Co-Dependency: I’ll Scratch Your Back If You’ll Scratch Mine

Co-dependent: I’m quick to use the term. It’s not so easy to define, though. I’ve been trying for better than a decade to find just the right words. It seems most psychology publications are in the same boat as me.

PsychCentral defines it as “a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.” So really, they provided two definitions, not just one.

GoodTherapy.org breaks it down with a good ol’ list (because we love bullets) and explains that the “old” way of thinking was that everyone’s feelings were centered on one person’s addictive behaviors. Now co-dependence is recognized in much broader terms to include the role of caregiving, denial of personal problems, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt when offered help or attention from others, sensitivity to criticism, perfectionism and fear of failure, a projection of competence and a need to control others.

But the definition from GoodTherapy.org doesn’t make clear that there has to be at least two people in the relationship to make it co-dependent. At least one of the parties has to have low self-esteem and be sensitive to criticism and project a false sense of competence, and have support and attention from another party to continue carrying on with those behaviors. And let’s be clear, here: both or all parties can be co-dependent upon each other. Mothers and daughters, friends, teachers and students, lovers. Of course, some relationships are much more intimate and lasting than others.

Here is a comprehensive list from CoDA.org (Co-Dependents Anonymous.org):

Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence; Co-dependents often:
• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
• label others with their negative traits.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
• do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low self-esteem patterns; Co-dependents often:
• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• accept sexual attention when they want love.
• make decisions without regard to the consequences.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control patterns; Co-dependents often:
• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
• lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
• use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
• demand that their needs be met by others.
• use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
• use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
• refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
• adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
• use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
• pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance patterns; Co-dependents often:
• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
• judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
• avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
• allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
• use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
• diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
• suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
• pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
• refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
• believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
• withhold expressions of appreciation.

As I revisit the definitions, I evaluate first my own behavior, but also a few specific relationships near me (that I have to be careful not to become too invested in, though I tend to become protective and outraged when I spot misbehavior). I think that the actual name “co-dependency” will be adjusted within the next 5-10 years, though what it will morph into will be a great mystery.

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The Great Debate

When I was 14, I was visiting my dad’s house for the weekend and sleeping on the couch, which was the normal – I didn’t have a bedroom there. I’m a light sleeper. So it was a surprise that somehow between 12:30 a.m., when I fell asleep, and 7:00 a.m., when my stepmom answered a phone call from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her purse was scattered on the stranger’s front lawn, that the house had been robbed – and the burglar had somehow gotten past me. Three hunting rifles had been taken off of the wall along with a video camera and tripod, and of course, the purse.

The next night my dad took my place on the couch with his handgun in case anyone decided to come back. We used all of my babysitting cash to re-key the locks. But this story demonstrates many points: I grew up around guns (that were never locked up), the hunting rifles made it somewhere into the wide world to be used for who knows what, and that we are a violent society. The cops were surprised I was still alive and unharmed.

Not many years later, when my brother was five and a half, he was given his first gun for Christmas. His first few minutes alone with it and he shot out his bedroom light. I was never given a gun because I was a girl. Mind you, I never felt as if I missed out. But my dad and my brother perpetuated craving violence and guns. Even though I was the one who was on the couch, exposed, they were the ones who wanted to kill, kill, kill. At least, that’s what they projected.

My dad’s own father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In fact, Dad was the one who found him. Included in the three rifles that were stolen was the one that Grandpa used to do the deed. It had a strange sort of sentimental value that I couldn’t relate to. Who would want to cradle that weapon, and use it over and over, knowing its history?

Fast forward a few decades to when I lived with violent men. One was the guy who grew up in Manhattan in a household whose own siblings stabbed each other. The last day I saw him was the last time I called the cops on him, when he was supposed to be gone at work while I moved my things out of the house we were renting. Instead he was hiding in one of the back rooms and came out when I set down some moving boxes and attacked me. I struggled to get back out to my car in my stocking feet and he was restraining me and pinning my arms, telling me that if I would just do what he told me to do, we would be happy. I finally wrestled free and got in my car and called 911. The responding police officers bought his big-eyed innocent act and told me that if I called them again that I would be arrested.

Then there was the live-in boyfriend who threatened to shoot me – twice. He also talked about taking his guns to work to shoot all of his co-workers constantly. The cops reassured me there was absolutely nothing I could do until he actually followed through and hurt one or all of us. 

Most recently of course was my downstairs neighbor who moved out the last weekend of July, 2017. He used to beat his wife and abuse their cat. Whenever I had visitors I was a nervous wreck, because I had no idea if he would pound down the door while they were here, falsely claiming that we were too loud, or take it out on me later, screaming and raging and dreaming up reasons to call the cops on me. Worse yet he could of course physically pulverize his wife and cat for revenge, just for existing. He was ex-military so I knew it was likely there was a gun or two or seven in his apartment.

So here we are in the U.S. with our easy access to the worst kinds of weapons and ammunition. I am the one who was laying on a couch while a stranger or two crept past me to rob our house; you would think I would fall into the category of wanting a gun for home protection. I grew up around them; you would think I would relax around them. I’ve lived with and around plenty of assholes who have wanted me dead; you would think that I would feel safer armed.

Fuck that.

First of all, we have over 7 billion people on the planet. We are no longer hunting strictly for food supply. Anyone who claims that is an outright liar. And hunting season is so abbreviated that there’s no need to keep guns out for the entire year to make them accessible to every man, woman and child on the planet. Second, home invasions do not happen with the regularity that the NRA has somehow convinced the gun lovers they do. I remember reading from one guy a quote last week that Texas experiences 800,000 home invasions a year. My answer was, “Are you talking about bugs?” I mean, c’mon. If that were true, Texas would be experiencing a mass exodus.

