Category Archives: Brain training

A place to lump all those efforts to create new neural pathways to replace the ones that die; serious efforts to stave off the dementia which runs through my maternal ancestrecesses who lived long lives; stuff that makes my brain hurt, and thus must be good for it.

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

When feedback is rare, because, as an author, you haven’t ‘taken off’ yet, the individual pieces that come your way can carry far more power than you expect. And do more damage, or, in my case, make you a lot more stubborn.

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

Classified – or should be – as General Fiction, ‘literary’ only if the quality is up to the standards of readers who specifically choose to read literary fiction (and omnivores).

That quality is subjective, to some extent. There are so many ways for a novel to fail, from poor characterization to too much characterization, from implausible plot to none at all, and from the habit of stopping the story for minute description of details to an overreliance on flowery language.

I amused myself for a while reading the negative reviews of popular literary fiction, until I realized that the authors were doing quite well – and their fans often didn’t bother to leave feedback (how many ways can you say ‘I liked this book’?), but their detractors did, so the ratings tended to be skewed.

These authors long ago learned to ignore the critics, write the next book, and feel confident it would be bought in reasonable numbers.

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

I was the kind of ugly duckling people hesitate to pick on. Unkindnesses were not uncommon, but outright bullying requires the consent of the bullied – or their physical inability to resist – to work properly, and that was not me.

I had a family to back me up (“our ugly duckling, right or wrong”), who loved me and still do (thanks, guys!). I didn’t have any of the easy pickings, gayness or excessive weight (though I was on the stocky side) or scandals in the family or dimness. It wasn’t much fun to pick on me, if I even noticed it, so I was mostly left to my own devices.

And I didn’t CARE about other people’s opinions (except my parents’). We felt we had the best possible parents compared to all our friends, so it was a serious failing not to be up to their standards, and we tried very hard

Why mention this unlovely trait? Because it affects not my writing directly (I’ve pretty much settled into a voice and style, at least for this set of books), but my mood.

Making my mood conscious, and then removing it if inconvenient, takes up some of my daily time. Sometimes the process results in reflection, and you get a post.

I’m trying to improve both sales and reviews/ratings

The plan was to have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY selling quietly at some rate in the background, with borrows from Kindle Unlimited a separate small stream of income, justifying the writing.

I tell myself that writing is a business, not a hobby. One may become a talented amateur painter, for example, but no hobbyist-painter spends every possible moment painting.

The difference is both the intention – and the time and effort put into the endeavor.

Which has led to me spending time looking at the means for promotion available to those pesky self-publishing indies.

That’s where the niche part comes in.

If you write, say, Science Fiction or Category Romance, you have a lot of company (writers) and a defined (and large) audience of potential readers. Within these genres, there is a sense of camaraderie, and a sharing – on the indie side – of information about which means of promotion work, and how to go about them.

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

I am well read on the methods – indie writers are very generous with information.

Nothing is a slam dunk, of course – people who think you just throw a book together, repeat at three-month intervals, set the first book to permafree or 0.99 and pay off your mortgage, find the field harder to plow than they expected. There is work, and savvy, and exploiting the available avenues, and marketing, and spending your money wisely on ads and promotions.

But a new indie writer – or one tiring of the traditional dance and swallowing her distaste and trying self-publishing (usually because traditional publishing has huge problems for genre writers, including skimpy advances (if you get one at all) and very low royalties) – finds many ideas to try.

Follow the methods. Write your books. LEARN. Cross-promote. And if you’re energetic and confident and prolific – and can write worth a damn, especially within genre conventions – you can make a career.

Stealing fire from the indie gods

I’ve been reading all this since I started reading the self-publishing blogs in 2012, and educating myself to the business side of writing.

And every thing I read was cause for reflection – and me looking for the other side to the idea, the one that might work for me. Because I knew, from the very beginning, I was different.

I doubt traditional publishers would take a chance – that pesky heroine, and some of those ideas – not at all ‘more of the same.’

And I also knew that ‘prolific, ‘energetic,’ and ‘genre conventions’ were not going to work for me.

I have been welcomed in many places, even as I bring in my weird differences, simply because most indies are welcoming people. Their success doesn’t depend on keeping me out of a traditional publisher’s catalog slot. We are competitors in only a very general sense.

The one I am trying now has to do with Amazon ads; I’ve joined a FaceBook group whose purpose is to learn how to master Amazon ads in two ways:

making you comfortable with advertising on Amazon – and teaching you how to create the ads, and

fine-tuning the ads to find a comfortable rate of return for your advertising dollar.

The people I share this group with are mostly indie (a few hybrid authors do traditional + self-publishing). And most of them are very firmly genre writers: thrillers and cozy mysteries, paranormal Romance and Christian Romance, SF and fantasy.

I haven’t found many ‘literary’ or mainstream or general fiction authors identifying themselves as such. So I’ve been mostly alone in my plan to see what I can adapt from genre techniques of marketing, reading every post with the intention of turning it on its head if that would help ME.

The HOW

I have a very specific set of techniques in my plan.

It may not be doable.

It may be doable, but so expensive that it’s not worth it.

I won’t share unless it works, because the techniques are also very frangible and friable and delicate. I can see them working – and then not working if even a relatively small group people decide to try to follow suit.

What I’m NOT happy with

This is the hard part, and I’ll illustrate it with two bits of feedback I received in the past two days:

Negative:

Readers’ Comments
‘Interesting in many ways. The characters have considerable
depth and the plot is interesting. It could do with a good
editor in parts to ‘cut it down’ a little. Also, parts of it
are difficult to follow. I had to re-read the first chapter to
understand all of it. But, if you are prepared to work, you
will find here a fascinating story populated with strong
characters. Just a note, the cover’s a bit flat.’ Male reader,
aged 42
‘Powerful characters – yes. Interesting plot with plenty of
twists – yes. Well described setting – yes. Very complicated
and a hard-to-follow writing style – yes. This probably needs
an editor with a red pen to cut it. If that happened, it would
be a top-notch EPIC!’ Female reader, aged 56

‘A bit too ‘wordy’ for me. If you read it, have a dictionary
handy. I’m guessing this was a huge job to write. And for
this, I congratulate the author. Her knowledge of her settings
and characters is stunning, and the illness of the author is
well-handled and adds a further element of interest. I enjoyed
it, though it was a rather exhausting read.’ Female reader,
aged 59

‘The stream of consciousness is interesting but killed the
book for me. It just over complicated the story and made it
difficult to follow. Personally, I would encourage the author
to cut the length of this story considerably. The characters
are interesting and well-handled, the plot is powerful with an
excellent ending. It just needs editing a little.’ Indie
Publisher, aged 51

I.e., Change your writing – it’s too long and too hard for me.

Positive:

Thank God for positive!

I have long finished your book and loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. It was entirely to my taste. “The Essex Serpent” had this kind of pacing as well, and I found myself absorbed in the balance between internal monologues and external events. I ended the book wanting to know what happens to Kary, Andrew and Bianca next.

I.e., I like it the way it is and want more.

Why point out only some people like it?

Because when you write to a niche, but there is a much larger pool of readers who won’t like what you write, or won’t quite ‘get it,’ you have to be very careful NOT to attract those other readers – who will then leave the exact kind of reviews you don’t want to be associated with, lower your rating, and attempt, in their kindness, to ‘fix’ you and your writing.

And when the readers you DO want to attract by your ads are firmly convinced that no indie author can write the right kind of novels, because if they could, these writers would go through the traditional gatekeepers and be blessed and vetted, the least thing can scare those readers off from even trying to read your book.

Ergo, fraught. Writing in such a niche. And even more fraught, is trying to find a way to do it indie anyway, including advertising. And still find readers.

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

But I had to find SOMETHING to do with the feedback which showed up in my inbox, and with the well-intentioned comments (change your price, get a professional to edit your work, get a professional to design your cover, make it shorter, CHANGE your book) which has been my fare lately.

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

How to pick a forever home

CHOOSE VERY, VERY CAREFULLY!

I’m in the middle of a huge search.

For a while now I have been staring the rest of my life, so to speak, in the face.

It has become – even before the events earlier this year which resulted in three stents – very obvious that living in a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath NJ suburban home was becoming untenable.

Like the older pet which needs to be rehomed so it can live out its remaining days in relative peace, I can’t handle the little I used to be able to handle of my life – without some major changes.

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ASSUMES YOU HAVE SOME CHOICES.

When you have no choices to make, you live the best you can, going along from one step to the next as well as you’re able. Your choices are dictated by the moment, by an illness, by something external you have no control over.

To a large extent, this depends on prior choices – did you take care of yourself physically? And did that work for you? Did you put some money into savings – assuming there was some to spare? Have you invested in a house which can be sold now? Are you able to move if that’s the best choice, or does something anchor you in place?

If you are poor, your choices are limited all the way along life.

If your health is not good, your choices are extremely limited. I’ve dealt with that one myself for 27+ years, with no end in sight; any change in that part of my life will be created, within the disease of CFS by me, and without, by some unknown researcher some day. Even if a cause and treatment are found, or a treatment only, there is no guarantee that it will reverse the damage I live with. Me managing like crazy, just to stay on a slowly-declining plane, is already doing the best that I can.

If life is unkind, you are already stuck, but there may be a possibility of becoming unstuck some day.

Facing the facts in time

Many people wait too long to make the decision where to go, what to do – and end up making that decision by accident, when a life crisis comes along.

Friends of my parents gave me a model. I didn’t understand it at the time, since they were living in a fair amount of material comfort in Guadalajara, but they went and bought into a community in, I believe, El Paso, TX. J at least was an American citizen, and one or both of them would probably have had Medicare by that age, and possibly they wanted to be in a place with access to American hospitals and healthcare. I know none of the details, but it seemed odd at the time (my own parents didn’t do the same, due to large extended family in Mexico City, and more limited funds) because of their family in Guadalajara, but now I see they were making a decision for a whole bunch of things while they were still capable and competent to make those decisions.

It has stuck with me, even though it has taken until the last couple of years for me to see the why.

I began four or five years ago to seriously consider the future. The kids were not all launched, but that time was coming closer.

I remember pointing out the advantages to a planned change – rather than a chaotic one induced by circumstances – to a colleague in a support group who was older, and whose wife was older, as well as to family.

No one listened; and the colleague’s wife now has advancing dementia – making it very difficult for him to move, for her to adjust to somewhere new, and for her to help in the decision and the move. Family has reached a different solution, and it was as a response to crises, just as I predicted, crises that might have been avoided.

The stories are everywhere: people whose parents refused to ‘be put in a home’ until a major illness or crisis caused a non-optimal solution to be hastily implemented. People who didn’t move until one of a couple faced significant health problems, at which point it was too late to enjoy the move.

We are fortunate to have options

Which is almost funny, since the story of my life lately is that I’m completely out of options.

I preach the necessity of disability insurance, if it is at all possible (and recommend you pay for it yourself – which has huge tax advantages if you need it), because you are five times more likely to become disabled during your working years than to die – and everyone has life insurance, but most don’t have disability insurance. Private disability insurance goes beyond SS disability (which is downright stingy): it kept us middle class when I became unable to work.

Consider also the possibility of a disability lasting long enough that you really need some built-in inflation protection. I had none, and it really hurt.

I would have been able to save more money had I worked. I prefer working – keeping myself sane these many years has not been easy.

So, facing the decision of what to do with the rest of our life is happening with me still sick, but with some retirement accounts and a house which can be sold.

