Saturday, March 6, 2021

Fibro Symptom or Something Else?

When you have multiple physical and mental health issues, new symptoms pop up all the time (or old symptoms come back into play). When you have an anxiety disorder and those symptoms show up, it's less than exciting, as the big dogs - cancer, heart attack, and major organ failures - are the first thoughts.

The latest was a pain in my ribs, mostly in my right side. I've had this pain for a long time, off and on. During the time I've had this pain, I had my gallbladder taken out (as it's in that area) and I was diagnosed with diverticulitis after an ER visit when the pain became extreme. 

However, my gallbladder has been gone for several years now and I'm not showing the other symptoms of diverticulitis. I have researched it over and over throughout the years I've experienced this pain. 

Last night it was acting up and I decided to research it again in order to calm my fears that it might be something serious. After reading all the same information I had read the other times I looked into it, I happened to think, what if it's related to fibromyalgia?

It's not one of the main symptoms by any means, but it did come up. In fact, I found a site that relates experiences from those who have fibro. One person asked the question I have and several responded that yes, they have those same symptoms. 

Now, my anxiety mind started racing with questions I wish I could ask them... have they been checked out by a doctor for those specific symptoms to rule out other issues; do they have other disorders that could have that same side effect; how long have they had the symptoms?

I have an upcoming annual visit with my primary care doctor so I'm going to bring it up. I just had one with my rheumatologist and I wish I had thought about the connection before that appointment to bring it up to him. If I don't find out anything from my primary care doctor, I'll contact him about the possibility.

But the point of this blog isn't about whether or not others with fibro are having this same symptom. It's that it's so hard to figure out if a new symptom is related to fibromyalgia or something new. 

Is anyone else having this issue?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Month Later... and a Year Later

It's a month later. 

My last post was exactly a month ago. It was a quick one - I wrote it almost frantically as I realized that Groundhog Day was coming up and, as it was based on that event, I needed to get it done quickly. This month has flown by. I have barely thought about this blog. Of course, it has only 28 days and that's part of it, but that's not the only thing. I have noticed this phenomenon of February feeling like it lasts only a week year after year.

But the more important point is that it's a year later.

It's coming up on the first anniversary that COVID has been a part of our lives. Can you believe it's been a year? 

When we first heard that we needed to stay at home as much as possible, wear masks, and that restaurants, businesses, schools, and churches would temporarily close, they told us it would last only about two weeks. 

I don't know about you, but I know that I can do anything for two weeks. I remember when I was in college, I would make the conscious decision at the beginning of a semester of classes that I hated that I could do anything for those few months. 

I didn't think about the other horrible classes I would have to endure to graduate. I just concentrated on getting through the current semester. Though it was more than two weeks, I knew I could make it because there was an end in sight.

You may have seen the 1986 movie, "The Money Pit," with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. They also had to deal with the concept of "two weeks." They realized that the house they bought for almost nothing had multiple problems after they moved in. 

They hired a contractor to rebuild practically the entire house. Even when it had holes in the walls, the water didn't work, no stairs to the second floor, and no electricity, he continually told them that it would only be "two weeks" until it was finished. As the work stretched out into months, he continued to say it would only be two weeks until it was done.

If we had known that a majority of the COVID restrictions would last for a year, I think all of us would have gone crazy. It was hard enough to last those first two weeks... can you imagine if we had known it would be a year? Or even worse, that there is no definite end in sight?

I'm a recovering addict and also have some mental health issues and one of the main principles of overcoming addiction/coping with mental illness is living "one day at a time." It's also a basic concept of many religions, including Christianity - taking each day as it comes and dealing with those immediate concerns instead of fretting about the past or worrying about tomorrow.

That principle is easy to talk about but difficult to do. If it was easy, there wouldn't be numerous workshops on how to learn "mindfulness," the concept of staying in the moment. We wouldn't have to pay therapists nearly as often to deal with our issues from the past and our concerns for the future. We wouldn't have sleep issues or need to take prescriptions to calm our anxiety.

But even though it wasn't easy, we've made it through this past year.  It's become almost automatic to wear masks and keep six-feet away from others. We have grown accustomed to meeting virtually and keeping the few get-togethers we have small in number.

