Refinancing

Looking at my 2019 finances, I’m a bit less optimistic than I was mere weeks ago. One reason is that my healthcare deductible is increasing. Significantly. Like, from $60 to $350.

I set a goal in 2018 to discover what was wrong with me. Whether or not I actually had rheumatoid arthritis. All signs pointed to yes. I’m still off medication, which I’m thrilled about. Really, it’s been like two years.

When I was first put on medication I could barely walk. I used a cane to hobble around, and the time it took me to get out of bed was roughly an episode of The Price is Right. I hurt, and I was slow, and before the diagnosis, I thought I was dying.

The medication let me move comfortably again, but it had its own corresponding health issues. Fatigue (occasionally severe fatigue); responses to food that I used to enjoy – now they made me sick; lethargy; increased aggression for the first few months; and liver problems. They pinballed me through all different kinds of medication, trying to find the right cocktail.

So, not needing it and showing little signs of the initial RA diagnosis, I was certain that I had been misdiagnosed. But my bloodwork last year showed elevated inflammation levels conducive with RA, along with other markers. Long story short, better for me to keep my medical insurance.

Now, that’s one expense that increased dramatically. My work is mostly on a contract basis, so that expense comes out of pocket.

How does someone living in this day and age, balancing student loan debt, the rising costs of healthcare, and basic living expenses, make it? How does one become not only stable, but successful.

My first step is a budget. And with that cornerstone, I am hopeful that the bricks will fit securely.

I wish the real world would just stop bothering me

Getting out into the world is a lot different now then it used to be. I think.

I didn’t really get out into the world much, until I reached adulthood. Sure, my family took me on vacation. I ran screaming from a log cabin (with no bathroom – it was housed in a communal facility down in a common area); went on cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico (and when I was a teenager, drank way too much); saw Niagara Falls (Canada side); and went fishing, clamming and crabbing in Long Island. I did some great family and travel stuff, but it didn’t prepare me for… well, adulthood.

There it is again. Adulting. Something that I think about now, in mid-thirties, much more than I did in my twenties. Life was going along swimmingly, at least until the year I turned 27.

That was the year of two car crashes, one causing anxiety attics that prevented me from driving for a time, and one taking a loved one and leaving me emotionally traumatized for many years. Six months after the second collision, a mysterious illness came on, and over four months I gradually lost mobility at an alarming rate.

January, the following year, it was diagnosed as RA. I drove my ex-girlfriend (very recently broken up) to Boston to live with family, and I returned to be laid off from my job.

I’d call that a low point in my life.

Picking myself up by the bootstraps (or, writing a couple of essays and going heavily into student loan debt), I enrolled in a Master’s program. The Doc put me on all kinds of meds, with some odd side-effects. (Drinking while on the medication resulted in extreme cases of aggression, where I thought it would be good to fight bars full of people. I also had liver enzyme issues, and was often pulled off and placed on new prescriptions.)

I’ve since forgotten what it was to feel in sound body, but at least I’ve not taken medications for over a year and still feel alright enough to move around. I travel now, not just the week-long vacations but month or more-long immersion. I love camping. And that moving around is bringing me to the question of what I should say no to.

Finding this bit of text in Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors led to this post, and I think I’ll be adapting it for my use:

“…the more clear I am about what my goals are, the more easily I can say no. I have a notebook into which I’ve recorded all sorts of goals, both big and small, over the last ten or so years. When I take the time to articulate what it is that I hope to achieve, it’s simple to refer to the list and see whether saying yes to an opportunity will take me toward or away from achieving that goal.”

-Samin Nosrat

Said another way, “Will this get me closer to my mountain?”

Some health news

This last week I went in for extensive bloodwork. Starting at baseline for where I am, I needed to know what kind of surprises would be in store for me as I make my way to health once again.

As I mentioned previously, the diagnosis of RA caught me off guard, and I’ve never been satisfied with. Now, I’m doing my due diligence and researching everything I can. I’m altering my diet, my sleep habits and my exercise routine.

