Tomorrow is my husband’s quarterly CT scan. For some reason, they’ve scheduled his scan a full month ahead of his endoscopic ultrasound/colonoscopy/biopsy. This is nice because it gives me a whole additional month to worry that his cancer has returned. You know, room to really stretch out. My anxiety is such a lanky bitch.

I’m trying to keep my head up, over here. The amount of ibuprofen I needed to take to manage pain gave me a little ulcer, and flared my gut issues. I’ve had to cut carbohydrates and FODMAPs out of my diet, again, while I heal, which shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s funny how important things get when you remove others. There is such comfort in eating a delicious meal, and I’m struggling to feel enthusiastic about what I am able to eat, merely because I’ve already eaten so much of it. It’s a ridiculous problem to have, and I feel silly talking about it, all things being what they are. Not ridiculous is the pain, however, and keeping my head up in the midst of all of this nonsense is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Sometimes, it feels like the universe just keeps turning the volume up on my life. Does everyone feel like that? And how much of me feeling that way is my response to prolonged anxiety? I remember seeing a cartoon ages ago – I haven’t been able to lay my hands on it, since seeing it – of a giant Grim Reaper (maybe just regular Grim-Reaper-sized) standing next to a very diminutive Grim Reaper. Below the wee Reaper was a label: “Anxiety/Depression.” Above each Reaper was a text box. The one over the giant one read, “EVERYTHING I DO WILL EVENTUALLY BE DESTROYED AND I AND EVERYONE I LOVE WILL DIE.” And the teeny Reaper’s box read, “I HIT MY HEAD.”

So, what I’m saying is, maybe I’m not the most trustworthy reporter of the volume of the universe, at the mo.

So far, I’ve kept my poop essentially in a group without doing anything utterly ridiculous. I’ve smoked a couple cigarettes (terrible idea, they are a wonder drug and all I did was want more of them), but I haven’t consumed any alcohol. I’ve had a few drinking dreams, mostly imagining myself drinking once I was better, which is nutty. As if that would be a celebratory thing. Like celebrating my clanking myself in the brain box with a cast-iron frying pan. “HURRAH!” What a funny place my mind is. If I wasn’t absolutely sure of my parentage, I’d swear I was the product of an illicit tryst between Gonzo and Mary Poppins. (If we could have three parents, I’d also throw in Maria Bamford. Fuck it- this is my Muppet Forbearers fantasy, so Maria is in.)

I know I keep talking about this, but all of my coping mechanisms are gone but this one- thank God I can still write. 

In other, much lighter news, while I’ve been, what, convalescing? I’ve been working on a book. It’s not a good book, per se. But it will technically exist. And that’s the only goal I have for it, right this second. I’m 31,690 words in. I’m quite pleased with this, and sit down to write more whenever my body will allow. So, little rays of sunshine come through the (seemingly innumerous) cracks, and I shift my focus between the two like a spectator watching a baseball game through a metal fence. Today, I woke up seeing all the cracks. But writing about the whole thing is reminding me of the light.

 

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I’m scheduled to see a regenerative medicine doctor April 17th. I feel nervous about it, in that, as I mentioned previously, I am dangerously hopeful for a magical cure.

So, I need to document my experience, knowing as I do that the “cure” often looks very different than what I’m imagining. In fact, my new approach, and one that addresses the deep need to control things instilled in me both by my nature and by childhood trauma/abuse is to be open to whatever shape help arrives in.

Obviously, what I would like is the entirety of my life back. The ability to do everything I was doing before- walk, exercise, be intimate, carry groceries, clean, whatever. But that might not be how things go, and I would like to be open to another definition of healing, one with more discrete and measurable goals, that lessens my inclination to count what I’ve lost.

So. Here’s what I mean by “cured.” I’d like to be able to walk five miles a day, or ride a stationary bike 40 minutes a day. I would like to be able to buy and cook food for my family. I’d like to be intimate with my husband. I’d like to be able to clean my house, and drive my kids to school. I’d like to be able to attend their school events, and take them to the movies. I’d love to be able to swim in the pool for a half-hour. And I’d love to be able to transition to a healthier diet with more diversity. I would love to be able to get a dog. I’d like to be able to return to work for five hours a day. I’d like to be able to sit long enough to write every day.

To support these goals, I’m seeking the regenerative medicine treatment, working with a therapist using EMDR to help process my trauma, and meditating. I’ll try to document those things, too, as I’m able.

