Helpful or Hurtful?

Working my muscles – playing with my son at the playground.

“How long has it been like this? When did it start?”

My physical therapist asked me that at last week’s session as she was massaging my left leg.

“Nine years ago,” I said.

She made a “tsk, tsk” sort-of-sound. 

“It feels like you’ve got 10 years’ worth of tightness in here,” she said. 

She rubbed some more. “How do you walk around like that?”

“What other choice do I have?” I replied.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been going to physical therapy. Many years ago, a doctor had referred me to physical therapy. And the physical therapist discharged me after just a few visits, telling me that PT wouldn’t help me.

This time, my rheumatologist referred me because of “new” pain I described to him. After an exam, he believed I had injured my IT band, and now, because we had a specific injury to treat, physical therapy might help.

My physical therapist seems to wholeheartedly believe she can help me, but I’m skeptical. 

At my first appointment, my physical therapist told me I have a lack of flexibility and mobility in my left leg. 

I knew that already.

At the same time, going to PT has also given me a certain sense of validation. Someone else recognized and acknowledged my pain; someone else was able to “see” what is largely unseen.

I came home from my first appointment with my knees taped up. Later that afternoon, my eleven-year-old son told me it looked cooler on basketball players than it did on me.

I left my third appointment with more pain than I had when I began the appointment. 

Meanwhile, I’ll keep with it. I’ll continue going, partly because my insurance covers most of it, but also because I don’t want to entirely give up. At least not this soon.

Though at this point in my life, I wonder if anything can really help me. 

Plus, physical therapy is just more work. With the therapist, I’m working my muscles in different, and sometimes uncomfortable, ways. 

At home, I have my “homework” to do – a series of exercises and stretches I do daily. 

And there are days, when I’m just tired of it all. Tired of the work involved – of staying on top of prescription refills, appointments, and medical insurance. 

And I’m tired of the pain. 

Here’s Why I Have a Complicated Relationship With My Legs

Do you have a body part, that only now, a bit later in life, you have learned to genuinely appreciate? A body part you now realize wasn’t nearly as “bad/flabby/unattractive/you-fill-in-the-adjective” as you used to think?

I have a complicated relationship with my legs, because sometimes they just seem like these “things” that are disconnected from the rest of me.  These limbs that aren’t behaving the way I want them to.  These appendages that are causing me nothing but trouble and pain.”

The paragraph above is taken from my recently published essay “Why My Rare Condition Puts Me in a Complicated Relationship With My Legs.” Click here to be redirected to The Mighty where you can read the essay in its entirety. 

 

Brave? Me?

LEGOLAND, March 2018 – Ryan and I were brave, riding the roller coaster!

A neighbor recently called me “brave.”

It temporarily stopped me, because I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person. 

I have lived my entire life within the same ZIP code. 

My first passport expired before I earned a stamp in it. And since then, I’ve had one international trip. 

But my neighbor spoke of my bravery in a different context. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, of my autoimmune disease. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, about my pain level increasing as the day goes on.

Yet, she sees me outside on a regular basis, sweeping my front steps and my back patio. Watering my plants. Going for a walk with my son. 

I don’t regard those activities as “brave.” They are merely the activities that make up a part of my days.

Am I brave? I don’t know. 

So I did what I usually do when I’m not sure about something, when I need more information. I looked it up. I used my computer’s dictionary to read the definition of “brave” – “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.” 

Am I “ready to face and endure danger or pain”? 

I don’t have a choice. It’s just what I do.

 

Stop Calling Me ‘Weird’

Now that’s a weird sight.

What does “weird” mean to you?

I think it’s weird when I walk into Trader Joe’s and find there are no flowers for sale.

I think it’s weird when I’m scanning through the radio stations in the car and hear the same song playing on two different stations at the same time.

You may think it’s weird that I even listen to the radio.

Back in September of 2018, I wrote a blog post after my rheumatologist called me weird.

This week, it’s a blog post about a different doctor but the same adjective.

I met with a doctor specializing in chronic pain management.  I didn’t go into the appointment with very high hopes.  After all the doctors I’ve already met with and all the tests I’ve already had, what could this doctor have to tell me?

Well, she told me that my pain doesn’t follow predictable patterns.

I knew that.

She told me she’s not quite certain what’s going on in my body.

No one really is.

She hypothesized and starting thinking out loud about different tests.  I vetoed the nerve conduction test and electromyography.  I’ve done it twice, and all I can say is it felt like a form of torture.

I stood on my toes.  

I stood back on my heels.

I walked down the hallway.  

I crossed my legs.

The doctor reviewed the results of previous MRIs.

And her conclusion?

I have “weird pain.”

