The Pill Box

Every week, either late Saturday night or at early light Sunday morning, I go through the ritual of filling my pillbox with my medications. My pillbox has 28 compartments. Each gets filled with a varying number of medications in the form of pills or capsules. On average, I take a combination of about 32 pills and capsules each day. However, the 32 pills and capsules don’t account for all the medications I take daily because I have others that come in different forms i.e. liquids, inhalers, and – on the odd occasion when my gastrointestinal system protests against ingesting certain types of oral pharmaceuticals – suppositories. Early on in my illness, I was even prescribed a topical anesthetic for pain that came in patch-form, but it did little to reach the source of the pain deep in my pelvis.

The largest part of the pills and capsules that fill each pillbox compartment are medications I take to manage my pain. They aren’t all opioids/narcotics, but the majority of what’s in the compartments usually is. Unfortunately, not all these medications always do what they are prescribed to do. Therefore, over the last four years there have been many changes made to my medications. Changes in doses are usually an increase in strengths – as petite as I am I seem to need large doses to manage my pain –, but I’ve learned that dose increases doesn’t have to mean an increase in quantity. Some medications have also been swapped for others of equal strength when they have caused unexpected side effects or delivered no benefit at all after weeks and in some cases, months of hoping for some relief with them; and occasionally new medications get added to the mix in an effort to boost the benefits of what works.

The Pill Box – 1

The Pill Box – 2

Sometimes, the number of pills and capsules I take might fluctuate from day-to-day. That fluctuation depends on whether my doctor(s) writes prescriptions for medications with a minimum and maximum dose. Because my pain medications are largely opioids/narcotics, I try – not always successfully – to take the lower end of a prescribed dose when possible to manage my pain. My Pain Specialist prescribes my primary pain medication in two forms. The first is a long-acting opioid/narcotic prescribed to be taken multiple times each day that is intended to manage my pain for a scheduled period. The second is a breakthrough or ‘rescue’ dose of that same opioid/narcotic that I take in between the long-acting doses; especially in times when my pain levels are high, which is most of the time. I try to take that breakthrough medication on the lower end of the prescribed dose(s), when I’m having a good day, which is rare; or if I’m lucky enough to sleep through the night the overnight breakthrough dose gets skipped.

The main point of having a pillbox is to make sure I don’t miss scheduled medication doses because I take so many throughout the day. Unbelievably, I’m not always successful and might miss a dose of something from time to time, whether it’s because I get distracted or I’m fortunate enough to get some restful sleep. Nonetheless, the brightly coloured compartments of the pillbox that I fill with brightly coloured pills and capsules is my constant companion and may remain so as long as I need a reminder to take 32 pills and capsules – give or take a few – each day.

If you don’t have a pillbox, how do you remember to take your daily doses of multiple medications?

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Layering Colours

I’m focused on learning so many creative skills that sometimes I miss the plain fact that I’m already capable of doing lots of the things I tell myself I can’t do. In the pursuit of learning, I’ve purchased stacks of art supplies (pens, graphite pencils, coloured pencils, sketchbooks, specialty paper, paints, brushes, and markers), so much that I often don’t remember what I bought years ago and sometimes surprise myself when I find things in nearly new condition. On the other hand, at other times I sit with the intention of teaching myself something “new” only to realize that, although not perfect, I might already have the skill and I may just need practice or not be aware of the technical name of what I’m attempting. I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time or my illness – or more likely all the pain medications I take – that make me unaware or doubt myself, but it’s an odd space to occupy at times.

In March, during a visit to one of my local Dollar Stores, I found some inexpensive sketchbooks that have pages made from kraft paper, instead of the usual stark white or off-white pages found in standard sketchbooks one might buy in an art supplies store. There were four unique cover designs to choose from so I bought one of each. The sketchbook I decided to start using first has a sketch of a fountain pen, bottles of inks, a pencil, and a micron pen on its front cover, but it’s the blank golden paper behind the covers that piqued my interest. I started drawing on the bright kraft paper pages as soon as I brought them home.

