Fuel to the Fire

It’s been so long since I’ve typed at a computer, I think my typing speed may have dropped to under 60 WPM. Dangit. I should probably quit writing everything by hand in notebooks, if I want the words to appear anywhere else but in a stack on my bookshelf, that is. Also my handwriting is pretty indecipherable so I guess it makes sense to stick to the computer. It’s just that writing by hand has always felt easier, more accessible and immediate. There’s something more rousing about putting actual pen to page. I hesitate less. My ‘thinking’ mind turns quieter, and the space that must open in order for the good writing to come through stays that way, without distraction. Especially when I’m scratching away with a really great pen. Right now it’s a black Pilot G-2 07. Sounds like a damned air o’plane, and I’d even describe it as a “smooth glider.”. So, I guess I’ll just be transcribing from page to machine for a while. I need an intern. Any takers? I will pay in doughnuts. Why is doughnuts spelled like that?

This last month has been filled with a few major milestones. Most of them aren’t mine, but in the absence of personal excitement, the achievements of those in my inner circle are close enough–plus it’s something to tell other people. Like someone will say Whats new Mary? And instead of saying Um, nothing. I say Not much, but my childhood best friend had a baby! See how that works?

My childhood best friend had a baby. For real! It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it, not because she’s the first of my friends to start a family. But because we’ve just been friends for so long, since we were babies in fact. We still laugh at jokes from when we were five! Sometimes I feel so young around her–I guess the kid in me comes out. Now she has one! A beautiful, alert, amazing little daughter. It’s all very exciting. I’ve decided that I’d like her to call me “Ont Viv” (what Will called his aunt in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire) I find it fitting, and if she has half the sense of humor of her mom, she will appreciate the spirit of this name. Of course, just like a milestone birthday, this big thing happened, and yet it’s not that different. Kaitlin and I are still the laughing, weird, sister-friends we’ve always been, except now there is a tiny little girl sleeping in the corner while we talk. Funny how everything changes, but the middle stays the same. Welcome to the world Bernadette Jane! Love, Ont Viv.

My other best friend, Dr. Emils, got married a week later. I was a bridesmaid: score! A Southern girl and a guy from Amsterdam equaled a classic New Orleans wedding with a dash of Dutch. Nice. Two days of wedding festivities and a crawfish boil led up to the ceremony at sunset, on probably the best day of weather New Orleans has had all year. Everything was perfect and she made such a beaming, beautiful bride. It was a happy, lively experience to be a part of and filled with a lot of love. All topped off with a long second-line led by a classic Nola brass band singing all the greats, including When the Saints Go Marching In. Weddings are the best. No, New Orleans weddings are the best. If you ever get the chance, go! I’m really happy for my friend, mostly because I could tell how incredibly happy they were together.

I’m also the last single girl on the planet. Sweet.

Engaging in a two day wedding weekend is a rare chance for me to see old friends, to be around people my age, to have a reason to dress up–or get dressed at all, for that matter. It’s not often that I get to do things like this. Not often I get to be 32. My life consists of a lot of solitude, which I like, but it’s always nice to get a glimpse of life outside the farm. If anything I live more like a 90-year-old dog lady, so I try to soak up every moment of acting 32. It’s tricky too, because I know that participating in things like this are not without consequence. Acting my own age comes with a price tag, so every time I decide to do it, I’m making a silent agreement. No one really knows the gravity of decisions like this. Or what’s involved in just showing up, or how  I’ll pay for it all later. The choice is so much more encompassing than just deciding to attend a party. I swear I don’t write this out of some martyr, woe-is-me mentality. It just struck me as I was swiping through photos of the big day, which was a really fun day–that it makes perfect sense why so many people misunderstand the illness. They don’t know the weight and preparation and consequence of partaking in something normal, like being a bridesmaid in a wedding. How could they? All they see is this:

unnamed
I did.

They couldn’t know how much time and tedious planning went on beforehand, including scheduling when I would bathe, to ensure there’d be enough time for rest between that and the next event. They couldn’t feel the certain amount of pain you just have to bare through things like this. They don’t see the plethora of medicine necessary to endure standing and socializing and lasting through a night. And they’d probably never consider such things, like a bath, or socializing, as exertion in the first place–As something that counts against you in your fight to keep strain at an absolute minimum. And that is almost always the goal. It’s obnoxious even to me, as I write it now. The strange reality of living with this thing. The exhaustive necessities involved in even small things. You’re always calculating how much every little thing will cost you, always trying to save up if you’ve got somewhere to be. But what really struck me is that nobody sees what the pricetag actually looks like. That’s because the pricetag comes later. They don’t see the subsequent week or weeks of recovery that follows at home. Which can look a little like this…

waiting
Poor Monty

When I thought about the outward appearance of illness, the timeline of how it plays out, what I show to people when I’m out and what goes on at home–I realized not only how easy it would be to get the wrong idea about the disease, but also how I might play a part in misrepresenting its reality.

For one thing, I want to emphasize that the reason I am able to even show up and participate in a wedding is because I’m currently at a functional-enough level to pull it off. There is a spectrum to the disease, there is waxing and waning, and there have certainly been times throughout the last 6 years when I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter. Even so, being “functional-enough” still means tedious logistical preparation, and a two-week long crash as a result. So, I’m still miles from where I once was, or should be. But many others are bound to their homes, many are bound to their beds, and we are all suffering with the same disease. I realize that people may see me when I’m in public and just not “buy” that I could be sick. And I see why this misperception persists.

