Unplug, For Fuck’s Sake

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via Unsplash

For quite some time, I had a hard and fast rule: no social media on weekends. Over time I started bending it. After all, my life doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays, and I enjoy sharing it (especially on Twitter). I still try to hop on as little as possible, using my time to just recharge. But this weekend, I needed a cold turkey cleanse.

I completely unplugged from both Twitter and Facebook—a feat that required gargantuan effort. Actually, Friday night I hopped on several times “just to see.” What I was trying to see, I don’t exactly know. Truthfully it was my way of getting another fix. I didn’t cut myself off from Instagram and Pinterest, but I used them only minimally. Mostly I relaxed.

On Saturday, I slept in until 2:30pm. My friends with children are glaring so hard at me right now, but in my defense I hadn’t slept Thursday night, and I’ve been fighting off flareup fatigue while juggling anxiety attacks. I desperately needed the rest—even if I woke up somewhat panicked because more than half the day was already gone.

Sometimes, you just need quiet time.

Because the last couple of weeks had been full of panic attacks, I really needed to calm my mind. Thankfully, my old therapist E gave me some really great tools. I used eucalyptus essential oil to combat my three-day tension migraine. If you put some on your chest, the back of your neck, your forehead, and temples, it really helps sooth the pain.

I also binged The Fosters. If you haven’t caught this show, you need to. Going in, I thought it was going to be a lighthearted family show. And for the most part, it is; no matter what happens, you know the Adams-Foster family goes to sleep with love in their hearts. But damn, do they tackle some heavy stuff. They do it in such a way, though, that you can’t help but feel good (even after they’ve played with your emotions and made you cry). I love the healthy relationships and choices they portray. No matter how hard things get, there’s always a chance for these characters to move forward. And the fact that this show is so pro-LGBT+ makes it even more of a winner.

In between episodes, Mike and I started Luke Cage, which is like a billion times better than those other Marvel shows. *cough* Daredevil *cough* Jessica Jones *cough* I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who doesn’t dig those shows. I tried really hard to like Daredevil, but I couldn’t even get through one episode of Jessica Jones. However, Luke Cage is kick-ass. Maybe it’s because Mike Colter is oh-so-damn handsome. Or maybe it just took some time for the team behind these shows to really hit their stride. But the acting, pace, story, and characters are just phenomenal. We’ve only been able to watch one episode a night, and I’m dying for more.

Side note: I recognized Colter from Ringer and The Following right away. I was super excited, because I loved him on those shows. He’s such an awesome actor. And did I mention how gorgeous he is? 😍

We also went grocery shopping, which ended up a bit more of an adventure than intended because we ran out of money before we could finish. Starving artist problems, sigh. I’m so looking forward to the day when we don’t have to worry about these things. But we have enough to get us through the next couple of weeks, and that’s all that matters.

On Sunday, I spent the entire day binging The Fosters and working on a project I’d thought I’d completely abandoned. Back in 2007 when I was in college, I took a crafts class as an elective. It was a difficult course because it was very hands on, and that was around the time when my arthritis first started. I had to get a doctor’s note to skip certain projects because they put too much strain on my wrists, and it broke my heart. However, there was one activity that I really fell in love with: embroidery.

Even after the semester ended, I continued playing with it, learning new stitches and working at my own pace. Though it is hard on my hands, I’ve found that using a hoop really helps. Frequent breaks, too. 😉 I’d started a project in 2012-ish, recreating leaves placemats that I’d seen in the Kohl’s store I worked in at the time. They weren’t even that pretty, and the store had jacked the price way up. I thought to myself, I can totally make those, and started… but never finished.

In fact, when I picked it back up again this weekend, I realized I’d made even less progress than I’d thought. I was able to finish my first one, though, and nearly completed a second. By the time I went to bed last night, I was so relaxed, I dropped off to sleep almost right away. And I didn’t even need the eucalyptus oil!

This weekend I also got to spend a little much needed time with my sister-in-law. We jammed out to this song on the radio, which I’d heard before but hadn’t caught the artist. Now I know and Kiiara is fantastic writing music. I just love how chill this song is, and her voice is angelic.