Thank you, everyone who messaged me directly or commented. It means a lot that you’re out there for all the things life chucks at us.

 

 

Well, my little back strain injury wasn’t little.

I have strained sacroiliac and lumbar ligaments. For those of you who would like to skip to the end of the story: THIS INJURY SUCKS JABBA COCK.

For the first three months (September to November), I healed, very slowly. I was pretty much feeling normal when I literally caught a flying toddler at a parade (they don’t throw candy anymore, they throw offspring now), and then upgraded from a mild strain to an enjoy-your-new-life-of-nothing strain. I managed to work until last month, when I realized at 1 pm that I couldn’t remain vertical for a call at 2 pm, and called it. I started short-term-disability. I lifted my research embargo and tore the internet up, trying to figure out what in the fuckiest of fucks was wrong with me. I thereby enjoyed 1297509817071501827 pages of pure agony and torment, posted by people whose lives have been destroyed by this injury, who are suicidal, or, worse, Anne Frank-caliber optimistic they’ll heal, even thought they don’t have health insurance or pants anymore and live in the bottom of an abandoned well. (FOR REAL, HEALTH CARE IS BROKEN.)

I called the craniosacral massage therapist my colicky baby was cured by and explained what I thought was wrong with me, and she recommended I buy and wear a sacroiliac belt 24/7 for the foreseeable future. It was the first time I’d been able to open the front door in two weeks. Three weeks later, I overdid it, and landed myself on the couch again for four days, but I feel more stable than I did before. The belt is somehow analogous to the green ribbon of ghost-story lore: if I remove it, the top half of my body slides off.

I’ve been making a rotation of my hard-backed chair, my prayer stool, my couch, and my radiator since then, waiting to heal. I have very short periods of being able to sit and type, which has taken away my only remaining coping strategy (BBC tv notwithstanding): writing. It’s official: I’m psychologically naked. I can’t drink, smoke, exercise, get outside, binge eat, go visit with girlfriends, or shop. I am entirely alone with my addled brain.

I am experiencing the worst anxiety I’ve felt since I quit drinking. I don’t recognize myself or my life, and I have no idea what to do but sit in it. I can tell I’m teetering on the brink of depression, and spend many days crying, which is atypical for me. I’m still at the wheel, but I’m wrestling for control. 

I am planning to seek a treatment called prolotherapy to attempt to goad my ligaments into tightening. I feel more hope than is safe for me, should it fail, and can’t seem to stop myself. My appointment isn’t until April 17th, and the appointment is like a present that I should never unwrap, because it’s impossible for it to be good enough. I’m fully aware that people with this injury don’t usually come back all the way. At this point, I am just hoping to come back enough to raise my children, and be a wife. I’m terrified of my husband’s cancer returning, because I can’t lift a laundry basket, let alone a grocery bag.

Although one half of my brain realizes the pain I’ve been in for the last three years is modest, manageable, and relatively gentle compared to others with similar conditions, I am nonetheless struggling. The disservice of a Christian upbringing is believing, on some deep level, that good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people. I know I’m not bad, and I know that I did nothing to deserve this- that’s not how this works. But I don’t know how to shut off the part of my brain that says I deserve this. I need to somehow figure out how to completely relinquish control. Because pain comes to everyone- there’s no amount of goodness that would protect me. I’m not being punished. I just need to figure out some way through it. If you can, send me some light.

Hello, group of magical and powerful friends who assumedly have corporeal identities as well as these delicious collections of electrons! G’day to yous.

I have to some stuff to tell you! Per the uge. Should I blog more than bi-annually? I should. I’ve been writing all kinds of stuff, and DOING all kinds of stuff, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my hands, over here. (ACTUALLY, that’s quite a comfortable sitting position, and perfectly acceptable to do, in between bouts of productivity.)

First: I outed myself as sober (and why) in the local blog I write for. Wait. Prequel: I am a writer for several local publications, in Minnesota, where I live. I contribute an essay of one form or another (everything from fiction to non) about once every six weeks. I’ve been doing this for a few years? Close to that? Anyway, now that this bit of critical exposition is out of the way, back to FIRST: I outed myself as a sober person. I wrote the piece based on what I’ve written here, only softened it considerably. I didn’t want to write about my emotional process so much as the whole story. I very deliberately didn’t spend a ton of time talking about my own personal rock bottom, because lifting terminology from AA made it harder for me to talk about the continuum of problem drinking. I continue to think it’s important to make room for people who aren’t necessarily alcoholics in the classical sense to still be folks who’d be better off not drinking. So, I wrote it from that perspective.