But I also think that often we assign too much power to labels, and we attach our personal version or image of what “sick” should look like, and those who don’t fit the bill are either doubted, ignored, or assumed sick “in their heads.” We should all consider the many forms that ‘sick’ takes, and acknowledge that even terminally or chronically sick people don’t look sick at all times. No one would’ve guessed my dad had cancer, and that guy was dying! Looks are deceiving, and this immediate tendency to mistrust what we don’t immediately see or understand results in a basic lack of humanity. I am probably at my most functional that I’ve been since 2012, but I still walk a very fine line. It can and does go south easily, and it still requires help from my parents, a lot of rest and recovery time, a ton of medicine and doctors, and a lot of supine time on my own. (With Monty) And I am a lucky one, for sure. I know that people who suffer with anxiety/depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, Lyme, MS, Lupus and other chronic diseases suffer with similar outer doubt and confusion because their illnesses are not always easily seen from the outside. Labels, symbols, projections; they’re all powerful things, and they’re something we should consider and adjust on the whole before we make up our minds about something we may know zilch about.

I think I feel the need to write about this because ever since I entered the world of MECFS advocacy last year, I came face-to-face with just how poorly understood the disease is, how much misinformation/pure fallacy is out there and dominating the conversation, and how many people are getting it wrong because of the name alone. (Another thing I understand, it’s a stupid stupid stupid name.) I also have to consider whether I am helping to change and fix these misperceptions or if I’m at all contributing to them; and if I am, what I can do to fix it. I thought a lot about that after the wedding while looking through such beautiful pictures from the day, from the confines of my bed, knowing I wouldn’t leave home for a while. I didn’t think critically about this before last year, but I’ve learned up-close how much these things matter. The problem of disbelief is so much larger than gossip or personal dramas. This is literally public opinion shaping policy. It’s allowing the lack of intervention on a disease affecting millions of our own and many millions more around the world. How long will we allow people to suffer? How long will we let the accountable people look the other way? The world is looking at us and our treatment of this disease, and we are totally blowing it.

As soon as we show serious interest, I know other countries will follow suit. I know we will also make important new discoveries and possible cures. For now, we are at a stalemate that is costing millions of lives and billions of dollars. It’s almost hard to believe it’s true or possible after so long. And yet, here we are…

In the last year there has been awesome and much needed support from the public. The many signatures on the petition was surprising and still continues to humble me. I should say, it was that petition with such a substantial amount of sigantures that scored me the local news spot, a meeting with the Louisiana State Director (whom I spoke with for more than two hours about mecfs) and the reason I had a follow-up with our Senator Bill Cassidy. There’s more on the horizon. I’ll write more of that later. But our fight to be recognized, pursued and funded for biomedical research has come closer than ever in the past year, and we have to keep up the momentum. To quote my mom, “The timing could not be worse.” Hah, she is right. Politically things are somewhat of a shit-storm right now, and the potential for a slashed NIH budget on the whole obviously doesn’t work in our favor. But with the recent diagnosis of my sister, the possibility of backtracking our earned success, I have a renewed fire to fight and faith in myself, the advocates, the public, and the system, and an unrelenting hope that we can and will fix this. The timing might be terrible, and yet the truth is, there’s no better time for change than right now.

There are so many people in the advocacy arena who are doing big things–as for me I will continue to campaign for awareness in all ways I can think of, and restart petitioning for signatures. But I think possibly the most powerful voice is that of the public– not from those who are sick, but from those simply who see the injustice that’s happening. That’s who we need to hear more from, and seeing the amount of healthy people who have signed the petition already restores my faith in people all over the world will come together and make this happen. Thank you all again. Here’s to the next 40,000…

Health, Happiness, Fire

Cheers To a Slowly Dying Christmas Tree and the Start of Something New

My Christmas tree is still up. We might start there..

Two Fun Facts. Even when your Christmas tree begins to shrivel and sadly die in the corner of your living room:
1. The decorative lights still emit that magical glow when turned on at night and you’d never know their was death lurking behind them.
2. It still smells like Christmas! Even while dying, that one of a kind sap-infused, woodsy, cinnamon smell still infuses the room from the corner where the tree sits, but looks more like it’s floating.

I still catch random whiffs of Christmas when walking by or while reading on the couch. It’s like the original air-freshener, and since the scent is so sporadic and only comes around once a year, like Girl Scout cookies, encountering it feels uniquely special. Like glimpsing a shooting star or seeing a bald eagle. Sometime its feels like a nice gift the tree is sending my way. I think, Hey thanks tree, you have a good day too! What I’m saying is, you begin to talk to things that are not human when you live alone, and that’s OK. It’s bound to happen. I think. I’ll ask Monty.

I tried deciding whether a Christmas tree still hanging around on January 22nd that also happens to be dying is depressing conceptually or not. I say conceptually because I can say from an actual standpoint, it most definitely is not. It still brings all the joy it did from day one. I am a Christmas enthusiast and my fervor has always extended to the art of holiday decor and the unmistakable enchantment of a Real Live Christmas Tree. Everything about them makes me happy. Until I start seeing them on the corner of peoples driveways laying on their side next to the trash can– what a tragically depressing image to encounter. Or it always was for me, growing up. I feel that keeping the tree around this long and seeing it to its final days, I’m squeezing every ounce of wander out of what Christmas trees have to offer. It’s like The Giving Tree! Except in this case at the end, we burn it in a large pile of leaves and miscellaneous dead foliage and branches out in the prairie. But I find this to be a far less sad ending to the tree than awaiting its demise on a driveway and being tossed in a trash truck full of rotting food and discarded junk. I wonder if it freshens up the smell of the garbage truck? Probably not. Anyway burning the tree returns it to where it came, and whether that works out scientifically or not, for me it feels like a much kinder fate. And symbolically more appropriate.

