Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 201 and Take It Slowly

I woke up today feeling normal. I wasn’t in any pain. I felt rested. The excruciating exhaustion that has gripped me had lifted.

I was a little bit surprised as I’ve been fighting off a setback that has diminished my physical and emotional state. An infection required an anti-viral that just destroyed me for the last week and a half.

The relief I felt at having the energy and desire to do normal tasks was palpable. I started making “to do” lists and plans for how I was going to use the energy during the day. I bounded out the door at 8am to my favorite trail to get in a walk before the summer heat hit. I came back energized and immediately went to workout. And then I realized I was doing it again.

In my relief to have back a functional body I was setting myself up to be exhausted by immediately over doing things. . My enthusiasm to get back to doing “all the things” would again be my undoing. Some residual guilt over needing to get back to people was on my mind and I used this projected shame right back into myself. What a disappointment I was to people and clearly I must set it right immediately that I’d been late by a week. I needed to respond to startups, catch up on my diligence pile, and email back all the folks in my inbox plus I was behind on any number of fund tasks for Chaotic. I justified these obligations as a reason to beat myself.

I have often struggled with the feeling that I need to work as hard and fast as I can when I am physically well. Part of it is my general tendency towards workaholism. But part of it is fear that feeling well is transient and I need to make hay while the sun shines.

I talked myself down from it and kept a steady pace through the day. I didn’t rush. I took breaks. And I didn’t feel guilty or beat myself. Which was quite a relief. It seems I can learn to take things slowly after all.


Day 200 and Accomplished

When I set out to be more creative in 2021, I set a goal of writing “something” every single day. At first it was hard. I couldn’t figure out what to write, I second guessed myself a lot, and my style varied wildly depending on my focus, energy and attention. But two hundred days of consistent daily writing has yielded significant improvements.

Even within the first month I began to see signs this experiment was making me a better writer and thinker. From Day 31:

The biggest change I’m noticing is a smoother less disjointed focus in my mental processes. This mental fluidity (which requires non judgement) is slowly improving the quality of my thoughts

I’ve covered a lot of ground in 200 straight days of writing. Which isn’t surprising. Every single day I open up the WordPress mobile app and I just start. I’ve become comfortable with not having a topic or even feeling terribly inspired. I just keep writing it out and see what comes of it.

My favorite part of having two hundred different essays is how much it has cut down on me needing to repeat myself. I’ve worked up pieces on so many topics I can almost always find one that is relevant. An extremely handy trick if you have reply guys.

I thought I’d want to do a “best of” round up but I think I’m happier noticing the occasion and being pleased with the achievement. After all, if I do anything but please myself then this becomes a blog with an audience and I’m quite happy enjoying this for its own sake. So good job me!

I hope if you are considering taking on some project or fast that will take hundreds of days to see results that I can provide a little encouragement. I wasn’t even sure I’d make it a month but I just kept at it. If I can do it so can you!

Chronic Disease Politics

Day 199 and Vaccination

I’m not vaccinated against covid-19. It’s not a political stance. I’d very much like to be vaccinated and have it work. But I’m in the small category of folks for whom vaccinations do not produce antibodies. And to make matters worse, the only way I could “potentially” produce the antibodies in response to a vaccine is so destabilizing my doctors don’t want me to pursue it right now. So before being super smug about how this is a pandemic among the unvaccinated and it’s a “choice” for a small portion of us it isn’t.

I take immunosuppressants because my immune system has gotten some dumb ideas about attacking my body. I have had anaphylaxis a dozen times and allergies aren’t even my primary medical issue. That would be swelling in my spinal column. It was bad enough at one point that I couldn’t walk.

I’ve tried a lot over 2 years since it was diagnosed to keep it controlled. I was on chemotherapy drugs for about six months (I don’t recommend methotrexate at all and not just because it’s mustard gas). I was on high dose steroids long enough to develop a chemical dependency on them that required supervised titration down. Plus it made me fat as fuck and that annoyed me. Eventually my doctors settled into the suppressant category known as IL, or interleukin, inhibitors.

