Tag Archives: Chronic Illness

30 things about my invisible illness you may not know – 2011

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30 THINGS ABOUT MY INVISIBLE ILLNESS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

1. The illness I live with is:  Systemic Lupus Erythematosis, Sjogren’s syndrome and autoimmune hypothyroidism
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:  1992
3. But I had symptoms since:  I was 9 years old
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:  avoiding UVA/UVB rays
5. Most people assume:  I’m NOT sick because I don’t often look ill
6. The hardest part about mornings are:   joint pain
7. My favorite medical TV show is:   Mystery Diagnosis!
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is:   sunscreen lotion!
9. The hardest part about nights are:   joint pain.
10. Each day I take __ pills & vitamins. (No comments, please) 14
11. Regarding alternative treatments I:  wish I could afford acupuncture (because I haven’t tried it) and craniosacral therapy (because it really helps)
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose:  NEITHER!
13. Regarding working and career:   I used to work full time but am now on disability
14. People would be surprised to know:  how much sleep I require
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been:  realizing that I can’t work full time, even if I want to.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:  travel.
17. The commercials about my illness:   really don’t tell the whole story.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:   basking in the warm sun.
19. It was really hard to have to give up:   being outdoors on a regular basis.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is:  designing and creating jewelry.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:  spend the day outside at a park.
22. My illness has taught me:   patience.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is:  “Have you every tried …..?”
24. But I love it when people:   tell me they keep me in their prayers.  It really helps.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is:   When God closes a door, he opens a window.
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them:   you are not alone.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is:   the isolation of living with a disease none of my friends have.
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was:   give me a hug.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because:   I have lupus.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel:   I’m not alone.

Mixed Blessings

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My Social Security Disability application was approved.  I’ve been told that only 30% of  first-time requests are granted disability payments.  I’m obviously relieved and grateful to qualify for social security.  My initial reaction to all this news was something like … “Great, I’m approved for disability!”;  followed by … “Crap, I’m approved for disability!”

Millions of people live with an invisible illness, like lupus.  Many have full-time jobs.  I’ve had lupus since 1992 and worked until this spring.   And that’s a weird situation for me.  It is challenging to accept the realization that I have serious health issues.  In my head and heart I’m the same person I was four months ago.  I certainly look the same, except for a 30 pound weight loss.  My laboratory studies, on the other hand, are seriously messed up. And every three weeks I’m in the hospital for immunoglobulin infusions because my doctor believes that aside from a very unlikely stem cell transplant, IVIG is my last treatment option.  But to look at me, I’m just your typical middle aged white woman.

Regardless of what happens in our life, living with mixed blessings is part of the package.  I’m lucky enough to qualify for social security.  So many people are less fortunate and have to juggle unemployment, disability, and poverty.  I’m one of the lucky ones that can afford health insurance and have a supportive family.

My life is certainly less stressful.  I take care of most of the household chores and errand-running.  My days are filled with tasks like folding laundry, watering the plants, making jewelry, preparing dinner, and writing this blog.  I promised my sister that I would be her bitch around the house.  So far, it’s working.

It would be wonderful if my lupus went into spontaneous remission.  It would be wonderful if I had the stamina to work again.  In the meantime, I’m counting my mixed blessings.

Boxes, Bins and Flowers

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One week from today I’ll be living in another city.  I’m up to the task of moving and the adventure that comes along with it.

The Moving Tower of St Louis

The Moving Tower of St. Louis

This week I had a semi-surprise goodbye party hosted by The Ten-Thirty Singers, a church music group I’ve been singing with for over 25 years.  Today I enjoyed a goodbye lunch with some great gal-pals … the PMS Girls (which stands for Peggy, Pam, Mary Anne and Sue).  Nothing like a 3 hour lunch on a Saturday to motivate you to take an afternoon nap.  I’ve been toasted, gifted, regaled with flowers and hugged to the max!

Next week I am hosting several packing parties at my place.  Amazing the things some people will do for a free lunch.

Boxes and bins are my new best friends.  I’ve acquired quite the selection of plastic bins with locking handles.  I even went so far as to delegate colors for certain rooms.  The pink ones are storage, blue for my bedroom, green handles for dining room, and purple handles for linens.  They stack and won’t fall apart.  They will never end up in a landfill because I like them too much, so in a way, I’m “going green” … or pink or blue.  I never thought I’d be one of those people who color coded anything.  I used to laugh at them.  Now I’ve become one of them.

