One Patient's Positive Perspectives

Posts tagged ‘lupus’

Lupus in a Victimless Life – Despite Limitations

Series: Lupus in a Victimless Life

Butterfly on yellow daisy

This is the second discussion in a series about being a Lupus patient or someone with any chronic illness, without becoming a victim.  Society tells us we are victims of the things that make life difficult, but do we really need to see ourselves that way?  No, not even for a minute!

Having Lupus should not mean being victim or powerless against it.  Although we cannot choose whether we have Lupus, determining not to be its victim is matter of mindset and even a choice.  When special events or activities in our life disrupt our normal routines and schedules, it becomes very important to be on guard for signs of physical or other stress.  Stress or fatigue may signal increased risk of bringing on a flare of lupus symptoms.

WP_20180502_18_45_00_ProA recent trip to attend a business conference was an excellent example of this type of self-management that often minimizes the impact of potential lupus flares.  Recently joining about 1,000 peers from all over the nation at an educational conference in Washington, D.C., we gathered at a large resort on the Potomac River for five days of classes and continuing legal management education.  With breakfast starting very early, and classes going all day long, by sunset, everyone was tired.  There were many extra steps going to and fro from class to class, and every situation and conversation was a new experience.  This type of event interacting with countless people and ideas easily causes both physical and emotional fatigue.  This conference was no exception.

Hands Holding Book ReadingSelecting how to best spend the free time in the evenings included a wide array of choices, from dining with old and new found friends to taking shopping trips, going on walks, taking in local entertainment.  The conservative choice was spending the night quietly in a hotel room reading a book or eating a takeout meal, while resting with feet propped on a pillow.  Predictably, most evenings were spent pursuing a sedentary evening that helped prevent over-exertion, while also promoting restoration necessary before the next day’s demanding schedule.  Wisdom is listening to the physical needs of your body, and recognizing without angst that lupus narrows those limits.  It seemed the best idea was the wise one.

WP_20180503_20_03_18_ProBut, of course, a little fun, within physical limits was necessary!  One night, opting to accept the invitation to take a sunset walk with attendees from our local chapter sounded fun!  Midway through our jaunt, it suddenly seemed best to sit and rest midway while the others in our group explored shops at the bottom of a long, long flight of steps heading down toward the shore.  At complete peace with self and lupus limitations, skipping the stairs was an instant no-brainer.  Besides, it was a great opportunity to do some great people-watching.  When everyone else reached the top of the stairway again and reunited our group, we finished the second half of our twilight stroll through the remaining street level shops near our hotel.  The activity was pleasantly enough, without being too much.

Despite the Limitations of Lupus

LA Blog Wordle 2013The onset of Lupus clearly changes a person’s life, sometimes very dramatically.  Whether their presenting symptoms are arthritis, rashes, or perhaps a more serious aspect of Lupus, their life definitely changes.  Often, many lupus patients experience fatigue, pain, and other symptoms long before they ever receive the diagnosis.

After learning that Lupus is the cause of their medical problems, a person often has a great sense of relief, as well as hope that things will improve.  The average patient experiences Lupus symptoms four to six years and sees up to the same number of doctors before getting a clear diagnosis of Lupus.  Many describe the great sense of relief they feel after finally getting a one word diagnosis to describe their collection of multiple medical symptoms.

Doctor with clipboard 2With the diagnosis comes the welcome change of a decisive treatment plan and prescriptions for well-established treatments to help control the lupus.  Often the counsel from doctors and other knowledgeable counselors encourage changes in lifestyle and attentiveness to recognizing physical limitations.  Each lupus patient has their own unique set of symptoms and circumstances influencing their quality of life, despite lupus.  In the same patient, flares of their Lupus may suddenly narrow those limitations and frustrate their life goals and plans.

