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Love Beats Hate: I get by with a little help from my friends

November 20th, 2010

I’m coming late to the party. It’s 3 days after the official Love Beats Hate event and I haven’t even managed to read very many of the posts – I’m working on it. But I figure keeping the love alive is not a bad thing to do. And I want to be part of the party.

What can I say? Perhaps nothing that hasn’t been said before. I love you bloggers and online health activists and I am honored to be among you. I was a busy person living my life when illness tackled me and brought me down. Life threatening allergies. Chronic Migraines. Crippling fatigue, which resulted many years later in a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Irritable bowel syndrome, with weeks of enervating stomach pain. On the hate side, I can truly say that I hate being sick.

I can feel very very sorry for myself. Even making this list brings a tear to my eye. But it’s not just the illnesses. It’s the years I spent fighting, not accepting, pushing myself way beyond my limits, thinking of myself as lazy and undisciplined, longing for the day when it would be all better. I neglected the people I love with my head in the clouds trying to build a different reality than the one I live in, trying to force the outcomes into a shape I wanted. I never paid enough attention to where I was, to my home, my children, my work. I thought that if I kept pushing, somehow I could make it all better. I regret those years. I listened to those who think that illness is a result of wrong thinking, that we can transform our way out of illness. I will not say that there is an evil intention in this type of thinking, but it led in my life to evil results. I felt guilty for my illnesses. I hated my illnesses, and myself for having them. I tried to ignore them and push past them. Until I was too sick to do it any more. And I finally found some doctors and therapists who could help. I recommitted myself to meditation and conscious relaxation, acceptance and love, and learned little by little to accept the highly sensitive, aching weary frame that I live in.

Three years ago I started participating in the online Migraine community, and then the larger chronic illness community. I had something to share, to offer, with the relaxation techniques I had learned, and the coaching skills I used professionally. I decided to create this thing called Migraine management coaching, and to go talk to others with my illness. I won’t say I haven’t had a contribution – I think and hope that I have. But what looked at first like a side benefit – the outstanding relationships I was forming with others who understood my life – turned quickly into the main event.

The darkest days of chronic Migraine, among the sickest times in my life, were lightened by the time I spent on My Migraine Connection, and blogging, and reading and commenting on others’ blogs. I became a part of a community, a loving, supportive, funny, vibrant community. I got such deep and caring help with some of my hardest struggles.

Then I discovered Facebook and a surprising thing happened – my chronic illness community and my other communities – family, friends, colleagues from the many parts of my life, all began to come together. When I post about pain or illness, many will comment who understand and are with me in the experiences, but the others in my life will also express sympathy, distress, let me know they are with me too, though they may not have my same issues. It has been enormously healing. I want to say I am sorry to all those I love, and who love me, who I neglected, or pushed away, or tried to force into seeing things in a particular way. I was running away from myself. It wasn’t until illness brought me to a standstill, until there were no more reserves of energy to keep pushing, that I became able to accept, and out of accepting, express, and explain, and have you get what my world is like.

After three years of working at it my Migraine disease has moved from chronic to episodic and I have long stretches of freedom from pain in the brain. I am back working full time, or close to it, at law and mediation. I wish that I could just help chronically ill people full time, but I had to get back to earning a living. I am exhausted by my work and can’t seem to think much at the end of a long day. My fibromyalgia and irritable bowel are activated much more often than they used to be by the stress and exertion of my life. So I don’t spend nearly as much time on this blog, or on forums or other blogs, as I used to. I miss it. I wish I could do more. But I do check in with my friends, on their blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, and I am present every day to how I get by with a little help from my friends. I am lifted up and cradled by you. I love you.

- Megan

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Posted in Communicating, Musings, Weblogs | Comments (2)

Sneezebushes and Sneezetrees

April 18th, 2009

Other people do not consult me about their landscaping.  That is one of the unfortunate facts of my life.  This is a spirea bush.  A most attractive shrub.  When it is blooming it has a lovely little cluster of white or purple flowers, like this:

They are very attractive.  The purple ones bloom from spring to fall and have very little smell.  The white ones bloom in spring and have an acrid smell that makes the inside of my nose tingle, and make me sneeze up a storm. I call them Sneezebushes.  I am allergic to them.  When I breathe their pollens for an extended period, I tend to get a Migraine.  Interestingly, Landscape America tells us

“Aspirin is the generic medical name for the chemical acetylsalicylic acid, a derivative of salicylic acid.  Compounds of salicylic acid are found in some plants, notably white willow and meadowsweet (Spirea ulmaria).  Acetyl- and spirea which inspired the name aspirin.”

