Free Fall

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

One of my greatest fears is falling. It’s not the height that scares me. It’s the fast lack of grip, the surge to the bottom. I don’t like being out of control.

Never have.

Ironically, a recurring theme in my life is losing control. I never learn to let go and enjoy the fall, see where it takes me.

Never will.

For the past four months, I’ve been fighting to keep my health insurance plan. My state changed the minimum annual income requirement back in March, and we’re now $400 over the mark. $400 is far from enough to cover the cost of a yearly deductible and monthly premium, plus co-pays and prescriptions. Yet in the state’s eyes, we should be able to afford it no problem. They don’t account for rent and heat. They don’t even look at your income after taxes.

We looked at my husband’s company’s insurance plan, too. Even though it’s a bit cheaper than one of the state market’s plans, we still can’t afford it.

We’re already struggling.

I’m really grateful that we had state insurance these past few years. Because of it, I was able to get a diagnosis and start treatment for my UCTD. Still, we can’t afford another plan, and we definitely can’t afford my treatment and monitoring without insurance.

I looked into several avenues, but they all came down to one thing: soon I’d be out of medicine.

Once I run out of medicine, my disease becomes aggressive. It isn’t long before I’m bedridden again and I’m unable to care for myself. To write. To live.

I felt myself spinning out of control. One of my other greatest fears is my disease. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. I’ll be damned if I go back.

The fear is suffocating. My rheumatologist and I have determined that Plaquenil isn’t enough, that I need to add other medicines. Plaquenil has been so very therapeutic for me, but it’s not a magic bullet. I still have pain and stiffness, fatigue and brain fog, and other symptoms that may be related but definitely need further testing.

It doesn’t help that someone I love with an even more severe condition is losing her insurance, too. Chronically ill people rely on social services, but those programs are always the first to go when states need to make budget cuts.

I’m too scared to feel angry.

I have one last thing I can try. It’s a long shot, and I’m only going to have a small window. If I’m successful, it’ll be the net that catches me at the bottom. If I fail, well… I guess I’ll have to finally learn to let go.

Can’t Win (Plaquenil, 1 Year)

My Christmas cactus that I got the same day I started Plaquenil.

Today I’ve been on Plaquenil for exactly one year. While Plaquenil and Prednisone worked really well for my joint pain, both gave me some unfavorable side effects. Prednisone made my blood sugar skyrocket and threw some of my other labs off, so I had to wean off it. Plaquenil did okay on its own, but for some reason the GI side effects—diarrhea, heartburn—just keep getting worse. I had to come down to one pill a day instead of two.

I’m feeling it.

My rheumatologist said that if I flare, she’ll put me back on Prednisone, so there’s a good chance I’ll be starting it soon. I want to feel better—and I really want my hands and hips back—but I’m scared of the high blood pressure, freaky blood sugar, and weight gain. So I may have been holding off on making that phone call.

It feels like I can’t win.

This may be TMI, but Plaquenil can be an outright asshole. At first it seemed like it wasn’t getting along with dairy, but now it seems to give me diarrhea randomly. Heartburn, too. You’d think those are minor side effects, but trust me, they can quickly ruin your day. And your night.

SIGH.

Still, I look at posts and pictures from a year ago, and I know these two medications have saved me, side effects be damned. It comes down to a choice: would I rather debilitating joint pain and fatigue, or random bouts of diarrhea and heartburn, paired with high blood pressure, blood sugar spikes and crashes, and hot flashes?

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I’m trying to hang in there until my rheumatology appointment; playing phone tag is not my idea of fun, and I get shitty cell service in my apartment, which makes it even worse. I’d rather speak to her in person and go over our options. (She’s wonderful on the phone, too, but connecting is always a challenge.)

My appointment is almost two weeks away, though, so I’m gonna have to call.

It doesn’t help that I’m facing losing my health insurance, but that’s a whole other post. The gist of it is, my state changed its income regulations this year and we are now just a couple hundred dollars over the requirement. Yet we can’t afford a monthly premium and we sure as hell can’t afford appointments and prescriptions out of pocket. A friend suggested I can appeal the denial, but we weren’t denied—I’m stuck in an Access Health CT website loop. (If you live in my state, you know what I mean.) So that’s another phone call I’m dreading but have to make.