This weekend I learned something really cool about myself: No matter how hard things get, I’ll always work through them and move forward. In the past, my anxiety and depression have felt suffocating, like they would go on forever and ever. While my anxiety was pretty bad these last couple weeks, the key difference this time around was that I knew eventually it would pass—especially if I kept using my self-care tools. This time last year, I was so lost, but in the past twelve months I’ve grown in leaps and bounds. I’m a completely different person. I’m still me at my core, but I’m also stronger. More confident. Empowered, not ashamed.

In the quiet of my calm mind this weekend, I sat reflecting on all of this. It feels so good to be in this place, to be this version of me. Even though I still have my challenges to work though, I’ll always keep moving forward.

And when I need a break, I’ll keep making myself unplug, for fuck’s sake. 😉

I’m Not Letting This Go

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via Unsplash

It’s been over 24 hours since everything went down and I’m still processing it. Everyone processes things differently—even from experience to experience. Sometimes you need to talk, even if you’re relaying the same information over and over. Other times you just need to quietly mull. I’ve found, in this instance, I’ve needed both space to just absorb and room to articulate.

Even though I’ve talked about it a bit on Twitter, written in my journal, ranted (like a hundred times) to my husband, vented to my sister-in-law, and tiredly filled my best friend in, I still keep running through it over and over again. And, even though technically I’m on a weekend-long social media cleanse, I really felt the urge to sit down and blog about it.

So here I am.

Part of me is in shock, enveloped in complete and utter disbelief. And then there’s the wide-eyed anxious part of me that is all, “See, I told you so.” I’ve been through this before, though, so many times. It’s not really surprising. It’s kind of just my norm.

This past summer, I got a sudden letter in the mail from my rheumatologist’s office, telling me that Dr. M was leaving the practice. I had a panic attack while reading the letter. While I’ve had a complicated relationship with this woman—during my first ever appointment with her, she suggested I see a psychiatrist and that was that—I’d made a lot of progress with her. She was listening to me, she’d given me a diagnosis, and she’d started me on a treatment plan. I spent years jumping through hoops trying to prove to her that I am not a drug addict or crazy. And finally, after nearly ten years, I was making progress in my medical journey. I was getting my life back.

I have joint pain. Often it is debilitating. There is radiological evidence of it; I’ve had several x-rays, MRIs, and even a bone scan that showed bone spurs and some other things in my joints. My illness causes marrow-deep fatigue. It flares from time to time, especially during periods of high stress or sudden changes in weather (like winter, rapidly increased humidity, or a drop/rise in barometric pressure). It behaves like an autoimmune disease—which runs in my family. However, my blood work is always inconclusive. I am seronegative for RA and I’ve had borderline results for ANA and double-stranded DNA.

Dr M determined that I have enthesitis-related arthritis, meaning the join pain is caused by inflammation in my tendons, where they connect to my joints. She explained that ERA doesn’t show up in blood work. She told me that she would treat me as if I have Reactive Arthritis, but that it could still be Rheumatoid Arthritis. She started me on a DMARD and, when it helped a little but had some nasty side effects, urged me to give it another shot. If it still gave me headaches and fatigue, she said, we would try something else.

And then I got the letter.

The letter informed me that she was being replaced by Dr. S, some guy I’d never heard of. I was immediately anxious because I’ve had so many specialists—most of them male—over the years who have brushed me off. I’m anxious in general when seeing a new specialist, but the thought of losing Dr. M and having to start over with a stranger was terrifying. Still, I tried to be brave about it.

I scheduled one last appointment with Dr. M, where she gave me a cortisone shot in my right big toe and explained that she thought I had bone spurs there and in my other big joint in my foot. She said I might possibly have RA and osteoarthritis. And she urged me to give SSZ another shot, even though I asked if I could try another DMARD.

She instructed me to schedule a followup with the new guy for my toe. Cortisone shots don’t always work, and she really wanted me to see a podiatrist if my toe continued to be painful. It was so stiff and hurt so much, I could barely bend it. I couldn’t put weight on it at all and basically had to walk on the ball of my foot—which of course aggravated the pain in my other joints.

