Checking In

Greetings, friends!

I hope and trust you are all doing well.  It’s been a while since I last blogged, and at the time, I’d been discussing some of my life’s new changes.  One of the changes since that time was that I started taking chemo pills for my Lupus, and they made me so sick and sore!  I was on them for sixteen weeks, and they were causing me so much pain, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t walk well, and it was excruciating to use my hands.  About six weeks in, my rheumatologist actually increased the dosage because she thought the Lupus was the problem, not the medicine.  But I became much worse over the next ten weeks, so she took me off everything except the drug that protects my organs, and I got Cortisone shots in my shoulders and wrists.  Fast forward a week, and I’m currently feeling the best I’ve felt in the two years since I was diagnosed!  There’s still a bit of pain, but it’s not nearly debilitating as it once was.  Anyhoozle, I’m not here to focus on that today, but rather to share some cooler things…

I mentioned the time before last that I’d been working on decorating the new house (as well as remodeling, renovating, remediating, etc.!).  From my medical status mentioned above, you can probably guess that I’m growing increasingly frustrated that this project hasn’t moved along faster than it has.  I’ve got several rooms in various stages of repair and decoration, and I have several art projects in various stages of completion.  Two of them will require a trip to the beach for sand and shells to complete, so I’ve been quite anxious to feel good enough to venture out.

Today’s post will just feature a few of the projects that have been finalized.  Nothing as far as the remodeling is completely finished yet, so I don’t yet have before/after photos of that hard work.  Anyway, here goes…

As you can probably be able to tell from my living room, Joanna Gaines is my hero!

The only clock that is actually running is the red one.  Actually, they’re not all clocks:  One’s a barometer, one’s a thermometer, and one’s a hygrometer.  The other clocks are all set to different “secret codes.”  (The codes aren’t that secret, and in fact I’ll share them with you now:  They’re set to birthdates of all of us in the house and a couple of important anniversaries.)  Above the clocks is one of those 1990s shelves they call “dust catchers.”  I intend to drywall that closed, but we’re considering leaving a secret door when I do and putting a time capsule inside since the wall is themed with time.

The initials are also for the people in the house, myself, my sister Michelle, my son Jeremy, his girlfriend Jahanna, and her 7-year old son (my sweet little buddy!) Cameron.  (Cameron doesn’t realize that the “C” also stands for my son’s, sister’s and my last name.)  The top left “J” is Jahanna’s.  It was white when I bought it, so I painted it and added the diamonds.  The “C” was orange, so I painted it.  My sister’s “M” was purple and wood colored!  That was a little trickier to paint.  Jeremy’s “J” was a lot rustier than I wanted, so I cleaned it up quite a bit.  And my “R” was plain white.  After I painted it grey and sanded it to grunge it up a bit, I covered it with chicken wire to give it texture.  (Don’t worry; it’s nothing psychological like I feel caged. LOL!)

(This is Cameron.  Isn’t he adorable?)

This bit of work was a bit trickier.  I went to the library and copied an old map book of the area where my new house is.  (Back when this map was printed, my yard was actually part of a large phosphate pit!)  I then printed the map sections out in red and, here’s the tricky part, I made the canvasses.  My sister cut the wood for the frames (I hate using the chop saw!), and I stapled then gessoed the canvas to the frames.  Then I painted them black, ripped the edges of the maps, and Mod-podged everything.  And to finish it off, the old-fashioned key is where my house would be built a couple of decades later.

Moving on to my bedroom, it has (or rather will have) a writing theme.  Or, as I like to call it, a “writerly” theme.  [WARNING: THIS PART MAY ANGER SOME AVID READERS.  Because I have transferred my library almost exclusively to digital, I gave away a bunch of books a few years back, but I saved some favorites, knowing I’d be using them for art.]

This “R” is made out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”  I got the initial idea from this “W” on Pinterest, but I didn’t want the flower, so I had to rack my brain to think how I could theme it to the book.  That’s when the giant nails and string hit me like a ton of bricks.

