Sunday, September 18, 2016

Honest Reflections

Yesterday was the worst day I've had in a long time.  I can normally feel crashes coming on.  I actually plan for them.  I have lived with this condition long enough to know my body and know just how far I can push myself before I crash.  Unexpectedly, yesterday hit me like a tidal wave.

The prior week hadn't been particularly stressful or active.  I worked all week and had a couple of late evenings watching my daughter's volleyball game and a pretty late night watching my son's football game.  However, nothing too daunting or out of the ordinary and at the end of Friday night, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for having made it through unscathed.  So, I was quite surprised when I woke up at 5am Saturday morning in a tremendous amount of pain.

I tossed and turned for about an hour and a half trying to get comfortable.  My legs and hips ached and I couldn't find a position that would allow me to rest.  During that time, I also realized it was my mom's birthday.  I thought about how fun it would be to get up and make the hour and half drive to surprise her and take her to breakfast. I could do that and still be home by early afternoon so that I could rest without wearing myself out before we had dinner with friends.  But I was in a tremendous amount of pain and just getting out of bed felt like an enormous feat.  My mind was racing but my body felt a thousand years behind. It occurred to me that this might be the start of a crash.  I willed myself to go back to sleep and get some much needed rest.  Even if I couldn't go see my mom for breakfast, I still wanted to be able to enjoy the last day before my husband went back to work and the first free Saturday we'd had in quite some time.

After another half hour or so, I finally gave up on sleep and headed to the living room to sit in a recliner and watch tv.  Just moving from the bedroom to the living room was an incredibly difficult task.  I could feel my body shutting down.  I felt like I weighed 1000 pounds and was moving through three feet of snow.  I was so disappointed when I realized I was crashing.  This is not what I wanted to do today.

As I sat in the recliner with my entire body aching and the feeling of fog rolling in around me, I was confronted with the fact that I was no longer in control.  My body was.  And the tears began to fall.  Whatever I had planned (or not planned) for the day, wouldn't matter.  I would spend the entire day, laying down.  I was prepping myself to give up control and surrender to it when my husband came out and asked if I wanted to go to Starbucks and run some errands with him.  Yes!  This is what I wanted to do.  I didn't want to sit here like an 80 year old woman all day.  So, I got up, got dressed and set out to spend a couple of hours running errands with him.

The minute I got in the truck, I knew it was not going to go the way I would like.  I was exhausted. Plain and simple.  Exhausted.  I felt like my butt was permanently attached to the seat and just turning my head took effort.  My thoughts were consumed with the pain in my elbows, knees and hips and as a result, I couldn't even hold a conversation.

The minute we returned home, I went to bed and spent the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing but feeling like crap. Calling my mom to wish her a happy birthday, knowing I couldn't go and visit her, was painful.  At one point, I moved to the backyard just to get some fresh air.  My plan was to go lay by the pool and read for a bit but when I opened the back door, the pool seemed much too far away and I, instead, took a seat a few steps away at the table on the patio.  The tears flowed as I admitted to myself that walking 30 years to the pool was simply too much for me. In that moment, I snapped a picture of myself.  When I started this blog, it was to be honest with myself.  I spend most of my life being dishonest with everyone, including myself.  I never talk about the extent of my fatigue or the far-reaching ramifications of it.  Writing is the only avenue I use to get things out so that my frustrations don't eat me alive from the inside out.  I felt compelled to capture the raw emotions that I was experiencing in that moment.
This picture is an honest reflection of the pain of Chronic Fatigue.  It represents the fight, the fear, the anger, the pain, the loss and the frustration I feel.  It represents the lowest moments in my life.  The moments when I feel so incredibly alone because no one really understands the full impact of being tired.  The moments when my kids think I'm lazy and if I just worked out more, I'd feel better.  The moments when my husband looks for a reason for why I'm not feeling well, instead of understanding that this is just who I am.  The moments when hope is fleeting and I imagine everyone else better off without me. The moments when death would feel more like a welcome relief than a tragic end.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nowhere to Hide

I'm having such a difficult time tonight.  There is so much going through my head, I don't even know where to start.  It's been a long 5 weeks.  I've made three quick trips to San Diego, I've worked full-time, my husband has been gone for nearly three weeks and it's the start of the school year for both the kids and I which means stress levels and schedules have increased.  I crashed two weeks ago and called in sick to work for two days.  I thought that was enough to recover but I crashed again and am having a very hard time bouncing back.  I have a busy week ahead of me and can't afford to be down anymore.