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It’ll work out, though. In the meantime it’s all about managing my pain and anxiety.

On the plus side, if I start Prednisone again, I’ll be able to take notes for my classes. (My hands have not been digging this whole pen holding thing.) I’ll also be able to type faster.

And did I mention that my beautiful Christmas cactus is now a year old? It’s now so full and there are several vibrant blooms (with dozens more budding). A month ago, it didn’t seem like it was going to bloom at all. A year ago, I wasn’t sure I could keep it alive. (I’m all right with succulents, but this one came from a pharmacy and I didn’t know how it would do.)

There’s a metaphor in here about patience and faith. I think.

What Does It Mean to Have Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease?

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

In December 2016, I was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD). I’d been suffering from symptoms for a decade, and the diagnosis was a relief. Finally, I could start some kind of treatment and maybe get some of my life back!

There are a lot of misconceptions about UCTD, and autoimmune diseases in general. Part of the problem is, we don’t know a whole lot about them. We do know that the immune system gets confused and starts attacking healthy tissue. This can cause a lot of problems.

My disease, UCTD, is like the center of a three-way Venn diagram, with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Lupus the three overlapping circles. UCTD is at the center, meaning people with UCTD have symptoms from all three of these awful diseases.

It’s the best of both worlds.

The “undifferentiated” part means that the patient is presenting symptoms from all three diseases and their blood work doesn’t point clearly to any one disease. My symptoms and labs lean more toward Lupus. I have:

  • joint pain and stiffness
  • fatigue
  • dry eyes and mouth
  • hair loss
  • numbness and tingling
  • anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA)
  • positive antinuclear antibody (ANA)

Sometimes I have bladder and GI issues, but it’s unclear whether they’re related.

People with UCTD sometimes go on to fully develop one (or more) of these diseases. Sometimes UCTD just stays put. It can also go away entirely. My rheumatologist is monitoring me for kidney involvement, which is how we’ll know if my UCTD is developing into Lupus.

In all likelihood, my UCTD is here to stay; I’ve had it for over a decade now and it only seems to be getting worse, not better. Since my labs have been stable, though, it’s also likely that I won’t develop Lupus.

This doesn’t mean that UCTD is at all mild. Though it doesn’t involve organ damage, the joint pain and other symptoms can be debilitating. When I’m flaring, I’m mostly homebound, or even bedridden.

To treat my disease, I take 200 mg of Plaquenil and 500 mg of Naprosyn twice a day. I also take Tramadol as needed. My rheumatologist is trying to avoid putting me back on Prednisone because its long-term side effects are pretty nasty, and I was just on it for nine months. Unfortunately, I’ve been flaring since I stopped Prednisone completely. If the Naprosyn doesn’t help my joint pain and stiffness, we’ll try something else.

It’s also important for me to eat right, get plenty of sleep, manage stress, and exercise as much as possible.

Even though having UCTD has been quite the adjustment, I’m learning to live around it. I listen to my body, resting when I need to and being careful not to overdo it. I’m also lucky to have Mike, who cares for me so tenderly and makes me laugh even in the worst of it.

5 Comfort Movies for When You Need R&R

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When I’m having a bad pain day, dealing with bone-deep fatigue, or just need to feel safe, I look for a calming movie to watch. They’re the kind of movies that you can nap to, if you wanted to. No alarming soundtrack music swells out of nowhere. Though there is conflict, it’s light enough that it doesn’t stress you out.

Usually I look for children’s and family movies—something immersive and soothing. Romances and dramas are good, too. I look at the movie art and description. If the colors are soft or pastel, it’ll be calming—something I can nap to. If they’re bright, chances are it will be a relaxing experience that I can almost fall into.

When I can’t find something new, I have a few go to movies from my childhood.

Phenomenon

On his birthday, a man is struck by a strange light and develops extraordinary abilities.

Though there are a few exciting moments, you can easily lie down and relax. Just a heads up: though Phenomenon is a bit tragic, it ends on a happy note.

The Dark Crystal

The last two Gelflings embark on a quest to repair the Dark Crystal and save the world.

I remember watching this on rainy days as a small child. The Skeksis scared the crap out of me back then, but since it’s become a staple. It’s a colorful movie set in a fantasy world, and few things are more calming to me.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

A trio of pets get separated from their humans and decide to find their own way home.

