Monday, December 10, 2018

Flare or Flu?

Shortly after Thanksgiving my 101-year-old grandmother choked on a piece of food. She came through surgery okay, but after a week or so there was fluid collecting around her lungs and her heart wasn't functioning properly. Like most do when one happens to be 101, her doctors recommended hospice. I haven't seen her since her 100th birthday party, which pretty much consisted of her sitting in her wheelchair while the rest of us ran around having a blast. So last week I decided to hop on a plane and head to Arizona for a 24-hour whirlwind visit with grandma.

It was a terrifying decision. I had to weigh the potential sabotage of my newly-reclaimed health against not seeing my grandmother one last time. Which one would be easier to live with? After hemming and hawing and considering all the potential outcomes, I decided to go. I also decided I was going for me. Not to meet expectations or because of guilt or out of a sense of obligation, but because I wanted to see my grandmother when she was hopefully still coherent enough to have a conversation with me. I convinced myself if I stayed really mellow and positive the whole time, and expected to get through it without a major backslide, it just might be possible.

By the time I got there grandma had a miraculous turnaround, which isn't anything she hasn't done before. Talk of hospice had gone by the wayside as she was efficiently discharged into a skilled nursing facility as a transitional step before going home. I also remembered, in pretty short order, my family is anything but mellow. Nevertheless, it was a good visit and I'm glad I went.

Unfortunately once I returned home, I only had one day to self-care before my husband's darn company holiday party. The one I was supposed to lose ten pounds in twelve days for, but because my week was spent preparing for, executing, and recovering from this trip instead of going to the gym and obsessing over how much I wasn't eating, it didn't even come close to happening. Whatever.

So yesterday it all caught up with me. As I was sitting here watching football, all I could focus on was the feeling of my symptoms coming to life. Yet I couldn't tell if it was a flare of the flu that was on my horizon. I prayed for a flare. Paralyzed with fear, all I could think about was how many germs I was exposed to while sitting in the hospital for two days, not to mention flying on an airplane. I remembered how I was doing really well in 2015 until I got the flu, and here I am three years later just starting to pick up the pieces. It's one of those things where time is the only way to tell. This morning I woke up feeling achy and sluggish but clearly without the flu. Hallelujah! It's a flare!

It's tough, this living sick thing. As much as I'm determined to put my health first, it's an afterthought to everyone else. For years it was an afterthought to me, and I didn't do very well because of it. But last week gives me hope. I'm caring less about what people expect from me, which while making me quite unpopular (what's new), has helped stabilize my illness exponentially. As a result I'm less emotional and more in control of my life, which has made me want to start living it again. Enough so that I was able to hop on a plane, visit my grandma, come home with a flare, and not experience one bit of resentment. That's progress.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Twelve-Day Challenge

I wish I could blame my thirty-five-pound weight gain solely on my sickness. For a long time I was too fatigued to empty the dishwasher and shower within five hours of each other. So naturally anything more aerobic than light stretching went by the wayside. Unfortunately for my sense of scapegoat, I only gained like eight pounds during the first year of my relapse. Although annoying, it seemed like a reasonable consequence to no longer being able to workout.

Then I turned forty. It wasn't so much a birthday. No, the week I hit the big 4-0 was more about damage control. Coincidentally, a friend gave me a bottle of delicious spiced rum as a gift. Well in order to cope with my misery over how sick I was and how bad I was failing at life, I proceeded to turn that one-time gift into a lifestyle. I started drinking way too much and eating bad as well. They seem to go hand in hand with me.

Somewhere along the line I graduated from spiced rum to bourbon. Fast food sneaked its way back into my lexicon. As my body got bigger, my clothes got bigger, and I got madder about the whole thing. Now it's been three years, to the month, since I gave up working out. And I'm like a rapidly expanding blimp over here, as evidenced by the size-large outfit I had to go buy Sunday night for my husband's company holiday party in two weeks. And that's with a girdle.

Yet I'm feeling physically better than I have in years. So my motivation to change is stuck in low-gear. Until Sunday night, that is. I've never accepted my larger size and have totally allowed it to impact my self-esteem. Showing up to the family Thanksgiving gathering was rough because I was ashamed by my appearance. In true paranoid fashion, felt like everyone spent the night whispering about how fat I'd gotten. Like anybody really cares.