At first I was strolling down memory lane while sorting all my worldly goods.   I was getting nothing accomplished.  Now I am ruthless about what stays or goes.  Goodwill has been happy to see me recently.  What I don’t keep is going to charity.  I have no patience for selling stuff on Craig’s List.

Surviving a move when you have lupus or any chronic illness is a tricky little game to master.  So to keep sane I work in small increments of time, sandwiched with a bit of  rest, like writing this post.    I try not to do more than 5 hours of work a day.  Hopefully, my joints will not protest and my vascular problems will remain quiet.   You won’t seem me outside much on Moving Day.  It will be hotter than hell and I will have the assistance of my son and a couple of his strong high school buddies doing all the lifting and shoving.  Having physical limitations can come with some benefits, such as help from others and I have no problems letting people move heavy stuff.

I did have a bit of a situation while cleaning last week.  I kept smelling something yucky in the living room.  At first I thought it was food or cat barf but the smell wasn’t constant.  Then I thought that maybe it was ME, as I was sweating up a storm and was possibly stinking up the house.  Finally, I decided to move the furniture around to look for the source of the by now, rancid smell.  So under the couch I found the source of the problem.  A dead bird.

Natural born killers?  Not so much.

Natural born killers? Not so much.

I immediately grabbed some paper towels, threw it out, and fumigated my house. Then I started wondering just where in the hell did it come from?  I mean really, how did it get inside my house?  Did the cats kill it?  If they did, why didn’t they eat the damn thing?  That’s what cats are supposed to do.

My only concern with the cats at this point is the 2 hour drive to another city.  They are not fans of cat carriers and car rides.  I’m expecting them to howl and shed all the way to Cape.  Who knows what will happen when we arrive at our new home.  Stay tuned.

I’ve moved a total of nine times in my life, most of them as a single mom.  By my standards, that’s a lot of moving, but I know people who have moved a lot more than that.  Moving sucks, but on the other hand, if I lived in one place all these years I would have accumulated too much stuff.  At least moving forces me to clean up and throw out. And by now, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One, get yourself some bins and forget the boxes.

Two, if you must use boxes, go for the paper boxes with lids. 

Three, don’t pack everything too soon, or you’ll be digging through your kitchen stuff to make dinner, like I’m doing tonight. 

Four, hang on to wrapping paper … my friend MaryAnne gave me 5 enormous bags of white paper left over from her move a couple years ago.  What a lifesaver! 

Five, and this is the most important, let people help you.

When the dust settles, I’ll start blogging again and fill you in on the details of my great adventure.

Safe Harbour

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safeharborWhen you live with an autoimmune disease like lupus, your overall health and well-being is usually in an ongoing state of flux.  I don’t expect to feel crummy when I wake up in the morning.  I never take for granted the days without complications or reminders of my limitations.   Some days, however, I wish there was a safe harbor where I could go for rest, comfort, love and reassurance.  Life with lupus is often an unpredictable crap shoot.  And the long-term odds are never on the side of the  patient.

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A good day for me is when the medicine is working, pain is manageable, the weather cooperates and the mind is untroubled.   Most of the time I am optimistic.  Most of the time I am fully engaged in the here-and-now.  Most of the time I can laugh about almost anything, especially myself.  I feel creative, energetic and productive.  When I can reach out to help someone in need, I am acutely aware of the blessing and grace that enables me to give.

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There are other days when I feel vulnerable and exposed.  Today is one of those days.  I hate the way that makes me feel.  I resent feeling weak.  I walking with a limp.  Anemia gives me a pasty complexion.  The cutaneous vasculitis lesions continue a slow, persistent march across my torso and extremities, despite all the drugs and all the infusions.  I have bruises in unexpected places, courtesy of steroids.  Chemotherapy and steroids have taken their toil on my appearance.  Sometimes I feel as dumb as a box of rocks …  “lupus fog”  caused by small vessel vasculitis or middle age or heaven only knows what else.  I see all too clearly the downward slide of  my baseline health and it scares me.