The biggest and hottest debate that has resurfaced is the arming of school staff. I cannot stress this enough, but there are so, SO many reasons why this is a bad idea. Right now I live in the city where Philando Castille was shot. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and told the cops, and was shot and killed anyway. If for some reason some idiots decided arming school staff members would be a good idea, the staff members had better be lily white, because we Americans cannot be trusted to be color blind. Even black cops have proven to have prejudice against black suspects without meaning to.

I posted this article on Facebook regarding an armed officer who never engaged in the shootout that was happening in Florida. He simply hung back while all of those kids were getting shot. I pointed out that if an officer did this, why would we expect teachers to uniformly charge without fear or hesitation, and to act correctly? A friend of 27 years, whom I considered a decently good friend, didn’t like that I used this as an example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers and staff. He also didn’t like that I proposed that we have stricter gun laws regarding background checks, wait times, amount of ammunition sold, amount of ammunition guns could fire, types of guns that could be sold on the market, and age of buyers/operators. He resorted to calling me an idiot. Finally, he just outright blocked me. 

But am I an idiot? I’ve just been trying to stay alive. I have all of this violence swirling around me, and all of these men are insisting that they have a right to violate me. I’m saying no. I will continue to say no. I’m good with saying no.

Lastly, here is a comprehensive list from a woman named Karen Nichols in Ottawa Center, Michigan; she had many questions regarding arming teachers and staff, and did a great job of articulating them:

Which teachers get guns?
Where will the guns be stored?
Who decides when guns can be brandished?
What penalties will apply if teachers mishandle a weapon?
Will teachers volunteer for gun duty?
Can teachers refuse it?
Who will audit their adherence to regulations?
Will students know which teachers have weapons?
Who will be liable if the teacher with the gun becomes the shooter?
What will be the consequences when students are accidentally shot by a teacher?
How will armed teachers communicate in a tactical situation?
Will teachers with a history of mental illness be allowed to use weapons?
Will teachers be required to disclose any history of mental illness?
Will teachers be issued a weapon? Reimbursed for purchase? For ammunition?
How will administrators conduct non-weapon-related discipline against a teacher?
Will there be armed assistance available to deter workplace shootings?
Who will shepherd the armed teacher’s classroom while the teacher is attempting to locate the active shooter?
What happens when a teacher misidentifies a student as a threat in good faith?
Will teachers who do not carry lethal weapons be offered non lethal alternatives?
If an armed teacher is shot, can another teacher employ his or her weapon?
How will armed teachers identify themselves to arriving first responders?
Will armed teachers be required to learn how to give first-response medicine?
Will armed teachers be required to attempt an arrest before using lethal force? Under what circumstances?
Will proficiency training on weapons count for teachers’ continuing education and professional development?
How will insurers adjust health and other rates to account for the presence of armed employees?
Will teachers receive additional pay for being armed?
how often will armed teachers be re-evaluated for licensing purposes?
Will armed teachers leading field trips deposit their weapons in a personally owned vehicle or school-owned transport?
Will one teacher per wing of a school building receive weapons? Two? Three?
Exactly which standards will count for proficiency—greater than a big-city police department, State Police, FBI, hobbyist, marksman?
In training scenarios, how will using force against innocents be penalized?
Will racial sensitivity courses be required?
Do parents have a right to refuse to send their kids to schools with guns?
Will students have to sign waivers? Will parents? What if a parent signs a waiver for a minor student who, when that student turns 18, refuses to abide by its provisions?
Will teachers on probation be allowed to carry weapons?
What about teachers with active union grievances? Complaints about sexual harassment? Anger management? Divorce proceedings?
Will armed teachers wear holsters?
Will they be stationed strategically during pep rallies or other gatherings?
Will they participate in lockdown drills as if they were armed or unarmed?
Will funding for the policies outlined above be distributed according to local budgets, statewide formulas, or national formulas?
Will schools in high-risk neighborhoods receive more or less funding? Suburban schools?
What is the right ratio of armed:unarmed teachers by grade level?
What is the procedure for debriefing and assessing armed teachers’ performance during a crisis?
Can an armed teacher who flinches be fired? Can an armed teacher who breaks protocol be rewarded?
Will preschool teachers have guns?
Will teachers in “juvie” (high risk) schools have guns?
Will the teacher or the school be liable if their gun is stolen?
Can administrators carry weapons? Can they do so in disciplinary situations?

Think about this: I quit playing clarinet after 8th grade because my band teacher was an outright asshole. After I quit, he was fired for punching a student. But let’s give him a gun, right?

If Nothing Else, There Is Hope

Written as a MySpace blog post 10.5 years ago, approximately 3 years before I became seriously ill with the disease that took me down and now has me bedridden. I can’t believe it’s been a decade already.

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The Legacy of Hope   6/2/07

 

When I went to the Chandler library to cruise for movies to check out for the weekend, the selections were pretty slim.  The Poirot series that usually appears on PBS didn’t hold any appeal, and “Show Boat” wasn’t looking any better.  I picked up a documentary called “Legacy,” about a multi-generational family of single moms trying to escape the inner city projects of Chicago.

The narration is provided by one of the teenage girls who lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt, six cousins and four siblings.  Within the first 10 minutes of the film and after the grandmother gives her first interview about living in the projects, one of the nephews – the one that showed the most academic promise and stability, and was looked up to by family and neighbors alike – was shot dead in the street.  The filmmaker chose to follow this family for a total of five years after this devastating murder, which included the boy’s mother joining and completing her 5th addiction treatment program, the narrator’s mother getting a stable job after being a welfare recipient since the age of 16, and the grandmother finally qualifying for her own house after a generous donation from an area businessman who saw the news story of the boy being shot.  The narrator was the first in her family to complete a high school education and receive her diploma.

