Almost Like Old Times

I had leftover pizza for lunch today. Leftover pizza can be a nice thing. And when it’s leftover from a spontaneous late evening dinner on my patio with one of my oldest and dearest friends, it’s even better.

Yesterday my friend M, who I’ve known forever, sent me a text message at the end of his work day to see what I was up to for the evening. As I wrote then, my mood was quite low on top of my pain level being quite high, but instead of telling him that I asked what he had in mind. He asked if I was up for a visit or if I wanted to go out to get a bite to eat. I didn’t want to do either, but I wrote back asking what his preference was and reminded him that we could get some food and eat on my patio. He thought that was a perfect idea and called me so we could decide what to eat. We quickly decided on a pizza with hot wings on the side, which I ordered while he drove to my place.

Within an hour, we were sitting in the dim evening light on my patio eating pizza and laughing almost like old times. Except that in the past, after receiving his text message or call, I would have thrown on some clothes, he’d come by to pick me up, and then we would drive until we decided what was good to eat in whichever direction the car was heading. I miss those days a lot. Life’s spontaneity is no longer something to which I can surrender. Every moment of my life that requires a large output of energy requires planning. I have to map how long it takes to get ready, whether someone will pick me up or I’ll schedule a ride (a taxi or Über), how long I’ll be able to stand if seats aren’t available, whether available seats are comfortable enough to sit in for the duration of the event, and how long I may need for recovery when it’s all over.

Nonetheless, my friends do their best to understand. Even though they know I might have to cancel at the last-minute, they try to do all they can to make my life feel normal. The latest accommodation they are willing to make is bringing the fun to my home, which thankfully is what happened last night. As blue as I felt yesterday about living through another summer trapped indoors by pain; my friend M lifted much of that mood. Him touching base with me at the end of the day to see what I was up to doing, as he often did in the past, brought me back to feeling what things used to be like for a few short hours, before my pain forced its way back to center stage.

 

Kind Of Blue First Day Of Summer

I know I should be happy because it’s the first day of summer. Above all else, this means we’ve reached the definitive part of the year when the days are longer and it’s okay to wear shoes without socks. Not wearing socks may be my hands-down favourite thing about summer; closely followed by the earthy smell in the air when it starts to rain. But I’m not sensing the uplifting summer feeling today. It might be because I see before me another year when my summer will be spent mainly indoors as I struggle from day to day with pain that unlike the seasons seems endless.

Instead of thinking about the longer, sunny days ahead, I’m feeling rather blue…

I can only hope that tomorrow the sun will shine brighter and that light will lift my mood. While holding on to that hope I’ll have Miles keep me company.

 

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue – 1959 (Complete Album)

 

Good News After A Flawed Rush

Remember that rambling tale I wrote yesterday about what happens when you rush? Well, it turns out all was not for naught after the convoluted list of mishaps I went through to get to my non-appointment appointment. My Endocrinologist, who graciously saw me even though I arrived for my appointment five days early after her office hours had ended; called me first thing this morning to let me know that my blood test results were better than good – I guess that means they’re great (?)!

Nonetheless, there is a backstory on the blood tests and a reason for having an Endocrinologist. It’s because about eight years ago I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, which is an immune system disorder that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). If you want to learn more about it, clicking on the above highlighted words ‘Graves’ Disease’ will lead you to the Mayo Clinic’s overview. However, what I’m about to tell you isn’t pretty because I probably had the worst convergence of symptoms imaginable and it took quite some time and lots of tests to figure out exactly why my body was working against me.

The least concerning of the symptoms was excessive perspiration, which is as gross as it sounds. It made me feel conspicuous whenever I had to wear heavy jackets, multiple layers of warm clothing, or the temperature in a room or outdoors went above 20 degrees Celsius because I was guaranteed to have rivers running down my back or pools collecting under my armpits, but I could deal with it by changing clothes or taking a shower. I developed an intolerance to extreme heat that still makes it difficult for me to enjoy weather warmer than 25 degrees Celsius, so air conditioning has become a good friend of mine. Then there was the shortness of breath for no reason at all including just lying on my couch. It made me wonder how it had ever been possible for me to be a long-distance runner; and of course, the heart palpitations that started happening at random intervals didn’t help to put that question to rest. They scared the crap out of me each time I experienced the rapid fluttering in my chest.

