Current Events and Forthcoming Appointments

Life goes on, as it is wont to do. Sun rises, sun sets; minutes, hours and then days past.

My life tends to blur at the edges. Without a set schedule, going to bed and then getting up whenever I want to is decidedly a luxury. The only downside of this arrangement is that I lose track of the days and am always vaguely amazed that the weekend has come around again. If it weren’t for our appointments, I would never know what day it was. I keep the date on my computer specifically so that I can determine day of the week as well as its numerical annotation for the month.

We have had relatively few appointments this past month. I went to the acupuncturist, my psychologist, and for some testing. (More on that later.) Beloved had a couple of extra appointments, but his main obligations are group therapy followed by his game night. He is the God of the dungeons, the Game Master (or Dungeon Master, depending on who you ask) for a group of 8-9 folks who gather to play his game of make believe. Everyone seems to be having a good time–and it’s really good for him. He needs the activity to give him something to do. He has to prepare the next session’s events during the week. He will print out the cards that show the items the group can find or buy. He has a book that has a rough sketch of each encounter, but he works with it, modifying and adding as needed. This game has also given him a circle of friends…which the gods know is not the easiest thing to do when finances are limited.

I continue to be very grateful for the people I interact and communicate with on Facebook. I belong to several groups and have Pages of my own that I share with the world at large. So between the groups and my own timeline, I stay pretty well up to date on current events and world happenings. Of course the major subject these days is the upcoming election. I will be so glad when it’s over. The anxiety of not knowing who will be the President is a real and bothersome thing for me. If the GOP candidate wins, Beloved and I are not in a position to ignore the consequences of his campaign promises. Any substantive change to taxes, Federally funded social services and the economy in general could be catastrophic for us. Like so many Americans, we live on the verge of poverty. We are both fortunate to have healthcare. Beloved is on Medicare because of his disability and I get mine from the Veteran’s Administration. Neither of us can live anything resembling a meaningful life without the medications we require. If they become too expensive for us, our quality of life will disintegrate. I have enough things to worry about without the political uproar…less than 40 days and the question will be answered. Now if I can just keep my head together.

I’m going to go through my various diagnoses–bear with me if you’ve seen this list before. I have as a major diagnosis, fibromyalgia; I also have degenerative arthritis specifically in my spine, in two main spots: the lumbar part (right where the waist twists, where you bend over, near the kidneys) and the worst example of this disease in the neck, where 2 of my discs have completely disappeared. I have some other minor physical issues: asthma, GERD, IBD. that sort of thing. I also have clinical depression and a stress-anxiety disorder. Both of them interfere with me almost more than the physical problems. Depression has been a pretty constant companion for years, although untreated until 4-5 years ago. The stress-anxiety disorder is rather new and really bothersome to me. I can no longer be among large groups, any place with a lot of noise, or lots of children running around being loud. It overloads my brain, so to speak–and I begin to freak out and cry. The irony of this is that I used to be out with large groups of people, with lots of noise and children running around and none of it bothered me “back then”.

I also tire easily, but that’s more or less to be expected with the decrease in activity and the pain and then the meds for the pain. But life isn’t all bad–it’s worse than it was, but I’d still rather be living this life than being alone. I can’t imagine being alive without Beloved being with me. I do think that part of my unexpected trip down the road of disability stems from that while I was still working, still being the only one paying my bills, I was pushing through signs of the upcoming storm–but when I found Beloved, a part of my mind said I could relax and not worry about the roof or the food and then, bingo!, there I was…busted and no warranty.

The VA has been amazing about taking care of me. I’m beyond grateful for them. I cannot imagine having to deal with Medicare (MediCal, they call it here) with all the things I have needed and the meds I take. I know that I would not be on morphine to deal with the pain–the public healthcare does not give out opiates. And I can’t imagine life without them.

So I think I mentioned in my last blog that I had gotten a new pain–and the X-rays verified an impingement in my right hip. I also think I told you that when I finished getting my neck MRI, the technician pulled me out of the machine and for some reason, I’m not sure what, the table dropped about 2-3 inches–and caught me right across the middle of the back. I think that has done something to that impinged hip, since the pain is worse since that day. I go see my PCP on Monday and we’ll talk about it. I’m due to have an MRI for my hip within this month, so we’ll be able to compare that to the X-rays and see if there is anything worse.

In the meantime, after my last visit to the doctor and based upon our discussion, I have been measured and trained for my new form of transportation. I am going into an electric wheelchair. I wanted the ease of a joystick rather than having to reach out and manage the mobility scooter. That got tiring and painful, using the parts of my body that hurt the most. I also decided that I’d rather save the energy that I currently use up walking in the house for other things, like being able to do more complicated cooking. And with the hip hurting, I am really sure that this is a good thing. I’m not upset about it and maybe I should be, but I have always figured I end up in a wheelchair.

The occupational therapist and I think the physical therapist–anyways, 2 people from the VA clinic came to the house last Thursday and brought a “training” wheelchair. I did a little driving around, learned how to manage the curb cuts (where a driveway goes out into the street) and seeing how I’d manage in the house. I could get into the bathroom, but not back out…not surprising considering its layout. They measured–our van’s back hatch, fully open. They got the numbers off of the crane lift I already have to ascertain the weight capacity of it. They measured me, to see how high my foot support had to be, which chair would work the best for my ass and back. Then we talked about accessories! I don’t know for sure what will or will not be added as extra, but I asked for a visibility flag, a backpack that fits on hooks behind me on the back of the chair (and the hooks, of course); if there’s a lap desk, I want one. I also got to pick out 2 colors–so I might get a purple wheelchair!!! If not, then it will be red. So the 2 therapists will fill out and submit the paperwork, and it begins its travels through approval and procurement–and then it will be built just for me. So I’m looking at about 2-3 months before it shows up. Of course I’m hoping for sooner rather than later, since I sure could be using it now. Until it arrives, I will limp around the house.

I have also gotten my shower bench! YAY! and a gel pad for the scooter (which will go in the wheelchair in its time) and a clothing assistance device—basically a dowel stick with a cup hook on one end and a larger hook on the other. I’m supposed to use it to help pull up pants, get sweaters on, and so forth. So far, I’ve used it to turn off or on the overhead light. LOL

I do admit that while I’m not unduly sad at going into the wheelchair, it is a reminder that not only am I already disabled, but that I’m not going to get better–and may get worse. A person in a wheelchair is very often not even seen, since they are below the average eye level. People treat the handicapped very differently than the able-bodied and not always in a good way. The folks around here are amazingly kind–but there is some personal chagrin when someone who is obviously in their 70’s asks me if they can help. It will be interesting–and educating–to see the difference between being in the mobility scooter and in a wheelchair, in how I am treated and what unimagined things may happen. But I do know that if there’s a real problem, it’s theirs and not mine. I do what I have to do, in order to have some semblance of a life. And if that means riding everywhere, then so be it.

Thank you for letting me share. Peace and blessings to you all!

Advertisements

Ongoing Life

It’s becoming harder and harder to see the good things in this world. I know they exist, and are definitely present in my own space. But the rest of the world? Seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. Politics, the economy, Orlando, Jo Cox…so much hate. If I wasn’t already clinically depressed, I would be after reading my FB page and seeing the stuff stream by. Thank the Maker for kitteh pictures!

I’m back on my anti-depressant and feeling better. Hovering around an aqua blue, I think. I continue to heal from my surgery (which could take up to a year or more before everything is back into the “original” place and totally healed). I don’t have a DVT but I do have a varicose vein. It’s not visible through the skin, but it’s a vein that is not working any more. I will have an in-office procedure to “kill” it, which will move the blood flow to veins that have better valves and will push the blood back up into my body, where it belongs.

I went to the neurologist last Monday and got a second shot in my neck. The first one kept me pain free for almost 7 months. I can live with this, for as many years as I can get away with it. I go back to the pain clinic next month to get the two shots, one in each side to deal with sciatica. Hooray for sedation procedures–I sleep through them and wake up to pain relief (within about 3-5 days; it’s not quite instantaneous).

My Beloved did the grocery shopping yesterday and brought me a big surprise–a Dungeness crab, all ready to eat. I tore that sucker up! Just a little pile of shells to put in the trash and I was a very happy, crab-stuffed kitteh! (The crab weighed almost 2 pounds whole. Even if half of it was shell, that would still mean 16 ounces of meat for me.) He also bought me some avocados.

I’m still coloring…branching out into “arty” pictures, like one that I did only in black and grey (and white, where I didn’t color). It keeps me occupied, keeps my mind active (what color next?) and keeps me off the streets. I’ve also continued to watch a lot of Netflix. It may not be much of a life, but it’s my life. And yes, I’m still playing Star Wars and killing things. I did get my hair cut yesterday for the first time in almost 2 years. Woo hoo! My oh so exciting life.

Beloved is a political beast and we have a fair number of discussions on the political uproar of the day. I’ll be so glad, so glad!, when November comes around and we’re done talking about the next President. (Although as he pointed out to me, the day after the election we’ll start talking about who will run in 2020.) The whole situation is pretty scary and the possibility for major chaos is great. Wonder what our nation will look like, this time next year?

The massacre in Orlando has hit me very hard. I identify as bisexual and have always been an advocate and voice for being allowed to love whomever you love, regardless of equipment. But the killings somehow drove it really home that the LGBTQ community IS my community, in a way that I had never known before. The amount of hate swirling around the event is overwhelming. The hate that caused the killing, and the hate of people who say that those killed somehow “deserved” to die. No one ever “deserved” to die. The fact that the club-goers were killed specifically for their sexual identity/orientation is heart-breaking and incomprehensible to me.

I am trying to think of a way, or of ways, to support and show support for all of my community, LGBTQ or otherwise. I try not to label anyone but rather, to accept and love all as my fellow beings on this little blue dot we call home. Life is hard enough without choosing to hate those around you. Hate and love are two sides of the same coin. Strong emotions, feelings that lead to all kinds of behaviors, motivation for our actions. If you truly stop hating, you don’t automatically love the ones you hated. If you loved someone, but have stopped loving them, you don’t hate them as a natural course. The opposite of hate AND love is apathy. You just don’t care what happens to them, what they do, and their life doesn’t impact yours at all.