I started out doodling in it with a graphite pencil and a fine point black ink pen. Then, maybe because these sketchbooks are so inexpensive or simply because I was curious to see how other media would work with the kraft paper, I started trying out other things. So far, the pages have held up nicely to acrylic paint pens, gel pens, the application of white gesso – which I’d never used before –, markers, and oil pastels. Then a few weeks ago, I discovered that coloured pencils pop on kraft paper. How did I discover this? While looking through the profiles of some artists on Instagram, I saw some of the most beautiful bright illustrations created using coloured pencil on kraft paper by Australian artist Deb Hudson, and I decided I had to try it out for myself.

However, before opening my package of 60 brand spanking new Prismacolor coloured pencils that I bought last year to experiment with, I went in search of what’s left of the 24 coloured pencils from the same brand I bought years ago when I used to do creative things on a regular basis. Back then, I used to colour with coloured pencils by pressing hard on the lead to get bold colour on the page from the first stroke of the pencil, which meant that depending on the colours I used most, I had to replace individual pencils often; and I built up a collection of tiny pencils.

Since that time, from watching videos, reading books and articles on creative websites in recent years, I’ve learned that you need to build up layers until you get the bold colour you desire. I’ve also, learned that layering allows more flexibility – it’s easier to correct mistakes or change a colour palette – and most of all it is calming. While you work to achieve the rich colour and paper coverage with the slow repetitive motion of the pencil, you become more relaxed.

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That leads me to this week’s IFDrawAWeek challenge. The prompt for this week was balloons. When I think of balloons, I always think of the brightest colours, happy sunny days, and floating, whether it’s the balloon alone or me with it. This challenge was an opportunity to apply the drawing and colouring skills I’ve learned over the years. I not only wanted to make the drawing colourful and cheerful, I also wanted to create the perception of depth and to make my sketchbook page pop.

I know I may have taken some creative licence with this drawing, but I doubt that there aren’t many people out there who might have imagined floating away with the help of a bunch of balloons once or twice…

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Instagram

Last year in October, I joined the InkTober challenge. To fully participate and share what I drew each day I set up an Instagram account. Since then I’ve been using the app a lot. No, I’m not posting selfies every chance I get. It turns out that Instagram doesn’t only cater to teens and millennials and has more depth and purpose than posting vanity shots. Although, if that’s why you use it I’m not going to judge you for it. I’m sure if I felt healthier I’d probably post more than a few.

 

 

So, why have I continued to use it? First off, it’s an easy and somewhat addictive app to use. Once you select a few users to follow you’re sent suggestions for users with similar profiles e.g. photographers or news feeds. I can, and have, spent hours flipping through the feeds of some interesting people and organizations. National Geographic is one of my favourites because not only do the photographers on assignment post breathtaking images, the information accompanying the photos is informative and educational – I’ve become aware of some alarming global issues through that feed. It’s also a forum where I can easily post from my phone by adding short captions to photos – usually of my doodles –, which was great when my laptop died on me recently.

Apart from the ease of use, through Instagram, I’ve discovered so many things and people I would have had to search tirelessly over the interwebs or travel to find. Sure, some of them are things I never knew I had any interest in, but I think that’s what keeps me going back. For instance, I have discovered artists that work with materials and methods (pointillism, block printing, collage, linocut and chine-collé) I would never have imagined to create some of the most strikingly beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Whether they are starting out in their careers or seasoned experts, the commitment to their craft(s) is incredible to witness. I’m able to see the creative process of these artists and see how their work evolves over time.

Because of the window Instagram provides into who they are, I now own a few pieces of the artworks created by some of these incredibly talented people. Being stuck at home, as I am most of the time, the app is giving me the opportunity to virtually “travel” to meet and connect with these people so I can bring the beauty of their creations into my home. This is yet another thing I’m realizing I took for granted when I was healthy: going to galleries or interesting shops where I could find small treasures, which is now available to me in a way that doesn’t feel as impersonal as visiting an internet auction site.