This was a difficult story on many levels.  It is not dissimilar to watching episodes of “Intervention” on A&E.  Nearly every person of my immediate and extended family is or was an addict; I saw and learned things that no child should.  Every person in my father’s family with the exception of my uncle died young, including my father.  This month will also mark the violent death 12 years ago [as of 2007] of my aunt at the hands of her boyfriend.

Poverty was also a strong factor in my childhood years.  My mother nearly died when I was five after she contracted a bacterial infection, and was bedridden for three months.  Add that to the strain of my own medical bills, with my terrible asthma attacks, allergies, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis….and no health insurance.  “Preventative care” was impossible to consider.  We stood in line for milk and cheese.  We were also issued these awful frozen fish portions, which were breaded fillets of cod with a hunk of cheese wrapped in as well.  Luckily an uncle was a manager at General Mills and would give us test samples of various foods that they were developing to mass market.  It was a treat when we once got “Bonkers” – if you remember those, they were rolls of peanut butter with rice crispies and chocolate chips on the outside.  Mostly, though, we got these horrendous breakfast bars – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate – that had the taste of chalk and the consistency of a doorstop.  We ate them because we had to.  [It is no mystery that impoverished people are overweight because the least expensive food is the most fattening and unhealthiest fare you can conjure up.]

One Christmas there was no money for presents.  My mom contacted a local charity that gave us $14 each to spend on gifts, took us shopping, and had a wrapping party afterwards.  Mom still had a sense of humor about it – somehow she convinced me to tell her what I got her, saying “Oh, I’ll forget, I promise.  Just whisper it in my ear.”  Of course I told her.

It is also no mystery that being poor is stressful, humiliating and limiting. It is easy to say “Why don’t they just ___________ ?”.  Right now, as a nation in general, we have a very them-vs.-us mentality; every man for himself. If you are lucky enough to have grown up in a household that never really had to struggle to survive, it is much more difficult for you to understand how this cycle of poverty continues through generations.  But instead of saying “Why don’t they ________?”, why don’t you ___________ to help?  Because it’s their problem, not yours.  I’m not saying that we have to give $10 to the people with signs at the end of freeway exit ramps.  Can’t we lend a hand before it gets to that point?  It may not be you or your family right now, but it could be in the future.  Medical expenses alone are becoming outrageous, even for those covered under company policies, and one major illness could be financially devastating.  Half of all bankruptcies filed are attributed to medical bills.  For some reason, we as a society have associated medical bills with outright laziness, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

There were elements in this film that I could not relate to.  My extended family never bonded to get through the hard times.  When my aunt was killed, my father had to admit to the detectives that he “never really socialized with her” and didn’t know her boyfriend was violent.  Her death was heartbreaking, but instead of offering each other support, fights broke out over stupid things like who would get her dresser and bed.

These women in the documentary also had strong faith in God, which was never a part of my upbringing.  Hearing “God will get us through this” and “by the grace of God” was like they were speaking in tongues to me.  Faith is not something I practice.  Even if we’re talking about people in general, or work, or good health, or anything for that matter, I never sit back and say “I have faith”.  Instead, I have hard work and critical thinking skills.  If I don’t do for myself, I have no business sitting back and waiting for something, or someone, to take care of everything for me. 

Yet, there is still the legacy of hope.  We need to be reminded that despite our circumstances, we can rise above with dignity and flourish.  You or I may have been in a bad place 10, 20, 25 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we have to be there now.  Good deeds should be handed out to strangers, friends and family alike – you may need their help one day.

My mom has recently started worrying that she made too many mistakes and bad decisions when raising my sister and I.  It’s quite a time delay, since we are both in our mid-thirties and turned out pretty straight.  I don’t hold anything against her.  She also taught us love and affection, dignity, and the joy of survival. 

Invading MySpace

Remember MySpace? I kept a blog up there too. In fact, I also dated some men through MySpace. The following is a story about one of those men, and knowing what I know now, he has exactly what I have: mast cell activation syndrome. I have thought about him often only because I wonder if he has actually been able to find the correct and comprehensive medical care. But hands down, he is a fucking lunatic. There is no way I could be around him for even five minutes ever again.
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I debated about posting these, but the whole incident is classically surreal, like when the main character in “Swingers” calls a girl named Nicki that he just met at a club that night.

I went out with this guy for one date in November of 2005, where we met up at a bar and he was too cheap to even buy me a drink after he asked me what I was having (the woman sitting next to me was so pissed, SHE bought me a drink).  Afterwards I drove him to his apartment because he had taken a cab, and we ended up working on some of his original music together. While we were there, he got into a screaming match over the phone with his mother, and they were calling back and forth and hanging up on each other, and he was stomping and slamming doors.  Some other background:  he own(ed) his own business that manufactures DVDs and CDs.  He also has horrendous food allergies where if he deviates from eating six specific foods he can go into anaphylaxis, much like most of us with this disease.

We talked on the phone the Monday after that date, and I timed him talking non-stop about himself for 20 minutes.  He repeatedly said that he wanted to have children, so after the sixth time of hearing that I stated that I probably wasn’t the person to do that for him and tried to explain why (this was before I had my hysterectomy). He blew up.  He went on for another 10 minutes solid and accused me of criticizing him.  I told him I was getting frustrated because he wouldn’t let me finish my sentences, then he said I was being hurtful because I was accusing him of being rude, and he was completely insulted.  Anyway, after he hung up on me, I found this string of e-mails sent overnight.  I have blanked out his name for semi-privacy and included the times for your reading pleasure (all of his typing mistakes were left in):

11:58 pm:
Chelsea!

