Retrain My Brain – Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme 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.

This particular series, The Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme, is being offered by a doctor who was laid low by chronic fatigue syndrome (which I will shorten to the commonly known acronym CFS), which is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (the acronym ME for short). The Centers for Disease Control states: “CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Symptoms affect several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia, which can result in reduced participation in daily activities.” (https://www.cdc.gov/cfs/) The CDC also indicates on their site that despite trying their best to figure out what triggers CFS, they haven’t pinpointed the cause. It could be a number of infections, it could be autoimmune related, it could be something in the central nervous system; they’re just not certain.

I was given this program because I have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia shares some of the CFS/ME qualities – mainly crushing fatigue and pain that does not go away with a good night’s sleep. Dealing with constant pain and fatigue also changes your brain and your outlook, affecting the way that you interact with the people around you, as well as your ability to handle your own sickness, or wellness, as it were.

The very first thing I noticed when I opened up my packet was this map from Dr. Gupta.
20170522_092902If you can’t tell, this piece is quite large and almost covers my entire area rug. As we found out, it is an interactive practice piece that you actually stand on and use to help retrain your brain to stop negative thinking.

The other items included in the package were a workbook and a set of audio and video DVDs.
20170522_093415
I was signed up for weekly interactive web meetings as well. In our first meeting, we were introduced to Dr. Gupta, and informed that the web meetings were actually the most important part of the program, and that the DVDs, workbook and practice poster were supporting materials.

The web meetings were 12 weeks long total, so it is quite a commitment if you decide to join the program. And there is a lot of material to cover. However, if you think about it, some of us have been sick for years. I’ve been sick for two decades. 12 weeks is really a drop in the bucket. It’s just a matter of adjusting your schedule and making room, just as you would for a physical workout program. You want to lose the weight? You do an hour at the gym. You want to lose the disease? You do a few hours a week at the Gupta program. 

So what is amygdala retraining? Basically, it’s to stop the negative feedback loop so you can start healing. Your body feels bad, so your mind gets stuck thinking, “I’m not good enough, I don’t don’t deserve friends if I’m going to bring them down, I don’t deserve love, I’m a terrible person, I’m a loser, I can’t do anything right, I hate my body, I’m going to stay sick forever,” etc. If you can get rid of that negative feedback, you can also retrain your brain to start a positive flow of thoughts, including, “I will allow my body to relax, I will feel comfort, I will smile, I’m choosing health and happiness, I trust myself.”

And back to that interactive poster that’s on the ground: That’s the “Stop! Stop! Stop!” technique that Dr. Gupta often refers to as part of the retraining. He encouraged us through the course of the initial training to actually follow the steps on the poster: think the negative thoughts, then hold out our hands and think or say, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Then we would breathe and smile, return to our loving self, then choose to take the loving path and be kinder to ourselves in our thinking, then visualize health and happiness. We would repeat these steps over and over again – at first slowly, then faster, as if picking up anything that feels clunky at first but then suddenly becomes second nature.

Throughout his sessions he often took breaks for us to breathe, or meditate. We also had time to ask questions or interact. Dr. Gupta warned us that there would be times when emotions would bubble up and sometimes get the best of us. I tend to be pretty stoic except when it comes to dealing with my neurologist and neurosurgeons, so I was surprised when even I had a web session that affected me emotionally. The point is to not hold everything back so that our ego doesn’t get in the way of getting better.

The DVDs and audio CDs are helpful because there are some meditations included, and meditation is one area where I always need improvement and assistance.

Dr. Gupta does advise for anyone going through this program that the changes will be gradual, and to not expect anything earth-shattering immediately; after all, anything shocking would set us back, not make us better. Six months would be a good goal for feeling a significant improvement if you do the work with sincerity. 

I’m grateful to have these materials at hand for the long haul so I can refer back to them as often as I need to – because there’s so much to learn, and I’ll definitely need a refresher from time to time. And Dr. Gupta records all of his sessions so that we may go back and rewatch (or if you couldn’t make it to the session in real time, you can watch at your convenience). I did personally notice a certain calmness and lightness after each session, and I do feel like my attitude has shifted towards all of my diseases; I’m choosing right now to be loved and to be worthy of love, and maybe that will shift again in the near future to another positive focus as I journey on.

Dr. Gupta’s Website:  http://www.guptaprogramme.com/

Give Me A Break

On Thursday afternoon, I saw my 59th doctor, a neurosurgeon. At least, I think he was #59. I don’t feel like going back in my previous posts to make sure. I could be like that person who doesn’t want to admit that their birthdays keep happening so they claim to be 29 & holding.

The ride out was long. The conversation with the cabbie was lively. His name was Isaac. I found out he has a wife and five children who still live in Uganda. He goes back every 6-8 months to spend time with them when he has saved up enough money. I can’t imagine having to live like that, my loves living half a world away. He told me about the worst job he ever had (digging pits that were 20 feet deep, 16×16 wide/long with a pick ax and then having to haul away the dirt himself because there was no machinery). The pits were for storing water. We talked about what shocked him the most when he moved to Minnesota the first time, which was snow (before global warming kicked in, the state used to get dumped on so that sometimes the snow would be thigh high) and teenage pregnancy (in his culture, girls would live with their parents until they were married and they never spent time with boys until the marriage happened). We talked about how violent men are towards women in the States, and how women are so accommodating and undemanding of the men, as in, “It’s okay if you don’t work. Here, lemme make you a sandwich and buy you a house.” See? Lots of sharing.