The parameters to the decision

I am fortunate to have a living spouse in reasonably good health – right now. In fact, I would like to preserve that health: when he goes out to clear the snow or mow the grass on a hot humid day or prune bushes standing on a platform, I worry. I used to help with the snow – can’t do that any more (but he FINALLY bought a snowplow). I used to do a fair amount of the weeding – can’t do that any more, because sitting on the ground or a low chair or bending over cause significant pain over the next couple of days, and that heat and humidity are probably what landed me in the hospital this last time.

So he’s doing ALL the work, and even with some help from an assistant, he’s still IN CHARGE of all the work. We had people last year; they were ultimately unsatisfactory.

Taking care of house and yard consumes too much of his energy, all of mine, and just has to be done again. That doesn’t even take into account ‘things that go wrong,’ such as the roof or the AC or the driveway or the trees that die.

So, the obvious is a place where we do none of the maintenance work, in or out.

Another stressor has been how hard it is to leave the house to go somewhere for a vacation, added to how long it takes us to pack – and leave the house so someone else can do the bare minimum. Homeownership had its joys when we did everything ourselves (BC – before children); then it became just work while the kids were home and things got done when they had to be done, in among all the other chores; now it’s impossible.

Pet care – you’d never believe how hard it is to take care of one tiny chinchilla, and how difficult to arrange for someone to keep her alive while we’re gone. Impossible without an assistant (thank goodness I have one now for a few hours every week), still tricky even with someone who potentially can drop by every couple of days to make sure Gizzy has food and water and the AC hasn’t died (if it gets too hot, she won’t make it – that thick silky fur coat). Already seriously considering finding her another home (anyone want a slightly spoiled chinchilla?), and am making sure anywhere we consider allows pets in case she goes with us.

These will be the best years we have left

Seems obvious, but we’re not getting any younger.

I want a place where I can make the big push for 1) getting as much exercise as the CFS will allow, 2) making the best use of any improvements in walking ability, 3) hoping that reduced stress will contributed to better overall health and mobility.

This means I need a year-round pool and gym, and PT people on-site, somewhere I can actually get to without spending a day of my energy.

And we need bike paths. Even though I can’t go far, not being able to walk doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike! My limitation is actually the energy – I can go short rides, hope to be able to increase those a bit.

And I want good weather: in NJ, if you miss a ‘good day,’ there may not be another for a while. I grew up in Southern California and Mexico City, where weather was a stable thing, and the next day would be much like today, and both would be pleasant. Then, going out to do something will be governed by whether I have the energy today, not by whether it’s feasible!

I require a heated year-round pool. No quarter given on this one: I’m a water baby, even if I’m not actually swimming, and I’m not moving somewhere for the rest of my life that doesn’t have a pool. Not happening.

I tell the spouse that the next 5-10 years of our lives are the good ones – and if we are to do ANY traveling, it will be now. I want to see my mother and my extended family in Mexico, possibly at family reunions in Michigan. I want to go to the beach in the Riviera Maya or in places like Acapulco and Huatulco, which have warm ocean water in the winter. Because I know I can do these – at my extremely slow pace (once I cope with a week of packing and survive the week when we come back). I want to spend time doing a vacation with the kids while it still is fun for most of the family.

The solution? I’m working my tail off to find it

California has, at last count, 102 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) – places we can move to and get all those things above.

Some of them are unsuitable because they are retirement communities for particular religious groups we don’t belong to; others are urban and have no pool; still others are way too expensive for us (I’ve eliminated all the for-profits). Some would make it difficult for me to get to the gym or pool – my time being coherent is also limited, and the more energy I expend in getting, the less time I have for the activity; the independent cottages, ‘just a short walk away,’ seem, by definition, to require more health to get to the pool or gym – I believe an apartment in the same building as the facilities is my best option.

The CCRC concept is doing well. It is recommended you stick with places over 90% occupancy (proof of continuing fiscal responsibility), but when a place is 98% full, by definition there are few units left! People move on to assisted living or nursing home care (a CCRC by definition has both available to its residents when they need the next step), and some pass on, but the rates are not high, and I’d like to move fairly soon (once the pesky house is dejunked and sold).

It is a lot of research work and no one can do it for you. Not really. I have spent hours talking to nice sales and marketing people – only to hang up and realize there is no way we can afford their lovely CCRC. The main reason: they don’t put their prices on their websites (probably because then people won’t call and talk to the nice salespeople), but it is inefficient and wearying when you really do know how much you can afford and what you need, which most people on this search don’t yet. A tendency to put information such as ‘apartments start at…’ out for view means people think they might be able to swing it – and then can’t when the range of prices becomes known.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

I’ll figure it out. We’ll pick 5-8 of these places, and then take ‘the trip’: stay in a few, see the physical plant, smell the nursing home portion (apparently, that’s the biggie – clean places take work and money), and have lunch with some residents in assisted living to see how they are really living – and being treated.

Then we will make a decision, hope the house-selling sill support that decision, and spend an enormous amount of my good time – and all of husband’s – actually doing this.

The average age of entrance used to be 80; it’s already dropping as people realize they can’t live worry-free if they have a house on their hands. Even with a lot of money and a lot of help, it’s a constant set of chores.

Think about this sooner, rather than later, if this kind of solution to our common problem appeals to you. Time goes by much faster than you expect.

Wish us luck (even if you would never consider leaving your home, or living with a bunch of strangers horrifies you).

 

 

Walking around in fear is stressful

IT IS NECESSARY TO CHOOSE TO DUMP STRESS

I’m walking around fearing sudden death, sudden incapacitation, and the need for more time-sucking procedures/tests/doctor visits/hospitals…

It’s too stressful to LIVE THIS WAY.

But after a certain number of life hits on the head with a 2 x 4, there comes a state close to ‘learned helplessness,’ where, if you’re not careful, you LET the stress have free rein – and, while you can’t change reality (whatever that is for you), you have forgotten that you CAN change your attitude.

It never stops, the stress from life

In addition to the medical stuff, which came unbidden and must be dealt with, willy nilly, I now have some dental stuff – and what the dentist thinks is necessary to do.

And I’ve accepted the job of ‘person who locates and chooses our permanent abode.’

Permanent, as in ‘where we – husband and I – will live the rest of our lives.’

The permanent solution to life

We are looking at the particular model of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for a bunch of reasons, the main one being that we want to spare our children (none of whom live close to us now) the ‘problem of mom and dad’ – basically, what to do with us when we’re no longer competent to manage our own affairs, and they have to step in and make decisions FOR us.

We have seen, first hand, how our parents dealt with this.

First hand – and at a distance.

And it is an interesting general problem which we’ve now seen proceed four different ways!

In Mexico City, my four lovely younger sisters have done the ‘huge extended family takes care of mom and dad’ – and are continuing to date with Mother. Done with love, it has still taken a huge amount of resources, and I have been in no position to help with much – I barely manage to visit every couple of years, and do the tiny bit of US paperwork (still incomplete) because my parents are both US citizens.

In the States, my lovely sister-in-law, who has always lived much closer to my in-laws, has undertaken the huge and complete burden much of the time, shepherding her parents as they wished and she could, and pushing for more permanent solutions when they had to be undertaken. By herself, with occasional help from her brother – as she requested it – she is still supervising all the care for my FIL.

We will have no child close, geographically, unless we move close to one of ours (and that child doesn’t move following professional opportunities, the thing that took them far away in the first place). We have no extended family in the States.

And I, with my disabilities, could provide little help to them, even if I lived close.

Making our own choices requires an enormous amount of work NOW

Evaluating places to move to, figuring out finances (husband is doing most of this part), comparing the amenities – and the long-term healthcare options – at each place has become my additional task, added to trying to write, learning to advertise – and the energy-sucking cardiac rehab exercise.

The additional task that comes when you decide you no longer want to be in charge of a suburban NJ house is selling it. Which require getting it ready for market. Which in turn requires fixing a number of ‘little’ things which, while they don’t affect the quality of living in a house all that much (such as a bump on the driveway from a tree root), WILL affect either the salability or the eventual sales price.

And the final task: dejunking a house we moved into in 1981 and reared three children in (and homeschooled them in).

Even with an assistant – whose time has been mainly spent lately helping the Master with the annual gardening tasks, not me with the dejunking – the decisions are mostly mine. And I don’t make decisions easily (that brain fog thing you have with CFS) or quickly, even with help.

There are twin mottos to keep me going: ‘If it doesn’t give you joy, out it goes,’ and ‘If it won’t fit in a two-bedroom smaller apartment, out it goes.’

Even then it is hard to make the decisions, and they must come out of my tiny daily supply of ‘good time’ – which is also my WRITING time.

Compartmentalization – and all the other tricks

The stress accumulates. I notice. I poke holes in it, take the time to do my de-stressing yoga-type breathing. Repeat.

Because there IS too much stress right now, even if the ultimate goal is much less stress.

To Do lists. Using a Scrivener Project for each of the tasks.

Doing the required things – I will not give up the cardiac rehab exercises, even if they are not yet providing anything much in the way of extra energy.

And letting go of the guilt, including the guilt that pops its head up because I can’t contribute what I should have been able to contribute to this household, had I not gotten sick all those years ago. A hardy perennial, that guilt.

And the guilt of actually spending that money we have carefully been not spending all these years, so we could take care of our needs in retirement.

And, almost daily, talking myself down from the ledge of ‘Woe is me!’

Writing suffers when the writer is stressed – normal

Blog posts have suffered, and will continue to, but, ironically, I need this outlet – because it de-stresses me to pin all this stuff to the ground in its little cages, where I let one problem child out at a time, on my better days.

The writing happens most days – though not as long. I have learned to accept that pinning something down on a timeline I haven’t looked at in two years WILL take that day’s energy – and is a GOOD use of that day’s writing time – because it MUST be done.

Most of these are from things I probably should have figured out long ago, but 15 years writing the first novel was already long enough!

I think there aren’t too many left, but have just dealt with a doozy.

And am very pleased with myself because it DID work out – and locked in, again, that odd feeling I have sometimes that I am a chronicler of an actual story. Good if you’re writing mainstream fiction with a long timeline, many characters (64 NAMED characters as of the last time I counted), covering locations in several different countries and states.

My solution to stress always includes writing it out

That’s how I make sense of the world, take the circling thoughts out of my head and acknowledge and record them, and eventually find ways to deal with them.

It is also part of my usual process to… I don’t want to say ‘cheer myself up,’ because that somehow implies putting a false face of happiness on top of the real problems. To talk back, to the stress, to the situational depression, to my feelings of inadequacy, to the long list of things I SHOULD have done and SHOULD be doing which get ignored.

Basically, the MORE dysfunctional I become, or allow myself to become before I notice that it’s gotten me again, the LESS I can do to change anything that’s causing the dysfunction, and so I have to get out of that state. And I’ve already proved – by trying – that I cannot accept chemical help and still get anything done.

So it’s my own resources, the written process after the thinking, and continuing to chip away at everything as long as God give me life and any ability to do.

And it’s a good time to prioritize (which I’m not doing as well as I need to).

MY motto is: “I’m working on it!”

Thought you’d like to know – and me to record – what ‘it’ is right now.

I’m working on it. You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Revenue-enhancing’ has become a dirty word

DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SIGNED AND WHAT IT OBLIGATES YOU TO?

Even if you have insurance!

It didn’t used to be like this, and I’m sure they have plenty of good reasons, probably having to do with nitpicking by insurance companies, but I’m getting really tired of getting lied to, and having to be on my guard all the time for every little thing when I go to the office of some medical professionals.