Over work or inadequate rest can quickly bring on extreme fatigue and lupus flare, so it is critical to learn to perceive physical, psychological, and spiritual signs of weariness, and then to take quick actions to retract the limits temporarily to quash or prevent an oncoming flare of lupus.  For many patients, the onset of extreme fatigue is the first symptom as a flare is starting, so becoming intentional about managing social commitments and activity in balance with physical stamina can go a long, long way to minimizing the length and severity of flares, when they do occur (and they will!).

doctor talking with patientLiving within the limits of Lupus may involve a strict regimen of medications, laboratory tests, and medical appointments, along with costs that that restrict a household budget.  Moderate physical exercise can help increase the physical limitations by encouraging good circulation and promoting tissue health and repair.  Adequate sleep becomes invaluable in fighting many of the affects of lupus, and can diminish some of the morning mental clouding that many patients experience daily.  Communicating with the rheumatologist becomes very important if arthritis or neuropathy pain disrupts sleep, and being willing to ask for and take pain medications can be essential to fighting the negative effects of lupus.

bf resting on benchAll in all, we can choose to make the most of what we have, despite lupus, and accept that lupus may make our life and limitations different than others.  Take a the time to you need to slow down, without letting this need frustrate you.  In the stillness of those quieter moments, focus on the blessings around you, and determine to embrace your limitations rather than becoming a victim of them.  Perhaps consider these thoughts penned by Paul of Tarsus, who also had a life-long chronic illness but embraced the ideas that his weaknesses and limitations were a blessing.  He wished his illness would go away, but he was no victim!

stock-photo-woman-reading-the-bible-in-the-darkness-over-wooden-table-277354922“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, KJV

 

 

 

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Lupus in a Victimless Life – Despite the Diagnosis

Series: Lupus in a Victimless Life

Having Lupus does not mean being a victim! Because Lupus is only one thing in an otherwise amazing life, it does not need to define us.  In the government law office where I work, we have a professional victim advocate who helps crime victims asset their rights through criminal court case against the person who hurt them.  One thing common to most victims is that they view themselves as victims, and often perceive themselves as powerless against the victimizer.

By looking at several aspects of lupus, this series will attempt to offer some ideas that may help with the effort to move away from a victim mentality, and toward a more positive perspective.  There is no question we cannot choose to have Lupus, but in some ways, we might even find some reasons to see some positives associated with Lupus!

First, consider the idea that becoming a victim is at least, in part, a matter of mindset and even a choice.

Despite the Lupus Diagnosis – an Overly Defensive Immune System

There is no cure for Lupus.  The treatment for Lupus has greatly improved over the past couple of decades, and especially since the new biologic medications such as Benlysta (Belimumab).

However at ease we become with the fact of our Lupus diagnosis, it remains an unwelcome companion traveling along with us in our life adventure.  Does that mean I should view myself as a victim?  No way!  There is a better way to view Lupus.

One afternoon, while sharing the podium and waiting to speak at a Lupus Foundation of America patient symposium, one of the world’s leading medical experts on lupus explained something very profound.   Her explanation provided a radically new perspective on Lupus.  A few minutes later, she explained the same concept to the room full of people.

She spoke about the most recent medical research that had produced a new understanding.   Lupus does not actually attack a Lupus patient, it actually overprotects them!

She went on to explain that immune systems can adapt and attack new and changing pathogens.  This is a testament to the fact that some people will always have auto immunity.  This capacity of the body to create antibodies against itself comes from the same aspect of our autoimmune system that can fight off new variants of viruses and bacteria.

Without the human body’s ability to develop new immune defenses, the human race would become extinct.  We owe our continued existence as a species to the fact that our immune systems, with their imperfections, can respond to either defend us against new threats, or unfortunately, become confused and try to overly defend us against our own cells mistakenly identified as threats.

This over-defensive response results in a wide array of auto-immune conditions, including Lupus.  She explained that this new information helped researchers understand why a certain segment of the population will certainly develop auto-immune responses.http://www.calumo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/forgot.png

After hearing this explanation, my view on the “why” of lupus radically changed.  Lupus is not really attacking me, Lupus is really my flawed immune system working overtime defending me against an imagined threat.  It is demonstrating what friend of mine describes as “being exceedingly helpful” to a fault.

It seems that every lupus patient is actually a living testament to the kindness and protective grace of God.  Because imperfect humans have dynamic changing immune systems, the human race is kept alive.   If not for this ability, each newly mutated germ could wipe out millions of people.   But, due to the same immune processes that cause Lupus, the human race continues to fight new germs and virus mutations as they arise, and therefore survives.

