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Posts Tagged ‘changes’

Hi out there. I’m still alive. My heart still beats, my lungs still breathe, my body still keeps running along, and my mind struggles to handle the situation.

We know now that my back injury is almost 100% definitely all muscular. The only shadow of doubt is that with EDS, imaging studies can be a bit…less than accurate. What our spines and brains look like when we’re laid out prone and what they look like when we’re upright don’t really match up. I’m hoping to get a set of imaging done on an upright MRI later this spring or possibly this summer. I’m afraid of the results, as I have so damn many symptoms of a condition called Chiari, where parts of the brain (the cerebellar tonsils) lie too low and cause pressure on the brain. It would explain so much – the random waves of vertigo, the fainting and borderline low blood pressure, the tingling and pain in my hands, arms, feet, and legs, the memory issues, etc etc etc. It’s one of those situations where neither answer is good, and I probably should be pushing for the answer faster but to be honest I’m a bit tired just now.

I have a new injury to add to the pile – I managed to dislocate two of my ribs just shy of a month ago. It has been exceedingly uncomfortable, and it flared up the back problems again. Things are settling down, and I’ve been fitted for a brace that may make long-term improvements to the condition of my back. The drawback is that it’s a rather bulky thing, and not terribly attractive. In the short term, I intend to wear it over my clothes; in the long term, I am not sure whether I will buy larger clothes that it can be hidden under or continue to wear it outside or perhaps only wear it when I am in pain. I just don’t know. It isn’t the first time that I’ve had to wear a visible brace – my knee braces are visible when I wear shorts or skirts, and my finger braces are visible any time I wear them. It’s just that when more formal dress is called for, I can easily hide the knee braces with a long skirt, and my finger braces are made of silver and relatively attractive (not to mention I generally only wear them for things like typing and crafting). This brace will be harder to hide. If I buy larger clothes, they will not be flattering at all to my body, and you’ll be able to see the outline of the brace under my clothing quite easily. So at least for now, while I am wearing mostly t-shirts and jeans, I’m not going to cover up the brace.

Anyhow, moving along. I’ve had to drop one of my three classes because of my damn injuries, which is terribly frustrating. I’ll end this semester with 78 units, and I need a total of 88 to graduate. Because of the damn dropped class this semester, I’ll need to add a summer course to make sure I have enough units to graduate. It’s a frustrating situation, where I can look back and say (at this point) that I have paid for and worked on 28 more units than I will have credit for, because I wasn’t able to finish them due to injury or illness. It works out to about a year and a half of my life just thrown away, or at least it feels like ‘just thrown away’. Ugh. And having taken so long to get through law school, the finer points of your basic classes are a bit…fuzzy. I’ll need to re-learn the material in order to take the bar exam. It’s terribly frustrating, all of this, and I don’t have words to explain just how angry the whole thing makes me. I just…I just want to be done, I just want to be practicing and helping people. I don’t WANT to be in any more classes – at this point, I’ve been taking classes for 13 of the last 14 years (one of those at half-time while in high school, but I was taking college classes all the same). I’m more than ready to be done with school.

I’ve got to let go of that now, or I’ll spend the whole night awake, frustrated and angry and spinning my wheels thinking about how unfair it has all been.

Bailey continues to be a lovely pet, though she’s a bit of trouble. She’s been getting into fights at our dog park; what seems to happen is that other dogs get somewhat aggressive with her, and then…well, she may not start the fight, but she’s quite willing to finish it. 3 of the last 4 times have resulted in a minor fight. There have never been any serious injuries, just scratches once or twice, but it’s not good all the same.

We’re moving next month, ugh ugh ugh. I like the new apartment, though it is a little farther from school than the current place. It’s on the ground floor, and it’s accessible (!!), so it’ll be easy for me to get my scooter in and out, and one of the bathrooms has a fold-down seat in it. Wonderful! It’s a 2-bedroom place, and very recently re-done. They had intended to make them condos, but then the market tanked and they became apartments. I’m not sure how the size of our current place relates to the size of our new place – the figures I’m finding online for the square footage of our current place just can’t be accurate! I know that the new place isn’t 50% bigger than the old place, but that’s the lie the internet is telling me right now. I think they may be very similar in size and just very different in shape. Everything is squarer, instead of the long narrow rooms you get in row houses. We’ll have a sitting room and a library, and the second bedroom will mostly be storage for my craft stuff, along with things like my drafting table so that I can paint. I hope that being in the apartment won’t make our dog-related allergies worse, but it’s a definite possibility. Perhaps the hardwood floors will make up for it.

I don’t know if my aide will follow me to the new apartment. It’s not convenient for her, but oh will I ever miss her if she doesn’t come with me. I just discovered that there’s a way to get to the new place that will take her the same amount of time as getting to here, so she just might come with us. That would make me very happy. Having a totally trustworthy personal care assistant/aide is not something you can take for granted. I know that Nikki will do what I ask when I ask it, and do it my way even if she’s got a different way she prefers to do it. I also know she won’t steal, as she’s worked for me 4 years and had plenty of opportunity and never taken anything, even money (accidentally) left in plain sight. She’s also very good at her job and hard working. I’ll be all kinds of torn up if she doesn’t continue working for me! To top that off, there’s no longer a good system for me to get a new aide. It used to be that there were agencies that employed the aides, so if you didn’t like yours, you could request another. They made a big shift in my state on how the aides are organized now, and to be blunt there really isn’t an organization of aides anymore. No one I can turn to and say ‘excuse me, I need an aide!’ All of us who employ aides now have to find them for ourselves. It’s not a great situation in my humble opinion. I don’t want to be putting ads in Craigslist or whatever, and hope that the new person is anywhere near as good and honest as Nikki. Besides all the doing her job well stuff, I like Nikki. She’s good people. And if I’m too far away, it works out bad for both of us, because of that lack of organization. There isn’t anyone SHE can go to and say ‘I need another person to work for.’ It’s just a yucky situation all around. Apparently it’s costing the state less (my aide is paid by my state, because I am disabled and broke).