As for outsiders, seeing a dying Christmas tree still lit up in my living room might look like a lapse in civility or domestication on my part– some kind of improper etiquette. Like having dishes in the sink or a mess of a house when company shows up. It’s always a little shameful when people visit, especially unexpectedly, and your place isnt tidy. Somehow it feels like a reflection of you– whether clean or dirty, we’ve come to see dishes in the sink as a little pitiful and a perfectly sanitary house as the height of a life in order! But order doesn’t imply anything moral or productive. Then again, a really dirty house does start to make you wonder about the direction someones life is going. If you haven’t done laundry to dishes in over three months, it might be time to talk to someone. It’s funny how having a clean house gives us a sense of pride and sends the message of “I’ve got my shit together and things are great!” Somewhere deep down, don’t we all secretly wish our homes smelled faintly of Pier One Imports? THAT is a fresh, successful smell if there ever were one. Unfortunately you can’t detect what your own house smells like, you can’t discern your own smell, so you kindof just have to keep up with the cleaning, pray that your pheromones mix well with your dish soap and the wood of your cabinetry and whatever else is informing the air of your house, and hope for the best. Many houses I can think of from growing up have distinct smells to them, that are still there when I visit today. It always elicits memories of certain times way back when. Funny how just a smell can be so tightly tied to a person or experience. I can still remember the exact smell of my grandma baking homemade bread. It takes me right back to childhood, to punching down the raised dough in those huge seventies-colored bowls, and to that first piece warm out of the oven. Son of a nutcracker I am hungry now.

Anyway, I imagine somewhere in a book of manners and proper social behavior, there is a responsible cutoff date for the Christmas tree, and if yours is up past that date, forget it. You might as well quit your job and stop tying. For me I don’t have a real job so there’s a personal loophole–if in fact, Jan. 23rd is past the cutoff date for tossing out the tree. Anything after that is an obvious decay of domestication. Or maybe just poor manners.  Maybe I’m still in the clear because it’s still within 30 days of Christmas, and if I can still technically return a gift to Target, then I should be squared away with the tree. Either way, none of this actually matters and obviously you should keep your tree up as long as it makes you happy and does not accrue mold. Isn’t that how we justify killing them for the purpose of holiday decoration in the first place? By enjoying and appreciating their beauty and assorted pleasures for as long as possible, we sort of redeem cutting them down. Sort of. I don’t know, what is the environmentalist take on real Christmas trees? Is real or fake the greener choice? Probably fake, right? Let me check.

Well that was a hellstorm. I’ll save you some googling time and just say the conclusion to ten articles on this very subject is that the science is still out on conclusively naming one or the other as better (or worse) environmentally. Worth noting is that artificial trees are created using this special ingredient calling PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is not recyclable nor completely biodegradable. Also vinyl-chloride is listed as a human carcinogen. You have to use the artificial tree anywhere from 7-20 years (there are multiple conflicting studies)  in order to make it less harmful to the environment than using a real Christmas tree. Also at least 90% of real Christmas trees are farmed, which keeps the natural population healthily sustained. Hmm, one can emit hazardous fumes in too high a dose, and one provides magical Christmas dust that enlivens the senses and makes miracles. So I am biased clearly, but I still say down with artificial arbor. Go real. Go green. And inhale that magical smell until March if you want to.

Its funny, but even though Christmas is well over, I’m still recovering from the festivities I partook in. Some of it is my fault; I have a hard time doing what’s best for myself in terms of the illness, and doing what is fun and adventurous and happy in the moment. This disease is so insidious, it doesn’t let you know how much you’ll have to pay until you’ve already done the damage. Its like going swimming today, but not having to hold your breath until tomorrow. Say you swim in the ocean and get distracted by the tropical fish. You go under water following them around, and all the while you think “I haven’t been under that long, I’ll definitely be able to hold my breath this long tomorrow when the time comes.” You think that because you’re stupid and you didn’t learn your lesson from last time. The next day comes and you have to hold your breath for all the times you went under water, but on some of your sub-surface excursions, you were distracted by awesome sea life and stayed under like 3 minutes. Now you’re trying to hold your breath for three minute stints and you’re blue in the face and passing out and thinking, why did I go under the water. Why Mary WHY. So, that’s one way to explain it. Anyway, Christmas is happiness and this year it was a great one. Sometimes the dive is worth turning blue.

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I’ve had the feeling for a while now that 2017 is going to be a very special year. I can’t say how specifically, but I sense that big changes are in store. Important changes. Great changes. And that the start of something new and big has already begun its course. It’s only an intuition so what do I know. Maybe anything compared to the dismal 2016 will seem auspicious by default. But something tells me it will be more than that.

I never saw myself in the world of advocacy or politics, but tomorrow is the first day of a very important journey that I suppose will include both. It’s the first time I will meet with a politician to talk about me/cfs and address the funding issue, in person. I’m meeting with the Louisiana state director, Brian McNabb, who works in the office of Senator Bill Cassidy. I have no idea how the meeting will go. Of course, I have my talking points prepared and there is only so much my brain can store. My main is goal is to tell the truth and leave a lasting impact. In my imagination the scenario goes like this:

We start with some charming banter yada yada yada, he pours two glasses of whiskey, and as the ice clinks in our glasses I say “Look McNabb, we need $100 million from the NIH for this disease. Minimum. And we need it yesterday.” He thinks a moment, sips his drink img_6334and says “You know, after reading the riveting history of this disease, the outright neglect, and the heartbreaking stories of so many who’ve been devastated by it, I’d like to offer $200 million toward biomedical research. It’s actually the more appropriate and fair amount.” I walk over, raise my glass to toast to this proposal and say “Wonderful Brian. You’re doing a really incredible thing.” Clink!