So, instead of seeing myself as a victim of Lupus, I see myself as overprotected by a misdirected, well-meaning immune system.  With Lupus and its known negatives, we still have defense against the microscopic threats that would otherwise kill us off.  So, accepting the downside of Lupus goes along with accepting the upside of a flawed, overactive, but still amazingly effective immune system.

By remembering that 99.9% of my body works properly, it is possible to choose to rejoice about everything else that still works, while acknowledging and accepting the imperfections of having Lupus.

 

Lupus and Working with ADA and FMLA

Empty Office Chair and Desk
Working with Lupus challenges every patient because it impacts the activities of daily living needed for holding a job or career.  At times, it can be downright difficult to work with lupus, when even getting up in the morning is rough.  Thanks in part to the important protections the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act provide to U.S. citizens, it is not impossible.

FMLA from DOL

Recently, we held a meeting at work for the annual discussion of my ADA accommodations.  To prepare for my employer’s annual recertification process, some work was required before the next quarterly appointment with my rheumatologist.

Forms for requesting an ADA accommodation were downloaded from my employer’s Human Resources web site, along with an FLMA Certification form.  The paperwork included a document for my signature permitting my doctor to share my private medical information with the HR department at work.  Because this was not the first year, the prior year’s accommodation and FMLA forms could be used as samples for preparing this year’s forms.

FMLA ChecklistOnce the forms were ready, next came gathering backup documents to attach to the forms:

WP_20170912_11_27_53_ProI set up a meeting with my supervisors a few days before my doctor appointment, telling them about the need to recertify FMLA and update ADA.  I gave them each a copy of the forms and the attachments we would talk about at the meeting.  This helped prepare them to be ready with anything they might want to suggest for the new year’s accommodation, or have conversations with others about the impacts of my past accommodations.

It is always a great idea for an employee to take charge of initiating any ADA/FMLA process!  It helps prevent putting the employee in a defensive position, and demonstrates the employee’s professional approach to workplace challenges related to their disability.  By taking the lead in coordinating the conversation my bosses, human resources, and my doctor before the recertification deadline, it helped me be better prepared to respond to any changes they might propose.  My bosses and the Human Resources office thanked me for making this aspect of their jobs easier.

Calendar a meetingLater, when we met to talk, my bosses both expressed how well my schedule changes and other accommodations had worked out during the past year, and readily agreed with my suggested accommodations for the next year.  I asked them if there were any problems or concerns but there were none.  The meeting gave us opportunity to talk in more depth about some of my personal and work challenges and struggles due to Lupus.  It seems this helped them better understand my commitment to my work, and how willing I am to do my part to make their accommodations of my Lupus successful.  Also, my newest boss had many general questions about Lupus that were answered, raising his awareness and understanding.

Next, at the appointment with my rheumatologist, we talked about my FMLA form, the attached job description, and the attached recent performance appraisal.   This conversation was a great way for my doctor to know more about the daily challenges of my lupus, and to help her understand more about me and how I cope with Lupus and work on a daily basis.  She had gathered enough information to help her honestly evaluate my performance and the reasonableness of my request for schedule changes.

thV6NHX9CTBefore leaving, I also gave my doctor a copy of the ADA accommodation request I was going to file with the Human Resources office, so she would also be ready when they contacted her to talk about it.  It is very important to show that an employee can do the job well with the help of an accommodation, because ADA laws do not protect employees if a reasonable accommodation is not enough to help them do the essential functions of their job.  She filled out the FMLA form after the appointment and sent it to my employer’s human resources office.

A few days later we sat down for the scheduled meeting to discuss how my intermittent FMLA leave and ADA accommodations had been working out over the past year.  We agreed to continue my schedule adjustments that allow a later start to my work and the ability to use telecommuting during flares, when needed.  They also shared positive feedback with me received from my co-workers and affirmed that they knew of no negatives resulting from my schedule modifications.  This was also a great opportunity to tell them how grateful and thankful I am to have supportive bosses who believe in me and see beyond any limitations my Lupus causes.   After the meeting, the final paperwork filed with the Human Resources office documented we had meet and conferred about my accommodations, as the ADA requires them to do, and the human resources department responded by issuing their endorsement of the arrangements.