Ugh, enough of that.

As you can see, things have been a bit more interesting around here than I’d really prefer them to be. All this time, and I owe a company a product review for some stuff that I’m very fond of and would like to tell you about! Not to mention how little I’ve written about my life, and being a service dog partner, and being a law student, and being disabled, and so on. I’ve written near nothing that wasn’t school related in ages. I have piles of notes for my various classes, but nothing personal and nothing literary. Blah. I suppose it’s a pretty good reflection on my life lately.

In the to-do box are things like visits to a neurologist, seeing an ophthalmologist and getting new glasses, packing up and moving into the new place (we take possession on the 15th, and have to be completely out of the current place by the end of next month, so we’ve got a bit of time for ferrying things back and forth). I have a knitted project that I really must get finished, as it was sold to someone in exchange for a large donation to helping orphanages in Haiti. I’ve also got to alter my mother’s Christmas present (I knitted a sweater and it just didn’t fit) and finish my nephew’s Christmas presents (a pair of crochetted lions, which just need to have their faces embroidered on at this point, but I’ve little love for embroidery).

So many things to do, and just the two hands to do it, with one of them twitching randomly in a most annoying fashion. I’ve had a very mild intention tremor since I was 13 or so, but now I have this major shaking both at rest and when I try to do some actions, like holding something still (rather ironic, that, isn’t it? I try to hold something still and instead I shake it). One more thing in the pile. I’ve been having my nails break, my skin dry and breaking out, and my scalp hurting and flaking and scabbing over, and we’re not real sure of why just yet either – it could be my thyroid, but it’s rather unlikely, and I don’t know what the next possibility after that is.

Anyhow, I am rather tired now, and when I get sleepy, I must away to bed. My insomnia is a pain if I do something stupid and work through being sleepy. Good night, everyone, and I hope that things have been treating you better lately than they have me!

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When you have disabilities and illnesses, you inevitably get people asking how you live with them.  The short, pat answer is one day at a time, and there is some truth to that.  The longer answer is what I’d like to address today.

For me, at least, each piece is different.  Some you just make little adjustments for; some re-work your world and change everything.  Some you hardly ever think about, while others require your attention on a daily basis.

Now, I’ll be frank with you, the list of things that don’t fit the norm with my body is pretty extensive.  I don’t have a single system in my whole body that is unaffected.  I’m not going to go through all of them because it would take forever.

So let’s start with a relatively common one: asthma.  I developed asthma when I was 12.  At first, it was relatively mild, so it was just annoying.  Sure, I carried an inhaler at all times, but I really only needed it if I was running or swimming hard.  When I was 15, it took a sudden turn for the worse.  That was when it became terrifying.  I remember the first attack that sent me to the hospital.  I remember my mother calling the nurse’s line at our health insurance to find out what we could do.  I remember them setting me up so I was laying back at a 45 degree angle on the couch and having a humidifier blowing moisture into my face, which only made it worse.  I remember getting  woozy because I couldn’t breathe.  I remember my chest hurting.  I remember the tense ride to the emergency room a few blocks from my parents’ house, where they gave me a breathing treatment.  There are few things more frightening than the first time you are almost completely unable to breathe.  It hits you at a visceral level, it makes you…it makes you fear death is stalking you.  I also remember my first coughing-type asthma attack, where with each cough my lungs tightened further.  I remember the asthma attack at the Girl Scout camp up in the mountains, where I had to hang on for 30 minutes as they drove to the nearest hospital, desperately hitting on my inhaler and trying not to panic because panic only makes the attack worse.  Of all my conditions, asthma may be the scariest, because when it hits you are completely at its mercy until you can get a breathing treatment.  You live with it by always being prepared – taking your inhaler with you everywhere, and if you have a preventative, taking it every day.  You live with it by knowing where the nearest emergency room is.  You live with it by having people in your life around you who know you have the condition and who help you when it hits.  You learn breath control and breathing techniques that help you to partially control your asthma attack with your mind.  And you live with the fear, this little dragon coiled ’round your heart, ready to squeeze when you feel a little wheeze in your breath or something makes you cough, that tension when you see someone smoking and know that might be enough to set you off.  I mean, you get used to it, because it’s always there.  It gets less scary, and the attacks are no longer terrifying but more a nuisance.  You don’t think ‘Oh god, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!’ on your thirtieth severe attack, you think ‘Damn it, off to the ER again, I hate this shit!’

Asthma is one of the hard ones because you know that it can kill you and fast.  Hell, it can easily kill you, if you don’t manage it aggressively.  When things are good for a long time, your vigilance slackens a little, until that time you get a little wheezy and realize you don’t have your inhaler.  Hopefully, it’s a small attack that reminds you to keep your inhaler around; my pediatric asthma specialist told me a story about a friend of his who died because she didn’t have her inhaler on her person and she didn’t get to the ER fast enough.

It’s a strange balance, between the nuisance and the fear.  Nowadays, I only get scared by my coughing-type attacks, partly because those tend to be far more severe.  Even those, it’s just a case of getting headed towards an ER as soon as the coughing starts, because I can’t stop them without a breathing treatment.  The other attacks, I just get annoyed.  I know the likeliest result is that I’m going to be stuck focusing on my breathing for the next half-hour, and not being able to do anything else.

Let’s go with the big one – Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.  To be perfectly honest with you, it varies wildly how this one hits you.  I have a moderate case of EDS, so I can’t really describe what it’s like for people with more severe cases.  I was born with naturally very tight joints, so it took longer for EDS to really damage my joints.