This copy of “1984” is mounted on a board, and, no, the camera mounted on the book is not real.  (Though it’s funny how many people are actually tricked by this.  What’s not funny is that when I explain that it’s just art, more often than not, the people I’ve come across then have a vacant stare because they don’t realize why a camera on a book is art.)  The backboard is just covered with book pages and a few of my favorite excerpts are outlined in black paint.

If you can’t guess from this one, it’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”  The roof was a bitch to make!  I used comic book collecting backer boards to cut the individual circles, but I should have used card stock.  The thickness of the material made it difficult to work with.  I glued cut out book pages to the circles, then painted a black wash over them, then painted the edges of each “shingle” and attached them all to another backer board to make the roof.  I don’t know if you can see it well in the photo, but there’s a little bird on the roof, and a cat and a lantern in the upstairs windows.  The fence is partially whitewashed and partially dirty, and that’s Tom’s fishing pole waiting to be used on the left.  For the base of this, I actually glued sand to the wood.  (I was going to use sandpaper, but it was a little too small.)  The “grass” is floral moss.

Finally, here’s “Alice in Wonderland.”  I used the 2, 5, 7, Queen and King cards because, if you know the story, those are the key players.  I don’t know if you can see everything on the teacups, but there’s a flamingo, a key, a keyhole, a “Drink Me” vial, a white rabbit’s head, a tag that says “In this style 10/6” and a pocket watch with the numbers going counterclockwise.  I wish I wouldn’t have spread the embellishments all around, but placed them where you could see them all from the front.  I didn’t think that though at the time.

Well, that’s all for today, friends, but I hope to be back soon with some more updates as well as to check on all of you.

Let’s talk:  Would you deface a book in the name of art?  (Do I really want you to answer that?)  Have you created anything that hangs on any wall in your house?  If so, what?  Do you know why the camera is significant to “1984”?

So many changes, so little space to write about them…

Greetings, friends!

It feels like forever since I’ve paid my respects to Bloggyville.  Just over a year, actually.  (Technically, I’ve read a lot of your blog posts many times, was able to comment on them some of the time, but haven’t posted myself in forever.)  I’ve had so many things going on and haven’t actually had a working computer for several of those months (I’ll share why momentarily), but I’m up and running again as far as the techy end of things.  And as for that and everything else going on, it’s too much to go into all the details here, so I’ll give you the quick skinny now, then space the details out on subsequent posts.

In the past twelve months, I have:

  • Bought a new (slightly used) house
  • Remodeled nearly every room of said house
  • Sued my previous landlord
  • Lived in the living room for several months while I was waiting for my bedroom/office to be finished (hence the lack of computer)
  • Lost a lot of money to contractors who said they could do a job but couldn’t
  • Found out that I can’t trust most contractors
  • Figured out how to do a lot of contract work myself (with help of my sister, Michelle, and my son, Jeremy)!
  • Stayed in flare with my Lupus for another entire year!
  • Had bronchitis for 5 weeks
  • And then had bacterial pneumonia for 3 weeks
  • And thought I was going to die!
  • Discovered the absolute best bed in the world!
  • Worked on creating custom works of art to decorate said new house
  • Designed a few genealogical books for a few people (myself included)
  • Uncovered some pretty cool genealogical finds within my own family as well as my sister, Michelle’s
  • Had to get a new computer and monitor because both went bad while they were sitting stagnant during my transition
  • Lived through and survived a major hurricane (in the new house)
  • Had a major change in employment status

That’s all I can share for now, though I actually have another couple of things in the works that I’ll reveal soon.  But just so I don’t keep you entirely in the dark, I’ll share a couple of photos…  One is my new house, and the other is my new life’s mantra.

Rachel's new house! Woo Hoo!

If Plan A doesn't work, the alphabet has 25 more letters! Stay cool.

So, tell me, friends, what have YOU been up to?

XOXO,

Rachel

The Storm

Greetings, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well! According to my most recent blood tests a couple of weeks ago, I’m still in an active flare that has been going on since “at least September” according to my rheumatologist. She’s had me on a couple of rounds of major steroids on top of the daily steroids I already take, and they seem to be helping somewhat. At least my sed rate number is getting lower and closer to “normal” (which means less inflammation).

