An Invitation

I want to invite you in to my life. This will be extremely difficult for me. I am a private and sometimes quiet person but what I have to show you is important. It is a glimpse into the life of someone who is living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. I also have four children and one of them has a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. He is multi-disabled. Among several secondary diagnoses, he has epilepsy and autism.

I want to capture my life in pictures to put a face to invisible disease. I want to give a voice to others who also struggle silently. Many people, like my family, face difficult daily challenges so I hope my story will serve as a reminder to be kind to others. You never know what challenges someone else is facing.

This is how you might see me in public on a typical day.

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(I say might because with four kids, I don’t always have a lot of time to apply make-up and fix my hair before I leave the house.) Yes, I “look normal” yet I am very different. Here is life from my perspective:

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On this day I had another rheumatologist appointment. I was brought back to the exam room and four needles were arranged neatly on a tray. I have never been too excited about needles and this had me nervously thinking about the five injections I had already received since the beginning of the year. I suspected these syringes had something to do with the problem of pain in my shoulders the Dr. and I discussed at my last appointment. I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come. Waiting thirty minutes gave me time to doubt accepting these additional injections, but I reluctantly elected to take them in hopes of increased mobility. Unfortunately, it landed me in an ambulance with a suspected allergic reaction. It also altered how I could be treated in the future.

A few short weeks later the only positive side effects of my shots had worn off. The anti-inflammatory properties were gone and my RA took over. I was experiencing my first RA flare. I could describe it simply by saying, “it hurt to move” but I was unprepared for this kind of pain. I was shocked, reeling in pain from the smallest movements. Fibromyalgia gave me a secondary blow as it pained the area around the joint effected by RA. In a matter of weeks, I went from a 34 year-old mother of four who was keeping up with her children, to a woman unrecognizable to even myself. I revisited the rheumatologist and began physical therapy in hopes of any relief. At the advice of my physical therapist, I purchased a rollator. It would help with my mobility when the pain made it too difficult. My hands hurt so bad that I could hardly grasp the handles. My body retaliated against me and it hurt to stand up straight.

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At the peak of my flare, the morning hours gave me the most pain and I had difficulty getting out of bed so my husband began to help me….

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He helped lift me to my rollator….

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And had to help me on and off the toilet.

My knee was so full of fluid that I couldn’t get my leg over the bathtub. My hands hurt so bad that I couldn’t wash my hair, let alone squeeze my shampoo container without assistance. He waited outside the shower to help me wash my body and hair and help me in and out of the tub.

Each day would carry on and each night I would cry out and wonder, “Where is my life?!”

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Even my hands swelled to the point of making everyday tasks difficult, so I started a small dose of oral prednisone. I eventually had to take two a day. It has it’s own unpleasant side effects, like sweating and mood-swings, but it helped me function. It was enough to reduce some of the problematic swelling but I was still in constant pain.

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It wasn’t the only medication I was taking to help me through my flare…. and there were more side-effects…. My legs were bruised from taking Naproxen. I was also getting headaches from my pain medication.

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My son’s epilepsy didn’t wait for me to feel better. Sometimes he falls at the onset of a seizure. After, his limbs are immobilized and he is frequently exhausted. His seizures are physically demanding for both of us. I often have to lift, hold, or carry him to a safe place before and/or after a seizure. On this day he had a two minute seizure that took over his body. He could not move so he begged me to lay him in bed. It was hard for me to carry his worn body to his bed. We were both exhausted. It was all too much and I sobbed as he lay there.

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It was no surprise that the physical demands of motherhood and my special needs son began to take a toll. The pain became intense in my shoulder so the doctor ordered an MRI. I found out that RA has torn my shoulder to shreds. The six paragraph explanation made for interesting reading. I have refused surgery as 12 weeks of recovery and therapy isn’t realistic for a mother like me.

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(I couldn’t even get the full summary in this screen shot.)