You don’t think much of it when you’re young and relatively healthy, and thus undiagnosed.  It doesn’t affect you much then.  Sure, you get injured more often than other people, and sometimes in ridiculous ways, but it’s not something that really sticks out all that much.  People just think you’re a clutz, and for that matter, you probably do too.  I sure did!  It was strange, because when I was focused on what I was doing, I had unusual precision in moving, but as soon as I wasn’t in that extremely tight focus, I started banging into tables and such.

EDS is mostly a nuisance.  Dozens of braces I’m supposed to be wearing at any given time (finger, wrist, elbow, knee-and-ankle-and-foot).  I hate the way it makes me stand out – there isn’t really a way to hide braces that run from the middle of your thigh all the way down to the sole of your foot.  Nor can you hide braces on your fingers, unless you wear gloves, which would make you stand out even more.  (I am thankful that I have the relatively pretty finger braces – I know some people are stuck with ‘fleshtone’ plastic, while I wear much more slender bands of silver.)  I hate that I can’t carry my own groceries.  If I go grocery shopping, I have to get someone to help me out to my car and have someone at home to lug them in.  I can’t even pick up a gallon of milk without hurting myself.

I hate that my hips and shoulders sublux at the slightest provocation, and that we haven’t been able to effectively brace them.  I hate the pain that comes from all these injuries that have happened over and over and over.  I sometimes feel defective.  I often feel broken, hence the title of my blog.  Certainly dysfunctional!  After all, I can’t function in the ways I used to.  I don’t usually compare myself to normal, but I do compare myself to younger Kali.  The Kali who danced 12 hours a week.  The Kali who went to grad school and carried an overload on classes.  The Kali who liked strength training at the gym.  Even younger, the Kali who loved to play soccer.  The Kali who drove an hour and a half to go shooting (archery) twice a month with her friend, and shot for hours.  The Kali who could hand sew like lightening.  The Kali who wore high heels.  Kali the swordfighter and fencer.  I miss being that Kali.

Some of living with EDS is embarassing.  My bladder leaks, so I have to wear pads all the time.  It’s frustrating – it isn’t the typical kind of leak people have, where a few drops escape when they laugh or sneeze.  That kind, you can do exercises to strengthen the muscles.  Mine just seems to be this light, constant dribble.  When I have to use the bathroom, it usually hits suddenly with a great deal of urgency, which means I have to abruptly break off conversations to run to the bathroom.  It’s also embarassing to be a twenty-something who has to ask people to carry her groceries to her car and ask people to give up seats on public transportation and use a scooter and park in the disabled spaces.  I’m mostly okay with it, it just twinges when people look at me like there is something wrong with me for needing assistance.  It embarasses me and it makes me mad, because what the hell do they know?  Who are they to assume that everyone who looks ‘normal’ doesn’t have some kind of disability?  Who are they to judge me?  If my doctor is willing to sign off on disabled plates and placard, who are they to think I don’t need it?

Onward, next disability: POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome).  This one has been extremely hard for me, in part because it kind of comes and goes.  There’s a baseline that’s always there, that makes me extremely sensitive to temperature and even mild dehydration.  It’s annoying, especially when I go somewhere that doesn’t allow me to bring in water and I have to pay a fortune for drinks.  I often get a bit light-headed and dizzy when I stand up, and I have to hold onto something until it passes.  I suppose it’s a little embarassing, especially when people freak out because I abruptly sit down in the middle of the office to avoid falling.  Mostly, in that stage, it’s managable, as long as I can avoid heat and keep fluids in me.  When it gets too hot, or I get too dehydrated, though, it’s…well.  It’s unpleasant.  One of the first things to go is my ability to think coherently.  By the time it physically shows that I’m not okay – when I turn scarlet and collapse – I often can’t even explain what’s wrong to people around me.  “I have POTS” doesn’t mean anything to most people, and it’s about the limit of my explaining.  I can sometimes manage to tell people that I’m too hot, or that I need water, but not always.  That’s the scary part of this condition – I can’t really take care of myself when it causes problems.

But then there are the flares – in the flares, I can’t sit up without medication, because it makes me so dizzy, and I get headaches.  When I’m in a flare and it’s bad, I can’t walk without someone holding onto me, supporting some of my weight and keeping me from falling.  I get stuck in bed because sitting up is impossible.  I fall asleep.  I can’t remember anything, and get nonsensical.  Part of what has made this post take so long was the tail-end of a POTS flare.

And that’s not all the symptoms that come with POTS.  I get random episodes of tachycardia, where my heart just starts RACING, racing so hard I stagger and lean into a wall or fall.  I get occasional extra venticular beats, which feel like being kicked in the chest.

POTS is, to me, one of the hardest to live with.  It’s not predictable, and I have only so much control over it.  It traps me in the house when it’s hot, and stops me from being able to tolerate much less enjoy what was once my favorite season: summer.  I miss the days when the glowing warmth of the summer sun was pleasurable, was an excuse to break out little strappy summer dresses that made the boys stare.

Next up, migraines.  Migraines are a royal pain, and somewhat dangerous.  They creep on, slowly increasing pain until that’s all there is.  All my senses become jagged spikes of pain, and I need to close myself off to as many as possible – I need to lay down on smooth sheets and a soft bed, in the dark, and quiet.  I usually end up putting on a blindfold in addition to being in a dark room, because the dark has to be absolute.  I turn on a fan to provide a constant noise that smoothes over the serrated teeth of other noises.  I’m nauseated, and unfortunately the migraine medication is a nose spray.  Postnasal drip means it ends up at the back of my mouth, and it is incredibly, horribly foul tasting.  Not a good combination with the nausea (and dizziness) that are already swelling up.  Sometimes I throw up, especially with the more painful ones.