I may or may not have watched this 1,900 times as a kid. Shadow, Chance, and Sassy made me desperately want a pet, and Sassy made me fall in love with cats. “No, dummy dummy dummy.” 😂 I think there are two moments in this entire movie where your heart rate kicks up, and everything turns out all right in the end anyway.

The Secret Garden

When an orphaned girl comes to stay with her uncle in his manor, she discovers a secret garden—and the key to restoring her family.

Here’s another movie from my childhood. Are you noticing a pattern? Though there are some sad undertones, The Secret Garden is visually stunning with all of its beautiful landscapes, and there are few loud moments.

A Little Princess

A young girl becomes a servant at her boarding school when her father goes missing.

Another movie based on a Frances Hodgson-Burnett book, and also one of my all-time favorites from childhood. Sarah’s stories alone are super soothing. I wish someone had the foresight to hire that kid to record audiobooks. Even though there are a couple sad moments, this is another movie that has a happy ending.

Each of these has a bit of a fantasy element to it, most of them are children’s movies, and all of them were filmed in the ’80s and ’90s but have an evergreen feel. There’s no distinct decade music (though the score from The Dark Crystal is admittedly pretty ’80s).

Unfortunately none of these are on Netflix or Amazon Prime at the moment, but they’re worth renting or owning.

What are your favorite movies for R&R? Let me know in the comments!

Setting Up a Spoonie Couch Office

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Chronically Creative: Creativity and Lifestyle Tips for Spoonies

I say all the time that, while I’d definitely rather not be chronically ill, my disease did shove me onto the path of being an author. Before I got sick, I was only dancing around writing; I wrote for myself and sometimes posted things online, while working 10-16 hours a day as a web designer and social media consultant. When I had to leave the workforce, I started writing full-time. I was laid up most of the time anyway; I might as well be productive.

Since then, I’ve discovered lots of tools and tricks to assist me in my career. I’d like to start sharing them weekly, as well as interviews with other creative spoonies and some lifestyle tips. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I’m kind of terrible at keeping schedules and staying consistent—mostly because being chronically ill is a full-time job in and of itself. So these Chronically Creative posts might not be weekly, but if you enjoy them and find them useful, I’ll try my best to do them as often as possible.

This week I’m sharing how I set up my own couch workstation or office.

Disclosure: The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. I earn a small commission from your purchase, which goes directly to my writing business. Your support is much appreciated!

Since I’m often laid up on my couch with an ice pack, heating pad, or hell, my electric blanket, I’ve been doing most of my writing there. I’ve had to find a balance between being comfortable and creating an ergonomic setup to prevent any further damage to my joints.

I work on a MacBook Pro, with my couch reclined just enough so that my legs and feet are propped up. Behind my head, I tuck a flat throw pillow for support; otherwise I tend to lean forward, especially when I’m super into what I’m writing. I typically wear my wrist braces while using the computer, and often have my TENS machine handy for a nice massage on whichever joints are being assholes that day. Since painkillers tend to make me loopy or sleepy, I try to use other methods of pain management while working, which I’ll share as well.

Please be sure to consult your own doctor to create the best setup for your individual needs.

Wrist Braces

Over the years I’ve tried many wrist braces, but the only ones I can stand wearing are 3M’s Futuro for Her. I originally found them at Target. Unfortunately, you have to purchase the left and right braces separately—though I do suppose that’s because the average person has arthritis or carpal tunnel in one or the other.

They come in black or pastel blue; mine are somewhere between white and blue because I’ve bleached the hell out of them. My hands tend to get sweaty when I sleep with them on, okay? Not to mention I don’t have washer/dryer hookup in my apartment, so when I’m in a pinch I soak them in a bucket of bleach in my tub.

I can’t recommend these enough. I’ve had them for years and they’re well past due for a retirement and replacement. Previous braces I’ve had were too scratchy or immobilized my fingers too much to type. These keep my wrists straight so that I can continue using my laptop. (Someday I’ll get me a fancy iMac, with its sexy ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Someday!)

