I have been quite disappointed in myself, after making the commitment to do the A To Z challenge, that I was unable to keep up with it this week. It is particularly disappointing because I’ve already blogged about my tendency not to complete things and to be hard on myself when I do not succeed at things.

However, all of Monday had gone by in a blur, and at the end of everything, I was upset because the day disappeared and I hadn’t blogged. Then it was Tuesday, usually the busiest day of the week in my world, and I still had not blogged.

E is also for Easter, which was Sunday and a relaxing day. Easter happened to be overflowing with TV shows I wanted to see, and I also tried my hand at another “E” thing, eating. *laughs* In particular, I made soup in the Crock-Pot, which turned out better than I expected—specifically considering I don’t really know how to cook, but I use recipes as guidelines rather than instruction manuals. I think I ate about 8 bowls of soup over a three day period, before I decided I was souped out (note to self: cut recipes in half. Also, rice is bigger after it’s cooked for a while.) After successfully making the soup, I watched the Smurf movie, which was pretty smurfing cute!! 😛 I don’t really love animated movies; I only usually see them if they are something fantastic, and “cute” isn’t usually my cup of tea. But the movie was entertaining, surprisingly witty, and had a great cast.

E is also for Energy, and I had been in better spirits and having more of it. So, as happens every time I’m feeling positive, I decided to try to cut back on my beta-blocker. Although doctors like to deny it because they are so widely prescribed, many reputable studies and also personal observations have shown me that beta-blockers severely slow down your energy level, cause weight gain, bloating, and in some people, diabetes. However, for people like me who have a high pulse and an irregular heartbeat, it is one of the only effective treatments and significantly lowers your risk for heart attack or stroke. Since my mother started having both in her 50’s, both my brother and I were put on beta-blockers at the first sign of “something’s wrong”. During my trip to the ER after the episode recounted in “B Is For Beach”, the doctors found I had PAT: Paroxysmal Atrial Tachycardia. My heart rate will randomly speed up, trigger heart palpitations and panic attacks. It is not entirely uncommon and not life-threatening, but an episode will keep you in bed or send you to the ER– and the beta blocker put an end to them almost completely. However, the side effects are terrible, even after 4 years.

Worse yet, my doctor denies things like the beta-blocker being responsible for weight gain and fluid retention (even though it has happened to almost everyone I know who takes them. Recently, a friend was put on them, and his doctor immediately put him on a low-carb diet before the pills even took effect.), and also does not understand why I cannot seem to cut back the dosage of this medication. I have tried multiple times, but after doing extensive research on the internet, learned that “rebound symptoms” were common. Cut back on your medication, symptoms of whatever made you take it to begin with return. I’ve never gotten past 4 days of even a small reduction, and my doctor gave me the OK to cut my dose in half. When my blood pressure started to read 92/58, I got scared, and decided it was time to try again.

Today is day 4, and the side effects have been terrible. I feel sad and just want to lie in bed all day, and the smallest thing going wrong makes me want to bury myself in a hole and never come out. My hands shake, and one night, felt so dry and swollen I couldn’t move them. I had a heart palpitation, my BP is up (it’s actually normal, which to me feels like I am riding a rollercoaster), and I generally feel scared. Still, I’ve done everything I can to stick to taking that little piece of pill away every day. It made me feel comforted to know at the same time, another friend has been struggling to cut back on his terrible smoking habit, and his symptoms and struggles aren’t much different. I try to remind myself that if I keep focused on the goal and don’t panic, I can do this thing that will help in the long run. But it is hard on my mind, my body, and my emotions.