I have, to date, received over 50 personal messages, emails, comments and texts from people, telling me they are wrestling or have wrestled with this same issue. I’m still receiving messages from people. It clearly struck a deep, resonant chord. So, I wanted to share it with you all, who already totally fucking knew it.

If you’re sipping your coffee and need something to do with your eyeballs, you can find the story HERE.

(I’m still sober, by the way. It would have been a hoot if I wrote this, then decided to drink, right? Whoooeeee. Nope.)

Let’s talk about guts, shall we? So, last we spoke, I was seeing a Naturopath in Minneapolis, about 2.5 hours from me. I was, at final tally, taking 63 pills a day. That was a very expensive bummer. I started, sometime in mid-May, to feel really, really bad. Dizzy, nauseas, and so weak. I was down to 132 pounds, which is pretty low for me- I’m 5’8″, and usually around 140. More importantly, I was really sick, still, and not able to eat much. So, I did the UNTHINKABLE. I called for a consult with a doctor I found on the interwebs. Specifically, I called a witch doctor I found on a podcast posted by a blogger who is a clairvoyant in Seattle.

I’ll give you a minute.

So, I followed this clairvoyant blogger because one day, in a total fit of despair, I googled, “Has anyone ever recovered from SIBO?” and found her site. She had, in fact, recovered. I read all of her everything, especially the parts where she switched doctors from the Doc of 10,000 Supplements to the New Naturopath Who Saved Her.

There were some striking similarities between us.

If I lived in Seattle, I’d have gone straight away. But the truth is, I found my Minnesota naturopath because I used her criterion to search/vet him. I thought Seattle was totally unreasonable. And then, one morning, I woke up and realized that what I felt like was that something very bad was happening in my body. Like, bad bad. So I called the Seattle doc to see if she thought she could help me. At the end of the call I said, “based on what you know of my situation, and how much it will cost me to come to you, do you think it’s worth it for me to do so?” She said, “Absolutely.” So I booked a ticket.

And, in the ever-stupefying and confounding world of illogical truths, it was cheaper for me to fly to Seattle, stay in an Air BNB, and feed myself than it was for two months of treatment at my naturopath in Minnesota.

The day of my appointment, I recounted my situation in brief, and the doc., Sabrina Kimball, listened intently. She asked me about my thyroid medicine, and I said although my levels were technically normal, the MN doc thought they were “subclinical hypothyroid.” Dr. Kimball said, “Hmm. But that’s most likely from malnutrition and SIBO. Why prescribe this supplement?” And I said, “I think because I’d lost about 1/3 of my hair.” She asked, “Have you ever been tested for Hashimoto’s Disease?” And I had not. Later, when she asked about my bowel/urinary habits (sorry), I said peeing was cool, except when I had to wake up 2980721985785 times a night, and couldn’t get back to sleep because of my three-stage-standup maneuver. “WHAT?” She asked. “I have to stand up in three stages so I don’t pass out,” I explained. “After I do that, sometimes I’m too awake to go back to sleep,” I said. “We’re testing you for Hashimoto’s,” she said. Later, when I explained my 2 pm total sugar crash, she said again that we were going to test for Hashimoto’s. Then, she explained that, with my gas levels where they were, and the herbal meds I was taking, it would take me FIVE YEARS to clear my SIBO. She said that was inadvisable, because I was already too sick to do that. So, she prescribed an antibiotic, which would have cost me $1000+ in MN, but there, cost me $50, because SIBO is a recognized diagnosis, that medicine is the preferred treatment, and the stars aligned over my poor, addled head. I paid next to nothing for my appointment, because it was also covered.

The next day, she called me to tell me that I had Hashimoto’s Disease. I asked her if SIBO caused it, and she said, “No way. Your Hashimoto’s could have caused your SIBO, though.” Fucking magnificent news. I’ve never been so happy to have a serious disease in my life.

So, I’m three months into treatment, and my guts feel better than they have in three years, my brains are clearer than they have been in my recollection (I know what’s fallible in that sentence and, whatever), and I am so happy to be here. Just to keep myself on my toes, I promptly strained my back, and have spent the last three weeks laying on various surfaces, just to keep myself from getting too elated. But I really am mostly elated.

