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.

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!

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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The Pain Isn’t the Worst Part

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The worst part about this autoimmune disease isn’t the joint pain. Most people my age without children are out living it up: drinks at bars with friends, casinos to celebrate birthdays, rock concerts just for the fun of it, hiking in the fall. All of these things I can’t really do anymore. Very rarely is it that I have the energy or feel physically well enough to participate in, well, life.

This weekend is a perfect illustration.

Right now, I’m in a flareup; even though I’m on medication, it doesn’t completely get rid of the fatigue and joint pain. It also doesn’t help that I’ve got a cold on top of the flareup. (Yup—the one-day sickness that everyone else had has morphed into a full-fledged cold for me.) I’m exhausted. Plus, between painsomnia and now being sick, I haven’t had a good night of sleep in a few weeks. Still, on Friday I pushed myself to go to my family’s annual girls’ cookie baking date.

By the time we finished, though, I was exhausted. The cold had moved south; it felt like I had a frog in my throat and an elephant sitting on my chest. I was supposed to go to a surprise birthday party for a family friend that evening. The problem was, I knew if I pushed my body and went, I’d definitely be useless all day Saturday.

And Saturday—today—is the second launch party for Phat Lip, the art magazine that my husband is a partner in.

I missed the first launch party because, you guessed it, I was flaring and didn’t feel well enough to go. I never feel well enough anymore. I know Mike doesn’t resent me for it, but I can tell it bums him out that I barely attend his events. It bums me out.

Before the launch party tonight, we’re supposed to go to my parents’ for a homemade pizza night. And with the way I’m feeling right now, I doubt that I’ll make it to either gathering. The cycle will start anew.

Mike will go out without me, and I’ll stay at home lonely and missing out.

I always have to choose: between sick or sicker; between washing my hair or cleaning my toilet; between getting much-needed rest or getting work done; between participating in life or maintaining the tiny bit of health that I have. The best metaphor I’ve ever heard for this is Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory.

So many people don’t get it. Those that used to text me to make plans stopped trying. I’m flaky, cancel-at-the-last-minute girl. Others rib me for never seeing me. I’ve even been guilt-tripped several times. Thankfully, there are two people in my everyday life who truly do get it, and that’s only because they too have chronic illnesses.

The holidays for me are the hardest, because I just can’t do the house hopping thing. I don’t get to connect with much of my family and friends. This time of year is rough in general, because the cold weather, my flaring body, and my compromised immune system keep me holed up. I miss out on everything, and I can’t risk pushing through, because if I do I’ll pay for it for days afterward.

But it seems to me that there’s an even greater price, one that I can’t seem to recoup.

That—the missing out—is the worst part of being chronically ill.

Powering Through Fatigue

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I’ve been bone tired these last few weeks. This is pretty normal for me, for this time of year. Still, I was surprised. I’ve been on Sulfazine for several months now and, up until recently, it’s been keeping my arthritis symptoms in check. But in the last week I’ve been having debilitating pain again—mostly in my lower back, right hip, and hands. The pain I can deal with, for the most part. It’s the fatigue that’s killing me.

It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get or how easy I take it. Lately, by about 8pm, I’m eyeing my bed. Doing simple things is a real chore.

At first, I thought it was depression. (A combination of badly managed meds and recent trauma headlocked me into a really bad episode.) But the effects of coming off the meds waned about a month ago. I’m feeling more and more like myself. It’s this exhaustion that I can’t kick. I’m starting to think that it’s “just” autoimmune bullshit.

This is disheartening, to say the least. I really thought Sulfazine was working.

It’s also annoying. I really want to get back to my normal, to days of writing and evenings of relaxing. But I’m wiped as soon as my eyes open in the morning. There’s a very limited window during the day when I have enough energy to do anything. By the time five o’clock rolls around and I’m due to start dinner, I’m sapped.

It’s the main reason it took me weeks to finally put up our tree. And then I went to bed early. I couldn’t even enjoy my work. I’ve been trying to power through, to make jokes about how tired I am or to ease people’s concerns. I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe I just needed the extra rest. But this fatigue is all too familiar, and I can’t deny it anymore.

Which makes me wonder. Last winter, I spent most of my days in bed, ridden with pain and exhaustion. I often could barely walk. I stubbornly stayed at my part-time job as long as I could, and then I couldn’t anymore. I really hoped those days were a thing of the past.

I want to shake my fist at the universe. I really can’t get a break.

Still, I’ve got my Christmas spirit on! I brushed the dust off a short story I wrote a few years ago, starring Jett. You can read it here (it’s free). 🎄