I couldn’t schedule my followup yet because the office didn’t know Dr. S’s schedule. This kind of irritated me, but I talked myself down and told myself to give him a chance. I was supposed to call the office to schedule it in a few weeks, but I got super busy with book stuff and it was summer. I always have very minimal pain in the summer, plus the cortisone shot helped and my toe was better. Plus, if I’m going to be honest, I was still super anxious about seeing the new guy. As summer wound down, though, I knew it was time to get back to my health and bite the bullet. So I did it. I was super proud of myself.

In the weeks that passed while I waited for my appointment, my arthritis started flaring. I felt fatigued every day. My joint pain increased. I’d stopped taking the SSZ again because the headaches and other side effects far outweighed the benefits, though it did help a little so I knew we were on the right track. I’d talked to other spoonies with similar diagnoses who’d recommended some DMARDs, so I knew for sure I wanted to try something else.

On the morning of the appointment, I got up early. I was anxious the night before so I didn’t sleep well, but I did sleep. I ate a tiny breakfast even though my nerves were shot. I treated myself to a coffee from Dunkin Donuts. I showered, dressed up—which is special because I’ve mostly been wearing shorts or leggings—and did my makeup. I made a huge effort to make myself feel good. And, I’ll be honest: I also went to great lengths to look like a responsible patient.

Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been mistreated and accused of drug seeking so many times, I often dress up when I go to the doctor’s—unless it’s someone who is familiar with me and someone I trust. Then I break out the sweats but still rock the makeup. 😉 I want to stress here that I know people who struggle with substance abuse are patients, too—patients who deserve medical care and kindness and respect. So many doctors make assumptions about chronic pain patients, too, which often makes it difficult for us to get those same things that we also deserve. No matter what the patient’s experience, they are a person who should be treated like a person. It’s a messy, outrageous issue that calls for an entire blog post of its own.

I brought a notebook to takes notes in and my agenda so that I could schedule my next appointment. I gave myself a pep talk and even wrangled Mike into coming with me for support, because just his mere presence eases my anxiety. Those blue eyes and the warmth and kindness that he radiates are 100%-natural Ativan, you guys. We arrived a few minutes early. I smoked a cigarette to further calm my nerves. Then we went in.

I checked in as usual and then waited a little longer than normal to get into an exam room. Or maybe it just felt longer because I was so anxious. I’m not sure. Dr. M’s medical assistant was the same woman, which was a huge relief. She took my weight, pulse, and blood pressure, as always. We went over my medications and I let her know that the SSZ wasn’t working out so I’d stopped it. I admitted I was nervous about meeting Dr. S but she assured me that he was very nice.

And he was. He was soft spoken and very gentle during his physical exam. But he completely ignored everything that was in my chart, everything that Dr. M had told me. He brushed aside my questions. He insisted that I couldn’t possibly have arthritis because my blood work is negative. He told me that ERA would also show up in blood work. When I asked him questions and explained that Dr. M had told me otherwise, he brushed me off. He told me that I probably have fibromyalgia—something I’ve heard a thousand times from other specialists who either couldn’t figure out what was wrong or didn’t want to listen. When I explained—patiently—that I’ve been determined negative for fibromyalgia several times because I do not have the tender pressure points, he brushed me off.

I know several people who have fibromyalgia, who have told me that their experiences are completely different from mine. They have muscular and nerve pain, not joint pain. I have joint pain, not muscular or nerve pain. And when I tried Neurontin, a medication for fibromyalgia, I had an extremely adverse reaction to it. I asked Dr. S if fibromyalgia affects your joints, and he gave me a completely hedge-y answer.

He also kept asking about my Tramadol prescription. He asked me like three times where it came from. (My primary care doctor prescribes it, and it is a low dose—only 100mg at bedtime.) Dr. S kept pressing me to consider a pain management clinic.