So now I'm determined to lose ten pounds before the party next Friday. That gave me twelve days as of yesterday. It's a stupid and unhealthy goal, but I'm going to see what I can do. On Monday I did yoga and went to bed hungry. This morning I lost two ounces under a pound. So today, which was a harrowing and stressful day, I went to the gym when I wanted to go have a drink. And then I didn't even pour a stiff one when I eventually got home. It wasn't as much fun, but I'm teeming for another pound lost tomorrow. With ten days to go...

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A New Respect

In the past I've assumed an absurd amount of culpability for my sickness. Perhaps it started when I was told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with me, as far as my blood was concerned. So I needed to look elsewhere for the source of my extreme muscular pain and unrelenting fatigue. Symptoms so ridiculous, they rendered me unable to work.

Fast forward a decade. I'd changed my diet, was juicing vegetables, and started lifting weights. It was easy to assume the changes I'd made were responsible for the management of my illness. I was even healthy enough to get a part-time job. Then I got the flu and all that progress went away. Watching my life slip out of my hands, the life I'd so painfully fought to rebuild, was an undeniably catastrophic experience. 

After three years of hibernation, I'm starting to exist in the world again. Funny thing is, I have no clue what to attribute my upswing to. I'm eating like crap. I'm drinking way too much bourbon. And while I'm finally physically capable of doing so, of course I'm not exercising nearly enough. The only thing I am doing with a modicum of consistency is drinking fresh vegetable juice, yet even that effort is frequently half-assed. And while my general "health" isn't nearly as good as it was when I was lifting and eating quinoa every day, I feel better than I have in years. My energy is good, insomnia somewhat managed, pain present but not excruciating. And the mental psychosis this illness paralyzes me in is simply nonexistent.

What else can I do but surmise this son of a bitch, whatever it is, is an honest to goodness real disease? Can I finally let myself off the hook for even getting sick in the first place? I tried everything under the sun to get myself managed. Then I burnt out on all things healthy. These days, it's all I can do to take my daily dose of vitamins without gagging as I wash 'em down with Taco Bell. Yet now is when I start feeling better. Like loads better.

So I guess fibromyalgia has, thirteen years in, finally earned my respect. Based on what this last relapse taught me, whether I'm sick or healthy is ultimately out of my control. Something inside of me gets triggered. I can bitch and moan and whine and cry and throw a pity-party tantrum all I want, but it won't change a thing. I can eat vegan or paleo or keto or gluten-free to my heart's content, but diet is only a fraction of what it takes for me to get control of this illness.

This latest experience has shook me. Challenged everything I thought I knew about both my body and this disease. Everything I built my philosophy on about how to succeed while living with chronic illness has been flipped. Because what the last few years taught me is once that switch gets flipped, it takes time and a whole lot of self-care to get this thing settled down.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Saturday, November 17, 2018

She Didn't Come Home

I watched her for the better part of six months. Ever since I saw her in the elevator on that spring day and realized she was pregnant, I started paying attention. She lived on the same floor of my apartment building, two doors down. Yet we never spoke beyond the occasional head bob or mumbled hello. Nevertheless, like a fly on the wall, I watched.

I watched as her tummy grew round and husband doted over her. I listened to her chatter to our neighbors about how excited she was to be having her first child. I watched her family haul the abundance of a baby-shower blessing onto said elevator and up to our third-floor landing. I even rode that elevator to the ground with her, during her first moments of labor, as she fluttered around her husband and best friend in a freak-out of nerve-riddled happiness.

And then everything sat silent. I didn't see a single one of them for weeks. Eventually I saw her husband. He looked pale and withdrawn. A while later I saw a woman entering their apartment. Like a grandmother who'd been dealt a blow she couldn't quite comprehend, her face was forlorn and sad. Clueless as to what happened, but possessing no license to inquire, I was only left to surmise.

Then one day I saw her. My neighbor. She came home, broken and disheveled, without her baby. I went into my apartment and wept. How could I imagine anything but the worst? Yet slowly her world started to come to life again. People were coming and going from her domicile, and a smile seemed to have found her guest's faces.

Eventually the baby came home. He was tiny and beautiful. Ultimately the sound of a wailing child met my ears every time I passed by her threshold. I didn't know what she was dealing with concerning the health of her child. But to me, nobody more important than the stranger down the hall, those cries sounded like the joyful proclamation of faith answered: baby and mama had both come home.

She moved shortly thereafter, or I did, thereby severing my ability to Peeping Tom her life. Yet I still think about her every so often. I wonder how things turned out, how the child is doing. How did the story end for her? Was the trauma of early motherhood a temporary experience, or did it leave her life forever changed?