I don’t want to name names, as I suspect it’s widespread, but I’m finding that I can’t get out of a medical/dental office without little enhancements  to the experience being offered as if they were included, or as ‘covered by insurance, so don’t worry about the cost,’ and when I check turn out to be covered – yes, but at 50%. Or with a ‘credit toward’ some expense which is entirely optional.

Or in the case of one practitioner, when he informed us that our insurance allowed us the reduced cost which had been negotiated by the insurance company – they didn’t actually pay him anything! I felt cheapened by the experience (which was expensive), and wondered whether I was supposed to be offering him his full price!

The lists of what isn’t covered can depend on whether someone entirely separate from you has called this (whatever it is) by one name or a different name, such as people being warned lately that a hospital admission (going in and staying over night) is not necessarily a ‘hospital admission,’ covered by insurance!

It wouldn’t be my problem, except that these little untruths are destined to cost ME big money, if not just time and effort. And hours on the phone to attempt to straighten out with person after person on the phone in ‘billing.’

Is it necessary – and if so, why isn’t it covered?

I depend on my insurance company to, in some sense, control the costs of medical procedures, which, having written this, may be the problem.

But I can’t change the contract negotiated between whoever is paying for the medical insurance and whoever is paying the providers of medical services by one iota.

I don’t expect to hear, from an insurance company, “doctors recommend this as completely necessary, but we won’t pay for it.”

Also, I don’t actually hear from a provider, “this is absolutely recommended, but insurance won’t pay for it.”

Instead, I will turn up at an appointment for a covered service, and find I have to see the billing person first, because I have a HUGE ‘copay.’ At which point my choices are to leave, or to pay for a bill I wasn’t expecting. For a service the doctor says is entirely optional – but necessary.

The result? Constant vigilance is required.

And I can’t go to one of these visits and deal with something that pops up on the spot (there is a small additional charge for X because insurance doesn’t cover it) – done in such a way that you are a cheapskate if you don’t get the extra candy-flavored teeth protection for your growing offspring.

Or you have to respond to the eye doctor’s in-house glasses representative that yes, you know the frames available at Retailer-X are cheap – and that you don’t care.

You can’t get home, as I did today, and find out that the service you received as ‘it’s time for your X-rays’ is only covered by your insurer every 60 months. And you didn’t ask, because you assumed that was their job.

Am I exaggerating?

I think not. This has happened in at least five different places and kinds of medical services in the past six months.

And even the blood tests are done by a place which hands you a form that says ‘Medicare may not pay for these services’ and requires that you sign that YOU will pay for them if Medicare rejects something – the doctor ordered!

Every time you decide you’re not going to take the risk, you end up spending gobs MORE time there, and may have to fast all night again if your doctor’s office doesn’t happen to be open that early on the day you went in.

Because, ultimately, the buck stops with you, and this stuff is unbelievably expensive (when billed at full rates), and they will send bill collectors after you.

So it’s important, you have little control, you can prepare for one thing and be bowled over by something else completely without realizing it, and every single thing will cause you stress, time, and energy.

I wonder how the older folk cope?

Has this bitten you?

 

When there’s been a hole in your writing

Lighthouse at night at end of pier. Text: What can change a writer's voice and style? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU STILL WRITE LIKE YOURSELF?

The Holy Grail for authors is to be recognized from their writing, because it’s distinctive and personal and memorable. It’s called voice, and goes along with having a style, sometimes for series, sometimes for all your books.

It is an interesting milestone when you find you have developed such features.

And the question I’ve been asking myself since all the garbage happened (starting way back in November of last year) is: Am I still myself as a writer?

Life events change people

And writers are people.

On some of the days I’ve been able to write since the side effects of medications have mostly been out of my system, I have noted with some pleasure that I seem to have learned how to do writing the way I do it – faster.

The process hasn’t changed – I gather a lot of bits my plotting process has decided will be in a particular scene, fill in some lists I have made for myself with such things as ‘What is the heart of this scene?’ and ‘What would happen if this scene weren’t here?’ and such, and start organizing the material into beats which make some kind of sense to me – and then the actual writing seems to flow, dreamlike, from all the little pieces, as they show me where they belong.

Maybe it’s faster because I’ve stopped second-guessing myself: most of the material will fit in, and occasional bits will be postponed, and very rarely a piece will be added to an earlier finished scene.

But I question such gifts.

Is it real?

And is it still me?

I don’t want a reader to notice that something ineffable has changed, and Book 2 feels wrong.

I won’t know the answer to this for a while, but I made a plea to my beta reader to be especially aware of the concept of change as she reads the new material (my method is to send it to her, polished, a chapter at a time).

I’m not sure what the heck I will do it I’ve been changed in my writing by the recent health events. I will accept that maybe the speed has come because I value my tiny bit of functionality even more, now that I’ve experienced how it can disappear completely for months on end.

But first I have to know.

I await her judgment. If she’s not sure, I will get more readers from those who loved PURGATORY, and beg them to look at a couple of chapters.

It’s a scary thought – and one of the things that’s been worrying me along with the obvious aftermath to health problems.

If you notice

anything specific in my NON-fiction – comments and posts and emails – that makes you wonder whether I’m still here, please let me know.

I have literally run to the end of my DIY ways: I can’t tell. And I don’t know why I’m slightly uneasy, unless it’s simply the kind of unease that makes you question EVERYTHING once you trip over something that shouldn’t have been there.

Oh, and: has this ever happened to you?

 

 

Writing poised under the Sword of Damocles

Pile of rocks on mountain. Text: What is ready to fall on your head? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

UNSTABLE ROCKS WILL CRUSH YOU

There are too many things going on in my life, and all of them critical.

But the thing that is making it hard to write right now is one I hadn’t expected: I can’t remember quite how I felt BS (BEFORE STENTS), when I ONLY had CFS.

And by ‘feel’ in this instance I mean sensations in the BODY.

What sensations am I having that are worrisome?

I’m writing about these because they are both common and keep happening.

I’m doing far more exercise (even in my pitiful little amounts) that I was doing before. Part of it has involved a rowing motion with my arms against a resistance, which uses the chest muscles (pectorals) in an unaccustomed way.

So it isn’t really surprising that these muscles have a spot or two where there is sensation. By which I DON’T necessarily mean pain. Just a tightness that is in the muscle, in places which vary but are repeatable. Over and above the left breast. Outer, center, inner – is what I call them. Once of them seems to be relieved by burping. There are one or two similar spots on the right side – but the right side is dominant, and the muscles may be more used to being used. So, less noticeable?

Are those spots connected to the stents? Or are they simply the same spots on the same muscles – because that doesn’t change. Are they INSIDE the ribcage? Or outside, in the overlying muscles. It’s hard to tell.

There is a slight shortness of breath – when I climb a bunch of steps in a row. Or walk a longer distance than usual unsupported, such as when I walk from the house to the car. Or walk across the lawn to the mailbox and back. The heart rate can go up noticeably – until I sit down and let myself relax. I should expect SOMETHING when I do that – when is it too much?

There are muscles in my upper arms which get a bit weird – sometimes one will make it impossible to sleep because it waits about 6 seconds, and gives me an electric shock – for very long times, until I get up and do some range of motion exercises and some stretches and maybe eat something, and sometimes take ibuprofen (I’m trying to minimize NSAIDs, so I resist).

The question: are these significant?

All of these things could be symptoms. Of clogging arteries. Of something about to happen again. Of something not quite right.

But the thing is that they are not up to the level of being ‘reportable’ – or, heaven forbid, calling the doctor about on a weekend, or going to the ER.

I feel I’m on permanent ‘symptom watch.’ I’m waiting for the symptoms to get worse before doing something, in the same way I should have done something when the shortness of breath happened BS.

They used to drive me crazy in the hospital asking me to rate my pain. For someone who lives with a fair level of constant other pain, it is difficult to choose the higher numbers on the scale, and I’m aware of both minimizing and exaggerating as possibilities.

So, not being able to say ‘this is significant,’ and instead being in ‘wait and watch’ mode continuously is stressful. And stress is bad.

It would help if I could remember which of these were life BS

Standing has been a problem for years, and causes pain. So is my exercise making that worse? Or is something more nefarious going on?

If I walked with the walker BS, I often had pain the next day – I’m supporting part of my body weight with those chest muscles and arms on the walker.

I did as much exercise as I could do prudently before – including a lot of isometrics, which involve clenching a muscle and holding it. I know there were times when I did more than usual, and really noticed it.

And I used to ride the bike, too. The next day I usually felt it.

But I had no reason before to make an accurate record of pains and locations – my modus operandi has always been to ignore most of this stuff as much as possible so as not to waste energy on what I couldn’t change anyway.

PTS anyone? Post-traumatic stress?

It’s one of the major symptoms, being hyperalert, and wondering and worrying about things which may or may not be triggers.

Always being on alert is more than exhausting.

Wondering exactly where on the continuum you’re supposed to do something wears you down. That and wondering if it’s new/real/important. Or ignorable.

So I’m sharing with my blog, and hoping that noticing and documenting feeling physical and mental is enough to disarm them – and that the PTS is slowly going away as I do so.

I really don’t want to have to find someone and take the energy to explain all this stuff to.

Thanks for listening, if you got this far. Share if it resonates.

On a bicycle I’m a human being

freedom comesLIFE IS ABOUT USING WHAT YOU HAVE, OR HAVE LEFT

It is a very odd thing, but psychologically important, that you feel different in different circumstances, depending on how you see yourself and society sees you.

It’s probably built into the brain we have that is evolved from millenia of those who survived to pass on their genes: we automatically evaluate those we see for signs of weakness, even when we don’t plan to eat them.

Where is this going?

On a bicycle you can’t tell that I’m disabled. That I can’t walk properly, or for more than a few steps without a walker. I just look like a woman out for a bike ride.

I know many people who can‘t ride a bike because their knees won’t let them, or because their balance is challenged, or because they can’t sit on one for very long due to many problems.

In some sense, I’m better than them.

We judge automatically, instinctively, and if we’re not careful, permanently.

On a bicycle I’m a normal human being.

Not something which botched back surgery back in 2007 has condemned to pain every time I stand for more than a few seconds, and who can’t push off on a stride, but only swing legs from the hip.

Why am I thinking about riding a bike?

Because I have had a major crisis of self-confidence this year, earlier, what with the chest pain and the stents, and the recovery.

And a couple of weeks ago, I got the bike out, did the ritual (helmet, cellphone in the bag under the seat, make sure the hair doesn’t get in my eyes, clip on the pants leg…) and scared myself even though I managed to go out for a spin around the neighborhood.

Forgot my bike gloves, which I later regretted, as my palms were definitely tingly by the time I got back.

First time this year. First time since the approaching winter made it too cold last year. First time since the horrible viruses of November which lasted for three months. First time since I was last myself… You get the idea.

Getting on the bike was NECESSARY to prove to myself I was still myself.

And it failed – in the sense that I felt shaky and uncertain and scared. Because I knew that I was afraid to stop if I had to, because the side effects seem to have emphasized that I’m vertically challenged. Because one of the young college undergraduates in our choir was wearing a cast because she fell off her bike. Because a friend who has CFS fell and broke his foot.

For any number of reasons, that first bike ride didn’t make me feel ‘normal.’ Even my normal, which is a lot smaller than many people’s ‘normal,’ but better than the normal of my friends who are bedridden. I wasn’t back to just hopping on a bike and going for a spin, even the short ones I take.

Solutions?

Well, giving up riding a bike seemed premature (though if you’d felt as unstable on that bike as I did, you’d be seriously considering it).

Buying a new bike? This bike I have is ancient, and rusted, and in need of serious maintenance. A recumbent bike? Or a nice, stable tricycle-for-grownups?