Also, for someone like me who only uses art as a way to cope with illness, seeing all this talent is motivating me to continue my creative learning. I recently joined a weekly Instagram challenge called ‘IF Draw A Week’ that provides a drawing prompt for what to draw each week and then post it with the challenge hashtag. Along with my regular doodles, I hope this will be another way for me to improve my skills. If not, at the very least I have another outlet to connect with people while I pass the time.

 

 

If you’d like to see what I get up to on Instagram click here: @mysmallsurrenders

Creative Pain Distractions

It’s hard being alone with intense pain late at night, as I was last night and the night before. Then again, pain that never stops is hard to cope with at any time of the day. Last night, and other days and nights, when my pain is particularly bad and sleep eludes me, I try to think of things to do – aside from amputating the offending body part(s) – to distract myself. Unfortunately, depending on the pain’s level of intensity, I’m not always successful at turning my thoughts away. However, I do usually end up creating something interesting to look at.

As the pain level rose in my legs and pelvis the night before last, I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to create. I started to place random dots on a clean page in my sketchbook with a black Sharpie pen. Then I connected the dots together with short straight lines and they became triangles, but the sight of a page full of small triangles didn’t feel satisfying. That led me to connecting the triangles at their various points creating a sort of web, which still felt incomplete. I looked at the page for a short while then started drawing lines within each triangle transforming them into prisms. With each line I added, I saw multi-pointed stars appearing on the page that made me wish for an opportunity to experience weightlessness among them on the off-chance I might not feel any pain without the pull of gravity…

Drawing lines didn’t help make my pain go away on recent nights, but it distracted me from thinking of it for a short time as I imagined creating a new galaxy of endless stars.

 

Prepared to Pluck Polyps

After some juggling of schedules, I’m finally having surgery today because last Spring the results from my follow-up abdominal ultrasound scan showed that I have a uterine/endometrial polyp. My Gynecologist decided it was best to remove it, and not leave it alone and subject me to abdominal scans every six months to monitor it for changes. If I had demanded he leave it alone – say because I feared extreme post-surgery pain – any changes that showed up in later scans could have signalled cancer. Even the slimmest chance of that happening was enough for me to accept my Gynecologist’s decision.

To be honest, I expected to have the surgery in the fall, but I had to place a priority on the treatments and programs I already had scheduled for my chronic pain during those months. My continued pain was also a big part of the focus for my surgery pre-admission appointment last week. I spent about four hours in the hospital’s Pre-Admission Center on Friday, meeting with nurses, technicians, and doctors to discuss my medical history and identify any current health issues, have blood drawn for tests, and get a general physical. The nurse was the first person I met with and at one point, while looking through my electronic medical files; she rightly stated that I spend too much time in hospitals.

During my meeting with the nurse, I had to recount the history of my illness, the outcome of my last surgery and recent treatments, and the long list of medications I now take to cope with my pain. As pleasant as she was, while I sat there and went through all those details, the interaction put a sharper edge on the pain I was feeling. At one point, she noticed my creased forehead and asked if I was all right. There wasn’t much I could say in response, except that it was just my usual pain, which thankfully she couldn’t tell was a lie. Before I moved on to the next stop in the pre-admission process, she gave me some literature on my surgery, a Hysteroscopy, and although I’ll be under general anesthesia, will not require any abdominal incision(s) because it will take place entirely within my uterus. Oh, joy!

Next, I met with the blood technician who took three or four vials of blood. I’m rarely sure about how many vials get filled for blood tests because having my veins pierced by the needle always hurts like hell and I never look. I am concerned about what the results from the blood tests might be because recent tests have uncovered that I have low iron – which means I’m anemic – and I have low blood (hemoglobin) levels. If I have below normal blood levels again, my surgery might be rescheduled until I get a boost. Thankfully, when I later met with the doctor for my physical, the session was short and didn’t cause me any extra pain.

