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Chronic Disease

Day 621 and Pain’s Anxiety

Before I was diagnosed with my spinal condition ankylosing spondylitis, I didn’t really understand that I was in pain. I know that sounds weird, but I just knows I felt like shit. I hadn’t yet pinpoint the origins of the crisis in my own body. I was a stranger to myself.

Back then getting a diagnosis involved a lot of questions about my mental health. Are you anxious? Would you consider taking an anxiety medication just to see if it help? Are you sure it’s not all in your head? No doctor I’m not sure of anything that’s why I’m asking you.

The thing is I did feel anxious. My central nervous system was in a perpetual state of fight or flight from the pain. I had tachycardia. I was twitchy. I wasn’t a sleeping well. I didn’t want to be touched. It hurt too much. I was exhausted all the time and felt overwhelmed that no one seemed to know what was wrong with me. I’m lucky no one asked me if I was depressed or I might have been put on Prozac.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My chronic disease has a simple blood panel and physical exam to diagnose it. It only took me a few specialists to get to a rheumatologist.

I fear I would have been given an anxiety diagnosis and told it was all in my head if I’d had something more complex. But thankfully we untangled that any anxiety or depression I felt was simply a function of being in an inflammatory condition so acute every movement was painful. You’d have a racing heart and a fear of movement or touch too if everything was painful to the touch

The thing is I am scared of my pain. I do regularly get caught in fight or flight fear responses if the pain appears and I’m not prepared for it. I am militant about certain aspects of self care and my biohacking as I fear flares. I fear the drugs that are required when it isn’t controlled. It makes me anxious to need drugs at all to control my symptoms. Especially in America where a war on drugs has made it hard to need anything stronger than Advil.

Everything about pain and it’s treatment is anxiety inducing in America. And that’s a hard comorbidity to live with in a disease. As if pain wasn’t enough, the latent fear that you might not be believed lingers.

Categories
Chronic Disease Politics

Day 618 and Personal Politics

I hesitate to share too much detail about this but, I’m an opioid user.

Actually I’m not hesitant to share that at all, it’s in fact the core salient point I want to make today. I have a chronic disease and sometimes, blessedly more and more infrequently, it can only be effectively treated with pain medication.

Why am I talking about this? And in public no less? Because unless powerful people that have a degree of social, personal and political capital discuss things we deem unsavory we never make any damn progress on humanizing our inhumane responses. And our response to the opioid epidemic is inhumane.

The backlash to the crisis, a mash up of intense scrutiny, government intervention and rigid rules, has now reached a point where it is doing as much harm as the original crisis of overprescribing. And I hope my personal story allows you to see why.

My spinal condition (ankylosing spondylitis) can be so debilitating that the only way I can get out of bed to accomplish basic tasks is by taking a mild opioid called Tramadol. It’s not in the same category as OxyContin or Percocet but it’s not risk free either.

I’m lucky that my condition is relatively well controlled. I don’t need pain medicine all the time and I work very hard on alternative treatments in the hopes that I won’t need it at all in the future. I spent a small fortune making sure I don’t need a core useful medicine. Let that sink in.

I’m not an addict. I am monitored by a team of professionals. Every step of the way is in fact monitored extensively by state and federal systems along with massive insurance and hospital system oversight. It’s the closest I’ve come to experiencing the Panopticon. It’s life altering in its scope. My entire life by necessity has to revolve around when the system deems it safe for me to get a prescription. Not when my doctor thinks I need it. When Uncle Sam does.

I fucking hate relying on something so dangerous and so demonized but also so regulated. I hate that my entire private medical life is so closely monitored by the state. I hate all of it. But, on very bad days, the choice is immobilization or Tramadol. And I’m not at all ashamed to say I pick Tramadol. I want to be a working productive member of society and that’s hard to do when you are unable to move from the pain.

There is no grace in suffering but what it teaches us. And I’ve learned we use pain as a cudgel to control people in our society. That it is so effective is why I am both a libertarian and fiercely against the carceral state. One day it might be you suffering and you won’t deserve it either. And I pray that you will be shown grace in your personal circumstances.

But I’m lucky. I’ve got other pharmaceuticals, like biologic injections which treat inflammatory conditions, that I can rely on. I’ve got THC and CBD for their anti-inflammatory properties. I’ve got good old fashioned steroids like Prednisone. Which interestingly, my physicians universally believe is more dangerous than my Tramadol usage and did actually require an extended titration down as I was physically dependent on it, as your body stops producing the necessary hormones. They’d rather I use Tramadol for flares.

But you notice the government isn’t up in your face with a massive publicity campaign showing cops busting down Prednisone rings. There are no political advertisements showing how an opponent supports big steroid. Even though if you saw Donald Trump after he got Dexamethasone during his fight with Covid it was pretty clear he felt pretty good. Steroids have gotten me far more fucked up and also higher than any opioid ever has. But no massive surveillance program has ever come down on anyone for anti-inflammatory drugs.