If the word fibromyalgia turns me off, pain management clinic really makes me tense. I’m sure they help a lot of people, just like I know fibromyalgia is a valid chronic pain illness of its own. But I do not want hard painkillers because they are only a temporary solution to my pain. Plus, to be totally honest, they hit me too hard. I can’t function on them. I’ve only ever wanted a DMARD because they are a long-term treatment for my arthritis. I’ve literally never walked into a doctor’s office and asked for pain medication. NEVER. Because not only do too many doctors automatically assume that’s what chronic pain patients are looking for, but because it’s an automatic death sentence if you have a chronic pain illness and want to be taken seriously. In fact, I’ve asked to be taken off both Percocet and dilaudid because I did not like how they made me feel. It scared me, for example, how quickly my oral dilaudid dose stopped working and how I had to increase the dose literally the second time I took it to the prescribed two tablets a day—when one had worked fine the night before. I told my PAC at the time that I just wanted to go back to Tramadol.

But at that point in the visit, I couldn’t articulate any of this to Dr. S. I just sort of froze. Tears were at bay and it was all I could do to not start sobbing in the middle of the exam room. Panic closed in around me and I could barely breathe.

Dr. S said something about running blood work one last time, but that I can’t possibly have arthritis and it’s probably fibromyalgia. He told me that he didn’t want me to take SSZ anymore, that I didn’t need those medications. And he again recommended a pain management clinic.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I hurried out of the office. Running down the stairs, I focused on sucking down the rest of my iced coffee because it helped hold the tears in. By the time I hit the parking lot, though, I ran out of coffee and was sobbing. I was walking so fast, my body so pumped with flight adrenaline, that I couldn’t even feel my normal joint pain—and Mike could barely catch up. I tried really hard to keep it together, but I could barely get the words out to ask for a cigarette. As I lit it, I completely broke down. Mascara lines down my face and everything.

Hello, full blown panic attack.

Once it was over, this weird calm numbness washed over me. I’ve never experienced that before. It would be super cool if panic attacks could always end that way. I focused on helping a much-loved family member with her own doctor appointment. In a way, it was kind of good that we had back to back appointments in separate towns. In my numb state, I was calm enough to be there for her and it also took my mind off things.

But of course, it didn’t last.

Wave after wave of anxiety hit me once Mike and I got home, even though I’d taken pain medicine, which always helps relax me in both body and mind. It didn’t this time. I’d had a headache all day because I was nervous, but it intensified as the day went on. I’m pretty sure it was a mixed tension migraine because by 10pm, I was nauseous and had light sensitivity, plus my neck and shoulders hurt. Even though I tried not to, I kept bursting into tears, which of course made the throbbing pain in my head worse. And my joint pain was also sassy.

Between that and my mind racing, still trying to process everything, I didn’t sleep. I felt completely lost and even though I didn’t want to give up, couldn’t see any other option. I’ve exhausted every resource. I’ve seen every specialist possible. I’ve literally tried everything.

I spent most of today in a numb stupor. Mostly out of fatigue but also because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Mostly I focused on helping my family, which also ended up being a huge help to me because I couldn’t wallow.

By later this afternoon, though, I started to feel incredulous. Indignant. Completely fucking pissed. I realized that I deserve better. That, just because Dr. S is a doctor, I don’t have to take his word as gospel. And it is not at all okay that within minutes he undid everything Dr. M did for me—everything I’ve worked for over the last decade. I’d really started to make progress with Dr. M and DMARDs were helping me get my life back. How dare he waltz in and take that away from me.

I decided that I wasn’t going to let him.

As I drove to pick up Mike from work, I realized that I needed to go to bat for myself. I was not going to let this doctor make me feel this way. He might be a great doctor, but he clearly wasn’t the right doctor for me. I decided, as soon as I pulled into the parking lot of Mike’s job, I was going to call the office and complain. Make my voice heard. Insist that I start seeing one of the other rheumatologists in the practice. Make them understand that it was not okay for him to treat me like that.

I was so proud of myself. More and more lately I am rediscovering my voice—and using it to advocate for myself. Not rudely, but loudly. Strong. Steady. Calmly. I was so excited when I slid into a parking spot. I grabbed my phone and speed dialed the office number. It rang and their normal announcements began.