These drugs fucking rock and gave me my life back. Thanks to them I can live basically like a normal person with the exception that I need to be careful as I’m more susceptible to infection. We are quite literally suppressing my capacity to develop immune responses. You kinda need immune responses for vaccines to work.

Immunosuppressants and vaccines don’t really mix. I had to go off them to get a flu vaccine and I relapsed so badly my doctor was like well I guess it’s going to be masking for you in the future during flu season. About 5 months later the pandemic hit. Fucking hilarious.

If I go off my IL inhibitors eventually I’ll relapse. It’s possible I can make myself less prone to inflammatory responses but it might all be bullshit. I go to a stupid amount of trouble and money and engage in a lot of woo to make the rest of my health as strong as possible so I am not as prone to inflammatory responses. Maybe it will work. But quite frankly I’m not interested in finding out right at this moment if I can live without the drugs that saved my life.

Why does all this matter? Because you need to be off of immunosuppressants in order to have a vaccine work. And I’m not fucking going off my suppressants. Nor is it recommend except in stable cases.

It takes three weeks to dose them out of my system, three weeks off them before a vaccine of any sort would have a chance of generating an antibody response, and then another 3-6 weeks of injections get back to a baseline of stability. (their effects tend to be cumulative). And that’s because I would only be able to get one stick J&J as I happen to be allergic to the PEGs that stabilize mRNA vaccines, so I have to do one and done. But that’s an aside.

Basically I’m looking at 3 months of intensive inflammation that will cripple me just to get a vaccine. Because of a host of other complicating factors my primary caregiver physician and rheumatologist have recommended against me getting the jab. It will be hugely destabilizing to me (which is its own risk) and even if I get it, we just don’t know if I’ll produce enough antibodies while I’m on the suppressants. It could be for nothing.

It’s basically lose lose for me. It won’t work if I’m on the drugs and if I’m off the drugs I’ll be so sick it’s a crap shoot if I need to be hospitalized for going off them. Which ironically would put me at even higher risk of covid exposure. My doctors do not love this.

With the Delta variant on the rise I don’t know if it’s actually worth destabilizing me or if it’s a risk worth taking. It’s a crap shoot. I isolate. I mask. We didn’t want to fuck me up. It feels damned if I do and damned if I don’t. And I feel super alone in this status as everyone is acting like it’s a choice. And yes it is my body and my choice. But what choice would you make? My doctors aren’t sure either.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 198 and Kindness from Strangers

I’ve written about how terribly I’ve felt physically for the past 6 straight days. The last positive day of writing I had was 8 days ago. People have noticed the emotional tone of this struggle.

Generally speaking a day or two of being down doesn’t get noticed on social media, but a continuous streak of being “off” tends to get noticed by your community. Your mutuals know who you are even from afar. Your mutuals see your struggles. Your mutuals may know more about you than you imagine. And I’ve found your mutuals may genuinely care about you.

I’ve never felt less alone than I have the past year under quarantine. Maybe it’s because the network of mutuals that shares their personality and life has spent more time on the give and take of commenting, posting, responding and messaging across social media. When we are forced to contend with our own inner emotional lives we can extend more empathy to others.

So while others may have seen politicization, partisanship and other externalized anger on social media, I’ve found mostly grace and kindness. People who I have never met in the flesh have shared their knowledge, their vulnerability and their network with me. When I have opened myself up I have been met with with compassion and understanding.

If you share a period of struggle and your desire to get out from under it you may not be far from help. The kindness of your community is within reach. Even, perhaps especially, your social media community. If you are hurting share that burden. I have and it is much lighter.

Aesthetics Emotional Work

Day 197 and Status Anxiety

I’m becoming quite bored of feeling like shit as I go on maybe day 8 or 9 of a poor reaction to an anti-viral. It’s not fun when the cure is worse than the disease. I noticed something fascinating as more and more “days off” piled up. I’ve still got a lot of emotional shit when it comes to being sick.