Another doctor appointment. Here I am waiting to see a pain management doctor. Nothing seems to be as cruel as living with chronic pain. It’s a daily struggle that I am desperately trying to conquer.

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Another bad day for my son’s seizures. On this day he fell to the floor before I could reach him. My leg had been so full of fluid that I could not get to him before the seizure knocked him to the ground. Although I was thankful he was inside and on carpet, the guilt of being unable to reach him before he fell ate away at me. He is pictured here after he finally stopped shaking. He once again had no control over his arms or legs so I had to lift him to the chair and sit with him until he could move.

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I pray for days when we cuddle just for the sake of cuddling, not because a seizure has prevented him from moving his own body.

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I may not be strong but I am determined to hold my baby when he needs me…

Between my special needs child and I, we spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices and in hospitals. What’s startling still is the realization that we will never get a financial break from the burden of disease and disability. It’s disheartening when my medicine cabinet is fuller than our pantry.

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In the evenings the kids often find me elevating my leg. Since my scare with steroid shots, I have been trying to allow my body to absorb the excess fluid naturally. It hasn’t been easy and I often need to elevate it to find relief. I also have a cyst on the back of my knee that may never go away, or so I have been told. On this night, my daughter found me, and I’m glad she did.

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Most of the time I look like a normal mom. I snuggle with my babies.

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That’s my family posing for lots of pictures during a rare trip away from home.

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I can also be found at the bowling alley with my family although you won’t see me bowl. My hands hurt too bad to pick up a bowling ball and my body hurts too bad to roll one down the lane.

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….but I am still much different. I know, it can be hard to see. And although I am allowing a glimpse into my life in hopes of changing the way others perceive it, there are still those remaining invisible facets to my life that are the most important.

In the early morning hours during my RA flare, my husband got out of bed and helped me do things he never would have imagined when we wed a short ten years ago. The jokes we made about caring for each other in old age have abruptly ended–just like my once healthy youth. And I realize in my worst moments, love and the affectionate care of my spouse intertwine much like his arms embracing my weak frame. In our darkest and hidden moments, we find love. It triumphs over every minute I wake in pain and he comes to my side, over every seizure that crushes the delicate body of our little boy, and any doubt that we will make it through every last setback together. So when I am asked, “How do you do it?” I may not always have the best answer but I do know I will make it because I don’t have to do it alone. I know I am loved unconditionally. And that is the most important thing you should know about my story…true love is not conditional…true love sees past differences, disability, fear, sadness, and disease. Love is my husband looking past my suffering and weakness and still seeing the woman he loves. Love is the confidence I have in his fulfillment of the promise to love me “in sickness and in health.”

Today, I am getting better and working with my specialists to find the right plan to manage my disease. This will not be the last flare I will see but the goal is to reduce the number of them, manage my pain, and slow the progression of my disease. The most important goal for my health is to be a productive wife and mother. I most likely have a lifetime of care with my special needs son and I want to have that privilege as long as my health allows. We also continue to work on improving his life despite his disease. It has been hard but I look forward to every moment I am given, good and bad. The good times give me hope and the bad times allow me an appreciation of them. And love sees me through it all.

*d*

Journal of Emotions

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NEW ENTRY

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I am overwhelmed. If there was a day I am full of emotion, it’s today. Life has been too much and I am having a hard time taking it all in. Everything from health to finances has been difficult. I often wonder why it isn’t just one problem we have to deal with, but a mountain of them. Yesterday I went to the pain management doctor and he about came out of his chair when I told him my Rheumatologist was going to keep me on one medication and add another. He didn’t like the idea of me being on both simultaneously. It gave me a lot to ponder as I knew something wasn’t “right” with me.

This feeling is the same one I had before my last flare. Maybe the thought of another flare put me in a foul mood, I don’t know, but I do know the mood is lingering. I keep thinking I’m more tired than usual but that would not explain the lingering rain cloud over my head. I tried hard today to be positive, until this……
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……. a flat tire…..