“You’ve reached the offices of Dr. C, Dr. P, and Dr. M. The office is now closed. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed…”

I felt my heart sink. I’ve never felt so deflated so fast. It wasn’t even 4pm yet, and their office hours have always been 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. It felt like someone’s sick joke.

I’m still angry, but I’m also exhausted. These last couple weeks—and especially the last couple of days—have drained me physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’m so grateful that the weekend is here, that I can unplug from social media and just relax. Cleanse. Give myself love.

And then, first thing Monday, I’m making that phone call again.

I’m not letting this go.

Because I deserve better.

The Puzzle Falls Apart Again

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via Unsplash

All of my persistence paid off—I got my shot today. However, after this afternoon’s visit, I’m even more confused and concerned about my illness.

Excuse me for a minute while I haul out my giant binder with all my medical records…

Last summer when my rheumatologist diagnosed me with Reactive Arthritis (ReA), she mentioned that it could still be Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Because I’m seronegative, though—meaning my rheumatoid factor, sed rate, double stranded DNA, and HLA-B27 blood work is always either borderline or in the normal range—she decided to treat me as if I have ReA.

Side note: I need to start tracking my blood work levels; even though they’re always in the normal or borderline range, I need to chart them to see if they’re increasing at all—even if in small amounts.

This afternoon, while my rheumatologist prepped me for my cortisone injection, she said she felt bone spurs in both the small joint of my big toe, as well as in the large joint (that giant joint right under your big toe). I’ve been having trouble with both of these joints, so it makes sense.

While I was chasing doctors trying to get my right hip taken care of, scan results showed bone spurs in that joint, too. At the time, I was seeing an orthopedic. There was talk of surgery, and then all of a sudden I was told I wasn’t a candidate.

Nothing was ever resolved. I simply got used to the severe pain. And I got myself a cane.

Around the same time, x-rays showed a sclerotic lesion, AKA “bone island,” on my left ankle. I had a bone scan done to make sure it wasn’t anything cancerous and everything came back normal. According to the Department of Radiology at the University of Washington, “bone reacts to its environment in two ways — either by removing some of itself or by creating more of itself.” Sclerotic lesions occur when whatever is happening to the bone in question is occurring over a long period of time (as opposed to rapidly). “If the process is slower growing, then the bone may have time to mount an offense and try to form a sclerotic area around the offender.”

What might be eating away at my ankle and causing my bones to armor up? I can safely rule out cancer and injury to my ankle. UW’s radiology article lists several causes, two of which are autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

The puzzle is starting to come together.

All of the signs are pointing toward something degenerative. My rheumatologist mentioned something about osteoarthritis (OA) while she all but ran out of the exam room. (She’s leaving the practice at the end of this month, so at this point she’s just done.) I asked how that was possible, since I’m 27 and definitely not a runner. She basically brushed me off and suggested that I might have OA as well as ReA. I don’t think this is the case.

My gut has been telling me over the last decade that my arthritis is degenerative (like RA). One of my biggest concerns has been my joints deteriorating as my autoimmune disease progresses. I’ve been questioning whether I actually have ReA since last year, but even more so as I chatted with other ReA patients in a Facebook group. My symptoms are similar to theirs, but there are a lot of inconsistencies.

For one, most of the ReA patients could connect the onset of their arthritis with or right after an infection of some sort. I had mono before I got sick, but that was a whole year prior. There’s very little research on mono and ReA, but most articles cite strep, bacterial intestinal infections, and STDs as causes of ReA. Not mono.

Since I just got the cortisone injection in my toe today and I’ll be transitioning to a new rheumatologist at the practice, there isn’t too much I can do about this puzzle right now. My rheumatologist insisted that if the toe doesn’t get better, to follow up with a podiatrist in the meantime. I don’t love the idea, but my best friend made a great point: a podiatrist specializes in all of the tiny bones of the foot. If I end up needing surgery, he will be the one to do it. He’ll also be able to give me fast relief. While it’s true that a podiatrist can’t treat all of my other aching joints, I can’t screw around when it comes to my feet.

need that specialist—especially if this is RA and it continues to progress.