You know, you opened up the other night, and I was very, very, kind about it. I opened up tonight to you and you were VERY tough. Very not fair.

The items I discussed are not definite ever. But you had pre-ideas and canned my personally as to what I felt about you the other day and what you disapproved of me tonight. I had the HIGHEST FEELINGS, THEN TONIGHT YOU CAN MY FEELINGS. Hope your happy. If you want to call, go ahead. I don’t care if we are exact or not, but the words were very harsh.

12:09 am:
Chelsea,

I am only willing to love. Email never does justice. We just hit it off, something was up the other night, just want the one I met that night. Sincerely,
P

3:04 am:
[blank]

3:08 am:
I thought your were happy I was in to you. So there are differences, I was very insulted because you refused them last night. I can’t believe you would immediately be that way. We had a nice night the other day. You told me you had a great time. Something I’m missing?
P

3:20 am:
Not fair.

The decrisption of the “PERFECT” man was wrong. If that is exactyly what you want, you tell me, and tell me upfront and all! NO ONE EVER CUTS ME DOWN

I told you about the possibilitiles, and how I actually can handle the differences. But I still can handle the differences. And let my partner know.

3:23 am:
Not fair.

The decrisption of the “PERFECT” man was wrong. If that is exactyly what you want, you tell me, and tell me upfront and all! NO ONE EVER CUTS ME DOWN because I have the ability to raise a kid. Anyone who does cuts them self down. I just want to know who can.

I told you about the possibilitiles, and how I actually can handle the differences. But I still can handle the differences. And let my partner know. Kids are tough, but not 100fficial in a new relationship. But anyone who cuts me down about that…I can be the best dad.

I just only wanted to meet and go out. With no big deal.

Sincerely.

P

3:50 am:
Chealseal

OK. here it goes. I really like talking and hanigng with you. I almost died this weekend. I’m sorry.
I lost almost 10 pounds. I;m not having fun. I am just doing what I can. It is too much too handle by myself. I really like you, you just caught me in a time where I may or maynot have much time. PLEASE FORGIVE.

3:55 am:
Chelsea,

Please hang on. I did not mean to hang up.

It is hard to be myself with what is going on.

LOL…I’d really like a pizza! Can’t have it though.

All the things on the phone, just take them as friendly. You are great. Just know that.

Sincerely,

4:00 am (titled “RUDE”):
yes,, me,

I really hope you call me. I am not very happy with my self. It is hard, just please forgive and talk with me again. Sincerly,

P

5:22 am:
Chelsea.

I was about to Bankrutcy the business. I am not mysellf. You know, you are beautiful. I have words on the phone, and email. But they are just my venting that I might/might not loose everything I worked for. I am not my self at the moment. I apologize completely. I have a funny habbit of calling my friends in the middle of the night if I drink a bit. You caught me in a time of my life where everything is on the line.

I am totally sorry for anything I said wrong. I am really stressed. And, maybe wrong. I am sorry. I had the best time talking with you. You just met a guy who is “got it together” on the outside, but not on the inside.

I have done my best, but, I have now to realize the way it is.

Sincerely,

P

PS – anything I said in a voicemail is just me venting. I hope to hear from you, venting or what.

5:32 am:
Chelsea,

I had a rough night, obviously. But, just so you know, and whether you contact me again or not, you are very pretty. Your eyes and your smile are the best thing.

I had a really bad weekend. My food allergy thing is lethal. No one understands. My mom, well, she took about 5 phone calls to calm down and realize, and help me find a potential solution.

I am not myself. I just want to run the bus and play guitar/sing, and even sing with you.

I may have blown it. My bad. Then it is my fault and I must deal with it. I have these stupid health things that make me not myself. But if i was out of line, I apologize. Very sorry. Most Sincerely, and just not myself tonight, P

This was posted after I went to work, 9:05 am:
Chelsea,

Hi. In summary, I went overboard last night.

When I asked you if you were real, I was meaning a real person. I have been screwed over the last few times I met someone.

You are not only real, but again, have the prettiest eyes and smile. The first thing I noticed. So, anyway, I had one too many last night, and will NOT DO THAT again. I was very emotional and you just happened to be there.

So, I really like you. And everything you said was fine. I really enjoy looking at you the way you are. And/or the way I don’t yet know, but either way, you are good with me. Your eyes and smile are fantastic.

P. has some inside issues obviously of stress, probably from the business. They come out once in a while. I just need someone to slap me in the face if they come out again. Because I do not want them around. I just want me and….well…you….at least when I’m talking with you.

So, please forgive, I am just a human. I take things too personally sometimes, but understand.

So call me please. Anything wrong I did I apologize, I just had a bad night after being very sick for three straight days. I lost 6 pounds since you saw me. That bad. I was in a lot of pain.

But anyway, I am here. Most very sincerely,

P.

After much time and consideration, this is how I replied:
P,
I remember trying to explain the reasons why I have decided not to bear or raise children, and during the first point (of three) I was attempting to make, you interrupted me to talk about you again.  I remember thinking “What in the world do his allergic reactions have to do with MY ability to bear and birth children???”, but I let you continue talking.  Then somehow you turned it into me criticizing you for wanting to be a daddy, when no words of criticism or judgment (and in fact no words at all) came out of my mouth.  Then you got pissed because I said I was getting frustrated about not being able to finish my sentences.  You ended the call by talking for another 10 minutes non-stop and then saying “Maybe we’ll talk again, have a nice life, talk to you soon” and proceeded to hang up on me.

To top it all off, when I wake up this morning and check my e-mails, I have ELEVEN messages from you that are barely coherent and alternatingly rude, apologetic and complementary.

