The Best Little Gift Guide

I used to pride myself on being able to find little things – and big things – that seemed like a perfect fit as gifts. I would look or listen for clues. Okay, maybe sometimes I wouldn’t get it quite right, but at least I would try. My shopping would take place over the course of the entire year and during festivals and trips, because you never know when you will stumble on something unique that screams “_____!” (Use your imagination.)

But times are different. It seems like the majority of the people I know are much more careful about how and where they spend their money because of various constraints or social awareness. I have to be careful too; I no longer have an income, so no extra money to spend during the holidays. This list that I’m going to lay out is for someone – like me – who has little or no income, who might not be able to buy much of anything anymore.

1. Time. This is a big one, and it’s free! I simply can’t get out and socialize like I used to, because my body has put a hard stop on that. Sometimes I don’t want to be by myself. I love it when people visit or call, but I don’t always initiate stuff like that because I don’t want to be a burden. There’s nothing worse than a whiny-ass friend constantly saying “Pay attention to me,” right?

2. Gift cards. Conventional manners/wisdom say that giving gift cards is tacky because then people will know how much you spent on them, yadda yadda yadda. Bullshit. I love gift cards. I especially love them when my entire monthly budget has gone to rent/utility/medications and I have nothing left over to buy groceries, and I have a lovely gift card to the rescue.

3. Wheels. Man, I miss driving. I miss those Saturday mornings when I would get up at 8 am and run around until 11 am and go to about 8 different places and get all of my shit done. Now I ride the short bus and I can only go one place, and it takes me 2-3 hours. And it’s a drag. And I never know who’s going to be with me and if it’s going to be a bat out of hell drive. I would love it if I could have a whole morning of driving around for errands, like dropping off my recycled clothing/rags, recycled toner cartridges, disposing of hazardous waste, petting animals at the humane society, recycling old medications, getting 5 favorites from Trader Joe’s and 6 favorites from Hy-Vee and 4 organics from Aldi. As a side note, disabled people like to recycle too. It’s just that we can’t easily get to these locations and facilities. Plus, me getting out to do these things instead of doing them for me means I get to get out. (As a side note, I have discovered that more than a few people have assumed that the short bus is free. It’s not. It’s actually more expensive than the regular bus. Each round trip for me is nearly $10. It’s really, really expensive when you have no money coming in at all.)

4. Independence. My oldest sister made up a list of modified items that would have made her life easier, like rounded chopping knives that were easier to grip. We were puzzled at the time; it didn’t seem like fun, especially for Christmas. She had debilitating MS and was bedridden because she had lost the use of her legs and some of the finer motor skills of her fingers and hands. Looking back, and living what I am now, I understand that ignoring her list and insisting that we only get her “fun” stuff was a huge mistake. It is not only fun but a huge relief to get everything you ask for and need. So if someone asks for a modified chopping knife, get them the chopping knife.

5. Entertainment. I’m a movie/TV snob. I don’t like most sitcoms because there’s a lot of yelling involved. I also don’t watch cartoons. I know what I like, and I’m a binge watcher! I’m a loyal customer of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Plus. Yes, all three. They have some overlap, but there are some things that don’t appear on all three, and Hulu allows me to watch network shows that aired the night before. If you love me or someone like me who is in bed a lot, give the gift of streaming entertainment. I guarantee you it will be used. (Side note: I’ve tried reading. I used to be a voracious reader. Because of brain damage and eye problems, I don’t read much right now. Zero memory and attention span. Squirrel!!)
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6. Amazon. This deserves its own category. I have used Amazon for vitamins, durable medical equipment (that was not covered by my insurance), ingredients to make my own deodorant/antiperspirant, and tons of OTC medication like Benadryl and Pepcid, which I take megadoses of. Of course, I use Amazon Prime too, so I get the movies, and it comes automatically with the music service too. Another great thing is that if you purchase through Smile.Amazon.com and designate a charity to receive 0.5% of your total spent, you can automatically make donations. I don’t have money to donate to any causes, so it still makes me feel as if I’m making a contribution, even if I can’t hand anyone cash. So you will never go wrong with an Amazon gift card.

7. Skin. Disabled people like luxury stuff too. Not everyone wants to smell like an Avon or Dove whorehouse or litter box. A little company called Villainess was just purchased by a new owner and sold out within a few days of its new stock because everyone was so excited to dive back into its soaps, lotions and scrubs. I’m telling you, their stuff is sooooooooo yummy. I just got 3 of their jars of lotions. I’m going to wait to open the jars until I feel really poor because it should be used within 2 months of opening (less preservatives = better for your body) and I want to stretch them out. So keep an eye on them, and put in an order and make someone feel extra special.

Another great place with amazing combinations is Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I’ve had some bottles for 2-3 years because I have enough to rotate them around and not smell the same every day. You can buy samples (“Imps Ears“) instead of full bottles, but if you are sure you are going to like all of the flavors that they list, go ahead and buy a whole bottle. I have very rarely been disappointed. Buying scents for other people is a crap shoot, so be very cautious! I’m deathly allergic to lavender and patchouli. Anybody can be allergic to anything. If you aren’t sure, there are always gift certificates.

