Tag Archive | brain fog

Staying Present During A Flare Up

It’s a major challenge to remain present despite the feelings of despair about all my worsening symptoms and lack of options that I am staring down. At the same time I’m always trying to figure out more and more about living inside my energy envelope and enduring the chronic pain, the lack of predictability, the severity and suddenness that my symptoms frequently come on.
Fortunately, a louder part of me than the despair knows that it’s important to grow and learn from this never-ending flareup, otherwise I am just surviving hour to hour, living in fear, and that isn’t enough for me. I’m greedy.
I want to get to a better place so I can really live again, within my limitations. So I can make my mark, however that is possible. It has to be possible. Everything is so hard now, but I know who I am, and I know who my friends are. I’m stronger than ever in some ways, and I am learning to forgive myself for the weaker parts.
Even when all I can do is breathe, it helps to remember that just being alive is amazing and improbable. I am so grateful for days when I am capable of seeing past the storms overhead. It’s okay that I can’t do that every day, because I’m doing my best.
from Instagram: http://ift.tt/1ENzmMI

Not Pretending

I hesitate to admit this, but it’s important. Before i got sick I was already pretending to be normal, pretending to be happy and productive and on some sort of trajectory, but I was just as lost as I am now. I have been dealing with severe anxiety disorders my entire life, ADHD, obsessive behaviors too numerous to list, occasional bouts of treatment resistant depression, insomnia, self-injury, severely restricted eating or binge eating depending on the year, as well as growing up with chronic pain to a much lesser degree than now in the form of frequent dislocations/subluxations, migraines, and dizziness/nausea, all of which went untreated for a long time, or treated but not correctly.

Now that I have a series of chronic illnesses/conditions, my mental health is under the microscope constantly. It has been enlightening but also terrifying. Not being able to hide my mental health or my physical health anymore is the part I’m still trying to accept. I’m used to being miserable to a degree and pushing through, always pushing through, and to have my body take that ability away from me has caused some serious grieving.

The thing I was most commended for other than my test scores was my ability to pretend like I wasn’t hurting while I was, both physically and mentally. All of the bits and pieces that make me my own person are also things that drew negative attention when I was younger, and I have trouble getting over that still.

My response to the negative attention, eventually, was to reinvent myself to be as normal as possible, as plain as possible, to not stand out too much, and to deny my artsy, nerdy, angsty side the freedom it wanted. Now I’m left with artsy, nerdy, angsty as things I need to learn to be proud of and to embrace again. I want to, I really do.

can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

Those parts of me which long for the freedom to reinvent myself into the person I really am are winning. My hair is teal, my clothes are whatever the hell I feel like, I have been writing more honestly and openly, and I have picked up a paintbrush again.

So the path is there, I know what I need to do, but I’m scared to be myself again. For so long I’ve been this average-intelligence, straight, workaholic, brown-haired, plain-clothed girl who kept the ugliness and the oddness to herself, absolutely devoid of the desire to write the darkness inside of me or to paint it, only allowing thoughts out through a careful filter, and calling that happiness. It wasn’t. Neither was it sadness, exactly. I was just going in the wrong direction.

The reality is that my careful filter is broken now and only works in fits and starts… I can’t be anyone other than the person I have always been underneath the normal life I was trying to build around me like armor. I still love the interests I have cultivated while lost and wandering through life; I still love to garden, bake, and make my own home and beauty products. I absolutely still love my boyfriend, as well as this house and our cat. This is simply my soul wanting me to unleash it in any way possible in my new life, with my new limitations. I need to find a purpose, yes, but I also need to find myself again, be kind to myself instead of denying myself the freedom to be weird and potentially wonderful. So much anxiety must be tied up in the act of pretending not to be excited about the things that truly make me happy.

I don’t fully know what my happiness will look like now, but it will look different than the one I pretended was right for me.

To be honest, I’m relieved.