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I often wish for a safe harbor; a loving partner who would comfort and reassure me during storms caused by lupus.  I hear stories about how spouses pair up for doctor appointments or keep watch at the bedside of their loved one in hospitals.    Someone who keeps their promise in good times and bad.   A partner who is willing to  clean and shop when the other one is too sick to handle it alone.   What does it feel like to be loved for who you are, with or without a chronic disease?  Will I survive without this type of love?  Of course.  Would it really make a difference when lupus has the upper hand?  I wish I knew.

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There are other types of safe harbors in my life … my home is often a refuge.  I love to read and can easily get lost in a good story.  When I’m buzzed on steroids, I often set about cleaning out dressers and drawers.  I don’t take my friends for granted and truly enjoy the safe harbor of their company.  For years, I have spent quiet weekends at home, and don’t think about the fact that I’m alone.  But on bad lupus days when it’s painful to walk and getting out of bed is a big ordeal, I wish my life was different.  I wish it wasn’t so hard to reach out to people instead of opting for self-imposed isolation.  I don’t want to expose my insecurity.  This is my pattern when lupus has the upper hand.  Maybe there is no such thing as a safe harbor when I feel like crap.

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I have insecurities and fears, just like everybody else.  I am also a strong, intelligent, independent woman who appreciates the blessings in my life.  I’ve been divorced, unemployed, raised a child on my own and started my life over more than once.   And I have faith to keep trying.

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I have lupus.  And some days are not easy.

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

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invisible illness

I’m posting this Meme in support of  National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

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1.  The illness I live with is: Systemic Lupus.  I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, autoimmune hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia.

2.  The year I was diagnosed was: 1992.

3.  I had symptoms since: I was 9 years old.  Nobody knew what was wrong with me at that time, except I was anemic and tired.  In 1989 I began experiencing additional symptoms that went undiagnosed for several years.

4.  The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: Accepting my limitations, avoiding sunlight and knowing that my health is tenuous, at best.

5.  Most people assume: That aside from gaining weight (from years of chronic steroids) I look relatively healthy.

6.  The hardest part about mornings are: Not knowing if I will be able to move without pain.

7.  My favorite TV medical show is: House … mainly because it’s smart and funny.  But also because according to Dr. House “It’s never lupus.”

8.  A gadget I couldn’t live without is: Well, it’s not really  a gadget, but I couldn’t live without my sunglasses.  I even have tinted glasses to wear inside when my eyes are really bothered by certain lighting.

9.  The hardest part about nights are: Being in pain and having difficulty falling to sleep.  Feeling alone and isolated.

10.  Each day I take: 14 pills in the morning and 6 pills at night.  And every three weeks I go to the hospital for infusions that take all day.

11.  Regarding alternative treatments, I: would like to try acupuncture if I could afford it.  Therapeutic massage is beneficial when my skin isn’t combating vasculitis.

12.  If I had to choose between an invisible illness and a visible illness, I: have had both and would like to have neither.

13.  Regarding working and career: I’m just trying to hold on to the job I have now.  I used to think I had a career when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.  That was a while ago.

14.  People would be surprised to know: the amount of time and energy it takes to do what used to be routine things in life, like grocery shopping and cleaning.

15.  The hardest thing to accept about my new reality is: there is no cure for my disease.

16.  Something that I never thought I could do with my illness that I did: was be able to travel.

17.  The commercials about my illness: do not exist.

18.  Something I really miss doing before I was diagnosed is: Spending time outdoors in the sun and swimming!

19.  It was really hard to give up: my independence.  There are certain things I just can’t do and have to ask for help.

20.  A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: Blogging about having lupus!  Also knitting AND painting.  I’m a beginner at both but thoroughly enjoy the creativity and challenge.

21.  If I could have one day of feeling normal again, I would: spend the day at the beach, walking along the shoreline and searching for sea glass.

22.  My illness has taught me: patience and humility.

23.  Want to know a secret?  One thing that people say that gets under my skin is: “You look so good today!  You must be feeling better!”

24.  But I love it when people: ask if they can help, make me laugh, and let me help them when I can.

25.  My favorite motto, scripture, or quote that gets me through tough times is: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!”

26.  When someone is diagnosed I like to tell them: You are not alone.

27.  Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: how many people expect you to carry on as if you had no limitations.

28.  The nicest thing someone has done for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: More things than I can list!  I am blessed with kind, thoughtful and caring family and friends.