She’s right, of course. I’m just frustrated, and tired of seeing nineteen doctors every time another joint goes. I guess I just thought I was done playing the doctor hop game; I thought once I had a diagnosis, I’d just have to do regular followups and keep taking my SSZ like a good girl.

But of course it’s not that simple.

My rheumatologist said the shot could take a couple of weeks to work, and to go easy on my toe. No flip flops—or at least, not cheap ones that lack support. I’m to wear sneakers and take it easy.

In the meantime, I’m in limbo.

The Lump On My Chest

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via Unsplash

I knew that stress aggravates my arthritis. In the last nine years, some of my worst flareups occurred during stressful times in my life. Because I also suffer from PTSD, it’s extremely beneficial for me to incorporate relaxation into my daily life. If I don’t, I easily become a messy blob of pain, anxiety, and depression—all of which, of course, feed into each other. So when the news dropped that my publisher is closing its doors, I knew right away that it was time to ramp up my R&R.

After months of skipping my nightly meditation routine and daily yoga, I forced myself to get back into it. I use aromatherapy almost daily—okay, yes, this is actually how I justify my Yankee Candle addiction, shut up—and nightly (with lavender essential oil on my wrists and pulse points on my neck), but ramped that up too. Still, I almost immediately felt the effects of stress on my body.

I have chronic pain. I’ve had Reactive Arthritis (AKA Reiter’s Syndrome) since 2007 (and my rheumatologist tells me it could still be Rheumatoid Arthritis). Mine is enthesitis-related, meaning the inflammation is where my tendons insert into my joints. It’s brutally painful, and I’ve been in a flareup for over a year now (with a brief respite in September/October because of Sulfazine). With the weather all over the place and allergy season under way, my pain was already high. (Hay fever causes inflammation in the body. Just one more reason for me to religiously take my allergy medicine.) But last week something completely new happened to me.

I’d heard of costochondritis from other spoonies, but hadn’t experienced it myself. I do get swelling in my ribs. It’s really only uncomfortable if I wear a “real” bra, which is why I’ve basically been living in Gilligan O’Malley camis for the last couple years. (Praise my lord and savior Target.) I’ve had a rough time with my ReA, so was very thankful that I hadn’t had to deal with anything like costochondritis, because from what I’d heard, it’s pretty nasty. And now I can confirm this from firsthand experience.

Since the news dropped, I’ve had heartburn and nausea on and off. (Thanks anxiety.) Usually drinking 2-3 glasses of ginger ale eases it. At this point I should buy stock in Canada Dry. But last week, as I toweled off after a shower, I noticed that there was a big lump on the right side of my sternum, right under my right collarbone. And it hurt, even if I didn’t touch it.

So of course I ignored it. Or tried to, anyway. As the night wore on, it became more and more painful. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest. Taking Tramadol and massaging it eased it a bit, but even after my heartburn abated, it was still there. I tweeted about it like a good #spoonie, but it was midnight and I didn’t really expect anyone to be on. Because I enjoy torturing myself, I started Googling my symptoms.

After examining a diagram of joints in the sternum, I determined that the swelling was dead on the manubrium—the joint where the first rib and sternum connect. It was definitely costochondtritis.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do for costochondtritis. You basically have to ride it out. You can take anti-inflammatory medication, like an NSAID, but since they don’t usually much help my arthritis, I figured it probably wasn’t worth aggravating my heartburn any further. I did consider going to the ER and begging for a super shot of Prednisone. One of the last times I had a really nasty flareup, the attending in the ER did that for me and it brought the pain down immensely. I was exhausted, though, and didn’t really want to sit in the ER for potentially hours. I decided that if I didn’t feel any better in the morning, I’d go.

Thankfully, the swelling went down and the next day, it was as if nothing had happened. That spot is still tender to the touch, but nowhere near as painful as my hands, wrists, big toe, and hip have been lately. It’s now hardly even a blip on my radar.