In my appointment, I first talked the physician’s assistant through everything and demonstrated how my symptoms disappear when I tilt my head parallel to the floor. He asked if I had seen the one doctor I had asked to see, and I said I hadn’t. He asked why, and I said, “Because he said there wasn’t anything wrong with me.” The PA couldn’t hide his bafflement. He said it was obvious that my ventricles were completely gone. He did a few of the standard neurological tests like having me squeeze my eyes shut, follow his finger with my eyes, push and pull his arms, etc. Then he went to get the neurosurgeon.

The neurosurgeon came in and after our introductions, he said he had talked to my neurologist. He mentioned that they thought I was overdraining, and I shot that down immediately. I told him that my lumbar puncture came out with a high opening pressure and I hadn’t had anything surgically done since then. I also told him that I had a leak for an entire year so I know the difference between overdraining and underdraining and they are completely different sensations. For me, the underdraining always brings vertigo, fatigue and the facial droop. Overdraining will never bring paralysis for me; instead, I get the tire-iron-beating-me-in-the-skull pain. 

We talked about the fact that there hasn’t been new shunt materials in ages. We talked about the near-impossible task of finding materials that I won’t be allergic to since I’ve had so many already and I’ve reacted to them.

We also talked about the mass that’s growing on my right side. I asked him if it was at least possible to take that out. I’ve been having pain on the right side that radiates down my neck, and if it’s killing brain tissue and turning it to jelly (which it is according to the MRI), then I’d like to get rid of it. However, because of where it is – in my cerebellum – it’s in a bad spot for a craniotomy. As of November it had grown to about the size of a quarter (not sure what size it is now). 

The neurosurgeon doesn’t want to operate on me at this point. He wants to repeat the upright MRI in about six months to check the size of the mass. He expects it to interfere with my coordination; it might be what’s causing my legs to jerk uncontrollably right now.

So, that’s the plan. Follow up in six months. No surgery right now. Wait for the mass/tumor to get bigger and my symptoms to get worse.

Luckily the same cab driver drove me back – he stayed nearby so it wouldn’t be a long wait for me, thank goodness. The office was really way out in the middle of nowhere by city standards. But the ride back was completely different. Isaac was trying to get me to talk, but I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed and upset, and trying (but failing) not to cry in front of this total stranger. It was just a few sniffles, not an ugly cry, thank goodness. 

That evening I got home and received a notice that my primary care doctor is leaving the practice (and maybe even the state). During our last visit in March she had tried to talk to me about palliative care, but said she would wait for me to decide.

Just so I don’t lose my mind, I have to stop pursuing another opinion on the neurosurgery side for the time being. I’m getting a lot of well-meaning advice about how I should just “stay strong” and “keep going” and “don’t give up.” Honestly, though, I’ve been going at this for nearly seven years. This isn’t fibromyalgia, which I’ve had for 20 years – and I’m not knocking anyone who has it, it’s a beast; and this isn’t Hashimoto’s, which I’ve had for 12 years and again I’m not trying to put anyone down, but this is a whole new level of sick. I was able to work through that shit, even if I had to sleep after work and sleep through weekends. My brain is literally being crushed and I have a mass that’s growing in my cerebellum. There aren’t good days and bad days. I need a break from having to be my own advocate for this really rare orphan disease as I drag my sick ass around from neurosurgeon to neurosurgeon to try to convince them that what they are seeing is real (because it’s right there on the MRI).  

In the meantime, I have plenty of other things to keep me busy and other doctors to visit. We just won’t be tapping into my skull right now.

Protected: The Flame

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V-Day

I ran into my next-door neighbor yesterday as I was coming back from the pharmacy up the street and she was heading out to her car. We usually only exchange a “hey” and weak smiles. Instead, I said, “Did you hear the downstairs couple screaming for eight and a half hours Saturday???”

She said, “Oh, I guess he has PTSD, so that’s why he’s violent.”

I said, “That’s NO excuse. None.”

She walked away from me quickly and snidely said over her shoulder, “Well, stuff happens in relationships.” 

Yeah, it does. I can tell you all about the relationship downstairs. There’s a lot of crying. The guy rages and screams and says that he CAN’T EXPRESS HIMSELF LIKE SHE CAN and SHE’S GOT IT EASY and EVERYONE LETS HER TALK BUT NO ONE LETS HIM TALK and I can’t hear her response clearly because he’s raging and screaming and telling her to shut the fuck up. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for touching his stuff. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for cleaning a certain way and that no one else cleans that way in the entire world. THE ENTIRE WORLD DOES IT BETTER THAN SHE DOES. If she would just LISTEN TO HIM THEN THINGS WOULD BE BETTER, but NO, SHE’S GOT TO BE FUCKING SELFISH, and WHY DOES SHE MAKE IT SO HARD ON HIM? She’s so self-centered!

This went on for eight and a half hours Saturday night. The only break was when they had visitors at around 7 pm to sing one of them – I think the husband – happy birthday. Just a half hour beforehand there was sobbing, so someone had to get cleaned up before the friends came over. Then when the visitors left, there was a huge, audible sigh, and the fighting resumed. 

Is this what my next-door neighbor really believes is the norm? Is this really what is healthy in her eyes?