Lap Desk

I bought my first laptop back in 2006—a clunky Gateway that I was super proud of. I was living with my grandparents and didn’t have a desk at the time, so I often worked on a TV tray in the living room or propped up in my bed. I finally caved and bought a ridiculously flimsy plastic lap desk at Barnes & Noble. It eventually cracked and I replaced it with a laptop desk on wheels that I could use from the couch. I still needed something for when I was bedridden, though, so I finally broke down and got a new lap desk.

It’s so old, I honestly couldn’t tell you what brand it is or where I got it. Probably Target, because I’m a junkie. Mine is like a vinyl, and not really ideal for keeping your laptop cool. When we got my sweet Biz Noni a laptop, my sister and I bought her a lap desk with a wooden surface. I’m not sure of the brand either, but this one is pretty close, as well as comparable in price.

Between my wrist braces and lap desk, I’ve got the perfect (mostly) ergonomic setup right in my living room. The lap desk can be tucked away behind my accent table, and my laptop can be put away in my office. (Eventually I’ll do a post on my office setup—but first I need to get in there and reorganize, because it’s become a disaster area again since I started working on the couch.)

Ideally, I’d have an iMac on an actual desk, with a nice comfy chair. But this setup works for me for now, and that’s what’s important. Like I said, I also tuck a pillow behind my head to keep from straining my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I take my laptop, desk chair, and Ergobeads wrist rest and work from the kitchen table.

They also make a cushion for your mouse, but I don’t have mine anymore since I haven’t use a mouse in ages. I absolutely love my Ergobeads and highly recommend them, as they’re supportive even if you don’t have wrist braces and are working from a laptop or even using a regular keyboard.

In case you’re curious, this is my office chair.

I originally purchased mine last year from Walmart, which got it from Overstock. It appears to be only available through third-party retailers now. It’s not quite as shaped to my back as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty comfortable—especially considering it was about $140, which is cheap for an office chair IMHO. I got it to go with the desk my aunt gave me, but unfortunately the seat is too wide, so I usually use it with my writer’s desk hutch thing. Brain fog is hiding the actual name for both desks right now, so I’ll try to update this when it comes to me.

Pain Management

I’m going to keep this section short and sweet, as this post has gone well over 1,000 words and I’d originally planned on it being much shorter.

Because I get a limited supply of Tramadol (not to mention it tends to be binding on the GI system), I try to use non-narcotic pain management during the day. Never mind that Tramadol can make me woozy like I’ve had a glass of wine, and some of the stronger painkillers make me outright loopy or sleepy.

My joint pain is migratory, so it’s important that I have a medicine that can target all of it at once or different tools that I can use in different areas. Hands down, my favorite is my TENS machine. I got mine a couple years ago at the suggestion of my friend Melanie, and it’s been a lifesaver. It’s so small and discreet, I’ve even taken it with me to doctors’ appointments, while running errands, and on trips.

I also have a heating pad that can be used for moist heat, too, using a special insert. I learned to appreciate TENS machines and moist heat packs during physical therapy. While PT didn’t help my hip, those sessions at the end were heavenly.

The cover is removable and washable, and the pad itself is super flexible. I’ve tied it around my waist to use on my lower back, and my leg and waist to use on my hip.

When multiple joints hurt and I’m not going anywhere that I will mind the spicy scent, I use Tiger Balm. My rheumatologist was actually quite pleased to hear that it’s sold here in the States and that I use it frequently.

I prefer the clear balm, because it doesn’t stain and it’s just as potent as the red. It does have a strong scent, though, so I’m not a huge fan of wearing it while out and about.

Last but not least, my longtime go-to for discreet and long lasting pain management are ThermaCare patches and heatwraps. Unfortunately, they stopped making the wrist ones, though I can sometimes find the CVS version. I live by the multi-purpose patches, which work perfectly for my hips.

I like these because the heat doesn’t stop if I have to get up or run out. Though I usually wear them to bed, they’re just as handy during my workday.


Did you find my tips useful? Please let me know! I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments if you have requests for future Chronically Creative posts.

Step by Little Step

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I’ve been taking Plaquenil and Prednisone for my UCTD for over four months now. For a little while, I was having some moderate anxiety: fatigue, feeling frozen, heaviness in my legs. I thought it might be Plaquenil (or even Tramadol withdrawal), but I haven’t had any of those symptoms in a while and I’m still taking Plaquenil (with Tramadol as needed). I think I might’ve freaked myself out about it, too, and it sort of became this brutal cycle. But my anxiety is relatively tame and my meds are working—all good things.