The complex migraines are even worse.  The pain is indescribable, and is bad enough to make me vomit over and over again.  I hurt so much I want to whimper and sob, but the sound and motion of those make the pain even worse.  Sometimes it gets so bad that I can’t stop myself, even though I know it’s only making things worse.  Lights blur into giant stars of blinding light, like a sunset on a smeared windshield.  Sometimes my hands twitch.  I lose spots in my vision sometimes.  This is when the migraine gets dangerous – I can’t transport myself, by driving or by public transit.  I often end up in the ER because I can’t stop the pain with the migraine medications I have and I need IV pain medications.  For those of you who know your opioids, morphine usually isn’t strong enough; I usually need dilaudid if it’s one of these vicious beasts.  For those of you who don’t know them, I need the STRONG stuff.  The stuff they normally give you when you come in in extreme pain?  I sometimes don’t even feel it.

With migraines, you live knowing that you carry around this mostly quiescent beast that will occasionally turn and rip into you.  If you’re lucky, you have triggers you can avoid, foods or smells or lighting effects that you can avoid and prevent the migraines.  My main trigger at this point is tension in my neck and shoulders, which doesn’t sound all that bad, but I’ve been in 6 car accidents, partially torn a muscle that connects the shoulder to the neck, and have dislocated both shoulders frequently.  I have chronic problems with the tension in all of the muscles in my back, neck, and shoulders.  Sitting in a less-than-comfortable chair for an hour can trigger a migraine if I don’t keep shifting and stretching.

GERD + IBS.  Ooh how I hate these.  GERD is gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder, which basically means that there isn’t as good a seal at the top of my stomach as there should be.  I take an acid-blocker to help with this, but it’s not enough on its own.  I have to mind what I eat, and I’ve had to eliminate caffeine except for chocolate (which I couldn’t bear to get rid of).  If I have a greasy meal, I have to be good for the next day and a half at least.  I can’t manage really spicy meals anymore, which is a shame because I love me some spices.  And when I say spicey, I don’t just mean heat – I also mean pepper and cinnamon and whatnot, because they’re hard on the GI system.  The other issue with the acid-blockers is that I have an astonishing ability to acclimate.  I get an average of 6-10 months per drug before they stop working well enough.  Right now, I’m probably at the end of a drug.  It’s scary, because I’ve gone through all of this class of drugs.  We tried moving me on to the next alternative class of drugs, and it was far worse than the failing drug – I felt like my stomach and my esophogas were on FIRE, and I kept vomiting small amounts.

Then there’s the other half – IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  Caffeine makes me have horrible cramps, if I have much at all.  Hell, I get horrible cramps for no apparent reason – they just strike all the sudden, and BAM I’m curled up in a ball because it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.  Spices will trigger that, too.  Appalling amounts of gas, which is of course embarassing.  Diarrhea and constipation.  I rarely get that sense that I should go to the bathroom soonish – it’s always NOW NOW NOW.  Very inconvenient when you’re travelling.  It hit on the road at one point, when I was maybe 10 minutes from home, and I thought I could make it home.  Um, well, let’s just say it didn’t work out that way.  I pulled into a fast food place that I sometimes ate at and cleaned myself up as much as I could.  (Worse, I was on a date – he was following me to my place, where we were going to have tea and snuggle.  It was probably our third date.  We got to my place and I told the now boyfriend that I was sorry, I needed to shower RIGHT NOW and I understood if he wanted to leave.  He was still there when I got out of the shower, and wasn’t phased when a very mortified Kali explained what had happened.)

I also have Raynaud’s.  Raynaud’s is basically an extreme sensitivity to cold.  See, when your body gets really, REALLY cold, it starts closing up the veins in your extremities so that your blood stays in your core.  It’s why people get frostbite on their extremities mostly.  My body starts doing that sort of thing at much milder temperatures than most people’s do.  It means that I tend to have corpsicle feet, waxy pale colored and cold.  My hands also do it, and my nose and ears.  And don’t get me started on how incredibly painful it is when it hits your nipples.  (Our bathroom is really not insulated enough, and this was before I started using my little space heater to warm it up in the winter…)  I suppose when it’s cold out, I’ve also had it hit on my butt, where it’s not covered by my jacket.  This is one that is mostly just a nuisance, where you have to be careful to bundle up properly and gently re-warm things that have gotten too cold.  It’s uncomfortable, sure, and sometimes even painful.  It’s a little embarassing.  It’s also made the boyfriend almost jump out of bed – I curled up against him and my foot hit his shin, and he JUMPED.

I’ll finish up with the last big one: mental illness.  I am bipolar, not certain which type because I was originally diagnosed type II but started having symptoms more like type I a couple years ago.  I also have PTSD and panic attacks.  The three end up kind of interwoven, with each affecting the others. 

The primary piece is the bipolar, though.  Looking back, I’ve probably had it since around puberty, which I understand is pretty typical.  I was diagnosed at 17; I suppose it would be more accurate to say I self-diagnosed and had it confirmed by my therapist.  I was taking a psychology 101 course, and we addressed abnormal psychology for I think two weeks.  I read the description of bipolar and went ‘oh my god, that’s ME!  Except that I don’t get angry like it says in the book.’  My therapist said that it’s because I’m type II rather than type I.  The thing about bipolar is that essentially your emotional state is a tightrope walker.  It’s easier for us to be pushed over into exaggerated agitation and exaggerated depression by life events, and sometimes they just happen without triggers because it’s a chemical imbalance.  The depression is the harder part, for me.  You just feel…stuck.  Tasks feel far larger than they really are when you look at what needs to be done, and far smaller than they really are when you look at what you’ve accomplished.  It’s hard to feel inspired to do anything.  Hard enough to make yourself do the things you love; nigh impossible to make yourself do things you don’t like.  You feel so insignificant, as if nothing you can do makes a difference, nothing matters, why the hell are you trying?  Don’t you get it, you don’t matter!  It’s very hard to get out of.  It’s like being in the bottom of a pit with a shovel and trying to get yourself out of it.  If you do what’s natural with a shovel and just keep digging, all you do is get deeper.  You have to make yourself try to dig one of the sides into a slope you can walk up, and you deal with collapses and sliding and losing your footing and ending up back in the bottom of the pit.  Often, you need a rope lowered to you – therapy and appropriate drugs.

