Awareness, Guest post, ME/CFS

Guest Post: ME/CFS in Metaphor

Hey readers, this is a guest post from my sister-in-law, who also suffers from ME/CFS.

Let me compare CFS/ME to trying to live life with high roller friends while operating on a minimum wage salary. There’s some justice in this comparison. Think of it like this: all your friends and family are loaded with money—so much they take it for granted, and spend it freely. They don’t even think about it. Spending money is like breathing in and out. The most natural thing in the world. Cars. Jets. Charities. Vacations. This is their life. It’s what they are used to and they’ve never known anything different.

Your friends love you and want you to be with them. Of course, you want the same, but you’ve got thirteen bucks to your name and that won’t go very far on a high roller lifestyle. You have to stretch those coins out very carefully, and often creatively, just to get the bare minimum done with them. And they hardly cover the most basic needs, much less luxuries.

You explain your situation. And they understand, or… they try to understand. They offer to pay your way. They’ll cover the travel. They’ll cover the cost of the meal. But even then, you’ve got to wear something. And that dress and shoes are going to cost you. But you want to be with your friends and family, so you go into debt. And you go out and you smile and you take those pictures, and you clink your glass in that toast, but the cost of the dress and shoes is in the back of your mind all the time. You’ll have to pay for it.

And you do. Several days, or weeks, later you surface again and you see your friends and they invite you to a gala, but you’re still half shattered from the last experience. You shouldn’t go out again so soon. So you decline, and they try to understand, but they go away hurt anyway. You go away, lonelier than you can remember having ever been.

Invitations come less frequently, but you can’t give too much thought to it, because the bills are coming in and you can barely keep your nose above them. And you have to parse out that money so carefully, just to do the most basic things. Keep your child and husband fed. Clothed. Safe. Manage your work as best you can, pinching pennies and cutting back, going hungry yourself half of the time because you need the money more than the flesh on your bones.

It’s stressful, because you want that connection to the outside world, but you simply can’t afford it. There’s guilt as well as stress, and a gnawing hunger for an existence not quite so suffocating—not quite so narrow, but again, the stress only makes things worse. It comes calling in the persona of creditor. And if you believe in it too much, suddenly even the breath in your nose costs you and you know that you’ll never see your way out of debt—even the brief reprieves are only temporary.

Occasionally—only occasionally–you wonder what ever happened to your dreams. You look at yourself in the mirror and you see a husk of your former self, and still you guard that self and all it represents, because you must. You have debts to pay with it.

And your friends and family make excuses for you, but some few of them (in an ungenerous moment) wish you would try harder to be in the land of the living. Your child feels resentful and deprived. And she is right. She wants you and can’t have you. You are already quartered and sectioned off to the creditors.

The thing about CFS is it’s not money, but it’s energy you haven’t got. And healthy people have energy in spades. They take it for granted and can’t understand what it is to have such profound weakness and relentless pain without any explanation. Can it possibly be real?

Let me answer that question.

Yes, chronic fatigue is real and its victims are many. Our disappearance is not for lack of effort. Not for lack of determination. Nor for lack of heart or nerve. We slave invisibly under debts you cannot imagine. And you—you who have your health. You are the one percent to us. So extraordinarily, so unattainably rich. Do you know how wealthy you are?

We wouldn’t wish you any less. Take your abundance and do well with it. We simply wish you knew your wealth.

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Traditions

Armistice Day, 100 years later

It has now been one hundred years since the end of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” (If only.) That conflict radically reshaped and altered the world, and I wanted to make note of it today. I do not have any profound remarks, but my sense of history and occasion cannot let the date go by unmarked.

food, fruit, recipes

Small-batch Strawberry Jam

I love jam; who doesn’t? Probably only lizard people trying to pass themselves off as humans. I love it, but store bought jam is a) expensive, b) almost always has corn syrup in it, and c) isn’t as good. However, jam making can be a bit of a chore. But thanks to my sister, Isabella, I found a good recipe for making small batches of jam, and its sugar content it much lower than most jams, yet it is still sweet and wonderfully fruity!