If ever there was a time that you needed someone special in your life, it is now.  However:  no matter how sick you are, no matter how drunk you are and no matter how stressed you are, if you treat me like crap, I’m not going to stick around.  I don’t let anyone else treat me this way, and I’m not going to start with you.

I have a hell of a lot more to say, but let’s just leave it at agreeing not to contact each other again.

Super Blood Moon Drawing Blood

In 1993 to 1995, I worked at a regional hospital in the admissions area, and we always knew when it was a full moon. On any given day we would have one or two women during regular business hours coming in (not through the ER unless it was after hours) in full labor. When the full moon hit, the number always jumped up to about nine. If we ever forgot or wondered for a second, we checked the calendar and then it would click: oh yeah, the full moon. Every time. Don’t ever doubt that the moon has a big influence on happenings on Earth, and it’s not just tides and births.

I was at a social gathering this Tuesday the 30th of January. There were only six of us, but I only knew two others and three were strangers. One person came from her workplace and was wearing her work uniform and I was familiar with the clinic where she works – it’s quite large, and I used to have the majority of my doctors there. One of the young women sitting next to me piped up and said, “Oh, I used to work there, in ophthalmology!”

I immediately tensed up. “Do you mean you used to work with Dr. X?”

“Yes! I loved working with him, he was so laid back,” she said.

Now I’m no good when it comes to putting out a poker face. I also didn’t feel like playing Minnesota nice either. I said, “He made my life a living hell. He was the first doctor I saw there, and he said that my condition was psychogenic [meaning it is psychosomatic], and all of the doctors after that saw what he wrote so they wrote the same thing in my chart, and now no one will treat me. I actually have scans showing that my brain has collapsed and I’ve had a clogged shunt for almost three years.”

She nodded and said cheerfully, “Well, yeah, he actually writes that it’s psychosomatic or psychogenic in almost everyone’s file. But he’s nice to work for as a boss, he doesn’t get crabby often.”

When I say she was young, I mean early to mid-20’s. She wasn’t affected at all by me telling her that his notes basically ruined my life and chances for getting treated properly. I also haven’t had any money (including and especially disability) coming in for three years. I also wasn’t successful in filing a complaint with the Minnesota Board of Health – they said I didn’t have sufficient evidence. But now I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has complained about what he put in my chart because it was so obviously wrong, and I backed it up with 100+ pages of medical records.

This Dr. X is Harvard-educated, but you know, even Harvard has to have someone who is the shittiest out of the bunch. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s the one.

This is also why it’s important to stay diligent about your own care. I realize that anger makes people uncomfortable, but in my case, it’s legitimate. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I returned home from this gathering, I was taking my nighttime meds and catching up with my emails, and I saw one pop up in my inbox. I dreaded opening it. It was from a researcher I had written to a week ago to give her an update on my situation. I had met her in 2016 at the hydrocephalus conference that just happened to be in Minneapolis. I wasn’t sure that I could handle more disappointment, but after delaying it for a bit, I braced myself and checked her reply.

I had explained that I was diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome, and that my Phoenix neurosurgeon had noted that my dura was extra tough when he started doing surgeries in my head rather than my back, so my theory was that my CSF couldn’t drain properly and that it was probably because of the mast cell degranulation. I already know the shunt failures are because of the mast cell action.

Her reply was very encouraging. She thought that I was absolutely on the right track, and she wants to work me into her research. A lot of it already revolves around inflammation; I consistently have astronomical platelet counts (that have already been checked via a bone marrow biopsy), but she hasn’t studied mast cells and I would be the perfect candidate since I had problems before the shunts and with the shunts.

I tend to be a pragmatic person, which sometimes leads to awkwardness in emotional situations. But I’m more than happy to sacrifice my body at the altar of science if it means that some knowledge is gained and others are helped. I’ve become a broken record in the online MCAS groups because I’ve talked about the CSF and shunt issues so many times, but every time I do, more people step forward and say that they have had some mysterious problems too, even if they are not exactly like mine. For a long time doctors have said that only fat, middle-aged women have pseudotumor cerebri/ideopathic intracranial hypertension, but I’m beginning to suspect that mast cell activation syndrome might be playing a bigger part than they realize because of how many people in the groups have stepped forward. 

So after this low low and this high high, the super blue blood moon arrived in the early morning hours Wednesday. The moon has ruled my Earth. I feel a little bit lighter now.

Did I Ask You?

One of my fellow rare disease/chronic illness warriors/sufferers posted a thread on Twitter tonight. She’s quite well known because her condition is very unusual and obvious, but she doesn’t shy away from the camera or public speaking engagements. Her post tonight detailed an eye doctor visit that was made all the more difficult because 1) The eye doctor googled her condition rather than talking to her directly about it – and she is a much more knowledgeable source than Google; 2) The eye doctor left the light shining in her retina while he took a personal call, after finding out that she is extremely light sensitive because of her condition. 

Her post had to do with the appalling way that she was treated. As each of us who have chronic and rare diseases either have done or would like to do, she had some choice words for the doctors following her as pointers on how NOT to treat rare disease patients. At no point did she ever say, “Gosh, I have no idea what to do. I don’t know who to talk to about this or how to go through the proper channels [in Australia] to file a complaint.” There wouldn’t be any reason for her to do that. She’s lived with this condition all of her life and she is actually a very vocal and active advocate.

But of course, there’s some asshole who decided to announce that she should file a complaint. 

No. Shit. Since the original poster wrapped up the thread by saying that she confronted the doctor and quite forcefully said that the rare disease patient is the best source, and a light sensitive patient shouldn’t be left in front of the light scope while a personal call is taken, and she would be following up with the office, and she just looked forward to trying to relax after being in a lot of pain, I responded. I said, “It’s okay – she knows how to handle bad appointments. She’s had this condition her whole life. She’s an advocate and speaks out often.” In other words, go fuck yourself.