Mania is harder to explain.  First, let me say this – there are two levels, there’s hypomania and ‘true’ mania.  Hypomania is often not uncomfortable to the person who has it.  In my case, I get hyper-focused and goal oriented, and work for 8 hour stretches without remembering to eat, find myself looking up from my work to see I should have been to bed hours ago, sleep 6 hours and bounce up like I’d had my usual 9 hours.  That’s what I had as an undergrad, and it wasn’t really all that bad to deal with.  I got a lot of things done, and if I occasionally prioritized creative things over academic things, well, I didn’t do myself much harm.  True mania….well, a therapist explained it to me this way.  In mania, your baseline arousal gets raised.  With a higher baseline, something that would have worried you normally consumes you, something that would have been an irritation becomes infuriating, and something that would have given you a moment of pause becomes terrifying.  It’s like all of your emotions got amped up.

My bipolar is mostly managed via medication.  For a long time, I only dealt with depression and hypomania, so I just used antidepressants when I was depressed and came off them when I wasn’t, with a therapist’s supervision.  Nowadays, because I have mania symptoms, I do take medications all the time.  I still have to be careful how much stress I allow in my life; it’s easy for stress to push me into depression or mania, or worse yet, a mixed state, where I feel like molasses in winter except that I’m angry, or scared, or…whatever.

Trigger warnings: description of PTSD symptoms, and panic attacks.

I’m mostly recovered from PTSD.  I was in an abusive relationship just before I turned 18, and I kind of shoved all of it into a box and didn’t think about it until I was 22.  It took me about three years to get to the point where it stopped being a Thing in my life.  One of those years I spent in intense therapy, which is kind of like having major emotional surgery; the next year, I did no work on it and just let myself recover; the year after that, I did some lighter work to ease the scar from the emotional surgery.  It still occasionally pops up, but it’s rare.  I’ll have times when getting boxed into a corner makes me go into a panic, or when someone reaching in too close to me feels threatening, but they’re rare. 

When it was in full swing, any unexpected touch would send me into hyperventilating, and I can remember being in such a panic that I was compelled to abruptly leave, drive home, lock all the doors and windows in the house, and then lock myself in the bedroom, curl up in bed, and get online to instant message with someone I was comfortable with.  There are few things as terrifying as driving on a freeway when you’re in a panic attack; you’re freaked out that someone will hit you, what if someone on the other side of the freeway goes over the median?, oh god that railing was close, where did that car come from?! that truck is white-lining into my lane and oh my god there’s no shoulder here…so on.  I slammed the door in front of my roommate because it didn’t register that she was behind me and calling my name.

Nowadays, I just have times when leaning over me is triggering, or cornering me freaks me out, and I’m still not great with unexpected touch.  People who are close to me get educated on avoiding triggering me, and what to do if I get triggered.  It’s mostly a non-issue, but it comes up now and again.

Panic attacks are managed by breathing techniques, mind-body focus, and medication.  I also know certain actions that will help with a panic attack, like letting myself check that the front and back doors of the house are locked and the windows are closed.  When I have them away from home, I seek out places where I can some space to myself, like a bathroom or a dressing room, or better yet my car.  I also speak to myself, remind myself that no one is really going to hurt me, and that I am safe.  I also learned, over the years, that getting myself curled up in bed and picking up a book that I have read so many times it is a familiar friend is almost guaranteed to calm me down.  Thankfully, being in recovery from PTSD and having my bipolar well-medicated mostly prevents panic attacks.

I think that’s all the big ones.  I guess what it works out to is a lot of preventation and preparation for ‘just in case’.  A lot of adjustment, that’s for certain.  My life is very different than it was before I developed these disabilities, and part of coping with that is finding new hobbies and new friends who get it, new places to talk, so on.  Since I became disabled, I’ve focused a lot more on my creative side.  I knit and crochet and paint and make jewelery now.  I blog about living with a disability.  I have a service dog.  I’ve made new friends who have disabilities, and one of them has become a roommate.  I have a boyfriend whose capability to understand and help is astonishing.  The biggest part of living with it is making it worthwhile, and you do that by finding things that make it feel full to you.

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While I’m disabled by chronic illness, I have kind of an unusual story for that. My transition from able-bodied to disabled was much more like that of someone who’d been in an accident. Fine one day, not so good the next day, and really awful for the third day…and staying that way.

I went more or less the typical stages of grief, though a little out of order – denial, depression, anger, and finally moving on to more-or-less acceptance. I really never did much bargaining; the closest I came to that was hope that we’d find the right medication and I’d be cured. Obviously, as I’m writing this identifying as a person with a disability that involves chronic pain and fatigue, that didn’t happen.

I’d had a weird episode of pain in my joints in the fall semester of my first year away at college. It lasted about 4 weeks. We never did figure out exactly what was causing it, except that my anti-nuclear antibodies were up, which indicates some auto-immune action. It went away on my own. Remembering that, I spent the first several months in denial about what was going on, and believing it’d suddenly get better like it had years before. Yeah, that didn’t happen either.

I think it took me 3 months to accept that it wasn’t getting better, and then I went ‘well, if I’m not getting better, I’d better settle in and deal with it.’ That was when I put in my paperwork to get a service dog, though I got my first cane a couple weeks before then. I was still shocked over the whole thing, and some part of me still believed that we’d find the right medication and it’d make me a lot better, even if it didn’t cure me.