It doesn’t feel good to me. It makes my skin crawl. Specifically, it affects me because I have been in it before. The worst was Drummer #2, the guy who would write me hate letters in dry erase marker on the kitchen tile counter overnight and cover the entire counter and I would wake up to chaos. Our fights would last hours and days, and the scripts were the same: he couldn’t talk about his feelings (while screaming at me), if I would only do things his way then he wouldn’t get pissed off at me (but the rules were always changing), and by the way, why was I so selfish?

But I didn’t learn my lesson with him. The most recent live-in boyfriend that I had turned violent after we moved in together. He became very unhappy after realizing that I wouldn’t be able to wait on him hand and foot because I’d be recovering from one of my many surgeries, and it really pissed him off that I made twice as much money as him. He shoved me three weeks after one of my surgeries. I broke up with him five months after we moved in together, but I still kick myself for even letting it go that long.

Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” came up with a brilliant movement: V-Day. On Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that it’s not always roses and chocolates – sometimes it’s booze and bruises, or worse.

http://www.vday.org/homepage.html

And of course a block down the road from us in St. Paul is the oldest women’s shelter in the U.S.

But even though we have these wonderful resources, and we have the women’s march in D.C. and around the globe, and we can say “pussy” and “vagina” without raising an eyebrow, there is still such a huge disconnect.

Why is my neighbor so flip about “stuff” happening in relationships? Is she just so fucking grateful that it’s all about pleasing the guy? And is her assumption that I’ve never been in a relationship so I don’t have a clue? Oh, honey, let me direct you to my blog…

But I feel like it is such a never-ending battle, for me, and for all women, to be considered equal and to not be slut shamed or used as punching bags, and to make sure we are not buying into some patriarchal and misogynistic vomit.

How Much Do I Owe The Swear Jar This Time?

A couple of weeks ago I got the last of my fillings repaired as part of the bigger, year-long, multiple visits to the dentist that were caused by me clamping my jaw in my sleep because of the pain in my shoulder and abdomen. I also had to make sure that they marked in my chart that I had slit ventricle syndrome and the tumor because they love to tip me waaaaaaaaay back in the chair and it really messes with the pressure in my head.

There was a mixup with my appointment and they got me back much later than my start time, which caused me to have to call my transportation to pick me up later; unfortunately, transportation had to leave me until 2 hours after I was done, which caused the fluid to build up a lot, which means I was hella uncomfortable and my vision was cut down quite a bit. But before that, I had a weird/comical/maddening exchange with the staff in the back.

I require four times the amount of numbing medication because my sodium channels don’t process pain meds correctly. Both of the teeth we worked on were in my upper jaw, so I ended up being numb up to my forehead. When they sat me up after I was patched up, they told me I could walk to Walmart down the road (as if! No way am I giving them my money!). I said no. They said I could then walk somewhere else. I again said no. They asked me why. In the best way I could with a very numb tongue/lips, I said, “I can’t theecuz oth wuth wrong with ny vrane.” The assistant, who was none too bright, said, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR VEINS??” I said, “No. Ny vrane. Vrane.” And I pointed at my head. The assistant dentist asked what was wrong, and I said, “I can’t do anyfing vat vill nake ny vlood mressure go umph. I cood have a stroke and nigh.” The assistant dentist asked what the doctors were doing to help. I said, “I can’t fine anyvun who vill take ny case. I’n lergic to da shuns. I need to fine stuff I wone vee lergic to.”

Then the dental assistant piped up and said, “Well, I don’t blame the doctors. I’m sure they don’t want to feel bad if it doesn’t work out for you.”

I shot her a look and said, “I cood die wifout helf. Da pressoo keefs goin’ uf in ny head and if I can’t get sunfing in to work, it vill kill nee.”

Without hesitating, she said cheerfully, “Well, I can see both sides.” Like we’re debating whether to have fish or chicken, instead of whether or not it’s better to kick the bucket to spare doctors’ feelings. She stuck with her “too bad for you” attitude.

At the end of December, my case was referred to the top neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area after it was discovered that my brain had literally collapsed under the pressure, as well as started growing a tumor from the scar tissue that was left in from a previous shunt that is now about the size of a quarter. I know he got the radiology report that listed all of my symptoms. I know he got the impressions from the neurologist because he seemed to answer her question about whether I’m overdraining.

His reply was that my brain was fine and the tumor was no big deal. He also said the shunt isn’t overdraining. Now I’m not allowed to see him either. 

Here’s the deal: I know I’m not overdraining. If I were, I wouldn’t have high opening pressures every time they do a lumbar puncture. The overdraining assumption is strictly my new neurologist’s misunderstanding of slit ventricle syndrome – she’s trying to make my symptoms fit, instead of paying attention to what’s going on. Second, the brain tissue around the shunt and the tumor is turning to jelly. This isn’t normal and it’s a big deal. Third, the tumor is causing measurable cognitive damage. Fourth, and I’ll show you pictures, but my ventricles disappeared, and my brain has literally collapsed.

mymriscreenshots

I have new insurance that started on February 1st that comes with an advocate and a care coordinator, so I’m waiting for them to contact me, which is the norm. I smell a lot of research in my future for trying to figure out what I can try for the next shunt system, and I’m not looking forward to it, but I also know no one else will do it but me.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It Out Of There Alive

A few minutes ago I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, trying to figure out if the married couple downstairs was fighting again, and whether I should reach for my phone. Last Saturday the husband, whom I have nicknamed The Leprechaun because he’s shorter than my 5’6″ height and sports a red beard, had a 3-hour meltdown. One of many, I’d like to point out. He rages. He hits the wall. He hits furniture. He may even hit his wife. I hear her crying all the time.