I didn’t agree to a new drug.  I didn’t agree to a test that would involve inserting a needle into my spine.

And I didn’t let the tears flow in that exam room.  

I thanked the doctor for her time, and on the drive home, I cried.

I don’t know why doctors think it’s okay to tell a patient they are weird or their pain is weird.  

I’d like to suggest different adjectives:  Abnormal. Uncommon.  Atypical.  Irregular.

At least those adjectives sound more professional, more clinical in nature.

You can click here to read my personal essay “The Hard Realities I’ve Faced After My Doctor Told Me, ‘You’re Just Weird’.”

 

How Much Is Too Much?

Ryan and I at The Huntington’s Lily Ponds

 

9 years.  

Next week, marks the ninth anniversary of my life with an autoimmune disease.

Although at the time, we didn’t realize we were dealing with a permanent situation.  My left calf was swollen.  We thought a visit to the emergency room would make it somehow become un-swollen, and that would be that.

How wrong we were.

9 years later, a lot has changed.  I’m no longer a classroom teacher.

But the part that hasn’t changed is my desire to be an active, engaged, loving mother.  For me, that means I make chocolate chip cookies for dessert a few times a week.  (Disclaimer – they’re the Pillsbury, pull-apart-and-bake-kind.)  And for me, that means every summer is full of what a friend of mine refers to as “field trips.”

My son and I (sometimes with my husband, sometimes with my dad, and oftentimes just the two of us), venture around the city exploring different venues and museums.

My son graduated from elementary school three weeks ago, and since then we have been to:  the GRAMMY Museum, the Getty Center, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Discovery Cube Los Angeles, miniature golfing, the library, and the beach (twice).  

The one that did me in, that almost brought me to tears (of pain and sadness and frustration) was our visit to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. 

We hadn’t been there in many years.  So many years, in fact, that Ryan had no memory of having been there before.  My husband, son, and I explored for about two-and-a-half hours.  That’s all my legs could do, and that’s all Ryan could do before his energy decreased and his appetite increased, and he was ready to leave. 

I loved being there.  Marveling at one of my favorite paintings, Pinkie, enjoying the colorful sight of the rose garden, thinking of my pen pal while in the Japanese Garden, smiling as we stood beside the lily ponds.  

But we didn’t see all the Huntington has to offer.  

We couldn’t.

I couldn’t walk any more.  The pain was intense.  My knees felt as if someone had whacked them with hammers.  My legs felt weighted down.  My shoes felt like they had magnets attaching me to the ground, making it hard for me to lift my foot and take a step.  

And yet, I had wanted to go there.

I had wanted our family to have this special day’s experience.

But I felt awful, until I went to sleep that night.

Was I glad I went?  Yes.  

Do I want to go back?  Yes and no.  

How much pain do I put myself in, how much do I push myself to see, to smell, to touch, to hear all that I wish to experience even when I know that it is physically difficult for me to do?

Nine years, and I still don’t have the answer to that question.

 

5 Things I’m Learning From My Autoimmune Disease

Last week marked the 6-year anniversary of the day I left my teaching career. I still miss it. But I like to think that I’m still teaching – just not in a traditional classroom – but through my writing and in all my interactions with my son. And I’m still learning. In fact, living with my autoimmune disease has taught me some surprising, unexpected lessons. Here are 5 Things I’m Learning From My Autoimmune Disease.

  1. Small pills aren’t always easier to swallow.  I take a lot of pills each day; both prescription medications to try and control my body’s inflammation as well as over-the-counter supplements. Pills come in different sizes. Some are taken with food. Some without. Some are taken every day, at certain times of the day. But there’s one medication I take only once a week. It’s a small pill; probably the smallest pill I swallow. But each Saturday night, I have to take 10 of these little pills. And after a while, those 10 small pills feel more like 10 giant multivitamins.
  2. Being a chronic patient improves my vocabulary and spelling skills.  Since becoming ill, I’ve learned about different “-ists” – gastroenterologist, urologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, rheumatologist. I’ve also been subjected to different   “-scopies” – endoscopy, cystoscopy. Many were words I had never heard of before. Some were words I had no idea how to pronounce (endoscopy). And some, I still don’t spell correctly on the first try (ophthalmologist). 
  3. I’m willing to have my belly button resemble a volcano.  When I was newly diagnosed and desperately trying to hold onto my life and my teaching career, I tried a variety of things on the chance they might help. I bought compression stockings. Didn’t help. I propped my legs up with several pillows every time I sat on the couch or reclined in bed. Also didn’t help. And me, the person who doesn’t like needles, who always looks away when having blood drawn, saw an acupuncturist. I paid her $100 per visit so she would poke me with ultra-thin needles. Occasionally, she also burned Moxa, and once placed it inside my belly button until it looked like a mini-volcano was erupting on my body.  And it didn’t help my pain.
  4. A blood clot will seem like an attractive alternative.  My illness began on a Sunday morning when I woke up with an incredibly swollen left calf. I couldn’t stand, and once in the ER, all the symptoms (redness, swelling, pain in my calf) suggested a blood clot. I believed that my swollen leg would somehow be popped like a balloon until it was deflated and I was back to normal. It wasn’t a blood clot, and it didn’t return to normal. In fact, while in the ER my calf became more red, more swollen, and more sensitive to touch. Doctors didn’t know why. But a blood clot would have been so much easier. Something that was identifiable, treatable. Something that was temporary. (I was treated for cellulitis, and a year later officially diagnosed with my autoimmune disease).  
  5. An invisible disability is like the wind.  Invisible forces are powerful. You never see wind; wind is invisible. But you see and feel the effects of wind – wind chimes tinkling, kites soaring, leaves rustling. My invisible disability has the same strength as gale-force winds. It made it necessary for me to retire from my teaching career. It qualified me for a disabled parking placard, though I don’t rely on an assisted walking device and appear to be “fine.”