I almost quite trying on Monday evening, when E was for Emergency. I had a text from my brother saying my dad was in hospital again. One of the things that scares me about my own health is how unhealthy my own parents are, in their mid-60’s. My dad has stage IV prostate cancer that’s spread to the bones, and is currently doing chemotherapy and injections to shrink the tumours. He also suffers from Lymphedema, is over 500 pounds, and has been confined to a bed and wheelchair for about 6 years. One of the side effects is an inability to get enough oxygen into his body, and although he has a machine to help with this, he doesn’t use it. So, when trying to get into his wheelchair, he fell, and the doctors discovered his carbon dioxide level was at 95%. He is currently in a medically induced coma while they get his body balanced. It is perhaps the third time this has happened. Yet, my dad refuses to go to a nursing home where trained professionals can give him 24/7 care. It is a very tough situation, and it upsets me that my own health issues keep me from being able to travel to see my family.

I try not to beat myself up for forgetting to blog in the midst of all this, and my body struggling with itself to even do simple tasks—but it does feel a lot like “F”, which is failure.

At this point in my life, I need a win. I need something to go right. I need to do something I didn’t screw up along the way. I need to fight for every day to be a good one, even if my quality of life isn’t what it used to be and may never be the same again. It’s too easy to give up hope and not find anything to smile about when you wake up in the morning, when everyone should be smiling just because they woke up in the morning. There is so much in life I don’t have the means, ability, or knowledge to control, making sure that there are little successes where I can find them is important to me–even if it just means writing on this blog every day.

I may only be able to live a “C” kind of life these days, but it’s way better than an “F” kind of life.

You may have noticed that I’ve been strangely MIA from this blog for awhile. There are a lot of reasons I could give, from trying to work out feelings and relationship issues with people in my life, to having work to do, to feeling absolutely uninspired to do anything because I am now permitted to watch 7 hours of TV each night, thanks to the simultaneous airing of the Olympics, Big Brother 14, and Showtime’s Big Brother After Dark.

The real reason is, however, that I simply have blogger’s block. It’s a condition similar to writer’s block, only it’s one where you realise you have nothing interesting to blog about because it’s been ages since something interesting happened to you. I find myself struggling to hold up my end of the conversation in talks with even my closest friends, and if you ask any of them, you’ll hear testimony about my innate ability to have 6-hour phone calls or sit at a bar talking until it closes down at 3 AM. Therefore, my sudden realisation that I have nothing to discuss really frightens me.

“OMG!!!! I have become old and boring! When did this happen? Do I still have friends? Will anyone ever be attracted to me ever again? HELP!!!”

Yeah, it goes something like that. You see, I’ve always relied on my sparkling wit, snarky conversational skills, flirtatious banter, and penchant for not shutting up to carry me far in life. I am very ill-equipped to be an introvert. I am even more ill-equipped to be an introvert with a blog.

This exile from life is largely self-imposed. I really do have work to be done, and I really do love the Olympics and Big Brother. I’ve also spent a lot of my free time working on promoting and completing my first book of poetry, Ophelia’s Wayward Muse, for which I’m fundraising on Kickstarter.

“OMG! Why was I so ambitious in thinking people would care about this? I only have 9 days left to raise $175, and people aren’t donating! Is it because my writing sucks? Is it because I don’t have any friends? WHYYYYY? HELP!!”

Yeah, it’s kind of something like that. (But seriously, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you should donate. It either means you’re my friend, or what I write doesn’t suck, and I need the validation…in the form of monetary donations. It will allow me to publish something offline for which I will request more validation. Please keep enabling me. It makes my day. ;P)

The summer is the main reason for my self-imposed exile. It was only a year ago that I was paying regular visits to doctors, hospitals, and emergency rooms, and preoccupied with the idea that I was not going to live to see 2012. Obviously, I am still here (which actually caused me to lose a bet with a friend. Yes, I have the kind of friends willing to bet on the likelihood of my impending death. I totally think that’s awesome.), although there’s about 25 pounds more of me. In a way, that’s a kind of, sort of death, when you can no longer fit into your favourite outfits because you need to take pills that make you fat, sleepy, and hungry. It turns out, the doctors disagree with me. They call this a “minor side effect” and tell me my “symptoms are responding well to medication”.