Since May is Lupus Awareness Month, I wanted to share a quick bit of info as well as a poem I wrote which will explain what I’ve been up to behind the scenes (besides completely overhauling my blog — Please feel free to take a look around and tell me what you think of all the changes and new stuff.)…

Lupus Awareness Wolf

Lupus is Latin for wolf. In the 18th century when lupus was just starting to be recognized as a disease, it was thought that it was caused by the bite of a wolf because of the distinctive rash characteristic of lupus. (Once full-blown, the butterfly-shaped rash heals from the inside out, leaving a bite-like mark.)

“THE STORM”
By: Rachel Carrera

Streaks of light stagger across ebony space,
Jagged lightning followed by the crash of thunder,
The roaring, rolling, rumbling sounds race;
In their wake, remnants of life split asunder.

The storm that rages often spins out of control,
It’s a fiery, ferocious, fierce beast,
A tsunami that crashes and crushes the shore
And demands to be free and unleashed.

All signs of life seem to be gone from within
As the cyclone swirls showing no mercy,
Causing an emotional collapse and tailspin,
The result of internal controversy.

This storm that I speak of is not in the sky
But within the confines of my person;
The disease that ravages me can’t justify
Why it causes my symptoms to worsen.

Whoever said once that life is unfair
Really did quite a disservice
To all who suffer this hellish nightmare;
I can’t think of one soul who deserves this.

Just getting through a day is so stressful
And feels like I’ve been fighting a war,
And looking in the mirror has now become dreadful;
I don’t recognize my own face anymore!

The pain with each step shoots fire through my limbs
As I place one foot in front of the other;
And the throbbing that causes my head to spin
Leaves little hope that I’ll ever recover.

But the pain is nothing compared to the dread
Of the horror that could be in my future,
Of organ failure causing my life to ebb,
And disfigurement from my abuser.

I throw up each day, though I never lose weight,
And my hair falls out by the handful;
I just want this storm to not be my cruel fate
And not extinguish my hope’s flickering candle.

This beast steals my sleep so I can’t even rest
While this battle continues inside;
My immune system is now in a state of protest,
Like an avalanche causing a landslide.

Even the slightest cold now kicks my tail
As germs stay with me like a cloud cover;
A sniffle, a cough causes a vicious gale
And I take weeks, sometimes months to recover.

I haven’t even mentioned the rash that I get
From where my disease gets its name;
It resembles a wolf’s bite, not letting me forget
To add something else to my shame.

But the thing that propels me through each passing day
Is knowing so many more have it worse,
And the lost prospect of their illnesses going away
Makes them feel like victims of a curse.

Their neuroblastoma, their Alzheimer’s, and
Their Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,
Their aortic aneurysms, swollen lymph glands,
Their Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis,

Their cancers, their famine, their anguish and sorrow
Make my lupus feel suddenly diminished;
If they can dare dream of waking up tomorrow,
Then maybe my life’s not yet finished.

So I hold tight to my flickering hope’s candle in the wind
As I seek out a ray of bright sunshine;
And far in the distance and around the bend,
I can almost make out a dark coastline,

Where the waves come crashing as they roll on the beach
As they beat on the shore with their fury;
Suddenly, the horizon feels almost within reach,
So I force my broken body to hurry.

When I get to the dark shore, the sun starts to rise,
And the waves relax some of their mad thunder;
The faint glint of sunlight that now shines in my eyes
Gives me hope that I won’t be pulled under.

A slight brightness follows the gloomy eclipse
As the downpour now wanes to a drizzle;
No longer does life seem like an Apocalypse;
It renews hope that my symptoms might fizzle.

Despite my sore muscles and pain in my bones,
My frequent fevers and inflammation,
And the many medicines that mess up my hormones
Yet promise to be my salvation,

I am told by my doctor when this flare goes away
That I’ll soon have more good days than dreadful;
And blue skies will at that time replace all the grey,
And I can finally slay this cruel devil.

So I’ll take cover now as I wait out this monsoon,
Keep my vigil even if I collapse,
Keep my eye on the sunlight instead of the moon
And have faith that the squall will elapse.

*~*~*~*~*

So let’s talk: Did you know where lupus got its name? Did you notice I’ve been working behind the scenes to revamp my blog? What have you been doing?

