Tropical Storm

I woke up this morning almost in tears…

Everything hurts. My right leg feels like it is going to explode. My left leg (!!!!) is having very strong surges in the fibula. My low back feels like a chainsaw is cutting me in half. My head feels like my brain fluid was replaced by sulfuric acid.

What the hell?!?!

Oh. There is a tropical storm coming.

Jesus.

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This Feeling

You see, the concise version of my story is that I had an accident. I hurt my ankle and this injury precipitated CRPS. I am now I am disabled.

Right.

But what is (sometimes intensionally) left out of the story is that I used to be a regular normal person in society. I was definitely more active than today’s norm, but normal in most ways. And then I had my accident.

My life as I knew it ended.

I lost my ability to work. You don’t realize how much of your*self* is tied to your ability to work. Or at least I didn’t. I took it for granted that I would always be able to sustain myself. I didn’t know that if, for some freak reason, I wasn’t able to sustain myself, I would lose every bit of dignity and self respect. I didn’t know how much of my self-value was tied to my income. I took it for granted that I would always be able to find work. I took it for granted that I would always be able to take care of myself. I didn’t know how much of my personal security was so closely tied to my financial security.

And then I fell. And when I fell, I fell hard. Not just literally to the concrete ground, but figuratively I continued to fall for three years, five days.

You never really know what you have until it’s gone.

At the time of my accident, I my credit score was over 800. I had tens of thousands of dollars of available credit. And sure, I had a couple credit cards that had balances, but not close to their limits. The months ticked by, I kept paying my bills, despite having no income. I kept thinking that I was going to get better. This situation was simply not in my purview as a possibility.

Obviously, my savings ran out, and I moved in with my parents. And I’ve been borrowing money from them ever since.

Ironically, the year prior to my accident, I left New York to help my parents after their roof collapsed. They had to move out of their house for about two months while all of the floors were replaced. It took nearly six months to get them settled again. *This* is how I see myself. I am the helper, not the helped. Or I used to be until I became completely dependent like a child. 

You don’t truly know humiliation until you’ve known the humiliation of being a middle-aged woman having to ask your father to buy tampons for you. Not just the humiliation of asking him for money for tampons, but the humiliation of not being able to drive to the store for your own fucking tampons compounded by the humiliation of not having the money to buy your own fucking tampons compounded by the humiliation of having to ask your dad. Take a second. Think about it. It’s pretty bad.

I never thought I was worthless before, but that moment hit me in the face with my worthlessness. And I have been suffocating, fighting to free myself from worthlessness ever since. The fight became more futile, and the feeling solidified, as each person (who once said they loved me) left my life…

And what happened to those credit cards? Well, one worked out a payment plan with me and spread it out over many years. One said, “pay what you can every couple of months and then settle with us later.” One decided to sue me.

Why am I telling you this?

Because last week, I received my “award” letter informing me of my monthly social security disability payments. It also calculated the amount of “back pay” owed to me. Social security disability is granted 5 months after a person becomes disabled, so my monthly payments are retroactive to December, 2014. The letter also detailed my Medicare coverage. That’s right, I now have health insurance. My worthlessness was exorcised via a long, deep, guttural groan followed by shoulder shaking sobs.

This was the first time in three years that I truly believed that I am going to be alright: I am going to be able to pay off my debts and have some left over to begin rebuilding my nest egg.

And let’s be clear here (I feel I should clarify). The amount of money is significant, for sure. But, it is not a huge amount. After lawyer fees, the payment for the past two and a half years will be just about half of what I earned in 2013, and the monthly payments are just about a quarter of what I would be earning, if I could work. It won’t quite afford me the luxury of moving out of my parents’ house, but it will allow me to begin repaying them. I can now buy my own tampons online.  

I am not happy, but I am so fucking relieved. My leg is unbearable; CRPS still governs my life, but God dammit. I’ve been having me a real hard time. And it feels so nice to know I’m going to be alright.

“This Feeling” ~ Alabama Shakes

I just kept hoping, I just kept hoping
The way would become clear
I spent all this time tryna play nice and
Fight my way here

See, I’ve been having me a real hard time
But it feels so nice to know I’m gonna be alright

So I just kept dreaming, yeah, I just kept dreaming
It wasn’t very hard
I spent all this time tryna figure out why
Nobody’s on my side

See, I’ve been having me a real good time
And it feels so nice to know I’m gonna be alright

So please don’t take my feelings
I have found at last
So please don’t take my feelings
I have found at last
Yeah, if I wanted to… I’d be alright

So I just kept going, I just kept going
And hoping I’m growing near
Well this good and fine, I spent all this time
Tryna find my way here

And I’ve been having me a real fun time
And it feels so nice to know I’m gonna be alright

Please don’t take this feeling
I have found at last
Please don’t take my feeling
I have found at last
If I wanted to, I’d be alright
Yeah, if I wanted to, I’d be alright

Involuntary

I wanted to swim this morning. My leg and foot were a little more obstinate than usual. About 11:00, I realized why. The daily Floridian summertime thunderstorms started early today.

