The Things You Never Know At The Time.

This is my daughter and I as our cruise ship is about to leave the harbor late last December. Little did I know what was to come.

If you’ve been reading, you know I wrote about having vertigo after that cruise. It turns out I don’t have vertigo. I have been diagnosed with something with the potential to be much worse. For starters, the name is worse. It’s called Mal Debarkment Syndrome. Sexy, right?

Mal Debarkment Syndrome is a fancy way of saying my brain never calibrated to being back on land. It can take three to six months to recover. Sometimes up to a year. Some people never recover. I’m pretending I don’t know that last one.

My husband jumped right on the research bandwagon and found there is not much in the way of treatment, other than time. He did, however, find an option at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. I have applied to be accepted as a patient, and am anxiously awaiting a response. Interestingly, the application form specifically asked if I ever had Lyme disease. Hummmm…….

In the meantime, I am doing my best to keep perspective and remain positive. Oddly, the diagnosis brought a sense of calm. First, it’s always good to have a name for what’s wrong with you. Second, now I can get my expectations in the right place. Before I knew about the three to six month time frame I went to bed each night hoping tomorrow would be the day I woke up feeling better. Then when I woke up not feeling better, I’d be disappointed.

Now at least I know what to expect. And what I can expect is to feel badly. All day. Every day. For a lot of days. It’s Ok. It really is. There are people who face so much worse, so I am not going to complain about this. And I do believe it will eventually pass. I just need to hang on.

So, what is it like to have Mal Debarkment Syndrom? I feel very nauseated all the time. I am also very, very tired. I think my brain is working overtime to sort itself out. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat. Sometimes I feel weird pressure in my head. Sometimes my head hurts. Sometimes it’s not too bad and I can sort of function. Sometimes, it’s horrendous and I have to lay down and cover my eyes. Sometimes I can look at a screen or read a book, sometimes I can’t.

I spend most of the day in a comfortable chair, remaining as still as possible. Any movement whatsoever makes my symptoms worse. However, there is one exception, and apparently, this is a classic symptom of Mal Debarkment Syndrome. I feel fine when I’m riding in a car. That’s because my brain thinks I’m still on a boat, and therefore it’s calibrated for being in motion. Consequently, when I get in a car, my brain thinks all is well. The only downside is my symptoms flare when I get out of the car. It takes fifteen to twenty minutes to recover and get back to feeling regular crappy versus extra crappy.

It’s a funny little syndrome, isn’t it?

I can’t tell you any more about it, because I delegated the online research to my husband. In the brief research I did, I came across the words “devastating” and “debilitating” a few too many times, so I decided information is not power in this case. My husband is on it, and is keeping me on a need to know basis, which allows me to maintain my optimism.

Today marks exactly one month since I stepped off the ship and into this crazy syndrome. I have spent much of that time in my chair, which has given me plenty of time to think. And I can really and truly say I can find the blessing in this. My mind and body are so exhausted from trying to keep up with life while also battling lyme and anxiety, and my current situation amounts to a giant time out I never would have taken. I need this rest. I am benefitting from this rest.

You would think I’d be restless with this much down time, but it’s actually the opposite. I have an odd sense of contentment. There is no way to power through this and just keep up with life, so my only choice is total surrender. And everything that’s not important has fallen away. I simply feel too crummy to get wrapped up in the small things I usually get wrapped up in. As a result, my life is distilled down to it’s essence. I’m grateful to see the sun rise. Grateful to have a husband and daughter who love me. Grateful all our basic needs are met each and every day. We have food, clothing, shelter, love, and access to health care. Anything else is a bonus.

I know that all might sound overly simplistic or cliched, but I can promise you those are my genuine feelings. And I believe you can only come to a place like this through suffering. In my experience, suffering blows the clouds away from the sun and shines a blazing light on the things that truly matter.

I will recover from this. However long it takes. And I will be better for having gone through it.

Now, on a much lighter note, this may end up being a bigger problem for my husband than me. Apparently, I will always be susceptible to this syndrome, so once I get better, I am supposed to avoid anything that could possibly trigger it, which means I’m not supposed to get on a boat of any kind.