The temperatures and barometric pressure have been all over the place lately, as usual in New England. It snowed in March and we’ve been getting rain this month, along with random hot days. This has been killing me, but the difference now is—thanks to Plaquenil and Prednisone—I just take some Advil and Tramadol, and it’s enough. Usually, anyway.

Sometimes it’s not.

I’ve been having lots of trouble with my wrists and hands lately. For the past decade, I’ve struggled with severe pain in all of the joints in my hands, but this is a different ball game entirely. For quite some time now, I’ve been getting numbness in my ring and little fingers (which I’ve been ignoring, haha). In the past few weeks, though, it’s progressed to burning, tingling, and icy-weird-ness in both of my wrists and all throughout my hands. It sounds like carpal tunnel, which could easily be caused by the inflammation in my tendons.

I kinda always knew this would happen, eventually. I mean, I am an author, and before that I was a web designer. There are few hours of the day that I’m not hacking away at the keyboard. I guess I just thought I was years away from having to worry about it. Then again, the possibility was mentioned to me a decade ago, so I guess it would’ve been years away then. 😂

The only thing that really seems to help are my wrist braces, which I usually try to wear while using the computer for long periods of time. For the longest time, I was sleeping in them and that seemed to help, but I’d stopped because my wrists weren’t hurting anymore. Now I’m back to wearing them again, and I’m even bringing them everywhere with me because I need them almost all the time. It’s not a big deal, per se, but it’s kind of odd—to me, anyway—how quickly this has progressed. I had the numbness for like a year or so and then bam! Tingling and burning.

I’ve been meaning to ask my rheumatologist, but my appointment keeps getting bumped back for one reason or another. I see him this week, though, so we’ll see what he says.

Felt like a selfie, so. #disabledandcute

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Aside from weather-related flareups and possible CTS, I’m doing okay. I’ve been super tired lately, so I’m wondering if my B12, D, or iron levels are low again—spoiler alert: they usually are—but even that’s manageable with cat naps, afternoon teas, and my old fallback Emergen-C.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead as the weather continues to warm and I’m able to get out and do more. Last week I went to the zoo with Sandy and the kids; a few weeks before that, on a random nice winter day, I walked a mile.

Slowly but surely I’m getting my life back.


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I’ve Been Sick for 10 Years

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Today marks 10 years since I got sick and didn’t get better. I have a lot of complicated feelings about the whole thing. 10 years ago today I felt a weird tingling and numb sensation radiating from my wrist to my elbow, and shortly after that it turned into joint pain. In the years that followed, each of my joints systematically became affected until I was completely disabled.

It’s been a long, exhausting journey—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve been on Plaquenil and Prednisone for three months now. My disease is now under control; before I came down with the flu, I walked a whole mile—and didn’t pay for it. I walked a little over a quarter of a mile today. My plan was to walk the full mile over to Sandy’s, but she got sneaky and intercepted me. Still, it felt really good to walk—even though my anxiety was being an asshole and I was honest to goodness convinced that I was going to get hit by a car and die the entire time I was walking. 😂

I have Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. Since being diagnosed in December, I’ve done some reading. My disease could go one of three ways: it could go completely into remission, never to return; it could stay UCTD, which would be manageable with my current treatment plan; it could become Lupus, a whole new ball game. Funny enough, I don’t worry so much about it being pre-Lupus anymore or sticking around, because Plaquenil has changed my life and as long as I can keep my health insurance, I’ll be okay. I do worry about losing my health insurance, though, because there’s no way I could afford these medications out of pocket, and no health insurance company would cover me under the Republican’s proposed replacement for the ACA. Without the ACA, I will be disabled again. Period.

Right now, though, I’m extremely grateful for my rheumatologist and the treatment plan he has me on. I’ve had few side effects from Plaquenil, and they’re definitely tolerable compared to debilitating joint pain, fatigue, and my other UCTD symptoms. Illnesses like the flu will trigger flareups, but they fade when I recover. In this moment, I have a happy ending—something I honestly hadn’t dared to hope for.