Also recently, a young woman ended up in respiratory failure and was in a medically induced coma and on a respirator. She lost days of her life. When I say young, I mean young. Her significant other has been updating us and has been an absolute rock, but they are both scared and worried and facing big changes. Wouldn’t you know it, in the middle of the updates, I see something about, “Can you guys not offer advice, please?” She’s also a rare disease patient with some of the same stuff I have, but some is different, and I know some asshole is telling her that she needs to do yoga or chew on bark and vitamins from the Himalayas or something. So to whomever is sending her unsolicited advice, fuck you too.

Why does this get me so worked up? I was always a sick kid who grew up to be a sick adult. I became really sick in 2010 and it has been a mystery that has been mine alone to solve; no one has traveled with me to see 65 doctors, or see me through all 10 surgeries. There have been a few people who have helped to fill in some gaps, but they have been sparse. I know what I’m doing. I am educating doctors and nurses and physical therapists as I go along. I teach people how to maneuver through insurance. I help people search for doctors – even when there’s a few thousand miles between us.

I have never said I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to call, I don’t know where to look, I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to eat, I don’t know what to take, I don’t know what I like, I don’t know what’s best for me. And though I am currently well below my natural quota of 8 doctors, I know how to care for myself.

The next person who says, “Oh, it must be the acidity” after I tell them I can’t eat pineapple because I’m allergic to it, I’m going to throat punch them. Fuck them too. And fuck anyone who gives me unsolicited advice. I’m so over it and you have been warned. This video is much nicer about it, of course.

Save The Date

Statistically, Minnesota is one of the worst or the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to wait times for disability processing. I didn’t know this when I relocated from Arizona to Minnesota to try to figure out what was going on with my body. This article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune states the average wait time is around 570 days from filing to have a judicial review. I just got confirmation that my hearing is set for March 28th, which will put me at about 770 days of filing the appeal (and almost 3 years to the day of filing the initial claim of disability). The back log just keeps getting worse.

I’m not sure I would have done this any other way. As horrible as it has been with trying to get doctors to take care of me in Minnesota, I did finally get three diagnoses that I have been missing for years in addition to what I already knew. I forget what my count was when I entered the state, but I’ve seen 64 doctors since July of 2010. This has not been an easy process. There is no clear path.

Thankfully my allergist has already agreed to fill out paperwork for my hearing, and my counselor has as well. I will be meeting with my primary care doctor and pain doctor next month to ask the same from them. I’ve been rejected by every neurologist and neurosurgeon in the area as well as banned in writing by the Mayo, and I can’t go out of state because I’m on Medicaid so it’s not allowed, so I’m not quite sure how that is going to be looked upon by the judge. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.

One incredible resource I wish I had stumbled upon before I started this process but am eternally grateful for is the blog How To Get On. There are sooooooooo many links/ideas/resources/testimonials that it sometimes boggles my mind, and I really can’t imagine how many man hours it took her to put it together. It’s unfortunate that the author sometimes gets reported and blocked by Facebook for either posting “too much” (seriously??) or for questionable posts (again – say what??), so we have to keep it circulating so as many people as possible benefit from its content.

That Time I Went Back To Arizona

About five months ago, I decided fuck it, I’m going back to Arizona to visit. I miss everyone and everything. A few weeks after that, I figured out what started this whole thing with my brain. (Yes, I mean figured it out, not the doctors.) I knew I’d have a place to stay with friends, and eating out was out of the question, so I’d just have to come up with a plane ticket. Done. It might be my last opportunity to travel depending on how much worse the scar tissue and the brain damage gets – literally no one fucking knows.

I have about 35-40 people that I would have liked to have seen, but I was only there for about 8 full days, so it was impossible. One night a bunch of people came over and we had a little potluck and hung out. The rest of the time everyone was gracious enough to drive to me, or I took the short bus to see them.

It was my first time traveling without being able to drive, either at home or my destination. First of all, nothing can happen on a whim. It took me about 2.5 weeks to assemble all of my medications and a vog mask, and that included negotiating with the insurance company to get an override on 8 of my medications that would have needed refills while I was gone but couldn’t get in Arizona – they can only be done in Minnesota, because I’m on medical assistance. I also had to make a trip to a compounding pharmacy.

Then the day before I left, a medication I had been trying to get for about 7 weeks was finally approved, so I had to go and get that – but it was such a high volume that there was no way I was going to be able to fit it in my luggage, so I decided to start it after my return. Every time I have to go somewhere, I have to request a ride from Metro Mobility – but I’m only allowed to call one to four days ahead of time. I can’t call on the same day. So I was on a dead run (or as much as I could have been for someone who is half blind) up to the day I left.

It was so worth it, though. Arizona was all blue skies. As I’m writing this, we’re getting rain in Minnesota.

Hopefully my friends know I love them, but I forgot to take pictures of them. Apparently I shoved them aside and made a beeline straight for their animals, which I am deathly allergic to. I did a little planning for that too. One of my doctor visits beforehand was to get my regular and steroid inhalers refilled so I could start on those prior to my visit. I also packed extra diphenhydramine and Claritin (above the 12x daily dose I already take) in anticipation of the fur balls, and every time I came home from a house with pets I changed clothes and put the contaminated clothes into a plastic bag and did a big scrub down.