8. Pain control. I reviewed two different lotions in my blog, and I recommend them both: Mo’s Dream Cream and Invigorate. You can’t go wrong with either of them.

The Oska Pulse is a device that is a financial investment, to be sure, but it has a 30-day money back guarantee, and I use mine every day – because there isn’t a part on my body, somewhere, that isn’t hurting. Sometimes I end up using it six or seven times on that part. I’m just grateful to have it because I always end up feeling better. (It is important to note that it shouldn’t be used around any medical devices that are surgically implanted that could be affected by magnets, like shunts, stimulators or pacemakers. My shunt is strictly all silicone because I’m allergic to nickel.)

9. Massage. I go to a massage therapist once a month. There have been a couple of times where I have second-guessed myself and the wisdom of going, especially when I’ve had to shell out extra for medications and money is getting low, but when I’m on the table and getting worked on, I know I need it. First, it’s hard on my body to be in bed so much. Second, I rarely ever have any physical contact with anyone else. The massage is it.

10. Activism. I can’t do all of the work. Literally, I can’t do all of the work. The best gift you can give people that you don’t even know personally is to tell your elected officials that disabled people need housing, healthcare, transportation and good nutrition. I’m still waiting for housing that I was promised 8 months ago; it would mean that I would have things like grab bars, instead of constantly falling in the shower, and affordable rent, instead of paying full price on zero income (still no disability income after nearly 3 years of filing). Do not buy into this idea that everyone who is disabled should be punished.

Honorable Mention:
Check out The Unchargeables for a variety of chronic/invisible/rare diseases for gear – you can even look for items according to the disease! I checked my alphabetized list and they have a few of mine in there. Pretty impressive! And for each disease, there’s a bunch of items, so you’re not limited to just a t-shirt or bracelet.

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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.

All You Need Is Your (Whole) Health Back (Movie and Book Review)

Half of the adult population around the globe has some sort of chronic condition, varying in severity. Some are lucky enough to barely be bothered by it except as a reminder on their calendars once every few years to get checked by a doctor for any notable changes. Others can’t move an eyelash without being reminded that their body has taken on a long-term burden and there’s no relief in sight. A huge majority fall somewhere in between. Because of this, and social stigmas falling away regarding the discussion of chronic conditions, the market is being flooded with all kinds of materials and “how to” manuals for coping.

Through the Chronic Illness Bloggers group, I was lucky enough to be given these two products as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although these products were a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

The two items that I was given in tandem were a documentary called “The Connection,” and a book called “The Whole Health Life.” I didn’t approach either medium with any expectations, which turned out to be a good thing, because I tend to be very particular and picky – I don’t want my movies or reading materials to be too “preachy,” nor do I want them to assume that I know nothing about my diseases. Most of the time I see manuals out on the market that are written with new patients in mind, not with 20-year war veterans like me.

First, I’d like to cover “The Connection.” I’ll admit, I reached for this first because I didn’t feel like I had the attention span to get me through a book right out of the gate. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It was a good pace, but not overwhelming, while still giving the audience constant reliable information to process. For instance, I learned about “medical hexing” – many patients are told by doctors that we’re not going to get better. Would you believe it if I told you that two weeks ago, my primary care doctor told me that I should just give up and accept that I will never find a neurosurgeon who will be willing to help me with another shunt surgery and who will take my tumor out? Boy, is that ever a hex! But a hex doesn’t have to be that obvious. It can be about giving you a pill rather than looking at your whole lifestyle and looking at what can be improved upon. 

More points from the movie hit home for me, especially since I’m having such a hard time finding doctors who will help me. For instance, if I have zero support – friends, family, doctors – I’m three times more likely to die early. Luckily I have some really great family and friends. Also, belief is part of why we get better, but it takes both the doctor and the patient believing. So far, I don’t have the doctors backing me up. And I also learned from the film that our genes do play a major role in what we do develop as far as diseases go, but our life experiences and our environment also trigger the genes. In other words, you could be perfectly fine but if you go wading knee deep through an oil spill, chances are that MS is going to come leaping out that has been lurking all these years.

So if you haven’t picked up on it, the documentary “The Connection” got my attention. Because of that, I was confident that the book “The Whole Health Life” would be engaging – and it was. And that says a lot, especially coming from someone who has the attention span of a gnat at the moment.

As readers, we can spend more time on the book, relating to what the writer is saying about wading through the soup of pain and foggy brain, trying to get through an able-bodied world and looking normal on the outside. Immediately the author, Shannon Harvey, introduces the core concept: we cannot deal with health by separating “body” health and “mental” health. They are intertwined and inseparable. A pill may address one portion and meditation may address another portion and talk therapy may address yet another potion and engaging in positive social activities may be uplifting, but when consumed in isolation, they hardly make a difference. When combined, they improve a person’s well-being by leaps and bounds. Ms. Harvey breaks it down into 10 topics to easier process and incorporate the practices into daily living.