My anxiety over being seen as weak, lazy or lacking in willpower started to compound the more days I’ve needed to recover. What will people think of me that just as I’m making a comeback to full time work that I let myself get waylaid by a virus? Every project and meeting that needed canceling felt like I should accompany it with an apology tour. I felt like I owed everyone my time and energy. I felt ashamed.

The social striving and status chasing that have gripped the aspirational class seems to have its claws firmly in my psyche. At least when it comes to work, I’m convinced I must always be working to be “better.” Where the fuck did this self limiting belief come from?

Who cares if I needed a week off to cope with health care needs when I’ve been on medical leave for nearly two years? What is another week. Why am I so anxious to show that I’m capable of going back to work? Who the fuck cares! It’s not as if I’m dependent on a salary to survive. I’m not chasing a resume or CV polish on LinkedIn. I can just not work.

Technically I’ve already made it out of the status social climbing games. I’ve got money. I’ve got traditional credentials. I have a well compensated skill set that is easily hired out for income without sacrificing much of my time. I should not be experiencing any class anxiety at all. I should happily go into the leisure class and not concern myself that my workaholism isn’t possible for health reasons. And yet I’m absolutely panicked that I’ll be see as lazy and unreliable every time I have a minor setback.

It’s abundantly clear that aspirational class signals, especially around meritocracy and knowledge work, are as bogus as Edwardian England’s aristocracy. Class division can be upended if you just stop giving a fuck. But I’m experiencing exactly this anxiety noted in The Hedgehog Review.

The aspirationals’ endless pursuit of better can produce psychic restlessness and doubts beneath the façade of confidence and accomplishment.

I’ve always thought of my habits as being high status. I read science fiction, make a hobby of macroeconomics, and pursue healthy biohacking experiments. Of course, that I think of these things as having status is precisely what makes me signaling it low status. The perception of me caring so fucking much is proof that I don’t think my status in life is secure. I’m no better than the middle class strivers in Downtown Abbey who miss manner cues. How embarrassing!

But if I can admit that I’m anxious about my place in the world maybe it’s a sign I’m not so beholden to class systems after all. I’ve just now admitted that I’m afraid of how I will be perceived if my climb back to health isn’t perfectly stage managed. I hope that is the first step in letting it go. Fixating on fear and anxiety isn’t great for physical health. So I’m putting it out there that I’m afraid of how I’ll be seen by others. And I’m letting it go.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 196 and Exhaustion

I’m terrified of being tired. It’s the first sign of illness and a trigger of a cascade of traumas for me after fighting for two years to recover my health. The fear I feel when my energy flags is more than mere phobia. It’s the kind of gripping all consuming fear that stops all other emotions from surfacing. It’s a fear that stops joy and anger. It stops my my breathe and chokes out my chest if I pay it too much mind.

I’m already shedding unbidden tears probing a little at the edge of this fear. The fear that exhaustion will never lift sits in my body, scaring me into believing I’ll be trapped forever.

I’m more afraid of fatigue than I am of pain. Pain is complete and totalitarian yes. It limits your world sometimes in the extreme. But pain is not an enemy that cannot be overcome. When pain spikes or throbs I’m equipped with tools to combat it. It’s not that pain isn’t terrifying and all consuming. I’ve written about the challenges of chronic pain. How it robs you of your right mind. But it isn’t an enemy that extracts complete victory either.

I feel I can fight back. Light pain can be tossed out of my consciousness with mindfulness exercises. Even a slight self inflicted pinch can deflect pain. If it’s unbearable there are pharmaceuticals on hand. It’s not that I don’t find pain to be consuming, I do and it is, it’s that it doesn’t feel impossible to conquer. I have tools with varying degrees of efficacy that let me retain my agency with pain.

With exhaustion I have nothing. I fear exhaustion is an enemy I cannot best. There are no tricks for my mind that give me a boost of energy or remove the obstacle of feeling leaden. The tiredness is too complete to be overcome by mantras. There are no drugs for exhaustion. Stimulants can drag me out of bed but the crash afterwards makes it clear the effect was extracted under duress.