I think hate requires far too much energy to keep it going–because it is not the normal, “default” setting of our emotions. I believe (and hope) that love is the more natural, the more primal and primary, setting. Love is a verb, an action, a feeling in motion. I love every single being on this planet. Now, before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me qualify that sentence. I love all–but I acknowledge that not every being is lovable, not every being behaves in a loving way. I can love the shooter in Orlando as a fellow being, feel sorrow at his obvious pain and anger. I also condemn, without hesitation, the actions he took.

It’s as I told my children when they were little: I love you. But I don’t love your actions/words (when they were being chastised). I separate the “who” of who someone is from the “what they do” actions. Maybe it’s all just a mind game, a fatuous way of trying to be noble or something… but it works for me. I start, try to start, from a default position of love whenever I am interacting with others. However, I do not have to accept cruel words or hurtful actions from anyone. It’s not that I can make them stop…just that I choose not to let it affect my life. (It will and does sometimes, but life is an ever-moving river and sometimes, you fall in. It’s the getting back out that matters.)

Solstice is coming next week and we’ll have the longest day…which will then immediately being shortening back into winter hours. Beloved’s sister, and her beloved, are coming to visit in a few weeks, which will be fun. Lots of eating out and going to the beach! And so my life goes on, in its mostly gentle pace…
Namaste!

Compassion for Others Begins With Compassion for Yourself

“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” ~~Thomas Merton

“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer.” ~~Rachel Joy Scott

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” ~~Albert Schweitzer

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~~Lao Tzu

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~~Brian Tracy

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.” ~~Robert Kiyosaki

I have tried, my entire life, to be compassionate to others; to offer a listening ear, a hug, or whatever else seems the appropriate response for their suffering and need. I would like to think that I have achieved this…but lately, I have realized that I never offer myself that same compassion. In my head, I speak to myself in ways that I would never dream of using to another person. I am my own worst critic: cold, judgmental, harsh, unfeeling and uncaring. Since I have become disabled, it seems to have gotten worst as I blame myself for not being able to do the things I always have, even though my debilitating pain is a valid reason for the inability to do them. I just don’t cut myself any slack.

I believe I have mentioned Toni Bernhard to you before. She is the author of three books aimed specifically for those of us who are chronically ill, who have the most valid reasons for not living “normally” because of our health. She consistently mentions self-compassion, being kind to yourself and forgiving yourself for not being able-bodied or doing the things “that need to be done”. She planted the seeds of learning how to be loving and compassionate in my head–but more importantly, in my heart. I follow the Tibetan Zen Buddhist path, with all of the selflessness that entails. It’s very easy for me to be kind to others, to do what I can to alleviate their pains. However, it had not occurred to me to turn this way of living inwards, to my own soul.

And so I have begun to incorporate this into my daily life, as best as any imperfect being can. I don’t always succeed, but that’s part of the joy of both self-compassion and the practice of mindfulness: you acknowledge the lack, then let it go and start again. I am learning to have the patience for myself that I have never had before, to acknowledge my limitations without judging and without blame. My limitations just “are”; they exist without any connection to something I did or didn’t do.

In making this a part of my daily routine, I have discovered that I am also losing the rather judgmental way I had been perceiving the strangers on the street. Specific example: I am embarrassed, even humiliated, that I do not shower as regularly as I used to (every other day),  nor do I shower as often as I need to. For someone who sits quietly most of the time, I sure can get stinky–and my hair gets greasy. Being showered and well groomed has always been important to me but I no longer have the ability to do it on anything approaching a regular basis. I simply lack the stamina and flexibility it takes to wash my hair or to bend and twist to wash my body. Some days, a shower is my greatest–and only–accomplishment. I think I had accepted this as just part of my life as a chronically ill person, but I was not self-compassionate about it.

Now when I see people on the street and they are less than my idea of groomed, I know from  my own experience that it’s not from a lack of caring about how they look but rather from not having the ability to do so. Eureka has a fairly large homeless population…so there’s a whole segment of our society that doesn’t have consistent access to a shower. I know that this does not mean they are somehow less of a person than someone who can. I just didn’t apply that mindset to myself.

It’s not just about showers. It’s about anything for which I can condemn myself. I have always said that I have a great deal of patience for everyone else, but never for me. With the onset of chronic illness, with symptoms that prevent me from holding a job, I am being forced to learn this patience for me and my (perceived) short comings. Our society makes a lot of perceptions about its members, some of them valid but I think mostly mistaken. Perceptions are judgments–and who am I to make judgments about others when I have enough issues of my own?

I am wrestling with more than not having a paycheck job. My mother raised me to be a Southern housewife, to take care of my husband, keeping house and cooking meals. Add to that cooking the fact that before I became this ill, I was working towards having my own business as a personal chef. I feel disappointment in myself because I cannot clean the house as I want to. I am particularly unhappy at my inability to make basic meals, never mind the “gourmet” dishes that I so enjoyed creating.

These feelings, while valid (because all feelings are), are neither useful nor self-compassionate. I acknowledge the concepts of using our minds to (help) heal ourselves but what I have cannot be “thought” away. I  have structural damage in my spine which cannot be easily remedied. Any sort of treatment that would work, could work only for a while; there’s a reason it’s called “degenerative” arthritis. I do believe that with mindfulness–but especially with compassion for my own being, I can reduce or relieve a great deal of my pain and various lesser ailments.

For example, I must acknowledge the limitations my body has now, not what it used to be able to do. If I refuse to accept the true state of my body, I may be able to “push through” and do the thing(s) I want to–but I will pay for it in greater pain and even less ability for a period of time exponentially larger than the amount of time those actions took. Simple facts are simple facts, and the truth is very simple: I am very limited as to what I can do now versus what I did *then*.

Another aspect for self-compassion that I need is to stop the self-deprecation. I forget something–a word that means just what I am trying to convey or a task that needs doing. Then I chastise myself for being “stupid”…when it just a state of being. I understand that being in pain means less attention to focus on anything other than that pain–but I am still working on allowing myself the compassion to not fret about it and certainly not to punish myself. I am attempting to retrain my mind such that I accept my state of being, at whatever point I may be, on any given day, just as a state of being, with no particular emotions tied to it–and certainly not negative emotions.

The only time we can be sure of is this moment…and this moment…and this moment, for all of the moments of our lives. Trying to live at any other time, past or future, means that we aren’t living NOW. NOW is all we truly can have, can experience in “real” time. To live in the now is very difficult sometimes, maybe more so for some people. All of us have connections to the past and hopes for the future but if we let those connections and hopes replace the moment, we are not living our lives to the fullest, nor being the person that has this moment. “Be here, right here, right now. Everything else is just a dream.”

What is so important about self-compassion? As with real and abiding love, we cannot be truly compassionate (or love) anyone else until we know that feeling for ourselves, within our minds and hearts. It needs to be a natural and inevitable part of each moment, something that we don’t need to think about, or have to do any specific ritual to bring about this behavior.  We “fake it until (we) make it”–and it only takes 21 days to establish a new habit. At first, it may seem contrived and even foolish to speak to ourselves with compassion. But if you will persevere and continue the practice of being kind to yourself, I believe you will find yourself both feeling happier as well as being a better person for that practice.

“If you believe it, you will act on it. If you continue to believe it, you will act on it again and again.” ~~Hugh Prather

Our minds create our reality–what we think the world is, it is to us. So if part of our world view includes negative ideas about who we are or what we are, we will continue to behave in ways that will support, even validate that view. We create a mindset that establishes a certain point of view and we can become locked into the view, no matter if it is actually true or not. A quote from Doug Adams says it all: “He was amazed at how different the world looked from a point three feet to the left.” That world view includes our own being; sometimes we need to step “three feet to the left” to get a new angle, a fresh perspective on what we thought we knew–even about ourselves.

If we are seeking to make our lives more fulfilled, if we want to create peace in our lives and to maintain the practice of loving-kindness and truly living in this moment, we must start from the point within ourselves that is the core of our being, the “who” of who we are. It is one thing to require real changes to ourselves because we are making poor choices in how we live–and quite another to berate ourselves for things beyond our control. Would you blame a person for being blind? Would you belittle someone for being elderly? Of course not. Then why would you–or do you–blame and belittle yourself for circumstances beyond your control?

And life is always about choices–and the magic of choices is that you can always choose a new way to go or do something. You are not bound to the past unless you CHOOSE to be; you are not endlessly longing for the future unless you CHOOSE to be such. Self-compassion is for those times when you are in pain (mental, physical, spiritually) and you want to lessen or alleviate that pain by understanding that all beings suffer and so the choice is the manner in which you deal with the problem.

Through compassion for our own state of being, we acknowledge our connection to the rest of the world, to everyone else around us. And we then understand that we are no more and no less than any other being–and compassion is the natural response for the human condition, even unto ourselves. The act of self-compassion opens us to a deeper relationship with those we meet. It encourages diversity and tolerance, mutual respect and a sincere honoring of the sacred being within each of us. And it begins with acknowledging our own sacred being, warts and all.

I close with this link: Self-Compassion from Toni Bernhard, in which she shares some thoughtful and inspiring quotes about self-compassion.

Namaste!

The Circle of Life (With a Disability)

Forget Area 51. Don’t worry about crop circles or anal probes. You need not look for UFO’s or any other-worldly phenomenon. The aliens are already among your population. You just haven’t recognized them.

What do they look like? Well, pretty much any person who has a disability is an alien. Anyone who cares for the disabled is maybe an alien, maybe human but definitely controlled by the alien for whom they care.

And I’m not completely joking when I say this. People who are disabled will get what I’m talking about instantly. Those who are fully able will not have a true understanding simply because they cannot begin to fathom a life lived within the confines of disability.

We’ve talked several times here in this blog about how life revolves around our individual disabilities. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, has to be passed through the disability filter before it can be acted upon or allowed. Some things seem obvious: a blind person cannot drive; a paraplegic cannot be a ballerina; an amputee cannot do the usual things a person with all their limbs are able to do. Medical science and technology have come a long way with a variety of devices or treatments that allow a semblance of “normal” to many obviously disabled people.