We are looking for a retirement community, and a move to another state is a possibility, and I’m trying not to acquire more stuff now or make permanent decisions about things like this until we are settled.

So, don’t ride the rest of the time we’re in suburban NJ?

The odd physicist’s solution

Or should I say, the physicist’s odd solution? Because it involves physics of stability.

Bicycles are stable, more or less, IN MOTION. 2-D stability, as it were. That’s why they have the kickstand. In motion, they have that gyroscopic effect that they resist falling in the direction perpendicular to their motion. Ie, sideways.

Tricycles have proper 3-D stability. Because there’s something in the perpendicular direction that keeps them from falling over, with or without you on them, whether they’re in motion or not.

Training wheels achieve this effect when you’re learning to ride.

We’re thinking constantly about all the stuff in our house and garage, because a 4 bedroom house with basement and garage has a lot more areas to stuff stuff than a 2 bedroom apartment in a retirement community, which is what we’re aiming at.

One of the things stored in our garage for AGES was a bright yellow cart meant for pulling two small children behind your bike. And that’s what my brain kicked out: stability. A cart intended for small children was designed to be inherently stable: the bike + cart has to be stable while you’re putting those little ones in the back and fastening the seatbelt. Fairly heavy duty for its job: those are your kidlets, and they are small and precious. And HIGHLY visible. With its own reflectors, even.

This time I didn’t fail

Almost didn’t get it attached – that was work. And the attachment mechanism has a plastic pin which went through the snap lock around the bike’s pole – which was maybe not as flexible as it was twenty years ago (plastic seems an odd choice, but that’s what it was). I couldn’t get it through the hole.

So I went and found a nice solid metal bolt of the right diameter, with a nice nut, and have attached this sucker pretty permanently to my bike. It can be removed, but I’m not planning to.

Success!

I put the helmet – and gloves – and bike clip on, stored the cellphone in the little bag, and found that my combination made it much easier for an unstable old rider to get started.

It may have been a placebo effect; or partly psychological (that self-confidence which had decided it found a solution). But I didn’t care. I was up and going, only a little shaky.

I put it to the test on our court: I tried stopping – it felt more stable, not as it had the last time, because I could trust the bike not to fall over, so I could afford to lean on it a bit. It was easy getting started again – I didn’t have to be on a safe place, like our driveway. I was just a woman on a bicycle, stopped. Phew!

All I needed was to not worry about killing myself or damaging something.

I rode around the neighborhood a bit. I stopped to see an old friend I haven’t visited in half a year. She didn’t even think about the cart on the back, but instinctively understood it was more stable.

And I got that little bit of self-confidence up and running: losing the ability to ride a bike was in the same category as when they take your keys away and don’t let you drive any more.

Because, you see, on a bike I’m my normal human being, and you can’t tell how many things I can’t do.

Then I went in and took a nap.

Guest post: patience, boredom, and personal choice in dealing with them

Woman floating in turquoise water. Text: Attitude makes all the differenceWE MAY BE ABLE TO CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND

Even when we don’t get to choose what happens.

My friend Gay Lyon responded thoughtfully to my whines about patience and boredom, and has kindly allowed me to share her words.

Gay, you’ve thought so much out. I haven’t gone there, because this is actually the first time in which it has hit me like this. I was always able to try to do something, and then that something would wipe me out, and I’d be too exhausted to do something for a while. Repeat.


Gay Lyon on Boredom, Patience, and how she deals with them – better than I do

Maybe there are people who are naturally patient, but I have my doubts. I’m inclined to believe that patience is developed by having no choice. I’ve spent a lot of time the past several years waiting to recover from a crash similar to yours, for days, weeks, months, at a time. I’m on month 5 of this current one. I’ve learned a certain amount of patience, because there’s not a darned thing I can do to hurry it along, and fretting only prolongs it.

In terms of boredom, it’s a question of what to do when you can’t do anything, isn’t it? I can tell you some of the things I do, but I don’t know that you’ll like it, because if anyone had said anything similar to me before I was forced to come up with them myself, I would have thought it sounded preachy and would have wanted to slap them.

My whole life before becoming sick was about DOing. Prolonged periods of having both brain and body conked out have forced me to reflect on simply BEing. Who am I, what am I, if I am not defined by what I do? Do I, does any human being, have any intrinsic worth outside of what we do? Are there ways in which a life which isn’t a life of service can have value? I have no answers to offer, but thinking about it is a way to occupy yourself when you are lying there staring at the ceiling.

Give thanks for boredom, because when I’m feeling really, really sick, I’m not bored, I’m just miserable. Boredom is a sign I’m starting to feel better.

I have to admit, I’m not often bored anymore. I was bored a lot more the first few years I was sick. Most of the time now, I’m too busy to be bored. Not because I do so much, but because I do everything so slowly that getting through the activities of daily living doesn’t leave a lot of time left over.

Another thing which I do when I can’t do anything else is pay attention. Be very observant. Look out the window. Really look. Look at the leaves on that tree; how many colors are there on one leaf? What shape is it? In what pattern do they grow on the branches? Is the top side different from the bottom? Can you see the veining? Applying that level of observation to everything around you fills up a lot of time.

And once you have observed it, as a writer, how would you describe it? Just thinking about how you would put it into words can help hone your craft.

You can apply the same type of observation to your internal self, too. For instance, what is this experience you identify as “boredom”? How does it actually feel? Is there a physical sensation connected to it? Where does it come from? Do you attach a positive or negative value to it, and if so, is that valid?

It’s a cliché to say that although you may not be able change your circumstances, you can change how you react to them. But I believe it’s true that misery comes from the longing for things to be other than what they are. I try to overcome that by actively looking for what’s good (the bright side, if you will) in my situation; things I can be thankful for. The bleaker your current situation, the more challenging that effort becomes.

My whole life, one of my greatest joys has been learning new things. So I ask myself, what can I learn from this? Or what have I already learned, without noticing it?

I hope your time having to rest both your body and your brain is short enough that your question becomes moot. But if not, maybe these thoughts will give you something to do in the meantime.


I’m trying, Gay. It does not come naturally.

Patience is a virtue I don’t possess

Water drops. Text: How to survive Boredom. Not very well. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY TIME?

I apologize to God every day for the time I’ve been given and have wasted.

I’m not a big believer in just letting time float by, which makes this akin to the sin of laziness.

I don’t mind hard work – never have – and always intended to work hard my whole life, to use my time wisely, and to help others: family, friends, community, nation.

I always felt, when I was young, that I could work my way out of any dead end, find a way to proceed from where I was to where I wanted to go.

I trusted that there was a purpose for me, and I tried to discern that purpose. Since I seemed to be able to handle math and science better than my peers, I determined I would be a physicist. After that, the PhD seemed a useful next step – I would do research. There was a paucity of women in hard science, so that must be my goal in life, what I was meant to do, and I enjoyed it a lot of the time, too.

It turned out I liked programming computers, and I preferred doing so with a worthwhile use for all that power: scientific computing in between the experimentalists and the theorists in my chosen field fit perfectly as a home.

Even when I got sick, I found ways to make myself useful, and that gave shape to what was left of my life: kids, husband, home – the energy went there. Instead of spending time and energy getting kids to school at the same time with a lunch, we homeschooled, and the science was poured into projects and fairs, competitions and internships.

As the kids needed me less, I taught myself to write fiction, poured into writing what I could spare.

Healing? Feels like a complete waste of time.

In a week it will be three months since they finally figured out what was wrong and installed the magic third stent in the right place. It’s been longer since the beginning of the whole thing, much longer if you add the three months of coughing that started last Nov. 1.

I am trying hard to be grateful for being alive: while there’s life, there’s hope.

But this status right now, waiting to see if I will even get back to that very basic writing level I had over half a year ago, having days go by without producing anything, week after week after week, feels not like healing, but like waste.

I can force myself to do a few things when they’re critical – but the ones I need to do with a bit of a brain are on the list of things piling up by the day.

And I can’t force myself to write fiction. It is a higher ability which can be encouraged but not ordered, and it had disappeared completely as of over a month ago, with the zombie brain that came from the last, unnecessary, drug: clopidogrel – generic Plavix. I stopped taking it two weeks ago, and it took ten days before I could say it was letting go of its grip.

I’m not back yet. All my schedules and timings are off. It takes me far longer to have the brain click on – and it stays on for a very short time, and then clicks back off.

So I wait, and another day goes by with nothing to show.

Exercise? A joke.

My online CFS friends tell me it can be four months before I will even see the beginning effects of my tiny bit of exercise. The exercise? Eight minutes, three times a week, of deliberately sub-aerobic recumbent rowing motion for arms or legs, in four 2-min. bursts, separated by 4-min. rests. Even I can’t see how that will add up to anything in four months, since I can’t increase it, as I barely tolerate it now. It will be two months in a week.

Without the clopidogrel, there is no huge pain surge after the exercise. But there is also only the slightest hint that I will be able to increase the intensity. I’m grateful for the eight minutes – but it is pitiful.

I do my exercise – missed one day because I got too much walking to be functional later – because it is the one thing I’m doing which the doctor told me to do. I was trying to exercise before I found out one of my arteries (I don’t believe the other stents were necessary) was almost blocked, and it hadn’t been going well, for what now looks like obvious reasons. So I will keep that one up, hope for improvement, and be prepared for it to take a long time.

I haven’t tried a bike ride yet – I could do that before, but I have a residual ‘vertical instability’ feeling from the drugs, and I’m not sure I’m safe yet.

Which still leaves me with 17 hours a day to ‘use’

And during which I’m still tireder than I was before, which makes no sense to me since supposedly I have better blood flow!

I have been bored out of my gourd. I can’t read – that uses energy I haven’t had. I can only watch a bit of TV in the evening – two shows, and I’m tired. From watching the friggin TV! I can’t do useful things – no energy. Though I’ve managed a couple of weeding sessions, sitting on the ground for a couple of hours getting those pesky strawberries and onions out – losing the complete next day because I did too much SITTING. Honestly – it’s appalling.

So what HAVE I been doing?

Writing. The journals for every day since I got out of the hospital now include 62,000 words; and the auxiliary material – drugs, stents, papers – another 36,000. About 5% of that is time stamps; the rest is a good size novel. Boring and repetitious, but it has allowed me to see patterns, which identified the side effects – and the consequences of drug changes. I haven’t had the energy to report the side effects to the FDA – a huge item on my to do list.

Reading. I forced myself to read that bunch of scientific papers (okay, SKIM, not read, looking for the necessary parts – because things were getting worse by the day in the side effects department, and I needed to get off drugs). Unbelievably exhausting – but I found what I needed – thank you, Dr. Google and online medical papers.

Blogging. I think I’ve put out around ten posts of about 1500 words each, turning some of that journaling into semi-coherent pieces of description of one or another topic in those journals.

Surfing. THERE IS NOTHING TO READ ON THE INTERNET. I don’t know where most of the content went, but it seems WAY down from when I started educating myself on self-publishing back in 2012. Several prominent bloggers then have either stopped posting, or have cut way back.

Games. No, don’t get excited – I haven’t had the brainpower for real games. Sudoku and Drench, a simple flash game, things I can play rather mindlessly (even the hard Sudokus which I use to gauge mental speed); very occasionally Bee Cells on my Color Nook – the only thing I sometimes charge it up to take somewhere (I can’t leave it charged – no ability to stop playing).

Sleeping. Night runs 6-7 interrupted hours; and I’m still aiming for 3-5 half-hour naps during which my brain dumps the junk (I call it ‘mental dialysis’ – used to work much better). I meditate during the naps, keep the heart rate and blood pressure down, calm myself, get through.

