Friday, March 14, 2014

How are those Goals for 2014 Coming Along?

True to my proactive self (damn you, fatigue, for conspiring to hold me back!), I've gotten a running start on that list of goals I posted in January.

Here are the areas in which I've made progress:

0. Get my stuff back!
Oh, clever number zero, you. Starting off with a bang! I got my stuff!!!! Finally, finally.... fi...na...lly. What a crazy, incomprehensible little adventure that was. After the Department of Transportation and Budget Trucks and the courts of Jersey City ruled that we could all finally gain access to our stuff, several parties and I flew into Jersey City last weekend to claim them. This involved myself and a friend flying from Knoxville into Philadelphia (with a three-hour layover in Detroit), spending the night in Perkasie, PA, commuting into Jersey City the next morning, spending the day going through countless boxes in an unheated warehouse (it was thirty-six degrees in there), only to find that the overwhelming majority of my stuff was either broken, damaged, moldy, or, in a few cases, missing entirely. But, after nine months of living in a nearly empty house in constant anticipation of having my things, I finally have closure—and my dining table. And books. And clothes. 

6. Volunteer and/or work part-time outside of my house
Umm, I signed up to volunteer with the Historical Society, and was an absolute mess at their orientation last month. It fell on one of my "weak" and "fatiguey" days, and I thought I was going to require an ambulance at the facility. Then I was sick again on the follow-up day. So I'm putting my volunteer efforts on hold until I'm more stable.

7. Get another cat
Oh yes!! I sure have!! I adopted Sir Busterloo Fiddlesticks McGee, an orange tabby kitten from a local rescue group, in January. He's bundles of fun and helps fill the void left by Tiggy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Whack-A-Gallbladder

OK, Whack-A-Mole. I surrender.

With all the treating I've done for collaterally damaged organs, the last thing I'm interested in is adding another diagnoses or problem to my list. 

I mean, come on. Let's start scratching some stuff off the list already. But, no can do, says a tiny voice coming from my gallbladder.

Whack.

While a high percentage of Lymies in Facebook groups have openly struggled with theirs, I've never paid much attention to gallbladder issues. Admittedly, up until a few days ago, I didn't even know what a gallbladder really does.

Well, thank you dear gallbladder for the first-hand, educational experience.
  • All that back pain I've been having on the right side behind my scapula? Massage therapists said it was due to using a computer mouse. (I haven't worked a full-time desk job in three years, so I've cut down on mouse usage by about 90%, and the back pain is now worse than ever.)
  • The pain in my diaphragm and rib cage that I've been told by naturopaths and rolfers were "hiatal hernia" and "ribs out of place"?
  • The intense nausea accompanied by more and more frequent bouts of vomiting and dry heaving--especially following consumption of greasy or fatty foods like onion rings and hamburgers?
In hindsight, this has been going on, intermittently, for a few years. Usually the pain to the right of my upper stomach is a dull, bruised type pain. Then there are infrequent times when it's sharp and stabbing. 

Earlier this week, I took to Facebook in pursuit of peer advice and personal experiences on gallbladder issues. And boy, oh boy, did I ever get what I asked for! Within a couple of hours, I heard from no less than thirty Lymie and chronic illness friends. They sent me private messages, they commented on my status, and they replied to my questions in the discussion groups.

It seems like everyone and their mother has been through this.

It's the new trend in wellness.

And everyone has an opinion. A strong opinion.

These opinions vary from "NO, DO NOT REMOVE THIS VITAL ORGAN OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE DESTROYED!!!!!" to "REMOVAL WAS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER DONE!!!!"

So I started to seriously consider bidding adieu to mine, as I found myself swiftly ushered into the ultrasound laboratory by way of my local, non-LLMD doctor earlier this week.

The ultrasound revealed absolutely nothing (which tends to be the case for most), so my doctor suggested I get a HIDA scan, which is a more savvy detective of malfunctions of the gallbladder.

But the HIDA scan gives you one to three years' worth of elemental radiation (depending on whom you ask), not to mention a toxic dye that gets injected into you, or the intense nausea that most people feel during the scan, or the fact that it causes artificial gallbladder contractions and bile stimulation.