“How soon will the funding come through to the NIH?” He thinks a moment, “I’ll have to get a few documents in order, but I’d say by tomorrow around 4. Does that sound alright?” I begin to put on my jacket to leave. “Sounds fine.” He opens the door, “I’ll let Mr. Collins know about the funding change. Anything else?” Walking out I hesitate, stop, then turn around. “Actually, I have these parking tickets in New Orleans I never paid-” “Ms. Gelpi! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not a genie I can’t just say ‘poof!’ and fix everything!” I blush from assuming something so stupid. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It was foolish to ask. Forgive me.” I turn my head away a little embarrassed. He nods affirmatively and ushers  me out. Before he closes the door I yell inside just to be sure “But we’re still on, $200 mil to the NIH tomorrow by 4? Right?” He already has a phone to his ear and looks distracted by some new matter. “Right. 200 mil. 4 o clock. G’bye now.” The door shuts and I turn to walk out, grabbing a handful of Worthers Original candies from the crystal bowl on the secretaries desk. She doesn’t mind. Outside it’s chilly as I walk to my car and my legs are already aching, but I don’t mind, it’s too happy an occasion. I arrive at my car and immediately notice a boot on the front tire because my meter expired while I was inside. There’s also a notice that says I have dozens of unpaid parking tickets and my car has been seized. I turn around and march back toward the tall marbly building. I dial my mom, walking up the steps. “Well?” she answers with anticipation. “Mom! I’ve got good and bad news, which would you like to hear first?”

The End

That sounds like a reasonable scenario, right? I’ve heard that’s how Washington works so, I’ll keep you posted. :)

Health, happiness, GREEN.

The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song. Hot Off the Street.

Since I have a large amount of free time, I started writing a song about ME/CFS. I called it “The Myalgic Encephalomyelitis But For Our Purposes the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Song.” Slides right off the tongue right? I told myself if we hit 40,000 signatures, I’d post the song and lighten things up a bit. There’s not much humor in chronic disease talk or advocacy, but I think we could all use some. So, 40,000 signatures later..here we are. A few things.

But first, sign the danged petition. Did you sign it? Just sign it. Did you? Click on the link and type your name. Did you do that? OK, well then do it now. I’ll wait. Sign it. You’ve signed it now? Great! I don’t have to keep saying it? I’ll stop. Cool. OK but so just to be clear you signed it right?  Thank you. I love you. https://www.change.org/p/increase-research-funding-for-me-cfs

1. I don’t claim to know how to play guitar. I learned six chords on it a few years ago and can fumble through a few songs, most of them by Taylor Swift as her songs consist of the same four chords. I love it. Anyway this is why my song is only two chords. Sorry.

2. Monty makes some background noise now and then that I was too tired to edit out. He was chewing on some toy the whole time I played. Then in the middle of verse 3 decides he wants to play tug of war. He’s never had great timing, and we’re working on that.

3. This is more of a philosophical thought in general that I had while writing the song–maybe all diseases should come with their own jingle? That way tragic news might be a tad easier to take. Like “hey hey hey, you’ve got cancer in you brain!” Or “Looks like you’ve got a case of GOUT, hey! But we can fix that, no DOUBT, hey!” More creative lyrically, but you get the idea.

4. I’m sure someone will comment that I don’t look sick. Understandable, and truthfully I have improved from how I was last November when it was challenging just to walk. But looks are deceiving and they call this disease invisible for a reason. All those pill bottles behind me are my own, that I’ve been haphazardly saving for the last 9 months or so. I’m wearing my pajamas but threw on a bra and some lipstick– you know, to be professional.

5. This song is for anyone who is sick, including those with chronic illness, and especially ME/CFS. I hope it makes you laugh or smile, because I know that being sick is a weight you carry around all the time, and it’s heavy and intense to deal with daily. Sometimes you just have to step back and laugh. So let’s have some fun.

But make no mistake, this took work and has a specific goal. Rhyming with adrenal insufficiency is no easy task!  I crashed week after week just trying to record it (I know, and it’s still poor quality) but I wanted it to be decent enough to make the rounds, maybe inform some people, make others laugh, and perhaps land on the desk of someone who can help us. You never know if you never try. I’m ready to fight for this as long as it takes, sick or well. So until we get the adequate funding, prepare for more creative/ridiculous forms of advocacy, and please help spread the word. Yall have been a huge help, keep it goin! Thanks again, and enjoy :)

Health, Happiness, and Disease Jingles

What Makes An Illness Invisible? I do I do!

There is a certain hesitation that comes with being sick with a disease they refer to as “invisible.” Who are they? And why do they call it invisible? The they is simple; it’s not so much a reference as it is a perspective. People and doctors don’t tell us our ailment is invisible. They simply don’t see it. And when you’re sick, especially for a long period of time, you become keenly intuitive about who sees it and  who doesn’t. With someone who does, a certain ease settles in, as though you could wink at one another and understand it completely, even if you’d met minutes ago. Your guard goes down. Shoulders relax. That apologetic tone leaves from your voice. Those who don’t see it, or don’t fully “accept” it, and it makes sense that some wouldn’t, by the way, given this disease is not visible and is rife with evidence that it’s psychiatric or something else, we can sense that just as quickly. There’s an immediate undertone of tension, it makes my cheeks hurt while talking, the way eating a lemon does. I can feel my defenses go up. No matter how strong I’ve become at sloughing it off, doubt or judgment, it still stings. ‘Rubs salt on the wound’ as they say.  It makes me want to explain everything, from the start, “No wait, if you just listen to how it all went down, if you knew how I was before this, what it’s like most days…” but it’s useless. For them but more importantly for me. For us. I have to cease needing the validation from others and just trust my inner self. ‘Choose your battles wisely’ they say. Turns out they say a lot don’t they.