CommunicateCommunication and cooperation between employee and employer can make all the difference!  With some footwork and planning, a Lupus patient can coordinate workplace accommodations and flexibility for facing health challenges the might otherwise threaten their job.  Sometimes, in past years, my bosses have asked me to make some changes to the accommodations, and by meeting and conferring, reached workable solutions that were better for them, while also accommodating my lupus limitations.  I am grateful, and thank God frequently for the work situation that I have been blessed to enjoy, where they follow not only the letter of the ADA and FMLA law, but the spirit of it, also.

Lupus, the inertia effect, and my valentine

thEGJELUGJAlthough true for everyone, every lupus patient personally understands this truth: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  The physical science behind the laws of inertia may not be exactly simple, but they are clearly understood by lupus patients.  A sedentary lifestyle is effortlessly easy to maintain, while changing from a body in at rest to one in motion can be an incredible challenge.  Looking back at the past two years of concerted effort keeping college studies moving with great inertia, it seems other areas of life hopelessly succumbed to a lack of motion!

bathroom scaleWith the accelerated rate of scholarly efforts came an equal and opposite effect on physical exercise and healthy home-cooked meals.  Weighing a full twenty pounds more than two years ago, the lack of inertia impacts several rooms in the house: the bathroom scale registers twenty pounds more, clothes in the closet are two sizes larger, and food in the kitchen lasts only half as long on the shelf.  Too much fast food in too much of a hurry did not help this high calorie, nearly exercise-less existence.  Alas, exercise and healthy meal planning take time.  More time than there was to spend while attending college.

Energy-conserving dinner prep for lupus patients!In efforts to reclaim a healthier lifestyle, a newly restored relationship with the kitchen has been growing again.  The smell of real food in the house, heavy on light, fresh, whole foods and light on the oil, sugar, salt and other forbidden non-fruits of the grocery store processed food isles.  We are also rediscovering the purpose of the dining room table, and the fine art of dinner conversation.  This certainly is a vast improvement to fast food distractingly munched under gaze of a watching computer screen’s light.

As we look at tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, it was a pleasure to have the time this year to thoughtfully contemplate and purchase a card and small gift bag full of my sweetheart’s favorite surprises, without simultaneously feeling a frantic pressure from struggling with a choice between study and shopping.  Over these two years, he has been an amazing encourager and support, as he single-handedly held down the home front by shopping, cooking, cleaning, and (yes!) doing laundry. College would have been impossible without him!

valentines-day-love-heart-romantic-heart-butterflyA gift bag awaits the morning in the fridge, positioned right in front of the coffee creamer on the shelf.  When he gets the cream to pour into my cup of coffee, there it will be for him waiting to greet him with a, “Happy Valentine’s Day” for me, while I am still struggling in bed with the fog of morning lupus brain.  Every morning he wakes me with a cup of coffee in bed.  This man deserves some very special love and appreciation!

 

Lupus in the light of a rainbow’s promise

wp_20170123_16_24_13_proOften, many days go by when looking outside at the nearby trees is overlooked.  The cold rainy day had soaked everyone as they made their way to the office.  Lupus grumbled loudly as aching joints and stiffness responded to the damp chill penetrating the office.

The thermal glass was much too thin to block the deep chill penetrating the wall.  The storm blanketing the mountains to the north with deep layers of winter snow brought a biting chill to our arid desert valley below.  Pelting rain struck the office balcony and trees below, as the sky gave a message of promise read by everyone standing there in awe.

320px-Butterfly_sikkimDark gray clouds hung heavy in the eastern Arizona sky as a billowing contrast to the brilliant brush stroke arc of colors swept across the sky.  The southern clouds even carried a faint echoing hint of a barely perceptible second bow.  Standing where an outstretched hand could touch the drenching rain, the combination of invigorating chill and the intensely beautiful sky snapped away the lethargy of the  aching rainy day.

wp_20170123_16_23_49_proRemembering the story of the first such rainbow adorning Noah’s sky refreshed a keen awareness of God’s many promises spanning the ages: never to flood the whole earth again, His Word delivered through holy men of old, the birth of a Savior, and the cross and resurrection that promise new life to those who believe and receive Him, and even now the promise of forgiveness and mercy while adventuring toward a heavenly future home.

