On the off chance that anyone is still interested in reading this, I apologize for my delay in posting. I would love to give a really good excuse, but I don't have one. The freedom of having three weeks between my spring and summer classes kind of went to my head for the first full week, and I didn't do a damn thing. (Well, except take up painting, which I discovered I really enjoy. And it's also a relatively expensive hobby. I may need to start putting ads on here. For which I also apologize in advance.)
It's also possible that I was putting off this part, because I'm reaching the point where everything fell apart for me to the degree that I kind of stopped believing that my future held anything good. And I've had to claw my way back from that, and I'm still not all the way back out of it, so looking back into that abyss is not exactly something I'm looking forward to.
I have, however, reached the point where I'm wiling to consider the possibility that there was a reason for everything to happen the way it did.
But if that's the case, there had damn well better be some fantastic things in store for my future. Like a Powerball win. Or marriage to Johnny Depp. Or both.
Shortly after the second break-in, I finished weaning myself off the prednisone - with a couple weeks' worth left over, even - and everything seemed to be stable. No return of the rash, no pain, and I could walk without difficulty. (The side effects of the steroids, however, took some time to wear off.) Finally, I thought, I could get things back on track. I would get caught up at work, I would be able to start saving money back up again, and within a year, I would be able to go for my first (and hopefully only) IUI cycle. Nothing was going to deter me from the baby plan.
In fact, back in October at a flea market held by the Catholic school where my best friend taught, I had found a Jenny Lind changing table in good condition for ten dollars. (Those typically retail for over a hundred dollars.) I went back and forth about whether to buy it, because it seemed a little premature (and I could only imagine my family's reaction to the purchase), but it was a fantastic price. When my friend told her teaching assistant, a sweet old nun, that I was planning to try to get pregnant after I got some health issues resolved, the nun told me, "Well, maybe if you buy the changing table today, that's how you can let God know that you're ready."
It seemed like a nice thought at the time.
Within a few months, though, I would no longer believe in God.
The ten dollar changing table is now sitting in my spare bedroom, gathering dust.
I got through December with no return of the pain or rash, and mistakenly assumed that I was in the clear.
I celebrated that New Year's Eve with reckless abandon. I was so ready to close the door on 2011. 2012 was going to be my year. The year when I made my dreams come true. Nothing could stop me.
Or so I thought.
My celebration lasted exactly four days.
On January 4th, the joints in my right hand became stiff and painful and swollen.
Within a week, the pain had started spreading to multiple joints. Once again, I would go to bed with no idea of which joints would be okay in the morning and which ones would make me gasp in pain when I tried to button a shirt or walk up a flight of stairs. Also, the rash on my face had returned - most noticeably around my eyes, a condition that I referred to at the time as smallpox of the eyelids. Within a few weeks, the plantar fasciitis symptoms also returned, and I was walking like an 80-year-old again, as well as struggling to stand up from a sitting position.
Still, I clung with desperate tenacity to the reactive arthritis diagnosis. This was just the last gasps. I resisted going back to the doctor, hoping that if I ignored the pain, it would go away. When the pain was really bad, I would pop one of the leftover 5 mg. prednisone pills, which I knew was probably not my best idea ever, but at the time I thought it beat the alternative, which was admitting that the initial diagnosis might have been wrong.
On Valentine's Day (a day that I have always hated, but now have an extra reason to abhor), as I worked on typing up reports at work, my right wrist began to hurt terribly - but only when I moved it or touched it. The fact that it didn't hurt otherwise actually made the pain worse, because I would forget and turn my wrist as I reached for something, or would accidentally bump my hand against something, and the pain would literally knock the breath out of me.
When I got home that night, my dog, clearly meaning to be affectionate, licked my hand, and it hurt so horribly that I screamed in pain. Not one of those gaspy shrieks. A real, honest-to-god scream. My neighbors probably heard it. I felt terrible for the poor dog, who had meant no harm, but the scream was out before I could stop it.
And then it took me nearly an hour to get ready for bed. Not only was I trying to wash my face and brush my teeth and change into my pajamas one-handed (with my non-dominant hand), I was trying to do it without letting anything touch my right hand. And once I was in my pajamas, I sat on the edge of my bed and just cried for a while. I knew, by that point, that I was going to have to go back to the doctor. I even admitted to myself that I probably had something worse than reactive arthritis. Something chronic, most likely.
And I have to admit that part of the reason for my tears that night came from thinking, "I don't want to put up with this for the rest of my life. How could I ask anyone else to put up with it? I'm going to end up spending the rest of my life alone, because no one will want to be a part of this, and I can't say I would blame them for that."
I must have still been in a little bit of denial, because I still didn't go back to the doctor until a sore throat gave me a reason to make an appointment with my regular doctor. I brought up the return of the joint pain in that appointment.
I also admitted to my inappropriate use of prednisone to try to make the pain go away, prefacing my admission by saying, "You're probably going to yell at me for this."
The doctor chuckled. "I'm not going to yell at you," he reassured me. But when I told him how I'd been taking the steroids here and there 'as needed,' he got really quiet and serious. After a moment, he said, "Okay, I might yell at you." He proceeded to lecture me (kindly) about the risks of using prednisone that way.
And I took it, because I knew I deserved the lecture. Still, I tried to defend myself, explaining why I didn't want to go back to the rheumatologist. "If I go back now, she's going to put me on drugs to suppress my immune system. I work with toddlers. I'll be sick all the time."
And my doctor gently pointed out that prednisone suppresses the immune system, too.
Isn't it annoying when people dispute your argument with logic and facts?
In the end, he had the medical assistant schedule me for another appointment with the rheumatologist. The appointment was two days before my birthday.
By the time that appointment rolled around, the rash had started to get a little flaky, and when the doctor looked at it, she said, "You know, that looks a little like psoriasis." She found some more flaky patches behind my ears and on the back of my neck. She ordered more x-rays and blood work, but I ended up leaving that day with a tentative diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, a new prescription for a relatively high dose of prednisone, and a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks.
I wasn't entirely convinced of that diagnosis, until I did a little research. Remember how the podiatrist had refused to believe my claim that the plantar fasciitis pain was related to the joint pain?
From the Mayo Clinic page about psoriatic arthritis symptoms: "Foot pain. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pain at the points where tendons and ligaments attach to your bones - especially at the back of your heel (Achilles tendinitis) or in the sole of your foot (plantar fasciitis)."
That cinched it for me.
Over the months that followed, I came to realize that I'd actually had psoriasis for a long time - just not anywhere really noticeable. I had wondered for years why dandruff shampoo never seemed to relieve the flaking and itching on my scalp - turns out that it wasn't dandruff at all. And I'd had issues with blockages in my ears and external ear infections periodically - even when I hadn't gone swimming - and I found out that it's actually possible to have psoriasis inside your ear canal, and the dead skin flaking off will cause blockage build-up and allow bacteria to grow.
The diagnosis explained a lot, really. Not that that made it any easier to swallow.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Two days after that appointment, I turned 33. Back on prednisone, reeling from the diagnosis a chronic autoimmune disease, and with two years left (according to my reproductive endocrinologist) before it would be too late to have a baby.
It wasn't one of my better birthdays.
Also? Life wasn't finished kicking me around yet. Believe it or not, the hits still kept on coming.