There are parts of me that are stronger than ever, and then obviously there are parts of me that are so weak that they have stolen life and time from me. But I am a survivor. This is me surviving. It might not be pretty, the struggle can get ugly and mean in an instant, but I have always survived, and I will continue to do my best. That will have to be enough.

I’m not any less okay than I was yesterday or the day before, I am simply not willing to pretend to be better or different than I feel. Some days I am still a suicidal teenager and some days I am a sage adult, and many days I bounce back and forth between the two. However, both are okay, both are me, and I am always going to be a survivor, even when I have no idea what else I am.

The term survivor implies that someone came through or currently resides in hell, however, and that is the part that people seem to forget. The struggle is what breaks you, but it is also what rebuilds you. We cannot be the same after we travel through nightmares turned reality.

Not the same, but certainly still me.

I am just too exhausted to draw a silver lining on my clouds today. Today it’s okay to acknowledge the storm overhead. To be soaked in it and shivering and afraid of the power behind it, but to remember that the sun also exists, just beyond those clouds.

More Exhausted Than Ever

Right now, I will do something very small and have to sit down immediately after or during a slightly more rigorous task, and it’s not the pain that’s knocking me down so hard, although there is a lot of that, I’m just pretty damn exhausted. Like, my bones are way too tired to walk to the mailbox or make it down the stairs to the garden, but I’m still able to fight through and manage those things sometimes. It’s very confusing. Overall though, the fatigue has ramped up to a point where I’m scared a little.

This is not meant to be a bid for sympathy or anything, I just have to have a place to put all this down and get it out of me. My body won’t allow me to do much of anything else and even writing has me fading in and out of consciousness because it leaves me so fatigued. To be completely honest, I’ve been feeling a lot worse lately. I pushed myself trying to create a small business that was never going to happen, and in many other areas of my life, and none of my accomplishments have added up to anything lately, not even one completely clean room. I have learned a lot and there were tiny moments of excitement and victory, but that isn’t anything I can put on my resume, really.

It’s depressing to feel like your health is going in the opposite direction that you’re aiming for. A lot of us are familiar with that feeling though, unfortunately. It’s just another part of chronic illness unless you can find a treatment that works. For a while things will hold steady symptom wise, and then a cluster of new ones will pop up one after another, which is what has been happening recently. Not every single new symptom stays around long-term, some of them will just last the length of this particular flare up, and some of them will attach themselves to my illness and they will be added on top of my daily already unmanageable pain, fatigue, and bodily systems that are completely out of whack. But these new symptoms will not be so courteous as to show up clearly on a test. Just abnormalities here and there, nothing to make an easy diagnosis off of. It makes my head spin trying to get a clear grasp on even the list of weird things that have happened with my body, and a lot of it isn’t stuff I feel comfortable sharing.

This flare up has brought with it a bout of sleep paralysis episodes, limb tremors and increasing muscle weakness, much worse than usual chest pain, rib dislocations, absolutely unpredictable new headaches and some severe migraines that actually got the better of me and landed me lying down until they subsided, hip subluxations on both sides, knee instability and weakness, poor typing and speech, including mixing up words, writing something completely different from what I was intending or thinking I was writing, forgetting phrases and words, increased inability to finish a sentence because I can’t remember why I started it, using big words but forgetting all the small ones, dizziness, trigeminal neuralgia attacks that feel like being struck with lightning over and over again in the same spots on my face, occipital neuralgia that is like being chiseled into on the back of my head, or like someone is grinding a screwdriver as hard and slow as possible into my occipital nerve, tmj issues making it a challenge to eat/smile/talk too much, jaw dislocations hundreds of times a day, lack of coordination and hand dexterity as well as random violent spasming when I try too hard to control my muscles for extended tasks like painting and typing, really painful joints all over, fatigue so heavy I feel like my veins are full of lead and my muscles are made of tissue paper and my bones are filled with cement, GI issues which all of a sudden include throwing up just about every other day, and delayed stomach emptying with all the associated nausea and pain and hating food/food hating me, possibly gastroparesis but I’m hoping not, problems associated with migraineurs even when the really severe head pain is not present (olfactory hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, light/sound/smell sensitivity, big blurry spots or color spots in my vision, things that look like shiny, constantly moving sprinkles all over my field of view, thinking things are moving when they aren’t, as well as not being able to track movement very well), falling asleep suddenly after exertion with no warning, feeling like I’m walking on razorblades and broken glass, sudden moodswings mixed with lots of feeling hopeless or just numb and dissociated from my disobedient body, muscle cramping, brainfog that is stronger by far than my Ritalin prescription, not understanding what people are saying unless they repeat themselves a few times, some obsessive behaviors I cannot stop doing and ptsd flashbacks, skin that hurts like thousands and thousands of nettle stings, and just so much more, but it would take so long to list, and this is why seeing a doctor once every 3-6 months is totally and completely unhelpful.