However. There is a hidden population of people with less obvious, maybe even invisible disabilities. My dear readers, you probably know pretty well what I am talking about. Diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia — and yes, it IS a disease, don’t let some ignorant person tell you differently, not even your own healthcare provider — diabetes, narcolepsy, the list goes on. And on. Far too long, far too many diseases that are disabling the people they affect.

And it’s this hidden group that has the hardest time trying to fit into “normal” society because the rest of the community fails to see the disability. They cannot accept it, cannot understand how it is just as debilitating as losing a limb, eyesight, or any other of the visible disabilities. These hidden folk also have the added burden of trying to continue to function in society as if they were not sick–and frequently paying a dear price for that masquerade.

We grow up thinking that we will always be able to do the things we want to, the things we must do, without any thought about how a myriad of daily activities can be accomplished when the body fails us. Pretty much everyone I know that has any disability goes through the stages of grief as described by Dr. Kubler-Ross: anger, depression, denial, bargaining and acceptance. She originally used these stages to describe the mental processes of someone dealing with death but they are just as applicable to those with disabilities. The catch is, someone with a disability will go through these stages more or less continuously their entire life. They can begin on any step, miss one (or more) to the next step…and just when they think they’ve found the final acceptance, something changes and the cycle begins again.

Anger. Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance.
Anger at just having this disability, or the group of symptoms that adds up to disability. Anger at your body failing you, anger at not being able to do the things you used to and by association, anger at not being able to make the most casual of social plans (let alone maintain a work schedule) without careful planning and fall back plans. Anger at the cost of disability: doctor visits, medications, peripheral assistance devices (like a scooter or a cane), time missed from work — if you’re even holding down a job. Anger, pure black blind rage, destructive and yet wholly justified. It will eat you alive if you don’t learn how to let go of it and not let it rule you.

Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger.
Wow. Depression is a BIG one. First, anger (see above) turned inwards, towards yourself, leads directly to depression. And depression is not the same as sadness. Or feeling blue. It’s not a monkey on your back…it’s more like a 300 pound gorilla. (Which is the average weight of a wild male gorilla–not some random number.) It’s a different shade of black than anger. It’s black like a tar pit, or the utter bleakness of lonely place on a cloudy night. It’s drowning in molasses: slow, messy but inevitably leading to death. It’s being totally ostracized from all society except those who are also disabled with depression. Yes, it is one of the invisible disabilities just by itself–but it frequently hitchhikes on the back of another disability.

Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger. Depression.
Denial…oh no, not me, uh-uh, no way no how. Can’t be about me, can’t be me. There’s the all too obvious denial of the disability, of the disease/s straight out. But there’s other, more subtle denials. One of my favorites is not accepting how truly limited I am, trying to do something and paying for it in pain the next day. There is always a price to denial and it’s usually a fairly expensive price. Denial is also the failure to explain to the people around you just what life with your disability is like, to help them understand the reality of your disability and to be compassionate when you cannot be who you used to be, B.D. (Before Disability)

Bargaining. Acceptance. Anger. Depression. Denial.
Bargaining is never a good choice when your collateral is…well, negligible. And bargaining directly with your disability is a sure way to lose it all. Bargaining can mean setting a limit on the restrictions…”Okay, I’ll take it easy, not lift and move all those boxes today…then I will go shopping with my friends tomorrow.” I have news for you, Sunshine. You can take it easy, rest up, trying to bank energy against a future activity…and still be too disabled to attend the function, do the task, whatever you were resting up for.

Acceptance.
It is a tremendous blessing to be in a place where you have truly accepted this life of being disabled. It’s a place where you do what your body permits, without pushing the limits. It’s the gentle refusal of an invitation to anything that would smash the limits of your disability and leave you in a state of panic, depression…or just so damned worn out that you must leave and you’ve only been there 30 minutes. Acceptance is the graceful (and grateful) allowing others to do for you things that you cannot do. And knowing that you will (always) be the one who receives and not the giver. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, we’ve been taught. Well, someone has to do the receiving or there’s no way to give. Acceptance is a balanced, spiritual, sacred–and even happy–state of mind. It only shows up minute by minute, so it’s worth watching for, to be in the state of acceptance whenever you can identify it.

Because…

Anger. Depression. Denial. Bargaining. Acceptance.

It’s a cycle, never-ending but always changing so that you can, perhaps, find ways to skip the first four, acknowledging them but not letting them take charge of your life, to be in the state of acceptance for as often as is possible for you.

Disabilities affect us at pretty much every level of our lives, from being able to dress ourselves through unimpaired functioning at work, through attending gatherings (which strengthen the tribal bonds). Like everyone else, we have lots of choices throughout our day…but ours generally are of a particularly mundane level. Can I take a shower? Can I go out? What do I want to eat, or what can I eat? Am I able to concentrate and focus enough to do a craft, read a book, surf the Interwebs? Can I load the dishwasher, sweep the floor, wipe the counters? We the disabled have to consciously make choices that most people make without a single thought of whether they will be able to do it…or not. Everything we do requires some amount of conscious thought, a directed choice process, always and always weighed against the limitations our disability has bestowed upon us, a cursed blessing that is part and parcel, sometimes an entirety, of the disease/s we suffer from. We do suffer…but we don’t have to stop living–even though some do make that choice, based on all that we have discussed above.

Making it personal now, I will tell you that it has been a bad week for me, state of mind-wise. I have been very depressed (not directly suicidal, but feeling hopeless and without any way out). It hasn’t helped that my body has been particularly achy…or right out painful. I am at the edges of where I can be with my Vicodin…but there’s been no word from the pain management team in San Francisco (our main medical center and not where I receive care) about my getting a Fentanyl (Duragesic) pain relief patch–3 days of level pain reduction and not the roller coaster I ride now. You know, take a pill, wait for it to work, it works then begins to fade out, take another pill, wait for it to work…ad infinitum.  So I am essentially not properly medicated for pain–which technically is against the law, a law I am so thankful for every day of my life.

The weather has been nice, which sort of helped. Beloved made it his mission to help me get a bit out of myself by taking me out to eat. You know, the requirement to dress, get out of the house, be around other people (which is not always a good idea for me, with my social anxiety problems). I can tell you that we’ve had some interesting things happen. Just yesterday, there was a horse, eating the dandelions from my lawn. I don’t live out in the country. I don’t own a horse. I was not aware of any stables nearby. But there it was, big as life (well, of course it would be) and nibbling my lawn. I got to pet Cooper and talk to his rider–and forgot to get a picture. Only in Eureka can you find a man walking his turkey, a horse eating your lawn, “Captain America” doing the walk of shame after a costume party the night before. It’s never boring, that’s for sure. At least, not outside of my own personal funk.

I would definitely describe myself as “at step 2: Depression”, thank you very much, Dr. Kubler-Ross. I am wallowing in the inescapable truth that I am even more limited than I admit to being. I resent the fact that I have to push every decision, every choice or possibility through the triple damned “disability filter” before I can do anything. I am grateful that breathing is NOT one of those choices and I hope that remains true.

Things are being accomplished. I had my intake appointment with my back-up, urgent or acute care doctor–my husband’s care provider and not part of the VA system. We’ve both got referrals out in the medical ether–me for cardiology and acupuncture, him for dermatology. He’s gotten his appointment with same, but not me. Yet. I am in the process of getting the medical notes from the independent evaluation back in March–the office will not, cannot issue those records directly to me. Seems the contract the doctor signed from my insurance company specifically forbids it. BUT they can be released either to my lawyer or my doctor. Guess what? Both of them are requesting the records. I want them in my records because they are part of the history of my disability. My lawyer wants them for further evidence as we move through the SSDI application maze. And either my lawyer or the VA will give me a copy because I want to know what the doctor found and wrote about–especially since it made the insurance company give me a “total disability” status.

I have also been the very grateful and very gleeful recipient of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (tablet). My father loves me a lot! It’s really good for watching movies or Kindle. I’m still getting used to the touch screen, but I must be successful because when I come back onto my laptop, I try to touchscreen things…and then get mad that they don’t move…duh. Uses a mouse, it does! I’m looking forward to a day that we feel up to it, and go to the coffee shop to spend some hours there. My Surface will go with me and I can cruise the Interwebs from there.

I’ve even been doing some cooking–got a recipe for Turmeric chicken that will be a more or less steady item on the menu. Same goes for a recipe of a Szechuan peppercorn marinade, really nommy on pork ribs (country style, no bones). Figured out how to make pumpkin-cranberry bread in my breadmaker. And that will also be repeated–as soon as I can clean out the pan for the breadmaker. We’ve gotten a replacement for the rice cooker we lost in the move and are cranking out rice pretty often–at least once a week, sometimes two.

So I’m blue at about the azure stage–not navy blue. But definitely more blue than pastel blue. And I know that eventually this will pass. I truly suspect a lot of it is based more on the anxiety of pain unrelieved and the “normal” anxiety of income and making the bills. I think that if I can get my pain better controlled, a lot of the side symptoms may leave. I hope.

So thank you for reading this, and I hope that you’re in a good place, a good state of mind.

Namaste!

 

Singing about the Home Health Aide

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks. We spend a lot of time sleeping or watching movies/TV on Netflix. We’re also eating poorly, since neither of us feels like making “real” food. My parents generously threw some money into our bank account, which we are using for some bills–and some eating out. Otherwise, we’d starve, I guess.

Last week I did something new. Well, it really is something old, but something I’ve not been doing for a while. A friend of mine pointed me to a website, “SingSnap.com”, which is essentially online karaoke–but you record your singing and share it with the community. He told me about it almost 7 or 8 years ago. At that time, I couldn’t get it to work right on my computer and I was busy doing other things, so I never really followed through on trying it out. (If you decide it would be fun, go there and look for “KnottyKitteh” to hear my recordings.)