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Strawberries, hulled and quartered
Coming to a boil

Recipe:

  • 1 pound fruit, fresh or frozen (weighed after pitting, peeling, or cutting if appropriate)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • Optional: herbs, spices, other flavor additions
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Cooked down and puréed
Adding the sugar
  1. Combine the fruit and water in a heavy-bottomed pan and set over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit breaks up into sauce, 10 to 15 minutes. (My personal note: so far I have only used strawberries with this recipe, and they do not break down completely. I used my handheld blender to purée them.)
  2. Uncover the pot and stir in the sugar or honey. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often to prevent the jam from burning on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and adjust for sweetness if necessary. Allow to cool and transfer to a jar. If you’ve added whole spices, you can either remove them now or leave them in the jar to continue to infuse the jam for a stronger flavor.
The finished product

I tripled the recipe, and ended up with three pounds of jam (feels a bit odd to think of jam in pounds, but there you are). I also used much more lemon juice: it really ended up being more a strawberry-lemon jam, which was fine with me, as lemon is one of my favorite flavors. If you aren’t going to use it fairly quickly, you should freeze this jam to help it keep.

handicrafts, knitting, projects

Knitting for the unravelled

It has long been my dream to be a knitter. Not just to knit, but to be someone who jauntily whips out a sweater with ease, who is learned in the ways of lace, who is not scared of patterns that require slipped stitches and yarn overs (yarns over?). A long time ago I knitted two scarves, and that was as far as I ventured into the dark and murky waters of yarn manipulation.

Fast forward to autumn 2017: I decided, moved by I know not what impulse, to resume knitting. I made a scarf, about which I have already posted. It was an important step in several ways: not only did it get me back in the swing of knitting, but I tried several things I had never done before: I made my own pattern, I used three different colors of yarn, and I learned how to join yarn. The success of the (rather itchy) scarf gave me the confidence I needed to move on to bigger and better things: baby blankets.

Since my mom is the person who taught me how to knit and is my main knitting resource, I talked to her about my renewed interest in the craft. She lent me a book of baby blanket patterns, and I decided the first one looked easy enough that I dared brave an attempt at it. The next step was finding the right yarn: I wanted a pastel material that was soft enough for a baby’s delicate skin. I had something of a bias against acrylic when I set out and had cotton in mind, but the yarn I ended up with was indeed acrylic, not only soft, but machine washable to boot! An important consideration for any textile that is going to be used primarily by or for babies.

Pattern: chosen. Yarn: found. Now, to begin the actual knitting. I cast on. I counted and recounted the stitches. And I tried. And attempted. And tried again. Over and over, I had to pull the yarn out. I can tell you, it is very demoralizing to tear out hundreds of stitches, redo them, and have to tear them out again. But I was learning.

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The very beginning (next stop: Frustration Station!)

Not only my brain, but my hands were in training. My knitting is generally very even, but I have an unfortunate tendency to knit too tightly, and my actual technique left something to be desired. I was using my pointer finger as leverage against the knitting needle at every stitch, which was rather painful (and Against the Rules).

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Progress–by this point I had figured out what I was doing and no longer needed to rip things out

As time went on and I became more comfortable with the pattern, however, my muscle memory developed and I was able to relax somewhat and begin to shed some of my bad habits. I came out the other side a better, more confident knitter.

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Whoa-oh, halfway there! (Whoa-oh, knittin’ on a prayer!)

The end of the saga: I finished knitting the blanket in time for the baby shower, and it is currently being used by my new niece! I am currently at work on another blanket of the same pattern, for another expected niece (I am VERY excited). Lessons learned: do not give it to fear of yarn. And keep on trying.

 

humour, ME/CFS, Personal

Fear of Missing Out

To achieve the twin goals of expressing myself and showing people what life is like with ME/CFS, I’m going to start doing short posts with gifs, to add humor and a visual element.