For me, meditation is difficult. As I mentioned before, my mind is more that of a squirrel than it is a turtle, but she talks about the benefits of calming the mind and recommends a few easy steps that anyone can pick up. Emotions logically follow right after that. What are we doing to process our emotions? What do we allow to play on our inner recording? And then there is the “placebo effect.” Let’s try changing the name of this, the taking of sugar pills and still seeing positive results, as if a patient has taken “real” medicine; what is really at work is the power of belief. The belief that a patient can heal and become well again (or at least have an improved life) that comes with the motion of the taking of the medicine is just as powerful as the drug itself and has been documented for hundreds of years; it’s why people “pray” when it seems all hope for recovery is lost.

Of course, on the physical side, what we put into our bodies and how we move our bodies makes a huge difference. Eating the foods that are the best for us, sleeping the right amount and exercising to the best of our abilities are all important in our recovery and maintenance.

As a “spoonie,” as those of us are known who have chronic conditions that cause fatigue and pain, many of us keep blogs, as I do, as well as participate on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We seek out others who are like us. We appreciate having others who understand our daily (and sometimes hourly, minute-by-minute and second-by-second) struggles. I think that “The Whole Health Life” would be a good book to read and re-read because we tend to get stuck in patterns that reinforce the negative feedback loop – myself included. If someone isn’t feeling up to concentrating on words, then they can sit back and watch “The Connection” for some reinforcement.

Please visit the documentary movie “The Connection” here.

You may purchase the book “The Whole Health Life” by Shannon Harvey through Amazon here.

My Aching Back/Arm/Knee/Foot/You Name It

What are the two most common symptoms of chronic illnesses that we hear over and over, without fail? Fatigue and pain. This post is all about pain. That is why I was excited to receive this product to review, because in all of my adult years (24+ now), pain has been my constant companion. Just to be clear, I have been given this product 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 Mo-Haganys’ Dream Cream Products.

One friend, Nikki over at As I Live & Breathe (https://ilivebreathe.com/about-me/), got her products before I did, and excitedly told me, “Chels, just wait! Just wait! I did not have to take my painkillers tonight!” Now that is a huge endorsement, because like me, Nikki has some major stuff going down in her body that is the stuff of horror films (I will let her tell it).

What is this stuff anyway? Well, it’s some crazy concoction that seems so simple that it should be obvious and available everywhere and after you read this, you should be wanting to bathe in it. Unfortunately, your cynical side might still win out and you will proceed with caution. You will wait a few more weeks to buy a bottle with a homemade label because, hey, what does this woman know that big pharmaceutical companies don’t? But if you’re smart, you’ll give this serious consideration, because I’ve been a doubter myself many times too, and I treat Consumer Reports as a shopper’s bible, and when you find gems, you buy them up like they’re going out of style.

The woman who owns this company, Keri, formulated these products after contracting bacterial meningitis and developing debilitating pain and being placed on, in her words, “ridiculous” pain meds with horrible side effects (something that I myself know well). She began researching apothecary and Chinese herbology, and discovered a way to ferment cayenne pepper to make a capsaicin paste that does not “burn” the skin. She then worked on using different ingredients for blending and aromatherapy to compliment the paste’s action to “deaden” or “muffle” the nerve action. It depends on the person and the severity, but the pain relief can last 6-12 hours.

I was looking forward to this particular product challenge because my body is really giving me hell right now. Besides the ever-present abdominal pain from the rejection of the shunt materials, I am pretty sure the tendons at my left shoulder are frayed. I’ve been in physical therapy for three months and though my strength has improved, the pain has actually become worse; my doctor has ordered six more weeks of PT and an MRI at the end, but is reluctant to perform surgery because of my proclivity to immediately build up copious scar tissue and possibly undo everything the surgeon would do for benefit. This month was also the Hydrocephalus Association conference and so I was in incredible pain from sitting, walking and standing for four days, my feet and hips taking the brunt of the beating.
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Immediately after receiving this package, I tore it open and slathered the lotion, Mo’s Dream Cream, on my shoulder. I could not wait. The lotion has a thin consistency and I would caution everyone to use common sense like they would around light-colored fabrics and tomato food products: make sure it is well-absorbed before contact is made, or there might be color transfer that is irreversible. Also, another caution mentioned more than a few times: do not apply to broken skin. Here’s a small sample so you can see for yourself:2016-06-28 16.09.32.jpg
These products have a very specific scent, though I struggle a bit to describe it. You will recognize the spiciness of the capsaicin, because it’s the stuff that flavors our Mexican/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean food and haunts us later. But the essential oils include orange, tangerine, clove and wintergreen, so you will have hints of hot chocolate and sledding parties wrapped up in your burrito dreams.