I notified the apartment managers the week they moved in, and they told me to call the cops. On Saturday, I did. I got tired of the screaming and my walls shaking. The cops came and went, and The Leprechaun took it upon himself to immediately knock on my door afterwards and demand that I talk to him about why it’s acceptable for him to be abusive. You see, he has a traumatic brain injury. You see, he can’t drive. You see, it’s none of my business if he makes his wife cry. I didn’t open my door. I simply put my headphones back in and eventually he went away.

I drafted a letter to the apartment managers. In it, I recapped what happened in the past, including The Leprechaun knocking on my door right before New Year’s because I had dropped a bottle of lotion on the floor, because it had “caused a huge ruckus” (like that’s the same as 15 hours of his screaming rage) – and by the way, I hadn’t opened my door to him that time either. I also indicated that he had knocked on my door and demanded we talk after the cops had left on Saturday. I was told that the managers were going to have a meeting with him as well as talk to their attorneys to find out how to handle him because he had a disability (traumatic brain injury from serving in the Navy) and they have to “accommodate” him – though I’m not sure why his TBI overrides my disabilities. Also, let’s face it: no one has ever called the cops on me for being violent and threatening, because I’m not.

I got a text from one of the managers Wednesday night that they were setting up a meeting with him Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes later, The Leprechaun knocked on my door again and demanded that I open the door and talk to him. I told him through the door that I wasn’t dressed to open the door (which was the truth – I was resting in bed), and he said very forcefully, “I’LL WAIT.” Then I said that I was also on the phone (which was true – I was talking to someone out of state, and that friend could hear the entire exchange). Eventually The Leprechaun went away again, but I had to text the manager and tell him what happened, and he told me to call the cops if The Leprechaun came back.

I know the meeting happened on Thursday morning. I heard The Leprechaun return back to the apartment because he slammed the door as hard as he could. I didn’t hear him start packing boxes though, so I have no idea what the verdict was. Looks like I’ll have to pursue that answer Monday.

But it seems silly that I had to point out to the apartment managers in my letter to them that I don’t condone spousal abuse, I am not okay with him retaliating against me, I’m not his wife, he doesn’t pay my rent, and it doesn’t say anywhere in my lease that I’m required to accept abuse from the tenant who lives in the basement apartment. So now I’m on alert and ready to call the cops. C’mon, Leprechaun, your box of Lucky Charms is gonna run out sooner or later.

This ties into another subject that I was discussing with a friend about why women fake orgasms. Specifically, why do women who are having a one-night stand fake orgasms. Mainly because there’s so many douchebags like The Leprechaun running around. The worst are the ones who like to proclaim that they’re nice. No really, they’re nice! But then get any of your bits naked around them and they’ll make your nipples bleed or tell you that you like anal sex, you just don’t know it, and they’re going to show you how right they are.

I actually had the privilege of talking this process of faking it through with a man who was willing to listen rather than becoming defensive or angry. Think about it; when you talk about having one night stands as a single woman, you get the pious lecture about how you don’t deserve anything nice because you gave a man your body for only one night, you dirty whore. No lecture for the other party, though. He did nothing worse than stick his dick in another hole. But I digress.

We talked about the various reasons why women fake orgasms. But there’s a specific reason that isn’t talked about much that comes up from time to time on first dates/first-time or only-time sexual encounters, and that is personal safety. Sometimes you don’t know that things are going to go badly until you are both naked and the fucker has stopped listening, and it dawns on you that he simply wants a porno show. His script is running and you had better perform. The light bulb goes on over your head.

Of course, some men love the whole resistance and crying thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. The guys who can’t tell if a woman is faking are the ones who rely solely on porn for the cues of orgasm: “Oh” sounds, clenched hands, clamped jaw (or maybe even gaping open, whatever your preference). They want to dig a hole to China through your clit. If you complain that the pressure hurts, they push your hands away, tell you that you should stop being shy or that you really like it, and wrench your legs back open after they have closed to protect your most tender flesh. Same for anything that they want to do to you rather than do with you.

The light goes on. You give him his show, make all the right noises, tell him he is king, and get the fuck out of there before he rips your skin any more or gives you additional bruises and you have excruciating pain every time you pee because the urine is passing over open wounds.

I’m just saying, it’s okay to fake it sometimes. There’s a lot of Leprechauns out there.

Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Brain Damage

Happy Holidays! Froeliche Weihnachten! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Santa/Kris Kringle/Krampus/Monito-monita, that crazy, overgrown elf/Viking who has nothing to do with a mythical baby born in a stable bringing you this winter solstice/Christmas/yule?

I already got my gift, but nothing like what the three wise men brought across the desert. At the beginning of November I saw a new neurologist who agreed to give me everything that I seemed to be missing: an upright MRI, a neuro psych test, and keep me on as a patient, as confusing as my case is. Three days after our initial meeting the doctor who administers the neuro psych tests had a cancellation so I didn’t have to wait four months. A neuro psych test is a series of tasks to evaluate my real brain functionality – not just the few words a doctor might ask you to remember a few minutes later, like “pencil,” “dog,” and “purple.” I had to take many different kinds of timed tests, including drawing, making linear connections, making word associations, and answering personality questions. That’s the short version.