With a heart full of these thoughts, today’s rainy day aches of Lupus were somehow dwarfed under the shadow of grand colors of promise hung over skies of history.  A deep cleansing breath and lingering sigh were the only utterance that really described the sight.

The duties of the day soon called out the time to go back inside and into the office kitchen, where a fresh cup of hot coffee waited to warm and nudge persistently back toward the reality of waiting duties on a desk inside. The image of that gorgeous sky evoked thoughtful quietness as I sat down again to view the distractingly beautiful scene outside my office window.

Lupus and tea at quarter past three

Question Mark Key on Computer Keyboard

Lupus and tea at quarter past three

Hugged by a bubble of dim computer light, the keyboard and tablet cast a faint glow over the blankets. While sleep eludes, night thoughts invade the quiet darkness.  He slumbers beside as his slow baritone rumbling comfortingly quivers throughout the room.  Sleepless nights seem merciless when rest seems needed most!  Lingering weariness from a busy day and goosebumps from a cool winter chill disrupt efforts to relax.  Drawing the soft comforter up is warming and eases the chill, but still fails to bring on sleep.

A recent bout of insomnia has made ordinarily foggy lupus mornings more difficult.  Perhaps there are multiple culprits to sleep deprivation.  After spending the last couple of years in college, writing research papers well into the night has destroyed circadian rhythms and perhaps deregulated sensitive endocrine balances.  To reach the arduous goal of earning a late-life college degree, unfortunately, sleep became secondary to prescribed bed times, and school work took precedence.  Life has not yet fully adjusted to new patterns after recently finishing college.  Graduation just before the holidays blended into the normal seasonal stress and distractions.

Only 10 days left until Christmas!

After graduation, there were ten days until Christmas, so the few remaining nights were feverishly used for shopping, wrapping, decorating, and cooking.  There has still been no post-graduation let down.  Immediately after New Years, we moved our bedroom furniture into our home office, and began the reconstruction project in the master bedroom suite.  Dust, noise, contractors, and morphing levels and states of household chaos have permeated all the other rooms in the house.  This has affected any sense of normalcy, and perhaps sets life on just enough edge to rob me of rest in the night.

Surging peripheral neuropathy pain

A surge in nightly onset of peripheral neuropathy pain in legs and feet has contributed negatively to attempted sleep outcomes.  Recently careful timing of nighttime Gabapentin to equalize between twice daily doses is helping reduce the frequency and severity of nightly symptoms.  When the thirteenth or fourteenth hour arrives after morning doses, it is more likely that neuropathy symptoms will set in.  If medications wait until after the onset, it takes over an hour after a new dose to get any relief, and often pain medications are required to quiet the pain enough to allow sleep.  Overall exhaustion increases the likelihood of the this sleep enemy, so this might be a cause, too.

Eliminating trough effect

Eliminating steroid trough effect

Perhaps the split dosing of prednisone between morning an evening might also contribute some to the problem.  A few months ago, quite by accident, we discovered that adjusting daily prednisone doses from single morning 7 milligrams to split dosing of four milligrams at nights and three in the morning immensely improved morning mental clarity.  The Rheumatologist described the positive result as a reduction in “trough effect”, or more simply put, a lack of prednisone dropping to very low blood levels in the night.  A potential drawback impacting sleep may be increased nighttime steroid levels.  Even so, because the net morning result is so much better than it was with single dosing, despite any negative influences in reduced nightly REM sleep, split prednisone dosing was still well worth the risk of any lost rest.

Split dosing steroids not for everyone!