First were the rescued baby kittens, all black except for a few white spots on some bellies. My friend was just grabbing and distributing them around the bunch of us, and I just happened to get my soul mate – a little one who has neurological problems. It just wanted to get as close to me as possible so it curled up tight against my neck and slept. Once in a while I felt it have tremors and twitches that were not at all normal. I was laying back so the fluid wasn’t trapped in my cranium, and I swear, it was heaven. I wanted to stay there forever. At one point the kitten woke up and started putting its little paws right on my mouth. (I’m in the blue.) I did get hives, but they may not have been as bad as they could have been because apparently the night before the kittens pooped all over each other and so they had to have an impromptu bath, which they loudly protested.

Back at my host family’s house, a large lizard showed up on their property wall. Usually they do not get this big!
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I was lucky enough to be able to spend two afternoons with my friend and his wife. He was instrumental in getting me to be active on Twitter after reading my blogs, which has led to guest spots on other blogs, podcasts, and our Blab series (now deceased because they couldn’t figure out how to make money off of the platform). These two are quite funny; the male, bright orange, is loud and LOVES women. The female, green, is a lot more quiet but likes to ring her bell ball to communicate. The male will say both of their names together and then swivel his body from side to side when he is showing off or pleased.
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Next were my good friends including a couple and their live-in mom. They were usually the first ones I would call when I needed a kitty fix while I lived in Arizona – they had three kitties I knew well. Within the past year and a half they ended up adding another cat and dog under pretty terrible circumstances. Their friends relocated from another state; my friends didn’t realize there was drug addiction and abuse happening. The kids have since been placed in foster care, and the animals were traumatized. Actually, the really big, long, grey kitty seems mostly okay, but the dog has suffered terribly.

When I came to visit, I was told to expect him to pace and whimper. I was also told that I shouldn’t expect him to eat, or approach me, because anyone else who has visited hasn’t had any success even though they were animal lovers too. So this poor, beautiful dog did start pacing. I made sure that I moved slowly, and told him that he was a good boy whenever he paused to look at me. Then I put two treats on the back of the sofa and turned away from them, and eventually he worked up the nerve to get close enough to take the treats. Then he paced close enough to smell my hands while I wasn’t looking, and then quickly paced away again. While this was going on, he was carefully watching how I was interacting with each cat, making sure I wasn’t mean. A couple of times I closed my eyes. I suspect my friends thought I was tired, but I was actually sending him messages of love.

We sat down to dinner, and I couldn’t eat part of mine because of an allergy, so I put it down on a plate for the dog. Another win! And he came over multiple times to sniff my fingers. I made sure again to not be aggressive. I told him over and over he was good.

I stayed long enough to go on his last walk of the evening, which he loves. He wasn’t even confused about there being a strange lady with him on the walk until one point where he crossed over to me and then suddenly was like, “Holy shit, who is this???” and then quickly walked on the other side of the sidewalk.

At the end of the night I was saying goodnight to everyone (read: handing out the last pets to the pets), and the dog was near when I was petting the pretty calico. He was again watching very intently to see if I was being mean. So I carefully got down on all fours and made myself small, put a treat in my hand, and put my head down, and HE ATE OUT OF MY HAND. Everyone was stunned and thrilled.

My friends ran me back to where I was staying, and let me know that when they returned home, all of their animals were lined up at the door, as if they were waiting for me to return. They had never seen that happen before.

The last evening before I flew home, I was able to visit with a former co-worker whom I had the longest work history with – something like 8 years together on our team. I also remember when she had her kiddos – vividly! Our conversation went something like:
Her: “I feel like something isn’t right.”
Me: “You’re in labor. Go have your baby.”
Her: “I’m not really sure. I’m going to wait a little longer.”
Me: “I don’t think you should wait. I think you should go.”
45 minutes later: Baby.

They have two cats and a dog. I failed to catch a photo of the dog, but she was a sweetie. The white cat, Gracie, is quite elderly now, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s shit, including the dog’s. The kissy photo was taken right before Gracie got pissy about the dog bothering her. Seamus is a year-old instigator of trouble and very handsome.

Obviously the mast cell disease is preventing me from being a crazy cat/dog/bird lady, so I suppose I should be thankful.

Anyway, it was really difficult to come back to Minnesota. The night I flew home, my friend’s little boy called me and told me to come back. Sheesh, kid – right in the feels.

Oh Ye Of Little Patience

Well-meaning people direct me to online support groups all of the time. Why don’t they work for me? Because I’m a snob.

A couple of days ago, I was summoned across the street to my sister’s place of business, because one of her co-workers knew an artist’s husband very recently had had brain surgery, and thought it might be beneficial for us to visit. As luck would have it, I had just finished showering and slapping on some makeup, so it wasn’t a big deal to finish getting my clothes and wig on to hobble across the street. When I walked in the door, I immediately recognized the woman. We had briefly visited during a previous show at the gallery. She and her husband were very pleased with the surgeon and her husband’s recovery, so I got the name of that doctor and another from her.

However, she looked over the top of her glasses at me and started with, Have you gone to a chiropractor? Yes, I explained, many times, and they did absolutely nothing for me. She wanted to know if I had gone to an herbalist. Yes, again, I sighed wearily, I had, and I’m taking supplements out the wazoo, because I need to, because my diet is very restricted. But they don’t make me better. My issue is mechanical and I need surgery. Then she wanted to know if I had tried the Chinese herbalists next door. I held up my hand and said that I’m very good at researching and am 1 to 7 years ahead of everyone else’s suggestions, so there’s no need to make suggestions. Then she moved to food. Was I juicingI really needed to juice everything! I said no. She started listing everything I should be eating, so I started cutting her off, telling her that each item caused a release of histamines, so it was actually dangerous for me. (Plus, with the few things I can still eat, why would I juice??? I get so little fiber now, and juicing removes most of the fiber.) Did I try an accupuncturistAgain, yes, and they did nothing for me. I know, I know, hard to believe.