Sitting. Here, at the computer, waiting each day for my brain to come back. Getting an hour once a week up until quite recently. Now I’m up to an hour every second or third day. Note that it takes me 5-6 hours to GET that hour, and involves rituals having to do with Diet Coke, food, naps, and what I’m allowed to do while there is any possibility the brain might visit that day (mostly that surfing, and the leaving of comments if there’s ANYTHING I can contribute to a discussion).

Can’t: listen to music – it hurts my ears. Do anything artistic, even coloring in a coloring book, because it seems both boring and pointless. Embroider. Sew. Clean. Work on getting this house ready for market when my assistant is here a few hours a week. Talk to people – phone, video, or in person are exhausting. Leave the house – I think I’m up to once or twice a week, and pay for it, and most of them have been visits to the you-know-whos.

There IS no solution that comes from without

I don’t need pity. Suggestions are pretty useless in the present conditions, though they have been lovely from people showing concern.

All I can do is HOPE that this extremely slow process – doing what I can, exercising my 8 min. three times a week, continuing to eat carefully so it doesn’t set off the new gut instabilities and I lose a bit of weight (good for heart and joints), praying, not giving up – will result in something positive.

I got that hour of ‘brain on’ today – and finished a scene I started six weeks ago. It isn’t me, it isn’t writer’s block – the instant the brain is on, I head for the WIP (work in progress) and get started. It isn’t depression keeping me from writing (though I’m rather depressed about the situation, it’s just that, situational). And it isn’t even dealing with the post-traumatic stress – I’ve done that, I’m doing that, and without the drugs in my system some of the more hallucinatory effects have disappeared (which proves they’ve never been me in the first place).

I can’t even eat chocolate! I tried a couple of times, made two tablespoonfuls of chocolate chips last an hour – and then was hit with a rapid heart rate and elevated temperature period afterward, each time, that has made me very skittish.

I feel like Job in the Old Testament – hopeful, yet subject to boils and all other disasters. My trust in the Almightly hasn’t wavered (much), but I sure wish I could ask Him a lot of questions.

As I said, PATIENCE is a virtue I don’t have.

I’m being forced to pretend. Got it. I don’t need to disturb my poor friends and family any more than I’ve already done.

If I’ve missed something obvious, please feel free. Pray. I don’t see what else to do.


Thank you for letting me vent. I will be happy to listen to YOU vent.

And yes, I’m still grateful to be alive, however pointless it seems right now. It CAN get a LOT worse. But then boredom wouldn’t really be the problem any more – survival would.

Dealing with stress after medical trauma

Painting and drawing tools. Text: Have the tools? Now do the WORK. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

ACKNOWLEDGING DAMAGE

Damage comes in many forms in the aftermath of a medically traumatic event to self or loved one.

Humans are fragile.

The point of no return is frighteningly close.

Way too many people I know have lost a parent permanently over a stupidity: the hospital ER staff didn’t consider Mom was dehydrated – until her kidneys were permanently damaged.

Inappropriate drugs in the hospital pushed Dad over the edge.

Cousin Larry went in for routine optional back surgery – at 70 – and didn’t come out. I am a couple of years younger only, and facing possible ‘routine optional back surgery’ to be able to walk properly.

The hospital gave a friend access to infections somehow, and he almost died after a routine biopsy.

I could EASILY not have made it: the 95% blockage causing the chest pain was missed TWICE by the ‘gold standard’ cardiac catheterization, and I was actually sent home as ‘fine’ the first time, to spend six days dealing with chest pain I had been assured was NON-CARDIAC.

Life is short and hard, and we all die at the end, but sudden death – and near misses – wreak havoc with one’s sense of self.

And most of the above happened to people I know in very recent memory, so you can say I’ve been more than usually primed/skittish/on edge. I was chronically ill, but okay because I could write, albeit slowly.

Fear must be conquered over and over again

I’m going to keep this short (ha!), and just put right here this afternoon’s fear thoughts. Maybe they – or the process of getting them out – will resonate with someone:


FROM THE FEAR JOURNALS: May 4, 2017 at 1:40 PM

PTS takes what it takes – I had to spend some time on it because I’m not just snapping back as hoped for.

Am I really that afraid to try to write, given the lame effort I produced on drugs?

I am.

I am afraid of having lost it somehow during this bad half-year, or just the bad three months past.

Fear. Common ordinary fear.

Ouch!

I don’t have enough of a following for them to read my writing if it isn’t great.

Ouch!

I wouldn’t WANT them to read my writing if it isn’t great.

Ouch!

What has taken a hit is my self-image as a great writer.

Ouch.

And the sad part is that I would never do that to someone else. Ouch.

Ego/fear. Takes something like this to shake you up again, because that self-confidence is a trifle fragile.

Or because talent is. Even with hard work, great writers lose it. The Peter Blatty example – Dimiter, which I found unreadable – is always before me (though I should reread The Exorcist – maybe I was less discriminating when I found it so gripping. Ouch.).

Common ordinary fear.

Which is fixed by work. If you’re lucky.

And now I can try to do the work again, and I am immensely grateful.

Even though I haven’t succeeded yet, and am getting frantic.

AFTER-EFFECT: It is taking me a lot longer to get the brain to the functional stage the way I used to, and some days there is no click, and THAT is the after-effect: time delay.

THAT is the drugs and getting them out of my body and the damage there still is.

Additional slowness – to a system that was marginal at best.

I refuse to consider that it may take a year to get ‘me’ back.

But it may take a few more days for everything to come back, for the damage to be repaired.

And I’m still afraid that the residual effects might be permanent: lots more prep – and much less functional time.

And I’m FAR tireder than I think I SHOULD be.

Silly me: where do I think all this effort came from?

Even good stress – defending my choice – is exhausting. None of it is cost free to people like me.

There’s never been any slack, which is why I excoriate myself when I think I’ve wasted time, like today, by not just gritting my teeth and getting back to work. Made it worse When I know I can’t write with that low an energy level.

And [my assistant] is coming, and the other front patch needs weeding, and…


Things are what they are

And none of us expect sympathy or pity for whatever life throws at us and we are forced to handle.

I don’t.

This is part of dealing with the Post-medical-trauma-stress: realizing that it didn’t just add its own bits, but it REACTIVATED all the fears about myself and my writing that I had dealt with/shoved under a rock.

Because that’s what stress does.

It is so hard to let more days go by without getting anything any writing of fiction done.

At least I did my exercises in the morning, and I got out in the afternoon. Both may contribute to eventual improvement.

I’m still working on it. [I’d rest even more if I thought it would help.] Obstinate type.

Comments always welcome – thanks for all the support as I put myself back together.

The phenomenon of the one-book author

Image of single orange flower, half open; Text: If you only have ONE STORY, is it worth writing? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtTHIS IS A QUESTION FOR FICTION WRITERS

I have been, since last November, in a position I had not been in in years, and which I neither like nor have coped with particularly well: not being able to write due to major illness and health problems.

Which is kind of ironic, since I’ve been out of commission as a scientist, my true and original career (though I planned to write in retirement, and DAMN! here I am at retirement age and technically retired from a job I was forced to abandon in 1989) for almost THIRTY years. A real shame after all those years in grad school battling to get a degree in a man’s field, Nuclear Engineering, and thirteen good years at major US science labs. But Life does things like that to you, and you roll with the punches, or don’t make it.

So, not to belabor the point, I’ve been out of commission for half a year almost; and now, due to the medications prescribed by my doctors, am facing the very real possibility that my brain will not come back to me, that the cognitive dysfunction which has been a result of the FIVE medications recommended for me to take (and which I’m fighting), and the still head-shaking INCREASE in exhaustion which I didn’t think could get worse.

Yes, I know we all get old and eventually die, and some don’t get to become old first, and there is dementia lurking on the horizon, but at my age, I felt I still had a number of usable years left – until now. Now, I hope I have years left, but I’m starting to get seriously worried about what has happened to my brain to make it even LESS usable.

Ten Early Warning Signs for losing your mind to dementia

This one particularly scares me because I store it years ago, AND I CAN’T REMEMBER – OR FIND VIA GOOGLE – WHERE I GOT IT.

The signs are the same in many places, so I am apologizing in advance to the person whose particular phrasing of them I’m going to show you (please let me know if you are that person, and what you want me to do):

  • Memory loss for recent or new information – repeats self frequently
  • Difficulty doing familiar, but difficult tasks – managing money, medications, driving
  • Problems with word finding, mis-naming, or mis-understanding
  • Getting confused about time or place – getting lost while driving, missing several appointments
  • Worsening judgment – not thinking thing through like before
  • Difficulty problem solving or reasoning
  • Misplacing things – putting them in ‘odd places’
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Changes in typical personality
  • Loss of initiation – withdraws from normal patterns of activities and interests

It doesn’t say in this list, or the one a an Alzheimer’s site, that the person’s AWARENESS of their own increasing problems is or isn’t a risk factor; my personal experience was the ability to hope that my people who had this problem were NOT scared and living in a hell of knowing their minds were going, when it was obvious to all of us – probably including THEM.

Since being put on cardiac drugs starting in February of this year, I have had EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE EARLY SIGNS HAPPEN TO ME. REPEATEDLY. Sometimes I’m very aware of it, and other times have had to have it pointed out to me that I was not thinking clearly.

I am aware of NOT being myself

It’s pretty obvious.

And when I haven’t been able to write fiction, the one thing I do which exercises my creative brain for a few hours on a good day (assuming all the incantations and spells have been laid, and the careful management of the physical body with rest, food, fasting, pain meds from before, and caffeine), and this started to go on and on and on, I’ve gotten pretty scared.

It’s subtle – NOT being yourself. It includes so many little things you can try to ignore, such as having literal trouble forming a word before you speak it…

So now, rather than bore you with my mental decline…

I would like to examine the title phenomenon: the one-book author.

Where is the place in the pantheon of writers for the person who chooses to or is forced to write but one book during their lifetime?

We have a bunch of famous ones, such as Margaret Mitchell and Anne Frank and Harper Lee (yes, in spite of the abomination of GSAW, which I refuse to blame her for).

In many of these cases, the process took a very long time. The reason for those is that the writer had to learn how to write, and if you have ever tried this little exercise, you know that the first thing you have to overcome is the sparkling story in your brain, compared with what you are able to set in permanent form when you try, especially the first time.

The authors may simply have not wished to do that process again. Or found more interesting and exciting things to do. Or ran up against the world and critics and the nether regions of fame, and decided strongly never to do that again.

Some of them were no longer with us when their one book was available for purchase. John Kennedy Toole (I believe he only has A Confederacy of Dunces out, with a Pulitzer in fiction to his memory) committed suicide; his mother stubbornly kept nagging editors until one published his novel.

How does this affect the READING PUBLIC?

That’s the part in curious about, and it may have changed in these days of self-publishing AND self-promoting.

Single novels written by indies MAY SINK WITHOUT A TRACE.

The continuation of the writing career, a pickup in merchandising, readers discovering the writer and reading their backlog – all of these things are necessary for all but the VERY LUCKY INDIE who catches the eye of someone in just the right position with just the right book.

Many of our successful overnight indie wonders are no more overnight than persistent: they have been writing – and publishing – longer than I have been writing, but fame just found them. A couple go viral each year: in one year it was Darcie Chan and The Mill River Recluse – which she sold 600k of at 0.99. I don’t know what she wrote before that (it was advertised as a debut novel); after that, she was picked up by a publisher, her prices were raised, and I don’t think the following two books did anything like the first in sales. I like her success (though would not want to be picked up by a traditional publisher without having the terms very carefully vetted); the books aren’t my style (they have, like WAY too many books nowadays, a REALLY NASTY SECRET in the past).