I think the hardest part for me right now is that I feel so incredibly alone.  I rarely share my health struggles with anyone so it's not unusual to feel lonely in my grief.  However, I normally am able to sort of hibernate or hide from the world so that I am not forced to either share or cover up.  The past couple of weeks, my kids have really noticed that I am off my game.  My son, without any understanding of what I'm struggling with, has faulted me for not cleaning or doing much of anything around the house.  What I am and am not doing is magnified by the fact that my husband is not around to cover for me and the kids are noticing.

When the kids were little, I was able to hide everything from them very well.  I could sleep when they slept, I could hide my fatigue in games I would play with them that allowed me to rest, and they were simply unaware of the magnitude of the weight I was carrying around with me.  As they get older, it is much more difficult and now, nearly impossible, to hide things from them.  The problem is, I'm not ready to be honest with them.  I'm not even ready to begin thinking about a time when I will share with them how difficult life is for me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Breathtaking in the Worst Possible Way

One of the things I think is most difficult for people to understand is that my fatigue is overwhelming and all-consuming.  It occupies so much of my daily life, it's ridiculous.  A couple of weeks ago, I took a 14+ hour roundtrip roadtrip over the period of two days to drop my daughter off at a summer program for four very long weeks.  I worked Monday through Friday, we left Saturday morning and returned very, very late Sunday night (or actually...very, very early Monday morning!).  I also had to leave for work at 6:15am the following Monday for two consecutive days of very important meetings.  The entire road trip from start to finish was about 40 hours but I agonized over it for several weeks.

The minute I realized that the trip would have to be a quick down and back with no rest days in between that and work...I became anxious.  I looked at every possible option for changing the plans.  As the weeks went on and it became apparent that the plan we had in place, was the only one that was going to work, I began to panic a bit.  I did my best to reserve as much energy as possible leading up to the trip.  I rested as much as possible (including one nap) over the two days we were gone and I didn't drive at all during the trip.  I did okay.  I managed to make it to work in time for my two very long work days and finished out the week fairly strong.  I did basically spend the following weekend in bed and it's been two weeks and I still haven't completely recovered but I felt good about making it through without a true crash.

Unfortunately, it also became glaringly obvious what an incredible toll my fatigue takes on my mental health and how that impacts everyone around me.  I worried and worried and worried for weeks leading up to the trip.  I was anxious and irritable and could not stop thinking about how to prevent myself from getting too tired over the course of those couple of weeks.  When we dropped my daughter off, I didn't soak in the moment and enjoy the festivities.  Instead, I gave her a quick hug and said, "I'm sorry, honey.  We need to get on the road."  I was thinking more about the need to get on the road and get home as soon as possible, to get as many hours of sleep as possible than I was thinking about the monumental occasion of leaving my daughter for longer than I had ever left her before.  My fear of a future crash completely took over and stole the experience of my being able to enjoy that meaningful time in my life.  I was singularly focused on getting my needed rest.

As we got on the road, I was obsessively counting down the number of hours until I could be home in bed and the number of hours I would be able to sleep before I had to get up and begin the commute to work.  Every traffic jam, every stop, brought me closer to a crash.  An additional two unplanned stops, all but left me deranged.  I was completely irrational.  People needed to stop to go to the bathroom.  That's a human experience but I was anything but humane.  All I could think about was how those extra 15 minutes spent at the gas station were 15 minutes of sleep I would miss out on.  And those 15 minutes might make the difference between me making it through the next week or not.

In my head, I knew I was being ridiculous but my emotions were real.  I had a guttural need to rest.  My days are packed and I know exactly when I can afford to get sick and when I cannot.  I could not afford a crash and I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to control it.  For the first time, I clearly saw the mental toll this condition takes on not only me, but those around me.  People should not feel afraid for having to stop and use the restroom for goodness sake!  People should not feel the need to drive the entire 14+ hours without any help from me for fear that might be the thing that puts me in bed for days at a time.

The sad fact is that my fatigue is overwhelming and all-consuming.  It invades my thoughts every day, all day.  It breeds anxiety and fear and it is completely relentless.  Totally and utterly breathtaking in the worst possible way.