The left shoulder pain is preventing me from sleeping comfortably. I also cannot get dressed easily, pick up items at waist level, overhead or floor level, or reach over to rub my boyfriend’s shoulder in a display of affection. Even doing simple things like buckling my seat belt as a passenger are turning into ordeals, and I have cracked three teeth on my left side because of the pain. So for me, because there’s structural damage, it’s not an easy fix; the pain can spike up to a good old fashioned 10. However, the lotion can bring it down to about a 5 in a matter of minutes, and keep it there for about 4-5 hours.

My abdominal pain is a little trickier. I’m allergic to the parts of the shunt that are housed in my abdomen and the pain is at exactly the place between the front of my abdomen and the middle of my back, so it’s in the middle of my middle. Again, the pain can spike up to a 10, and applying the lotion can get it to calm down to about a 7, but it’s just in a tough spot. Until I can figure out how to get a dose to middle earth, I am not convinced it’s going to get better than that.

After the first day of the conference, the pinched nerves in my hips were severely limiting my gait. My feet felt as if I had walked over hot coals. I could barely move, and I nearly cried at the thought of having to get up and do it all over again for three more days in a row, early to boot. I decided to wash my feet and then try to the stick form of the pain relief:
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Even though the capsaicin paste is the same, the scent and emollients are slightly different. 2016-06-28 16.53.09 The next morning, when I had to go back for day two of the conference, I felt as if day one had been erased by the pain stick. That is HUGE.

Overall, I felt like the lotion did a quick job of penetrating to the pain and providing the relief, but I certainly appreciated the convenience of the “No Mo Pain Stick” too – so much easier to carry that in a purse than the bottle of lotion, which now has a permanent spot on my nightstand.

Now I’m mentally debating making an appointment to see my pain doctor just to push these goodies on him. He’s a younger guy and I know he has chronic back pain. I want him to try it. I mean, what could he lose? He could just put some on a spot on his back and then slap a pad over the top of it if he’s trying to maintain a scent-free office because of sensitivities…

The skeptic in me also wanted to make sure I wasn’t under undue influence of the placebo effect, so I sent this with my sister for a few days, because she has RA. She was afraid that her boys would be put off by the scent but her co-worker dug into it, and she felt as if it helped her with pain (though I didn’t get to discuss it at length before I grabbed it back because my shoulder was singing like the hounds of Hell).

Here is a snapshot of the information that Keri sent with her products that you may find useful:

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Since I can’t transport a bottle directly through my screen to you, you still have to go and get a bottle the old-fashioned way through the internet, but I’m thinking you won’t be disappointed. And hey – Keri is even offering everyone a discount who has enjoyed my review by using the code CHELSEA4U (which I was not expecting, but thought extra helpful if you are on a budget): https://squareup.com/store/modreamcream.

Happy Anniversary

Exactly one year ago today I got on a plane and moved from Phoenix to St. Paul. According to the dust on my shelves, that’s the last time I dusted as well.

The first six months were difficult. I was going from doctor to doctor, trying to find any that wouldn’t turn me away. I couldn’t drive because I lose about 80% of my vision while I’m upright for a long time, so I spent about $500 a month just on cab fare alone; when I wasn’t going to doctor appointments, I simply stayed in my apartment.

It took me a lot to where I am right now: I have at least a primary care doctor, I have had 3 months of physical therapy for the pinched nerves in my shoulder and hips, I have a disability attorney (but probably no hearing until July or later 2017), and I now use the short bus and a cab company that is contracted through medical assistance to get me to appointments. I also have an incredibly supportive boyfriend.

There are still some black holes of missing pieces. One: I still don’t have a diagnosis. Two: I don’t know what in the hell I’m going to do about my shunt.

June 16-19 was the National Hydrocephalus Association conference, and I never would have been able to attend if it wasn’t right here in my back yard. I had decided that I was not going to be shy. I had also decided that although it was nice to meet other patients and commiserate, I really, really wanted to pick the brains of the researchers and doctors and manufacturers of the shunts.

At the very first speaking presentation, a researcher spoke about the work she has been performing regarding shunt occlusions (blockages). I raised my hand and first asked if the study began when the shunt was still in the patient (so they could figure out if the drainage tip was stuck somewhere, like a drinking straw that’s clogged by a large piece of fruit or an extra thick shake) or if the shunts were studied after they were removed, because I tend to immediately make 20 years worth of scar tissue in 2-3 weeks and clog my shunts very quickly. She indicated that she tests the shunts only after they are sent to her post-surgery, and that she was definitely interested in my shunt(s). I got her business card and told her about imaging that has been developed in Scotland that piggybacks off of current MRI and CT scans but is supposed to be much more accurate, and it just so happens that she is supposed to travel to Scotland in two weeks. In another talk she gave much later in the conference, she mentioned autoimmune diseases, and I’ll be seeing a doctor that specializes in mast cell disorders next week; I’m going to speak to him specifically about my issues with the shunts and about contacting her and speaking with her regarding shunt rejection. Not a bad start for networking!