And I’ve been like this for two and a half weeks now, and it keeps dropping new surprises on me so I’ve got no idea when it will let me go…

I lost 15 pounds, and that was startling and positive. Not sure why I was so startled, I think it’s hard for me to notice the healthy changes I make and pat myself on the back unless some kind of tangible progress comes out of it, but lately I actually have noticed myself doing better at picking the salad from the garden over chips or pasta on the side, I’ve been back into yoga in bed, and in my better moments I try to sneak tiny bits of yoga into my day, with my arms close to my body and not pushing my flexibility to it’s max because I’m not in that kind of shape and my body can and will bend too far in every direction if I don’t watch myself in a mirror while I do it.

I’m so exhausted that it makes me laugh that I’m adding yoga back into my days but I can’t shower more than once every five days. Priorities slightly skewed? I don’t know, a shower is one very big expenditure of spoons that you’re committed to once you start, and yoga I can stop any time it hurts me, I can modify it to hurt less or not at all and to be done lying down even, and I dole out spoons one at a time to each little micro-session which is much less punishing on my body than taking a shower. God I miss being able to do that every day. The stupid shit we take for granted when we are healthy, I was so greedy taking two or three a day during sports and summer or just to get warm in the winter, and I never imagined I would ever give up my obsession with being sparkly clean every single day. It hurts to think about stuff like that though, and in general I just try to accept that things are the way they are and not ask “why me?” too much.

Not being able to shower is a big gauge for how much of a toll this has taken on me. The things I would have never given up if I had a choice, the gardening every day and walking for hours, the freedom of driving and earning a paycheck even if I didn’t enjoy the job or the commute sometimes, my clean house, the freedom to work out or go out with friends whenever the mood hit me, frequently visiting vintage shopping and buying fancy coffees just to treat myself, painting whenever I had a creative idea come into my head, preserving and cooking food especially when it came from my garden, baking bread almost every day, fashion, being able to complete deadlines and not be a total flake, being able to plan my next day and stick to it,

I feel bad enough on a daily basis that younger me, who had a damn high pain tolerance, would have been asking to go to a doctor almost every morning. But I don’t go even when it gets to be unbearable, because it’s so discouraging to be told more than once every 3-6 months that there is nothing new to try, nothing else to do that is in my price range, nothing, nothing, nothing, and to be treated like a drug seeker, a whiner, a lazy kid who can’t be bothered to get a job, when I just want to get better. I just want some hope, some kind of a future to plan on and look forward to. I don’t want to have to take these drugs. I don’t want to have to take two sparse and precious oxycodone just to get through taking a shower. This is not something I constructed to get out of working. I miss working. I’m young, my ability to work was my future and now I’m very lost.

I’m reaching for that point towards acceptance of my illnesses and new life where I can start to explore my talents and try to find more solutions, more small improvements, more joy in my life. I feel like it’s both close enough to grab and pull closer and simultaneously so far away that I fear I just can’t get there. I know I can only take it one day at a time and keep looking for the small victories, the shiny bits and the lessons learned no matter how painful, so I can quietly celebrate my life for those wonderful things amidst the chronic fatigue and pain.

