comfort

This blog was originally about losing my mind and being sad when I got well enough to realize I lost my mind for a good long while. There is little doubt (at least to me) that my brain is returning.  I kept veering off the subject of crazy, though. and into grief. I had no idea that I was and am grieving right now. Grieving is  different than depression. Grieving the loss of something partially returned is different than mourning the loss of a loved one. Nonetheless, grieving overtly implies loss, and only now can I see what I’ve lost in the last three years. Only now that I am returning to health that I have the energy for such an indulgence. Perhaps ‘indulgence’ not exactly right—it seems unavoidable—but why can’t I use my returning energy for something useful?

I haven’t had a huge amount of loss in my life. Three of my grandparents died before I was thirteen. My Nanny died when Katie was young. I mourned, but I didn’t know profound loss until my mom died. That period of bereavement morphed into an outpouring of grief for all the hurts in my life. What purpose does this serve for humans? It’s never fun, always difficult, and the end result is, what? A blank exhaustion, a feeling that there are simply no more tears to be shed. That particular part of the journey is different for everybody.

What I really want to know was why I spend so much energy on grief. There are four stages of ‘normal’ grieving: Numbness/disbelief, Separation/distress, Depression-mourning (are the two inseparable?), and Recovery. There is something called ‘complicated grief’ (wtf? is that different from ‘simple grief?) and ‘infinite loss’. I hate having my journey so neatly compartmentalized, so pedestrian. On the other hand, knowing this is normal is comforting.  I found myself feeling much better just reading about  ‘Perpetual complicated grief’, aka, constant sorrow.

I am not a woman of constant sorrow. There are times when an inertia settles over everything, and that’s unpleasant. The grief is like a low-grade fever, not incapacitating but definitely a factor in my everyday life. Grief from chronic illness is different from acute or terminal illness. Those illnesses have  a definite end, one either gets well or one dies. Chronic illness is a series of losses, unending, and multiple. These are known as infinite losses. Great. Constant sorrow over infinite losses. Sounds Sisyphean, and it is.

The most difficult aspect of chronic illness  and grief is girding up for the next round. As I write this, it (finally, DUH!)occurs to me this is why I am continually battling exhaustion. This is why I nap daily and sleep eight hours a night. Maybe grief serves as a reminder to my body: this isn’t over, you need to rest, don’t get too excited, now. As if I need a reminder.

Sometimes I wonder when this (Lyme and grieving) will be all over. More often, though, I remind myself that the weight of my illness and grief are the only things I get to determine. So I bumble on, wrestling with keeping both loads as weightless as I can, while still trying to live. I need to be smacked in the face to recognize what is often right in front of me. Putting a name on what I am experiencing is what I need to recalibrate. Which brings me to comfort. Anyone who has gone through this process understands the need for comfort. Respite might be the better term, but comfort through the process is elemental.

I have time-tested activities that provide comfort to me. Some are mundane, like cooking and cleaning. The results of both are deeply soothing because they are concrete reminders of my usefulness and skills. Movies. Cocooning in a dark theater and entering another world, no matter how grim, is essential. Music. Because singing loudly and badly with your favorite songs never gets old. Walking the dogs. No explanation needed. Playing pickle ball. I love the game and the people. I don’t want to brag, but I’m popular with the over-65 men. Writing. For some reason I love spilling my guts to everyone. After the first time, it gets easier. Lifeguarding. Any work is better than not working. Besides, I like lifeguarding. I think deep thoughts staring at the pool.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize whether I’m grieving or relapsing. A friend who has battled a chronic illness for years told me that when he’s having a good day, for whatever reason, he lets himself enjoy it. Does whatever he wants and doesn’t feel guilt AT ALL. I tell myself to do that, but it isn’t easy. I have trouble gauging how much I can handle, and tend to beat myself up when I do too much. Maybe when I get to the recovery stage I can relax and enjoy life fully.

Where does all this grieving and ruminating leave me? A little bit stuck, I guess. I am going to have to trust in myself (always dicey) and have faith that one day grieving and healing won’t be so hard. Meanwhile, I keep busy cleaning, resting, lifeguarding, writing, vegetating, playing pickle ball, walking the dogs, working from home, and above all, trying to get to that zen space of enjoying myself guilt free.

ps I started this blog before Las Vegas. The sense of grief over events in the world today is a daily battle. Comforting and being kind to yourself is more essential than ever.

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acceptance?

I fucking hate babesia. Babesia is one of my co-infections, a malaria-like parasite also called a “piroplasm”, whatever the fuck that is. It clouds my mind and saps my energy. I get angry and depressed for no reason. My eyes go wonky. All the normal boring crap, too, like fatigue and muscle aches and joint pain. For once, there is no anger at this flare-up. Am I being forced into accepting Lyme? Or am I worn down with fighting? I don’t think either is quite true. Acceptance, at least for me, smacks of giving up, worn down implies defeat. I’ll settle for the gentle euphemism of “learning to live” with Lyme.