I think about The Truth, the eternal one that we’ve gotten wrong so many times, absolutely certain with documentation and everything that we were right and that was that. And yet the world remained round and the sun chilled with black sunnies on in the middle of the earth revolving like dude, yall are way off. The truth has never required us to imagesbelieve in it in order for it to remain, and that often brings me comfort. It’s my ego that seeks the validation. Still, I’d call it’s pretty reasonable that you’d rather not be seen as crazy or a malingering pansy particularly in a vulnerable time of your life when you’re sick and need support. But this is another “invisibility factor” of the illness. And it matters because not being believed is a psychological kick in the brain. Or face. And that’s just it. We don’t look the part on the outside. People can’t see pain. Or a headache. Full body weakness. Mental spaghetti. Vertigo. The hit-by-the-truck feeling. Yada yada yada. All there is for “outsiders” is our word, and some take us up on it, others don’t. I’ve been surprised observing the fluctuation of strength in my own word, depending on who it’s being exchanged with. I’ve been struck that a doubter could make me doubt myself.

Besides not seeing it “on” us, most doctors aren’t going to see it “in” us either. Invisibility factor number 2. We’ll give gallons of blood and urine samples and get x-rays and MRI’s and whatever other procedures they can think of that insurance doesn’t really wanna pay for :). They may find little things, but for the most part it will all come back normal. Yaaay! Normal. But let me intervene quickly that the American medical term for “normal” is a bit flawed if you read how the numbers are configured, but that’s another issue. But the point is: invisible. Again. Even in our blood and our brains and our tickers! Sometimes they find little things off here and there, but in no way would consider this a part of ME/CFS, they’re all isolated symptoms. And so there you are either in an ER bed or sitting on the crinkly white paper of a doctors’ office being told you’re in fine health and that this is good news. But it’s also important to point out here, often these tests are ‘normal’ because most doctors aren’t trained on what to look for in regards to this illness. This isn’t taught in most med schools. There’s no standard diagnostic test yet which make makes things harder. Invisibility Factor Number 3: no research. The things a specialist test for are far more in-depth (and expensive) than a regular doctors work up: like NK cells, cytokines, CMV, HHV6 and many more. Right now, due to the lack of these specialists, it’s basically like having cancer and visiting the foot doctor. Welp, everything looks great to me! 

Marc-Colaluce-DPM-300x240
I mean this is just a great picture

Still, a large man in a white coat, his degrees framed behind him, scanning through your labs and telling you you’re fine, to get outside, drink more water and eat more protein, (my experience) well, it encourages doubt. Even though I knew otherwise. I know what I feel inside, and it does not align with what I’m being told. And yet, when someone challenges your thinking, someone bigger and smarter and who you’re supposed to trust, you can’t help but consider that they might be right–thus, you might be crazy. Woohoo! But it’s important to recognize the reality of the situation right now, and also that this it’s changing. More doctors are being educated about the illness and presumably in the next ten years, you won’t have to travel to other states in order to find one who knows more than you about it. Not to mention, doctors make mistakes. They are humans after all, and they don’t know it all. So often after a bad experience with a doctor, or anyone for that matter, I have to remember, (or my mom has to remind me) that this is vastly misunderstood right now, and people aren’t acting out of malice but from misunderstanding. That lack of understanding is just beginning to change. Slowly. And you know what? I think the petition may end up helping with that. That’s my hope, anyway.

A friend of my mine asked a while back “Have you ever considered that they might be right, that this might be more of a psychological thing, and you could actually be cured by pacing your exercise and receiving cognitive behavioral therapy? Or do you feel totally positive that it’s a physical disease?” This is all under the umbrella that I fully accept and believe that mind and body are connected and the health of the mind is intrinsically tied to the health of the body. Still, this topic is not being brought up so much in the same way with other diseases. The intention is different. I admit didn’t know exactly how to answer. I felt like “techinically” the right answer was, yes, they might be right and this might have a major psychological component that could be an intrinsic part of it and a part of curing it. I should have to consider that these psychiatrists might be right. But I couldn’t do it. Even though I have looked at myself in the mirror and asked that question, considered this  many times Could I be crazy? Could this all be a front, could I be a mildly insane hypochondriac? Or could this all be ignited by something psychological from my childhood that I never worked out?” These doubts have run through my mind more than a few times. But in that moment, despite by own past consideration of other possibilities, I truly felt like a monkey being asked, Are you open to the idea that the others might be right, and you might be a giraffe? I answered in solid faith even though I felt myself nervous to do it. “No, I’m sure that’s not the answer to this.” I was in that moment, a total  monkey.