You Don’t Always Have to Feel Grateful That it Isn’t Worse

So, I’m going to just say that things have been pretty bad for me right now. I have so damn many health care, financial, and emotional needs that are not being met, and after three and a half years of waiting my turn, I need something better than this, I need more, I need to live and have hope and at least try to get treatment for some of these problems. But just because I need something doesn’t mean it is possible. Money is an asshole that way. All ways, really.

I am still grieving the loss of a dear friend, and I talk to her at night when it’s quiet like this, and I think she hears me, but I don’t even know how to put into words how much it hurts to obliviously type her name on facebook like I’m going to see her there posting updates, and then to realize that no one gets to hear her sunny voice again. Who knows why it takes so long for the shock to wear off and the sadness that won’t lift to settle in. It’s like my bones are crying now, and I feel her absence physically.

All these things coupled with isolation and excessive pain levels with secondary depression, plus a nasty chest cold have made me a slightly more bitter girl, and I apologize for that, but then again, I kind of don’t want to apologize. Though it’s embarrassing to go off on an angry rant and publish it and re-read it the next day and not recognize who wrote the words, I did write it, and I did mean every word when I was writing and that tells me that someone else out there can maybe feel less alone if I continue to allow myself to occasionally write the lows, the times I don’t cope well, that my chronic illness brings.

The reason I’m suffering this week is simple. I went out, I lived a life for a week with two social calls an hour away from my house, and the consequence for my actions are a dire flare up and infections, even though I practiced preemptive rest, stayed hydrated, slept beforehand and loaded up on vitamins. That’s what the fuss is about, for any non-spoonies reading this. That’s why I’m “obsessed” with my illness and I never seem to win. You can do everything right and chronic illness is still a merciless, evil, cold hearted f*ck who will laugh at your plans, your support network, your therapy progress, your talents, and even your basic needs, and which will deny you access to them all from time to time.

I’m not trying to paint a grim picture, or a “poor me” kind of portrait, I’m trying to say that all spoonies, no matter how small you may see your contributions to be, all spoonies are important. You are important and you matter.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          atleastitisntworse

I guess I’m leaning towards the idea that if I don’t censor myself, I will probably help more people feel accepted and welcomed into the chronic illness community. We don’t have to have rainbows shooting out of our asses all the time to be valued and welcome members of the online spoonie community. I like encouraging people with stories about good days and things I am thankful for, and I won’t give that up, but I also don’t want to be missing a whole group of spoonies who feel pretty worthless and unaccepted by the rest of the chronic world.

Everyone needs a place to belong, even the undiagnosed, the doesn’t-quite-fit-the-diagnosis patients who are still in limbo, they need our support more than anyone. That is a stage in my journey where I was bitter every single day for at least a year.

So I’m going to perhaps post more vehement pieces than usual and not hold myself back. I will stop telling myself I can’t write on my worst days unless I have a good attitude while I do it,because that’s not therapeutic for me, for one thing. I do factor in here too, somewhere, I think.

The reality of being ill is that you will have some good days, some of us get more or less of those depending on our situation, some of us don’t have good days physically, but almost all spoonies eventually get to the point where you can have a series of bad days that you can handle emotionally, and those bad days will make you proud of yourself later on without too much soul searching involved. You endured and even conquered your illness for a while. You got through it without snapping and that’s to be commended. But it’s not to be expected from you. Positivity during hardship is not the only “right way” to cope. Because look what happens next; you overdo it or the weather changes or you cough funny, you have a medication reaction, or you develop a new symptom or allergy and things get complicated.