I sang my first solo when I was 9 years old, singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”. I was actually singing long before that since my whole family is musical. I sang in high school, both in the usual “just sign up for the class” choir as well as the audition-only group. Once out of high school and on to the rest of my life, I sang all the time at home, and with a group when one was available. That mostly meant church choirs (since I had not ascended to Buddhism yet, lol). When I moved to Rochester NY, I started with the choir at the local Catholic church but due to personal pressures, withdrew from them. But I did get an unexpected benefit: I could walk into the church a little before the service and the organist and I would plan a solo for me to sing during Communion. I sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria” often; also did the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria”, and Franck’s “Panis Angelicus”.  It was also at this time that I discovered the Rochester Oratorio.

The Oratorio performs in a variety of venues, including the Eastman School of Music’s auditorium when they perform with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. They also sing at the Hochstein, various churches, and in government buildings for Christmas time. When I was with them, we also sang at the Geneva Opera House, in Geneva NY which is considered to be a premier opera house.

I have to tell you that I went to my audition, I sang for the maestro (and the pianist, and a couple of other people) and then awaited his decision. I will never forget what he told me that day: “With a voice like yours, you should be singing.”

And I did, until asthma pretty much removed the ability to commit to that kind of singing. But I still sang at home, I sang with my children (who both have excellent voices!). I tried singing at the UU church we attended in Manassas VA and struggled with the effort it took. I finally had to stop and I explained to the director that the effort to sing and the fact that I was obviously not singing up to what had been my level of achievement combined with the figurative slap to the face that I couldn’t sing like I had made the choir into something that I dreaded, rather than enjoyed.

And then, a few years later, I ended up where I am now: disabled, in pain and without much to sing about. I have not sung consistently in over 8 years. I miss it. The few times I try to sing, I realize that I cannot hit the notes, cannot sustain them…it isn’t worth it. But! Then I remembered this site and I went over to take a peek. I signed up, and have discovered that while I may not have the voice I used to, I still have a voice that I can use to sing. So almost every day, I spend a couple of hours singing and recording. I’ve discovered that I am focused enough what I’m doing, concentrating on the words and timing, that I don’t notice my pain. It totally distracts me from the anxiety and depression I’ve got. I am now having “music therapy”, and I tell you, if you like to sing, try this out. It won’t hurt. It might even help.


Turning back to the fibromyalgia part of my life. I’ve complained (on here) about my inability to take care of my self and my house. Taking a shower exhausts me for two days; washing the dishes means that I won’t have the energy to cook anything. So Beloved and I have applied for In Home Health Services (IHHS) to get an in-home care provider. It will be someone who can come and clean, take out the trash, bring up the laundry and groceries. (Side note: Beloved has fallen *hard* down the stairs [stepping off the 2nd step, thinking he’s on ground level. Oops] three times in the past 8 weeks. He’s become phobic, and who can blame him, about carrying things down, since that’s when it occurs.)

This care provider will also give me a shower and wash my hair–and truthfully, I have no nudity taboo, so that’s not a problem for me. This person will give Beloved foot care, which he needs because of the problem he has with the heels splitting. With our charming, 31 inch square, coffin — AHEM– I mean, shower stall, he cannot bend over to clean adequately from the knees down.

I feel stupid, having to have someone else do the things that I should be doing, that I have been doing all my life. I am grateful beyond words that I can have someone come and do it…but…so I’m doing a little bipolar dance about the topic.

We have applied and had the home inspection to determine if we are eligible, and how much we are eligible for. So the IHHS person came today to give us our orientation for getting a home health aide. They have approved about 22-ish hours per month, for each of us, so it’s about 45 hours per month or about 11 hours per week, which is totally awesome. It’s up to us to find and hire a care provider (or in our case, possibly two, more on that in a moment), then train them to do what we want. We will track and submit their actual time for the county to cut a paycheck.

We had already discussed that Beloved has a person in his group therapy who will clean houses. She is, in fact, the young lady who came several months ago to clean our bathroom and kitchen. I don’t remember if I told you. Anyway, we would like to offer her the chance to have a steady and set income. It would be at an hourly rate less than we paid her, but if she’s willing, I would be very relieved. I know that she will clean to my (my mother’s, if we’re going to tell the truth) standards. So then we would hire a second person to come do the personal care for Him and me.

I am hoping that having the basic tasks done, including my personal care, will allow me the energy and fortitude to do other, perhaps more enjoyable, things. I won’t have expended my small store of spoons (Spoon Story) and that would be an amazing, amazing thing. That possibility is what keeps me from trying to argue with someone that I don’t “really” need help, that I can do it (if I just stretch a day’s worth of chores across a week). And that is something worth being thankful for–and I am!


So there we are, caught up on events. Appointments this week include trips to the headshrinkers for both of us, then Beloved’s usual Friday funfest of group therapy followed by game group therapy.

My physical therapy was re-approved, so I’ve got a few days to do pool therapy; Beloved is also scheduled for his sessions through the middle of May. (My last swim session is on the same day — and time — as his re-evaluation, at which time he will request more physical therapy. Stupid arrangement…you get about a week’s worth of visits, with two evaluations (before and after) and then you get to wait some indeterminate amount of time while insurance decides if it will pay for more. And while you’re waiting? Any forward progress you might have made waves “bye-bye”. I can’t think of ANY injury or health issue that requires physical therapy that only needs 5-7 visits to be “healed”.)

Nothing major on the horizon, except of course for the decision about my LTD insurance benefits…fingers still crossed and noting that 2 weeks of what we hope is only 8 weeks has gone past.

Namaste!

Road Trip to Redding

I’m going to start with this link, please take the time to click it and read the article–it’s not long!
Start Where You Are

This was the comment I posted for that article:
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have my deepest gratitude for your words today. I need(ed) them so badly!
Obviously, I am a sufferer of chronic pain–and the limitations my various diagnoses have forced on me. I have also had my stress-anxiety disorder tested to its limits as I am *still* fighting for SSDI (4 years and counting; could be another 4-6 years) AND I am dealing with a Long Term Disability insurance company that has stopped benefits several times because they think I can and should go back to work.
So this article hit me hard…because I am preparing to be transported from Eureka to Redding (a 3 hour tour of the winding-est roads and mountain terrains I’ve seen since we drove up from Sacramento 17 months ago). The LTD insurance company wants an independent medical evaluation before making what will be an absolutely final decision about my case. Part of the reason they don’t want to pay (aside from the obvious of trying not to pay ANYONE) is that if they make the decision in my favor, it means they are then obliged to pay me until 2028, when I turn 67 and go onto Social Security (“retirement” rather than SSDI disability). If I do receive SSDI, the insurance company will pay the difference between SSDI and my LTD benefits–a not insignificant sum and one that would be totally wonderful to have as part of our limited and very set income. SSDI does not give much of a raise each year and there’s no bonuses or overtime available. Sigh.
As it is probably obvious, I am in “a state”, making sure that I have the medical documentation I have been asked to bring to the office–it’s only about 2 inches tall, not a very big pile of medical histories at all… I have the added stress of preparing for a night away from home, because I cannot sit for 3+ hours, see the doctor (scheduled time is 1 1/2 hours, plus any waiting I have to do) and then have to make the 3+ hours ride home. The insurance company is providing transportation and lodging (at the local casino! haha … because it’s cheaper than the Holiday Inn next to the doctor’s office) for me–and my 6 foot tall teddy bear, aka my husband. That’s really great and the casino hotel looks awesome–it’s very new, just about 1 year old. BUT. It means I have to pack a bag, even though it’s a small one–preparing adequate medications in travel containers, carrying our CPAP machines and the distilled water for them, and entertainment for the hours between the doctor’s visit (let’s say 5 pm) and being picked up to go home, 11 am Wednesday morning. My mobility scooter is going with us, so I have to remember the charging cord for it…
In other words, I am feeling rather overwhelmed and VERY anxious, stressed out about tomorrow.
We have errands today to finish up some preparations–we both need more nose spray (or we can’t breathe), he’s got meds to pick up, and we have to check our mailbox in the local UPS store to get meds for me, and hopefully, the San Francisco VA Medical Center has sent me the hard copy of ALL of my VA records, along with a CD of the imaging that’s been done–which is totally necessary, as it shows the degenerative arthritis in my spine and the bulging or missing discs in various sections of same.
It’s sort of ironic that the medical thing that will probably get me declared “truly” disabled is the sad condition of my spine, and not the fibromyalgia that covers every other symptom. But I’ll take what I can get.
Reading your article as I said truly gobsmacked me–and I truly needed that. “Start where you are” is great for the daily life (and as a Buddhist myself, I try really hard to find that kind of living in the moment mindset) but I especially needed to hear that today, for today and for tomorrow. I think that once I’m finished at the doctor’s I will calm down a great deal, because my part will be done, there’s nothing more I can do to affect the company’s decision–and with this, they have a very limited time to give me the answer, so the endless waiting and hoping will no longer be endless. Regardless of the decision, the “not knowing” will be over and that in itself is a great removal of anxiety and stress.
I am grateful to belong to this community–it sucks that we all suffer something beyond “normal” life, but at least we have each other! And I appreciate your letting me post this wall of text to say sort of out loud what’s going on in my head–which helps me deal with it. Knowing that I’ve now got a lot of sympathetic and kind thoughts for me happening in the cosmos of chronic illness sufferers…means more than I can say. Thank you, all of you–and especially Toni for giving me the reminder that I can face anything, particularly stressful or anxiety-producing, with the mindset of “Start where you are” and then “find workarounds”. (PS–Like Toni, I am right-handed. I am becoming more and more ambidextrous as I have to use that left hand/arm more often. It’s not a bad trade-off.)
Blessings, peace and joy to you all. All we truly have and can live in is this moment, right here–moment by moment.
Namaste!”

Saves me from having to retype everything and lets you get informed about the way too exciting events I’m dealing with this week. I’ll update this when I can after I see the doctor. In the meantime, cross your fingers and help me hope for, wish for, a positive decision that will immediately decrease not only my gargantuan stress/anxiety level, but also Beloved’s. It means living within OUR means and not within the generosity (very much appreciated but also a bit… dependent as a child and no longer an adult…) of his parents. It means the difference between being able to get the bare necessities and being able to afford some of our “wants” without having to choose between them and eating. And we would get that anxiety not only alleviated, but smashed because the insurance company owes me 13 months of pay if they approve it–and then the monthly checks begin. I try not to think about that chunk o’ money because we might not get it…and I don’t want my hopes up that high!