My husband is an avid boater. He owns three boats. Being on the water is one of the great joys of his life. We live in a water town.

So, there’s that. My poor husband.

This Is Major.

When I first became sick in 2009 , I weighed around 115 pounds. Some days a little more, others a little less.  If you are wondering, I am 5’6″.

With every passing day of my illness, I weighed less and less. I was doing everything in my power to gain weight, yet all I did was lose it. This slow yet steady march of weight off my body caused immeasurable emotional distress. At a certain point, I began to fear my intestines were simply no longer capable of absorbing nutrition.

My hair started falling out. I was fatigued all the time. My menstrual cycle stopped for years. I stopped weighing myself. I just couldn’t look any more. 

If you need a reminder, I have a motility disorder that either is or isn’t related to lyme disease, depending on who you talk to. When you have a motility disorder, food moves through your GI tract at a painstakingly slow pace, which means you feel uncomfortably full nearly all the time.  And you get full from eating very little.  Also, you have a lot of stomach pain, nausea and general discomfort. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?

It is against this backdrop that I was trying to gain weight. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see why I was not successful.

My husband recently told me that back in those days he would put his hand on my hip during the night and just cry. I was nothing but bones, and they seemed to be protruding more with every passing day.

We were scared. Very scared. We considered a feeding tube and  Picc line, but both felt like such drastic measures.

Out of desperation, we tried one last consult with a new nutritionist about two and a half years ago. She suggested a liquid diet comprised of elemental protein shakes. Elemental protein powder is broken down as far as food can be broken down, so the GI tract does not have to do much to digest it. Rather, the shake is simply absorbed. Hence, the name Absorb Plus.

I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of a liquid diet, but I wasn’t too excited about being a bag of bones either, so I didn’t see I had much choice.  My nutritionist asked me to weigh myself so we could get a a baseline before starting the shakes. I told her I couldn’t do that, so she asked me to do it with my eyes closed and have my husband report back to her. 

To this day, I don’t know how my husband kept a straight face as we dealt with the scale. 

I weighed 81 pounds. Remember, I am 5’6″.

I started the shakes, and hoped for the best, completely unaware of how little I weighed. I knew I was scary skinny, but I never would have guessed just how scary.

I crossed my fingers as I tried the shake, as I had already tried several other protein powders that I was not able to tolerate. At first, my GI symptoms remained the same, but after about two weeks, my symptoms slowly started to decrease, and I did not feel painfully full all the time. I had less stomach pain and nausea and I generally felt better.

Each week, my husband weighed me while I didn’t look, and he reported the results to my nutritionist. I was gaining weight for the first time in years, although, I still didn’t know how much because I didn’t feel safe looking at the scale. One look in the mirror after the shower told me everything I needed to know.

At that time, I told myself if I could just get back to 110 I would feel pretty good about life. Yes, it’s less than before I got sick, but it seemed like a pretty solid number, given where I’d been.

Well, I hit 110 a couple of weeks ago! Just typing that brings tears. It’s taken me two and a half years.  I could never describe how hard it’s been. The foods I’ve given up. The times I’ve watched others eat while I sipped. The hassle of brining my shakes everywhere. The daily commitment to stick to the program no matter what.

But I can honestly say it was worth it. Because along with the weight, I gained confidence, and a stronger sense of the person I used to be. I don’t feel so physically fragile. I don’t feel like I need to spend every waking moment strategizing how to gain weight. I don’t feel like I need to freak out if I don’t get all my calories in on a given day. I’ve been able to resume working out and I even put on muscle.

This all amounts to a burden lifted.  A burden I’ve been carrying for 9 years. Man, was it heavy. You have no idea.

As happy as I am to weigh 110, I’m not giving up, because I’m not at the end of the story yet. I gained weight by being on a liquid diet. And I see the liquid diet as a band aid, not a cure. If I went back to real food tomorrow, I have no doubt my 24/7 GI issues would return, and my new weight would go back to where it came from. Nothing has really healed. I just found a way to work around my problems.

So, I’m carrying on. I’m continually looking for new doctors, new options, new anything that will help me. I have a few things in the hopper, but nothing nailed down yet. I will report on that when I get it figured out.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy 110, which is my new favorite number.