As sensitive as I am (and I mean, hypersensitive), that's not an experience that would go over well with me.

I know, I know. Everyone's thinking, "Just endure it. You'll figure out what's wrong with your gallbladder."

But... two things.

First, even after the HIDA results are shown, the doctor will probably want to take mine out based on symptoms alone. She already expressed her interest in doing just that. "You'll want it out before you get pregnant. If you're having pains, they'll get a lot worse during pregnancy."

And secondly, I'm not sure the HIDA would show what I don't already know. I have chronic Lyme, which almost always correlates with a sick gallbladder--a chronically inflamed one. There's a name for chronic inflammation of the gallbladder: cholecystitis.

Regardless of what any machine can show, the question remains, do I want my gallbladder taken out? That's pretty much a decision left up to me.

So then I hit a wall. And the brakes.

What if I'm being too eager to jump on the gallbladder-out bandwagon? What if I can heal it naturally?

What if I end up being one of those people who has to take enzymes and anti-diarrhea medications for the rest of my life, or--worse yet--one of those people who loses control of their bowels after they eat fats?!

Besides, all my organs hurt from time to time. My spleen is the worst offender, with its repeated stabbing pains. And let's not even get into my kidney pain. So do I really need to start removing organs that hurt? I won't have any left!

I understand the need for people with severe gallbladder problems to have theirs removed. When it becomes serious, such as when a person develops jaundice from gallbladder disease, or is doubled over in pain from a stone lodged in a bile duct, it's time for it to come out.

Just to be clear, I'm not anti-gallbladder removal. Not at all.

I just don't think I'm quite there yet. 

Maybe I'll have to get it out down the road, and when that day comes, I'll know with confidence that I'm doing the right thing. As things currently stand, I can always have it removed--but once it's out, I can't put it back in.

I'm just grateful that I understand what was causing the rib pains and nausea. Knowledge is empowering, and has a way of making things less mystifying or frightening.

Finally, I'd like to share my gallbladder healing protocol. These are pretty simple, tried and tested, natural ways to detoxify the gallbladder and aid in the removal of stones and sludge.
  • Drink a tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a cup of pure apple juice daily or as needed for spasms. It reduces the pain and helps flush blockages--try it!
  • Regular coffee enemas to detoxify the liver. A healthy liver is the root of a healthy gallbladder! A liver that is congested with toxins directly contributes to the full spectrum of gallbladder maladies. Coffee enemas are excellent liver detoxifiers.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar. This is my never-ending achilles heel. Caffeine and sugar are terrible for the gallbladder (and the whole body, for that matter). Don't confuse coffee enemas with drinking coffee--they are completely different animals.
  • Castor oil packs on the gallbladder as needed for pain and detoxification.
  • Eat healthier fats. This means replacing traditional fried foods with flax oil, olive oil, and coconut oil as often as possible. Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad for the gallbladder, and healthy fats are known to heal it. I don't eat a lot of fried food to begin with, but I think this is a big issue for most of America.
  • Anti-parasitics can help clean up the gallbladder, too. A couple of my friends are adamant that their gallbladder problems stopped after following an anti-parasitic protocol. There are many over-the-counter products that do this, including wormwood, black walnut, clove, cats claw, garlic and many others.
  • Gallbladder flushes to remove stones--proceed with caution! This is a physically taxing experience that involves fasting and consuming copious amounts of olive oil, epsom salts, and fruit juice in certain proportions (you can find very specific instructions with a Google search). While it's almost always successful at passing gallstones, it doesn't come without its own set of risks. I'm not sure I'll be including this in my own protocol, but I've included it here for others to see.
Feel free to contribute your own suggestions toward a healthy gallbladder in the comments section below. Thanks, and may you all have a healthy and happy gallbladder!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Eight (or Nine) Goals for 2014

Happy New Year! Fresh off a family-filled Holiday travel bonanza to/from Texas, I'm regrouping and looking to the year ahead. 365 days, 365 opportunities to improve my life.