#LupusAwareness

A New Set of Bullies

Happy New Year, dear friends.  As many of you know, 2016 was a roller coaster ride for me, both physically and emotionally, because of my health.  I puked nearly every day and absolutely every week, no less than twice a week, with the exception of a very few times when I found intermittent relief with one gimmicky pill or another.

I developed what I thought were more food sensitivities, as I had increased swelling and pain after ingesting certain ingredients.  For nearly all of 2016, I almost exclusively ate grilled cheese sandwiches because that was about all I could hold down.  (I used to say the only thing better than cheese is more cheese.  Do you know how sick I am of cheese now?)  And I got sicker.

I had my intensely infected gallbladder removed which provided temporary relief, only to find out that the surgeon left an extremely calcified and diseased gallstone in me which made me sicker than ever for nearly a month until it worked itself out.    And I got sicker.

I literally ate acid before each meal to help it digest before I vomited it.  And I got sicker.

My energy was ebbing to the point that I barely was able to stay awake for work hours only.  I was losing big clumps of hair everywhere.  Every. Single. Day.  My vision was blurred, and I was dizzy most of the time.  And I got sicker.

I put up with asshole “friends, acquaintances, and family” calling me a hypochondriac, telling me I didn’t “look sick,” doubting that I vomited as often as I claimed because I hadn’t lost much weight, telling me I needed to see a psychiatrist, and advising me to seek mental help.  I became the butt of their jokes, either by claiming, “Oh, we can’t serve that food; we might as well serve cardboard or Rachel might throw it up,” or “Maybe instead of visiting the toilet, you should visit the psychiatrist’s couch.”  I tried to force a smile.  I tried to shrug it off and not be a bad sport.

But I was boiling inside!

Can you imagine how stressful it is to not know what’s wrong with you, to want to eat like normal people, and to select a meal not based on price, availability, or taste, but rather solely on how it might taste when I throw it up later? The simple question, “What’s for dinner?” literally reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.

I feel that most of these so-called “friends” were no less bullies than the jerks on the playground when I was a kid.  I know they thought they were funny or cute, or they didn’t know what to say, or they were the type that needed to “fix something” and because they didn’t know how to “fix me” they had to just say something.  But the sharpness of their words stung just the same.

After over 6 months of tests with no real answers, I was disgusted by doctors, and just fed up with life in general.  And then my hair started falling out even more.  Since I’d already been diagnosed as anemic, I made an appointment at an entirely different clinic, hoping I could just get an iron infusion and not have to wait for the pills to kick in.  As I mentioned in my last post in October, this doctor was awesome!  He’s the epitome of what a doctor should be.  I kept the focus of my issues just on the low iron anemia because I didn’t want to go through the same intense GI tests that I’d already had to no avail.

I accepted that hugging the toilet was a way of life, and I just wanted my energy and hair back.

He kept asking different questions, and I kept my answers vague because I only went there for the infusion prescription.  I got annoyed when he asked if I was “regular” (because that’s none of his business, right?), so I rolled my eyes and dismissed the question with, “No, but I’ve been that way for years because I feel swollen inside after I eat most foods.  It’s just how I react with food sensitivities…”

The word “swollen” caught him, and he started writing so fast, his pen was a blur.  He went from ordering a couple of tests to more like fifteen.  When a couple of those results came back irregular, he repeated them then sent me to a specialist when they came back irregular a second time.

So, apparently, I’ve been wrong for years.  The swelling I get after certain foods is not a sensitivity or allergy.  The pain and swelling I get after eating or upon waking the day after I eat a “no-no ingredient” is also not from a sensitivity or allergy.  My dizziness and exhaustion is not necessarily from having low to no nutritional value to my diet.  And my chronic vomiting is not from a sensitivity or allergy.

I was diagnosed with lupus.

I’ve tried to avoid telling people so far because I wasn’t ready to have to deal with the stupid comments from the same jerks that made me the butt of their jokes.  But there were certain people I had to inform, and, yes, it’s left me just as angry and pissed off as before!

Lupus kills!