“Didn’t I just get through another hard week like this?” you think to yourself. It drags on, but you get through it, kind of numb and just making it day by day. And then not-so-wonderfully, another health setback; you have to take care of someone else who is ill, you get asked to another social function you can’t get out of, you have to attend three doctor’s appointments in one week, or whatever else it is, but it adds onto the pile you had not quite dug your way out of from last week yet. But you get through that week, and the next one too, though on the bad days you’re just counting the hours, you can’t even take it day by day things get so overwhelming. Months go by like this, a cycle of debilitation and not-quite-recovery only to be met with more medical problems, more stress, more debt, more isolation and eventually the bitterness that you thought maybe you had “gotten past” can sneak back up on you.

I’m not saying you are required by spoonie law or something ridiculous to feel all of these things in these specific ways for these reasons. I’m just setting the stage for those who are being hard on themselves for not coping as well as they’d like, and for people who may not understand what suffering from an invisible illness can be like when you aren’t improving.

No matter how you cope, or how well you “keep calm and carry on”, you still deserve to be commended. You’ve gone through a lot, and you should feel safe and understood when you are being honest about your pain. Honesty is not negativity.

Wishing everyone extra spoons, low pain days, and super soft fuzzy blankets that don’t hurt you while you’re sleeping. ❤

Chronic Pain Toolkit: Using a To-Do List App to Improve Organization

Getting organized with chronic pain is no small task. But it is necessary on so many levels. One of the major secrets, the dirty untalked about secrets of the chronically ill, is how hard it can be to stay on top of even basic daily tasks no matter if you’re having a good pain day or a lousy one. Being disorganized can make it hard to take spontaneous advantage of the good moments, because we often feel overwhelmed and out of control all the time. Reducing mental clutter is the antidote, or at least part of it. Since I didn’t exactly start out organized, it’s been an uphill battle, one I probably wouldn’t have been prepared for if I hadn’t been fending off chronic pain and illness for years.

I have always had some pretty wicked ADHD that I hid throughout childhood with a high IQ and a love of books. I could still focus, sometimes really, really well, but only on things I deemed interesting and not too intimidating. As a kid that wasn’t such a big deal, it just meant I never progressed beyond my fifth grade abilities in math, and that I almost never turned my homework in. Somehow I still managed to be a merit scholar in high school and get mostly good grades. At the time, I used my then-resourceful brain to figure out how to navigate around the many daily challenges brought about by a complete lack of focus. I did so by setting up reminders for myself, making tons of lists, setting alarms on my phone, sticky notes on the walls, writing on the back of my hand long after it was considered socially acceptable, and generally learning how to fake that I had my shit together.

Unfortunately, my ADHD and forgetfulness have only been getting worse as I age. And then, lucky me, chronic pain and brain fog got added to the mix just over three years ago. Even worse, the IQ that I used to rely on seems to belong to some other person I barely recognize now; my brain feels walled off from me by layer after layer of cotton. Every now and again I get a glimpse of the old me, the smarter me, but it happens less and less.

Eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t stand by, watching my brain wither in front of me. For the longest time, I was finding myself frustrated to the point of tears, often multiple times a day. Not from pain usually or even frustration about how long I had been in pain, but instead from how hard it was to remember even basic things. It was an adventure, a frustrating one, trying to keep a thought in my head long enough that I could find a pen and notebook and jot it down. I love lists, but all of them summed up, spanning several different notebooks, often scattered about the house and used by other people… it was all starting to drive me insane, not to mention take up too much space and time. I was losing very important information like appointment times, phone numbers I needed, receipts, everything was getting lost!

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, so I decided to stop crying about my frustration and start trying to make changes. I downloaded about a dozen different To-Do List apps, all free, all promising me increased productivity and less mayhem. The first few I tried just made me angry. No way to reorganize the list, clunky slow programs, things that worked on the tablet but not the PC and the other way around, no way to keep crossed off items visible, no way to make different lists or different subheadings within each list. I was just wasting more time, and getting more frustrated. Keeping digital lists seemed like it was not going to work for me. Then I started using ToDoist, and for the first time I had some hope for an organized brain, and a few more glimmers of the old me!