So that’s where I am, we are. I can use all the good juju, prayers, good thoughts, positive energy, candles lit, whatever it takes to make the situation have a good and successful end. Thank you and watch for the updates, which will, all the gods willing, be happy ones!

Peace out!

(Part Two)

A Family Vacation, Complete With Mooses and Other Excitements

Starting before the vacation: I took Beloved to the hospital on Friday, Feb 28 with a fever of 103 degrees, chills, vomiting and pain. Before he was done, he had been given about 14 litres of fluids (IV), pain meds (IV) and super antibiotics (IV). He figures he got stabbed with needles about 40 times in the 5 1/2 days he was there. If he wasn’t needle-phobic before (and he was), he is absolutely needle-phobic now. Doctor’s diagnoses: strep throat and cellulitis. (Medical note: cellulitis is an infection (“-itis”) in the cellulite layer of the skin. It has nothing to do with weight as both fat and skinny people can get it. It hurts like hell.)

We were concerned that he would not be out of the hospital before Thursday, Mar 5, but he managed to come home on Wednesday. So he got a better night’s sleep in his own bed before we began the Grand Tour of Local Restaurants.

Because of our disabilities, and especially with him just out of the hospital, we can’t really “do” all the tourist-y things when people come to visit. We can’t walk up the Avenue of the Redwoods, go into most of the shops in Old Town Eureka, or any other activity that requires standing/walking for extended periods of time. (And for us, extended is pretty much anything over about 15 minutes. Sigh.) But we bygods make sure that our visitors are well fed, and in a wide variety of cuisines.

So Beloved’s parents (hereafter referred to as “MIL”, Mother-in-love, and “FIL”, Father-in-love) landed in Sacramento on Wednesday the 4th, spent the night there and then drove up to Eureka on the 5th. They got in about 5, giving us just enough time to get them settled in the hotel and then taking them out to the beach for the sunset. (A tradition for us, since the first thing we did once we got settled in the hotel upon *our* arrival was to go the beach for the sunset.) And then we took them to the same place that was our first introduction to Eureka, Annie’s Cambodian Restaurant. Amazing and good, not quite Vietnamese, not Thai, not Laotion, but a sort of blend of all three. Annie’s crab puffs are the best we’ve ever had. Of course we also established the sharing all around of every dish, something done pretty much everywhere we ate in the 9 days they were here.

Because MIL and FIL had a car, they could do some sight-seeing on their own and they did so enthusiastically. They drove north to the Avenue of the Redwoods; walked up the hill and back down again, went on the skyway tram to view the trees from above. They were going to drive on up to Oregon (a short jaunt) but the fog came rolling in so fast and so thick that the decision was made to come back to Eureka. What’s the point of going anywhere when you can’t see anything?

They did a lot of poking around in Eureka on their own. When we joined them (mostly at meal times) we rode with them, rather than taking two vehicles everywhere. So MIL, who does the driving, got a good feel for the traffic and how the streets are laid out. That’s a really good thing because they are considering moving out here, to be near to us and to get out of the hell most people refer to as “Northern Virginia”, or NoVA for short.

EurekaSailorWe got to see the old sailor sculpture in the harbor, something I had only seen pictures of before. He is much bigger than I was imagining and I had Beloved take some photos so that I can attempt to paint or draw him. I’m sure that he’s been recreated in pretty much every medium, but I haven’t done it yet so I’m not worried about other people’s paintings or sketches of him. Driving up to the sailor took us through some protected wildlife lands, actually fenced off with signs about not crossing over the fence. We saw a pair of elk, which my MIL laughingly refers to as “mooses”. So now we’ve got a new word for when we drive out looking for wildlife… we are looking for those mooses!

Like I said, we began with Cambodian food. We also fed them Chinese (two different restaurants, one which does “comfort” Chinese, the sort you’d be used to if you ate Chinese food in the 1970’s; the other is familiar but doesn’t fall under the “comfort” heading. They also do sushi, which we made his parents try…and it was not something they really wanted. That removed the two sushi restaurants off of our list.); we fed them Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Greek, German, GREAT steaks, “American Diner”, pizza and one place for organic breakfasts and another for incredible bagels. We also showed them our donut shop which is run by Asians so you can get an order of Chinese food and then get a couple of donuts to go with it. They are, by far, the very best donuts I have had in a very long time. Dunkin’ Donuts got NOTHING on “Happy Donuts”.

We did show them some mundane things, like Costco, Walgreens, RiteAid and our Co-Op grocery store. If they move here, they’ll want to know where things of that nature are located. We also did some looking online at some rentals, to help them understand that with the enormous decrease in the cost of living (by coming to the West Coast, specifically Eureka), they can afford a 3 bedroom house for significantly less than they are paying for a 2 bedroom apartment in NoVA. And by significant, I mean anywhere between 4 and 6 hundred dollars per month less. We were not subtle in our hard sell, trying to encourage them to make the decision to move here, even though our friend had suggested subtlety. We don’t do subtle.

We were glad to see them–it had been almost a 1 1/2 years since we were last together, right before we moved. We had a really good time with them (and we ate really well!) but the physical toll was tremendous for both of us. I figure a healing and restoration time of at least 3-4 days, possibly longer. Fortunately, we have a minimum of appointments this week.

We had actually started our physical therapy (pool therapy), but with Beloved having a bazillion holes in his skin, I cancelled our sessions for last week and this week. We are scheduled to return next Monday, and we’ll see if we can make it. I need to call my psychologist and get an appointment with him, since I had to cancel the last one. Beloved sees his PCP, partly as a follow up to his last appointment with her, but also as a follow up from being in the hospital. He also has group therapy and his gaming group on Friday. So it’s going to be a very quiet week.

MIL and FIL took us shopping on Saturday at Costco and Co-Op to refill our larder and refrigerator. So we’ve got food–and we’re still working on leftovers–but how much cooking either of us is up to…is a good question and I don’t have an answer for that right now.

When they arrived, MIL handed me an Adroid tablet that FIL had gotten as a “retirement gift” and they couldn’t make it do very much. I’ve got it up and running, with various apps that I wanted and I’m pleased with it. Except for one thing: I cannot, CANNOT, make the damned thing acknowledge the 64G SD card I put in it, except as a storage unit for music and photos. And I’ve got enough apps that the internal memory is pretty much full; I’d like to move some of that over to the internal (already there, can’t be changed out) 4G SD card, but it doesn’t seem to want to let me do that. There’s got to be a way, otherwise no one would take the tablet because it wouldn’t/won’t hold all the apps wanted. Oh well, it’s an IT conundrum that I will continue to wrestle with.

I was very glad to have it because it was a calming thing for me to be able to use it, thereby tuning out all the people around me. My pain this week was high enough that even my Vicodin didn’t do much more than tone it down; with high pain comes a vague nausea, so I was eating just a little bit of this and that most of the week. I have had tremors most of the week, but especially during times of higher anxiety. When we went to get steak (at a place that is very carefully designed to look like a dive bar–but it sure isn’t because the bathroom is immaculate!), I actually had to put in my earbuds to block all of the noise. I was on the verge of tears without them. They worked so well, I have gotten a box of actual earplugs, in pink because they’re made for the ladies (we have smaller, more dainty ears!) and they came with a holder, so I can keep a pair in my purse and use them as needed.

Regarding the tremors: I talked to my dad about 2 weeks ago and we got to comparing ailments. He has tremors (bad enough that he can no longer make jewelry) and he suggested that what I have are Essential, or Familial, Tremors–something that is inherited 50% of the time if you have a parent who has them. The doctors don’t know what causes them and there’s no real treatment, although there are some medications for people whose tremors have gotten significant enough that they are embarrassed by the shaking, like when you’re out with people at a restaurant. I know that I have problems holding a fork steady without being stressed… add in the anxiety and I can barely get any food in. Takes two hands–one to hold the fork and the other to hold the food on the fork. I use my natural eating utensils whenever possible–you know, my fingers!

I will be asking about my tremors at my next PCP visit, if only to get the proper diagnosis added to my (ever-growing) list of diagnoses. And speaking of doctor’s visits, my long term disability  (LTD) insurance company (Reliance) has found a doctor who will do an independent evaluation of my condition so that the company can make an assessment about whether I am really disabled or not. And if I am really disabled, according to them (because I am, whether they want to say it or not), they will send a check with a year’s worth of backpay, and then continue with a monthly check. And if I get SSDI, the LTD will pay the difference between SSDI and the insurance benefits, which means about $400 per month more. We sure could use it.

I have two weeks to gather any paperwork (like my health records) and fill out the forms the doctor’s office sent me. I think it’s the new patient forms–and there’s all kinds of mentions of being able to go after the patient for money if the insurance company doesn’t pay for it. HAH! They can try. We already have about a quarter of a million dollars in combined *unpaid* healthcare costs. We’re going for bankruptcy… hate to do it, but we need to “wipe the slate clean” so that we can eventually qualify for a mortgage. I have a pre-approved VA loan, as long as what we want to move into meets their requirements. Needless to say, we need our home to be ADA compliant–and I might start looking around to find out what kinds of grants we can get that would help with the costs, especially since we’re talking about getting a new house. We’ll buy land and then have a manufactured home delivered there. The VA’s requirement for railings on every stairway will not matter, since we’re going for a single floor.

I’m not sure what was harder to deal with this past couple of weeks: the pain or the stabbing awareness that I can no longer do a LOT of things I took for granted as recently as 2 or 3 years ago. Watching my MIL (65 years old) and my FIL (almost 80) walking into the stores, carrying OUR stuff upstairs so that we wouldn’t have to…real slap in the face, let me tell you. Makes it very easy to slip into despair, since I’m already chronically depressed. I really appreciate my meds because without them…and I don’t mean the Vicodin. So recuperation, such as it is, consists of keeping my movements to a minimum to help control the pain as well as doing meditation and some self compassion exercises to help control the negative feelings. (Check this out, from Toni Bernhard: How to Talk to Yourself . Toni suffers from chronic illness, but also uses her Buddhist beliefs to find that Middle Road, even for us, who are having to ride an accessibility scooter on that road.