Friday, May 27, 2016

*Just Tired*

My tank is empty.  I crashed.  I hit the wall.  I pushed and pushed and pushed myself until I just couldn't move.  When I went down, I called in "sick" to work.  What else do you do, call in "tired"?

I hate the word "tired".  "Tired" doesn't even begin to explain how I feel.  "Tired" doesn't begin to define the depth of the fatigue that prevents me from making sure my kids are fed, making sure the house is locked up and the alarm is set before I hit the bed for the evening.  It doesn't define the body aches that prevent me from falling asleep even though I'm exhausted.  Tired doesn't indicate the congestion in my chest, the nausea in my head and the fact that my body feels like it weighs a thousand pounds so that even rolling over in bed takes too much effort.  It doesn't explain the despair I feel in not having control over my life and tired doesn't reflect the anguish that this never-ending fatigue is my future.

So, imagine how it makes me feel when someone asks me..."Are you sick or just tired?"  The question really should be..."Are you tired or just sick?" because believe me...I would MUCH rather be sick.  I can get over being sick.  I can't get over being *just tired*.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kinder and Gentler

Today I watched a TED Talk titled The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown. I love Brené's work around shame and vulnerability but something completely different struck me today.  This part of the talk hit me like a ton of bricks:

You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness."

I realized I am numb at the moment.  Truly numb.  Not due to shame or vulnerability but due to my fatigue and illness.  I think for the time being it is my coping mechanism.  I am not in a good place and haven’t been for some time.  I write anytime I feel my emotions taking over but the emotions are always there, just below the surface and too painful to truly bear.  That line in Brené’s talk brought to my attention the fact that although I am able to fairly regularly keep those hard feelings at bay most days…that also means I am missing out on the good emotions.

For the last few months, I have not felt joy.  I guard myself very tightly and don’t let myself feel much of anything.  I have been operating with a very cold exterior, not letting anyone or anything in.  Now, I understand.  When you numb those hard feelings, you also numb the good ones. 

I’m not sure anything can change in the short term because the hard feelings are still too hard but now, I at least understand why I'm not feeling the good things either.

The last thing Brené says is this:

And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough.Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, "I'm enough" ... then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.

As long as I am sick, I don’t think I will ever feel like “I’m enough” but I do hope that I can someday start being kinder and gentler with myself so that I can be kinder and gentler to those around me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Is Today the Day?

Is today the day?  That was my very first thought when the alarm went off this morning.  Is today the day that I crack?  The day that I go over the edge and don’t come back?  The day that I curl up in the fetal position and completely give up? 

There wasn’t anything really different about today.  It’s only Tuesday so it hasn’t been a long, hard week.  I had lots of down time this past weekend so I’m not trying to recover from a busy one.  I haven’t been sick so I’m not fighting additional illness.  I’m a little stressed because the next three weeks are incredibly busy and I’m worried about making it through but that’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. 

Still, the conversation that went through my head went something like this:

I can’t do it.  I simply can’t.  I can’t move.  Everything hurts.  I just want to lay here forever.  No.  I don’t want to lay HERE forever.  I want to go someplace beautiful.  I want to go the beach.  Can I make the drive to the coast, rent a cute little bungalow on the beach and just lay in bed staring at the waves until I drift off into neverland? No.  You need to get up.  You can do it.  Just move.  Once you start moving, things won’t look so bad.  Just get out of bed.  You don’t have to go farther than that.  Just stand up. I can’t stand up.  I can’t “just” stand up.  More things need to come after that and I can’t do them.  Yes you can.  You can make it through today.  You are strong.  You can do it.  Sure, I can make it through today but what about tomorrow? What about the next day?  Feeling like this day after day after day after day is just. too. much. I have done it.  I have fought the good fight.  I don’t see an end in sight. Now, I just want to lay here forever and never move again.  Everyone will be better off.  I’m making mistakes at work because my mind is foggy.  I’m not present for the kids because I’m exhausted.  I’m snapping at my husband because I’m in pain.  I’m a terrible friend because I don’t have the energy to do anything for them, ever.  I’m a terrible daughter/sister because everyone has to be concerned about me all the time.  No.  You’re not. Stop beating yourself up. This is not helping anything.  GET YOUR BUTT UP!  Get moving.  Today is not the day. Today is not the day you will break. Today is not the day you throw your hands up and let this illness win.  Today is not the day you choose to be weak.  Today is not the day that will break you.  Today is not the day. 