One thing they can’t treat, though, is the effect that last year’s heat exhaustion/sunburn/massive infection/dehydration/malnutrition episode had on the part of my body that regulates my temperature. I’ve always had a hard time with that, being the kind of person who felt perfectly comfortable in 110 degree heat until I suddenly passed out. If I get caught in the rain, I’m freezing, and need to take a hot shower, and then have an evening of flu-like symptoms. My hypothalamus and I have never been good friends. However, being sick has taken things to a new level.

Of course, summer in Atlanta means every day brings a balmy 93-degree day (which feels like 97 degrees.) Even when I venture out to air-conditioned places, I find myself feeling overheated and dizzy. Touching my arm will reveal you can fry an egg on it. I decimate ice cubes on contact. Summer and I used to get along very well, but we have officially broken up. I’m considering relocating to Seattle, or SoCal.

I should be thankful. This summer is not one of hospital visits, panic attacks, and unpleasant tests. Medical professionals seem to think I am getting better, even if I don’t always feel that way. “Taking it easy because it’s too hot outside for my body to handle” shouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Yet, it makes me feel like someone who isn’t me. I have no interesting stories to relate, no drama to entertain me, and no silly pictures for Facebook. I haven’t been to the eyebrow waxing lady in 6 weeks, and the results are sad. Living vicariously through those around me helps, but those around me have been either stressed-out, sick, or both lately, and I’d like to hide from that a bit.

Basically, I can’t wait until the fall arrives. I’m hoping to be well enough to travel, to go out with friends, and to get back to feeling like my old self again. In the meantime, I’m just making the most of my downtime. :)

Today, I’m going to take the time to address some questions that people have sent to me, or have come to my page looking for advice about, regarding medications and illness. If this doesn’t apply to you, just skip. :)

Because I’ve blogged about my medical journey pretty extensively, I get people who end up on this page looking for information on the drugs that have aided in my recovery, Atenolol (Tenormin) and Diazepam (Valium). I’m on Atenolol because since getting sick, I’ve developed an abnormally high pulse rate, and also suffer migraines with aura. (I have always had headaches. I just blamed them on sinus troubles and allergies, which I don’t have. Turns out, I have migraines. Fortunately, they are not as severe as some suffer from.) I’m on Valium because I suffer from a vestibular disorder that causes vertigo, light sensitivity, and migraines. These things also cause anxiety and panic attacks. I was also prescribed Klonopin to take during panic attacks. Since discovering that my panic attacks were related to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar is a side effect of beta-blockers) or an impending “migraine with aura” attack (which last about 20-30 minutes for me), I have learned to manage my symptoms without using the Klonopin…so, I’ve gone about 8 months without a severe, full-on panic attack where I had to be medicated.

For those who come here asking about Atenolol and Valium, and “do they work”, my personal experience is yes. They do. Valium isn’t a good drug for everyone; some people find it highly addictive and within a year, are increasing their doses outrageously. I’m on a relatively low “maintenance” dose of 7.5 mg a day, and only take an extra quarter tablet when symptoms of vertigo or panic arise. Other drugs, such as Xanax and Klonopin treat anxiety, but do not treat vertigo, migraines, or other neurological symptoms. I’ve had bad experiences taking these, and other treatments for vestibular disorder and migraine have had no effect on me. People ask if Valium makes you eat more, or causes you to lose your appetite. It actually does neither for me.

Atenolol is a different story. It’s a tough drug to acclimate to, and I know at least 3 people who needed to get off of it fairly quickly because of the side effects. A common question seems to center around Atenolol and weight, and whether what someone is experiencing is normal.