But with the good comes the not so good. Another talk I attended was facilitated by a neurologist and a neurosurgeon who were experts in normal pressure hydrocephalus. That is one of my placeholder diagnoses and they kept talking about enlarged ventricles on MRI and CT scans. I asked if it was possible to get that diagnosis without the enlarged ventricles, and they said no. I talked to them afterwards and quickly covered my symptoms and demonstrated my unusual ability to move the fluid around in my brain. They actually became very condescending and a little pissy, asking if I had considered the Mayo. I thanked them and left the room.

At another session, there was a representative from the Social Security office talking about the process of filing for disability. He opened the session by saying that he actually never handled disability cases where health was involved – I mean, when it’s a health conference, why send someone who is knowledgeable? I raised my hand during this one too and asked two questions: 1) Is it correct that since my request for a hearing was filed in early February of 2016, it’s pretty backed up and I shouldn’t expect a hearing to be set until July or August of 2017? and 2) I was told that even though I can’t see well, that my arms and hands still work, so I should be able to get a job. What criteria is used to determine whether I should be employed when my records indicate I should be laying down for 20-22 hours a day? He said, 1) It’s not unreasonable that the hearing would take that long to be set (and I answered that maybe it’s not unreasonable to him, but it’s unreasonable to me), and 2) It’s not just my inability to see or be upright that’s considered, but also my education and my age, so yes, no matter how impaired I am, I may be “too young” to be disabled. That absolutely floored me – no wonder I have to fend off assholes telling me that every day, because that’s the idiocy that the social security office perpetuates every single day.

One session was put on by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living right here in Minnesota and a particularly energetic and passionate woman dedicated to helping people find the best and most resources available. Of course I raised my hand and said something to the effect of, “Dude from the SSA yesterday said that even though I am impaired when I’m upright, I can still use my hands and arms and I’m only 42, so of course I’m going to be denied. Does this seem correct to you, and would you deem needing to lay down flat 20-22 hours a day a ‘reasonable accommodation’ to request of a workplace?” (In other words, can I lay on a hospital gurney while I’m ringing people out as a cashier at Target?) She rolled her eyes and said that she was told a while ago that when dealing with the SSA, never to apply logic, because what they do defies common sense. She also said that one guy was told by the SSA that he should be able to find a livable wage somewhere “folding napkins” because that was all he was capable of. I asked if there was ever any communication between the SSA and her office for them to base their findings off of, and she said absolutely not.
While we were waiting to be picked up by the short bus at the hotel in downtown Minneapolis where the conference was taking place, there were plenty of people partying and women wearing the most ridiculous heels and short skirts because the Twins were playing the Yankees at a home game. One drunk hanging with his two very drunk buddies began to loudly read my shirt, and so rather than roll my eyes and be pissed, I invited him to read the other side of my shirt. His immediate demeanor took on the tone that he was going to make fun of me, but after I gave him a brief history, all he could say was that he was sorry, and he doffed his hat to me.

Through all of this, The Saint Paul weathered some really dry presentations, and probably learned more than he ever wanted to. However, when I met his dad and stepmom for the first time on Sunday night and they began to ask me questions about my health, he answered them exactly as I would have. The Saint Paul really takes all of this to heart in addition to reminding me that we are a team and that I no longer have to do everything on my own. I mean, man, he got me paper towels because he noticed I was running low on his own – he didn’t even have to ask, and I didn’t have to tell him! Forget “don’t sweat the small stuff” because it’s the small stuff that counts!

One of the sessions I wanted him to attend (while I was in listening to a much heavier topic) was about caring for the caregiver. All of the men in my immediate family have had to put their own health and happiness on hold because my mom and sisters have had chronic and severe diseases. The Saint Paul believes he can handle whatever happens to me, but I warned him that things can change suddenly and completely and permanently for either he or I, and even with the best of intentions, it’s absolutely possible that he can be so deeply affected by this unnamed change that he’s going to lose his shit. It’s a lot to ask of one person.

So, back to this anniversary: this is also the day a year ago that my sister and her husband brought home their second rescue dog from Secondhand Hounds and renamed her June. Just recently, June has started to mimic her dog brother and put herself on the floor and position herself for belly rubs, something she never would have been relaxed enough to do a year ago. It’s amazing what thousands of dog treats and a loving family will do.
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The Boyfriend Invasion

The Saint Paul and I have been dating for two and a half months now. Our first date was many hours long, so many that we approximated it to be the equivalent of four dates. We’ve had many dates since then where we’ve had up to fourteen hours together until I’m physically holding my eyelids up with my fingers and he’s stumbling into his shoes to go home. We’ve also fallen into the habit of not going more than three days without seeing each other. But we’ve never had a full-on sleep-over; he’s always gone home.