God, I hate getting advice, especially when I don’t say, “Give me advice, I have no idea what to do or where to look.” She did write down the name of her otolaryngologist surgeon, whose specialty is cancer tumors of the head and neck. I’m still going to contact him. My tumor is not cancerous and he may not want to deal with it because it will probably grow back, but it’s worth asking him. However, I may be blacklisted because of my negative encounters with three other doctors within the same university system who said my problems were psychosomatic.

So, back to support groups: I hate them. I also can’t keep my mouth shut. One week, someone posted something about how she wished our rare disease doctor would team up with another doctor who researches the same disease. Unfortunately, the other doctor doesn’t have a license, so he can’t see other patients. I pointed this out. She said fine, then everyone needs to take care of themselves and stop smoking so they’re not on oxygen. That really pissed me off because the majority of us in the group can barely eat any foods safely because we’re always dealing with hives, have a really hard time finding medicines that don’t cause hives/asthma/anaphylaxis, and don’t smoke. I’m fucking allergic to smoke. I told her she was lecturing the wrong group. Other people got pissed off too. But then another person singled me out and told me to tone it down, and then it just went downhill from there. I was told that I should have just kept scrolling if I didn’t like what I saw. Then the original poster said she didn’t know that doctors needed licenses and not everyone knows that. I got so angry that I said that the leading doctor in this field most likely already considered the option of teaming up with other leaders, but they were in situations he was trying to get away from, so it was a moot point, and we should use common sense.

I admit it, I’m a snob. (For some reason, the woman who was trolling me told me that I was going off on a tangent because of that last remark. I told her that there was nothing that I was saying that was off topic, and I was responding to everything she and the OP were saying. I don’t think she understood what “tangent” meant.)

I’ve talked about this with my counselor. She agrees with me that a group setting isn’t what suits me best. I tend to steamroll people. Just today, someone in a group asked, “How many of you have NOT had _______?” and a bunch of people said “I didn’t,” but then a bunch of other people said, “Oh, I did, and it was like this and this and that.” So I wrote a message saying, “So, I thought this was about people who didn’t?” I got a reply that basically said that people wanted to share no matter what the question was.

Why don’t those fuckers write their own blogs if they’ve got so much to share?

Give Me Liberty (In A Dropper)! – Product Review

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Unfortunately, one theme that is constant and recurring in the chronic illness community is pain and fatigue. No matter the ailment or diagnosis, these are our constant companions. In my family alone we are a soup of autoimmune diseases – where there is one, there are many. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, alopecia universalis, hidradenitis suppurativa and mast cell activation syndrome. Other immediate family members have lupus and RA, and branching out we have polymyalgia rheumatica and MS. The only one on my personal list that doesn’t cause me pain and fatigue is the alopecia, and that’s because I no longer get 75 shots in my scalp every three weeks.

I was really excited to have the opportunity to try the Liberty Lixir Ultra High CBD Tincture.
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Now, I don’t know how much you, dear reader, know about CBDs. I also don’t know how much you know about hemp vs. marijuana. I can give you a quick and dirty explanation since I was on the medical marijuana program through the State of Arizona for some months because I’m allergic to the shunts that have been implanted in my brain and it’s incredibly painful. Hemp = legal, made into all kinds of products including paper, clothing, balms; can be cooked to extract chemicals at certain temperatures called CBDs, which are natural painkillers. Has less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry-weight basis, therefore making it nearly impossible for you to get high off of hemp. Weed = much less legal across the board relatively speaking, beloved for its much higher THC content and therefore “trippy” effect, also can be cooked at a certain temperature to extract CBDs.

This particular product is made from hemp. Because it still has that trace amount of THC, you have to be cautious about consuming this if you are going to be subjected to any testing. It’s a bummer, I know, because it’s not like you’re doing something you shouldn’t be – you’re just going for some pain control.

And this little bottle does a stellar job. Liberty Lixir packs a good wallop with the 1,000 mg of CBDs. It’s a very simple formula too. The hemp oil is mixed with coconut oil and vitamin E, and as noted on the bottle, you don’t have to worry about GMOs or anything unnatural. As you can see, the solution is completely clear:
20170804_200759-1 The instructions are simple. 10 drops under the tongue, hold them there for 60 seconds (so they can absorb sublingually). It’s the fastest and best way to deliver meds to your system instead of trying to absorb them through your acidic stomach.

I’ve been walking lately and working on my physical therapy exercises to make myself stronger and improve my balance, because I have a lot of little falls during the day. But this also makes me incredibly sore and tired. I just can’t win! Sore from being up, sore from being in bed all day. As soon as this arrived, I started with the doses.

In about two days’ time, I started feeling a marked difference. Now, I feel like I should be a skeptic and say that CBD oil seems like it’s too good to be true. Maybe it’s a placebo effect. But I am going to be very specific and say that I’ve been on the medical marijuana program and used the edibles and those still got me very loopy – unfortunately. I didn’t like them. I want to be in full control AND feel better. And I feel like I achieved that with Liberty Lixir. [If you want even better results, you can eliminate foods that cause inflammation and allergies, which I had to do out of necessity because my lips swelled up and I lost the entire lining of my mouth.] But I feel like my joint pain is down to about 30-40% of what it was before.

There were only two small things I had to get used to with this product: 1) The oil base. I’m not used to having straight-up oil in my mouth. 2) There is a hint of “green” taste that is particular to hemp/marijuana products that I always notice and others may not be bothered by – I’m just a super taster.

Liberty Lixir is something that I (and you) will want to continue using once it’s started. I can’t imagine not having it as part of my daily regimen now because I feel so much better. If you haven’t tried CBD oil for pain control before, this is a good hemp product to give it a whirl. This bottle lasted me approximately one month.