I am an indecisive, uncertain person by nature. It takes me twenty minutes to pick out what to wear, including pajamas. (Ahem, that’s what I wear)  I doubt and question myself a lot. I feel like I’m still learning how to be who I am. But, I’ve had twenty years of this invisible illness and gone through the ringer of its effects, felt deeply the losses it has caused. I’ve watched what it does to my mom, who I trust. I’ve read the stories and comments of thousands of others with experiences uncannily similar to mine. High functioning, happy people, (SANE PEOPLE) who had a rug swiped out from under them and were never the same. I think of the extremely current research and that of the last five years. I think of Lauren Hillenbrand. Of Whitney Dafoe. Of my doctor, Nancy Klimas. And I just can’t imagine at this point, that all of this comes back to some psychological trauma that just needs to be worked out with behavioral therapy and physical conditioning. This is what is being touted as a legit cure in many countries, including ours, but particularly England, Australia and a lot of Europe. This illness can be triggered by a psychologically traumatic event, but this only points to another pathway in which, whatever this disease is categorically, (presumably a virus that takes advantage of a vulnerable immune system) that it has varying opportunities in which to intervene. This doesn’t make it a mental illness. And even if it were, it still doesn’t justify the way it’s been treated up to now.

I wish I could say that I’ve never doubted myself or the disease again. But I have moments where I do question myself. But I think that’s normal. Enough people question your your point of view, inevitably you’ll question it yourself. I know that there are many more invisible diseases besides M.E., and that a lot of people have felt isolated by the facade it produces. I hope if they’re reading they know they’re not alone, and they’re not crazy. They’re just sick, with whatever: ME/CFS, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Lupus. I have moments where I forget what it’s capable of and crash myself for days. My mom always tells me, don’t play ball with this disease, it will always win. That’s typically how I’m reminded of reality when I doubt it– the state of my own body. It’s hard to doubt your own illness when you’re struggling to walk. And if that somehow isn’t enough, I close my eyes and go back to my inner, inner self, where the truth lives in stillness, without interruption. Where the world is flat. Where the earth orbits the sun. Where an invisible disease simply hasn’t found the cause or cure, but one day soon will be seen, will be believed, but most importantly, will be cured.

Health, Happiness, (In)Visible

P.S. The petition is still live and running! The new goal is to get to 50,000 signatures before I formally present it to Collins and Burwell which should be in July. I promise this is the last high goal. We stop at 50. And if we get there, I will sing a song on camera that I wrote called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Other Associated Conditions” and post it to the blog. It’s two chords, and worth seeing. Mostly to watch me make a completely humiliating knucklehead out of myself. So sign!   Good night.

Me Vs. Myself In My Own Campaign

I have to admit something that feels a little shameful, and since this blog seems to inspire little dignity in me and zero reverence I’ll go ahead and do it.

Lately I’ve felt a schism crack inside of me. I don’t know what it is, a Campaigner and a Skeptic. I’ve been advocating these last two months since I began the petition asking the NIH for an increase in funding for M.E. I can’t tell you how tired I am of just writing that sentence, and probably if you’ve kept up reading this, your eyes just glazed over. And then I feel bad about feeling exhausted by it. I believe deeply in the campaign and I want more than anything for it to do what it set out to, which is actually to change things in a quantifiable way. This whole thing has been fronted by social media, so I’ve spent hours posting it on every forum, every ME/CFS Facebook page, (of which it turns out there are like 4,000), tweeting to the same groups and other organizations I’d only just discovered,  and any and everyone involved in the CFS community, including celebrities who I’d read had the disease. This includes Sinead O’Connor and Olympic Soccer Athlete Michele Akers, but I didn’t hear back from either. I thought about singing a version of “Nothing Compares” to Sinead but rewriting it with lyrics that explained the issue and pleaded for higher funding. But I never did it. I head Glen Beck has ME, but I’m just not going there. I just…I can’t.

I did actually write a song, a two chord song on the guitar, so far titled “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” but we’ll get to that later. Similarly I’ve been sending emails to both friends and strangers, asking them to do something. But doing this day after day can start to feel..a little desperate. Sometimes I didn’t like myself. It feels like I’m asking all these people to do something for me, people I don’t even know. But I’ve had to constantly remind myself, when I start to feel like some kind of annoying car salesmen with poor boundaries, this isn’t really for me, but for something so much greater. It always has been. One look at the comments page of the petition and it’s so clear that we need help, and we’ve needed it for a long time. So if I’m gonna go for it, I need to go for it. STOP BEING A PANSY, in other words.

pansy
Pansies are quite beautiful it’s a shame they’re synonymous with WIMP

Despite many people and organizations reading my story for the first time, I find myself rolling my eyes at my own account. And I think God, what’s wrong with me? Where’s my pride for this fight? I have to remind myself that this has been a 30 year injustice that started before me, and I am just trying to help fix it. And then I find myself even struggling with that word. Is this really an injustice? And I realize when I ask that, it’s coming from a failure of perspective. The insecurity considering my own experience with this illness, and my sense of normal, which is inside out and backwards. Even though being sick has been the hardest battle of my life, I still look around at things and think “But I’m OK.” Sick or not, I can find ways to make it all work. I have so many people and so much love behind me that I know I’ll be OK. But there are 2 obvious flaws in that thinking. To begin with, when I really break it down, I think

Mary, you’re living in your parents pool house. You aren’t able to work anymore. Sometimes weeks go by without leaving the house or seeing anyone even close to your age. You live in a town you have no connection to except for the pharmacy and three doctors. You hang out with your parents A LOT. Last week your own mother washed your hair for you in the bath because you were too weak to do it. And showers, let’s not even talk about showers. The point isn’t that my life not being normal is the problem, it’s that I’ve become so accustomed to what the illness has done with my version of normal. I forget, this is actually kind of a huge mess that I’m just living out as best I can, one day at a time. I don’t plan things, I can’t keep them. Somewhere, I sense a clock is ticking. It can’t last this way for long, right? And if it does, would I be OK with a life like that?