As of right now, I’m looking at the following markers:

  1. Rheumatoid Factor: 25.3 IU/mL (Above normal range of 0.0-13.9)
  2. C-Reactive Protein: 4.33 mg/L (above normal range of 0.00-3.00)

This is the starting line. This is where I begin my quest to heal myself.

Fighting the Unseen

It’s scary. It’s daunting. It’s the Unknown. The Unseen.

And while it takes many forms, this time it’s so personal that fighting it seems nearly impossible.

In the summer of 2011, my body started having unusual symptoms. It started in my right foot, and I had believed it was a sports injury of some kind. I was avid gym junkie, working out on average one to two hours per day, four or five days a week. I would run, cycle, lift weights, jump rope. I was in good shape. Probably the best shape of my life up to that point.

When my foot started aching, I tried resting it. After several weeks, with no improvement, I sought out some medical advice from a friend of mine – a certified physician’s assistant. The diagnosis, she thought? Plantar fasciitis.

So, I picked up a little shunt for the foot, and one night I put it on. I awoke in the morning with such pain running through my leg, I thought I would cry. It was throbbing, and it felt like a vice was squeezing the insides of my foot. It took a day or two before the pain subsided to the point that it was previously.

Now approaching September, it had spread. My leg was stiffening, and I wasn’t moving as easily as I used to. I had stopped working out. I couldn’t control my leg. I went for ex rays on the foot, visited a podiatrist. No breaks, no unusual skeletal or muscular problems.

In October I visited a them park. Universal Studios for Halloween Horror Nights. I went unaided, but probably with a bottle of aspirin or Tylenol. Popping them temporarily relieved the pain. By the end of the night, only six hours on my feet, I could not stand without assistance. I was shambling, no longer walking. I thought perhaps I was dying. That some mysterious neurological ailment was shutting my body down, piece by piece.

The next month was the worst, and I walked with a cane. It took nearly fifteen minutes to get out of bed. Every part of my body was in terrible pain. The zest I had for life was leaving me. I had scheduled more doctor appointments, CAT scan, MRI, blood work. The doctors thought it important to rule out cancer.

The doctor noticed high sed rates (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) in my blood levels, and referred me to a specialist. A rheumatologist. In the interim I was prescribed Celebrex, a strong, nasty anti-inflammatory. And, it worked.

For the next three months, before the specialist could see me, I took Celebrex and began feeling revived. Energy levels came back, pain subsided, and I had a semblance of life again.

In January, 2012, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Suddenly, my invisible affliction had a name.

And yet, there was something unsettled for me regarding this diagnosis. That will be the crux of what I write about in this medical series, as I explore new options for my health. Because over the last six years I’ve been on numerous medications, suffered flare-ups and bouts of depression and anxiety, visited with holistic specialists, and have wondered whether I would ever have a normal life again.

I don’t yet know the answers, but I’ll share the questions on here, and what I find out.

Opening Night

Here it is, another opening night. I’ve been on stage in over fifty productions in the past twelve years. It’s probably over seventy-five now, but I can’t keep track. It had been one of the driving forces of my life.

This show has welcomed me back to theatre, and I appreciate it. Yet it still feels very different from before. Less joyful. Less exciting. That, sadly, has more to do with me than the show.

There are wonderful moments: the camaraderie between the fellow cast, being up on stage in front of people, singing and (pretending to be) dancing.

For a time, performing was a very social thing for me. As I got better at it, realized that I had talent and natural instincts as a performer, I started to take it more seriously. I worked professionally around Central Florida for some time. Things started going south, I guess, when I got sick.

The illness was eventually diagnosed as RA, and I continue to struggle with joint paint, fatigue, and stiffness.

I started this post to just mention that I was happy to be doing a show again. But what I’ve realized is that I have baggage tied up in performing. Baggage I’m going to have to sort it, if I plan to continue doing this.