But aside from Chan, I haven’t seen a book sell two million copies like The Goldfinch, which was hyped and marketed by big pub (also, not a debut novel, IIRC).

There is a very good reason sometimes

When the first book is not as good as it could be.

Indies fictioneers don’t usually have the means to push that first book; reasonable indies expect their career to pay for itself, more or less, as they go. There’s no point to pushing a first one, if the writer can’t repeat the process in a reasonable period (write, publish, promote the hell out of).

And the most important reason is usually lack of knowledge. An indie, like myself, who spent 15 years writing a book, trying more to finish it properly than market before it’s finished, may have READ about marketing techniques, but has not MARKETED a real book yet, and there’s a huge conceptual and executional chasm between the cliffs.

So, what does that mean for indies like me?

If my career ended with To Be Continued at the end of Pride’s Children PURGATORY, because MY brain never returns capable of writing fiction, what happens to that book? What happens to the story, the ONLY one I want to write until it is finished.

I have been sitting at my desk for upwards of five hours daily since April 8 – with the result of a few notes.

The sad part: I had learned what parts of my ‘process’ could be sped up, and was actually doing quite well writing the second book, NETHERWORLD. Well started, completely planned, and in possession of a ratty old first draft and knowledge of my changed. My plan was to take less than a year to do the next book, another year for the third.

Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.

I’m a good Christian, and a realist: God know exactly what will happen to me, what I will choose in the future, when I will go Home to Him. I can’t change an iota of all that.

Sometimes in the past two months and a half, I would have been perfectly happy for Him to say, “Okay, pack your bags – you’re coming home!” It has been that bad. Many times.

Not my choice, but a realist says, “Yes, Lord,” and brings very little in those bags.

That would leave me with nothing else published, and an unfinished story – which I’m assuming would do the proverbial sinking, sitting on the Kindles of the few people who discovered it since late 2015 for a while – and mostly abandoned.

It hasn’t done that well since it came out – I have a hard time with various of the components.

Price is one – few people want to pay $8.99 for an indie ebook of 167K tightly woven words, regardless of the fact that it’s cheaper than two 80K $4.99 books, or three 55K $2.99 books, and they can get an eARC for free by just asking.

Cover is another – if I had $10 for each ‘change your cover’ suggestion, I’d have a nice little advertising budget.

People who expected a Romance are cutting that it is too long or too slow.

And most readers (mine do better than average) simply don’t review OR tell their friends OR gift a book they like. Sometimes I wonder if they’re feeling guilty that they got pulled in to such a thing about a disabled woman.

And, of course, the ads – have NOT hit my stride there.

So what will happen to PC? PC 1-and-only?

If this is it for me, or my brain, which are roughly equal in importance for me.

But mostly because there would be no more.

I dunno.

I think the famous ones like GWTW had a lot of push in their day FIRST, and then it slowly became apparent the author was not going to write a sequel.

The reason for this post:

Suppose all of that were true: no more of the trilogy, no more books by me, no more writing to push what I already have to justify having spent my entire FREE time during the past 17 years doing nothing else.

Would I care? Yes.

Would I feel I should have spent my time otherwise?

NOT ON YOUR LIFE.

I hope it doesn’t sink like a stone, but I still have it available next to my bed in the nursing home for as long as I’m alive, whether I can read it or not.

And if God gives me life, and a brain to live it with, I will keep going forward.

Otherwise, I’ll try to remember to write out a quick outline of the rest of the story, as my daughter has advised, for anyone curious. They can post it on PridesChildren.com when I’m not here any more.

Assuming I have enough brain to write it.

If you are kind, please pray the dementia is reversible.

Fragility and vulnerability after the stent

Woman looking up at tall grey wall; Text: I sed to be me. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

WHEN ISN’T IT WORTH IT BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT YOU?

The more things that happen to you, one after another, which you have no control over, the more stressed out you’re going to be.

Some people, with an invincible attitude, do well under stress – they aren’t going to let it bother them.

Others learn with yoga and breathing techniques, to manage the unmanageable somewhat, and have something they can do when they feel stressed – which makes the stress bearable.

I’m running scared.

I’m not going to claim PTSD – the disorder part in particular – but I can see a bit of how people get to that point.

And when the solutions don’t work, when the medications given to alleviate the ‘problems’ don’t work, and instead have side effects as bad as, or worse than, the problems themselves, one starts to feel fragile and vulnerable – and scared.

I can no longer count on myself

I drove myself to church Sunday, finally getting back to my little choir at the Princeton U. chapel I love singing with, and things were going about as normal as you could expect. I left home having both eaten something and had a nap, and was even on the road a bit early, a good start. The substitute choir leader was kind and gentle and treated us as professionals. I brought a few people quickly up to date as to why I hadn’t been there since Feb. 4, and the singing went well.

Even climbing the steps from the crypt – which had become a problem I didn’t realize is called ‘shortness of breath,’ and which I mistakenly assigned to CFS or to simply getting older – was more doable than it had been – I took it slow from caution, not necessity.

Afterward, I chatted a few minutes, hit the bathroom (halfway down to the crypt), and set out for home after peeling an Atkins bar so I wouldn’t be empty, and starting to munch it in the car.

Getting home was the problem

Mind you, I’ve been driving myself just fine for at LEAST four years, maybe longer. I drove myself home the night of Feb. 4, when I ended up in the hospital the first time for chest pain the next morning. This is something I do: I am – I was – an independent adult.

I was about halfway home, when I had an episode of feeling extremely sleepy, and then having the sensation of being scared, and a rapid heart rate, not a good situation when you’re driving.

I got into the right-hand lane, which helped some, and pulled off into a mall parking lot soon after that. I wanted to call home – but my cell had no service. I walked around a bit, photographed (maybe – don’t really know how to use the camera on the phone) some WILD TURKEYS – or escapees from the turkey farm.

Back on the road (it’s a total drive of 20-25 minutes, no biggie), the feelings persisted, and I pulled into a strip mall further down the road – to find that every store was closed (Sunday after 6PM), and there were no other people, and the cell STILL had no service. I couldn’t call home to tell my husband I would take a nap in the car and would be a while.

After a bit, a pickup truck pulled in. I asked the other driver if I could use his phone – and he said it was not charge. He asked if there was anything I needed. I told him I’d be fine – and headed for home again.

It was a very uncomfortable drive the rest of the way, because there are no places such as stores to stop at, and I didn’t think I was so far gone as to need emergency services, but I can tell you I took it really slow, stayed in the right lane, made the easiest choices for streets, and was prepared to pull over at any moment.

I considered stopping at a house, preferably one with a lot of cars, and I’m sure one of my neighbors would have listened – but I was closer and closer to home, and just didn’t want the fuss that would have to ensue.

I made it, obviously, but I really needed that outing to be one which took me back to the tiny bit of normal I have, and it ALMOST did, but didn’t.

Side effects, stress, post-trauma reactions, anxiety?

I don’t know whether to blame some of these things – which came out of the blue without warning – on the same drugs I’m taking which have confusion, dizziness, lightheadedness, palpitations, and other such listed as side effects.

That night, and every night since, I take those drugs again – and it’s become a Scylla and Charybdis: there is no certainty close to either side.

I don’t dare stop the calcium channel blocker (amlodipine) which I was told to take after the previous Sunday resulted in an ER visit in the middle of the night because of really high blood pressures, but I don’t know if that drug is CAUSING the problems with its side effects. This week has been getting off one drug (Effient) that sent me to the hospital that last Sunday, and getting on two others (clopidogrel – Plavix-clone plus the amlodipine which barely brought the high BP down from the Effient).

Side effects are common when getting on new drugs.

Side effects take a while to fade when you stop taking a drug.

Meanwhile, my system feels like a funhouse.

The whole week has been fraught – high blood pressure spikes (not high enough for the ER, but much higher than I’m used to) – with a host of minor symptoms – enough of a daily variation that it seriously worried me, but knowing that they would tell me to just keep taking the drugs).

I want somebody to KNOW, to fix things, to tell me it’s okay. I want to be able to get through a weekend without monitoring every time I feel shaky or the heart is racing. I’ll see the doctor – April 20th. That seems awfully far away.

It’s not any individual thing; it’s the accumulation, the unpredictability, and the fact that I have demonstrated paradoxical responses to everything they’ve given me so far.

I want to be stable. I don’t want to take ANY drugs that are not strictly necessary – I worry that they will accumulate like the Effient and cause problems simply because I’m not clearing them out properly.

And I worry about the stents, stent blockage, and the bleeding risks of taking drugs which keep you from clotting.

I do not believe in taking one drug to counteract the side effects of another. The principle is wrong. And I don’t react well to it anyway – plus it leaves me in a position of not knowing which to stop.

I guess I can say I’ve had every side effect in the book; well, about 50% of them – so far.

I am not happy.

And I’m scared.

And I keep remembering that I did NOT have a blood pressure problem even when one of my arteries was getting quite blocked! So I don’t understand why I have one now – it must be their drugs.

It’s getting worse by the day.

In a week, nothing has changed – except that I can’t write. No brain kicking on, not for even an hour to write with.

And I’m not myself.

And I can’t function this way.

I didn’t have much, but now it’s gone.

I have a sing tonight.

I will have to drive myself home around 11PM. My husband (who isn’t even awake at that time) has offered to drop me off and pick me up – the very last thing I want.

I’m already a significant burden, since there are so few things I can do for us.

I don’t know if I’m going.

If I have another reaction like last Sunday, this time at night…


 

Depression: unavoidable consequence of life-altering surgery?

Bird flying into the sunset. Text: How far away are the Grey Havens. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH LOSS

I don’t want to have to write this post, but I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the final ‘tail’ I have to deal with.

I don’t want to believe that it may be a consequences of having my life saved that, for a year, the last drug I’m on may dog my steps, make me wish I hadn’t made it, drive me to a different place where it isn’t worth getting up in the morning.

Maybe I’m writing this prematurely, but even if the whole experience disappeared tomorrow into a (tiny) burst of continuing ability to write, it HAS existed. It is REAL. And I’m probably not alone in having it.

Why would a platelet control drug (Effient) cause problems?

Because one of its side effects is ‘low energy.’

I thought getting the drugs with the major side effects out of my system would take me back to where I used to exist, in my low-energy CFS state that allowed a couple of hours a day for writing fiction – my ‘good time’ – if I did everything right: got enough sleep, took my naps, didn’t eat until after writing (to avoid diverting blood to digestion I needed for thinking), didn’t eat carbs, didn’t leave the house much, kept the adrenaline low by suppressing most of the effect of emotions…

What this actually means is that I need to achieve an energy level somewhat above bare-existence levels for part of the day, and don’t have much of a margin of safety. Many days, especially if something else HAD to be done, by ME, I had to use it for something other than writing fiction. But most of the time – maybe 5 or 6 out of 7 days – I could count on that piece of my old mind hanging around for a bit.

And now I’m down to 1 or 2 out of 7 – and it’s simply not enough to keep me from getting depressed – and then having to use some of those days and some of that energy to drag myself out of the pit of despair.

How do you handle depression?

A long time ago, when I first got CFS, there was some evidence that taking small quantities – about 10% of a regular dose – of antidepressants, and my doctor at the time tried four or five of them over a period when I was desperate to get some of myself back.

And the reaction to medication that still is with me – overreacting to small amounts, and usually not being able to take enough to reach a therapeutic dose – happened back then. None of the drugs I tried had any positive effect; all had side effects which made me beg off them; and on none of them did I reach even that 10% dose before this happened.

