before it’s surgically excised.

We’ve found a great service that we’re going to be using to control all the informational traffic around the surgery and aftermath; rather than litter social media and having multiple phone trees, we’re using Wiggio as our sole information stream. We chose Wiggio because it has a ton of features that will be useful for us, including the ability to send mass text messages, have a shared calendar to schedule visits, project folders to organize different things that I or Rave will need help with, and lots more. The way the Wiggio works, you need to send us an email at delandrave@gmail.com to request an invite; we did this so we can know everyone who is on the group and make sure people who are on there are more than just passively interested in what’s going on. There will be some posts made to social media, so if all you want to know is if I’m out of surgery or ICU, there will likely be posts to that effect eventually. On the other hand, if you want to be actively involved in helping Rave with things during my hospital stay, or want up-to-the-minute information on my situation, please feel free to ask us for an invite. If you’re not someone we already know, you may want to include some information as to how you know me and how you expect to be helpful, so we have some idea. Like I said, we want to make sure everyone who is on the Wiggio is someone we trust to be an active partner in what is happening.

In that vein, the house that we’ve been affectionately referring to as “The Squat” is on the market, and the arrangement was that we could stay here until it sells. Well, an offer has been made, and if the bank accepts it, we have 45 days to vacate the premises. But fortunately, we found a perfect place for us right in southeastern Frederick; Rave went to tour the house today and found it to be old and a little beat up, but otherwise totally awesome. It’s on a 41 acre horse farm, a four bedroom house with a master bedroom/kitchen/full bath all on the first floor. I love that we’ll have space for two guest rooms, which will double as a sewing room for Rave and an altar room for me. We should be getting an application tomorrow; we tried to make a deposit because the landlady said she’s had a LOT of interest, but she wouldn’t accept it. So for now, we just ask that you keep your everythings crossed that the application goes through with flying colors and we can solidify a place to live. It would mean a large burden off of both of our shoulders, so we can focus on the surgery without having to split that focus with the arduous task for finding a place to live.

And what’s made that all workable has been the incredibly wonderful response to our request for help. We’ve received so many packages from my Amazon wish list, and a blessed amount of financial assistance. We have enough to make a good deposit on the house, should we pass the application. However, we can always use more help, so if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, please take a look at my entry detailing the many ways you can be of assistance to us.

That’s not all! Rave went down to my old house to pick up some belongings and happened to find a piece of mail I have been waiting on for four months! Yes, that’s right, my name change has been approved, no court date needed! I am so incredibly pleased that my name is finally my own in all senses; I have been told by my Gods that I am *never* to change it again, no matter what. I finally have a name I chose for myself, one that represents who I am and how I move in the world. I took my long-time nickname and nom de plume, “Del”, as my first name. I kept the middle name my parents gave me, because it’s pretty awesome and also as a tie to my familial line, so it stays “Astra”. Finally, I was able to shed myself of my STBX’s last name (which I wasn’t thrilled about taking in the first place, but did it as a token of my love and devotion to him) and take my Clan’s name, something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time but my STBX was totally against. So my full legal name, which I am unafraid to post on the Internet, is Del Astra Tashlin.

Another great thing is that I am now on a course of drugs to finally treat my latent tuberculosis, and I haven’t had any withdrawal or other terrible side effects. I, by no means, am trying to say it’s been a walk in the park, especially combined with all the antibiotics and other meds I’m on, but it’s nothing like when I tried the Rifampin, twice, so I am so pleased that someday, I will be TB free.

So in all, things have been looking up here at The Squat. We’ve finally hit a streak of good news, tons of support from our friends and family, and are preparing for a surgery that, although it won’t heal *all* the problems I face, will significantly reduce my suffering (especially in terms of infections and repeated hernia surgeries) for some time. There is hope that while I’m in the hospital, they will be able to run a battery of tests to help discover why my immune system seems to be so suppressed/why I seem to get every infection that walks by, as well as possibly transfer my pain management to an office closer to where I live now (the one I currently see is now over three hours away!), and also get more Johns Hopkins doctors interested in my case so I can get some integrated care – where the ID doc knows what tests the neurologist ran, and the pain management doctor can talk to my surgeon about how to administer meds so my chronic *and* acute pain can be treated simultaneously, and the like. This is all very exciting, and a really good reason to live, which is the real thing I’ve been looking for these past four months.

Thank you to all the Gods and Spirits who have been with me patiently while I thrashed through my suffering! May they stay beside me through the trials ahead, but also be able to celebrate with me all the good things that have come into my life! Thank you to all the people who have done the same!