Because that would be fucking ridiculous even though it’s just as addictive in driving physical dependencies , just as debilitating and depending on your body chemistry, just as “fun” as narcotics. Fun fact about me, I don’t have whatever chemical makeup that allows an opioid to give me a high. Which as I’ve learned is a saving grace. Not everyone does. That’s kind of the rub. The risk profile on opioids is a bit worse because some pharmaceutical executives lied about the percentages of people who get addicted. Or who found it’s side effects pleasurable in the absence of symptoms. They did not lie about the benefit of not being in pain.

And that ought to give you a good sense of the problem at hand. The iron law of prohibition strikes again. A massive bureaucracy imposing a fix that intervened in crude and inflexible ways is causing more suffering than it fixes. It wasn’t the intent but it is the outcome.

The iron law of prohibition is a term coined by Richard Cowan in 1986 which posits that as law enforcement becomes more intense, the potency of prohibited substances increases. Cowan put it this way: “the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

Because doctors were lied to about the risk profile of certain types of opioids in the first place, the backlash is now as bad as the original sin the pharmaceutical companies committed.

Regular law abiding people are getting fucked in their treatment plans because hard enforcement is making it harder to get the low dose drugs. We treat Tramadol users with arthritis with the same tools as as criminals addicted to illegal fentanyl. I know shocker that the American federal government can be as evil as Purdue.

But also historically you know it’s true. And now a huge portion of normal people like me, who just want the benefits of not being in constant pain, are being turned into an over surveilled over controlled population. And I’m not saying there are no risks. But who do you want deciding that? A doctor who knows you well? Or the government? Yeah I’d pick the doctor too.

Categories
Biohacking

Day 606 and Recovery

As you might know, biohacking is more than just a hobby for me. It’s the way I keep on top of any remaining chronic health challenges. In particular, I love how my Whoop helps me pinpoint where I am between strain and recovery.

I had absolutely stellar recovery scores last week even as I pushed my strain significantly. I was “in the green” which meant I was getting enough rest to recover from all my activity. But I’ve had a few days of yellow “warning” recovery scores that suggest I may need extra sleep and less activity strain.

I felt it this morning when I had some anxiety hit me hard as made a run to the grocery store. If I am feeling particularly tired I can easily let myself get anxious and overwhelmed if I don’t feel I’ve got the space and time to recover myself physically. I was racing against the clock to get lunch for everyone (both Alex and our house guest) hoping I’d be home within enough time for making meal and taking shower before my usual Monday therapy power hours.

I was thus quite relieved to find that therapy was canceled. A little end of summer reprieve. All the rushing to get things done went poof as did any remaining anxiety. I didn’t need to push. I could pay attention to my recovery. I was now free to heed the edicts of the Whoop. I hope this bit of good luck puts me into the green tomorrow.

Categories
Biohacking Chronic Disease

Day 601 and New Limits

The past couple of days have been super intense. Heck, the past month has been a lot. I passed out last night with my phone in my hand a bit after 9pm and woke up well after 8am this morning. My Whoop indicated I had high strain for the past two days and needed more recovery.

Still I went about my usual routines but soon found myself yawning and struggling to keep my eyes open after eating lunch. I felt lucky I hadn’t scheduled much today. I got back into bed figuring I would read a little bit. I kept drifting off. So much for being productive this afternoon.

One of my biggest fears is doing too much. Because I’ve been a workaholic in the past, I have a lingering sense of unease anytime I can tell I’ve been pushing myself for a few days. It used to be that my body would simply crash if I applied too much pressure, but as my health is at about 80% improved from my initial diagnosis I can no longer rely on such direct feedback.

I say that like it’s a bad thing but it’s a huge relief that I can modestly over do things and not immediately find my body crashing into a rest period. But it also means I have to be much more conscious of my own needs for rest and recovery as it’s no longer quite so obvious when I’ve done too much. This represents both a huge achievement for me and also a transitional moment in which I must find new boundaries.

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Chronic Disease

Day 591 and Normal Sunday

Having a modest disability like chronic pain (I have a form of arthritis in my spine) means I can’t always be physically active for an entire day. I need to lay down flat sometimes to relieve pressure on my spine and I can be fatigued from the persistent pain. It’s something I have to work around even if it’s not completely debilitating.

I’ve worked hard to control the disease. But it has meant a lot of days where normal activity had a poor return on the energy invested. If had a day where I was on my feet for hours at a time I’d probably pay for it the next day with extra time laying down. So I try to limit unnecessary activities.