It seems to be my version (I’m far from alone in this among people with CFS (PWCs)) of this d**ned disease.

But because of this experiment, I won’t try anti-depressant medications again.

Long ago I learned Cognitive Behavior Therapy – from Feeling Good: the new mood therapy, Dr. David Burns. It takes time, involves, for me, a fair amount of writing it all down and dealing with it on paper.

But it has the advantages of:

  • no drugs for my system to deal with
  • no side effects
  • available in the middle of the night – or any other time and place
  • completely under my control
  • always works for me (eventually)
  • doesn’t need a therapist, a doctor, or a pharmacist – or a prescription
  • no cost

I can’t tell you the number of times in almost three decades that I’ve realized I’m getting overwhelmed, started writing about it, figured out what the important threads were, and worked my way out of depression that was making my life uninhabitable.

I don’t push this on other people – many other people can handle a drug just fine, don’t get many side effects, and just need their brain chemistry adjusted; or, if in a major depression, need far more help than they can manage this way. But it’s what I’ve used all these years, and it works for me – if I put the time and effort in. Which I always end up doing because I can, I don’t like inflicting this self on my family, and depression ruins what life I have left – and bring my fiction to a standstill.

Back to the life-altering part

It is characteristic of many events in life that change you from one person into another – love, marriage, a child, getting kicked out of school, divorce, joining the military, losing a parent… – to make you reassess what is important to you, what you are doing with your life.

Having stents installed, and finding out you might have been heading for a heart attack otherwise, changes you. It is a curious ‘surgery’ because there is little in the way of cutting and healing from that (except in my unlucky case, where I blew a gasket in the hole in my femoral artery – I still have the damage from that).

But that almost doesn’t matter, because I KNOW I am now another person/body. For one, I am now a ‘cardiac patient,’ with the implications of doctor supervision, meds, visits to the cardiologist, tests, and whatever changes these things may force on me.

And of course there is the mortality thing – events remind you time is limited.

It helps to focus you.

But I had ONE thing left to me, writing fiction, and I am dealing with not being able to do that ONE thing.

The rest of life doesn’t conveniently take up the slack

In addition to writing book 2 in the Pride’s Children trilogy, I am trying to market book 1. This has slowed to a standstill – I am hand-selling a couple of copies a month at best. It takes me a lot of time and many emails to get someone to accept a free copy for a possible review – which I’m happy to do when I can, but is happening very rarely lately.

I’m running Amazon ads (thanks to Brian Meeks for getting me started where I couldn’t figure out the basics); so far, since Feb. 4, Amazon tells me I’ve spent $30 on ads, and have sold one copy (though I think they may be responsible for a few more, but possibly not directly from someone clicking on my ads, which is what they track). I can leave that running in the background, and hope for a groundswell in the future.

I am also trying to finish putting up a short story prequel, Too Late, so that those who don’t want to read it here on the free fiction tab – or who prefer their own copy managed by Amazon for their Kindle – can have it for 0.99. Or people who get to my Author Page can select a low-cost alternative to the outrageous-for-an-indie price of $8.99 for an ebook (compare to big publisher prices which are higher) to read to see if I can write. Or even so I can make it available for download to anyone joining my newsletter or following my blog.

And of course there is cardiac rehab – and its attendant paperwork. I don’t even want to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on that, and I haven’t even started yet. When it happens, in a few weeks, it will also sap my energy by making me leave the house two more times per week, and expend energy I don’t have. The hope is that it might also eventually help. Not in the conventional way: I can’t do aerobic exercise, so there is no ability to increase aerobic capacity; the best I can hope for is a tiny increase in ‘fitness’ over time that might offset the decline I’ve been in.

If nothing else, it will shut the cardiologist up that I’ve tried it.

I’m not blogging as much – have nothing interesting to say other than to relate my experiences with the medical system as I’m doing – another indication of low energy.

And I’ve started going for the heart-rate limited slow walks which I’ve been trying to get to for ages (and may have been made more difficult by that blockage) – the only way I know for a PWC to increase fitness on her own. That is, I got ONE walk in – to the middle of the next block and back – when it was 66 degrees the other day. We’re back in the 30s, so I can’t do that for a while again, but will try to find the energy in the hopes that there might be eventual improvement in something, anything.

I still have to finish things such as my mom and dad’s tax returns (he died in Aug. 2014, I got the paperwork to do the next year, and the IRS has stymied my every effort so far to get the right information by… well, you don’t need the horrible details; sufficient to say it’s not done yet).

We want to get this house on the market – and move so husband doesn’t have to deal with me by himself in the future. And because it is so much work just to maintain a home and yard, and I’m not capable of helping any more.

Moving will be its own can of worms – as will finding the right place.

So, more stuff on the to do list – and less to do it with

I’m not surprised to be depressed under these conditions, but I’m not managing to get control of it, because the one reliable thing I had that helped – writing fiction – isn’t coming back fast enough.

I should be happy to be alive. I am grateful, but not happy. All it does right now is remind me how I’ve lost another huge chunk of me, and I can’t figure out how to get that miserable chunk back.

I don’t think most people realize how tiny my life is already. I haven’t had the energy to go to church, or to sing at the Princeton chapel, or to go to the Folk Music Society sings and concerts – the few things that used to get me out of the house.

I have an assistant – so she has been getting some of the backlog things, and the recurring things, done – we need to move to the dejunking, final fixing, getting rid of, downsizing and losing even more things from your life to fit a smaller place. I barely manage to work with her by giving her instructions when she comes. I’m no help any more lately.

There is such a thing as too much loss.

I’m perilously close to that point.

Comments?

Do right for your heart but be prepared for an awful ride

Sunset at sea. Text: There is only HOPE WHILE there's Life. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I HAVE DODGED A NUMBER OF BULLETS

I will be terrified for a while.

I will have to deal with emotions both new and accumulated, and emotions are very hard to deal with if you have CFS, partly because the adrenaline which is the aftermath of much emotion takes forever to process out of my body, and so makes me ill for far longer than it is usually worth the original emotional outburst.

I have to deal with new medications I didn’t ever want to take, and which fight with CFS (potentially). I may have to deal with both more pain and with the cardiologists being unhappy I’m taking even the amount of pain meds I was taking before.

And I will have to learn to be more grateful for and more gracious about what may be the most important outcome: that, even in a reduced capacity, I’m still alive. Funny that, right?

I process things by writing about them (the brain doesn’t like to do internal processing, even when it can, any more).

The whole subject is incredibly boring.

And I have some obligation, willingly assumed, to share.

As part of a community, I value my online friends

Enormously. Probably more than most people.

I have a loving family – I am immensely grateful for them. And for the space they give me. They’d rather have me live in Mexico City with the rest of my sisters, live that lifestyle with help, and socialize more. I’ve had a limited capacity for that my whole life, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value it and feel wistful about it. I hope this post will clear up some of the details of the past three weeks for them, too.

But I’m trying to make sense of it AND bring my online friends up to date simultaneously, because there is no energy to do this for each of you (I will probably be sparser in replying to comments for quite a while), and the main lesson is easy and the personal details pretty obvious if you understand limited energy.

I don’t like it when my friends disappear from the blogosphere – but if we knew each other better we probably would be communicating by phone or email more. Even very good friends, family, people I’ve known for decades will have to be content with this for a while. I start from no energy when I’m my most ‘normal’ – and this ‘event’ (as the cardiologist calls it) has taken, and will take for a while, everything I have.

I OWE EVERYONE MORE. REALLY.

THE SHORT(EST) version

I had chest pains Superbowl Sunday after the game (no, I don’t care at ALL about sports, didn’t watch any of it). Kick in the chest by a mule.

Because it was Superbowl Sunday, I didn’t immediately go to the ER or call 911. This was my ONLY mistake, and it could have been fatal, but the chest pains subsided, I felt like I had avoided looking like an idiot, and I went to sleep. (Note: I had had a cold protein shake. This is relevant.)

The next morning (Monday) I called the cardiologist’s office, while drinking my (cold again) morning protein shake. They moved my appointment from later in the month forward to Wednesday, two days away. The nurse told me that if I had chest pains, I should call 911. I hung up – and a mule kick hit. Husband prepared to DRIVE me to the ER (we would have gotten there sooner, it turned out, but don’t do that unless you are VERY sure – another kick, and I lay down in the living room and TOLD him to call 911.)

Uneventful ride to local hospital (feeling like idiot already).

Absolutely horrible and boring day in ER being screamed at by an ER nurse who didn’t want me out of bed (long story – ignore – EVERYONE else was wonderful).

They take blood (3 sets of cardiac enzymes which tell them, over a long period, whether you have HAD a heart attack). Cardiologist who visits insists my symptoms go with a 90-95% blockage. Scares the heck out of me. They keep me overnight, send me from this hospital in NJ to PA one by ambulance in the morning, DO a cardiac catheterization – and RELEASE me because there is a ‘lesion’ but it doesn’t meet the guidelines for stenting (70% blockage). Surgeon does a flow test around it – blood flowing. Cardiac enzymes NEGATIVE.

Next day (Wed.), MY cardiologist goes over the results, tells me surgeon has not found anything stentable.

I PREPARE TO FIND A DIFFERENT REASON FOR THE PAIN, SINCE THE CARDIOLOGISTS HAVE ‘CLEARED ME.’ If you’ve seen my recent posts, the best candidate seemed to be an esophageal spasm. My assumption was that the months of coughing which had recently stopped had left things tetchy and easily triggered. The next morning, I dutifully call my primary doctor’s office, feeling like an idiot. They fit me in at 10. I drive myself.

I get there. BEFORE discussing my question with me (how do I figure out what this CERTIFIED NON-CARDIAC PAIN means and how to fix it), she has the nurse do an EKG, CALLS the paramedics immediately because of ‘changes’ happening right then during the EKG, and I end up in the SAME ER, and the whole process – boredom, cardiac bloodwork  – REPEATS. Cardiologist insists, keeps me overnight and does a stress test the next day – and he says he sees ‘something worrisome.’ I DON’T believe him, think he’s making a big deal out of my small reported comment of some chest pain FROM THE NUCLEAR CHEMICALS. Really, it was NOT a big deal. I want out.

Another overnight observation, and trip by ambulance to PA for a catheterization. This time, because there has been another chest pain event, and there are changes in the EKG from the stress test, the surgeon stents that lesion he’d seen before.

They stupidly tell me that IF the catheterization doesn’t stop the pain, they will be SURE it is non-cardiac, and I will be free to leave the hospital and go do what I was pursuing when I landed in the ER the SECOND time: a non-cardiac reason for the chest pain (about half of chest pain IS non-cardiac – I actually had a consult with a GI doctor who agrees an esophageal spasm is a possible explanation – triggered by cold food).

Imagine how pissed I am the NEXT morning when the mule kicks my chest and THEY WON’T LET ME LEAVE. This is Friday. They can’t force me, of course, so they overwhelm me with talk (I’m exhausted from days of this and hospitals and too many people and NO energy to start with – thank God husband was there and more coherent than me). I agree to let them look into it more. The next morning a different surgeon comes in, looks in more detail at the films ALREADY taken at the first two catheterizations and first stent (I’m a conundrum to them and they’re getting VERY concerned), DOESN’T come talk to me in person (it’s a Saturday – and he sends the cardiologist, another of the overwhelming talk-too-much knowitalls), and he somehow persuades husband and me that I need ANOTHER catheterization (third), that they are pretty sure they know what’s going on, that it NEEDS fixing. He also persuade me to wait for Monday staying flat in bed so the procedure won’t be an emergency weekend one.