My plan right now is to keep taking my medication for as long as I can, and fight to keep my health insurance. For me and so many others, the ACA is the difference between life and death; being bedridden and writhing in agony is not living. Lately I’ve been living more than I have in the last 10 years, and I’ll go down swinging to keep it that way.

Living with an Autoimmune Disease is Weird

If I’ve gotten nothing else out of this whole autoimmune disease gig, it’s that living with one is fucking weird. I have Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD). Basically, my immune system is confused and is attacking my connective tissues: joints, skin, tendons, etc. My UCTD could be pre-Lupus, pre-RA, or something else entirely. Right now my rheumatologist is treating it as UCTD with Prednisone and Plaquenil.

Many autoimmune diseases are completely invisible. On the outside, I might not look sick—especially on a good day. With makeup, I can mask the fatigue under my eyes. Unless I’m wearing my wrist braces or using my cane, you might not even notice that I’m in pain. I’ve gotten really good at hiding my discomfort (unless it hits that 8/10 level that I just can’t tolerate).

 

Then there are the completely weird-ass symptoms. My main symptoms are joint pain and fatigue, both of which can be debilitating. Thankfully, my new medications have stopped my current flareup. However, I’ve got the flu again, which has aggravated another symptom which is usually no big deal.

You know how when you’ve got really bad sunburn or a burned yourself while cooking? Or, for those of us with tattoos, that feeling after several layers of color? It’s a raw pain on your skin that is aggravated when you touch it or when something—like your clothing—brushes up against it. I get patches of skin that feel burnt, but nothing is there and I haven’t hurt myself or been out in the sun.

Usually, these “patches” are no big deal; they go away in a couple of hours or a day at the most. They’re often super small areas, too, so it’s easy to avoid irritating them and ignore them. With this flu, though, most of my body feels this way. The flu and illnesses in general tend to aggravate my UCTD, but this is completely new to me. Usually it’s the joint pain that gets out of control. I also find it kind of odd that the Plaquenil isn’t suppressing this.

It’s weird symptoms like this that keep autoimmune patients on our toes.

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As if that’s not all bad enough, most of the time our doctors don’t even know what to do with us. I’ve had physicians suggest I see a psychiatrist, ask me what I want them to do for me, flat out tell me there’s nothing they can do… The list goes on. When you have cancer, you see an oncologist; there’s no such thing as an autoimmune disease specialist, which is a damned shame, because there are a lot of us and very few physicians who can effectively diagnose and treat us.

Thankfully, I wound up with Dr. S, who’s been amazing. If he ever leaves the practice, I’m going with him—even if I have to follow him to the North Pole. It’s that hard to find a good doctor who can roll with the punches of an autoimmune disease; doctors don’t like medical mysteries, because they’re not cut and dry. Hell, I don’t like them either.

Autoimmune diseases are just plain weird, and living with them is weird. Still, I keep on trucking, because I’m too stubborn to lie down and quit. I’m not too stubborn, though, to lie down and rest once in a while.


Do you have a rare disease? What are some weird things about it? Let’s commiserate in the comments below. ♥

On the Wings of Hope (Plaquenil, 2 Months)

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It’s been quite a while since I checked in here with a full health update. To recap, I started Plaquenil on December 1st, 2016, along with Prednisone to get the inflammation down and give me some relief while the Plaquenil got working. Aside from a few mood swings and hot flashes, I’ve been doing well on the Prednisone; I’ll take almost anything over flareup-level joint pain, to be honest. Most of the side effects have simmered down, though. In between now and then, I came down with the flu and had some debilitating neck and lower back pain.

Turns out that the neck and back pain are probably stress related, aggravated by new pillows, cold weather, and working at the computer. I asked the APRN about it at my primary doctor’s office and she brushed me off, as usual. When it got really bad—I mean, brought me to tears bad—I went to the ER. They brushed me off too, until they saw my x-rays. Although there was no fracture or anything, the doctor could tell that I was in a lot of pain because of how ramrod straight my neck was. He said they usually see that in people with whiplash; normally, the spine is slightly curved in the neck. He sent me away with Vicodin, which makes me vomit. All I wanted was Flexeril. When I asked him if I could cut the Vicodin pills in half to avoid them irritating my stomach, he actually laughed in my face and told me that I needed to go home and chill out.