We just started a layaway for our kid’s Christmas and now I wonder if we will be able to pay it off at the rate we are going.

I made a phone call to the pharmacy on Tuesday. I asked how much I’d be paying out of pocket for my medications once my high deductible insurance turned over. We recently paid off our van, but between the increase in our mortgage payment due to tax increases and my medication, we will see no difference in our monthly budget. We will still be broke. I looked forward to a tax refund but that will be paying for our mountain of medical debt and spacers for my oldest son. We just can’t seem to get ahead. I know we aren’t alone. Many people struggle to get by from month to month, but I wish this was the only thing that kept me up at night.

Sometimes I lie awake listening for my son in the next room. I worry about him seizing more than I admit. He was approved to get an Embrace watch but they keep pushing the date back for it’s arrival. It’s supposed to alert us to a seizure by using an app on our phone. I will breathe a sigh of relief when it comes for many reasons, but nighttime seizures are a fear (for many with epilepsy). He is so poorly controlled right now that any help we can get monitoring his seizures will help us determine how to treat him and how he is responding to that treatment.

On top of his difficulties, my health has declined shapely this summer. I know I am sick, I can feel it in more ways than one. If I don’t take some of my meds, I feel like I have the flu. I am tired and depressed. I keep praying and working with my doctors to get me the right medication to help with all my symptoms. One thing is certain, RA will not steal my voice.

Writing is all I have right now. I don’t work, and I am grateful for that, but it is difficult to be a one income family with extensive medical bills. I hope I can make something out of our difficulty. That is what I am about, making something wonderful out of the worst of situations. I am going to keep trying and I am going to keep praying for the ability to write pieces that will help others feel like they have a common ally in this world. It’s this girl. I’m right there struggling with you. Maybe we will see something great together.

*d*

I have decided to pick up and write during highly emotional times for me and see what comes spilling out. I will update this post with those thoughts as they happen. I will do mimimal editing to protect whatever voice I use while writing. Understand, what comes out of me during a highly emotional moment may not always make sense but I want to share those moments. These are moments I believe we all have. My hope is to put into words some of the issues we all experience yet rarely escape our lips.

Entry 1: Written while thinking about how I was going to move past my diagnoses of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Fibromyalgia. I have been experiencing pain I had not expected. I am experiencing an RA flare and I went downhill very quickly. I can’t get around in the morning without assistance because of the severe pain I experience specifically during the morning hours. I am struggling to find purpose in the addition of this disease on top of already having a special needs child with his own complex diagnoses. ~

A diagnosis makes me think about death. I can’t help it. When the name of disease dropped from the physician’s lips, I immediately thought about the worst case scenario. I worried about every unfamiliarity, drug, and all the new phrases thrown my direction in a language I didn’t understand. I didn’t just cry, I wept. My tears came from such a deep place inside me that it almost felt as if a piece of my soul were escaping with them. Days were blurry. All I remember is the hurt I felt after knowing nothing will ever again be the same. There will be things that will no longer be able to be accomplished, words that will now remain unspoken, and dreams that will now have to be relinquished. I was in mourning, yet I was very much alive. Mourning my life while I was still living was a contradiction. I struggled with all things and I wanted to give up on finding myself again.

Then creeped in a small glimmer of light. It was hope. It was the knowledge that life is not over but still meant to be lived. I could not live my days as if it were already gone. If I kept choosing to mourn life, I had already given up on hope. So I chose hope. I chose faith. I chose to live. I chose to use those words that choked meaning out of my life to find a new purpose.

I see who I am. I see who I was. I had to change. I wanted to stop distracting my life with things that kept me from fulfilling this life. When life changes so dramatically, the span of a lifetime shrinks. There is no forever, there is only today. There is today to make a positive change in the lives around me. There is today to show others love. Death usually stirs up these same feelings in so many people but after waking away from the casket, much is forgotten. What changes are made are often temporary and life goes back to the same distractions taking away from a life rich with meaning.