Oh so many notebooks have been saved from my scribbling and constant list-making by this app! I downloaded it specifically to keep track of each online earnings website I am a member of. It has made the whole experience of making money online manageable instead of the complete mess it would otherwise be. Under the website names, I list each task I do that gives me a confirmation number to keep track of, and I keep my earnings up to date on each website. I also keep track of how many times I have cashed out on each website, what referral programs they each offer, what requirements there are such as cut-offs for cashing in, and the date of pay out if they only do so once a month, as well as due dates for canceling trial memberships.

With my newly downloaded app in hand, I started transferring my piles of written notes and ideas into organized sets of lists with subheadings and due dates where appropriate. It took a while, but I finally got all of the most important info about my life into the app and I am so proud of myself! I use it multiple times a day because it syncs across my tablet, phone, and laptop. It saves itself every time you enter a new line. A major bonus to me is that you can share projects with friends or invite them to help you finish a list, which is perfect for the at-home business I’m starting with a good friend in the beginning of 2015. Consistency is usually a problem with me, especially with the ADHD, but once I see a benefit, it’s hard to go back to a less efficient way of doing things. Right now I’m using the ToDoist app constantly on all my devices while I brainstorm, when I think of needed groceries, and to keep an organized, up-to-date list of medical information, in addition to a current list of my online earning activities.

I really have been striving this month more than ever before to be as organized as possible, and ToDoist helps me because it makes keeping track of my whole life so automatic and easy. Using ToDoist to record everything has allowed me to let go of the nagging thoughts that were occupying my brain so I have more room for the bigger stuff that really matters. Sold!

example of ToDoist in use

Someone’s example of the ToDoist due date feature in use, found on Google.

In general, I feel much more in control now that I am using ToDoist instead of keeping four or more different notebooks with me all the time and still not being able to find that one thing I need. Plus there are keyboard shortcuts to help improve productivity with the app even more. Love!!! I am still going through all my really old paper lists, like pages of handwritten records of what seeds I have saved for my veggie garden, and pulling information I need out of them to put into the app. This whole process has been the second best thing to replacing my broken, useless brain with a new, improved, cleaner, less anxious one. Going back through those old lists I can see all the things that I have accomplished in the last year, despite all the brain fog and frustration, and I am not feeling as hard on myself as I was before I saw all of that progress on paper.

Another nice feature of ToDoist that keeps me organized is that I can add due dates to each thing, and then I can easily see what out of all my various projects is due today, this week, and later on this month. Once I cross something off, it stays on the list, just in a lighter shade, until I delete it purposefully. That is perfect for me, sometimes I need to see all the steps I have taken previously in order to figure out a project. Having due dates for posts I’m writing, like this one, has helped me focus first on what needs to get done each day instead of floundering for hours, wondering what I should be doing. I’m considering that alone a huge victory because my brain fog often will not let me remember something long enough to even find a pen to write it down. Sometimes I used to spend hours looking for something I completely forgot to write down in the first place. This is much, much, much better!

Plus it’s free!

Here’s the official website:

ToDoist Download

And the Google Play store link:

ToDoist on Google Play

The 1 Year Anniversary of The Worst Week

I have been through some extremely tough things in my life. Up until this time last year, I refused to say that any particular day or week or month was the worst of my life. It wasn’t worth thinking about, really, lots of it had been bad, but lots of it had been life-shaping, wondrous, or a learning experience, and it all balanced out in my mind.