In the days since, I’ve taken care to make sure I’m getting enough rest. My sleep schedule is way out of whack lately, as I’ve been staying up late working and combating pain. I’m easing my bedtime back an hour every night. I’ve now graduated to going to bed at 1am rather than 5:30am. I’m also continuing my nighttime yoga routine (mountain pose, standing forward bend, triangle pose, and wide angle standing forward bend). Stress is fun times.

Breaking Through the Pain

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via Unsplash

These last few weeks have been miserable. We kicked off the new year without insurance and, of course, I ran out of Sulfazine at the same time. I’d already been having breakthrough pain. Throw in the brutally glacial temperatures that rolled in with January, and the week and a half or so without my medication was hell. Thankfully, I had some Tramadol left, so made due until I was able to get our insurance turned back on.

(Never, ever take health insurance for granted. Ever. Lesson learned.)

I’ve refilled my prescriptions and resumed my regular dosage, but it’ll be some time before it builds up enough in my system again to quell the fire in my body.

Inflammation is the worst.

I’ve got more Tramadol and Tiger Balm to carry me through, but after four months with hardly any pain, I’m having a hard time readjusting. On the first really bad day, there were a lot of tears. The other night, I was so exhausted I collapsed on my couch around 8pm and passed out under my electric blanket.

(Turns out Invader Zim is so much weirder than I’d remembered, but the comfort of the show I loved in my teens was enough to lull me to sleep.)

So I’m writing again, but very slowly. Last year, when I was in remission, I worked my way up to writing at least 3,000 words in an hour. Now I’m lucky if I can churn out 1,000. Even if my wrists and fingers didn’t hurt so much, the rest of the pain throughout my body is enough to blur my focus.

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

But I have learned to appreciate the power of scissors. Almost all packaging defeats me—even Emergen-C packets with their perforated edges. I’m finding that there are few problems a good sharp pair of kitchen scissors can’t solve.

(Emergen-C, by the way, is a wonderful invention. One of the symptoms of my disease is bone deep fatigue—and it’s also a side effect of Sulfazine, sigh. Emergen-C gives me the boost I need that caffeine can’t quite achieve anymore.)

I’ve been taking every day very slowly, but I have to say I’m relieved the weekend is here.

This Is What I Was Afraid Of

It’s been a long weekend. On one hand, it was kind of nice to laze around completely. (I even let the dishes go for one night.) But as of the new year, our health insurance ended. I missed the deadline. I thought I had more time, and then all of a sudden it was January 1st. (There’s still time to enroll and escape the penalty. The deadline I missed was for continual coverage.) I completely acknowledge that this was my fault. On the 1st, I tried to enroll but the Access Health CT website wasn’t working. (Literally. No matter what I clicked on and which browser I used, it just kept bringing me back to the home page.)

Naturally, I ran out of Sulfazine (the DMARD I take for my arthritis). I have refills available but can’t call them in without insurance. (Honestly, I have no idea how much it costs out of pocket. I’m kind of scared to find out.) Basically, this medication silences the inflammation that causes my joint pain. It’s only been a few days since my last dose, but already I’m in agony. And while I appreciate that, had I been on top of my game, I wouldn’t be in pain, it points to a bigger problem.

I wasn’t supposed to be on Sulfazine much longer, anyway. My rheumatologist said she wanted to take me off it the next time she saw me. She’d hoped that we were dealing with Reactive Arthritis and that the medication would get rid of it. It’s telling that I’m right back in a flareup.

Last night, during a Target run, I stood in the aisle for a long time debating whether to get some Tiger Balm. I haven’t had to use it in months, but something told me to pick some up. I’m glad I did, because tonight I’m miserable even with it slathered on my knees, hip, and lower back.

I do have some Tramadol left (and took one now), so hopefully I’ve got enough in my old bag of tricks to tide me over until I can get our insurance back on. (Rest, hot and/or cold packs, Tiger Balm, Tramadol.) I’d really hoped that Sulfazine would do the trick, but part of me knew otherwise; I had some breakthrough pain late last month and was starting to question the effectiveness of Sulfa. I guess now I know.