I was in such a state of shock at that point that I was perhaps too honest about my illness with people who weren’t prepared for it. I didn’t try to hide that I had severe, constant, unrelenting pain, and that some days I was too damn sick from pain and fatigue to make it to class. That bit me on the ass pretty badly.

I think it took me about 6 months to accept that we could only do so much about the pain. That was when I got put on pain meds 24/7, including an opioid and something to deal with neural pain. I improved a fair amount at that point, and got back most of the use of my hands that I had lost. Even though I accepted that pain relief was only going to do so much, I still hoped for the magic pill cure. It was that first year when I gathered several of my specialists – the neurologist who was investigating what turned out to be a side effect of one of the first medications I’d been put on, the urologist, the gastroenterologist, the pain specialist.

The months after I first got sick, a lot of people I knew started suggesting it was Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I didn’t realize I was as hypermobile as I am, and I don’t have the classic stretchy skin, so I shrugged it off and decided it couldn’t be right pretty quickly. Silly me, huh?

But it kept being brought up, and as more and more of my body had trouble – my bladder, my GI, so on – I looked at EDS again that summer and I thought ‘it’s possible’. By the middle of the fall semester, I finally decided that it was likely enough to look into a specialist. My GP had a similar reaction to mine at first, though she thought that the distinctive facial features associated with vascular EDS (the rarest of the 3 most common varieties) was seen in all people with EDS, and I definitely don’t have it. One of the features is thin lips, and I have rather full lips, so it wasn’t a match. She also didn’t realize that I have grey scelerae (that’s the whites of the eyes – in people with EDS, they are often blue or grey, because our scelerae are thinner).

That summer, my neurologist wrote for a permanent placard on the same visit that he told me whatever I had was not neurological, and he was sorry he couldn’t help me.

I got sent to a rheumatologist somewhere in that first year, and he couldn’t tell me much except that my troubles weren’t auto-immune. The neurologist and rheumatologist both not being able to help was both frustrating and hopeful – it said I might still have something a pill could cure, instead of something progressive.

I think I stopped believing there would be a miracle cure only when I was finally diagnosed in the winter of my second year of law school. I can’t tell you how crushing it was to have that be true. On the one hand, I was relieved because it meant I didn’t have something that was progressive to the point of killing you, and some of the possibilities we went through were pretty damn scary. On the other hand, I was disappointed because I knew that bracing and improving my pain medications were all we could do – I’d always have this, no matter what medications I took.

I suppose I started identifying as having a chronic illness very early on. Within a couple of weeks of the start of the chronic pain and fatigue, I figured that having this twice (remember, I had an episode of joint pain and fatigue my freshman year of college) probably meant that there was something bigger going on. I don’t think I started identifying as having a disability until about a year after I’d say I developed that disability. I wasn’t certain it was permanent until after I went a couple hundred miles to see a doctor who was well-known for contributions to the understanding of EDS. (Incidentally, I saw someone in my own city first who was supposedly an expert in Marfan’s and EDS, who misdiagnosed me and treated me badly.)

If you were to ask me to give a single adjective to describe becoming disabled, I’d say it’s frustrating. Yeah, there’s a lot of grief involved too, but to me, the single greatest emotion I have towards my disability is frustration. Frustration that I’m injured again. Frustration that I’m missing things due to pain and fatigue. Frustration that I can’t do things I used to. Frustration with each new piece of adaptive equipment I need to get along. Frustration with the weight caused by my illness and the medications that treat it. Frustration with society. Frustration with doctors and the medical system. Frustration with my health insurance. A ton of frustration, which seems to be more like a landslide in that it keeps growing as it goes along. A few stones at the start; a cataclysmic crushing weight of rock and earth at the bottom.

For me, a great deal of what is necessary to be happy as a person with a disability was learning to deal with that frustration. It still hits me now and again, but not like it did that first two years. It really did take me two years and developing a better support network to get to the point where I didn’t want to throw things most days.* It took me that long to find a place where I really could deal with my disability and the process of becoming disabled without being upset all the time, instead of just putting up a front. It probably didn’t help matters any that while my physical disability was first happening, my bipolarism wasn’t managed well.

Two years. Sometimes it seems like a blink of an eye; other times, it seems like a lifetime. It certainly seemed like a lifetime when I was living with it! At the end, while I’m still not thrilled about the level of disability I’m living with, I’ve made my peace with it. I no longer feel as isolated, as frustrated, or frankly as disabled. I’ve figured out how to make things work, and I’ve accepted that mobility aids (including my furry four-legged one) are part of my life. I do still wish that I was able to do more than I currently can, and I do still miss things like dancing and swordfighting, but I’ve filled my life with other things.

I don’t know if there is some sort of ‘average’ time it takes to get to a good baseline of emotions when you get a disability. I’ve known people who have had disabilities for decades and are still bitter about it; I also know people who seem to have this infinite serenity about it from the start. I do know that unless you’re one of those rare people who really is utterly adaptable and completely unflappable, you have to learn good coping techniques and you have to learn to live a different life than the one you led before. Those are both hard things to do, and damn near impossible to do without support. I think support – friends and family, medical, mental health, and services – are absolutely vital to learning to live a good life with a disability. I think that a lot of people who get stranded somewhere harmful to themselves or others don’t have the kind of support to make the transition, or they lost the support they needed to stay in a good life. Either way could make you pretty bitter and angry, I’d guess.

*Don’t worry, I threw empty pill bottles at my open closet, so the bottles hit my clothing and dropped to the closet floor. Except for the one that bounced off the edge of my closet and hit me in the forehead. Yeah, that was embarassing.

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Welcome to the August edition of the Disability Blog Carnival! I’m very happy to be your host.