Last year, this same week, I was sitting in a hospital sobbing, begging the universe to give us back my boyfriend’s father, who was in a coma after having a stroke. He had been rushed to the hospital within minutes of my boyfriend’s mom, Pat, noticing that his speech was odd, and that in the bathroom there was shaving cream everywhere on the walls and the floor. She was so on the ball, and we are so lucky that she was, because he had been about to get in the car to drive them both to our house. Who knows what would have happened, but it would have been so much worse and more traumatic for my boyfriend if they had both been in the car when he lost control of his body. We rushed to the first hospital he was taken to. He couldn’t speak, but he kept smiling, which was weird and scared me, he rarely smiled unless it was for a very important reason. I told him with the least tears in my voice that I could manage, that he was the best dad a girl could ask for, and he smiled at me and nodded a little, and I do not know if he understood me or not, but I am glad that the next and last thing I said to him was “I love you dad.”

He was not the normal stroke case, they were limited in that they could not administer the regular drugs because he had platinum in his head from a surgery to correct an aneurysm a decade prior. But the fact that he could indeed wiggle his toes and fingers these first few hours, and move his face and nod at us, even stand and follow some basic commands, it all seemed so promising. We were sent home by Pat to get rest, and within hours I came down with a violent case of the swine flu. That was Sunday, and it was the last day Dave knew who we were. We had no idea what was happening or what was going to happen, what it all meant. There was only shock.

That week, every morning we would go to the hospital as the sun was coming up, there were no visiting hours so we just got up and went there straight out of bed. I didn’t shower, I was in a horrible pain flare up and my body was playing host to a gnarly bug and just couldn’t manage through the whole routine, but I did pull on a dress every single day for some reason, and I do not know why. Every day I was not allowed to go back and see him at all, because of the swine flu. I sat outside the ICU on a bench with a bucket and a box of tissues and cried my heart out for hours at a time. No one looked at me or paid any attention to the girl directly in front of the ICU doors, crying and taking rounds of pills every two hours.

That Friday my boyfriend was scheduled to have his third major hip surgery in as many years. We obviously did not think it was a good idea to put him under while his father was in a coma. He cancelled the surgery he had waited almost a full year for and arranged his school schedule around, because there was just no way. And I am so glad that he didn’t go through with it.

Sometime towards the end of that week of fear, shock, and grief, I had an appointment up at OHSU, the teaching hospital in Portland, at the Frida Fibro Clinic. I was so delirious and sick. The pain from days of sitting on benches in front of the ICU in odd positions had overwhelmed me, and then the sadness for my boyfriend, his mother, and the father I had for five years all crashed around me louder than anything else. My aunt and uncle drove me to the appointment so my boyfriend could be with his mom. I was already not driving because my arms were not strong enough and did not always respond to my commands, and the side effects from the meds plus brain fog were so great that I often did really stupid things even if my body was working. I felt crazy and I was baffled at that time, because I had been the first girl able to bench 160 in my middle school. I had been effortlessly stronger than most people my entire life, and now… nothing in my body seemed to be obeying me.

Up until that point I had already been dealing with chronic pain for two years and one month, but I knew nothing about living well with a chronic illness yet. To my sorrow and guilt, it was difficult for me to even snap through the pain and be there for my boyfriend emotionally. That was so unlike me. I have always been there for those I love in their times of need, not just when it was convenient, but always. For some reason I couldn’t understand at the time, it was like my brain was wrapped in layer after layer of cotton and nothing could get in or out. Mainly out of fear and desperation, I kept my appointment. I wanted to find an instant fix that meant I could go home and help my boyfriend, support him in every way possible. I knew I was doing a terrible job and it was breaking my heart.

At this appointment I was kind of expecting to find out if I had fibromyalgia or not. It had been discussed briefly as a possibility in my previous appointment at OHSU’s Pain Center. I didn’t understand that there was no further test than the quick poke test I had done a month prior at the pain clinic, which I had heard her and her PA mention I “failed” but that was all. They had sent me to get a bunch of blood testing after that appointment, testing that got seriously screwed up by their clinic. After telling me the blood draw had not been done correctly, there had been no further news from anyone in between appointments. So I was completely horrified when the nurse practitioner that I was seeing glanced at a chart and said bluntly, “I see you have fibromyalgia, I’m sure you have prepared a bunch of questions to ask me. We also need to find out if there seems to be anything going on in addition to the fibro that needs to be handled by a rheumatologist.”