We now have a vaccine that is being distributed to more and more people. There's hope again that maybe one day we'll be able to leave the masks at home, open restaurants, businesses, schools and churches without special restrictions, and shake hands and even hug each other.

Even without that definitive end in sight, we've made it a year and we can make it longer if needed.... one day at a time.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

How the Movie "Groundhog Day" Parallels Addiction

 

Groundhog Day, the iconic comedy from 1993 starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, had some success at its release but has become a classic as fans watched it over and over. In fact, the term itself has become part of popular culture. In Cambridge Dictionary, the term “Groundhog Day” has come to mean “a situation in which events that have happened before happen again, in what seems to be exactly the same way.”

According to Wikipedia, the film has been analyzed by various religious groups who see it as an allegory. It’s reported that screenwriter Danny Rubin based how the main character, Phil Connors, changed as he tried to cope with re-living the same day again and again using the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

A Twelve-Step support group I'm a member of has made an annual event out of watching Groundhog Day together. When I first heard of this idea, I wondered why they chose this movie to be the center of one of their very few annual events. After I heard the explanation it was obvious… addiction is doing the same thing over and over. No matter what one does to try to change, it doesn’t just go away.

This year right before this annual event, I decided to really dig into the movie and parallel the stages of recovery with what Phil went through. I realized something very surprising at the end of my search.

(Warning: spoilers and mentions of suicide ahead.)

The first step in Phil’s journey clearly corresponds to Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief with his apparent denial that the day was starting over. Everything he did showed his disbelief. He finally checked for the truth by breaking his pencil before going to sleep, only to find it whole again in the morning.

Anger (and I’m adding fear) are next. He avoided interaction with others and made the same mistakes he made before, like stepping in a water puddle. He reached out for help by talking to his colleague Rita, who didn’t believe him, and a psychiatrist, who also didn’t believe him and asked if they could meet again the next day.

A form of bargaining began when Phil finally found some guys who would listen. Phil asked his new friends, "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?" One answered, "That about sums it up for me."

He then tried to deal with it with risky behavior – knowing he wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of his actions. He had a car chase with the police on the railroad track. He ate all he wanted, drank coffee by the gallon, smoked, and “[didn’t] even have to floss.”

Phil remarked, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore.”

Phil also started to use his knowledge of daily events to get his way. He obtained facts about women so that they would concede to his advances. He figured out how to steal money from an armored vehicle. He asked Rita questions and used the information so that she would fall for him.

This built up to one perfect day with Rita, where he almost got what he wanted. However, Rita soon recognized it was a sham. As Rita said, “I could never love someone like you, Phil, because you’ll never love anyone but yourself.”

Phil responded with, “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.”

Phil tried to re-create that same perfect day with Rita, only ending with her slapping him each time. On his way back to the bed-and-breakfast after one such day, he started to show signs of depression. He started looking really rough, staying inside in the evenings with the senior citizens and answering every question correctly while watching Jeopardy. His news reports during the Groundhog Day event became extremely sarcastic. He broke his alarm clock every morning.

He finally completely lost it. He kidnapped Punxsutawney Phil and drove a truck he stole off a cliff, with them inside. He tried various ways of killing himself. This finally led to him desperately trying to convince Rita to stay with him for the day.

Phil had one more good day with her, ending it by them both tossing cards into a hat. Their conversation included Phil saying, “It's alright, I am a jerk.” Rita’s responded by saying he wasn’t.

Phil fully showed how depressed he was when he replied, “It doesn't make any difference. I've killed myself so many times, I don't even exist anymore.”

At this point, the movie leads you to think that now that she loved him, his endless day was about to end. She spent the night but when he woke up, he found her gone.

It was at this point that Phil began to reach the acceptance stage. He started to focus on making himself a better person and helping others. During one day portrayed, he gave all of his money to a homeless man he encountered. He began to learn to play the piano and create ice sculptures.

That same evening Phil showed compassion for the homeless man by bringing him out of the cold. However, the man died. Phil decided his next mission was to save him. He tried various methods to keep him alive, like buying him meals and performing CPR on him, to no avail. As one nurse said, “Sometimes, people just die.”