I didn’t have any problem with drawing pictures from memory. I was shown simple lines and boxes and then given a blank piece of paper a half hour later and could draw them in sequence perfectly. However, when it came to things like giving a list of words that began with a certain letter in the space of 60 seconds, it was like the bottom of my brain fell out. I could only give four words for the letter “A,” and they were very simple words like “an” and “apple.” There were four letters total, and each letter was a challenge. I can only remember the letter “A” at this point.

There was another exercise where the tester gave me a list of words that included pieces of furniture, animals, and modes of transportation. Every time I repeated the list back, I always tried to give it back in order, I never tried to group everything together in like groups. It never occurred to me. However, if I had full functionality, it probably would have. I also could never remember more than a few words, even though I’m guessing the list was repeated more than 20 times.

They wanted to see how I could do with repeating numbers back, so they started with three numbers, then four, then five. As soon as I got to five, I started struggling. At six, I couldn’t repeat any numbers, not even the last two or three of the group. Again, it was like the bottom of my brain dropped out.

There were many other tests, but in the interest of space and to save some face, I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

A few weeks later when I could meet with the doctor who administered the test, she confirmed what I dreaded hearing but suspected: I have brain damage. Since I’ve never had an evaluation done before there’s nothing to compare it to, but she said she could tell that in some areas my knowledge base and functionality was “superior,” or above the level of a college-educated woman. However, the brain damage affected my memory and speed and speech and brought those areas down to true mental impairment.

A few days ago I went into the office for part II of my follow-up to look at the actual scans of my upright MRI. My MRI did not look good.

normalventricles

Above is a progressive MRI scan of a brain (not mine), moving down from top to bottom. As you move further down, you notice that the part in the middle gets larger and darker; that’s the ventricles. They are the four chambers that are the gold standard for figuring out if there’s a problem with CSF in the brain. This is what normal looks like.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ventricles left. All of them have collapsed. My brain is pressing on the brain stem and I’m having all kinds of unusual problems, like my legs suddenly jerking if I’m standing and I look down briefly. Of course I have the problems I’ve always had, like the vertigo and the fatigue, and that pesky facial droop and ptosis (pronounced “toe-sis”). My new neurologist insisted that the disappearance of my ventricles must mean that I’m overdraining, but I knew that I must be suffering from Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and it means just the opposite – the pressure is crushing my brain.

UCLA has a pretty good explanation of Slit Ventricle Syndrome. I’m 100% certain that my shunt is “nearly blocked but barely flowing.” I always, always feel like my intracranial pressure is extremely high. It’s exhausting. So for now, it looks like I have Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and I’m not sure if this would have been picked up before this point – at least not two or three years ago, even though the symptoms are the same. I don’t recall that my ventricles have looked this horrific in all of my 20+ prior MRIs.

Also troubling is trouble brewing at the back of my skull. In 2013 I had two cisternoperitoneal shunts placed when my neurosurgeon was trying to find anything, anything, that my body wouldn’t reject. After we removed those and I ended up with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, he barely got the old one out after a lot of scraping and pulling because of the scar tissue that had built up along the tract. A surgery that should have been an hour and a half turned into five hours and I was left with a huge highway of bruising from my head to my abdomen.

Unfortunately, he thought that it wasn’t detrimental to leave scar tissue in my head, and in fact may help to plug the burr hole where he drilled for surgery so I wouldn’t have any leaks. I knew what it was like to have a CSF leak; 2014 was incredibly painful when I had a leaking shunt for that whole year. The scar tissue has been increasing in diameter and it’s now growing like a tumor. From what I can tell it’s about the size of a quarter, and it’s pressing on the area of the brain that deals with memory and speech. It’s actually a long rope but it’s got a huge bulb, and if I press on the burr hole, it yanks on the area it’s attached to right behind my ear.

In plain English: My brain is being crushed. My shunt isn’t working. I’m growing my own tumor that was started by my scar tissue.

My challenge is that I’m allergic to the shunt materials. Also, now that the scar tissue is turning into a growing tumor, can we take it out without creating a leak, and when we pull it out, will the area it’s damaging have permanent damage or will it heal?

Also, can I fucking qualify for disability now? Everything that I’m reading about Slit Ventricle Syndrome says that it’s a permanent condition – there’s no going back.

Within the next few weeks (because of the holidays messing everything up) I’ll find out when I can get in with the best neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He came highly recommended by other hydrocephalus patients when I attended the hydrocephalus conference including the mother of Olivia, the young woman who had 123 surgeries since birth and who is now aged 20.

I am also in the process of finding an occupational therapist for an evaluation that can be included in my records for my attorney and disability case.

I’m going to share the most personal thing I possibly can and have up to this point, because some of you may doubt how much this has affected me because I have created coping mechanisms. It has taken me two full days to write this post and writing even the simplest words is sometimes a struggle. But the hardest thing for me to do to date was to send out holiday cards. At one point I had to stop writing for about a half hour because I broke down in tears. Hand writing words without the benefit of being able to go back and erase them and rewrite them like I do in the computer almost caused me a panic attack because I could no longer remember how to write even single-syllable words. For the people who did get cards, there was a lot more crossing out and scribbling than I would have liked. Maybe you noticed that I started to write an “E” where there should have been an “L” first. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember how to write my own name correctly – I would skip letters.