I thought you’d like to know, since you seem to love and support me, even when I’m being an impossible whiny fuckface. ❤

Love,

Anna

Good morning, fancy pants. I’m so glad to see you. Isn’t it a perfectly wonderful morning?

It’s been a long time since we talked, and I’ve missed you. I’ve been here, still sober (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE), fighting my way out of a sort of Matryoshka assemblage of wet paper bags.

Those of you who know me know my husband had stage three colorectal cancer. He still remains cancer free. His next scans are on the 24th, and I am stiff upper lipping until that’s done. He has no symptoms, which is reassuring, kind of- living post cancer is a little like living in a really erratically haunted house: you never know when or if the ghosts will return.

My dad is in a nursing home, now. He lost the ability to walk this fall, likely due to the cocktail of anti-psychotic and sedative meds, after he tried to (and almost succeeded in) killing a wheelchair-bound fellow resident, an elderly woman. He was sent to an in-patient geriatric psychiatric unit, and they added meds until he stopped being psychotic. It took three in-patient stays, seven hospital stays, and because of it, he was kicked out of three different facilities. It was terrifically hard on both of us.

What I struggled with was, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the fact that my father was abusive to me as a child, and the violence that re-emerged in his Alzheimer’s disease was nearly identical to what I experienced as a girl. Evidently, there’s a thing called PTSD, and another thing called triggering, and ANOTHER thing called retraumatization. (WordPress spellcheck does not believe me, either.)

So, while all of this blizzard of flaming assholes was happening, my body started to fall apart. I made it a long time- about 18 months from becoming my fathers’ guardian, and about nine months into my husband’s cancer treatment. I made it until the scan came back indicating my husband’s cancer was gone. And then, about two weeks later, my stomach swelled up like I had food poisoning. I felt nauseous, my gut was burning, and I looked about six months pregnant. (Seriously. I can’t wear pants.)

And it stayed exactly like that for the next year. I saw my regular GP, who prescribed a proton-pump inhibitor (Prilosec), and then, when things got much worse, finally agreed to a colonoscopy/endoscopy. They found gastritis, and nothing else. My condition steadily worsened, leading to exhaustion, weight loss, and inability to eat many foods. In desperation, I began researching my symptoms, and found a diagnosis that seemed to encompass everything I was experiencing: small bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. I decided to see a naturopath, who agreed with my assessment, and said the treatment for the problem would be the same with, or without testing. She put me on a handful of herbal antibiotics, and some homeopathic remedies, and strongly suspected my PTSD had something to do with my digestion. I sought a specialized form of counseling, called EMDR, (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), and began that. It was a revelation, utterly changed my relationship with my father, and I will write so much more about it eventually. But it didn’t do anything for my stomach. I completed the course of herbal antibiotics, and nothing had really changed in my stomach. My brain, yes. But not my stomach.

I found another doctor, an integrative medicine specialist, at the local clinic. She recommended a hydrogen/methane breath test, and in the interim, said I should continue my work with the trauma therapy, and put me on another course of herbal antibiotics. She cited recent research that indicated herbal antibiotics and traditional antibiotics, in this use case, were comparable in efficacy. In fact, the herbal route had been slightly more effective in enough studies to give one pause. I took this new course of meds for 8 weeks, and the bloating and constipation (sorry) were considerably improved. But once I went off the meds, the symptoms slowly returned. I was at a loss. I searched for a solution, and went back to the integrative doc., who obviously cared very much but had nothing left to offer me. I finally found a naturopath in Minnesota who worked specifically with SIBO, and other chronic digestive issues. I started seeing him on February 15th.

The first order of business was to finally do the breath test, which revealed that not only did I have SIBO, but I had a motherfucker case. Ideally, combined gas ppm scores should be under 20 ppm. Mine were 120 ppm. The test also indicated the types of bacteria I was overwhelmed by, which indicated a treatment course. I also had leaky gut, and hypothyroidism. Who knows which thing came first, but he prescribed three herbal antibiotics (the effective ones I’d earlier been prescribed), and two meds for leaky gut, one med for hypothyroidism, digestive enzymes, a massive dose of omegas, and a massive dose of probiotics. I take pills every two hours – a handful of them – all day.