Okay. Today is not the day.      

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Elusive Hope

I've needed to write for awhile now but I just haven't been able to.  There is so much I want to say, so much I want to share but I just can't seem to find the words.  I want so badly for people to understand what it's like to suffer through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or whatever name you want to put to this debilitating condition) but at the same time, I want to keep my walls up and ensure that that part of my life stays tucked away.  Hands down, one of the hardest parts of living with CFS is the mental side.  If I'm not careful, I feel like it will take me down from the inside out.  In my healthy moments, I intellectually understand the dark places but in the midst of my fatigue, there are no rational thoughts.

First, I'd like to start by talking about how completely inaccurate the term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is.  It makes it sound like I'm just tired all of the time.  EVERYONE is tired all of the time.  I think a more accurate term would be Chronic Illness Syndrome.  You see, with the debilitating fatigue that CFS brings comes a whole host of other problems that are not at all accurately described by the term "fatigue".  Perhaps it would be helpful to try and explain what a "crash" looks like.  A "crash" is a common way of referring to the myriad of things that happen when someone with CFS over exerts themselves.  A crash for me, in the best of circumstances means I feel like I'm getting the flu. My throat hurts, my body aches, I'm exhausted, I'm nauseous, I will sometimes get a fever or at least chills, my lymph nodes swell up (often to the point where I can feel them in my neck, underarms and even in the back of my knees), and, yes, I get very, very tired as well but it's not a sleep-deprived feeling but rather a feeling of utter physical exhaustion.

In the worst of circumstances, a crash means I can't physically function.  I feel like my body weighs a thousand pounds and even rolling over in bed is nearly insurmountable.  Breathing takes effort.  Blinking my eyes takes effort.  I sit or lay and stare into space, too exhausted to even sleep.  My fatigue isn't about needing more sleep, it's a physical fatigue that impacts my entire body and often times, I hurt too much to fall asleep.

I am incredibly good at timing my crashes.  I have learned over the years exactly how far I can push my body before I crash and I have perfected the ability to time my crashes so that people (including my husband) don't see me crash and my crashes don't impact my daily activities.  For me, that has helped to hide my illness and has helped keep my sanity in tact.  Crashes are embarrassing.  They are pathetic.  Barely being able to move for no reason at all is devastating.  Trying to explain what is happening to anyone around to humiliating.  I have no control over my physical condition but timing my crashes so no one sees, has helped to maintain some sense of control for me.

The older I get, the harder I work, the longer I commute, the more active my kids are, the harder it has become to time my crashes.  This past December we spent a week in Tahoe with some friends, celebrated Christmas for two days with family and spent another week in Newport Beach with friends/family.  That on the heels of a couple of very long weeks at work, was all too much.  I tried very hard not to crash but I couldn't push myself any harder and I did.  I wrote about that in my last post.

What I haven't been able to fully write about is the incredibly dark moments I experience in the midst of fatigue.  I can't tell you the number of letters I've written in my head to my family and friends saying goodbye and trying to explain to them why I no longer want to live.  Intellectually, I understand that I have a blessed life.  I know that even among those who suffer from CFS, I am one of the lucky ones.  I am able to work full-time and spend more time OUT of bed than IN bed.  I understand that I have an amazing family and support system and am not alone in my fight.  I understand that even suffering through fatigue and illness, I have a better life than many, many people have.  I understand that many people don't have the choice whether to live or die and that other illnesses rob people of time with loved ones in unimaginable ways.

But in those dark moments when I'm too tired to even move, intellectual understanding goes out the window and all I feel is pain, sadness and despair.  I can't see past the next second much less the next day when I know I will feel better.  All I can think about is the day to day suffering....the constant worrying and planning for how much activity I can sustain before I go down.  The thoughts that consume me are the ones that remind me how much I've lost.  How many hours I've spent in bed when I could have been doing other things.  How many mornings I dragged myself out of bed with all consuming thoughts of when I can crawl back in.  How many moments of my children's lives I have missed because I was too tired to move.  How many times I've snapped at them or robbed them of precious moments because I was ill.  How much time I've spent calculating out how much longer I can push myself instead of enjoying the activity in front of me.  How many times I tried to pretend that I was just lazy and wanted to "relax" when truth be told, I couldn't fathom the thought of moving past my bedroom that day.