The final day started with Phil giving a very eloquent and moving news report. Rita wanted to hang out with him, but he put her off, saying he had errands to run. During that day, he caught a boy who fell out of a tree, fixed a flat tire, performed the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man, talked a scared bride into agreeing to the marriage, and later gave that couple a gift, and fixed an older man’s back.

Rita finally fell for him when she heard him expertly playing the piano with a jazz band and discovers some of how he spent his day. Rita bought him at a bachelor auction, and they spent the evening together during which he made a snow sculpture of her face. Phil remarked, “No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I'm happy now… because I love you.”

After Rita spent the night, Phil is disgusted when he woke up to the same song on the radio, thinking it was one more day in the endless loop, only to see Rita still in bed.

After this realization, Phil asked Rita, “Do you know what today is?”

Rita replied, “No, what?”

Phil responded with, “Today is tomorrow. It happened,” later saying, “It was the end of a very long day.”

So… yes, Groundhog Day at least loosely covers the Stages of Grief. But what does this have to do with addiction?

I went into this project thinking that it was similar to the stages of recovery. And one could make the argument that it does.

But what I realized is that even more parallels an addict’s entire journey – from addiction to sobriety.

Every addict knows that first stage well – denying the addiction, denying that “I” am an addict. Eventually you break a pencil and hope that you are wrong about not being able to get out of this cycle, only to wake up and know you are still in it.

Then comes a point of realizing this is bigger than you are. You find yourself stepping into the same puddle of water over and over. Sometimes when you first start to reach out for help, no-one believes you or puts unrealistic expectations on how to recover (like asking you to come back tomorrow when there is no tomorrow.)

If you don’t find help, you reach out to those who you know will understand – other addicts still using. You find yourself doing more and more risky behavior and you no longer concern yourself with following the rules of society… you drive on the railroad track.

You become more and more selfish. Everything you do is to get more, feel better, obtain a bigger high. This all-about-me attitude leads to great feelings of shame. Though it may look like you only love yourself when acting this way, as Phil said, “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.”

Trying to again reach that perfect high that was so easy to get at first just ends up feeling like you’ve been slapped. Depression hits hard. No matter what you do you can’t stop… and you don’t even get the feeling you want from using. This is when sometimes suicidal thoughts enter the picture.

Even when it’s not a literal suicide attempt, I think every addict has felt like Phil… “It doesn't make any difference. I've killed myself so many times, I don't even exist anymore.” When Rita was gone after that second almost-perfect day, it was Phil’s “bottom.”

Finally, you give up. You realize you can’t change the loop, so you work on changing yourself. But even that doesn’t fix it. The homeless man still ends up dying, no matter what you do to change it. This is where recovery begins and the Serenity Prayer comes in: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This is where I had a lightbulb (more like a searchlight over my head) moment. It wasn’t loving Rita or Rita loving Phil that got him to tomorrow. It wasn’t even Phil making himself a better person.

It…

Was…

Service…

True recovery doesn’t happen until you have worked the Twelve Steps and then commit to doing the Twelfth Step – service. It wasn’t until Phil got the focus completely off himself, what he wanted, even making himself a better man by learning the piano and ice sculpting, before he got out of the never-ending Groundhog Day.

As Phil told Rita when he woke up with her still there… “Is there anything I can do for you… Today?

Mind… blown…

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Trying to Get Some Good ZZZZZZ's

So... I got a call from my sleep doctor the other day. It was a little bit of good news couched in bad news. First, some background...

I have severe sleep apnea. I was first diagnosed with it by one doctor in the early 2000s... then again with another in about 2010.. and then again with still another in 2018. 

Why did I go to three different doctors for the same diagnosis? Your first thought might be that I didn't believe the first two. But I knew I had it before it was confirmed through the first sleep test I experienced (which was a nightmare, by the way, as was all the others).

Switching doctors had nothing to do with the diagnosis. It had everything to do with the treatment, or lack of useful treatment, to be specific. Nothing the doctors encouraged me to do worked for me, and not for lack of trying.

The first doctor immediately prescribed a CPap. I tried so hard to use that CPap but had no success. It was more than not liking the way it felt... I literally felt suffocated. 

Somehow I found out that an ENT could help figure out what was going on. I'll never forget the end of that visit. The ENT was so mad, telling me at the end of the appointment something along the lines of, "These sleep specialists make me so mad. They never check with us to make sure that a patient is able to handle a CPap before they prescribe it."