Fear of Missing Out: we bypass FOMO and head straight to COMO (Certainty of Missing Out). It’s hard to get up to much when you’re very ill. There have been so many things, even quite small things, that I haven’t done because I just wasn’t well enough.

A small illustration: the vast majority of the time, I do not have the energy to drive myself somewhere, do whatever it is that needs doing, and drive back. Earlier this year I drove a few minutes to the pharmacy, picked up my medications, and came back. All by myself! And yes, that was a first, and a major triumph. I am somehow still surprised when people think I might show up somewhere without my husband (“Oh, is he with you?”). If he ain’t there, I ain’t either. He’s my ride.

Miranda a night out
Miranda captures the essence of a big night out

Another example: we have lived in our current apartment for more than three and a half years, and there is a weekly knitting night at our local library that I have always wanted to attend. How many times have I been able to go? Zero. Sad but true.

But things are better than they used to be. There was a point in my life where I didn’t so much as set foot outside for days at a time, and it is now rare that I don’t make it at least to the mailbox. Progress, inchworm style.

Inchworm
We can do it!
Memories, Personal

Posts of Future Past

I have hardly blogged at all this year, and I would like to change that. I recently found posts from my old blog*, which I thought was lost and gone forever, à la Clementine. Reading over them made me realize how much my writing style has changed. My personality shone through much more clearly in my old posts, and I wrote to please myself rather than an audience. My posts rarely had images, and my subject matter was varied. I simply wrote about whatever I was interested in saying at the moment, with no theme.

woman-writing-a-letter

I do really enjoy getting views and followers, and seeing people from around the world come to my blog is quite exciting, especially as, due to my illness, I spend much of my time at home and my interaction with the outside world is rather limited. But I think, in gearing this blog toward followers, I may have lost something important: whimsy and self-expression. I don’t like revealing much about myself online, and that has had an impact on what I am willing to write. But maybe the time has come to say more and worry less. If people aren’t interested in a particular post, they can just skip it! But it won’t just be musings. I have long intended putting up posts about projects beyond baking, such as my knitting and embroidery. Maybe, maybe, I will at some point have regularly scheduled posts. No promises, though.

*via the Wayback machine, which is an attempt to create an archive of the internet.
Awareness, ME/CFS, Personal

ME/CFS Protest of Dr. Per Fink

Thanks to Jennie Spotila, who writes at Occupy M.E., I recently became aware of something important to the community of ME/CFS patients and researchers. A doctor named Per Fink is slated to give a presentation at Columbia University about ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. Why is that bad? To quote from Jennie’s post:

Fink is well-known to the ME community because of his involvement in the case of Karina Hansen. In 2013, Hansen was 24 years old when she was forcibly removed from her home and involuntarily committed to Hammel Neurocenter as a psychiatric patient, despite her ME diagnosis. Fink was one of two doctors overseeing her “treatment” at the institution, and permitted almost no family contact for more than one year. After years-long legal battles, Hansen was allowed to return home in 2017 2016 (as documented in Unrest), and her state guardianship was only terminated this week. Given the deterioration in Hansen’s condition while under Fink’s care, one has to wonder how his other “bodily distress syndrome” patients fare.

I am equal parts saddened, disgusted, and enraged. And there’s some fear in there as well. I don’t know what people like him get out of spreading misinformation like this. Does it stroke his ego? Does he just . . . ignore the evidence that tells him he is wrong? I just don’t know. I do know that this is very wrong. He should not be given a platform at such a high profile university to spread harmful misinformation which contradicts scientific study and hinders progress toward understanding and treatment of this illness. If you haven’t already clicked the link, please read Jennie Spotila’s post, which has links to actions you can take.

Awareness, ME/CFS, Personal

ME/CFS News and Petition

A brief summing up of what’s going on:

(T)he CDC (Center for Disease Control) intends to issue a sole-source contract with the Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) to expedite the development of federal evidence-based treatment guidelines for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME).

Basically, they’re hiring these people to write up guidelines for treatment. So what’s the problem?