My doctor shared his frustrations with his inability (another tricky word) to predict the outcomes of his Lyme patients. He felt I should be well by now. He wonders what factors we’re missing. So do I. We discuss my lifestyle. Am I drinking? Why, yes. I tried to drink twice in the last month. It didn’t work out too well the next few days. Alcohol is off the table once again. How about rest? My number one priority. I nap most days and get at least eight hours a night. I am like a four-year-old trying hard to give up naps but too sleepy to actually do it yet. What about stress? Yes, what about stress. Oh, you mean the stress of living? There is the stress of existing, which is essentially what I did for almost two years, and the stress of living. Existing is a sealed bubble of eating, sleeping, and being sick. Living is working, socializing, exercising, going out, traveling, and interacting with the world. YES IT IS STRESSFUL! I almost always feel behind the eight ball of my own life. Do one of the things and be sick. Do all of them and feel great. That uncertainty is stressful. So is deciding which one to prioritize on any given day.

I can accept that lifestyle choices and managing stress are all on me. My doctor accepts managing my protocol. What both of us struggle to accept is what we are missing. Was it the eleven surgeries I’ve had during my life? Perhaps all the antibiotics I took for acne in my late teens. The drugs I enthusiastically experimented with? Maybe something in the environment. It sure as hell isn’t my disposition. I’m fricking Pollyanna. We may never know for sure, and that in itself is a stressor.

Today marks the first day in weeks that my brain is working well. I had no idea how far down the slope I had gone. That’s the hallmark of Lyme brain (such a warm, fuzzy little description for losing your mind). It’s so subtle. I hope I can learn to recognize relapse symptoms more quickly. I don’t like the sensation of somnambulating through life. I may appear and act normal (well, as normal as normal is for me), but if you ask me to remember too much, or do something mentally challenging, like math, you’ll see the gaping holes in my speech, thought and memory.

I am ambivalent about this latest flare-up (relapse, setback, shitshow, whatever you want to call it). Overall, my symptoms are sputtering and losing steam. Either that or I am learning to live with my new normal. Is that acceptance, or is it defeat? I must confess I am satisfied with my current situation—lifeguarding, Airbnb, writing, exercising, and keeping the house together. I can control this amount of stress and chaos. I can adjust the intensity and frequency of all these activities when I need to, and I can push it, or I can take naps and rest. Of course this isn’t what I want. Like Veruca Salt I want it all and I want it now! I hate having limitations. Waaah! I know, cry me a river.

I guess acceptance means being content with the parameters of my illness. When I first typed this, I said “the illness”. I can scarcely admit even now, that it is MY illness, an illness that will be mine and belong to me until I die. This is just for now. I don’t want to be in this particular phase (which is basically the lifestyle of a five-year-old) forever. However, it is not merely existing anymore. It is a life, and not a bad one, either.

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almost

I have discovered recovery is more difficult than being ill. I am in the land of “almost well”, a state as close to purgatory as I can imagine. The difference between almost well and healthy is a sheer  mountain wall, technically difficult and requiring great strength. The difference between illness and almost well is a gentle poppy field like the one in the Wizard of Oz, easy to cross, yet vast and with many rest stops. The illness is a narcotic, blunting the endless trek to almost well. I suppose there must be a boulder field with jagged rocks before one runs into the monolithic wall of almost well. The effort is takes to climb the small boulders clears the mind and gives one false hope. The boulder field, for me, had a few fields of poppy, where I stayed, stupefied and disheartened once again. I also found a few trails, where I got a fleeting glimpse of normal.

It has been nearly three years since my tick bite. 2016 was the worst year. I earned a whopping $1000 for the year. I don’t remember large portions of the year. The fact that I wasn’t remotely aware of how bad it really was is the narcotizing effect of a serious illness. For some Lyme patients, especially those of us who did not get a quick diagnosis, doctors use the words “chronic Lyme disease”, or “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome” (I like that one, wordy and scold-y at the same time). I’ve been denying my status as one of those who might be chronic. I had to think about what “chronic” means, as it pertains to Lyme. If I google these terms, I get a long list of sites with vague definitions that mainly discredit the notion that it exists. It does. I’d love to not have relapses, or slides, or persistent, chronic fatigue. I like to pretend I’m just fine, but that doesn’t work, either. There are a lot of theories about this. Fuck theories. They don’t do jack shit for making me healthy.

The tone of my discussions at the doctor’s office have changed. We talk about “plateaus” and “shifts”, as if Lyme were a geologic event. I need to once again obsess over my symptoms, or lack of them, to gauge whether I am having a relapse (shift), or holding steady (plateau). My big fear is that I will plateau at almost well. Almost well isn’t awful. At this point, unless I have a seismic shift downwards, I won’t die of Lyme. The chronic, almost well part is the fact that sucks. It means I will always have to manage my energy and my health. It means I will be a delicate flower, getting enough rest and good food, and not getting stressed out. BORING! But definitely manageable.