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Reality and Fear: Being Disabled and Separated

August 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm (Death and Dying, Disability, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

This entry is for Winter, who suggested I write something about this.

Being separated when you’re disabled is scary. I mean, being separated is pretty damn tough on anyone, even if they know or suspect that it isn’t permanent. I don’t mean to make myself look like a special snowflake, but I’m feeling like being separated when you entered into the marriage a fairly-healthy individual, and are leaving it chronically ill, presents its own buffet of new and interesting challenges.

My spouse supported me throughout most of the marriage. I made money from time to time, but in such small amounts that there’d be no way I could ever support myself in the real world without someone to pay the bills. I never took applying for disability seriously, mostly because he seemed pretty happy and willing to provide, and he made enough money that my lack of a steady income didn’t hurt us in any way. In hindsight, this was a giant mistake, and I knew it the whole time, but between feeling ill and being terrified of bureaucracy, I made it anyway.

 And here I am, now living at a friend’s place temporarily, trying to figure out how I’m going to afford the future. There’s no question I’m entitled to spousal support/alimony, but we seem to have very different views on what that looks like. I’ve started the lengthy SSDI process, but I figure I can’t even begin to dream about that money for at least a year if not longer. I’m seriously looking at some ways to make pocket change working from home, but in such a way that doesn’t threaten my chances with SSDI.

And it’s not only the money, although sometimes it feels that way because it’s the biggest monster peering out at me. I lost the one person who walked through my whole downward spiral with me – who knew me when I was relatively healthy, and saw all the incremental steps towards chronic illness. I lost a person who cared for me, in a physical sense, in that he massaged my legs when they hurt, and stayed with me in the hospital when I was sick, and who did kind things for me when I was unable to do them for myself. He made me feel as though love could actually be unconditional, at least for a time, as he tried very hard to make me feel bad about my failing health.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t think that my illness didn’t play into how things fell out. I needed him to see reality for what it was – to accept that there was no mythical day coming when I woke up and felt completely well again. I think he chose to start a new relationship behind my back because he needed an escape from ours – a place where he was the one taken care of, rather than doing the caring. I think he needed a pair of arms that made him feel masculine and virile, and for some reason I had been failing him on that account.

On my side, I was frustrated beyond belief that he couldn’t see how much living in one room day in and day out was affecting my mental health. No amount of me begging and pleading for him to find accessible housing – or even somewhere I could make due – encouraged him enough to take any real action. As recent as a few months ago, he was trying to convince me that if I could just stick it out for one more year, then we could buy a house rather than rent and wouldn’t that be better? And yet he didn’t understand when I told him no, that wouldn’t be better. I did want to own our own home, but it was a million times more important to me to live in a house where I could move around safely and without pain. When I walked out of that house, I knew for certain that he still doesn’t understand that.

 But enough about our shit. I want to talk about the challenges of being on my own, and how life is changing, now that I am separated.

 

  • I am terrified for my financial situation. There’s all the regular expenses that one has to deal with, like rent and food and utilities; on top of all that, things like health insurance and my many prescriptions weigh heavily on my mind. For now, I am still figuring things out, and hopefully with the help of an arbiter we can come to an equitable solution.

  • I am coping with the feeling of abandonment, especially during a time where my health has been more of an issue. I’ve both been in more pain and had less mobility, and also feel closer to an answer than I have in the past. Losing the one person who’s been with me since the beginning (and who has stated that they are no longer interested in hearing about anything medical going on, even emergency level things) has been very difficult for me to swallow.

  • Not being in the place where I have grown to feel most comfortable in, which has been my shelter from the world for a very long time, is challenging. It doesn’t help that where I’m staying now (with very open-hearted hosts, mind you) is much further away from all of my regular doctors. So what was once a ten minute trip to see my GP is now an hour long trek, and that’s if traffic is in our favor.

  • I am irrationally afraid that this will start some sort of chain reaction, where my other lovers will somehow come to the realization that being in a relationship with me is more difficult because I am ill. It also makes me fear that I will meet no one else who will ever want a spousal relationship with me, seeing as I am very damaged goods.

  • Through many difficult conversations, I have come to realize that living alone is not a real option for me. Thankfully, I happen to have someone in my life who just also happens to be looking to relocate, and so I was able to come to an arrangement with them about finding somewhere together. However, there’s a little part of me, the part that feels abandoned, that hates that I can’t just strike out on my own and prove that I can survive without him; and I fear that this new arrangement will only serve to highlight how very much I can’t stand on my own two feet. Many people have theorized that the reason he betrayed my trust is because he assumed I was physically incapable of leaving him, and I’m worried that’s in fact the case.