29.  I’m involved with Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week because: I have systemic lupus and want to raise awareness about not only my disease, but about all invisible and chronic illness.

30.  The fact that you read this list makes me feel: very grateful!  Thank you!

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Find out more about National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and the 5-day free virtual conference with 20 speakers September 14-18,2009 at www.invisibleillness.com

World Lupus Day

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May is Lupus Awareness Month.  May 10 is World Lupus Dayworldlupusday.

A few days ago, I started experiencing the all-too-familiar signs of a lupus flare ramping up.  My joints started aching, and I started having hives around my hairline and neck.  Sure enough, I woke up with my skin feeling like it was sunburned.  When I got out of bed, I noticed my thighs were covered with red blotches.  My back and arms were red and lumpy.  My feet and shins had new vasculitis lesions.  I was covered in sweat and running a low grade fever.

There’s nothing I can do about this flare.  I just have to deal with it and hope it doesn’t get worse like last year.  I’ve blown through all the pharmaceutical options to treat lupus.  My insurance carrier is reviewing a “second level” appeal from my doctor for IVIG therapy.  It is the only therapy that works for me.  If this second appeal is denied, I will be out of luck.

Did you know that in the last 50 years, there have been no new drugs developed specifically to fight lupus?  Currently, the only drugs on the market used to specifically treat lupus are Plaquenil, prednisone and aspirin.  How pathetic is that?  Instead, doctors have had to use “off label” medications like chemotherapy and other immune suppressors to fight lupus. All have toxic side effects.  Sometimes I don’t know if the drugs are worse than the disease itself.

The video  below is entitled  Faces of Lupus. Pray for a cure.

Lupus Warrior

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knight-4I’ve been preparing for a battle.  And I’m now ready to charge full speed into the messy underbelly of the healthcare industry.  I haven’t posted much this month but I’ve been very busy dealing with new health issues.

I’m in the process of writing directly to my insurance carrier, requesting an appeal of their decision that denied treatment for systemic lupus with intravenous immoglobulin (IVIG).  Last year, I had 3 rounds of IVIG with total remission.   This stuff is expensive (about $15,000.00 per infusion), so obviously they don’t want to shell out that kind of money on a regular basis.  Unfortunately for me, this is the only treatment option left.  All other medications have failed.

I’m sick of their bullshit denials.  This means war!

I saw my doctor a few weeks ago.  A new rash  developed on my arms, legs and chest.  It’s red, raised and bumpy on my torso, and flat on my extremities.  It’s actually layered on top of the recurrent SCLE rash that flared up in January.  The January rash was fading somewhat and then this new one took its place.  My doctor told me this new rash is small vessel vasculitis.  Currently it’s affecting my skin but he said it can progress to the kidneys, eyes and brain. I have to watch out for areas of the skin that may ulcerate.  Left untreated the skin could become gangrenous.

Fortunately it’s not summertime … yet.  Hot and humid weather makes this stuff worse.  My clothes cover most of it and even though it’s on my forearms and neck, it’s not so bad.  Makeup covers the hives on my face.  Then again, maybe I’m just used to looking at it.

The rash is everywhere on my body, but this photo pf my leg shows both types of lesions.  Some are red, flat and carpet-like.  It feels like a sunburn and is hot to the touch.

img_03912The vasculitis is small, round and dark … about the size of an eraser head.  It hurts but does not feel like a sunburn.

That’s why I’m fighting.

I’m beginning by writing the insurance company a letter.  I’m sending them photos of my skin like the one you see here, as well as others that are too gross to post.  I’m gathering published data from the National Institute of Health with evidence of  clinical trials of IVIG on patients that have systemic lupus and small vessel vasculitis and have gone into remission.  I’m also contacting the US manufacturers of IVIG.  Parmaceutical companies are interested in working with people who seek unconventional treatment (like one of their products) that has been denied by insurance carriers.  To some people, Michael Moore is a total crackpot.  When it comes to health insurance, you should watch his movie, Sicko.  His illustration of the health industry in the United States is spot on.

I’m not waiting for my kidneys to be destroyed.  I’m not waiting to go blind.  I’m not waiting to have seizures.  Nobody at the insurance company is going to cave in and give me the medical treatment I need.  I’ll have to fight for it.

Bring it on.  I’m ready.