I'm happy to kiss 2013 goodbye, but in harmony with my spirituality, have immense gratitude for all its lessons. I don't want to dwell on those things anymore, so I won't rehash them. I'm just happy for the opportunity to move forward. Oh—and by the way—I'm really proud of myself for achieving my (one and only) goal in 2013—moving from California to Tennessee. I'm so glad I did it.

While New Year's Resolutions are cliché (and the concept of dates illusionary), I embrace any opportunity to start fresh (and make lists. This girl lives for lists).

I don't remember the last time I made a New Year's Resolution. I definitely skipped the last few years. Anyway, not quite resolutions, these are more like goals—goals I hope to achieve in 2014:

0. Get my stuff back!
This is #0 because it's not in my control. Call it a preface if you will. All my stuff is still awaiting closure and release by the courts of New Jersey. All contacts claim there will be a resolution this month (it's about time!) so I'm really looking forward to finally seeing my stuff again. 

1. Remove crap from my diet, for God's sake
You know what? You can be the smartest, most versed person on food allergies, pro-inflammatory foods, and leaky gut syndrome, but unless you apply your knowledge to your lifestyle, there's no use in that knowledge. My diet is my #1 weakness. It always has been. This year, the gluten and cow's milk have got to go. I've done short-term gluten- and milk-free diets in the past, and noticed mild to moderate results, but I always lacked the sticktoitiveness. I know they cause inflammation, so why do I eat them? The convenience? Do I really not have the free time to make food from scratch? I'm already on a mold-free (no cheese, no mushrooms) and nutrition-dense (daily greens) diet, but it's the cow's milk and gluten that have the honorary badge of keeping my snot-gates open and my commitment to Kleenex in tact. It's time for an annulment. I'm so beyond over phlegm.

2. Be patient
I'm the least patient person I know. I'm antsy, impulsive, and rush through things. I give up easily, and I seek thrills like nobody's business. It's time I settle down, focus, pay attention, and discipline myself. A little less of the hyperactive gypsy thing and a little more of the grownup thing. On a related note: See #1 above.

3. Get off Cymbalta
I hate that I have to take an SSRI. I've been on either Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, or Cymbalta continuously for, umm, twelve years? Thirteen years? I generally defend this drug dependence with one of the following: "My neurotransmitters are really damaged from neuro-Lyme" or "Quitting is impossible". Umm, yes, and no. Yes, withdrawal is the worst form of torture I've known, but the Cymbalta is not good for me, and I always muscle test poorly to it. I've fantasized about going off it for years, and consulted with several psychiatrists about this. Now I know what I need to do—taper very (very!) slowly, and add neurotransmitter support as I go along. I'm absolutely terrified of the withdrawal, but if it becomes absolutely necessary, I can just slightly increase the dose until the feeling passes. Come hell or high water, I'm getting off this poison in 2014.

4. Stop dwelling on the past
I waste an exorbitant amount of time missing or longing for things or people. I also hold onto painful woe-is-me memories like bacteria on a sponge. Yes, people have caused me pain, and yes, I have been struggling for an insanely, ridiculously long time now over something that happened early last year—but I'm done crying about it. Praise Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed, I'm finally starting to see the light. This year I'm going to make an extra effort to push such thoughts out of my mind and embrace the beauty of now.

5. Read the whole stack of books I bought in 2013
I really like to buy books and then not read them. So I've placed a temporary moratorium on buying books until I finish the nine books on my bed stand.

6. Volunteer and/or work part-time outside of my house
Working from home on graphics does not support my ongoing effort to get out more, so I'm actively looking for opportunities to have more human interaction. I've already begun a dialogue with a woman at the East Tennessee Historical Society, which is accepting volunteers. I know my health isn't exactly stable yet, but I can't keep waiting around for it to get stable enough (what is stable enough, anyway?). If I'm a volunteer, they can't fire me. Ha! And if they like me, and if I get better, maybe they'll hire me part-time. It's a win-win opportunity, methinks.

7. Get another cat
Another cat?! This is actually a selfless endeavor. Okay, maybe it's a wee bit selfish. But Ocey and Juju, who are not bonded with each other, really miss Tiggy, who bonded with both of them. Ocey is especially in need of another cat to mother. The poor girl previously devoted her life to grooming and cuddling with Tiggy, but sadly, Juju won't let her. Now Ocey insists on licking and sleeping on my arm/hand at night, which is cute but not conducive to sleep, and she has separation anxiety whenever I leave. I hope to find a feline-friendly kitty that Ocey can spend all day licking and cuddling!