When I asked for submissions, I decided to make the theme ‘distance’. I think distance is an interesting concept because we use the same word to mean so many different things – the space between ideas, the space between here and there, the space between you and me, the space between us and them, the space passage of time creates, the difference between where we started and where we have gotten to, the space between understanding and not. Intentional spaces, ideological spaces, physical spaces, metaphorical spaces. It’s a word that I think sometimes encompasses much of the disability experience, because there always seem to be more distances we have to deal with.

Counter-Indicated: A visual representation of the distance between the various pieces of medical equipment I am supposed to be using; the buff colored wrist-brace with thumb immobilization can't be worn with the blue forearm crutches. The top of the left crutch and the bottom of the right crutch lean diagonally across the white canvas, trapping between them the buff wrist brace. Created by Kali, copyright 8/22/2010

Without any further ado, I bring you this month’s blog carnival.

From Maggie World, written by the ablebodied mother of a young woman with multiple disabilities, we have A Game of Inches. This post is about how physical distance, physical space can be incredibly important to creating and maintaining accessibility for someone in a wheelchair, using an accessible vehicle.

From Spaz Girl, a teenage girl with spasticity, we have The Importance of Crip Community. This post is about the importance of having a community out here, in ‘our’ space, where we are distanced from ‘their’ space. She talks about the way crip community helps us invision our futures, which are hard to see when all the role models we’re presented with are able-bodied.

From Lene at The Seated View, we have Bridging the Distance, a post about the way sometimes, people who do not have disabilities can expand their understanding and ‘get’ how important accessibility is through events in their own lives.

From Astrid at Astrid’s Journal, we have Then and Now: On Changing Abilities, and Why those Don’t Make Me Fake, a post about how changing over time does not necessarily mean increasing or decreasing disability. Sometimes, all it takes is a change in circumstances to create an apparent distance.

From Hand To Mouth, we have Assistive Technology and Accessing the Digital Divide. This post discusses the distance between how far accessible technology has come and how much technology most people actually have access to. How frustrating it is, to know that we have the ability to allow people to access the world in previously unprecedented ways, and yet we’re held back because the necessary tools aren’t spread widely enough. As the blog said, the bridge is so dear, so tenuous, as to be almost frightening to us on this side of the divide. How easily we could lose that access that we had to work so hard to obtain. And yet – and yet, does the chasm have to be so wide?

From Rightfully Deviant, we have The Community Imperative, a post about finding a crip community where you aren’t at a distance, a place where you and your disability just…fit. Just make sense. Don’t need to be justified.

From Amanda at Ballastexistenz, we have Distance Underthought, a unique post – a painting and an explanation of it that talk about distance and lack of distance where there is…understanding…among those of us on the other side. I don’t want to talk too much about this, because I very much liked her description of the ideas in the painting.

From Yasmin at Damn the Muse, we have So What Do You Have…, a post about a great interaction between her and her new neighbor/friend, that shows that we don’t have to be at a distance if people don’t treat us that way.

From In My Eyes: Life with Cerebral Palsy, we have From the Other Side of the Window, a post questioning film and life interpretations of kids with disabilities.

Finally, my own post. The Space Between is about the way the media creates greater distance between people with disabilities and people without disabilities using a handful of tropes that we see over and over and over. How much this distance could be closed, if the media would just let us tell our own stories in our own words!

Well, that’s it for this edition of the Disability Blog Carnival. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride! I sure have.

~Kali

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One of the frustrating things about living with a lot of chronic health conditions is that you can’t escape watching them progress.

For me, one of the things progression means is more braces. A year ago now, I finally got insurance approval for a $1500 set of braces for my fingers.

I never picked them up.

They’re waiting for me now, in the same office as my physical therapist, who I need to go see in the near future. I desperately do not want them.

I don’t want my hands covered in silver braces that people will stare at and ask about. Bad enough that they feel no shame about asking me why I need a mobility aid – whether it’s my service dog or, in the past, crutches and canes. But to have them querying me about a set of braces that will ruin the slim, clean lines of my hands is particularly hard.

You see, I like my hands. I like them as they are – delicate, petite, long-fingered, slender hands. When I used to work Renaissance Faires, the men would all compliment me on having the hands of a lady.

But no more. My fingers will be bound in rings upon rings of silver. Piles of the damn things. Two to a finger, on bad days. On good days, I could probably get by wearing just 3 or 4 of them instead of all 8.

I’ll admit as braces go, Silver Ring Splints (http://www.silverringsplint.com/) are attractive and inobtrusive. But the fact exists that I will still have a pile of somewhat odd looking silver pieces wrapped around the joints of my fingers, and people will ask. It’s what they do, when it comes to disability – they ask without thought of whether they are prying or asking unwelcome questions. Whether they are prodding sore spots. What they really ask when they say, ‘Why do you have [disability-related aid]?’ what they are really saying is ‘What’s wrong with you?’

A bit rude, really, to pry into someone else’s health records like that. You wouldn’t go around asking random older males if they’re impotent, or asking every woman you passed if they might be pregnant. It’s no more polite to question people about assistive devices, because in all of those situations, you are asking for someone’s medical information, something we’ve deemed important enough to protect that we have laws in place like HIPPA that regulate when other people can talk about your health.

To get back to the topic, out of the blue, at 2 in the morning last night, this hit me. It’s been building for a few weeks, as they’ve tried to remind me to pick up the braces and I’ve selectively forgotten. I know it’s selective forgetting. That doesn’t help me with actually remembering it – I don’t want to.

But at 2:00 this morning, I had just finished my book, and I was far too awake. I turned off the light and tried to make myself start drifting, which will edge towards sleep a good amount of the time, but for some reason the splints rose up in my mind to torment me.