It was a horrible weekend. For me. I’m pretty sure I was a hyper-controlled super-stressed trying-to-be-polite sure-I-was-right-and-they-were-wrong-again pain. Bedpans and being interrupted every 10 seconds and ‘cardiac’ tasteless diet will do that to an introvert, especially since we’re now at the two-week mark of this nonsense.

Finally, Monday the second surgeon, knowing I was refusing to go in until I had talked to him, stopped by (I haven’t eaten or had water since midnight and it’s past 11 am), came in, gave me a short and DATA-FILLED explanation, SAID personally (I think) he KNEW what the problem was. And I agree, if nothing more than to get out of there!

Why? Because the other alternative is to leave against medical advice – and I CAN’T DO THAT TO MY POOR HUSBAND. No matter HOW pissed I am, they may be right, and husband should not have to pay for my fit of pique, etc., etc.

They finally take me in for the procedure around 5PM. Cruel.

Surgeon talks to husband after procedure – he not only fixed the very complicated bifurcation lesion he had seen on the films, but found and fixed a 95% blockage lower on the same artery which was actually closer to the region the stress test had indicated was a problem, and which is an odd feature of my anatomy variation. This part is a little fuzzy, because husband thought he told me the details – he may have – but I was still under hypnotics and have odd and possibly false memories of some of it.

So I’m alive. The blockage which probably would have caused an actual heart attack at an inconvenient time has been stented. I have three stents, and the bifurcation got a balloon angioplasty in the other branch, because you can’t stent both branches, and I am on all the meds I didn’t want to even consider because of potential side effects for CFS folk.

Some aftermath, still iffy

The next morning, just for the heck of it, I blow the gasket in the groin, go through unbelievable pain (more than the mule kick – and lasts much longer!) while a burly male and female nurse ‘reduce’ it, and I spend ANOTHER lovely day in the hospital repeating the entire hole-closing procedure (a rate complication, they assure me).

We finally go home on Wed. (two days ago), after the most horribly protracted release process I could have imagined, with a bag of the new pills I have agreed to take until I see the cardiologist for the hospital followup visit I’m supposed to make within the week.

You cannot imagine – and I can’t describe – emotions and exhaustion.

That Wed. night, when I can’t get to sleep, I do a lot of thinking, internet research, and processing of implications. Rather incoherently, but I have to make at least a bit of sense of it.

Thursday morning I dutifully call in to make the cardiologist (mine) followup appointment, asking them to call me back in the afternoon and give me one, if possible, for Monday or Tuesday after the weekend (so I have a chance to rest, recover, and possibly become coherent again).

They drag me in that afternoon. Husband graciously cancels his appointment at the exact same time to take me. I really shouldn’t be driving. Damn. I thought I was going to have a break.

The followup cardiologist visit – too soon?

  • This is where we sorted some of the above stuff out. It was probably good that the bits and pieces were still clear, and necessary for husband to be there.
  • The odd sequence of THREE catheterizations, stress test results, EKGs both with and without problems, ending in the hardware I now own for life, is worked out. My cardiologist is amazed I’m coherent and functional (short periods between naps – I can work this), happy to explain ANYTHING I ask, amazed I’m willing to take their meds, agreeing I am special (that was funny) and that I need to be treated as such (here ‘special’ means ‘different from most other people because of ANATOMY and the CFS,’ but I still liked getting her to say it – whadda you want? I’m human).
  • The anatomy is special enough that it literally made it hard to figure out exactly what was going on. I am grateful that my big mouth didn’t cause them to give up on me – I assume I also worried the heck out of them. I am pretty sure, from her demeanor, she was prepared for anything when I came in.
  • Doing the research and thinking I did the night before was CRUCIAL for putting me in the right mental place to deal with her, the whole ‘story,’ anger, etc., etc., etc. I’m still amazed at that one myself. Though, remember, I’m still alive. All bets would have been off otherwise.
  • Because I’m special, the cardiac rehab will be special. And she is fully prepared to have to do a lot of work on meds if necessary. And isn’t demanding I give up my necessary CFS pain meds (which I finally got back to taking, defiantly, the last day in the hospital). There will be work on those – from a cooperative place.

So what next?

Anyone who cares is now up to date.

I’m exhausted, taking my meds, keeping VERY extensive journals of ALL details – there will be many days of this so I neither exaggerate nor minimize problems.

What do I want?

To get back to a place, mentally, where I can write fiction. Today has not been that place, and the aftereffects recorded in the journal are already at 3000 words, just for these three days so far. The crash is already ferocious; I don’t know how long it will last or how bad it will get, but am not sanguine about what this has done to me.

(Buy the first book if you haven’t and the Look Inside satisfies you in any way.)

I want to update anyone who cares – and then do the smallest amount of focusing on illness/disease/being a cardiac patient when I was no such thing less than a month ago – as possible. Consider this it. Be prepared for at least a couple of weeks of rather minimum interaction from me – not personal, as I love you all and wouldn’t have put myself through this post if I didn’t think it was important in some small way to get most of the chronology in writing and a first cut at accuracy.


I WANT ALL OF YOU TO LISTEN TO THE LESSON:

You MUST rule out cardiac causes of heart pain properly, because my cardiologist said I did EVERYTHING right (one of the reasons she agreed I’m special) and most people don’t, and many don’t make it (I didn’t tell her the one little bit of not going to the ER on Superbowl Sunday night, and going to bed – I am acutely conscious that night might have been my last – that 95% blockage bit).

Note the cardiac enzymes – done several times – never showed a heart attack – I never had it.


I’m wiped and going to try Next Nap.

Stay well. Take care of yourselves. Drop a comment. My online community is as real to me as the RL one. I will take up my responsibilities in it as soon as I possibly can.

Chest pain from striated versus smooth muscles

self-diagnosis

DEALING WITH PERSISTENT PAIN EXPECTED TO BE TEMPORARY

*** NOT medical advice. I’m not that kind of doctor. ***

Having abandoned the hospital last Tuesday with a relatively clean cardiac bill of health, and after the cardiologist visit on Wednesday, I noticed the pain hadn’t stopped. Not discomfort; PAIN.

(By the way, the cardiologists lose all interest in you at that point.)

It was a bit smaller due to relief – but that was all.

On Thursday, sensing it would finally work, I made the effort to voluntarily NOT cough when my body wanted to. That’s a trip, by the way: you have to catch it and distract it.

But it wasn’t enough. I was still setting off the kick-in-the-chest-by-a-mule feeling when I would do such small physical tasks as walk to the bathroom, go down 7 steps to the living room, and, the worst, coming UP those 7 steps and having to walk down the hall and across my tiny office to my desk chair, where I would sit, and grit my teeth until the pain started subsiding.

If I had not already done that, I probably would have made that hospital ER trip.

Why didn’t you go to yet another (or one of the same) doctor, Alicia?

Because I decided, if I knew I probably wasn’t going to die yet, that the whole experience had completely wiped out any chance I had of getting better without some serious rest time.

Internet lookup of possible sources of chest pain

Surprisingly not, it was hard to find the information online about non-cardiac causes. Because of course you push ‘get checked out by your doctor’ and ‘go to the ER’ as solutions, if you don’t want to have your patients’ families sue you.

Have you noticed how all sites that start with ‘Non-surgical ways to…’ quickly end up with dismissing those ways and heading for, ‘If you have to have surgery…’?

In the end I found NOT ONE SITE stating that coughing could CAUSE pain elsewhere that wouldn’t necessarily go away by itself.

And none of the sites talked about HOW long-term coughing might trigger TEMPORARY chest pain – I ended up deciding that one strictly on my own. Since it happened to me, I’ve decided it IS possible to cough so much that your chest gets supersensitive, and any little thing can then set it off.

Ibuprofen, which I now allowed myself, helped a bit – but not for long – and didn’t remove the crushing/tense feeling that minor exertion set off.

Some of the sites that talked about non-cardiac chest pain had a list of other serious things that it could be (with the ‘temporary’ part not discussed).

  • Some of them were pulmonary – things like pleurisy or pneumonia.
  • A bunch were gastrointestinal – having to do with spasms of just about anything from one digestive end of you to the other.
  • A very small number were musculoskeletal (specifically talking about the intercostal – between-ribs – muscles that help you get air in and out), and mostly seemed limited to sharp pains that might have been brought on by sudden muscular exertion.
  • And no one mentioned the specific area that seemed to be aching, the outer chest wall pectoral muscles.

Using the old noggin – a dangerous thing with mine

Assuming I’m not dying from something else wasn’t hard: I convinced myself the mule-kicks were induced by coughing, and would eventually go away if not continuously triggered.

So I decided to see if I could fix the phantom mule with things on hand in a regular household like ours, and figure out what it was. I also promised the husband I’d see my doctor again if the pain persisted despite my best efforts.

I decided, from the region affected, that the three candidates were:

  1. esophageal spasms
  2. pectoral muscle spasms
  3. intercostal muscle spasms

Tools on hand:

Last summer, I pulled my usual ‘I don’t want to go to the doctor’ routine when I’d had a bout of waxing and waning spasms of the GI tract, until, 8 days in, and 4 later than I would have taken anyone else, I went to Urgent Care and complained. I’d never had that intensity of pain before, and I was hoping it would go away before I had to have my insides subject to scoping – which would involve doctor visits, labs, tests, all things which are 1) exhausting, and 2) suck up my so-limited writing time because I have to leave the house.

When I finally went to UC, the doctor prescribed an anti-spasmodic called dicyclomine, and within a day or two my innards had stopped punishing me for eating, and drinking water. Much better. I stored the remainder, thinking it was a nifty thing to have with you on a vacation just in case.

Also, from a previous doctor I had Skelaxin, a muscle relaxant – said doctor saying I could take up to three a day. I had found that I could barely tolerate 1/3 of a pill, very occasionally, and it would knock me out. I’m a bit sensitive to medicines, which is why I try not to take them! But I have a couple of bottles of the stuff left, which will probably last until I’m in a nursing home, non compos mentis.

Plus over the counter cough suppressant, and the nice cough syrup with codeine which is the only thing that really suppresses a cough – and wipes me out.

What to use – and why?

I figured out the important thing depended on a fact I learned in Anatomy in 1968: that we have two kinds of muscle fibers:

  • striated muscles – heart, skeletal muscles, with the heart muscles being INVOLUNTARY
  • smooth muscles – lining your gastrointestinal tract (also blood vessels?)

The difference is that the striated ones can be affected by a muscle relaxant, and the smooth ones need the anti-spasmodic anticholinergic meds.

Using the muscle relaxant had helped a bit with Mr. Mule, but once I found the dicyclomine, and took some, I’m finding that the same medicine which the UC doc prescribed for acute abdominal cramps seems to be helping with spasms in the chest region. Same system: GI.

Conclusions

Which brings me to the conclusion that the pain probably comes from an esophageal spasm – a scary thing to consider if it were persisting or getting worse – but taking a few doses of the anti-spasmodic dicyclomine seems to be bringing the severity and duration of the pain attacks down to bearable.

Where we will keep them until they stop happening.

7 steps now trigger a much smaller animal kick; a jackrabbit, maybe.

I’m still having to control coughing attempts voluntarily, but I can do that, and the severity of that is also going down, so a week after this stuff sent me on an ambulance adventure, I am in a state of less pain, I plan to continue to avoid the doctors, and maybe I can get enough rest to get back to not leaving the house so I can write.

I’m so glad I took anatomy.

I’m not a medical doctor, so don’t do what I do.

But if you do, tell me what you figured out about your body.