If I sound a little whiny, I am. I feel a lot entitled to my whininess, until I think about other people I know. Almost well would be a dream to some of them. I know this, yet I persist in feeling cheated. Cheated out of what, exactly? There are no guarantees that me or anyone will live long and perfectly healthy lives. Lyme has insured that I will take care of myself for the rest of my life, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I meet people who have had very few health challenges. My dad comes to mind. He’s now had three surgeries, but before his knees were replaced he had had one back surgery in ’79 or ’80. He is not happy when his body isn’t working. He’s not a bad patient, but a resentful, reluctant one, as if these things should not be happening to him.

I’m not knocking my dad. His fighting spirit and unwillingness to fold are some of the many reasons he’s happy and healthy at 88. I don’t have that luxury anymore.  I’m not going to waste my energy on resentment disbelief. Because I am pathologically optimistic, I am going to assume (as I do in every bad situation, even when it’s obviously false) that I will plateau at normal. I now have the luxury of deciding what is important to me and making sure that’s what I do. Is it my house, or traveling? Do I like where I’m living? What do I really, really want to do that I haven’t done yet? Jumping out of a plane? Hell, NO. RVing? YES. Two questions answered. There are a bunch more waiting for me.

 

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stamina

I have lost my stamina. I’ve become the person others look at to feel better. You know, the “my life sucks, but it could be worse, I could be as sick as Melissa” line. I know, because I’ve done that. Haven’t we all? One of my guilty pleasures used to be “Toddlers and Tiaras”. Yes. It’s horrifying. But I had the satisfaction of knowing I wasn’t one of those  moms. It’s disconcerting to be on the minus side of the equation. You walk this line of wanting to appear strong and in control, but also being honest about being ill. It is shocking how much energy Lyme uses up. At the height of my illness, November through March of last year, there were days when stepping into the shower required a pep talk. There were times when Katie had to drive me everywhere, carry my purse and all the shopping bags, and sometimes handle the transaction (I’ll write about how I lost my mind…I’m simply not ready for that yet). I will be forever grateful to her for how she stepped up. I’m just now realizing how hard it must have been on her, seeing me wander through the house, dark circles under my eyes, a shadow of her once indefatigable mother.

On one of my doctor visits this June, we discussed what I could and couldn’t do, because I was starting to feel better. As in all things Lyme, it depended. It depended on how I felt that day, what meds I was currently on, how my liver was functioning, how hot is was (Lyme patients are notoriously sensitive to heat), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I was given a few guidelines. I could swim, but start with 300 yards and no more than 500. I could play pickleball, but be careful. I could go back to work, but not full-time. He cautioned me several times about doing too much. Of course, I ignored some of the advice. What did he know? I had stamina! HAHAHAHA! Lyme likes to fuck with you, and the joke is always on you.

By mid-July I was in full relapse mode. It was as bad as it had ever been. Damn, I was pissed! And humbled. If you’re not humbled by Lyme, you have an ego of Trumpian proportions. There is something powerful about hitting bottom. If you’ve never been there, I’m not suggesting a ride down, but if you’ve found yourself there you know what I mean. I wallowed down there a while and reached the strange nexus of choosing to rise and also not giving a damn. You get stripped down to what matters in your life. The problem for me is as I rise back up, I start to give a damn once again and I second guess myself. Worse, I let myself hope without any expectation or guarantee that what I want will happen. This messes with my head. I’m not the same person I was before Lyme. I had stamina. The definition of stamina is “the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort.” Well, I could sustain the prolonged physical effort of surviving at the bottom for a long fucking time.

But what if there is no bottom, just a boulder to push up an endless hill? Don’t we all feel like life is a Sisyphean punishment sometimes? I hit a point where I could see, for the first time, the possibility that ending your life could be preferable to suffering. This is quite different than contemplating suicide. It’s the acknowledgement that everyone has a point where the suffering is too much to bear. At what moment did I choose to crawl upward, Lyme be damned? At what point of suffering would I give up? I would never put myself in a position to get Lyme again (although I’m sure I could bear it—we can all stand much more than we think).

Stamina has a cost. I am weaker that I was. I have to plan for the possibility that Lyme may have altered my life irrevocably. I have no idea what the future looks like. I hope there’s love and happiness and meaning and purpose. I need stamina to create this reality with what is left after Lyme. And I want to get back that “I don’t give a damn” attitude, because I was fearless. I haven’t lost all of it, but doubt creeps in. I’m not a shadow of my former self.  I’m morphing into a better self. It is as hard as being sick. Sometimes it’s harder, because I was already pretty great. HA! There’s that I don’t give a damn attitude. I’m going to need that. And stamina.

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