How many of us ask this daily in our minds when we are struggling with Mast Cell Disease and at our worst. Ever since I wrote my last blog “Coming out of the Closet” I’ve been thinking, thinking in a clear mind.
For three weeks I was in a total flare. Three very long weeks. I didn’t use the epi pen because the upper body muscle spasm was different than before and it radiated into my shoulder. Cardiac possibly, was my thought.
Now, think about it..I didn’t use my epi because it could have been cardiac. How irrational is that thought? How irrational was it not to go to emerg if I thought it was cardiac?
Very irrational now, but then it made perfect sense to me. More embarrassing is that I’m a retired nurse. I didn’t go to emerg. because I didn’t have a plan for my little blind doxie or orders set up in emerge…we all know how important that is. My last time there was a nightmare so I refused to go again until they had orders in their “black binder”. My doctors insist I cannot continue to treat myself at home with epi and nebulizer. It’s too unpredictable and I agree. I’ve been doing it for awhile now and in my clear mind I know the risk.
So from the time I was at the TMS Conference where I used an epi and prednisone for three days in order to get home, until October 18th when I went to the doctor, I was in anaphylaxis. Plain and simple. Not just a flare but extended 2 system, stage 3-4 anaphylaxis, only I just kept going. On the 18th my C-RP (sensitive indicator of inflammation) and anaphylaxis was 70.. n<5. I was in so much pain I was in tears, yet I kept going.
The reason I’m writing this part is because in my last blog I said, “no one sees me when I’m sick” “No one knew”. There was no one around to tell me my thinking was irrational and I functioned (to a point) daily with a great deal of couch time.
One week later, my C-RP is down to 15, most of the spasm has gone and I know my thinking is clear.
There have been many conversations about the different symptoms of Mast Cell Disease but we seldom discuss the emotional side, the brain side, the unpredictable side that actually has its own diagnosis. Mixed Organic Brain Syndrome.
It bothers me even using the diagnosis. I worked for over 20yrs in an active Psychiatric Unit never thinking that ten years down the road I would be talking about the diagnosis in reference to myself.
Now, with a clear diagnosis of MCAD with systemic involvement when I look back, I can clearly see times where emotion was uncontrolled, It wasn’t depression, altho’ I certainly had much to deal with in the way of stressful events.
I loved my job, the acuity and stress of the unpredictability. It was when I became quite ill with cholelithiasis and pneumonia at the age of 50, had just bought my dream house and had decided to hire a search agency to look for my biological family. No stress there! That’s when I started crying at the grocery store and couldn’t get off the couch. My face would swell up on one side, i’d be wheezing and with hives and I would carry on at work like nothing was wrong. Again, no one knew how sick I was. I didn’t know. I do now.
I don’t want anyone to think illness is just an excuse for behaving badly because it’s not. Neither is lack of education an excuse for mistreatment of those who are ill.
What I do what to explain… that this part, this brain part is real, and so badly misunderstood by all. By those of us who experience it and the people around us.
Not only do we have to deal with the endless symptoms of misbehaving mast cells in all areas of our body including the brain, but also the lack of understanding with our families and friends.
Its lack of knowledge, not love that causes the problems. Surviving with this disease is a family affair. We can’t do it without you but we need you to understand the depth of the symptomology.
I’ll just list a few that I myself have noticed. Ten years ago, I was a highly functioning, well respected nurse. I don’t want to be thought of as a diagnosis but I’ll confess anyway. I’ve had to hang up my hat, so to speak but the person inside is still the same.
Issues with cognitive functioning, changes in mood, irritability, forgetfulness, vagueness, inability to concentrate at times, strange sensations like little bugs crawling up the back of my neck into my scalp, smelling smoke or electrical fire when there isn’t any, clumsiness, feelings of doom and gloom, difficulty finding the right words, anxiety, uncontrollable tears.