I’m giving a lot of context that might not be necessary for regular readers of this daily chronicle that know me. But it’s not always easy for me to do what normal people take for granted. Imagine a day where you wake up, shower, cook and clean up after yourself, you go to work, you run some errands, you exercise, you come home to cook and clean some more, you care for your family and maybe you enjoy a hobby. A regular day.

I named ten activities you do without thinking. If I want to avoid hurting myself or using too much energy in one day, I have to pick two or three of those things. You might not be surprised to learn I pick showering, work and my health routines.

If I’m having a good day, I can add on additional activity or two. But it’s probably something I can do laying flat on my back. That’s how Twitter became a central nexus for socializing if you are curious.

So having given paragraphs of context I hope it allows you to understand my excitement about having an absolutely normal Sunday. This morning got up. I made food for myself. I went for a forty minute walk. I did my entire biohacking routine. I went to a nursery to see about some options for the orchard. Then I went to the grocery store with my husband and we did the shopping for the week. Then we did some chores on the new homestead. A truly astonishing about of activities for someone like me.

And even after all activity that I felt well enough for a long shower (often a painful activity as hot water swells my joints). It’s 5pm and I’ve been up and about since 8am and only laid down just now to write this post. And someone I feel totally fine.

Shortly I’ll be cooking mushroom risotto for Sunday dinner. My husband is the cook of the family but for some reason Arborio rice is his nemesis. He’s never made a decent risotto in all the time I’ve known him. Typically after a day with this much activity I’d never even consider cooking. But I’m having a normal Sunday and doesn’t it sound nice to make something a little more involved to eat?

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 589 and Mental Health

Trigger warning: discussing depression and oblique references to suicidal depression. If you are in crisis please call 988.

I had a scare this morning. Someone I love is going through some stuff. I didn’t know if they were safe for a short period and I found myself frightened by the prospect of losing them.

When I learned they were safe I was relieved but also angry because how dare they scare all of us like that? I scrambled to cope with my own feelings and a desire to engage in codependent behaviors. I called my therapist and pulled myself together.

While I don’t suffer from depression it’s not an entirely foreign concept to me. It has felt closer over the pandemic as I’ve seen others struggle. I have family members and friends who live with varying degrees of chronic depression and I have witnessed first hand how much strength it takes live with it. I have chronic pain and I don’t think it is even in the same ballpark of debilitating as depression.

I’m not any kind of expert and my advice is mostly me talking into the wind so please only take what serves you. But what I’ve learned is that people genuinely do care about mental health if you want to seek a connection. We want to help. We want to help those that want to help themselves. Your people do love you and you may have more of them than you realize.

Sometimes it feels impossible to ask for help. Maybe you cannot ask friends or family because of any number of reasons. But that doesn’t mean you are alone or no one is here to help. There are hotlines. There are 12 step meetings. There are apps and services. As one internet friendly to another you are not alone. If you need mental health care please take whatever step feels feasible even if it’s just a text message into the either. You can do it.

Categories
Biohacking

Day 583 and Inflammatory

Remember how I said I was overclocked yesterday? I felt like my entire central nervous system was on overdrive. Well I am a little less anxious today, but no less unfocused. It has been suggested to me that this may be a function of inflammatory stress.

I have in general followed a strict biohacking routine. But moving meant many of the nutritional supports and routines that keep inflammatory stress at bay were not possible. Sometimes your only option is picking up takeout. While I appreciate seed oil disrespecters as the natural intersection of left coded hippies and right coded bro-scientists sometimes the best you can do is chow down on fast food. And boy am I feeling the negative effects of that necessity.

I used all of my focus today to do my various biohacking routines to try to mop up the inflammatory mess that I think might be contributing to this overclocked emotional state. I have a spreadsheet of supplements that has stuff for me to take basically every hour (here are the highlights of my 8am hour which is normie friendly). I went hard on making sure I didn’t miss a single dose.

I also took the time to reboot other activities that should be calming. I went for a leisurely walk. I meditated. Our new power cage arrived so I will hopefully be back squatting and deadlifting soon. We’ve got plans for an infrared sauna. Our pond is fed by a mountain stream and I’d love to dredge it deep enough to enjoy it as a cold therapy dunk. Alex installed a new shower head until then so I can get a more intense cold shower.

All of this is mostly just a mental overview of where I am at and my plans to get my body stabilized over the next couple of weeks so I am at my most focused and capable once summer is over and my fall work season kicks in.

Categories
Chronic Disease Community

Day 571 and Isolation

The move to Montana is mere days away. Alex has started to feel a sense of loss. He’s been able to build a nice community here in Boulder in just two years thanks to his deeply weird (joking) habit of having hobbies. I on the other hand, have never felt more isolated from my hometown. I cannot wait to leave.

Some of this feeling of alienation is simply transient. It is my natural dislike of summer coming to a head because of the physical toll extreme heat takes on my spinal inflammation. I can’t be outside much during these new extended heatwaves, which defeats the purpose of living in Colorado almost entirely. Who wants to live somewhere you can’t go outside for 3-4 months of the year. Let it snow!