 

That’s about all I feel comfortable sharing with the blogosphere at the moment. Obviously, I have a lot of feelings about the situation in general, and I don’t want to lose the point here. I want to find a way to plumb the depths of this experience and find a way to express how it relates to being a disabled person, a person with a chronic illness, a person who has lost the partner they thought was going to walk the whole road towards death with them.

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Need vs Want

August 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm (Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a week since I made the decision that my marriage was functionally over. There’s been a whirlwind of questions since then; from him, my friends, and most of all from me. He is trying to convince me that he wants to fix things, that he is really committed to this relationship. I’ve also been looking into temporary options; it’s been hard sharing living space with him, as it seems any time we sit down to talk it turns into emotionally wrenching, snot nosed emotional venting. I can’t keep that up on a daily basis and maintain my sanity.

One of the big questions is about where I am going to live, both in the short and long term. I told him I would stay here for 30 days, but that’s quickly turning longer. I’m scheduled for surgery on Sept 19 and I have nowhere else to coalesce. I also don’t want to jump to any long-distance options because that means rebooting all my health care – finding new doctors, starting over, getting new scripts. This is a bad time for that, what with the neurologist actually making progress. So staying here is unfortunately probably my best option.

What makes it hardest for me is that I feel that one of the reasons he felt he could do what he did is because in his head, I can’t leave. My partners are very concerned about me living alone, even if the option of a PCA were to manifest. There would still be no one there to help me should I need to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, or if I need help getting around my house, or if I fall. But that concern gives him an undeniable advantage.

Do I need him? Has my health progressed to a point where being single would be detrimental to my health? There’s definitely a part of me that feels if I really am facing the downslope of my life, the better choice might be to swallow his indiscretion in exchange for companionship as I walk this road. But that’s a want, not a need. What are my needs, in term of day-to-day living?

As of now, I spend most days alone. He goes to work, and I hang around working on the computer or watching streaming video. I make phone calls and write. I rarely go out and do things, as most of my friends also have day jobs. I go to doctor’s appointments, and it’s the exception rather than the rule that he takes time off to go with me. (He sometimes does so I can have a ride, and once in a while if the appointment carries weight, he’ll go.)

But I admit that I also put some stuff off until he comes home, so I can have his assistance. I usually need help to change the sheets on my bed, to retrieve items from upstairs, and go to the store. I like having one person who has walked the whole experience with me, that I can discuss new developments with, so together we can process and brainstorm and make decisions. Sometimes, he makes sure I eat (between the nausea and the pain, sometimes I won’t eat without coaxing). He massages my legs when they are painful.

Once everything was out in the open, I told myself that I had to prove to him that I didn’t need him just because I am disabled. I had someone else go out and get enough food that I could feed myself with the equipment I have in my room. I had them bring down clothes from upstairs and do a load of laundry. I made sure my meds were up to date. I got rides to all of my upcoming medical appointments. I wanted a semblance of independance, a feeling as though when this ends, I will be okay.

It’s been interesting. He comes home from work and we share an awkward conversation because he’s used to me asking him to do stuff, to bring home dinner, to talk about my doctor’s appointments, but instead I tell him I’m okay and leave it at that. He keeps reminding me that if there is anything he can do for me, he’s willing. When I finally asked him to run me a small favor, he took it very seriously – in a fucked up way, it felt like giving an addict a hit.

I know he has serious White Knight syndrome: he’s very attracted to people who have an obvious need in their lives. Almost all the people he’s dated (including *that* one) have been people who suffer from challenges he’s been able to help with in some way. Whether they have serious health issues, or are in neglectful relationships, or just need a confidante to talk about their lives with, it makes him feel valued and cherished to be that person for them. I see it as clear as day.

What I’m afraid of is that is all that’s left for us. That the reason he chose to deceive, rather than leave, me, is because of some odd sense of obligation. No one wants to be someone else’s obligation, least of all me. I keep telling him it’s about choice: I want him to choose to be here because it’s the best option in his mind. I want him to desire me, to be the first person he wants to share his thoughts and dreams with. I want him to want me for all the unique things that make me awesome; I do not want him to want things to work out because I’m disabled and need someone to take care of me.

I want a husband, not a PCA.