In my healthy moments I can't imagine not living my life...not seeing my children grow up...not growing old with the love of my life.  But I have to climb out of the illness in order to see clearly and think rationally.  Every time I go down, I wonder if it's worth it.  I wonder if the day-to-day struggle and the recent realization that I may never be healthy again, will be the end of me or if rationality will win over and I will continue to survive.  Hope is fleeting and I can't seem to keep it in my grasp for any length of time.  It comes and goes.  It used to be what I tried to hold onto and now it's what I try to reach out to.  It regularly slips through my fingers and leaves me gasping for breath.

As elusive as hope seems to be for me at the moment...the truth is I will leave this blog post and go and cook dinner for my kids, join them for a movie and they will have no idea the utter despair I feel in those moments of fatigue.  I will get up very early tomorrow morning and take my son 2 hours away for an all-day football tournament.  I will work all week at a very demanding job and fight through the urge to simply give up.  I will spend all next weekend in bed avoiding a true crash but ensuring I have enough strength to make it through the following week.  I will interact with friends, family and co-workers daily and no one will suspect that despair over takes me on a regular basis.  No one will understand that underneath my daily facade, I hurt in ways that makes me question my will to live.

Luckily, I have been at this long enough to know that those moments of desperation are as fleeting as the elusive hope I seek to hold onto.  I understand that those dark moments will dissipate and I will move forward into the light.  I am confident in my ability to keep pushing forward despite the irrational thoughts that invade my fatigued brain. Having written that...I step back and think...perhaps hope isn't that elusive after all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

You don't understand...

Over the years, it has become more and more apparent that you just don’t understand.  For a short period of time, I thought maybe you did.  When you tell me to go sit down and relax instead of helping with dishes, when you pull WAY more than your weight around the house and when you encourage my lazy days rather than being resentful…you fool me into thinking you truly understand.  But you don’t.  It’s okay though. I get it.  How in the world could you possibly understand unless you live in my body?  How can you understand when I hide so much of myself from you?  How would you know when, truth-be-told, I spend a tremendous amount of effort to KEEP you from understanding?  So, this post is for you.  This post is for all of you who don’t live in a body that has betrayed you.  This post is an attempt to give you a brief glimpse into the despair and desperation that goes on in my head when I’m “exhausted”.

First, let me start by saying that the month of December started off badly after finding out that my recent round of bloodwork showed a backward slide.  My titers for all 5 viruses were positive and higher than before.  My Epstein Barr Virus titers were particularly troubling.  The doctor suggested that because the acyclovir/colchicine combo I’m taking is not targeting that virus, we should consider switching to Valcyte.  Valcyte is what they call “the big guns” but comes with numerous potential side effects including causing cancer in mice and the potential to cause long-term liver and kidney damage.  It would mean many more doctor appointments and bloodwork more often to stay ahead of the potentially damaging side effects.  It scares me.  After a lengthy discussion with the doctor, we decided to switch to another medication in the same family as the acyclovir and perhaps add in one other medication in January.  We’ll try that for a few months and then reassess the Valcyte after that.  I left the appointment with a deep sense of sadness about my future but I couldn’t share that with you.  How do I tell you that what we hoped was the “cure” isn’t working?  How do I tell you that my illness will continue to cost us endless amounts of money?  How do I tell you that the potential side effects of the next level of medications may be worse than the illness itself? How do I tell you that despite all the hope I had going into this latest round of treatment, I am continuing to slide backwards?  How can I tell you that I have hit yet another dead end in the enormous pile of things I have tried over the years? How do I tell you that we only have one hope left..."the big guns" and if that doesn't's the end of the line? How can I tell you all of that when I can’t even admit it to myself?