Fear of death also ruins many things. Death hurts. It especially hurts when we have loved the deceased so much. To avoid that deep anguish, we pull away to protect ourselves from feeling that way again. But pushing away others to avoid future pain limits the joy that should be experienced now.

I have been depressed, have had panic attacks, and worried myself into distress over the unknown of diagnoses and of life. In essence, I robbed myself time to trust, the ability to have faith, and additional moments to love.

I essentially drew myself so close to the only dark spot in my life that it shrouded every last bit of light. I decided to hide in the only dark corner and hold onto my fear. I also hid there alone. I wanted to stay in my pity and cry about how unfair life had become while refusing help. It felt good to finally take a hand and say, “I can’t do it alone.”

Asking for help is a hard thing to do but it is a freeing moment. I didn’t have to stay alone in my dark. I could embrace those trying to pull me into the light. In the shadow of life is no place to be. When facing a challenge, go where the path can be seen, don’t walk in the dark. Choose to press against that darkness and love despite the hurt. Pull those hands close and love those who follow you anywhere. A lifetime of love is worth any eventual pain. Pain is better handled when leaning on love. No diagnosis or pain is worth giving up this life. It may make it harder. It may be lonely but run toward the light. Run toward love, don’t stop living because of one speck of darkness.

*d*
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The Withering Deed

If there was fine print on a marriage certificate, it should clearly state some of the changes that will eventually occur. One of these changes is the reduction of sex within a relationship. The time frame in which this happens varies by couple but most honest couples who are in long-term relationships will say it has happened. We collaborated and made a list of things that replace sex in a relationship and other things that can deter the deed.

Bad breath
The nights when the garlic toast is still lingering are the best nights to turn back-to-back and just call it a day.

Lethargy
Having kids can feel like two full time jobs. There will be plenty of times when plans are foiled by unintended sleep.

The wedge (or child) between us
This explains itself.

A favorite show
Everyone needs an escape from reality, unless it is reality television, then you are better off just having sex.

Mommy mode
There has to be a gear between mom and wife, it is hard to make the shift.
“Maybe it’s the hair matted with cheerios talking, but I’m not feeling too hot right now.”

Pajamas from yesterday
Don’t bother trying to take these off. They are probably dirty as well as what is underneath. If there was no time for a wardrobe change, there isn’t time for anything else.

The need to relax
There are several steps between before and after that make it look like more work than it’s worth.

Kids??? More kids??
Not sure? Better not. Sleep is safer..

No one can ask me questions when I am sleeping. (I just threw that one in there. I am tied of everyone asking me questions.)

I could still dream of sex
This is the only win win.

Sleep
Sleep is instant gratification.
No need for foreplay here..
Speaking of foreplay…..
Why bother? If this takes too long, it may be the only thing that gets done.

Work tomorrow
Damn responsibilities!

Grandma panties
Comfort over sexy occurs over thirty.

Headaches
No, really, I have a headache.

Clean sheets
“I just washed those and I am not washing them again tomorrow.”

Laziness
If it requires leaving the bed, it isn’t happening.

Eating
One doesn’t feel so sexy when stuffed full of tasty goodness.

Alcohol
Either the beer goggles were needed or alcohol isn’t a good idea later in life.

Social Media
Spending useless time stalking people you don’t like seems like a better idea. (We don’t know why either.)

Being Sore
Once you’re over 30, stuff that never used to ache starts and being in denial about not being as young as you used to be can equate to some sore muscles. That makes for groaning in the bedroom, but definitely not in a fun way.

Its too late
I knew I was getting older when I gave sex a curfew.

Lets hope we can all find quality time with our partners but when we don’t, have a laugh about it. If not, it will just seem sad.

It's a lie. That snooze button will get more action than either of you.
It’s a lie. That snooze button will get more action than either of you.

~L~ and *d*