Finally, this spilt dosing is not good for everyone, and in fact, is usually medically discouraged for good reason!  While ordinary medical wisdom recommends full daily steroid doses are best given in the morning to better replicate normal endocrine activity, this was not a concern in my situation.  Since we no longer have any realistic hope that my normal cortisol production will ever resume, after years of failed trials to do it, normal precautions that protect future steroid production were meaningless.  However, in patients that still have some normal cortisol production, morning dosing is recommended to reduce potential suppression of adrenal production of natural cortisol.  But, for those who are completely steroid dependent, the medical wisdom notably shifts to equalizing blood levels throughout the day.  So, split dosing in this case makes perfect sense.

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Wrapped in the promise of dreams

This quickly aging new year is a fleeting annual opportunity for new beginnings.  So, speaking like a seasoned procrastinator who waits until tomorrow to start getting more sleep, here I sit in the night lamenting my loss of it.  I am determined to start earnestly seeking this elusive commodity of sleep.  So, after reaching the bottom of a third cup of decaf tea, my thoughts of sleeplessness finally give way to sagging eyelids.  Slipping the computer onto the bed table and sinking under the warm blankets, darkness finally wraps around me with the promise of dreams.

Lupus Adventures Sojourning in the Land of Learning

My Cheering Section!

The Whole Cheering Section!

Finally done!  A two-year long scholastic adventure closed with long-awaited pomp, circumstance, and enthusiastic celebration of family and friends.  It is finished, and the Lupus Adventurer is returning to her blogging home, after sojourning long in the land of learning.  Graduation came as a sweet finish to a college degree put on hold for over thirty-five years.  Returning to college after a 34 year gap was a deeply fulfilling, challenging, and mentally invigorating experience.  Concern that the risk of lupus flares might increase with the added stress of school studies fueled some real trepidation at the beginning, and could have been a valid reason not to try.  However, after being on Benlysta infusions for several years, my health had never been more stable.

Over the years our children grew up, married, and five beautiful grandchildren graced our lives.  Finally health, family needs, and personal priorities were in a place where it made sense.  Personal values put the needs of children and family first, so with great peace of heart college held lowest priority.  Just like many other lupus patients, the years are peppered with various milestone health challenges.  Always thankful for the education received over four years of attending college, a lingering desire to tie a bow on the unfinished degree never lapsed.

th2C28Z9N0With all the credits aging quickly, after ten years had passed without going back, traditional college degree programs required starting all over again.  Until schools began offering degree completion programs, there was little opportunity to consider reviving a quiet personal dream to finish it.  By the time our children were in school, my career was in full stride and lupus was flaring as an unwelcome life companion.  Keeping  up with the demands of home front and work took daily doses of love from husband and family, and the abiding strength gifted though the daily grace and mercy of a walk with God.

With a husband’s support and encouragement from all the corners of life that mattered the most, it is finally done.  After deferring my desire to finish my college degree for many years due to the events and obstacles of life, choosing the priority of putting my husband and family first, and waiting contentedly upon God unless and until He showed me a time when it was right for me to do it.

So, I prayed my way through countless long nights of arduous study, and stretched my brain and heart to embrace and comprehend new ideas and understand new concepts.  Scores of papers were written, supported by hours and hours of academic research.  This was the type of college experience that made me better and my work, and helped me professionally grow.  My husband, family, friends, employer, and co-workers cheered me only continually.

Senior year of high school

College was harder work for me being a lupus patient in my late 50’s who works a full time in government management.  My sleep hours were often deprived, and the hours of study almost always went beyond midnight.  As a result, perhaps, there were some increased health challenges along the way.  But, now at age 59 it is clear that it was a deeply rejuvenating experience.  Study at night after my demanding day job, together with class time, reading text books, and writing innumerable papers were difficult at times.  During the second year of my studies, our son and his wife and family moved in with us and we spent a blessed year as a full household of nine.

Our five young grandchildren brought joyful love and laughter into our hearts, and they prayed for me and encouraged me daily with their hugs and kisses, warmth and smiles.  I felt like my cup of family love was overflowing and spilling out all around me – my heart was full of joy, despite the normal stresses and challenges of sharing our household.  We got to know and love our grandchildren even more deeply and intimately that was ever before possible, and so this will be an ongoing gift to all of our lives for years to come.

 

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