Nice, right? But this is nothing new.

A friend and then a relative gave me some Flexeril to get me through, and it worked like magic (as long as I actually relaxed, too*). During my followup with my rheumatologist, I told him that I know it’s not really okay to share prescriptions, but I just wanted to make sure it was okay to take Flexeril with my other medications. He told me it was okay, and suggested I take it at night because it can make me drowsy. He also told me to not drive on it. I don’t remember him saying he was going to write me a prescription for it, but when I got to the pharmacy, it was there.

So few doctors have actually listened to me over the past decade, never mind tried to treat me, that I actually cried in the middle of the pharmacy aisle. I’ve never been so happy to take medicine.

During my appointment, we discussed how I’m doing on Plaquenil. My joint pain is much, much better, and he said this is around the time when Plaquenil starts to work. Since I can’t stay on Prednisone for very long, I need to come off of it. He asked me what I thought about that.

I just want to note how much that means to me, that he includes me in the conversation and treatment plan. I initially wasn’t sure about him, since he seemed to be brushing me off, but ever since our phone conversation, he’s shown me that he really cares. I think a lot of doctors do, but they can sometimes forget what it’s like to be on the other side—the patient’s side.

“Well,” I said, “I’m kind of nervous about coming off the Prednisone, because I don’t want the pain to come back.” I’ll be the first to tell you that my biggest fear is my pain. Not the 5/10 pain, but the 10/10, can’t move, can’t function, feel like I’m dying pain.

He nodded, then explained to me that he isn’t just taking me off of it. We’ll be slowly tapering down, to find the minimum dose that I can stay on while the Plaquenil starts working.

In short: I won’t be just coming off it. The pain won’t be rushing right back in like it has in the past.

I’m now on 7.5mg of Prednisone a day (previously I was on 10mg). My prescription is 5mg pills; I take one and a half every morning. The brain fog struggle is real, because I had to ask him to explain to me three times how I’m supposed to make 7.5mg out of 5mg pills. But he patiently explained each time, never got annoyed with me, and when I apologized for being so slow, he gently told me that his job is to clarify for me.

I really can’t express how wonderful this man is.

A decade of chronic illness and doctor merry-go-round has made me very skeptical about doctors. I’ve been mistreated so many times, it’s my knee-jerk reaction to mistrust them. But I’m glad that I shared my concerns with him and expressed how much I need someone to figure this out with me.

Sometimes, change needs to come from within.

Though I was nervous about tapering down, I’ve been on the lower dose for a week now and I feel great. Plaquenil is doing its job! Don’t get me wrong. I can still aggravate my joints by overdoing it. (I do.) I can still have bad pain days. (I have.) It’s still possible that I can have another flareup. It’s still possible that my Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease is pre-Lupus. I still very much fear my pain.

But it’s also starting to feel possible to get my life back.

For the first time in a decade, I feel hopeful again.


We Need Your Help

I’m feeling better, but I’m still not able to return to the regular workforce. On top of that, my husband recently had surgery that will keep him out of work for three weeks at the minimum, six at the most. He doesn’t have a lot of sick time available and we’re already struggling. We really appreciate any help you can give us.

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*Ha! Considering I’m an indie author and have to work my ass off for every dollar I make, I’m not very good at just resting. Still, the more I stress about money and my production schedule, the more my neck and lower back hurt. I’ve also been stressing about my health insurance and all of the insane things happening in my country, which I’m sure hasn’t helped. I’ve had to actively work at keeping my stress levels down by using coping methods, relaxation techniques, and unplugging. And buckling down to write a new book.

Note to Self

via Unsplash

You can’t catch up on old projects and work on new ones at the same time. It just doesn’t work that way, especially with chronic illness—and life in general. Sometimes, you just have to accept that shit happens and, rather than “should”ing on yourself, slow down and focus on what’s most important.

Your physical health.

Your mental health.

Your loved ones.

Your wellbeing.

Eerily accurate. #virgo #horoscope #2017goals

A post shared by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on

Goals can be adjusted. Production schedules can be rearranged.

So, tomorrow morning, grab a cup of coffee, let go of the things you think you should be doing, and be gentle with yourself.

You’re way more important than any silly schedule.