In my experience, unfortunately, yes. I gained a fifth of my body weight in a year while on Atenolol. Most of that was in the first 3 months of using it. It took that long to realise that the medication was screwing around with my blood sugar, causing me to be hungry all the time, and to eat food I wouldn’t normally eat. On top of it, Atenolol is designed to cut down your cardiac load, so your metabolism slows and you don’t burn calories. When you first start the medication, you’ll feel like sleeping 10 hours a night and your doctor will tell you no cardio. Once you adjust, you will be able to exercise again, and will likely be advised to eat a certain kind of diet, depending on why you went on the drug in the first place. (usually it’s a low-carb, low-salt diet for high blood pressure sufferers. My doctor recommended a low-glycemic diet for me, since I don’t have a history of blood pressure issues.) Some people continue to gain weight no matter what on Atenolol. I have a friend who gained over 70 pounds. This is true of many beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, and calcium-channel blockers. If you keep gaining after the first 8 weeks, see about switching medications. Do NOT abruptly stop taking your beta-blocker, replace it with an anxiety pill, or even decide to cut it in half. Withdrawals are not only hard on you, they can be life-threatening. I speak from personal experience. I didn’t like the weight issue, so stopped taking the Atenolol after 6 months of positive results from it. I actually noticed my blood pressure drop, so thought this was an awesome choice. 4 days later, I almost fell down the stairs because the world went fuzzy and black on me. You’d better believe I took the beta-blocker immediately. Not only was my blood sugar dangerously low from withdrawals, so was my blood pressure. If you decide to quit your beta-blocker, your doctor recommends what amounts to a 12-week slow detox.

After that episode, I decided to stick with the drug. I went from 10 migraines with aura a month and unpleasant panic attacks to 5, and then one month, I noticed I didn’t have any at all. I noticed that cutting calories and trying to be as “normal’ as possible put a halt to the weight gain. When I pig out on foods loaded with carbs and salt, the scale will go up 5 pounds overnight. You can’t do this. People on beta-blockers should aim for a low-carb, protein-rich diet, and eat 5 small meals a day to maintain blood sugar. I have caffeine sometimes. I have chocolate. But I have them in smaller amounts, and see no negative results. (Note: I have not been able to tolerate coffee or espresso since starting this medication. Heart palpitations resulted.) I no longer suffer from agoraphobia because I’m afraid of having a panic attack in public.

People ask me whether or not they should lower their calorie intake to 1000 or 800 calories because they’ve been put on this drug and can’t burn calories like they should. Your doctor will tell you no. However, I’m slightly under 5 feet tall, and my pre-medication caloric suggestion was only 1300 calories per day. So, yes, on days when I am basically on bed rest, I will cut my calories to 800. If you’re 5’10″ and 190 pounds, you won’t be able to get away with this. Also, I only take 25 mg per day of the drug. If you’re on a higher dosage, eating that little will endanger your health. Don’t do it.

It’s really hard to cut calories that dramatically, anyhow, because Atenolol makes you really hungry and messes with your blood sugar. Even if you only eat 800 calories, they need to be spaced out throughout the day.

It’s hard to lose weight on Atenolol, and although the literature tells you to expect to gain 5 pounds on a beta-blocker, the reality is that it’s significantly more for many, many people. It sucks. But side effects are the same from other heart medications, as well as depression, anxiety, and migraine treatments. Just know there are a ton of people out there who feel the same way you do. I Googled countless message boards about the subject, only to hear the same stories, over and over again. These pills make you fatter. But for many, they also give you back a reasonable quality of life, and prevent life-endangering consequences. You may not have to be on the beta-blocker forever, and when you’re free of it, you can cardio to your heart’s content. (literally!)

I hope that answers some of the questions that have come my way! Please keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, and if you have issues with your medication, you need to talk to yours. Get a second, or third, opinion if necessary. I’m just a girl who has decided to relate her personal struggle with a sudden onset, chronic illness with the world. Each person is going to have a different experience.

I will say that, although I’m not always happy with my body or my lack of energy, the treatment I’ve received has resulted in a slow but steady improvement of my symptoms. I have a great support network of friends, people who love me no matter how big my hips get, and being very straightforward about my illness means people tend to understand when something goes wrong. I’m pretty lucky. But I don’t have the energy and the stamina for getting out in the world I once did. This is frustrating to me, often. I want to be better and healthy NOW, before I’m too old to enjoy life. I have to remind myself that sometimes, there’s a part of your life where it’s necessary to be a turtle. Some days are slow. Some days, you hide in your shell. But, eventually, you get there. :)