The few weeks after my appointment were incredibly trying for me as I worked long hours attending both morning and evening work events.  Add in the fog and rain that made my commute even longer and more stressful and the pre-Christmas preparations…I was already burning the candle at both ends.  I pushed through the last work day running at warp speed trying to get everything done to be able to leave one day earlier than we had originally planned.  I wanted to give you that extra day of vacation…you deserved it.  Unfortunately, the stress of trying to finish up work only added to my swelling fatigue.  We spent what I’m sure you think was 6 days of total rest and relaxation in Tahoe as you did all the work and I rarely got out of my pajamas and only left the house once or twice.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way for me and I couldn’t explain that to you.  I shed tears more than once on that vacation, behind closed doors, as my emotions bubbled to the surface anytime I thought about the fact that I was doing absolutely nothing because I HAD to…not because I WANTED to.

We came home to a whirlwind two days of Christmas festivities but I was hanging in there.  On the 26th, I slept in and felt confident I was ready to finish all the chores necessary to head out on our 8 day trip in the trailer.  I was wrong.  With that last laundry basket loaded with kitchen utensils/food sitting on the counter….I willed myself to just pick it up and carry it to the trailer but nothing happened.  My body suddenly felt incredibly heavy and I was so nauseous.  All I wanted to do was lay down…right there on the floor.  Tears began to drip out of my eyes at the realization that such a simple task of picking up a basket and walking 20 yards felt nearly impossible.  When you found me lying down in bed you couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through when you encouraged me to quickly get up so we could leave.  And, of course, I didn’t try to tell you.  I absolutely did not want you to know.

Over the next six hours of travel in the car, I thought non-stop about how and when to rest.  My daily life is one of constant planning for when and how much activity I will do.  It’s all I think about.  What days can I sleep in?  Which days can I miss work if I have to?  Which meetings absolutely can’t be missed?  Do I really have to wash my hair today?  If I crash today, will it be okay?  Can I push through and crash tomorrow instead? How many late nights do I have?  How many early mornings? Unfortunately, that worry and planning doesn’t stop on vacation.  Knowing I was pushing myself too hard and about to crash if I wasn’t careful, I thought about the week ahead and I was scared that it would all be too much. We didn’t have a lot planned but when you are exhausted…just getting up in the morning seems insurmountable. I didn’t tell you how scared I was...instead, my fuse got short and I snapped at you.  What you didn’t know is that I was angry with you for not understanding what I was going through and angry with myself for not being able to tell you.

Over the next few days, I tried to rest as much as possible…going to bed before everyone else, getting up late, laying around and doing nothing all day rather than going to the beach or taking the dogs for walks.  Even though I was doing next to nothing, I could feel myself getting more and more fatigued and I got more and more mad.  I wasn’t doing anything…how could I be so tired?!  I could feel a crash coming on but I was bound and determined to keep it at bay.  A crash is pathetic.  It’s embarrassing.  I didn’t want you or anyone else to see my like that.  In nearly every instance, I am able to time my crashes so that they happen when you are working.  I can usually get enough rest so that I can keep going until you are at work.  This time was different.  I felt exposed and completely out of control and it made me angry. 

That anger turned to total and utter despair as I began to crash.  I’ve said it before, “Everything is worse when you don’t feel well.”  I got so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t just push through, overcome, rally…like I always do.  I had hit my wall one too many times.  The tears were a reaction to my physical state.   When I crash…it’s not just fatigue.  The best way I can explain it is that it is similar to a very bad flu.  My entire body aches….to the point that I become painfully aware of parts of my body I don’t necessarily even think about like the skin under my arms or the spaces between the bones in my hands.  My skin burns and my legs hurt so bad I can’t stop moving them.  I feel like I have golf balls in my groin, neck, under my arms and behind my knees.  Did you know you have lymnh nodes behind your knees?  I do…because they swell up when I am not feeling well and hurt like crazy.  My knees feel like softballs connected to pieces of wood and like they are rubbing against one another with every movement. The only thing that helps is massaging them so hard that I create a different sort of pain.  I get incredibly nauseous and feel like I weigh a thousand pounds.  I get incredibly irritable because I hurt.  Rolling over in bed takes a tremendous amount of effort and is painful.  I hurt to the point where it’s even painful to just lay down, which means I don’t get good rest, which means I don’t heal, which means I get even sicker. 