Yes, I was one of those he was thinking about in that statement. I actually had several issues that made a CPap not a good fit. These issues were structural, not just emotional/mental (like I just didn't like using it). So I gave up and figured I'd just have to deal with it somehow.

A few years later I was so incredibly tired that I knew I couldn't ignore it. I found a new neurologist and went through all of the testing again. I told him at the first appointment that I literally already knew that CPAP wouldn't work, that an ENT had confirmed it. 

What did he do? He told me that I should try another type of CPAP (BiPAP) with the newest, latest mask would make it work. And he prescribed it for me anyway.

So I bought another CPAP unit and went through all the hassles of trying it again. The newest, latest mask didn't work so I tried other kinds (which I had tried the last time). Was it really too much for him to believe that my physical issues didn't just go away in that period of time?

One thing, though, he did listen to me when I told him I tried it but it didn't work. He suggested a mouth guard, an appliance to keep my lower jaw forward, which would help open my airway. 

This appliance was a pain to obtain and it wasn't covered by insurance, so it was extremely expensive on my meager salary. But if it worked, it would be worth it.

It wasn't fun to use, but I was able to tolerate it. I did yet another excruciating sleep study to check for its effectiveness. I knew I wasn't as tired during the day so I was ready to hear some great news.

It wasn't. I still had severe sleep apnea. So I figured why go to all that trouble to use the thing if it wasn't helping me? I abandoned that treatment too.

Fast forward even more years... I had a couple of people who saw me sleep say that I stopped breathing, a lot. I heard of a new surgery for sleep apnea that totally bypassed the oral/nasal routes that I had tried to compensate for before. So I decided to try again.

Thankfully, this time I found a truly amazing sleep specialist. For one, she didn't make me go through a sleep study to confirm what I already knew I had. Furthermore, she really, really read through my records and figured out some issues that the other doctors hadn't found. 

We looked into the surgery that I was hoping to get, but I'm not a candidate due to some other health problems. So she convinced me to try the CPAP once again, with an even better model, a brand new, just came-on-the-market mask, and settings that would accommodate my physical issues.

I was again encouraged that this treatment would work. But once again, it didn't. I just couldn't do it. I really tried, but it was to no avail.

But my doctor didn't give up on me. She asked if I wanted to try an oral appliance. I told her that I tried it before and it didn't help. She told me that the other doctor had misrepresented the data from that sleep study... it had helped but was not helping the numbers get to a point where it wasn't a problem.

That really upset me. If I had known that it was helping, even a little, I would have kept wearing that mouth guard. But that's in the distant past. It was time to see what I could do now.

Again, the process of getting a new, custom-fitted mouth guard was a royal pain. I won't go into all the details, but it took almost a year to get it done (COVID didn't help but it wasn't the only obstruction). 

So, finally, I get it and start using it. It seems to be helping and I have more energy than before. So I had yet another sleep study to see how much it was helping.

And that brings me to the day earlier this week. I got a call from this doctor explaining the results of my sleep study. Her first words were, "What am I going to do with you?"

My heart sank. It turns out that it is helping, but again, not nearly enough. Because I know it is helping, I'm going to wear it, even though it's not curing anything.

But it's really discouraging. If you read this blog any at all, you know that I'm extremely overweight. The sleep apnea is part of the reason I'm so overweight, as being really tired all the time makes it extremely hard to exercise consistently. But on the other hand, being overweight makes the sleep apnea much worse.

It's a chicken and egg situation. If I lost weight, the sleep apnea would improve. But until I get the sleep apnea under control, it's extremely difficult to lose weight.

This is why I sometimes wonder if I can keep going on like this. Every time I get something fixed or treated with my physical and mental issues, something new pops up, often from the treatment itself.

However, I will. I have too much to live for to give up. It's hard, so very hard, to keep dealing with the myriad of diagnoses that I have, but the other choice is not an option. I'm not a quitter. 

I'm also very thankful that she's not giving up either... on me. She's still trying to figure out something that will help, even with all of my other physical and mental issues that makes this thing so hard to treat.

I hope that if you are going through a similar struggle, you'll know you aren't alone.