So is this an injustice? Yes. Read everything that’s happened with this illness pertaining to the CDC, HHS, and the NIH over the last thirty years, and it would be hard to call it anything else. Just because I’m surviving and ‘OK’ doesn’t say anything about the millions who aren’t.

And that brings up the second flaw in my perspective: I am not nearly as sick as so many others who have this disease. There is a scale to the illness in terms of intensity. A portion can function partially, but it’s hard to call those who are at the other end of the scale “sick.” Their bodies are shutting down. Confined to one room, unable to talk or tolerate sound, eating through a tube. Would we call that living? So many people have been sick for decades, their husbands or wives gone because life with this disease hugely impacts relationships. Some can’t understand it or even really believe it. One woman told me her husband divorced her because, he said, “I can’t watch you slowly die anymore.” People, especially husbands, hate feeling like there’s nothing to do for it, no way to help. And at this point, that’s basically where we are. You’re lucky to find a doctor who knows much about it. All of this reminds me; sure, you can make lemonade out of lemons, but there is a far deeper issue at play here, and it’s been slowly building into what is now a health crisis. It’s like the equivalent of the Velvet Revolution- a calm, quiet crisis. It’s gone on gently behind the scenes, behind the noise of other major news, of more important health issues, diseases with names that don’t make a person stop and hesitate whether it’s “real” or not. So I have to remind myself, this is beyond lemonade, and this fight reaches for things far beyond me. This is for the thousands of people who are far and away worse than me, who can’t fight for the change that has long been needed. “Sick” is such an understated way to describe them. “Slowly dying” is more accurate, just like the woman said.

So, I need to stop feeling apologetic for fighting for this change. Yeah, it’s probably annoying on Facebook News Feeds, but I’ve seen my share of weird engagement albums of couples in urban settings, and political rants and pictures of peoples lives that are awesome that make me feel incredibly small and boring. So, I guess it’s OK to annoy with a petition for a while. It doesn’t mean I have to become a full-time advocate, but I need to see this thing through to the end, and getting petition signatures is really only phase 1. I need to participate (at least virtually) in the protests this week, because it matters to me, and I don’t know why I feel like I should keep it a secret that it does. The real work might just be beginning–getting the big dogs on the phone, and in person, and making the case. I will say, I feel more far more confident reaching out to these people with 33,000 signatures behind the request. Printed out, that’s over 1,500 hundred pages of names. That’s impact! And that’s what I was looking for. So Thank You, all of you. A petition doesn’t work unless the people sign. The next phase will be interesting and could take a while. But, as always, I will keep you posted.

I see big change up ahead. Monty too.

Health, Happiness, Justice

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”            -The man, Barack

Breaking News

(Not Really)

Toward the end of this winter, I sat in a bathtub, tears coming down my face, and prayed for change. Things had been stationary and repetitive for too long. All my parts, body and mind, were beginning to go stir-crazy, and I’d given it a solid go. I think in modern times, being confined to the same two rooms for long periods of time without real socialization and not going totally insane is a kind of victory on its own. Things went from stationary to stagnant, and I’m pretty diligent about avoiding that disposition. Undoubtedly, it started to wear on me. I closed my eyes and envisioned the “path” of my life like a black dotted line on a treasure map–obviously th line had been very straight for a while. But I visualized that in the spring the dotted line would take a sharp turn, still progressing, still moving in the right direction or whatever, but that there would be a marked change. It would stir things up, it would springboard the stagnancy of sickness and the same two rooms and same faces at the pharmacy and pop them into the air like popcorn. I wanted an interruption I guess. And I felt tired waiting for one.

The thing about change, I was beginning to realize, is that it has a lot to do with you (me) and less to do with crossing your fingers and waiting around for it. I admit, for a long time in terms of the illness, I did that in a certain capacity. I’ve hoped and prayed for a cure ever since I became sick, but I was never involved or deeply curious in the process of how that could happen. I wasn’t a part of online support groups for ME/CFS. I was never really involved with advocacy, and I didn’t follow the latest research or science. Sometimes people would send me articles from The New York Times or some Magazine that would tell the story of someone sick, usually summarize the history of CFS mostly on the surface, and then reveal the prognosis, which was that there was still no cure and no approved treatments. Once, I was sent a New York Times article called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome No Longer Seen As ‘Yuppie Flu’” You’d think in some way, a major and respected newspaper validating your disease would be a comfort, but to someone who’s been suffering for years from it, it was more like Yeah, no shit. It’d be like seeing an article titled “Water Found to be Necessary for Survival.” My mom, who follows every study, reads up on trials and new findings, would update me often in an optimistic tone. But I can remember, in the first year after the crash that I’d stopped working and was living in their house, I felt angry and remember telling her I didn’t want to know about any more studies until there was one that found the cure. I was clearly still in the “acceptance” phase of this whole thing, and that was a prissy reaction to say the least, but I just never wanted to get pulled too far into the “community” of the illness. I felt if I entered in too far, which would be easy to do, it’d take me over, consume my identity. And I battle myself a lot in avoiding that transition–I don’t want to turn into the ‘sick girl.’  There are just so many other things I want to do and express, and sometimes the illness feels like it controls too much of my outer life, after already having control of my insides. It’s a strange, duplicitous struggle to face. And some days I feel like the illness wins–not in terms of my body, but my mind. That’s what I try to avoid.