For now, I’m moving forward. I had a sleep study last night in hopes that a better CPAP setting (or a BiPAP, for that matter) may help relieve some of the brain-fog I have. Also, good night’s sleep helps my pain tremendously, and in the past few months my sleep quality has decreased significantly. And my neurologist is also a sleep specialist, and this was one of those things he insisted I do before we move forward. I have several appointments next week, including meeting with the GP about getting new STI tests. (Not something I’m particularly happy about, but in light of what’s happened, and it’s about time anyway…) I continue to think deeply about want vs. need, and what I need moving forward; both in terms of taking care of myself physically due to the challenges I have, as well as emotionally and romantically.

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Sick/Not Sick: Illness is Not Identity

May 30, 2012 at 8:03 am (Chronic Pain, Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I am sick. 

It’s a factor in my every day life. I woke up this morning and the first thing that happened was that my arm twitched; that is, it moved about six inches in a swift jerk and then returned to its prior position. I sat up and felt the muscles in my legs cry out in pain. I pulled myself up and out of bed and took very hesitant, slow steps to the bathroom, and my sense of balance was off. I woke up feeling tired and unfocused. My joints hurt and if someone called me up today and invited me to go for a walk or something I’d turn them down.

It’s also something that a lot of people know about me. I blog about my illness, I talk about it, I work it into my classes when it’s appropriate. For some people, it’s the one thing they know about me. They may not remember where I’m from, or who my partners are, but they remember that I suffer from significant health challenges. I have friends that I won’t hear from for ages, but when I post that I’m in the hospital again, they will send me well wishes. It makes me feel like I only exist in their world when I need their prayer. Like being sick is the only time I matter.

The concept of Del-as-sick-person is pervasive. This year, I’ve had to fight with two different employers to keep them from cutting back my commitments because of my challenges with wellness; these situations happened even though I wasn’t the one who introduced the idea that I may need someone else to limit me, to make sure I’m not overcommitting myself. I have friends who offer help in ways that makes me raise my eyebrows: there are plenty of things I am fully capable of doing on my own, and it’s of the utmost importance to me that I continue to do them as much as possible.

Now, this is as much my fault as anyone else’s. I’m the one who decided to write a blog focused on disability and chronic illness, and since most of my social contact happens online, it’s the only thing many of my friends hear about my life. They don’t hear the stuff that isn’t germane to this blog, unless maybe they read my Facebook statuses from time to time. In an odd way, I havebecome Dying for a Diagnosis, to some.

This experience is not mine alone. Many people who suffer from a chronic illness or disability find that their identity in other people’s minds (and maybe even their own!) starts to meld with the illness. We become “that aunt with fibro” or “the next door neighbor with MS”. As if we didn’t have an illness, we’d be a faceless member of the human mob that no one notices. This becomes much more prominent when you start using mobility assistance; I know I became “that guy in the wheelchair” pretty damn fast once I started using it in public; and I don’t even use it all the time!

I am not sick.

There is so much about me that functions perfectly fine. Even though I have some cognitive challenges, I am still able to participate in heavy conversation. I am still able to write clearly and concisely. I have a wicked sense of humor. I am still able to discharge most of my shamanic duties/obligations. I can still get my freak on. I still attend rituals and participate as appropriate. There is a depth and breadth to human existence that I am still a full participant in. And I do my very best to make sure I dive into those human experiences with both feet and a whole body, not to surrender and hide and wait to die.

There are times, mind you, where this “diving” hurts like hell. But I live with a general refusal to allow my pain to dictate the sole terms of my life. In a similar fashion, I do not wish to be fully defined by the fact that my body doesn’t process “life” the same way someone who doesn’t suffer from chronic illness does. I don’t want my eulogy to be “Del was sick, Del suffered, and Del died.” I want there to be crazy stories of adventure – risks taken, challenges accepted, art created, words weaved, etc. I want to be known for all the things I pushed myself to do, all the wild and wonderful situations I created for myself. I want people to remember me as the person who was there for them, who walked next to them when they were scared, or alone, or confused, or seeking a new lot in life. I want people to think of me as being a good and whole Del, not a broken and mangled one.

I know it sounds all PC, but that to me is the difference between “disabled person” and “person with a disability”. One is a definition: “Del is a disabled person.”  It attempts to sum up all of my embodied experience in a single descriptor. However, “Del is a person who happens to be disabled”  states my personhood first and foremost. It’s like the sentence can go on from there, “…and who also plays the trumpet.” or ” and who gives the best advice” or “and also worships Loki”. There are lots of other details about who I am that have nothing to do with being sick.

It’s of vital importance that I set the precedent here. That I do not allow my illness to define me. I must remember to not lead with it, to add it as one more flavor in the Del stew. The fact that I struggle with my health is a pretty big proportional part of what I do with my time, but it is not a big part of who I am. There’s a world of difference.

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