Even worse than the physical symptoms of a crash are the overwhelming emotions that come with it.  The overwhelming frustration I feel about being exhausted (for absolutely no reason!) leads to anger and feelings of despair.  The sobs you heard were the sounds of hope leaving my body and recognition of all I’ve lost.  The healthiest and most active years of my life lost to illness and fatigue.  The years of being able to play with my kids and give them the attention they deserved…lost to illness and fatigue.  My plans to be a healthy, active woman who can keep up with her healthy active husband…lost to illness and fatigue.  In my future, all I can see is me laying on the couch watching you head off to the gym, out to the slopes, over to the golf course or on to the lake.  It hit me that best case scenario is me holding you back and worst case scenario is you enjoying an active life without me.  Both suck.  Intellectually, I know that if the roles were reversed, I’d be all in and stand by you no matter what and I know you’ll do the same for me.  But my heart breaks in acknowledgment of that sacrifice…for both of us.    

Now that a couple of days have passed and I’ve gotten some good rest, I’m slowly bouncing back.  I am coming out of the depression and doing my best to harness a bit of hope.  However, it doesn’t diminish how difficult those low moments are for me or make them any less real.  Another crash will come again and that’s for certain.  It’s just a matter of when and how long and it’s a daily battle between what I want to do and what I can do.  When that crash happens….all I need is a good hug and someone to tell me everything will be okay even if neither one of us believes it’s true.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The healthiest years of my life are behind me....

Sometimes when I sit down to write it’s because I have a ton of things in my head that I want to get out.  I know exactly what I’m going to write before I even touch the keyboard. Today is different.  Today, I have no idea what I’m going to write.  In fact, I’m terrified of what might actually come out once I start.  I just know I need to do it.  As I’ve explained before, writing is therapy for me and boy do I need some therapy right now.

I’ve been on the verge of tears or have broken down so many times over the last several months.  The frustration and sadness are growing into insurmountable barriers for me.  My head has been a swirling chaos of heartache and anger and it’s so difficult to clearly articulate what it is all about.  I can start by saying that…I’m getting older.  As such, my body is breaking down even more.  My husband and my friends are all starting to experience the aches and pains of growing older….normal aches and pains of growing older.  We joke about them as getting older is an inevitable part of life but the symptoms are all too real. 

The most difficult part for me is that I have always had this end goal…health. Since I was 18 years old, I’ve naively thought that someday I would be healthy.  Someday, we’d figure out what was wrong with me and I’d be healed.  I pushed through the hard times knowing that someday they would be behind me.  Recently, I’ve begun to realize that even if that elusive cure ever comes to fruition, the healthiest years of my life are behind me.  I missed them.  Health now would come at a time in my life when the body begins to age naturally.  And the damage that has been done to my body means that my remaining years will be full of pain and fatigue regardless of whether or not I’m suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  We can’t reverse 25 years worth of physical stress on the body.  My muscles, my tissue, my joints, have all suffered irreversible damage and health now can only mean less pain and less fatigue but will never mean a return to a full and vibrant life.

The sad part for me is that there really is no incentive to push through the difficult times and hope for a better future.  There is no reason to think that I will ever have a life where I don’t get out of breath washing my hair or go over the week in my head worrying about the amount of things I need to do and whether or not I will make it through without crashing.  There is no reason to hope that my retirement will be anything but lying around the house all day watching TV and constantly feeling guilty for not having the energy to do the things I think I should be doing.

I have the most amazing husband who picks up so much of the slack around the house.  My heart breaks every time I think about the kind of person he should be married to.  He’s healthy, active, and energetic.  He should have a spouse who can mirror that.  I picture us in our retirement years…him out doing things and resenting me for not going with him.  It’s not what I want for either of us.  Sometimes, I think I pick fights with him just so that he’ll get made enough to leave and go and live the long, happy, active life he deserves rather than the one where he gets to take care of his pathetic wife.

Today, the low point of my day was when I looked around the house and thought about all of the cleaning that needed to be done and all of the decorating I wanted to do.  We have a decorated tree and mantel thanks to my daughter.  The miniature Christmas village and the fake snow that normally adorns the hallway is still packed away.  The thousands of Christmas lights that have lined the house or the driveway or wrapped around 11+ palm trees have not seen the light of day.  There are at least 4 bins full of decorations that I just can’t bring in the house.