I’m sure my rheumatologist will have an action plan. I’ve really come to respect and trust her. Maybe I need Sulfa combined with another DMARD. Or maybe she’ll want to stop Sulfa and try something else. For now, my mission is to take it easy—and get my health insurance back.

Powering Through Fatigue

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

I’ve been bone tired these last few weeks. This is pretty normal for me, for this time of year. Still, I was surprised. I’ve been on Sulfazine for several months now and, up until recently, it’s been keeping my arthritis symptoms in check. But in the last week I’ve been having debilitating pain again—mostly in my lower back, right hip, and hands. The pain I can deal with, for the most part. It’s the fatigue that’s killing me.

It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get or how easy I take it. Lately, by about 8pm, I’m eyeing my bed. Doing simple things is a real chore.

At first, I thought it was depression. (A combination of badly managed meds and recent trauma headlocked me into a really bad episode.) But the effects of coming off the meds waned about a month ago. I’m feeling more and more like myself. It’s this exhaustion that I can’t kick. I’m starting to think that it’s “just” autoimmune bullshit.

This is disheartening, to say the least. I really thought Sulfazine was working.

It’s also annoying. I really want to get back to my normal, to days of writing and evenings of relaxing. But I’m wiped as soon as my eyes open in the morning. There’s a very limited window during the day when I have enough energy to do anything. By the time five o’clock rolls around and I’m due to start dinner, I’m sapped.

It’s the main reason it took me weeks to finally put up our tree. And then I went to bed early. I couldn’t even enjoy my work. I’ve been trying to power through, to make jokes about how tired I am or to ease people’s concerns. I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe I just needed the extra rest. But this fatigue is all too familiar, and I can’t deny it anymore.

Which makes me wonder. Last winter, I spent most of my days in bed, ridden with pain and exhaustion. I often could barely walk. I stubbornly stayed at my part-time job as long as I could, and then I couldn’t anymore. I really hoped those days were a thing of the past.

I want to shake my fist at the universe. I really can’t get a break.

Still, I’ve got my Christmas spirit on! I brushed the dust off a short story I wrote a few years ago, starring Jett. You can read it here (it’s free). 🎄

I Have Arthritis

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

This morning I rolled out of bed, stood up, and immediately stumbled. Excruciating pain shot from my left ankle. Gritting my teeth, I hobbled to the bathroom.

On Thursday, October 15th, I was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. After eight years of pain and searching and tears, I finally got my answer. My rheumatologist thinks that, after a few months on Sulfazine, this disease should be gone completely. Honestly, I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m just happy to have answers.

I got the news right before going away for the weekend with Mike. I did some research on reactive arthritis, but it was kind of confusing because most of the information out there is about reactive arthritis caused by STD. As far as I know, I’ve never had an STD, and still get tested regularly. I love and trust my husband, but you just never know in this world.

This AAFP article on reactive arthritis was pretty interesting:

Reactive arthritis usually occurs following an infection in a genetically susceptible person. Over two thirds of these patients are HLA-B27 positive. Those who are negative frequently are positive for cross-reacting antigens such as B7, B22, B40 and B42.8 A recent study9 found a similarity between some peptides found in gram-negative organisms and peptides that are in the binding site of the B27 molecule.

I am seronegative, which means I don’t have the HLA-B27 and my sed rate is normal. I do occasionally have a borderline double stranded DNA. I’m definitely curious to see if I have B7, B22, B40, or B42.

I’m still learning about this disease. I suspect that the mono I had as a teenager caused my reactive arthritis, because the timing is perfect and I’ve had no other major illnesses. But somehow I think we’ll never know. The important thing is that Sulfazine is helping and I’m able to do things like climb stairs. Small victories, you guys.

I thought that I’d feel better once I got a diagnosis, and I do. I still have pain. I still have bad days and nights. Jury’s still out on whether this will actually go away. If it doesn’t, I think I can be at peace with that. I’ve had eight years to get used to the idea of forever. But I am more at peace knowing that this wasn’t all in my head, that it’s a real illness. Now that I can say, with confidence, that I have arthritis, I feel so much better.