8. Fall in (requited) love
Don't roll your eyes! It may sound cheesy, and I know it can't be forced, but I am trying to manifest love for myself this year! In 2014 I will hit the five-year anniversary of the last time I called any man my boyfriend, not to mention the last time I was in love with somebody who loved me back... five years!! I promise I'm not in a rush (clearly, ha), and I won't settle (duh). But I'm manifesting this—I am! This is going to be the year I find Mr. Right. I feel it on the horizon!! It's my time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Rolf-Induced Detox

Holy crap, this disease is a bitch.

My most recent diagnostics indicate that my borrelia numbers and macrophages/monocytes are off the charts high (the latter indicating chronic infection in the body). I have a fever around 100 degrees on most days, and no energy. By the time I'm up and showered, I'm back in bed. It's like having the flu on a daily basis.

As my regular readers know, all the medications and supplements I've taken over the last three years made me immensely sicker—practically bedridden on most days. So I quit everything earlier this year to let my immune system stabilize.

Well, while taking a break from oral medication, I thought it would be a good idea to focus most of my healing energy on my skeletal structure, since I'm increasingly struggling to stand on my feet.

So, over the last three months or so, I've seen orthopedists, chiropractors, a rolfer, and taken a yoga class.

Each specialist has confirmed without dispute that I have flat arches, rotated ankles, bunions, one rotated knee with damaged cartilage, a rotated pelvis with one hip bone two inches above the other, a torqued trunk, a 37-degree curvature in my spine, and displaced discs in my neck. Their eyes enlarge when they study my bones, and they seem surprised that I have any balance at all.

So, this fall, I finally decided it was time to fix this, if possible. I'm thirty-two years old and deteriorating faster than a peach in the summer sun. If I have any hopes of being physically mobile when I hit middle-age, this has to be given proper attention.

During my first session with the orthopedist, extra attention was given to adjusting my feet, hips and spine. Bones were popped and cracked left and right.

Before I could even pay and get to my car in the parking lot, I felt a case of encephalitis coming on fast and furiously. I took a seat on the couch in the waiting room, which turned into a two-hour torture session in which I could not move or open my eyes. I simply laid on the couch and cried. After two hours and lots of drinking water, I was able to stumble to my car and carefully drive the five miles home.

The worst of it was gone within twenty-four hours. So it was nothing compared to what came next.

Three or four weeks later, I saw a certified Rolfer. If you're not familiar with Rolfing, it's basically chiropractic work on steroids—bones are not "cracked", but rather, moved around with the pressure of strong hands. Bones, ligaments, muscles, fat, and lymph all get moved around and put "in proper place".

My sister, who shares some of the same symptoms as me (but to a much smaller degree), insisted that Rolfing would restore the arches in my feet. It worked miracles for her! Her testimony gave me hope.

My first session with my Rolfer lasted two grueling hours, during which a lot of pressure was applied around my armpits. When was the last time somebody pushed upwards, into your armpits? Probably never. It was definitely a first.

My shoulder sockets were realigned via my armpits, with painful pressure administered upward and outward. Then the Rolfer discovered that my right lung was not taking in as much air as my left lung, due to the way my right ribcage developed. So he worked with my chest bone, near my thymus gland, and my ribcage, in opening up my airways so my right lung could expand all the way.

Well, afterward, I was sore in the way one might be after hitting the gym. But I did not expect what happened next.

One. week. of. intense. detox. Detox like I had never detoxed in my life. Vomiting, dry heaving, diarrhea, sweating buckets, an acne breakout, and inflammation from my head to my toes (including a very inflamed ovary, in spite of my period having JUST ended).

It was one of those experiences where all I could do was lay in bed (or by the toilet), cry, pray for it to end, or pray for death to come.

A healthy person might scoff at the notion that a Rolfing session alone could do that to me—you would imagine it had to be a virus, or food poisoning.