Don’t get me wrong. I NEVER feel up to decorating.  I’m ALWAYS tired.  BUT every year…I find the strength to push myself more and do more.  There’s a little spark in me that thinks “I can do it”.  Somewhere, deep down, there’s hope that this will be the last Christmas I feel like this so I can garner the strength to push through.  Not this year.  I have no more hope for a better future.  This is my life.  This on-the-verge-of-getting-the-flu feeling I have every day is my normal and will never go away.  I won’t feel better tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.  In fact, if I push through…I will more than likely end up flat on my back for several days.  I’m no longer naïve.  I’m actually too smart for my own good.

I need to rest.  I have a sore throat and a cough and if I push to hard I will end up very sick.  I can’t afford to be sick.  I have a very busy week at work and then we leave out of town on vacation.  I know every single thing I am doing for the next three weeks because I have to plan ahead and make sure I don’t crash in the middle of something critical.

My new job and the commute take a huge toll on my body and that means many other things have to go by the wayside.  I just don’t have the strength.  My doctor at Stanford is quite surprised I can even do what I’m doing.  My recent blood work came back showing that I have five active viruses and my titers are way up…particularly for the Epstein Barr and Cytomegaloviruses.  The medication is no longer suppressing the viruses, which means my immune system is severely compromised and my body spends all of its energy fighting itself. 

The doctor wants me to start the Valcyte, which is the medicine that has a number of side effects and can cause kidney and liver damage and has caused cancer in mice.  I’m scared to do that but maybe not for the reasons you might think.  I think I opted to switch to a medicine in the same family of what I’ve been taking and not jump to what the doctor refers to as “the big guns” because I know the Valcyte is the end of the road.  I’m already so low on hope but at least I feel like I have one more step I can take.  If I jump there now and it doesn’t work, I will surely spiral into a very dark place. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

No Idea How This Is Going to Go...

Today, I know I need to write but I'm not really sure what I need to write about.  I'm starting to move into depression and I know what a dangerous road that is.  I just don't really know what to share here.

I'm miserable.  Let's start with that.  I got really sick in January of this year and it lasted for over a month.  I spent the next 5 months trying to bounce back.  I spent every weekend sleeping or laying on the couch in an attempt to regain my strength.  In June, I took a two week vacation and had hoped that would help as well.  On the second to last day of my vacation, I was feeling a bit distant from my husband and a little guilty for wanting to just sleep all day so I pushed myself into going for a long walk.  A walk.  Not a hike or a run...but just a walk.  But I was tired and on days like that..."just a walk" can put my body over the age.  It did.  I could feel it but I pushed through and then had to push through the next day for the trip home and the two days after that as I returned to work.  So much for recovering.

Over the last several months, I've been surviving.  Working long days and attending kids' activities during the week and then sleeping and laying around all weekend.  Trying so hard not to push myself too far.  About a month ago, instead of sleeping and laying around all weekend, I took a trip with a friend.  Although, we didn't do a lot of physical activity, just the trip itself pushed my body too far.  I got a head cold that turned into a flu that turned into a chest cold.  For the last four weeks, I've been barely surviving again.  I think all of that has led me to realize that my future is very bleak.  All I can see for the next 10 years is me working very hard during the week and then sleeping and laying around all weekend and the thought of that sucks.

I work through my illness for many for kids' college, vacations, retirement, etc. and because I think I would shrivel up and die if I didn't HAVE to get out of bed in the morning.  BUT now it just feels as if work is killing me and by the time I get to retirement or the kids go off to college, I won't be around to see it.  I'm not trying to be morbid but I honestly don't believe I will live much longer and if I do, it will be a slow, agonizing, painful daily step towards death.  I am already an old woman.  I got out of breath folding and hanging up a load of clothes today.  Pathetic.

I used to naively believe someday I would be fine.  Someday, I would find the right pill, the right diet, the right combination of treatments and I would return to a normal, healthy, young woman.  I no longer believe that.  In fact, I have zero hope that I will ever recover more than I am right only hope is that I won't slip further backward.  It's so hard when you start losing hope because that's when depression sits in.  But I can no longer envision a happy retirement paddleboarding or doing yoga.  Instead, I envision pain-filled days where all I want to do is sleep because I spent the healthiest years of my life working myself to death.  12-14 hour days commuting and working followed by 3-4 hours of kids' sporting events pushes my body entirely too far each week.  But I don't know what to do.  Quit work?  I lose my retirement, my health insurance when I retire and the money that we are putting aside for the kids' college.  It feels like a zero sum game to me.