My brain kind of exploded. I saw rust colored shadows closing in around me, started sweating profusely, felt dizzy and my stomach went sour instantly. I didn’t connect any of that to the fibromyalgia she had just discussed, but rather I was still trying really hard to believe all the doctors prior who had told me it was all in my head. If it was all in my head, I could just… snap out of it, right? To have a name for it though, and one whose meaning I understood only a fraction of (but which seemed ominous even then), and to experience that in the middle of the grief I was already feeling hollowed out by… I was in no way prepared to hear my diagnosis that way. There’s no good way to receive life-altering medical news, but there are some really terrible ways, and my pain doctor somehow forgetting a whole month earlier to tell me she had diagnosed me then and there with fibromyalgia was one. If I had known I could have researched, I could have digested the news far better in a time when overwhelming sadness for my family was not my constant concern.

All I remember from the rest of the appointment is being sick. Nothing she said made it into my distracted, shocked, grieving brain.

A year later, a lot has changed, but grief for my boyfriend’s father’s  passing is not any less present, any less sad. We miss  Dave terribly, but we have done so much to make him proud this year. My boyfriend has since made it through two semesters of full time course loads, passing everything, getting some solid A’s on half his classes! I am so proud of his strength. At the same time, we finished up the basement to our house, and by “we” I mean all the pressure and responsibility that Dave was taking on with our house remodel fell on my boyfriend, who did not have the depth of knowledge on engineering, or building experience, that his father had. All the plans for the remodel were up in Dave’s engineer brain. We knew nothing about permits and where everything was and who to call, so it is entirely a testament to my boyfriend’s strength of character that it got done by October so we could rent it out.

When Dave passed, even the concrete was partially ripped out, every wall was gone, the plumbing wasn’t done, the electric was started but not finished, there was literally nothing down there. Now it is a fully functioning separate apartment, complete with electric fireplace, beautiful 6×4 ft shower tiled in stone, and an updated kitchen. We finished it while our roommates were moving in, so I do not have any pictures of the final project, but it’s a lovely two bedroom home. My partner also had to replace our vanity and sink upstairs in our bathroom in that time, plus fix up the other apartment that is attached to the back of the garage, a one bedroom cottage -style house with it’s own fenced part of the yard.

It has been a tsunami of change. The poor guy also rescheduled that major hip surgery in March, which took a brutal four months of recovery. I slept on the couch for all of that, so I could be near his recovery bed which was set up in the living room. Some of the things that have been accomplished in 2014 seem impossible. That one week exactly a year ago brought about so much change, so much grief, so much pain, personal strength and family closeness.

Though this week is the anniversary of the worst one I have ever been through, the week we lost a father, and the week I learned of my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, among other events, to my surprise we are still standing a full year later, and thriving even, though the grief is real and ever-present. Every day this year has been a struggle. Yet, there is still so much left to be thankful for, and we have done such a good job of finding those things. I feel blessed to be able to look back on a deeply sad year and still see the good, the progress, and the positive changes within both myself and my partner.

This holiday season, I hope everyone is willing to look back on a year that might not be perfect, and still see how it fostered (or forced) growth, resilience, and self-respect to blossom inside each of us. This was not an easy post to write. The changes this year brought about were not ones I would have chosen for myself, or my partner, but I am proud that we have done our best and we have always kept going, just like Dave would have wanted.

In loving memory of a devoted father, the man who built the foundation the rest of our lives are supported by.

Nothing will ever be the same without you, Dave. We miss you terribly. Most of all, we celebrate all of the wonderful things you did for your family. We are learning to talk openly about your accomplishments, the amount of time you got to spend with your son working on this house, and all the times you made us laugh; the things we miss the most about you. I hope that you are as proud of us as a family as I am of your son.

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