I live in a historic area of St. Paul, Minnesota, and every year on the first Sunday of June there is a celebration called Grand Old Days that includes music, food vendors, a parade, artists and sports/health vendors. Attendance has been anywhere between 170,000 and 270,000, and attendees can even print a bus pass for certain routes to park and ride to this area for free. It has gotten so large that this year they have expanded the festival to the whole weekend instead of just Sunday. My flat just happens to be right next to one of the sound stages – and I’ve checked the lineup, doesn’t look promising.

Healthy me would have been absolutely thrilled. This is the stuff I used to live for, and it’s right at my front door. But the new me has to come to terms with the fact that I can’t walk a couple of miles or stand for hours to listen to live music or spend money on food and pottery. The thought of trying to navigate throngs of people while my brain is being squeezed and my eyes are drooping gives me extra anxiety. If I’m being completely honest I can whine and say that it’s not fair, but then who in the world can I blame that on?

The Saint Paul has opted to come over Friday night so he can score a parking spot and not have to stress about it after that. We might run out to get a few groceries, which will require us planning out meals for two whole days together, and then he’ll head home Sunday night. He’s going to try to borrow a camp chair for the parade, since I have my own already – we have to stake out a place on the sidewalk along the parade route pretty early in the morning Sunday, because it’s going to get gnarly. We’re fully expecting drunks to be trying to get into my building or to be peeing in our planters or every barfing in every doorway. I’ve heard stories. Non-food businesses are now in the habit of shutting down completely for this festival.

Other things take planning too. I’ve suggested that he bring over his favorite pillow to help him sleep better (because we all know that makes a huge difference when sleeping in unfamiliar territory). Sometimes I wake up coughing because of acid reflux, so I kind of have to be ready to move to my couch (five steps from my bed) if I think I can’t get back to sleep right away. And to hear The Saint Paul tell it, he flops around like a fish when he sleeps, which does not bode well for me, the ultimate light sleeper.

Most importantly, 48 hours together guarantees that there is going to be poo involved. Knowing my GI tract means there’s going to be multiple incidents each day. I have a brand new bottle coming that should be arriving just in time for Friday that is ruby red grapefruit-scented that may prolong my relationship with The Saint Paul. I am telling you, every house should have PooPourri because everyone poops, and no one wants to die by Lysol or any other chemical stuff that you spray in the air that makes it smell like you shit out a pine tree. I cannot say enough good things about this product. Buy it. You spritz it in the toilet bowl before you unload your load, and all is right in the world.

Lastly, most of my lounging and sleeping when I am solo in my flat is done sans hair. My wigs are just not at all comfortable, and wearing them in bed actually wrecks the fibers. So The Saint Paul is going to get a full dose of me au natural, and I have warned him that once I have taken them off in his presence, I will probably lose all motivation to wear them all of the time. I like how I look in them, but they are so damned scratchy and uncomfortable, plus wearing them less will also help me to be able to keep them longer since I have no money coming in. So for your viewing pleasure, here is (a very dirty) Mr. Clean taking your day to a whole different level:

Rare + Rare = Still Rare

Yesterday was generally a non-productive doctoring day for me. I went to see a neurologist in a different medical system outside of the ones that I have tried just to see if I could at least get an acknowledgment that what I’m dealing with is not that idiotic label “facial weakness” that the U of MN doctor put in my file. Besides trying to work towards a diagnosis, I’m also trying to build my case for disability, and I keep hearing my attorney’s voice in the back of my head saying, “If you don’t get a diagnosis by the time you are sitting in front of the judge, you’re screwed.”

The neurologist was very friendly and open, and definitely had the approach of working with me as part of a collaboration rather than dictating to me. However, we still had a breakdown in communication. She could not wrap her brain around the concept about why I have a shunt in the first place (and indeed is the same barrier for 99% of the doctors I talk to even though I explain to them that the shunts were placed because my symptoms improved temporarily after receiving lumbar punctures 12 hours apart). Almost all doctors incorrectly jump to the conclusion that my face is drooping because I’m overdraining – as if the fluid is pulling my face down with it, like I am living out a Salvador Dali painting. It’s easier for me to explain the shunts and the failures and the symptoms to people who have absolutely no experience with this world because they have no expectations and no preconceived notions (except for the asshole armchair “experts” who don’t know shit but think that watching a few episodes of “House” have made them suddenly intellectually superior).

Because this doctor had wonderful bedside manner, I made sure I took the time to assure her that her inability to give me a diagnosis or a direction was not her fault or a failure on her part as a physician. As a matter of fact, she was doctor #50 in six years, and I told her that too. The combined look of horror and chagrin was a bit comical. I gladly accepted her recommendations for a pediatric neurosurgeon (because sometimes they take the most complicated adults) as well as a rheumatologist she thought would have the best bedside manner, so all was not wasted on that visit. I also explained to her that I would be attending the national hydrocephalus conference June 16-19 being held here in Minneapolis and that I had t-shirts printed:

This week another one of our relatives passed away. His niece happened to contact me through 23 & Me, where I have an account set up after getting my genes tested last July; I wanted the cheapest way possible to get them set up in a database while I tried to figure out what is going on with my body and just how rare it really is. It turns out that this relative of mine has a daughter who is also super rare, truly one in seven billion! It’s so rare that they actually had to formally name it: Hemolytic Anemia Medicine Lake. The “Medicine Lake” portion of the name refers to the area that I and a large portion of my extended family grew up and lived in in the western Minneapolis area. Unfortunately it’s not in any way similar to what my problem is so I can’t go to the NIH and tell them to link our cases, but we definitely hit the rare disease lottery in this family.