My last stop, in the pre-admission process was with and Anesthesiologist, who is a member of the hospital’s Pain Team. I had to meet with someone from the Pain Team to discuss the possible outcomes of the surgery with respect to my pain. The type of surgery I’m having is usually a Day/Ambulatory Surgery procedure, meaning that you get to go home once you wake up and don’t show any adverse reactions to the anesthetics. In my case, the chronic pain I live with daily is factored into when I might be allowed to go home. If, when I wake up, I don’t have unmanageable pain I can go home on the same day. However, if my pain can’t be controlled I’ll be kept, at least overnight, until my pain reaches a level I can cope with at home. I’m hoping for the former because I want to come home and sleep in my bed after it’s all over, but knowing what I do now about my pain’s unpredictability I have to prepare for anything.

This is what I was listening to as I posted this morning…

The Beatles – Hey Jude

InkTober: Day 28 – Burn

Yesterday was another rough day for me because I didn’t get much sleep the night before. It was also the first day of the InkTober challenge, I didn’t post my drawing. I’m posting this drawing a day late, not because I didn’t complete it yesterday, but because my pain made it necessary to spend most of yesterday asleep or resting; and even though I could have, I didn’t feel like rushing through posting it to put it up before midnight. One of the challenges of practicing mindfulness with my pain condition is giving myself permission not to do something, even when it’s something fun.

Yesterday’s word, burn, made me think of two completely unrelated things. The first was how terrible I am at roasting marshmallows. I’m fairly certain that I always end up with a bit of blackened – burnt if I’m being truthful – crust on any marshmallow I’ve ever held over an open flame. I’m not sure why that is when roasting marshmallows is something young children are quite skilled at doing. The other thing it made me think of is the ever-present pain in my body and how, sometimes, it makes me feel as if the flesh on my body is burning. This sensation becomes more intense when I’m about to experience a pain flare up and it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings I’ve ever known.

While thinking about the constant presence of my pain, and the burning sensation it often causes, I was led to write a poem. Although, for the first time in a long time, I struggled with writing it, because the words wouldn’t flow. I think my thought process was affected by how tired and uncomfortable I felt and I’m certain it still requires many edits so I’ll post the poem another day. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that what inspires me to write poetry is always so unpredictable and unexpected.

InkTober - Day 28 - Burn

 

InkTober: Day 27 – Creepy

When I saw today’s InkTober prompt: creepy; my mind started down the path of thinking about things that evoke emotions and feelings that are unpleasant and uncomfortable. However, that’s not the direction I wanted to go in. My day had already started out unpleasant and uncomfortable for me because of pain and feeling groggy, so I wanted to think of things that would take my mind and mood into a different space. Instead of going down that path, I shifted my thoughts to reflect on my childhood, specifically the long hot summers I spent with my cousins, when we would spend hours outside trying to collect bugs or what as kids we called ‘creepy crawlies’.

I know now that what we did probably wasn’t the kindest thing for the grasshoppers and caterpillars, and other unnamed bugs we would catch and put in jars, but it was so much fun trying to catch them. In our efforts to keep them alive so we could study them, we always put holes in the lids of the jars and bottles to make sure they could breathe; and we filled the bottom of them with beds of grass, twigs, and leaves so they wouldn’t be hungry. The construction of their new homes would be followed by constant checks to see if they changed in any way. I remember hoping that one of our many captured caterpillars would transform into a butterfly while we slept, and being thoroughly disappointed on many mornings when not one of them had.

I’m not sure how old we were when we stopped chasing grasshoppers and searching through the grass and trees for caterpillars. I do know that I’m glad to have the memories of summers I spent with my cousins just being kids that did silly kid things like collecting ‘creepy crawlies’ and hoping we could turn them into butterflies. I’m even more glad I have these happy memories, and many more, to turn to when I have unpleasant days like I did today, so I can transform my mood and I never have to settle for having a bad day.

InkTober - Day 27 - Creepy