The Perils of Chronic Illness…Sick Again

I didn’t feel well this weekend; I frequently succumb to minor viruses or illnesses of sort sort, with a variety of symptoms yet none severe enough to send me to urgent care or render me to full time bedrest. Most of these situations probably should be addressed with complete rest, but I’m stubborn and push through more than I healthfully should. Moreover, they are so frequent that I don’t feel like I can afford to give into one or I’ll likely want to do that for all, which is simply not feasible.

The causative factors are not always known, though many seem tied to increases in stress, autoimmune issues, and mast cell activation disorder or other “contaminations” with food allergens. Manifestations most commonly include a low-grade but persistent fever, nausea and significant digestive distress, headache, malaise or even overwhelming fatigue, and debilitating joint and muscle pain. The joint pain is often the only truly limiting issue, as I can power through the other feelings of overall physical unwellness, but the joint swelling and pain is so intense that I usually am unable to assume my normal physical activity or even necessary mobility. I often attribute some degree of the nausea and headache to the throbbing musculoskeletal aches. Enduring pain is grating and exhausting.

Emotionally, these episodes seem somewhat precipitated by bouts of notable stress and once symptoms manifest, my mood suffers and I’m sucked more into a depressive state. I’ve discussed how this used to be a guaranteed conditional statement: if I get sick, then I will become more depressed, but I’ve actually made measurable strides toward separating these events so that one doesn’t definitively signal the other. I had a similar flare up two weeks ago, which did not ostensibly affect my mood. This time around, it was more the case that stress and depression instigated physical illness, as Johnny’s death really took a toll on my emotional stability and penetrated my heart with raw sadness. Grief is not easy to compartmentalize and Johnny, despite “just” being a dog, was one of my best friends for the past 15 years. I will feel a near palpable hole in my heart for quite some time. Of course, I was in the acute throws of it this weekend since she passed on Friday night, so I anticipate the intensity of the grief feelings to dissipate in the coming days. It’s painful to lose a beloved pet.

Last night, the joint pain was so crippling and sharp that I couldn’t sleep. I return to the rheumatologist in two weeks so hopefully I’ll remember to convey these symptoms, as it’s an unfortunate pattern that I get there and the doctor asks how I’ve been and I simply shrug, overwhelmed by the appointment and forgetful or bashful about symptom complaints. It’s like I have too much pride or want to seem tough or like an agreeable patient so I’m reluctant to raise a stir and reiterate the severity and frequency of my symptoms or indicate new problems. This is ridiculous and only serves to penalize and compromise myself and my care, but the doctors always seem harried and eager to minimize my concerns and send me in my way as quickly as possible. The prevailing treatment seems to be to brush off any new concerns, assure me that exacerbations are totally normal, then write prescriptions for imaging studies of more joints and schedule a six- or eight-week followup.

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