By the way, universe, I’d like to win the LOTTERY lottery.

And I won’t be going back to this neurologist, as nice as she was, because she described herself as a “neighborhood neurologist.” She said that she was a step or two down from the facilities where I had been trying my luck, and this was way over her head.

I’m Just The Patient

Today was my big appointment with the movement disorder neurologist at the U of Minnesota, and it was decidedly anti-climactic. My first impression was that he was a young version of Derek Jacobi, pictured here:
Derek Jacobi
All of the doctors seemed to be excited that I was scheduled to see this particular one and told me repeatedly how thorough he was. In fact, I was supposed to see him over a month ago, but he looked over my file a few days before I was due in and instead insisted I get my face tased (with an EMG) before seeing me, which pushed my appointment back so that he could rule out myasthenia gravis (a second time). I knew I didn’t have it as of 2010 and I still don’t.

This doctor was short on bedside manner, so I immediately shortened my answers and didn’t elaborate on anything. We went over my family’s extensive history of autoimmune diseases. He made me walk and do things with my eyes closed to deliberately make me fall (which made me sweat and because I was under so much stress, the tremors started up almost immediately). He shook my shoulders, sending white hot pain through my left shoulder that I’ve been going through PT for but am going to get an MRI for after next Friday because I’m not healing – I spent three years laying on that shoulder because all of my surgeries were done on the right side for that length of time, and the pressure really messed up the tendons and ligaments.

After all of that, the doctor told me that his nurse gave me the website in December that I should have checked out on movement disorders. He must have seen my eyes glaze over and the stubborn set in my chin because he left the room and returned with screenshots of the website. I politely folded them into squares and stuffed them into a pocket in my purse. He said that a doctor from July of 2015 believed that I have a facial movement disorder. I told him it was news to me, since the only thing that was said to my face was that I wasn’t a good candidate to have surgery to relieve the pressure on my optic nerves. This doctor said that the other doctor may have chosen not to tell me that I have a movement disorder because there’s “nothing that can be done about it anyway.”

This entire conversation is deeply flawed. First, I don’t have a facial movement disorder. I have a problem with CSF pooling in my cranium while I’m upright and it presses on some of the nerves leading to my face as well as my cerebellum; as soon as I lay flat, the fluid moves away from the area and I get full functionality back. Second, I have plenty of issues in which “nothing can be done” for them – including alopecia universalis, though he was quick to point out that someone was doing a study. I told him that it was low on my list of priorities. Third, I’m the motherfucking patient. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if this is one or more of the thought process of the doctors that it should be discussed with me?

When it was time to go home, the cab driver that got the dispatch to take me home pretended to come and pick me up but then acted like I didn’t show up – even though I was outside sitting on a bench in between approaching every cab that rolled up asking if they were there to pick me up, so it took me an extra hour to get home after I had to call dispatch to bitch.

I really could have just stayed home.

In fact, I would have benefited from a day in bed. I predicted that I would be laid out for a good week after last Saturday, but I think that it was an accurate call. Now that I have an honest to goodness boyfriend, we’ve been trying to do activities that I can actually handle for a few hours. There was a flea market/antiques expo at the state fairgrounds and I thought we could just take the bus because it stops right outside my building and seemed to spit us out right at the fairgrounds gate. I was not a good planner for this trip and we ended up doing a lot more walking than we thought – and it wasn’t like we had a choice, no one could do the walking for us. My phone tracks my walking automatically and I wasn’t surprised when I saw 2.5 miles for the day rather than my usual high of 0.5 miles. By the time I climbed the steps to my building, I was visibly shaking and was fighting fatigue tears.

But damn, this boyfriend rocks. The Saint Paul is loving and affectionate, and goes on food runs and lets me stay behind so I don’t have to get out of bed. I have begun meeting his family and friends, and he is in the process of meeting my people.

Most importantly, we have said the “L” word, and meant it, and will continue to say it. When someone great comes along, you absolutely can’t take for granted that they just automatically know how much they mean to you or how much you appreciate them. I’m infinitely grateful to the universe for nudging me in his direction.

And then there were two.