 

Under Self-Attack

 

Time spent by the ocean is always good for my soul.

I have a question for you, dear readers.  How would you define “self-care?”  

For some, it means a bit of pampering, such as taking the time to get a pedicure or massage.  For others, it means doing something just for you, something that makes you feel good, whether it’s sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book or going for a walk.

But what about people like me?  People who struggle with invisible disabilities?  People for whom “self care” means something entirely different?

Click here to be redirected to The Mighty to read my recently published personal essay, “With Autoimmune Disease, There Are More ‘Self-’ Practices Than Just Self-Care.” 

 

 

Bartering for Health

Does it all come down to luck? My dad and my son breaking the wishbone. Thanksgiving 2017

 

We’ve had some scary health incidents in my family during the last couple of years.  During those times, I find myself praying, thinking good thoughts, looking for signs – even more than I usually do. 

And then I take it to the next level.  I start making “deals.”  I try “bartering for health.”

It’s a crazy kind of deal that implies I’ve got some sort of power and control, and that this higher power is just waiting, listening, and receptive to requests for such health-related barters.”

The paragraph above is taken from my personal essay, “Bartering for Health” which was published in the Fall issue of Breath and Shadow.  You can click here to read the rest of my essay.

 

 

 

My Son Is An Only Child

Our Beautiful Family

It happened again.

A couple of weeks ago, while at the checkout line, the friendly Ralphs cashier told me I needed to have at least one more child.

She said this in front of my son.

This time around, the cashier is someone we chat with each time we see her.  She is warm and friendly with my son.  She comments on how tall he’s gotten and asks how he’s doing in school.  

But this was crossing the line.

While she scanned my groceries and I bagged them, I tried my usual answer.  “We’re blessed with Ryan.”

But she didn’t let it go.  “You need to give him a brother or a sister.  You never know what could happen to you or your husband.  You don’t want to leave him alone.”

I felt a physical reaction, as if I had been punched in the stomach.  I know this.  It is one of my great fears.

As we loaded our groceries into the car, I spoke to my son about this conversation.  “I really like it when we see Dora, but I really didn’t like what she said to us today,” I told Ryan.

I continued.  “You know each family makes their own decisions about children.  How many to have, or if they’ll have any at all.  And each family’s decision is right for them.  Our decision is right for us.  Daddy and I feel so lucky that our family is the way it is.”

“I know,” Ryan said.

But like I began this post, this isn’t the first time a supermarket cashier has commented on our one-child family status.  And even though I’ve dealt with this before, it doesn’t get any easier.

Click here to be re-directed to RoleReboot.org  to read my personal essay, “When A Stranger Told Me I Needed To Have a Second Child.

 

Mommy Has a ‘Boo-Boo Leg’

My curious son and I, on the observation area of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. June 2018 (I climbed all the stairs!)

“What does the doctor do with all the blood after they check it?”

My son once asked me that question.  It took me by surprise and caught me off guard, because it was something I had never considered.  

It’s not the only good question Ryan has asked me over the years.  There have been so many I wrote a personal essay about them.  And I’m proud to say that “Mommy Has a ‘Boo-Boo Leg’: Talking to My Son About My Autoimmune Disease” is now a non-fiction finalist in the Pen 2 Paper Disability-Focused Creative Writing Contest.

Click here to read my essay, and this year, readers may vote for their “audience favorite.” (You must have a free Submittable account to vote).  

Thank you in advance for reading and spreading the word!