It can cause excruciating pain in any part of your body.  It can destroy your organs, including robbing you of your eyesight, your hearing, and even your brain!  (I now wonder if that’s why my gallbladder was so filled with infection.)  You often have to avoid the sun with lupus because sunlight can cause a flare.  Stress can cause a flare.  Food can cause a flare.  Colds or infections can cause a flare.  Exhaustion or an injury can cause a flare.

If you’re unaware, lupus is an overactive immune system which causes your immune system to attack everything, even healthy cells and tissues, organs, etc., within your own body.  So just being around someone with a simple head cold means I can get their cold, take 3 or 4 times as long to heal, and possibly even get a worse infection from it, and then of course, deal with a flare.

I always thought I had a poor immune system.  I never realized I actually had an overactive immune system (which results in the same thing: slow healing time, easily infected, etc.).  So everything I’ve done to try to boost my immune system has been counter-productive, actually causing my immune system to work even harder and fight against my own body even more.  {I’ve already dealt with this since my diagnosis, having had bronchitis since Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m just now starting to get over it!}

During a flare, you can expect, pain, inflammation, swelling, vomiting, migraines, hair loss, facial rashes, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, cognitive skill loss, and organ damage.

It’s scary as hell!

Yes, it is true that between 80% to 90% of people diagnosed with lupus can have a normal lifespan with the appropriate medication and monitoring, and I pray to God that I’m one of them.  But so far, the medicine I’m taking also causes hair loss, muscle loss, dizziness, water retention, brain fog, and it can cause a dreadful sounding condition called “moon face” where your face grows and flattens out from fluid (Thank God I haven’t had that yet – and thankfully it is reversible if you stop taking the medicine).  But I have had increased loss of hair, loss of muscle, a lot of forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and worse yet, the loss of speech!  It is so frightening to be in the middle of a conversation and know what you want to say, yet not be able to make the words leave your lips!  (Oh, and by the way, I’m still puking regularly, but the doctor says once one of these medicines kicks in some six months from when I started taking it, that should level out.)

The Impact of Lupus of the BodyI now feel stupid and ugly!

I’m angry because I’ve already dealt with a world of shit, and despite that, I’ve still tried my best to refrain from complaining, but I don’t deserve this (not that anyone does!).  I’m pissed because the idiot doctors I saw since 2015 never once sent me for any of these tests so I could get a handle on this sooner.  And I’m scared to death!  Because while there are plenty of people with a long lifespan, there are also plenty of people who die from this awful disease long before they should, and their only solace from it is that they’re finally out of their excruciating pain.

I know I probably sound like a wimpy whiner.  I know many of you probably have lupus and are living just fine.  And I’m sure I’ll “settle in” to my diagnosis soon enough.  I just wish I had  a better “support system” in place to help me deal with the scariness of all the unanswered questions I still have.

That being said, do you know how many of the same assholes who played me off as their joke have had the nerve to tell me, “Well, at least you finally got a diagnosis,” or, “Oh,  my aunt died of that,” or, “Oh, that’s nothing.  I knew someone once with that, and she lived a normal life.”  But the absolute worst has been, “What’s lupus? [Then I explain as above…] Oh, I know what you mean!  Once, I took a medicine that made me lose my hair for almost six weeks, and it drove me crazy…”

Reactions such as this make me want to scream! 

So while these friends of mine are probably well-intentioned, their comments throughout my journey have hurt me no less than when my arch nemesis in grade school used to pick at me relentlessly.

I’m stepping down from my soap box now.  I appreciate your allowing me to vent and kick and scream and cry on your shoulder today.  That being said, now that I’ve gotten it all out, I hope to be able to, in true Rachel fashion, pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with my life and the act of living with this diagnosis only being a little hiccup.  I’ll definitely appreciate each and every encounter much more as I walk my journey.  When I next see my doctor (in February), I’ll get tested to see if it’s one of the medications or the disease itself that’s causing my recent brain problems, so I’d appreciate your prayers and good vibes until that time.  And I’ll keep you posted as I rearrange my bucket list and hope to have some wonderful adventures.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever received scary news from the doctor?  How did you cope?  How would you deal with people who joke at your expense to the point of being cruel or who blow off your ordeal?