I also lost a lot of weight. When a person of my physical build loses more than ten pounds it’s noticeable in the way your clothes fit, or stop fitting, and you start to look emaciated. The people in my life noticed it before I did because they could see the changes in my face, which is naturally angular; as it became leaner each time they saw me. I noticed it when the clothes I had altered after purchasing them to fit me properly, started to sag on my disappearing waist and other places. That weight loss caused incredible fatigue, but between my irritability, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns, I didn’t get much rest. The weight loss was accompanied by hair loss. I started to shed so much when I combed my hair it looked as though I might be related to some species of longhaired cat – strangely, I have such an abundance of thick hair on my head that the only place the loss was noticed was on the floor or in my brush. Finally, my skin began doing strange things and all those symptoms lumped together prompted a barrage of tests.

The first round of tests indicated that there was something not quite right with my liver. I had to stop taking all medications cold turkey for 30 days to clear my system and then redo all the blood tests. When the results from the second set of blood tests were delivered the one thing that stood out was the high level of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for a complete diagnosis. I had to have a thyroid biopsy to rule out cancer and a thyroid scan that involved drinking radioactive dye to see if I had enlarged nodules (noncancerous lumps) growing on my thyroid that might have to be surgically removed or might require the complete removal of my thyroid gland. After all those uncomfortable diagnostic procedures, the good news was that I neither had cancer nor required surgery because either one or both would have meant taking thyroid hormone medication for the rest of my life absolutely never missing a dose, on top of whatever other treatment was prescribed.

What I did have to do was take anti-thyroid medication for a while to stop the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Early on, the dose had to be corrected to deal with the unexpected occurrence of side effects that are supposed to be rare: most notably vertigo that still affects me occasionally. However, the anti-thyroid treatment recreated the necessary hormonal balance within about three years and my Endocrinologist declared that I was safely in remission and could stop taking the medication. I got that good news about a month before my current illness showed up almost four years ago. Throughout this illness, I’ve had to continue having regular blood tests to check my thyroid hormone levels, ultrasound scans of my thyroid to monitor the size of the nodules, and check-ups with my Endocrinologist. When I saw her on Wednesday during my non-appointment appointment she told me that if the results of the blood tests looked good I didn’t have to see her again until next year at this time. Then if my blood test results are consistent through to that time it means I will have been in remission for five years and the likelihood of the Graves’ Disease recurring will be slim.

Where I was frustrated with myself on Wednesday for rushing to an appointment I didn’t have, today I’m quite content because of this good news. My hope is that my thyroid hormone levels stay normal until next year so I’ll have more energy freed up from having one less invisible illness to think about.

 

The words of this song don’t match my good news, but the mood of the song certainly does…

Sam Cooke – (Ain’t that) Good News

 

Migraine Memories

As we transition into spring, I’m hit with an almost joyful thought: I haven’t had a migraine caused by barometric pressure in so long I can’t remember the last one. For a long time, my body had difficulty adjusting to the change between seasons. I dreaded the rainy, darkly cloudy, wet days that were characteristic of spring and autumn weather. I would wake in the mornings without having to open my eyes to know it was overcast outside because I would have piercing pain on one side of my head, usually accompanied by what felt like someone using a very pointy sharp tool to dig through either of my eyes. On days like that, I couldn’t go to work, before that university, before that high school, or participate in any other planned activity. My body required that I stay in bed as motionless as possible with a hand pressed to the side of my head and my face buried in a pillow to prevent any light from getting into my throbbing eye(s).

I would pray for sleep because taking any pain medication at that stage would be pointless. I couldn’t eat until the migraine passed because the smell or even the thought of food made my stomach heave with nausea. I couldn’t have anyone touch me either. The slightest touch from another person would make the already hypersensitive nerve endings all over my body make me want to peel my skin from my body. Looking at light was probably the cruelest thing I could do to myself. Allowing the dimmest level of light to make contact with my pupils felt like a blade of steel was slicing through, not just my eyes, my entire head. All these symptoms made communicating with anyone to describe what I was feeling extremely difficult. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, I’m still not sure, but all the women in the paternal line of my family suffered from migraines, so there was an unspoken acknowledgement when each of us was hit with an episode of this debilitating illness, which made the need for complete silence easier to meet.