So that’s where I’m at, just trying to keep on making it through life, one day at a time.
Namaste!

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Personal Hygiene

To paraphrase Martin Luther King:
“Clean at last, clean at last! Thank gods almighty, clean at last!”

Having only a small supply of energy
I must choose wisely what to do with it.
Do I cook? Do I clean? Do I go out to buy some food?
What are my priorities, for this small supply of “able to do”?

All too often the choice becomes imperative, no choice at all–
Go to the doctor’s, pick up medication, grocery shop.
Some days the energy supply is so limited that just sitting
And typing on the computer uses it all up.

I am dirty; I stink. My hair is grotesque.
I disgust myself because I can’t remember when
I last took a shower. A week? Maybe two?
Too long and I want, but more need, a shower.

(We must insert this small note here to
Remind our gentle reader that a shower is not a big deal.
Unless…you have a chronic illness or chronic pain
Which requires a different set of rules for life.)

Mornings are the time of day for me to do things.
Always has been and more so even now–
Even before medications, before I’ve gone through my day
And used up that little triple A battery I call energy.

Thoughtfulness is a hallmark of my spiritual path,
Which is good because I need it for my physical life.
Awareness of my being, compassionate consideration of my body.
Taking a shower is like planning D-Day.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then I’m a sinner–
Black as coal and unrepentant, stained with my sins.
But not through intent or any of the seven, deadly sins.
I haven’t had the fun of sinning to gain this status.

An animal that is sick will not take care of itself,
Does not groom its fur nor maintain its den.
Humans are no different because illness drains the energy
And choices must be made or nothing gets done.

I could–and sometimes do–weep for those days when
I long to place my body under the healing waters,
To scrub the dirt and smell of neglect off of me–
But lack the necessary ability to stand and soap and rinse and dry.

It’s not like I’m a coal miner or a pro athlete.
How do I get so dirty? Well, not dirty so much as ….
Stinky? I do nothing that requires enough exertion
To make this nasty miasma of … wait, it’s just “not clean”.

Oh the joy! Oh the rapture of making it into the shower;
To stand beneath the glorious waterfall of heat
And wet that washes away the smell and the sadness
Of not being able to do this unthinkingly.

The comforting thrill of the water pouring over my head,
Over my hair and down over my body.
The only thing better would be if I could
Lay down in a tub, a pool, the ocean…and be covered with water.

Water is my natural element, I have a strong connection
With it, no matter the form it takes.
I am happiest at the beach, with the ever-changing, ever the same waves
And the endless susurration of the water’s song.

A shower has always been a substitute for being in
The salty arms of Mother Ocean, laying on her skirt
And watching the birds overhead while I am rocked,
Like a child, in the loving undulations of water’s movement.

But personal hygiene is not as poetic as an ocean thought.
Millions of people do it, every day, without even a thought
Let alone poetic, philosophical or even spiritual consideration.
My shower is not like theirs at all.

It begins with the decision that today I will take a shower.
I have my own shower’s ritual: place two towels on the
Closed toilet seat; one for the hair, one for the body.
Start the water and give it a chance to heat up.

I set the temperature to comfortable–which my Beloved
Refers to as “lobster” because it’s too hot for him.
I step into the tiny world of our shower stall–31 inches square,
We measured. And I close the curtain behind me.

Inside this small world, apart from the rest of my life,
I worship the warmth and the water, letting it run
Over me, on me, preparing for the next step in
This most sacred rite of becoming godly.

Everything I do is thoughtfully done.
It has to be, because everything I do to get clean–
Has a price I will pay in pain.
This must be done efficiently and carefully.

I shampoo my hair. A simple declaration, yes–but with the complexity
Of a chronic illness behind it, one that doesn’t tell
The cost of that act, the amount of energy required just…
To shampoo my hair.

My hair is very long. Would it be easier for me
If I cut it very short? Could I wash it with less pain?
Of course. But I will not make that choice
Until I can absolutely no longer pay that price.

My actions for washing my hair look the same as yours.
I scrub my scalp, I rub the shampoo through the hair.
I must bend my head far enough down that I do not
Have to lift my hands above my head…

…this is the happy medium in price: both my shoulders
And my neck will hurt afterwards, but neither one as bad
As if I had not bowed my head. Spreading the pain out,
So to speak and lessening the impact on any one site.

I put conditioner in the hair and move on
To scrubbing the body with my puffy scrubber.
To exfoliate and remove the detritus of “too much time between showers”
I scrub hard. And it hurts on all the pressure points, all the trigger spots.

The size of the shower is both a blessing and a curse–
I have no room to bend over to scrub legs and feet.
But I prop myself, ass on one side, foot on the other,
Knees bent and reach all the parts I need to clean.

I rinse, feeling clean again and figure this happy state
Is worth the rest of the day spent doing as little as possible.
I’m clean, cooking doesn’t matter. I’m clean,
Doing dishes and cleaning can wait for another day.

The last part of my shower ritual has always been,
Since I began showering by myself as a child,
To make the water even a bit hotter than “lobster”
And to let it run over my back. I can feel the muscles relax.

I turn off the water and open the curtain, stepping
Back out into the world, a new person–different, sanctified.
I wrap my hair up in a turban and then I
Wrap the big towel around my body; this is my godliness.

Q-tips for the ears, lotion for the face.
I sit for a while in my towels, enjoying the “just washed” feel
And the lack of stinky smell; the baptism in the river Jordan.
I am saved from dirt and neglect; I am clean at last!

I take my medications, I begin my day online.
Eventually, I will find clean clothes to put on and
Place the ones I’ve been wearing for a week
Into the laundry basket to await their own sacred bath.

The pain is there, it always is…my neck, my arms, my hands.
I’m tired enough for a nap, I have no energy to eat BUT
I have showered and scrubbed and washed my soul
And I am clean at last, clean at last!

Thank the gods almighty, clean at last!

The Pain of Being Touched and The Heartbreak of Not Being Touched

Fibromyalgia has been known by many other names, including chronic rheumatism, myalgia, muscular rheumatism, fibrositis, myofibrositis, and spinal irritation. The list of associated symptoms is an impressive one–never less than 3 and frequently a lot more than that, a virtual litany of problems that relate back to that single diagnosis. Whether your doctor is sympathetic and refers to it as “fibromyalgia”, or he says that “fibromyalgia is a ‘junkyard’ term” (which my newest doctor actually said)…at least physicians seem to agree that the predominant symptom is chronic pain. Which they are required to treat, according to the law.

“Chronic pain”. Two short and simple words that fail utterly to accurately describe the reality of life with never-ending pain. “Chronic pain” is like a password, the secret code word that opens the portals of an exclusive club. Well, not that exclusive. This disease affects between 2 and 4 percent of our population, mostly women. Men who are diagnosed with fibro may find it difficult to get the proper treatment they need because it is associated with women’s health. (Here is a good site to use as a starting point, either for you or to help explain fibro to your family and friends.)

If you’ve had fibro for more than 10 minutes, you know about the “tender spots” and “trigger points”. You’ve probably heard about “soft trauma” and a handful of other terms that all basically mean the same thing: pain. Doesn’t matter how it gets started, only matters that it never ends. Even with medication, the pain is always there, just waiting to take center stage again. You have to choose between having a clear head and ability to think coherently but suffer the pain, or take enough meds to reduce that pain to a murmur in the background…while you are literally Dopey, sleepy and basically not safe to operate any machinery–from driving a car down to using the toaster.

Chronic illness of any sort takes over your life. Chronic pain just makes the inevitable losses that a chronic illness requires that much more…well, painful. To be blunt about it, certain chronic illnesses (or more accurately, “chronic medical conditions”, hereafter referred to as “CMC”) are visibly limited–people in wheelchairs, missing limbs, paralyzed, or blind. Fibromyalgia is just one of the invisible conditions that are as limiting, as devastating as being paralyzed. With these invisible CMCs, someone can’t just look at you and realize that you have limitations.

And if you thought the list of associated symptoms for fibro was long…the list of what it limits, the things it will steal from your life is longer. Much longer. Chronic pain affects everything you do–or don’t do, or cannot do any more. And I’m not talking epic events. I mean things like cooking dinner, making a bed, washing yourself. What other (healthy) people do every day without even thinking about it–requires planning and adaptation for those of us with any CMC.

Receiving a diagnosis of a CMC is like being told your mother died. You have to go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: anger, depression, denial, bargaining and acceptance. And there is no time frame for any of the stages, nor do they necessarily line up in that particular order. There is frequent overlap between two or three of the emotions listed. And sometimes, you just don’t get past one of them…maybe two. And sometimes you’ll think that you’ve gone through them, arrived at the end and have accepted the loss of your old life–and then something happens that make you realize you were fooling yourself. And the grief cycle begins again.

Depression is the symptom that is almost synonymous with a CMC, particularly one like fibro that has so many limitations. Why wouldn’t you be depressed, when faced with a body that never stops hurting somewhere, with new inabilities cropping up, when you realize that the life you thought you’d have can never be, no matter how hard you try? And depression is anger turned inwards. Our society teaches women in particular to be soft-spoken, to be gentle and to never, ever express such strong emotions as anger. Fuck that. You heard me. If you’re feeling angry, you have every right to express it — loudly, with a lot of swear words, or however you want to. The only caveat is that your expression should not hurt you–or anyone else. So suicide or murder are not appropriate expressions of anger. Throwing china can be, if you’re willing to clean up afterwards. (Or if you have a loving someone who will hand things to you for you to throw and will then clean up for you.)