Thanks for joining, 
Leah

Friday, November 9, 2018

My Disabled Dog

In July my family went on vacation. On the first day, my thirteen-year-old Yorkie was injured. More precisely, he stopped walking on his left leg and started hopping around like a little bunny. So we took him to the vet and were informed he most likely had a partially torn knee ligament. Anti-inflammatory meds and rest were prescribed, with the hope that the ligament would resolve itself. It didn't. So on August 24th, he had major reconstructive knee surgery. Turns out in addition to the fully torn ligament, he also had a slew of genetic knee disorders his arthritis and advanced age had exacerbated.

I thought his recovery from that surgery was going to be the end of both of us. My little dog came home pissed. He stood in the barricaded living room, with the cone of shame surrounding his head, barking at me incessantly. I didn't sleep for three nights. On the fourth night I slept a little. Until I got up in the middle of the night, tripped over one of his barricades, and face planted into a wall. That resulted in a black eye that lasted for two weeks.

Nevertheless, his progress progressed and he started slowly but surely walking on his left leg again. Until two days after his first physical therapy session, when he started hopping and refused to put pressure on his left leg in any way, shape, or form.

Back to the surgeon's we went, where she informed us the band replacing his ligament had come loose and the surgery had to be done again. It may have been something the PT did, but there was no way to tell for sure. All I knew was my baby boy had to go through that horrible, exorbitantly expensive surgery again. It was the worst possible outcome I'd have given anything to avoid.

So on October 10th he had surgery #2. Luckily this time his recovery was but a fraction of the nightmare. In fact, he started walking, slow and stable, on his left leg the day after coming home from the hospital. He did that steadily until Monday. That's when, again, the left leg went up and my little bunny started to hop. Again.

I have completely altered my life to accommodate my dog, who is much more of a son, in order to rehab his disability. In an effort to eliminate his jumping, I got rid of my box springs and bed frame and invested in a low platform bed. I also got a huge coffee table that blocks his ability to jump up on the sofa. When we walk, three times a day, he spends three-quarters of it in a stroller. Each night he sleeps barricaded between pillows at my feet in order to prevent him from moving around. He's on more supplements to support his joints and ease his arthritic pain than I've ever taken for mine. There isn't a damn thing more I could have possibly done to ensure these surgeries stuck.

Mentally I'm preparing to have a permanently disabled dog. It's heartbreaking, especially considering how youthful, energetic, and vibrant my puppy still is. He's in perfect health, save for his damn left leg. Putting him through another major surgery, considering the success of the other two, is the last thing I'm willing to consider.

But I'm furious. Outraged. I feel duped. And I can't believe that after all this, my dog doesn't have use of his leg.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Monday, November 5, 2018

First Spark of Life

It was October of 2016. To say I was not doing well would be a monumental understatement. I was, in fact, losing it. Mind, body, and soul, I was sicker than I'd been in years. My CFS/ME was in full charge of my physical capabilities, major depression had taken over my mind, and I'd lost my faith in...everything.

My husband decided we needed to get away. He figured removing me from my environment might allow me to reset, gain some perspective, find some hope, who knows. All we both knew was I was in desperate need of serious help. But for people like me, there isn't any. Not from external forces. Any success I'd ever achieved in managing my chronic health issues came about because I found a resolve inside myself and fought like hell to get there.

We were driving up the 101 Highway toward Cambria. I was looking at Instagram. My husband had tagged me in a post. It was 2 side-by-side images of a former anorexic turned fitness competitor. He was impressed by her shocking transformation. She'd gone from a 68-pound girl who, quite frankly, hurt to look at and turned into to a sculpted and toned woman any chica I knew would've loved to look like. But it was a sentence in her caption that rocked my world:

"Life cannot compromise with death, the same way strength cannot compromise with defeat." That simple statement reminded me that I don't have the luxury of giving up. For while my fight for health may be insurmountable at times, it's still a fight I'm required to win if I want to stay alive.

My husband looked over and tears were streaming down my cheeks. For what he saw that inspired him to tag me was a girl who looked a lot better now than she did before. What I saw was a woman who had healed, in perhaps the most remarkable way imaginable. As a way to combat her eating disorder, she decided to embrace true health in every possible way: mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It'd be so nice to write about how I woke up on that fall day in 2016 and slowly but surely started to climb my way up. No, that took another year. I was severely sick, and it took quite a while longer before my physical illness settled down enough that I could begin to address what had happened to my life. Yet that day gave me the first spark that reminded me overcoming odds is not an impossibility. It's essential, in fact, if I want to continue to do this thing called living.

Thanks for joining,
Leah