A doctor doesn’t mind giving opioids for a patient with spinal swelling but telling them you are tired doesn’t do much. What could they even give you? Caffeine? Aderall? Of course you are tired they say, your body is fighting inflammation. In this moment, I’m overcoming an infection and a poor reaction to anti-virals. An inability to crawl out of bed is a given. Nothing can be done. I just need to ride this out and hopefully it will lift.

But I’m afraid of the tiredness that has taken hold of me this past week. The fear that all of the work and money I’ve put into recovering my help might have been for nothing lingers. I logically know, and doctors confirm, that I’m simply fighting an infection and we had a slight complication with the medication. They say I’ll be feeling well a few days. They asked me to stay in bed for a few days. But I cannot shake the fear that it it’s permanent. The fear that I’ve lost all my progress is real. I just hope I can convince myself that feelings are not facts.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 195 and Waiting on Hand & Foot

I’m embarrassed that I need help with minor physical tasks. I’ve got an infection of the self sufficient Americana myth that seems to have taken root right in my very marrow. If you need something done you’d better do it yourself right?

When I was much sicker and undiagnosed two years ago, it felt easier to accept help because surely it must be temporary. There is no harm in needing help if you know you can pay it back tenfold? There is no harm in being unproductive for a time if you can pay it it back with interest.

But what will if can’t pay it back? What if I must rely on the kindness of others forever? Early on I struggled with little things like needing to use a wheelchair in the airport. I told myself stories like“I could walk if I just tried harder and accepted more pain” as I went through the concourse on the way to a hospital stay. I couldn’t pay back fellow travelers for slowing them down. And maybe no one minded that I was sparing myself pain for little inconvenience on their end. Perhaps I could accept small types of kindness.

But what if it’s not temporary? And what if it’s a significant amount of help! What if I do need help with basics for the rest of my life? Thanks to a recent trip my husband took I learned his running of the household increases my capacity by a full 30%. I could do everything just fine on my own but it would make my life much smaller. And it doesn’t seem to make his life any less enjoyable. On the contrary he shines when showing off his excellence in operational matters. It’s possible what I see as an undue burden is something he quite enjoys.

But I can’t quite convince myself it’s a good thing. The self audience myth has a deep hole on me. But if a third of my capacity disapates into tasks like cooking, cleaning, errands, and logistics but I’m enriched and energized by work like writing or working with the media then shouldn’t the choice be obvious?

And yet I still find myself embarrassed and angry about my limitations. . Why did it exhaust me so much to stand and wash lettuce? Or require so much rest to recover from a short run to the pharmacy. Those are small, albeit physical, tasks. My soul feels broken and my body a traitor with these small physical limits.

Whereas other pursuits can be done from bed. And even though it sometimes makes me sad it’s not always my choice, I don’t mind that my world is often limited to lying flat for hours on a mattress. I don’t resent it. In fact, it makes me rather happy. I’ve got the whole world available to me thanks to the internet. I can invest as easily in bed as from a fancy office. Twitter is just as good a connection to the networks of ideas and power as conferences or clubs. Better often.

The only part I resent is feeling like I’m a burden. Like I need to be waited on head and foot like some aristocrat or an ailing relative. Well not like an ailing relative. I am ailing. That part is the. But I can thrive in it with help. I just hope I’m not to embarrassed to take it.

Chronic Disease

Day 194 and House

The downward pressure I was discussing yesterday is taking me out for a few days. My doctors are torn between whether it’s the virus I’ve been prescribed some exciting news drugs for, or if the exciting news drugs are simply too much for my body to handle. The minimum viable dose in pharmaceuticals can be tricky. Too much and you kill the virus and it’s host. Too little and the suffering continues on.

I was watching the tv show House last night. It seemed like an appropriate show to rewatch as when I first came across the show I wasn’t myself an idea “House” patient felt extremely soothed by it. Would I make to watch a doctor that gets to the heart of odd diagnostics? Who instead of saying “well the tests are normal” says “these tests don’t help us explain the symptoms” and carries on? Why yes I would.