Last night, I told you a little about the spasms starting again in my foot. At the present moment, these involuntary muscle contractions are making any kind of activity almost impossible.

And so I’ve been sitting here, with nothing to do, staring at my foot for a few hours. By this point, I have disassociated myself from my foot. It’s quite fascinating to watch as an outside spectator.

I’m not going to talk too much about how it *feels*… Let’s just say that it is more than a little bit uncomfortable… I have said in the past that this part of my CRPS feels like a boa constrictor is underneath my skin.

Admittedly, I am bored. And I’m pretty sure I have been staring at these slow arhythmic contractions in my foot for too long today, but it kind of looks like a strange, breathing, non-human creature. Possibly a sea creature… Or maybe it is about to hatch a new crop of gremlins

Here, I made a little video to show you. Captivating, no?

The Thrill is Gone

The nerve block is out of my system completely.

By now, I know the pattern well, the progression as the analgesic/steroid cocktail, injected into the nerve root between L3 and L4, fades and my autonomic nervous system restarts it’s infinite loop of misfires.

It starts with a twinge, a surge of pain. The lower fibula, about an inch and a half above the lateral malleolus. The surge grows into a zap. The zap is accompanied by a stab into the center of my ankle, right where the leg meets the foot. The zap grows into a strong blow, strong enough to take my breath away. The stab becomes a dagger, lodged. Then comes the dull ache up the inside of my ankle, inside the medial malleolus, stopping about halfway up my tibia. A tiny chainsaw across the outside of my heel. A white hot fire poker between my medial malleolus and my achilles tendon. Then, concurrently, the zip tie that cuts across the joint of my big toe, and the invisible fingers pulling at the top of my fibula.

I sometimes imagine my lower leg is on a giant’s buffalo wing platter. It’s spicy-hot, crispy-skinned, and dipped in cold bleu cheese dressing. And the giant picks up my leg and pulls my fibula away from the tibia and sucks the meat from between the bones. (Ironically, I have only ever eaten the part of chicken wings that look like miniature drumsticks; the two boned wings creep me out because of that weird meat between the bones.)

And when all the now all too familiar pain is fully firing, once the party really has really gotten started, my foot goes cold. Ice cold. It feels like it has been filled with sand. Cold, wet, gravelly sand from a northern California beach in the wintertime. It is difficult to move my foot and ankle. My foot feels heavy. My toe no longer lifts.

My skin turns a mottled grayish red color. My skin is shiny. And then the bees start stinging my leg. Not just one or two stray bees stinging in one or two places. There’s a swarming bee sting wedge. Just below my knee, extending medially and downward. The entire inside of my lower leg, down to my big toe, including the top and inside of my foot and ankle, but not including my second or other toes. Those lucky little devils are spared the wrath of a thousand non-existent bees.

Once the bees start stinging, I know what is coming imminently: the spasms and cramps. The spasms start as little twitches in my arch. A little shimmy in my calf. This is the stage where I am right now. The muscles in my foot are firing on their own. My big toe is pulling down and I am still unable to lift it up. It cramps and it hurts.

And I know what’s coming within the next day or two. And I know that from this point on, I have to closely, carefully monitor my activity. I have to time the amount of time I spend sitting, standing, moving.

The spasms aren’t just a case of the shakes. Every contraction sends an electric jolt up my leg and down into my foot. And with hundreds of contractions per minute… you get the idea.

And it’s funny. People always like to comment about my *mood*. In the days after my block: “it’s nice to see you in a good mood.” As the days pass, as the nerves return to their old tricks: “boy, are you in a baaaaaad moooooood!”

And it’s true. I am in a good mood after the block. Because I have some semblance of control over my lower leg, ankle, and foot. Because the knives and hot pokers have been removed, the tiny chainsaw stopped, the gunshot wound in my fibula healed, the cold sand drained, the bees stopped stinging, the electricity shut off, the aches are reduced, and there is no giant trying to pry apart my bones to get at the meat between my tibia and fibula. You’d be in a pretty good mood too.

And oh, jeez, you betcha you’d be in a bad mood too when it all comes back in full force.

The first time I went through it, it was a huge emotional roller coaster. The first relief of the CRPS-ity in over two years, since my accident, was pure elation. And Jesus, the let down, the depression, when it all came back after a few days…

Now that I am an old pro at these nerve blocks, I know not to be too happy. I allow myself to feel and enjoy the relief, but I know it will only last a few days. I dread that first surge. But I know it’s coming. And I know what will follow. And I know that this is the cycle that, like CRPS itself, is the infinite loop of my current life.

And this time around, I made a conscious effort to try to lop off the peaks and fill in the valleys. Yet, I still haven’t mastered maintaining a steady monotonous mood to placate the commenting onlookers and bystanders. Oh well. I can always try again next time.