I’ll stop there even tho’ i know there’s more. Most of the time now they are controlled unless I’m working up to a reaction. Then I notice I get teary and quiet. Can’t stand to be around crowds or busy activity. It causes sensory overload. Add into these “brain” symptoms, the long list of physical symptoms and you find a mast cell disease patient trying to get through the day, the moment.
Some folks have anger outbursts, depression, jittery feelings….the list goes on and on. My example of going 3 weeks in a reaction because no one knew and I wasn’t thinking clearly is important in that we need to bring understanding to those around us.
Mast cell issues with the brain have been documented and studied in journals of medicine. You are not crazy. Many of us have spent years, decades even going to doctors looking for answers, many of them slot symptoms into various boxes of diagnosis, some even psychiatric. How degrading and humiliating it is for us, being so physically ill to have someone discount the reality of what’s going on in our bodies. Mast cells are responsible for so many things in our bodies and brains, never mind when you get into 23andMe and discover Methylation issues affecting dopamine and serotonin. You/we are experiencing a reaction, not just being a a pain in the #$@
In 2003, the year I was 50, I found my biological family and my mast cells went crazy. They pushed me over the edge into the abyss of masto hell only I didn’t know what it was. They thought i was depressed and was avoiding them when I was in a place of such sensory, emotional overload I could barely handle a neighbour saying hello. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t get off the couch for the unrelenting and unbearable fatigue. Every day there was a different rash. My collagen and degenerative disease took over. I tore my rotator cuff, my jaw went out of place, the disc slipped due to DDD, i was in never ending pain and had to wait almost two years for surgery managing on my own. No wonder I crashed and burned. No wonder my mast cells took over. No one understood, not even I knew what was going on. I chalked it up to reunion stress and the normal reaction of needing to regroup. My doctor said its CFIDS and FIBRO..you need rest..but it got worse.
No, what I really needed was a proper diagnosis and understanding and care from those that claimed to love and support me. It took several years of continuous decline for me to be able to put the puzzle together and by then I was having anaphylaxis every week at least.
Just before I went for diagnosis in South Carolina at Hollings Cancer Clinic, my daughter told me, during an argument that when I’m really sick my mind, emotions, and heart get all crazy and I take it out on her. At the time I didn’t see it. I do now, except for the heart part because I’ll always love her. I’ll put it in writing and send it out to the cyber world. You were right, you saw something that was different about me and voiced it. You did as so many of our family members and friends do. Unfortunately it’s done without the knowledge and understanding of “why”.
What we need as mast cell disease survivors, is compassion and kindness. Understanding the physiology of the disease helps with that. Understanding that when you see the signs of irritability, or tears that its not judgment and anger we need, its understanding and kindness in pointing out in a gentle way that perhaps we need some medication because the mast cells are acting up.
It’s not us, as a person.
It’s the mast cells. It’s the disease.
Perhaps there are small ways your kids can be involved in pointing out you are more irritable today…without judgement..with a desire to help not hinder. Stickers or magnets on the fridge perhaps as a way of communicating without confrontation. Smiley faces or angry faces, whatever works. Might even work for spouses and other family. It’s a difficult subject to bring up especially when the person isn’t themselves at the time.
For friends and family, spouses involved with caring for someone with mast cell disease. Educate yourselves as much as possible. We didn’t ask to be sick. We can’t help it, nor can we completely control everything about our bodies at will. We strive to, but perhaps we just aren’t there yet. A kind word, a phone call, a visit means more than you know.
Isolation is one of the most difficult parts of mast cell disease or any invisible disease. In order to control the mast cells we need to have a very controlled environment, with food, with smells, with stress, with activity.
Everything about life changes. It’s a grieving process for everyone involved, since life will not be what you had planned it to be.
Be gentle with each other.
Be kind with your words.
Be there with your actions expressing your love and understanding.
Be patient with us.
Don’t forget that inside there is the same person you knew and loved before,
only now we are having to deal daily with more than most people could handle in a lifetime.