But the naturopaths and various other experts with whom I inquired after the fact (including the guy who runs BetterHealthGuy), weren't at all surprised that Rolfing did that to me. A couple of them even pointedly asked what I was thinking doing something so aggressive.

Hindsight is 20/20, isn't it? I chock this up to another case of Leila being overly excited and under-cautious.

The consensus was multi-layered: For one, Lyme, babesia, and other coinfections like to hide out in fatty tissue, lymph, and bone matter. (You won't always find the bugs in your actual bloodstream, especially in late-stage cases.) So Rolfing mobilized them out of their hiding places, setting off an immune response, lots of dieoff, and well, you get the picture.

Suddenly my body was feebly trying to keep up with everything that was going on with my immune system and nervous system. Toxins were ambitiously circulating throughout my body (and as we discussed in the past, into my brain due to a leaky blood-brain barrier).

And here I was imagining that only medications and supplements could topple my system! Ha!

Okay, so... I can't do Lyme treatment—I can't tolerate the antibiotics or the herbs. I can't tolerate even minute doses of methylation supplements. And I can't take any thyroid medication anymore.

And now I can't do much chiropractic work without pushing the envelope.

I'm still reacting to a whole host of fumes and contaminants, electromagnetic fields, molds and food ingredients.

At this point, after all these somewhat repetitive blog posts, I think I need to focus my energies in a new direction. Right now I can't say what direction that is. I'll be brainstorming my options. Luckily, there's a never-ending list of directions one with my issues can head. If you Google "Lyme disease treatment", you will literally find thousands of ideas. And while it often feels like I've exhausted my options with nutritional support, methylation support, antibiotics, immune modulation, diets and energy work, I know I could spend an entire lifetime on treatments before fully exhausting options. (Stem cell treatment in India, anyone?) 

Just another week in the life of a Lymie... just another learning experience.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Waiting

I miss everything. I'm stuck.....  somewhere between last spring and my future.

As much as I know we as sentient beings should live in the present, right now is a series of days, weeks, and months that I'd love to trade in for other months (preferably warm and sunny ones).

Why? Because I haven't been feeling well for the past month or so.... not well at all. And so I'm unable to enjoy or utilize the days—instead, I'm a prisoner trapped inside this faltering body, with a growing To-Do list and none of my belongings.

Yes, I miss last spring. I miss the unbridled adventure of driving my little furry family in our mobile house anywhere my heart desired. The beautiful, promising open road. The first bloom of flowers, the green explosion of life.

I miss......  feeling like things are happening—like life is happening. Being productive, getting somewhere.

     ...my monster of a cat, Tiggy, who had more passion for life than my other two cats combined.

             ...driving twelve hours out of my route to see the man I loved (and still love) more than words could ever describe. Spending a handful of days staring down each other's souls in the best and worst ways. Hearing him tell me he desired her, not me. Saying goodbye. Detaching myself from him so he could be with her.

I lost a part of myself in losing him. I'm still trying to patch that hole, but it broadcasts itself like a flickering light on my dashboard warning me my oil keeps leaking...  leaking........ and leaking. The light flashes Every. Day. And every mechanic I see tells me the patch to seal the hole is out of stock.

That's what and whom I miss. I cry about them more than I should probably admit.

What I don't miss? California. I don't dream about it. My dreams entirely bypass those ten years and find their way back to elementary and high school years in Dallas, college in Austin, and trips to Syria—places for where my heart calls. I simply don't miss my years in California.

And to be sure, I'm unmistakably glad I made the decision to move to Tennessee. But, still, I'm stuck between last spring and what will become a beautiful life here in Tennessee. 

Bear with me as I elaborate; I know this post is long and somewhat rambly.

See, I'm stuck because, after multiple exhaustive attempts on both fronts, I haven't got my health and I haven't got my stuff. So I'm sitting here in mostly empty rooms, experiencing not only a physical and emotional relapse but a set of new symptoms on top of it—the newest development being my hips, legs and ankles refusing to stabilize the weight of my body. 