So, yeah. There you have it. My nerve block is gone.

Most People

I heard it again today:

“How you continue to keep going is impressive. Most people in your position would have given up already, but you just keep going.”

Uh. Yeah. In case you haven’t already noticed, I’m not like most people. I’m not trying to impress you. I certainly don’t care what most people would do.

My reply was simple:

“CRPS isn’t quitting on me, so I’m quitting on CRPS.”

Cycling Series: One Cleat

In case you don’t already know this about me, I used to love to go for very long bicycle rides.

Fun facts: My older brother taught me how to ride a bike. I’ve been riding bikes longer than I’ve been dancing ballet, by almost 2 years. I never used training wheels. 

It has been overwhelmingly frustrating not to be able to ride my bike.

Technically, I have been riding my bike. On a trainer, in my parents’ living room. For therapy/rehab for my dumb leg. I don’t count this as actually “riding” my bike.

I tried last autumn to ride around my parents’ neighborhood. It’s a 2.9 mile loop. I could never make it more than once around. My right leg wouldn’t tolerate the pressure and it would launch itself into convulsions and the pain was horrific.

Back on the trainer my bike went.

And I sat there, spinning, pouting, staring at the wall, and thinking: there must be a solution.

I had been considering swapping my left pedal so that I could “clip in” on that side. I thought that I could do most of the work with my left leg. You see, the cleat clips into the pedal and would allow me to pull up on the pedal with my left foot so that I wouldn’t have to push down so hard with my right foot.

The glaring downside to this plan would be developing even greater degrees of muscular imbalances between my right side (formerly my “strong” side) and my left side. But these imbalances are happening anyway- gradually, naturally- as I adapt to find ways to accommodate and compensate for my CRPS. The nature of CRPS is degenerative anyway, so…

But here’s my thinking… If I can pedal with the left foot, using brute strength, the right foot can just go along for the ride. I could stand to gain added safe movement of the ankle joint without excruciating pressure. And I would have the freedom to push with the right foot when it is behaving, and I would have the ability to take the burden off when it gets tired.

I happened to mention my plan to a friend, and in the mail one day came a surprise: pedals!

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It was time to put the plan into action and test my theory.

Fun fact: I know my way around a bike. I spent the summer before my senior year in college working in a bike shop in Manhattan Beach, CA. I did standard tune-ups and assemblies. 

Within minutes, I had the new pedal on my bike.

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Holy crap. This might actually work!

 

 

Fully Favorable

My final hearing for social security disability was on June 14. It was one of the most humbling and humiliating experiences of my life.

On Tuesday of last week, I received a letter in the mail. The letter was dated June 20, 2017.

Notice of Decision – Fully Favorable

I live in a conservative state. I had a conservative judge. My attorney prepared me to wait longer than two months for the judge’s decision, but my decision letter was drafted an unprecedented six days after my hearing.

My attorney called me to talk about the stunning speed. He asked me if it would be alright if he submitted my case (stripped of personal information) to a database that would help substantiate other RSD/CRPS sufferers’ disability cases. Of course it would be alright. He also filled me in on the “next steps” and gave me the contact information for a Medicare specialist.

So let’s recap: my social security disability was approved in record speed, I will be able to have healthcare coverage, and my case will be an example to help other people suffering from CRPS.

I’ve been asked about how I *feel* about this. “Are you happy?”

My *feelings* are still marinating about this very long, very stressful process. I’m pretty sure my emotions are going to max out as a sense of relief. It will be nice to have one area of my life become a little more certain.

But, “happy?”  No. Happiness is not in there anywhere.

You see, I am trying to collect social security disability out of sheer necessity, but I am not trying to be disabled. The contrary is true. I don’t want to be disabled, and I am dedicating my life to trying not to be disabled. I do not want to have to collect social security disability. I would rather have the ability to have a job.

I would be happy if I wasn’t disabled. I would be happy if I didn’t have CRPS. I would be happy if I was able to work an actual job. I would be happy if I could run, if I could jump. I would be happy if I could return to my old, regular, joyful life… 

Logically, I knew I certainly qualified, and I knew I certainly needed this decision to come through. Logically, I should feel validated, at the very least. Yet, logic aside, the decision, and the unprecedented speed of the decision, was a punch in my emotional guts.

I mean, there was no hesitation in ruling that there is no job on the face of the planet that I can successfully perform. I’m not kidding. The judge’s decision is substantiated over fourteen pages, single spaced, ten point font, and a sentence just before the final concluding paragraphs reads: “The vocational expert testified that there are no jobs said individual can perform.”

Jesus. Fucking. Christ. I seriously cannot believe this is real life. I know it’s true. I know I have CRPS. I know I am completely incapacitated by this condition. But…

Seeing it in writing, written by a judge, popped whatever was left of my lingering tiny bubble of denial: this is real. I am disabled. And that most definitely makes me sad, not happy.