I am in month two of a likely twelve-month course of herbal antibiotics, prokinetics, probiotics, super-restricted diet, and gut-healers. For the record, month one can go and fuck itself, it was so ugly. But the last week has been markedly improved. The truth is, that with SIBO, there are these weird, inexplicable periods of what I can best describe as rest, in which everything just seems to chill. But then roar back. I am hoping for a nice long rest. The remainder of my life, ideally. So, I do the work.

But I lerve food. I lerve it soooo much. living without…so many things has been heartbreaking, at the most acute moments. Also, I’m fairly certain the bacterial population of my gut is sentient, and when it gets knocked back, and hordes of interloping bacteria are felled, I feel really sad and low. It’s hard to differentiate between trauma-processing and bacterial activity, but the net is the same: I feel sad, and I need time and space to reassemble.

For anyone who has read this far, and is feeling worried, I also keep seeing the counselor, who keeps helping me work through…all the things.

And that brings us to today. If you’re like me (and I know you are), you woke up feeling much less nauseas today, pleasantly aware of turmoil in your viscera (think, Battle of Five Armies), imagining a turning point of sorts in the war between one section of your gastrointestinal tract and the rest.

There is one big thing the last three years has changed in me. I feel much clearer about what can and can’t be controlled. I used to feel such crushing anxiety about controlling and avoiding all of the terrible things that could happen. And then, a bunch of them did.  It’s been remarkably, impossibly hard to face the reality that my goodness does not protect me, or anyone I love. And it’s been remarkably, impossibly good to be released from the burden of trying to do anything but love and care for everyone I can.

That’s the update. How are you? 

I went to an awards luncheon today, wherein I ran into an old drinking buddy of mine. His mom just passed away, and we were talking idly about the need to get together again. I said that I didn’t drink anymore, which had really put the kibosh on our previous type of socialization. He said he really didn’t drink much anymore, either. I promised to text him the next time we were having a BBQ or the like, and we parted ways. then I started thinking: I don’t do ANYTHING social anymore.

Like, since the United States elected a balloon animal president, I am very civically active, with a bunch of feminist activism, and that’s social, a little- but nothing else. No music, no dancing, no late-night yard fires and carousing- nothing. THAT’S DUMB.

It’s like I also quit having fun.

I mean, I have been really making out with sleep since I quit, because SLEEP IS SO GOOD NOW. And dancing is definitely harder when you’re aware your stomach is better at twerking than your buns. And also, cancer pants. that will suck the fun right out of your life like an ogre sucking marrow from your bones. But STILL. Nothing? I can’t keep living with my head down so the universe will think I’m unconscious and stop punching me in the face. The universe will punch whether I’m having fun or not. So I’m going to experiment and see what sober fun looks like.

This Saturday, I’m bowling to raise money for Planned Parenthood, and while I am dreadful at bowling, i think I’ll go have “drinks” with the team after. See where the night takes me.

I am also planning a trip to see friends, and that is equally unprecedented. It has caused beloved husband to blow more than one gasket. But I’m still doing it. Because fun.

 

Before the most fantastic shitsplosion evacuated its’ bowels all over my fragile psyche? So, I’m still doing that.

Here’s the latest chapter. when I quit drinking, and it WORKED, I started really juicing up on the practically incandescent notion that my behavior and my values finally matched. As time has gone by, I’ve started to be a little suspicious of that satisfied feeling. Here’s why: I’m really judgy about other peoples’ drinking. And I don’t notice it until I’m already holier than thou-ing my smarmy little buns through my nightly ablutions.

That, coupled with my desire to explain to the parking attendant why she should eat kale, or sneering at the person complaining about her allergies and buying Febreeze, or telepathically rolling my eyes at the co-worker who is so lonely but just can’t stand to bring herself to go to ANY SOCIAL EVENTS EVER, has made me realize that I might be binging on something I would never have considered: control.

I have a counselor (NO WAY, RIGHT), and we were talking the other day about my strange recalcitrance in forming close friendships. She was saying how this made sense for an abused kid, and she characterized it as this sweet and sad thing, little me inside o big me, afraid to trust anyone and be close. But, I said, it’s actually ugly. I don’t allow anyone dangerous to get close at all. I’m not vulnerable because I am always in control.

Was I drinking so much to be in control of my feelings, or to be free of the need to control everything? Maybe both. But here, at the center of my swirling miasma of shitty coping strategies, one very important clue: control.

And now that I’m not drinking, I’m binging on that. Which is the next thing I’d like to stop abusing.