I don’t have all of the answers. I still – STILL – don’t know what’s causing the imbalance with the CSF in my brain. I don’t know if taking out the scar tissue/tumor is going to alleviate the memory and speed problems. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to tolerate an appliance in my body. I definitely don’t want to hear, “But you look fine!” or “Have you tried _____?”

.

 

The Ballad of the Broken Neighbors

“FUCK. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP! FUCK YOU!”

It first came on Sunday night, a man’s voice, from the direction of my windows to my right. I had my ear buds in and had been laying in bed, watching movies, as usual. My first thought was that a guy was watching a sporting event and was just generally being a dick and being really passionate about a goal that was scored.

But then I heard a much softer female tone answer. I could tell she was in tears but I couldn’t make out what she said. Then he again exploded: “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Then he punched something, hard, multiple times. It may have been the wall, or it may have been a piece of furniture, but I don’t think it was her. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I got out of bed. This building is old, built somewhere around 1910, and the floors are the original wood. They creak with every step I take no matter how quiet I try to be.

I went to the kitchen, and it seemed to be slightly louder. I could hear them both. I have a very tiny apartment, only 360 square feet, and much of the wall space is covered with art, so it was really difficult for me to find any blank wall to put my ear to. By the time I did, they had stopped. I hovered for a while but everything stayed quiet. I slowly walked back to bed, wondering if they were truly done.

At around 12:30 a.m., there was another outburst. “FUCK! FUCK YOU! STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! JUST SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!” More crying from her, and words, but I still couldn’t hear what she was saying. I got up and they stopped. I got into bed again and wondered when they moved in, because I hadn’t heard anything like it before from that space below me.

At around 9:00 the next morning, the yelling started again. I got out of bed and laid down on my floor so I could put my ear to the floor boards. I could hear them walking around, I could hear the air moving between their bodies and their ceiling/my floor, I could even hear them making holes somewhere close to me – maybe to hang electronics, or pictures? I felt like I was in a movie, where the cinematographer shows how close one character is to the other, and all that is separating them is one flimsy piece of board. I wondered if they could hear me breathing. I tried to hold my breath.

I heard him say, “Why do you always fucking do this?!” and I know that she answered because I heard her voice, but it was still too quiet and tearful to make out the words. Then it was silent except for their bodies moving, and the periodic pounding into the plaster. After about 15 minutes I got up from my place on the floor because it was becoming far too painful to maintain, and I started getting ready for my caseworker to visit. As soon as I did, the yelling started again.

When my caseworker arrived at around 1:30 p.m., I warned her that the couple in the apartment below mine had been fighting, and she would likely hear it. About three minutes later, we heard the guy again, just as loudly as all of his other rants. He never seemed to tire. I imagined that the woman was exhausted.

His rage continued for a total of 15 hours on Monday. He hit something again too. I still don’t think it was her, but it set me on edge. The last screaming rant was around 12:30 a.m. again; I had my ear buds in watching my final movie of the night trying to get tired enough to sleep and his screaming penetrated the ear buds.

For the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, he had screaming fits again, but not for the 15 hours that he did on Monday. On Wednesday I typed up a text to forward to the property manager but at the last second deleted it. Then an hour later, a notice was slipped under my door saying that we were getting completely new apartment managers (our 7th and 8th in a year and a half), and to be patient during the transition. That’s why my instincts wouldn’t allow me to text the now-fired old manager!

Today at lunch I took a chance and stopped by the office, which is located directly across from the new tenants’ apartment. I pulled the door shut, introduced myself, and told the new managers that I heard abusive behavior from the male tenant of the two. The new managers said that maybe the guy was just watching a game or playing XBox. I said that was bullshit, and that the woman had been crying. Then one of the managers said that yes, she had seen the woman crying. Then they said they didn’t see any marks on the woman’s face. I told them that didn’t mean anything, and by the way, women don’t cry over scores that men get while playing XBox. They said that I could always call the cops if I needed to. I am fine with that – and I will, do not doubt that – but here’s my problem: I have to actually do things to get ready to get to the front door to let the cops in that people who are able-bodied don’t think twice about. We have a secured front door without an intercom. Plus I am the only apartment within close proximity of the asshole, they don’t touch walls with anyone else (even though my next door neighbor heard him shout once), so when I report him, he’s going to come after me.

The new managers assured me they would talk to the new tenants. I went back to my apartment and laid down, and then someone started banging on my door and buzzing the ancient doorbell. I had to say “Just a minute!” more than a few times to get them to stop. After putting my wig back on, I opened the door to discover one of the managers there; she apologized and said she should have called instead of knocked, but then said that the woman said the man was playing with his XBox. I told the manager that that was absolute bullshit. The manager said that if I felt like the new neighbor was disturbing the peace, I was certainly welcome to call the cops, but she had to accept what the woman told her. I asked her if the woman came up with the XBox explanation on her own, or if the manager gave her that option as a possible “out,” and she couldn’t tell me.

So at this point, it’s me against the neighbors. Why do women stay? They just want the abuse to stop. They want their men to value them and to see how much they love them. They want their love to be enough to fix them. They don’t want to get their men in trouble. They need their men for financial support. I run the risk of both of them turning against me when I pick up the phone.

You had better believe I’m going to call it in.

Product Review: TMedPharma (3 Products)

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.

First, I’m going to throw a definition your way that I recently used for another review, and that is “medical food”, which this product falls under and is defined by the FDA:
“The term medical food, as defined in section 5(b) of the Orphan Drug Act (21 U.S.C. 360ee (b) (3)) is ‘a food which is formulated to be consumed or administered enterally [orally] under the supervision of a physician and which is intended for the specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements, based on recognized scientific principles, are established by medical evaluation.’”