I’m lucky to have a number of doctors who do the same. It makes watching the show enjoyable as I’ve sat through countless diagnostics meetings and drug experiments that sound exactly like the ones on the show. I recognize tests and treatments. I’ve been put on several of the drugs just for the two episodes I watched last night.

We are dosing down on the antivirals for a few days. I’ve been told to get some rest and not to add in any stresses that I can avoid. While I don’t think writing is stressful I do think checking off the box for my daily essay would feel like a relief. So I’m doing that a bit early and keeping it short. If you are inclined to send good energy my way or you are from a tradition that values prayer I would appreciate being in yours.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 193 and Downward Pressure

I’ve had a terrific year (pandemic aside) with significant progress on my health. I’ve become used to seeing positive trends, especially within the last six months. But the last month has been a mess for me and the downward pressure is getting to me emotionally. I’m afraid. The fear of a setback is palpable.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what has been causing a dip in my progress or frankly if it is even a dip, as it could just be a few bad days. It may be that I’m just not progressing as fast as I could have hit some Pareto Principle limit and it’s just going to be a slog to get the remaining gains. Some of my metrics continue to improve (I’m seeing cardiovascular improvements still) but my energy, pain and inflammation seem to be going in the wrong direction.

I’m crushed by the exhaustion in particular. And sadly I know this to be real. Because I take immunosuppressants I am prone to infections. To combat one I was put on a course of antibiotics which seems to have some negative side effects. So now I can’t tell if I am exhausted because I am running an infection or because I’m having a bad reaction to the drugs. Could be both.

I feel angry at my body for this pause in progress. I’ve been working so hard at improvements. When I look at how I spend my time I am often overcome with resentment and envy of healthy people. It saddens me how much more of my life needs to be dedicated to doctors than a normal person. It’s especially frustrating as in the spring I was regularly noting how well I was doing and how much capacity I had to work.

Of course, the benefit of writing every day is I can go back and see what was going on. I’ve been doing plagued by the caprice of my body before.

The trajectory of my health is one of continual improvement but scatterplot is jagged as hell as each day vacillates between health and pain.

It’s my hope that this is just another local minima and I’ll be able back to my “normal” soon. Even if I have hit 80% of my gains I can manage with that. But it’s valuable to recognize the negative emotions as they come so we can let them go.

Emotional Work Preparedness

Day 192 and Cherries in Air Conditioning

I found myself eating an entire pound of chilled organic bing cherries in bed while binging episodes of Downton Abbey this week. Watching the British aristocracy cope with modernity poorly seemed like an excellent balm for the climate anxiety that has been gripping me during the consecutive heatwaves inflaming the American West.

I’m a doomer and a prepper but recently I’ve felt completely defeated by the looming impacts of climate change. And I’ve been manifesting it is a kind of orgiastic panic of consumption. We had a windfall this year and it has soothes some of the panic I’ve had about having the resources to survive. Maybe it will be miserable but we might have enough wealth to avoid dying.

But I’ve been spending more on petty purchases of comfort. I’ve bought 2lbs of organic cherries, the large carton of organic blueberries, the $15 bags of dark roast coffee for espresso, and the $10 bar of 95% dark chocolate without a second thought. We’ve had sashimi for lunch and on Friday I ordered a lobster roll. We live thousands of miles away from the ocean in Colorado. We don’t grow or fish any of those crops here.

The excuse I’ve been using is that I’m concerned (nay convinced) none of these things will survive the next 25 years except as extreme luxury goods. If I can see the changes coming should I not enjoy the access I have to food that will no longer be available in my fifties? If I can see the end coming why conserve? I’m not Exxon or BP or some giant mining extraction concern in China. My forgoing small luxuries as an individual will do nothing to stop the catastrophe and I would like fond memories of the taste of a cool tart cherry in my twilight years. Burn me at the stake for it I guess.