I am anaphylactically allergic to drugs in the aspirin family! Coincidence? Hmmm…

Then there is the Bradford Pear. It is a lovely blooming, non-fruiting pear tree, much favored for landscaping along shopping streets.  Here is Witherspoon Street in Princeton, NJ, completely lined with Sneezetrees, oh I’m sorry, I mean Bradford Pears…  I don’t know if they are in any way related to spirea.  Spirea are in rose family and so are pear trees, but I am not allergic to roses or other blooming fruit trees.  The smell is similar, and the effect on me is the same, an acrid sensation in my nostrils, sneezing, and Migraine.

My neighbors across the street put in three lovely little Bradford pears in their front yard last spring. When we open the front door on a nice April Saturday like today our house fills with the scents.  Achoo! Ow! Achoo! Ow!  Me lying down with the Imitrex and the Benadryl, hoping to be on my feet later…  Well, the blooms will fall in a week or two, right?

- Megan

Spirea image courtesy of Di the Huntress; Single Bradford pear image courtesy of Deep Valley Tree Farm

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Posted in Rant | Comments (2)

Being Chronically Ill, and Feeling Well

March 5th, 2009

I woke up feeling well, and well rested, before my alarm went off this morning. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is very unusual for me, and worth commenting on. I went to bed last night with a Migraine that hadn’t fully resolved, and with a queasy stomach, which I thought was nausea from the Migraine. The head pain was completely gone this morning but now in early afternoon my stomach has gone back to feeling a bit queasy, so I am wondering in retrospect whether the stomach gripe yesterday was Migraine nausea or IBS or whatever else this may be that I am feeling today. Having multiple chronic illnesses is like that. Most of the time I’m grateful if nothing really major is going on. It’s rare that some degree of minor ick isn’t happening, and it’s also rare that I can sort it all out and say definitively what is bothering me on a given day.

I felt so well that I set my Facebook status this morning to say “Megan Oltman is feeling really well for the first time in weeks.” Within a few hours I found myself musing on what exactly “feeling really well” is, whether it’s a moving target, and whether it’s a claim I can make. I’m not feeling as well as I was when I got up this morning. On the other hand, I don’t have a Migraine, my stomach is only a little queasy with no major pain or cramping, I don’t feel fatigued, I am mentally clear, I am not congested, I am fairly energetic – this is a good day! I might even color it pink!

I have a Wellness calendar which I color code to indicate how well I am on a given day. This allows me to keep statistics and track trends. I calculate how many Migraines per month I have, how severe, how long they last, what triggers them and what I do to treat them. I calculate how many days I am sick but functioning, how many days semi-functioning, and how many completely out of action.  Each type of day has a color. Days I feel great I am “in the pink.”  Then I calculate percentages of wellness and illness for a given month, for two and four months trends, for a year.  Yesterday I caught my statistics up and discovered that 2008 was my worst year for wellness since I started tracking.  Not that I couldn’t have told you that by gut feel, too, but it’s a rude awakening to see it in black and white and pink and orange and brown… I really think I deserved a pink day after that.

A dear friend, who lives far away, and who I don’t talk to nearly often enough, read some of my writing recently and told me she was surprised to hear me describe myself as having been chronically ill for the past 14 years. She thought I must be uncomfortable talking about it, or why had I never told her? Laura’s a perceptive one, and of course it has been uncomfortable to talk about, especially in the first 8 or so of those years where I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me, blaming myself, thinking I was a hypochondriac, all the things that so many of us do. Now I think it’s not so much discomfort as just a long story to catch people up on. That’s part of what I try to do here. I am chronically ill. I have chronic Migraine disease, chronice fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple allergies, and chronic, or at least frequently recurrent, sinus infections. The good news is that I am actually up and functioning about 75% of the time!

February was a bad month. I was sick 14 out of 28 days, and that doesn’t even count days I was okay all day but was knocked out with a Migraine in the evening. Today I got out for a walk. I am clawing my way back to the top of the mess in the house and on my desk, and feeling caught up with my work again. The sun is shining, the snow is melting, and I feel well. Pink? At least pinkish!

- Megan

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Posted in Communicating, Musings | Comments (2)

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