Targeted Medical Pharma, or TMedPharma for short, is producing items that are considered “medical food” that are therapeutic doses of specific ingredients meant to treat certain conditions. I was given three products because I suffer from autoimmune conditions – namely fibromyalgia, but possibly others that are still a mystery – that produce irregular sleep, overall inflammation, and fatigue.

First, I was given Sentra AM; the instructions state to take 2 capsules on an empty stomach. 2016-10-23-06-11-43
This is where I really have to pay attention. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, so I take levothyroxine (brand name is commonly known as Synthroid) on an empty stomach every morning an hour before eating. It is very, VERY important to not take certain supplements or eat certain foods within four hours of taking this medication, so I had to check the label to make sure there wasn’t any vitamins C, calcium, or iron to stop my medication from working. The label states that the Sentra AM doesn’t have added sugar, starch, wheat, yeast, preservatives, or flavor. What it does have is an amino acid combination, ginko biloba, cocoa extract, and hawthorne (as in berry, which I take daily to support my heart and cholesterol issues). Also, I’m sometimes out of it in the morning, so I do this to remind myself of how many to take:
2016-11-20-13-23-29Taking the Sentra AM didn’t have me climbing the walls, but I also wasn’t dragging, so it was a nice change. I took this for the entire three months’ supply that I was given and I never had any adverse reactions, which is great because I’m allergic to so many things. My energy pickup was subtle. I’m not certain that I would purchase additional bottles…but ask me a month from now when we are in the dead of winter and I have zero zip, and I may be singing a different tune.

Theramine is the “medical food” taken twice daily (2 capsules) to reduce inflammation. This one must also be taken on an empty stomach in order to be most effective. Theramine also contains a different amino acid combination, as well as GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), cocoa extract, Griggonia extract, grape seed extract, and cinnamon. Sometimes in products that are anti-inflammatory I experience allergic reactions because they have sneaked in some form of fish oil, but I didn’t see any on the list and no warnings, and I didn’t experience hives or wheezing, so I think I was in the clear. They state that the product does contain milk (in the enzymes, most likely) but does not contain added sugar, starch, wheat, yeast, preservatives, or artificial color.

2016-10-23-06-12-47
I am going to impart some knowledge that I found out from going to a naturopath for years. If you take these products on an empty stomach, you will reap the benefits of anti-inflammation ingredients throughout your body. If you eat when you take these products, at best you will only feel benefits in your digestive tract. Take these one hour before eating or two hours after eating solid foods to make sure that you maximize the benefits.

After three months on Theramine, I have mixed feelings. My pain relief from a reduction of inflammation was subtle, if that is what happened. During these three months I was still dealing with the tears in my left shoulder tendons, which were extremely painful, and could have used the extra support. I also have just as much pain from the inflammation in my abdomen from the allergy to my drainage catheter to my shunt in my brain, and I’d love to have the stabby-stabby pains calm down. Generally, though, I felt less achy.

The third product was Sentra PM, targeted for sleep disorders associated with depression. Oh, did I mention that fibromyalgia patients, and indeed all chronic illness patients, are prone to depression? We are. Fibromyalgia patients fail to get into the sleep that brings on REM, so we rarely reach deep sleep, and we are forever exhausted. It’s a vicious cycle. We’re tired, so we go to bed, but we can’t get deep sleep, so we’re tired, so we go to bed…and often we’re told that our disease isn’t real, or we’re doing something wrong and that’s why we feel physically terrible, or that there’s nothing that will make us feel better. Enter TMedPharma with something to try to assist us in tackling this problem!
2016-10-23-06-14-21
Two capsules of Sentra PM should be taken at bedtime to promote restful sleep. I have a terrible time falling asleep and I haven’t used an actual prescription medication like Ambien for at least 13 years because of the terrible side effects (no, no getting up in the middle of the night and eating a gallon of ice cream or going to the bathroom in my clothes closet), because the morning after I would be a walking zombie, barely able to brush my teeth (sorry, former co-workers).

I’m very cautious when trying something new when it comes to messing with my sleep, so I started this on a Friday night when I knew I wasn’t expected to wake up the next morning for an appointment, and I didn’t feel like I experienced prolonged effects. The active ingredients include choline, GABA, glutamine, histidine, and tryptophan. The pamphlet states that Sentra PM provides the amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters that are responsible for initiating sleep. There were nights when I felt pretty tired about 30-45 minutes after taking my dose, but then there were nights when absolutely nothing could help me, and those were the nights right before big appointments and anxiety was getting the best of me. But overall, if I were to make a purchase, Sentra PM would be my first pick.

Targeted Medical Pharma strongly recommends consuming these “medical foods” under the guidance of a physician to make sure you are reaping the most benefits and not experiencing any unwanted side effects. This is something that you should take seriously; it IS possible to take too much of a supplement and cause unintended harm, and of course there is always the risk of being allergic to something.

Please check out their complete line of products on their website: Targeted Medical Pharma

To Put Into Words

Six days post-election here in the U.S., and it feels like every day is different.