But some of it is that I can’t have physical hobbies that are too energetically expensive like like Alex enjoys. I spend my summer weekends alone in bed reading and shitposting, while Alex has a fairly vibrant in person social life year round. My lower key physical hobbies like gardening also aren’t particularly social even though they could be if folks wanted to join me.

Part of the issue is that we have a rented townhouse n Boulder that is too small to allow for any socializing. You can’t really come visit us. There is no open space for welcoming friends, neighbors or family members. While people have come to visit us in Colorado, virtually none of them have set foot inside the house. Some of that was Covid but it was mostly not having any space for anyone to sit and relax for extended periods. And because we knew it was transient we never bothered to fix it.

And when you can’t guarantee your physical health, it mostly looked like people coming to visit Alex and me staying home. I couldn’t afford to use my energy budget outside the home a lot during Covid. I assume folks think I hate them, when in reality I just can’t guarantee I’ll be well enough to be out and about for three hours.

It’s much easier for me to commit to socializing if I am home in a safe place where I can lay down or access my medications. I’d like to play host as it’s just easier to accommodate my own limitations. It feels selfish but I think most people wouldn’t mind working around a minor disability like spinal pain.

I hope that people will take this as an open invitation to come visit us in Montana. We will be investing heavily in our guest rooms and eventually a full guest house in the barn. We want people to come up to take advantage of our access to a more remote and laid back form of living. You can go shoot with Alex or you can kick back on the porch and stare at the mountains with me. It’s up to you. But we’d both love to see you.

Categories
Medical

Day 568 and Upset Applecart

I’ve been in a bit of a mad dash to get in last doctor visits with people on my treatment team that are in Colorado. Bozeman being a much smaller city than Boulder or Denver isn’t rich in specialists.

Of course, a hammer sees a nail. So on my last visit to my primary supervising physician in Denver, he just has to prescribe some new shit. He’s a bit anxious about doing some things remotely so we jumped into a new treatment I’ll start in September and a course of antibiotics I started on last night for an infection.

I’m basically stable but I had some symptom flares recently with all of the travel and heat. So getting put on a new antibiotic to sooth my immune system, which is both reactive as fuck and suppressed by biologics seemed sensible. I had some infections that weren’t clearing because of the suppression and there is no sense treating deeper stuff with that going on.

But alas last night at around 1am I realized we may have upset the apple cart a bit with the antibiotic. Only modestly so, and perhaps worth it if the clean up gets rid of any bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. I can feel certain symptoms improving even as I am indignant about the side effects from the medication.

But I’ll be damned if this antibiotic doesn’t have some side effects I dislike. It makes me both woozy and a bit amped up. Which is a shitty feeling. It was clearly a bad idea to take at night but my doctor wanted me to have my first dose as soon as possible. I was absolutely Tweeting late into the night being the central nervous system effects.

It often feels as if there is always something new and stupid wrecking my body in the summers. And there is little choice but to upset the damn apple cart to deal with it. I know it is necessary and I’m lucky to have the help. But I think I’m entitled to dislike it just a little bit.

Categories
Medical

Day 567 and Seasonal Affective Disorder

One of my Twitter mutuals blew my mind yesterday.

I’ve always been a dick to my SAD friends, but heatwave depression is right here, sitting on my lap.

Brent Cox

I’ve got a few friends with SAD or seasonal affective disorder. I had always thought of SAD as a winter disease. Lack of sunlight messes with your circadian rhythm and it can lead to depression (among other other physical symptoms) during shorter colder months. I’ve never had it personally. I thrive in the winter. Maybe it’s generics as my ancestry is Scandinavian.

It never occurred to me that there could be an inversion variant of seasonal affect disorder for the summer. But apparently SSAD exists. People can get summer season affective disorder. It’s rarer but it exists.

“What causes summer SAD? We assume it’s heat and humidity.”

New York Times

Which frankly makes total sense. It’s a fucking misery most of summer. Heat makes my pain worse. I’d assumed any dislike of summer was related to the increase in severity of my symptoms. But maybe it’s a more holistic issue.

Another seasonal challenge that could worsen with climate change — and play into mood — is pollen, said Teodor Postolache, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He said the immune response to allergens like pollen might create a cascade of changes in the body, including the release of biological compounds called cytokines that regulate inflammation and have been connected to depression.

I don’t think I am necessarily depressed in the summer but my mood is generally rotten. And if it’s from heat or pollen or humidity, the end result does seem to be I’ve got increased inflammation during the summer months and it’s uncomfortable as hell. I don’t know what I’ll do with this information (other than ask my doctor at my next visit) but it’s nice to know that I’m not crazy for feeling crazy in the summer.