The EPC previously conducted a systematic evidence review in 2014, but failed to account for the use of the Oxford definition and other overly broad diagnostic criteria used in many studies and which do not require a hallmark symptom of this disease—post-exertional malaise (PEM). This led to the erroneous conclusion that GET (graded exercise therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) were effective treatments for people with ME.

I don’t want doctors who know little or nothing about ME/CFS to recommend these treatments to patients. Exercise can have devastating effects on us, and we have to be incredibly careful. I would hate for anyone to get even more sick just because they were trying to follow their doctor’s instructions.

As for CBT, it has its uses, but here’s the thing: ME/CFS isn’t a mental illness. You can’t, you CANNOT, train yourself out of it.

My sister Isabella, a fellow ME/CFS patient, shared this email with me, and since I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, the best way for me to reach out is with my blog. Please sign and share it. They are requesting signatures regardless of country/location. What negatively affects the ME/CFS community in one part of the world is bad for all of us.

baking, dessert, food, fruit, Holidays, King Arthur flour

Summer Classics: Strawberry-rhubarb Pie

I didn’t get many pictures of this dessert (too busy making and serving it), but it turned out really well. My dad loves pie (looooooves pie), so I made him a strawberry-rhubarb pie, one of his favorites, for Father’s day. I considered trying a new recipe, but in the end I stuck with the old tried-and-true from my Joy of Cooking book.

For the crust, I chose pâte brisée (a butter crust). To help keep it flaky, it does have a bit of shortening, but it still has a gorgeous buttery flavor. I made the pie on a warm day, so I was a little concerned about the crust becoming oily, but I left it in the fridge for about an hour before rolling it out, and it turned out to be one of the best crusts I’ve made.

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As you can seen from the pictures, I did a lattice top, and I used corn starch for a thickener. Recently, I’ve been reading up on using less sugar in baking. I’ve been cutting the sugar in my fruit pies for several years, and I am happy with the results. As this King Arthur Flour article points out, sugar isn’t key to the structural integrity of pie the way it is to cake. If you’re working with good fruit, it doesn’t need a lot of sugar anyway.

However, this pie is a little bit different, because it has rhubarb. Now, I love rhubarb, but it is extremely tart, and you really can’t make a dessert with it without using a significant amount of sugar. For a pie filled only with rhubarb, Joy of Cooking recommends 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar. With strawberries substituted for half the rhubarb, they instruct to drop the sugar to 1 cup. I cut that down to 3/4 cup, and was glad I did. The strawberries I was working with were wonderfully ripe and quite sweet by themselves, and limiting the sugar meant that the tartness of the rhubarb really shone through without being overwhelming.

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I brushed the pie with cream and sprinkled it with turbinado sugar–not only does the sugar look good, but it fools the tastebuds into thinking the dessert is sweeter than it really is. The pie set up beautifully, and sliced easily. It was well received by the whole family, especially by my dad, who said it was the best strawberry-rhubarb pie he had ever had. 🙂

As we finished eating it, everyone started deadpanning about how no one had enjoyed it, and they only ate it to be polite, because that’s just the sort of thing we do, and my sweet five year old niece assured us all: “I enjoyed the pie”. She’ll grow into silly sarcasm in time, I’ve no doubt, but I was touched by her support. ❤

ME/CFS, Personal

ME/CFS Awareness Day 2018

I am incredibly worn out (which is a thing that is likely to happen when you suffer from ME/CFS) but I didn’t want to let the awareness day pass without a mention from me.

Here are the things I would like people to be aware of:

  • Doctors and researchers: that the disease is real, its symptoms, and that there is a crying need for treatment and research.
  • Your average person on the street: that the letters ME/CFS mean that someone is really sick. After all, I don’t think any given person knows that much about AIDS, or MS, or ALS, but when people hear those letters they know that someone is really sick. And that’s all I want people to know: that it’s real and it’s serious.

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    In case you are wondering what is up with the pair of empty shoes, they are the visual symbol of ME/CFS Awareness day. Pictures and displays of empty shoes represent all of the people missing from society because of this disease. This is one of my favourite pairs of shoes.