Be angry. Feel depressed. Grieve for your life, because it’s changed completely the moment you truly acknowledge that all these vague symptoms add up and your doctor has diagnosed a CMC. You could do what I did, which was to announce loudly and in front of other people that “I will not allow this disease to define who I am.” Right. Within a month, I realized that “this disease” had been defining my life for literally YEARS. I figure I began having fibro symptoms perhaps as young as 13 years old, but definitely by the time I was 15. I had the tender points–couldn’t stand the boys coming up and poking me in the ribs. I never laughed, and when they complained that I didn’t react “properly”, I told them that it hurt. Which it did.

I have had vague aches for as long as I can remember. While I was young I could just “push” through them. I managed a 4 year stint in the USAF; got married, had children. But looking back from this point in time, I realize that I began accommodating my aches (which were growing into pain) in a variety of ways. For example, I would clean the house. You know, dust and vacuum, put things away, take out the trash. But I did not do all the tasks in one efficient blur of cleaning. I’d work for about 30-45 minutes, then sit for about 15 before resuming the chores. This is when I was but a mere child of 28 or 29. And so gradually I didn’t notice it, that 30-45 minutes of “up” time got smaller and I required greater time to rest.

The aches had gotten full grown into pain, on a very regular basis. It was localized in my hips and knees so I wasn’t thinking “fibro”–hell, back in 1992, no one used that term. I did go to a rheumatologist, told him I had pain in my knees and hips. I got spend $500 for him to eventually tell me that I had pain, located in the knees and hips. Hot baths and aspirin were his prescription. I had already been doing that–and there’s just so much time you can spend in a bathtub. And so I lived on, making small adjustments as I needed to but never thinking of them cohesively as limitations because of my health.

Time passed, as is its usual manner; the kids graduated high school and went out into the big world. I lived alone for the first time in my life. I kept the house clean–but it was 10 minutes of task time, then 20 or more to rest before hitting the next 10 minute task. I began to have neuropathy–a fascinating pain, more like hot lightning than stabbing or thudding. I was becoming (even more) clumsy–my father used to tell me that I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time without falling. I began avoiding stairs whenever possible. My sleep patterns were fractals, at best. I had worked night jobs for 6 years and figured that the 4-6 hours I was sleeping was because of that.

I have had stress incontinence since the birth of my first child. (Thanks, kiddo.) Suddenly, I also had IBD (or IBS, depending on whether you consider it a disease or a syndrome). I would have no warning, no cramping or gas to let me know I’d better head for the loo. So when the first sensation of pressure appeared, I’d have about 3 minutes to find a porcelain receptacle or I would, to be grossly blunt about it, I would shit myself. Dear gods, I was only 46ish and I was not ready to be wearing Depends…

In 2010 I met and married my dearest love. He also has CMC, both physical and mental. So he had a very good relationship with his doctor, whom he had been seeing for about 7 years. He took me in for what was my first real physical since…the Air Force? That was in June. For the next 4 1/2 months, I began to really pay attention to my body and what was going on. I had quite a list of things…damn. I did exactly the wrong thing and went onto WebMD to check out the symptoms. Each item on my list had its own list–but they all overlapped at “fibromyalgia”. So I went back to the doctor and told him what I had discovered. And he told me that he had thought I had it, the first time he saw me. Well, gee, Doc–ya coulda saved me a lot of time if you had just said it then. But he also told me that he preferred to have his patients identify it for themselves because it was still considered a “throw away” diagnosis, something to tell a patient, giving their problems a name and make them go away.

I have to say that giving my symptoms a name seemed to open the floodgates of fibromyalgia. It poured over me and flowed into every single aspect of my life. It seemed that by admitting I was sick, I was suddenly aware of just how sick I really was–and apparently had been denying, “pushing” through it for quite a while. Within a year, I started using a cane for stability and had to stop working. Within two years, I was barely functioning as we experimented with the necessary medications to get the right ones at the right dose. At year three, I was in a really bad way because the VA doctor I was seeing then removed me from pain meds and then overdosed me on my neuropathy pills.

At that point, I was also dealing with Beloved’s month-long stay in the hospital–caused by gross incompetence: the doctor sent him home three times without addressing the reason we had gone there in the first place. He was having intractable vomiting and couldn’t hold down anything–and that went on for 3 weeks. You can die from dehydration, you know. So needless to say, I was an emotional wreck–which of course affects the body. I ended up at the main VA medical center, with instructions to be admitted for psychiatric evaluation. I had every sign of a panic/anxiety attack, and the most beautiful British accent. I’ve told you about it before so I won’t go into the gory details here.

We apparently moved, although I barely recall the cluster fuck of getting our apartment emptied out. We arrived in Eureka CA on November 2, 2013. Our problems haven’t gone away; some have gotten worse. I have had my adjudication with the Social Security Administration’s judge–and been “declined” again. I will now move up to the appeal board–and if they also “decline”, then it’s into Federal court. With the move, I of course have had to change lawyers and the new one inspires trust in us that we can do this, and that I will (eventually) be declared “permanently disabled”–and collect SSDI. (Could take up to 4-6 more YEARS. Erk.)

In the meantime, we are living on just Beloved’s SSDI check, food stamps, food pantry–and the incredible generosity of his parents. We do not regret the move–if we were still in Northern Virginia with all of the same things happening…we’d be living in my in-laws spare bedroom.

So actually of this has been to set the background for my main discussion: The Pain of Being Touched and the Heartbreak of Not Being Touched. My story is not unique; anyone with a CMC has a story like it. Since I know fibromyalgia best, I’ll just use that from now on–but if you have a different chronic condition, just substitute the name of yours.

Chronic pain, as I said in the beginning, is completely inadequate to explain what the person with chronic pain has to live with, has to deal with on a daily basis. It’s the sole indicator of whether you’re going to spend the day in bed or if you can actually make some chocolate chip cookies for your grandchildren. Chronic pain dictates if and when you shower, wash your hair, actually get dressed (in real clothes and everything!). And they aren’t kidding when they talk about tender points and trigger spots–what would be an incidental bump for someone else ends up causing such pain that you are now on the DL and the coach has to send someone else in to play for you.

Chronic pain makes all of your choices: will I type emails to my friends, join discussions on Facebook, play solitaire–or watch NetFlix because I can’t do the necessary hand motions to do those other things. Will I be able to concentrate enough to actually read (and retain) a novel? I want to finish crocheting the blanket I am making for my grandson. Begun before his birth, it–and he–are now 3 years old. I also have another grandchild that needs to have a blanket from me–and my grandson will have a sibling next May. That makes me 3 blankets behind.

Chronic pain. Do I have enough energy to essentially ignore the general “normal” level of pain, medicated with my good friend, Vic (Vicodin) that I can cook a hot meal? I was going to be a personal chef; I made gourmet foods–now, I am just a cook. Nothing wrong with being “just a cook”, but for me…it’s a demotion. And if I am not able to cook, I cannot justify spending grocery money on going out for Chinese. But we (too) often end up doing it anyways.

But never mind all of that. I know that having fibro means major–and endless–changes to everything in my life. I get that part. What snuck past me was that having fibro means enough pain that it hurts me to be touched. I’m not talking “punch in the face” touch, I’m talking the gentle pressure of a hand on my arm, the enveloping joy of a hug. Fibro means not extending my hand when meeting new people because the shaking (and the sometimes crushing grip) hurts me. It means not cringing when the sweet puppy leaps up into my lap.

Chronic pain has locked me away from touching, from the sensation of my flesh and someone else’s flesh joined in friendship, comfort–and yes, in making love. My dear Beloved knows that I hurt, that it hurts to be touched. So he’s very careful to … not touch me. He will rub the back of my head as he passes by, or pat my hip when we’re going to sleep. But hugs and kisses, what used to be a steady diet of loving touch…not so much any more.

I am a very tactile person–what a lot of people refer to as “touchy feely”. And chronic pain, damned chronic pain…has made my own body a prison that excludes even the most casual sensation of flesh on flesh. And that most intimate sensation of flesh on flesh doesn’t happen at all… Making love is all about flesh on flesh, the intimate bonding of two people, a ritual of love that strengthens their commitment even as it celebrates their union. Denied to me. By this unending, godsdamned, fucking chronic pain.

I need to be comforted, I need to be touched and petted and yes, physically loved by my husband. I want to hug my children, grandchildren, friends, people at church. I want to shake hands when I meet someone. I’d love a massage. I would LOVE sitting snuggled up to Beloved, with his arm around me. I want a dog.

I literally ACHE with the need to touch and be touched. Skin hunger overwhelms me and I’m starving for human contact. And then Chronic Pain rears its ugly head and reminds me that I will have to choose between more pain with contact…or no contact and no worsening of pain. Pain is a powerful training method, used with incredible success for many years in many different places and circumstances. If this was inflicted by an external source, I’d have something to rebel against, have a revolution to free me again. But alas, my tormentor is me. Well, my body.

And so I ride on the see-saw (teeter totter, depending on where you’re from)…it hurts to be touched … but … it breaks my heart that I am not being touched. Frankly, it all comes down to this one question: Am I willing to accept the pain that the contact will cause because the contact itself will provide emotional healing? Which outweighs the other–the Chronic Pain Monster or the sacred human interaction? And it’s not even so much “will I pay the price” but “CAN I pay the price”.

Did I mention anger, depression, denial, bargaining and acceptance? I only go with 4 out of 5 when it comes to skin contact. There is no acceptance of being untouched, of having no tactile connection with my fellow travelers in life. I am stubborn and I am always, ALWAYS going to choose to be touched. I will deal with the devil of chronic pain because I have to–but I sure as hell am not going to let pain take that away. It’s done its damage to my entire life–changed it completely, added limitation upon limitation. But this is one war it will not win. I cannot let it win–because if I do, I lose my own humanity and life is worthless.

Chronic pain can kiss my ass.

Namaste!

It’s Not Easy Being Zen

I started this blog over 2 years ago. I had no idea when I began it that I’d be where I am at this point of my life: mentally, physically, spiritually. It’s been a rough and gritty road, with some sizable potholes. It’s also been a while since I actually wrote about what’s going on with me, fibromyalgia-wise. So let’s address that.