Grief and Acceptance

Every other week I am in my counselor’s office, and there seems to be something new that brings me to tears, which drives me crazy. I can’t figure out why I am crying so much. I mean yeah, I have experienced loss on a major scale in the last nine months – my sister, my friend, my uncle, moving states, losing my job, losing all of my doctors, losing my option for more surgeries – but I keep thinking that I should be adjusted by now. But reading this post by my fellow blogger reminds me that I keep experiencing loss and that I still have a sense of instability. Since my U of MN doctors insist that I don’t have Lyme, I have to go through the long process of getting set up through the NIH rare diseases unit and make arrangements through Vanderbilt University to be studied there, as they have locations designated throughout the country for patients to be screened. In the meantime, I have to continue with my treatments with my naturopath, even though I have NO IDEA if it’s the right thing to do.

In addition, I’ve been given the option of getting a TAP block in my abdomen with the hope that it will relieve some of the nerve pain that I’m having from being allergic to the drainage catheter from the shunt. The doc is going to numb nerves on both sides of my abdomen leading to my lower belly. The kicker? I have no idea if it’s going to affect my sexual functionality. And I’ve got a brand new boyfriend. And I really like said new boyfriend and I want to jump him every time I see him. And I don’t think it will be fair to lose what little functionality I do have, because who knows how much longer these good years of responsiveness are going to last? It’s asking a lot of a new boyfriend to possibly give up intimacy for an unknown period of time (forever???); I mean, I call him The Saint Paul, but Jesus H…I don’t know, is there something that is a step above sainthood? If I lose my ability to orgasm, that’s gonna take a LOT of mourning. Maybe some booze and mood stabilizers. I’m already stressed out about possibly taking out the shunt permanently because it’s clogged and I’m allergic to all of the shunts, which means that I may be stuck laying down forever and can’t be up for even an hour.

In closing: Send kittens and puppies and rainbows.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Picnic with Ants

When people think of grief they often think of death, they don’t think about grieving over other significant losses.  Those of us who have had major losses due to chronic illness know all too well that we grieve those losses.

The five stages of normal grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” are: Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance.  Kübler-Ross describes these stages as being progressive, you needed to resolve one stage before moving on to the next.  This is no longer thought to be true.  It is accepted that most people who have loss go through states of grief but it is not linear nor is it finite.

The 

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Did I Or Didn’t I?

Please note: 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.

The Saint Paul remarked upon the sheer volume of medicine that he could see displayed in my bedside drawers, something that started with “Wow.” I told him that the one drawer that was open as well as the bottles on the surface were only the half of it and that the other two drawers were filled as well. Of course, I don’t take them all every day; some I keep because I know they might come in handy later. Truly, though, I go through about 45 pills per day thanks to my prescriptions and supplements.

The makers of PillSuite (http://pillsuite.com) were kind enough to send me their product to give it a whirl. I received a sorter, two rolls of sealable baggies and a sealer. 2016-03-27 11.40.02I chose to load up my midday pills, which are only about seven in number but are the largest in volume. When I looked at the sorter, it seemed like the compartments could only handle these seven, and I was right.

The baggies are biodegradable and can be written on with any sort of note you choose to write; I recommend a fine-tip permanent marker.
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After you snap the lid onto the sorter, you flip it over so the funnel lines up into the open end of the next plastic baggie to load up the dosage.
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There was just enough room to get these horse pills into this baggie, just like there was just enough room in the compartment.

Next, the open edge of the baggie is pushed to the back of the sealer and the big button is depressed for 3-5 seconds, which seals the baggie shut with a fine line. The red indicator light shows that the sealer is working its magic and closing off the baggie.
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After that is done, both ends are completely sealed, and your meds and supplements are ready for transportation.

When you are ready to consume them, there is a perforated end that can be easily torn open.
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Here are some advantages to using this product:
1. You bet I like the fact that the baggies are biodegradable! I’m always worried about how much I consume and add to the demise of our resources because it’s not easy for me to do things that able-bodied people take for granted. Check out this episode of In Sickness + In Health podcast (http://www.insicknesspod.com/blog/2016/3/8/23-when-sus).
2. I can write anything I want to on the baggies. I can indicate the medication names and dosages, or I can indicate the time of day the pills should be taken, or I can remind myself to take the contents on an empty stomach an hour before eating, etc.
3. This is a great product for traveling. Sometimes I have appointments that require a lot of time for me to be away from home, and it would be a lot easier to slip one of these baggies in my purse than it would be to take a pill sorter or an actual bottle (or seven) with me. This would be pretty handy for a short trip as well. The only time it wouldn’t work is traveling outside the country; TSA requires medications to be in their original prescription bottles when traveling outside the U.S.
4. This takes the mystery out of whether you have missed dosages or not, especially if you have scripts or supplements that are taken 3-4 times a day or you have to stagger everything according to a full versus an empty stomach. I have yet to see a pill sorter that has enough compartments for all of my dosages.

One disadvantage for me? My evening dose of meds and supplements actually adds up to about 25-30 pills and capsules – the seven that you see here, plus a bunch more, depending on how I am feeling. I would actually have to fill two compartments in the sorter and therefore two baggies for the nighttime dosages.

Ordering additional “suites” as the baggies are called is impressively inexpensive from http://store.pillsuite.com/.