Last week, a news crew was at my house. I say crew, but it was really just two people. An interviewer and a cameraman from Fox8 News New Orleans. It’s funny how it all came to happen, but stars aligned in certain ways, and now news-anchor Rob Masson was interviewing me in our living room. We talked about the petition, about getting sick with this weird, elusive, invisible, strange disease. He was a great interviewer and he understood the illness well. You can tell when someone gets it by the questions they ask. For instance, a person who doesn’t get it asks questions like “Do you think if you did more during the day, you might sleep better at night?” And a more intuitive person might ask “So how do you prepare for an event you know is coming up? And how long do you pay for it physically?” Rob and I had talked already on the phone about the disease, the NIH, the history and the campaign for nearly an hour a week before. Then the day of the interview they ended up staying two and a half hours at our house. (It will probably be a two minute spot) They spoke with me, my mom, and shot footage of Monty, of course. . Normally, the idea of “being on the news” even local news, would stress me out. Mainly because internally I’d think “Why do I have any business being on the news? I’m just a sick person living with my parents?!” But the reassuring and truthful answer was that this really wasn’t about me. I’m an example of one among millions of people living with the disease, and I felt I could speak up for it in that way, provide an example of what it “looks like”–which is nothing. You couldn’t pick a person with ME out of a crowd, but it’d probably be the one lying down using some odd piece of furniture as as a bed. I was/am exceedingly grateful this petition made the news, mostly because I think any press that shows what this disease looks like and is told from the angle of someone who is actually sick, not a psychiatrist speculating about it, is always a good thing.

Anchorman_140Pyxurz
(Not Rob Masson)

But the real angle was the campaign, which is also not about me, but about the NIH, and how their lack of funding and research has left millions of sick people without a place to go. You can count the number of CFS specialists with one and a half hands. The reason I felt optimistic writing this petition is that this is a problem with a very clear solution. It has always had a solution, and in every article, blog, comment debate, news story, I see the same desperately needed solution being pointed out, which is funding. The disease is complex, the research and studies and science is complex, but some of the top virologists and infectious disease specialists in the world are signed on to study this, say they can solve it, they are simply lacking the funds. It just seems so simple in that regard. It’s obvious this can’t be ignored anymore. This is an epidemic, and I know that word is overused a lot, but when millions of people are out of commission, and the country is paying billions a year in lost productivity and medical expenses, I would call that somewhat of a health crisis. So, it’s time. And Mr. Collins and Secretary Burwell can make it happen. I know they can.

I’m still learning how to be an advocate. I don’t know if it’s really my calling. My sister on the other hand should consider this as a career option, she’s really good. :) I’m still trying hard to attain more signatures because I’d like to get as many as possible for the protest on May 25th in DC. The power in this method of “protest” is in numbers, so I’m still thinking “Hey, we can make it to 35. And if we can make it to 35 we can make it to 40!” 40,000 has a nice ring to it, a more sturdy number. Anyway, I trust we’ll get the number we need. And I still have the hesitancy of not letting this fight, win or lose, enter too deep into my identity. In my attempt to share the campaign with every CFS organization, I’ve sort of leaped into the Chronic Illness Community…and everything there makes sense. I see myself in all the stories. I recognize the descriptions. I understand completely what people mean in their emotions and discouragements. But sometimes I have to just dip a toe in..share the petition and then get out. If I spend too much time there, I don’t know, I feel too consumed by it. And those are my brothers and sisters! It’s not that I’m turning my back on them, I just live it and write it enough as it is. I guess I don’t need reminders right now. I’m more hungry for change.

This petition I hope can speak for us all. Maybe I will just always be fighting to remember who I am, to hold on to some remnant of myself that was there before I ever became ill or ever started “fighting for a cure.” In one part of me, a flame has been lit and I feel ready to take on the world and achieve this change. Halfway because I’m bored of it. It’s so obvious what we need to do, and I know it will happen eventually, I’d just like it to happen sooner so we can all get on with other things. The other part of me thinks I can write through the filter of being sick till the cows come home, but there’s so much other subject matter out there. There’s so much else to do. And I want to explore it all. There are so many other stories I want to tell. And I think I will. I’m just a little in between worlds for now. Fighting for this cause and also trying to stay conscious of who I am without all of this. Dive too deep into anything and you can get stuck there. Maybe dive is the wrong word. Attach. I don’t want to become attached to this. I want things to change. And then I want to travel to Japan.

So, that’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods. Physically I feel like absolute crap, which is the most efficient and motivating reminder to keep fighting for this change :)  I don’t know when the news segment will come out, though I can already anticipate my self-consciousness about it. I don’t like seeing myself on camera or hearing my own voice. I am fat from the steroids and hardly even feel like I’m in my own body anymore. And it’s a vulnerable thing–I never imagined I’d be interviewed by someone and talk about being sick, 31 and living with my parents on TV. I mean, this could really ruin things for me on Tinder. But the TRUTH is, none of that matters. It’s not about me or my story or whatever I’ve lost along the way. This is about the campaign and what’s next. It’s about what we’re asking for, which is a very specific thing: $100 million bucks. It’s not that much money, come on! But, if the segment goes online I will try to post it here. So, once again, I will shamelessly post the petition, and if you feel like signing or sharing because you haven’t yet, I recommend you do so I can stop writing about this stuff and my sister can stop pestering every person she knows to sign it. Amelie, I love you. Thank you again everyone for the love and support and signing. I guess that dotted line I envisioned making a sharp turn ended up happening in a very strange way. Life is funny.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-funding-so-we-can-find-a-cure

Health, Happiness, HEY MOM IM ON THE NEWS!