First, let me update you on my medications list, which is quite a feat to be able to recite the names, doses and such. Much longer than I’d like it to be, but I am thankful that every med seems to be doing what it’s supposed to and that makes life better. So let’s make a list of what, how much and what it’s for:

AM Meds:

One Gabapentin (Neurontin), 300 mg, for neuropathy; also acts as a mild anti-depressant
One Hydrochlorothiazide, 25 mg, for swelling; it’s a diuretic
Two Hydroxyzine Pamoate, 25 mg each, for anxiety; prescribed to be taken up to 4 times a day as needed
One Hydrocodone APAP, 5/325, for pain (aka Vicodin); prescribed to be taken twice a day for pain with an extra few for those really bad days when I need 3)
One Venlafaxine, 225 mg, 24 HR SA, for depression
One Lamotrigine, 25 mg, for mood stabilization

PM Meds:

Two Gabapentin (makes the daily total 900 MG; the two at night help with sleep)
Two Hydroxyzine Pamoate (also helps with sleep)
One Omeprazole20 MG for acid reflux/GERD
Two Trazodone, 50 mg per tablet, total is 100 mg; for sleep (specifically)
Two puffs, each nostril, Fluticasone, 50 mcg, for sinus and upper respiratory decongestant

And I have Clonazepam, 1 mg, as an “emergency” anti-anxiety, to be used as needed, but no more than one per day

Wow. Heckuva list. So let’s make a synopsis of what I’m taking all these chemicals for: I take two different medications for pain; I take two different medications for anxiety; I take one medication that is specifically for depression, but I have another that also has anti-depressive effects. I take one medication to help with the swelling in my feet and hands. I take one medication to keep me breathing (well, at least not as stopped up in the nose as I would be otherwise). And I take one medication for mood stabilization.

Let’s talk about that one for a moment. Lamotrigine is what my Beloved but bi-polar husband takes for his mental illness. He’s taking a way massive more amount than I am and it works well for him as long as everything else stays reasonably stable. He’s fortunate that in his being bi-polar, if things get out of whack, because the illness is brain chemistry, he can literally “reset” his emotions by taking a nap. (We all do that, did you know that? You reset your brain when you go to sleep. Probably because it runs on Windows 95, haha.)

So about a week after the Worst Thing happened (NO more LTD for me), I got a letter from the SSA with the date for my adjudication hearing with the judge. I have gotten a new lawyer, as the one in VA has formally relinquished the case–and waived her fee. I feel bad that she lost a lot of money on me and am very, very grateful for all that she did, for both of us. My new lawyer spoke to us for about half an hour, 45 minutes–and it was sort of an audition on my part, to see if he would take the case. He did, and seems very competent. I also figure that he wouldn’t take a case he thought he would lose.

[EDITED]

He did make a really good suggestion which is a better way to describe my disabilities, rather than just saying I have fibro. Frankly, that’s what my psychologist should tell me, but hey, I’ve only had one meeting with him and maybe he will talk with me about it. What I’m supposed to do is speak about what is currently disabling, in a functional (or in this case, non-functional) manner. This is going to be hard for me, because it basically is a list of all the things I cannot do, or cannot do without great pain or effort. I’m going to have to face up to the reality of my disability, which I have been kidding myself that I was doing, just by covering it with the word “fibromyalgia”.

My husband said to me, “You’re supposed to be a good Buddhist” and I replied, “I TRY to be a good Buddhist”. So I can use this as a chance for advancement on my spiritual path as well, if I can frame my life to be “in the moment”, which is very important to me. I believe in the NOW, each moment passing, never to be repeated, to try to live each moment to the fullest, with awareness and focus on that moment. (And then let go and move on to the next moment which has come.)

So here goes:

Hi, I’m Kate and I am disabled. I can no longer stand or walk for more than about 15 minutes without excruciating pain in my back and down my legs (sciatica); I also have neuropathy in my legs and arms. I have swelling and pain in my hands to the point where I am clumsy holding things and I have to be very careful with heavier objects or I will drop them. I cannot twist my hands to empty an ice tray without pain. While I am on the computer for most of my day, I have several different types of activities that I do which changes up how I am using my hands–I mouse for a while, I type for a while and I use a game controller to play computer games. I also stop and stretch my hands, or flex, then rub them, to ease the pain. I have both Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Irritable (Stress) Incontinence, which means when I have to go to the bathroom, I HAVE to go. I have very limited range of motion in my arms and can seldom lift them above my shoulders. Things put on higher shelves are no longer accessible. Pulling on clothing over my head is done by putting my arms in the sleeves and pulling everything up to the shoulders, then ducking my head into the neck hole. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are difficult for me; combing my hair is tiresome because it requires me to lift my hands to brush the length. I shower when I have the energy to deal with all of the bending and stooping, scrubbing and hair washing. I have stopped wearing a bra because I cannot put it on by myself. I have also stopped housecleaning for the most part, only dealing with dusting, sweeping, cleaning the bathroom and etc when the filth passes my point of being able to ignore it. And I still do it the way I have for the past 20 years–do about 20 minutes of cleaning, then sit and rest for a while, then do some more cleaning and repeat the pattern until the task is done. Or I’m in too much pain to continue.

I have depression because of my pain and the various occurrences related to my disability, such as losing the LTD disability benefits. I have contemplated suicide more than once and have thought about how I would do it. My most recent suicidal ideation (great term, huh?) was when I got the notification that I had lost those benefits. If the Pacific Ocean wasn’t so damned cold, I’d have just walked into it and kept going out to sea. Truth: I don’t want to be dead. I just want the pain to stop, I want the uncertainties about money and our lives to settle down. I want peace.

I have anxiety, duh. Problem is, it interferes with my life. I am developing social anxiety; I hate to be out in a crowd of more than about 8 people. Small crowd. And very ironic, since my life has been filled with people–I have spoken to large crowds, I was responsible for the local Pagan group back in VA, I had a weekly dinner date with my friends–and we could be as few as 3 and as many as 20. Now I begin to freak out if there’s more than about 3 or 4 people around me, like you would have at a dinner table. I often don’t really want to leave the house–not quite agoraphobic, but definitely not good. This limits me in so many ways–I have no friends here, just the wait staff of the various restaurants we go to, or the staff at the grocery store. But nobody that we say, hey, let’s get together.

I would attend services at Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, but all too often, one or the other of us is not up to going. So neither goes. Lots of nice people–completely overwhelming to me. But probably our best chance to meet friends, people we can hang out with and do things with. Beloved wants to get back into his gaming (table top RPGs, with paper, pencils and dice; NOT D&D). If he does, I’d probably go along and play, if only to keep myself from becoming totally a recluse.

I can no longer play the piano. I cannot knit or crochet or do other fine motor crafts for more than the time to do one row of knitting or crochet, or about 20-ish minutes of fine motor work like making chainmaille or jewelry. These are all things I used to do. I can’t talk on the phone comfortably if I have to hold the receiver to my ear for more than 15 or 20 minutes. (Which means when my mother calls, I switch hands a lot.) Even if I were not taking narcotics, I would still be very careful about driving since I have limited range of motion with my neck–you know, turning it left and right. Looking back over my shoulder is almost impossible. With my limitations, I am always afraid that I will have an accident because I cannot react fast enough, or fully enough, to avoid it. Beloved does almost all of the driving. Only on his really bad days do I get behind the wheel–and he helps me watch out for possible dangers.

There’s also the whole loss of concentration and ability to deal with details as well as a certain amount of short term memory loss/lapse. I am easily distracted from whatever I am doing–and just going from the bedroom to the kitchen (about 20 feet) means I can forget what I’ve gone in there for–and cannot recall it, no matter how I try. This is particularly vexing for me, as I used to have nearly photographic memory. Well, my shutter speed is way down, let me tell you.

I’d love to be able-bodied, to do the things I used to do, to do the things I want to do. But that’s not my reality. And I don’t write this all out for you to feel sorry for  me, or to gain your pity. I’m just trying to explain what my life is now, in this moment.

There are good things as well, really! We’ve been going to the beach more often now that the weather has warmed up. We’ve seen pelicans, a seal, a fish that made the mistake of biting onto the bait of the surf fisherman. Lots of dogs, since there’s no prohibition on them being on the beach. We’ve seen a horse and rider enjoying the fun of trotting through the edge of the surf. I’ve even managed to pick up some driftwood and seashells–razor clams and even sand dollars.

Being with Beloved is always fun, even if we’re just doing the parallel play thing, with both of us on our computers and no particular interaction until one of us wants to share a meme or an article. We go out to eat when we can afford it and we enjoy sharing the meals and making our critiques of the food.

I am especially grateful for a healthcare team that works with me to deal with these realities of my disability–my Primary Care Physician, my psychiatrist and my psychologist, the PCP’s nurse (who is a dear!); the front desk staff, and just everyone I’ve come in contact with when I’ve gone in for an appointment.

I enjoy the view out my window. I watch the birds, occasionally get a glimpse of an egret flying by. I watch the trees blow in the wind and I’ve watched the flowers blossom, each according to their time. Rhododendron is a major “thing” out here and there’s lots of it, in different colors. It’s time for hydrangeas now. I’ve also seen a hummingbird. I’d like to put up a feeder for it, but haven’t gotten around to doing what that requires. C’est la vie.

Thanks to Facebook, I am actually in touch with my friends from VA almost more than when I lived there. Daily posts and shared items make my day better.

So I’m reaching the limit of what my hands can take and rather than save this as a draft, I’ll finish it up and post it out. Yes, I have my limits. So does everyone else. My biggest goal right now (behind winning my adjudication hearing) is to find something that I can do for fun, just for me. See, my psychiatrist asked me the other day, “What do you do for fun?” and the first answer (which you should always go with) that popped into my head was “Not a damned thing.” Time to change that. I’ve got several possibilities, just a matter of seeing if I can manage them within my limitations. I want to try watercolor painting and even have a “how to” book to start it with. I’m also trying to do some sketching. Nothing major, just little doodles to get used to drawing again. We’ll see.

So this is where I am, and with the oh so helpful chemicals in my system, not doing as bad as I was a week ago. I’m Kate, and I’m disabled. But I can still enjoy the perfection of each moment as it comes along, whatever comes with it.

Namaste!