I was also fortunate, during the early part of my work career, to have a manager who suffered from migraines too. There were days when he looked at me as we passed each other in the office hallways that he could immediately recognize that I was in pain. He would tell me to finish whatever I was doing, if I could, then go home to get rest. If I didn’t make it to work for the next day, or two, he was empathetic enough not to have calls made to my home because he knew what a ringing telephone could do to a person with a migraine. Without that support, I don’t believe I could have thrived and achieved the successes I did so early in my career in a corporate setting. Unfortunately, in later years I experienced less accommodating workplaces; and from conversations over the years with other migraineurs and from reading so many people’s stories about coping with migraines while working, I know how stressful being in an environment where people think a migraine is just a strong headache can be.

I’d like to believe that taking multiple ‘mindfulness-based meditation for stress and pain reduction’ courses is what got rid of my migraines. However, I still had some for years after taking those classes, although not with the same level of intensity, and I was able to cope with the symptoms better too, which felt like a miracle. Nowadays, I keep my fingers crossed that migraines won’t become a regular part of my life again. Living with the chronic pain condition I have would be impossible if I also had to cope with the crippling effects of migraines, especially when I can remember having some that lasted for days on end. Luckily, on this gloomy overcast day, I can look at the bright glare from the screen of my laptop and write about my experiences, instead of hiding in bed under the covers.

 

Blinded by the Light ~ Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

 

Pain Clinic #10: The Hope of Bluebells

I had to be up and out of the house early in the morning for an appointment at the hospital yesterday. I had to check in to the Day Surgery Department at the hospital where I am seen by my Pain Specialists by 7:45 AM so they could prep me for yet another pain treatment. I haven’t been writing about my Pain Clinic visits much in past months because they are so frequent and usually consist of just a check in to see how I’m coping and what might be the next course of action. I’ve also been doing research about the procedures and medications they propose so I can better advocate for myself and not allow anxiety, due to lack of knowledge or understanding of what is being done to my body, to potentially create a mental block or resistance so my body can fully benefit from what I’m undergoing.

Yesterday’s pain treatment was particularly tough to handle mentally. However, on my way home from the hospital afterwards, I saw bluebells in a flowerbox outside a restaurant. I took some photos of them because, to me, they have always symbolized the beginning of Spring and the resurgence of life after the deepest cold of winter. It made me so happy when I saw them. I’m hoping they are a sign that what I went through yesterday in the treatment clinic, is the start of something better in my life…

 

 

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…

 

Spring Cleaning Pain

I’m late posting my entry for last week’s ‘IF Draw A Week‘ challenge that I found on Instagram. It’s not because I didn’t complete it. For whatever reason I had more technology hiccups yesterday, so I diverted my attention to do attempt some Spring Cleaning. I’m cleaning because I feel mentally cluttered as a result of my home becoming cluttered. Actually, it’s been cluttered – and my version of shamefully messy – for a while now because I can’t clean the way I used to and the person I had coming to clean my home for me hasn’t been able to be here for several months. Happily, she found a full-time job that pays enough so she doesn’t have to clean other people’s homes anymore to make ends meet.

Sadly, what that means for me is that I’m sinking under the weight of undone chores. It also means that after making any significant effort, as I did yesterday, I pay for it with added pain. When I finally fell asleep last night – it was actually early this morning – I knew that I’d be in for a painful day, and my body has not disappointed as it continues to narrow the parameters of my life. In this instance, it’s a clean house vs. manageable pain, but the cleaning is not finished yet, so I have to prepare myself for the painful days ahead until it’s all done.

However, if I can’t address the clutter in my home in one go, at least I can briefly put aside the clutter in my mind. The prompt for last week’s ‘IF Draw A Week’ challenge was to “sketch something from real life”, and because it’s not possible to draw pain and I don’t want to depict the growing stack of paper on my dining table, I decided to draw some of my art supplies. The objects I drew are a black binder clip, my trusty Staedtler pencil sharpener, and one of my newly discovered – and quickly becoming favourites – Muji gel pens.

My effort to spring clean my home may not have been successful, but I hope that I successfully captured what these items look like in real life on paper.