I started sobbing. I am lucky in that my boyfriend’s reaction to being bumped into and squeezed hard by a crying girlfriend some 3 hours after he went to sleep is to comfort, not to get annoyed at being woken. I cried, and I talked to him, and I cried some more. I tried to put into words why I found them so upsetting, and when it comes down to it, it’s a combination of vanity, fear/hatred of my disability advancing, and intense dislike of people staring and prying. There’s also some worry – I know that every new brace means getting your body accustomed to them, which is a very uncomfortable and sometimes painful process. I have a scar on the back of my calf from not being quite careful enough with a new ankle brace. The idea of having my hands be all painful again, when we finally got a combination of meds this time last year that gave me back my fingers, is pretty damn abhorrent.

The idea of people staring at my fingers and adults and children alike deciding to ask about the odd things I am wearing is very upsetting. It’s hard enough that about one in four people I have any contact with feel the need to comment about my service dog – that gets under my skin some days. Or, heaven help me, the sheer number of people who ask if I’m training Hudson, or why I seem to be able to see but have a service dog. On a good day, I can smile at them and explain and give them a card from my service dog organization that explains all the conditions the dogs can help with and includes a sample list of the tasks they do. On a bad day, I give them a much more frozen smile and tell them that I don’t walk well, and turn away so they’ll leave me alone.

I hate being this…visible. I hate the level of focus on my disability and the aids I need because of it. I hate the questions I get from people when they can see my knee or ankle braces. I don’t WANT everyone asking if I’m okay just because they see a new piece of equipment.

I’m sure a great deal of this sounds rather silly. Isn’t it supposed to be nice when people convey that they care about you by worrying about you?

Well, when it’s something that happens to you frequently, it’s not nice. It makes you feel like a freak. Some display of your disability/illness, hung up for the world to see, stared at and wondered over.

The hardest part is that there are few good ways to deflect the questioning. If I tell someone that their questioning is rude, oddly enough I am the one who comes off as being rude. If I’m abrupt in my answer or refuse to answer, much the same. I’ve taken to coming up with relatively short answers that don’t really answer anything. When asked about my knee and ankle braces, I just shrug and say, “It’s just new braces for the same old problems.” That tends to ease people’s worry without spilling my medical information to all and sundry.

But oh, if I could just get them to not stare, to not ask…if I could get them to look at me as no different than anyone else…how very much I would like it.

It would certainly knock out a big part of what keeps me from being happy about new braces that are supposed to improve my quality of life. Maybe then, my knee and ankle braces would come out of the closet and actually be worn.

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Well, I had the first maybe-absence-seizure in class yesterday.

The professor was talking, I was taking notes, and suddenly the professor was talking about some different facet on a different slide about the same general subject. Mid-sentence, as far as I remembered.

Which I’m sure isn’t right. That professor tends to be pretty coherent and organized, and she goes through her slides in order. The fact that it wasn’t the same slide in her Powerpoint is what decided me that yes, I really must have lost time. Again.

Blah.

This has just been a rough week. I’ve now had either 2 or 3 migraines (depending on whether you count a migraine returning circa 6 hours later as a second migraine) and 2 absence seizures since Thursday.

I am, at this point, seriously considering taking a medical withdrawal for this semester. This is not the first time I’ve been pushed to that point. Having accepted that it may be necessary has been kind of liberating; I’m not panicking about the reading that isn’t getting done because I can’t concentrate well enough to make sense of it. I just haven’t made the actual decision to pull the plug on this semester yet.

Oh bother, I just realized I haven’t told you guys about the appointment with the neurologist Friday.

There unfortunately isn’t much to report. They aren’t sure what it is. Maybe it’s absence seizures, but they don’t quite fit the profile – most of them are much too long. Maybe it’s some form of structural problem in the brain, but my MRI a little less than a year ago is clean. There’s some potential for it to be a problem with a blood vessel, the possibility of which becomes far more likely when you consider that I have family history of brain aneurysms. They’ll be doing a MRA – that is, a magnetic resonance angiogram, a map of the blood vessels. I’m also to have an EEG done, but they aren’t terribly hopeful about catching the activity as these things are only happening about twice a week.

The nuisance here is that I am not allowed to drive until we know what is going on, and they won’t have me back for 3 months. So here I am, stuck without being able to use my car, as my northern city slides into late fall and winter. I miss the temperate southern climes I grew up in, where frost was the worst you could expect on the coldest of mornings.

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Well, that was odd

I had a strange and slightly frightening thing happen this morning.

I lost an hour.

I was running late. I forgot to set my alarm, so I had about 15 minutes to get from bed to out the door. I got dressed, ate my breakfast, and then sat down on the couch to figure out what I needed in my backpack and get it ready. It was close to 10:00 and I was right on the edge of making it out of the house on time. I was wide awake and in a hurry. I was sitting on the edge of the couch so I could move books around, and that’s when it happened…
whatever ‘it’ is.

As far as I remember, the next thing that happened was that I grabbed my water bottle and went to the kitchen to fill it. However, the clock in the kitchen said it was 10:56. That’s not right, I thought, and pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time. But my phone agreed with the clock in the kitchen.

There are a number of things that could have caused this. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this, just the most severe.

As a child, I’d have this happen many times. It would be spells of just a few minutes, and not common enough that my parents thought it was a problem. They thought I was just daydreaming, but that isn’t what happens. It is like I pause while reality keeps going. At least back then, I’d pull out on my own in a few minutes, or if I was touched or something broke my line of sight. I often would ‘come to’ with a bit of a jerk, like you would if you had just woken up.

I’m remembering now as an undergrad and as a grad student times when this may have happened but I assumed I had fallen asleep. As I just mentioned, there tends to be a jerk when I get to being ‘present’ again, and I can’t tell you for certain which happened when. I do suspect that some of the times that I jerked back to awareness involved this lack of presence, but I don’t know how many.

So, as soon as my insurance gets straightened out next week, I suppose I’ll be seeing my doctor, and probably being sent off to a neurologist. You know how much I needed another specialist *rolls her eyes*

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