The night of the election I stayed awake until about 11 pm until it was clear that Trump was going to win the electoral votes. I refused to watch TV; I couldn’t bear to listen to voices yelling in disbelief, but rather I listened to my own favorite music and instead refreshed Google and saw everything roll in real time.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with my alarm clock – or rather, I woke up with alarm, saying to myself, “Fuck, Trump is president.” I went through the motions of getting ready for an appointment; as luck would have it, my regularly scheduled counseling appointment just happened to be that morning. Above and beyond my normal anxiety and depression and PTSD, I cried for all of the kids that morning who my friend as a teacher said were scared in her classroom about being targeted by racism and ignorance because of their immigrant status and religious beliefs.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked by a call I received out of the blue. Back in August I wrote a letter to the POTUS regarding the sluggish process of applying for disability and antiquated means of qualifying, when people like me are clearly disabled but can’t qualify because science hasn’t caught up to our diseases. This woman was a staff member of the Obama administration and she had the unfortunate task to call me the day after the shitty election to talk to me about my letter to make sure my immediate needs were being met. I assured her that my hospital bed finally came through (it should be here in a few hours this morning) after trying to get it since January. Then we talked about how my current governor chose to expand medical assistance (“Medicaid”) to everyone at or under a certain income level (which comes out to be around 120% of the poverty level, or $1313/month for a single person without children in my case). In two years when my governor’s term is up and he has indicated that he will not be seeking another term, our new governor has the option of continuing this, or only allowing people with children and/or only allowing people who are federally recognized as disabled (which I cannot get) to continue receiving medical assistance.

So to be clear, I could lose my last line of access to healthcare. I confirmed that with her because I just needed to say it. We both cried on the phone together.

She gave me her phone number and told me to call her in case I had any follow-up questions for her. I will call her this week to see if she has any connections at the NIH to see if I can get anyone to reconsider my case, but I think that’s all that I can ask of her.

There are so many things rolling around about Trump already. I’m not sure I can remember all of them and they change hourly, so please excuse my imperfect recall. First, there are rumors flying about his desire to only spend part of his time in the White House in D.C., and part of his time in his place in Manhattan. It can be argued that not all presidents lived at the White House 100% of the time, but that was probably before there was electricity and running water and the Secret Service and, you know, technology. It’s not like his Manhattan penthouse has a bunker in case he starts a nuclear war by being a complete asshole – and let’s get real, it’s not such a far-fetched expectation.

I’m not sure what to think about him actually making it to the swearing in ceremony. Is he truly going to trial for rape and false imprisonment of girls under the age of 18? Are those cases going to suddenly disappear just because some judge is going to feel sorry for a guy who has been elected, just like judges feel sorry for star athletes?

And Jesus H., why isn’t anyone bothered by how many times he has filed bankruptcy? When I worked for Bank of America, we had to pass strict financial checks, and I just worked in the tech area. We couldn’t be hired on if we had bad credit including bankruptcies or foreclosures or judgments. Also, during my years as an escrow assistant, I was especially skeeved out when I had to work with mortgage brokers who had no scruples about giving financial advice to customers when I knew that the brokers themselves were on their own fourth or fifth bankruptcy filing (they told me how they played the Ch. 13 system before the laws were made more strict).

After his first visit with Obama, he walked out telling everyone that he wasn’t going to reverse everything about the Affordable Care Act, specifically the bits about the pre-existing conditions. That means that he has already reversed one thing he promised the ignorant, writhing masses who were convinced that “Obamacare” was responsible for their rising premiums – not the greed of the insurance companies trying to make a profit off of our bodies at the widest margins possible.

So if Trump doesn’t get sworn in, does that mean we’re stuck with Pence? I’m screwed with him too, since I no longer have my uterus, and he thinks that’s all that I’m good for – bearing babies and overpopulating the earth. That’s all he’s concerned about. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood for reference.

On Thursday I had my very first psych evaluation test, ordered by a neurologist I met on Monday. It took about six hours to go through everything and I was mentally exhausted. It’s one thing to explain to doctors that I lose my words when I’m speaking and writing (you can’t see it, but sometimes it takes me 7-8 tries to write words that used to come easily to me), so this test was supposed to help pinpoint my deficiencies. From what I could tell I had pretty good picture and spatial cognition, but when it came to actual word gymnastics, I had a really hard time. One really painful portion of the testing was coming up with words that began with a particular letter. I think we did four or five letters total, but I only remember two letters – “A” and “S”. With the letter “S” I came up with about 10-12 words in 60 seconds that had multiple syllables, and with the letter “A” I came up with about 5 words and they were 1 to 2 syllables at most. It felt like the bottom of my mind had dropped out. This is actually what happens now on a regular basis and is one of the reasons that before every phone call I make I get a fair amount of anxiety, even if it’s just to make an appointment.

So after I went through all of that (I won’t get results for at least a few weeks), I got my usual cab ride/medical transport. I’ve been taking pictures of the cabbies and asking them questions and posting everything on Instagram. I asked this particular driver what he thought about the election because he was an immigrant and had only been living here in the U.S. for five years. He said he supported Trump because “Obama hadn’t done everything he promised to since he was elected.” I was absolutely floored. This guy was everything Trump (and all of Trump’s supporters) hated. I feel like his safety is at risk and I don’t want him to find out the hard way. I feel like all of us are at risk.

All of us, that is, unless you are a white guy between the age of 18-70 and you’re telling everyone else that they have to adapt to Trump/Pence and that you’ll be “fine” having your rights and/or access to basics taken away from you. Because, you know, ‘Murica.