What slowly evolved in the lower half of my body over the last twelve months has reached Code Red level. I've gone from having some trouble standing to not being able to stand at all anymore. I feel like I should be awarded some honorary badge for declining to this milestone of absurdity. Now I'm waiting to see an orthopedist. (I can walk, but not stand).

As for my thyroid, which I've written much about in the past, I finally found a new endocrinologist who treats and understands both Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Lyme disease. While I'm thrilled to be seeing her, there is a waiting period involved there too. 

And (I may not have previously mentioned) I had to stop taking all my thyroid meds because I recently started having toxic brain reactions to them. Armour was barely tolerable, but Synthroid was absolutely intolerable—at any little dose. 

It's the first time in almost three years I've been completely off thyroid. Having no thyroid equates to an increase in fatigue. And boy, oh boy, when I say fatigue, I mean FATIGUE! Bam, I feel like I've had the flu for the last few weeks (but without the green phlegm or coughing. Hey, that's a plus!). 

I am seriously, wickedly exhausted. If I could, I would sleep all day and night. But this is better than the alternative—at least until I can get on T3 or T4 or whatever my lab tests indicate I need.

Then, there's this: I'm still living in a beautiful, mostly empty house, waiting for the judge in New Jersey who confiscated my belongings from the crooked movers to release my stuff back to me and the other plaintiffs. The legal process is painfully slow. Nobody involved in the legal system seems to care that, unlike many other cases, this one involves eleven people's personal belongings, which we all urgently need.

In the meantime, I've bought a new bed, a bedside table, a lamp, a couch, a dresser, and a shelving unit. I brought in the small TV from my RV. I bought some new clothes and dishes. I eat at the kitchen island, and my dining room is just four walls reserving the space for my beautiful, hand-painted, rustic dining table and chairs.

Maybe my stuff isn't in Jersey after all. Nobody has sent me photos confirming it's actually there. Maybe I'll never see my family heirlooms again.... my old diaries, my portfolio, portraits, love poems, photo albums, art I collected in Italy, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Syria. My jewelry, my shoes, my wigs, my extensive wardrobe made up of irreplaceable blouses I carefully collected over 15 years. My enormous collection of books, hundreds of books, many out of print. All my files, from report cards to health records; every formal document that identifies and confirms the history of my human existence.

Maybe I'm not meant to see any of my old stuff again. Maybe I'm supposed to shed all my old attachments—to start anew. It certainly would be in theme with the other losses I've sustained during this move. And how odd, really, that during my move I had to bid farewell to Tiggy and the other male who holds my heart.

Maybe there is a lesson in here somewhere. Maybe my guides are trying to pummel me forward through shock and awe.

So, when I say I don't want to live in the inert present tense, I mean that I want something to happen—an increment of productivity and positivity. I'm waiting.

On the other hand, I'm not just sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Once I see my new orthopedist and endocrinologist, I'll feel better about where my health is headed. And at some point, hopefully before 2028, I'll probably get my belongings back from the judge in New Jersey—if it's meant to be. 

If I can't be living in the present, at least I can focus on the future! I have to think positive.

Present, be blurred like an indistinct haze.
Painful past, be torched like wasteland ablaze in a cropland conversion.
Future, carry me forward with promise of golden glory.

Now, before you start thinking, "Sheesh, you self-pitying woman! Pick yourself up and make the best of what you've got," let it be known I haven't let this slump completely take over my life. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if—to the outsider—it appeared I was enjoying every minute of an exciting life.

This is because I hide my malaise well. And also, and as long as I can get out of bed and into a car, I find myself partaking in exciting little explorations on a regular basis, because East Tennessee is absolutely awesome—and there is no way I'm letting my health stop me.

Does my health slow me down? Of course. Some days, I can do nothing. But does my health stop me? No way. Simply being alive, to me, is more of a gift than it's ever been, and there are ways to get around the fatigue and headaches (ahem, coffee).

So, I'll finish off this post on a more positive tone. 

Over the past few weeks, life has included such adventures as singing in front of a diverse audience at an open mic night, celebrating my thirty-second birthday with a few new friends at a local joint, going to the Foothill Falls Festival, attending a meditation and grounding class, designing and editing a restaurant menu, driving through the famous Cades Cove where I saw not one, but FIVE, black bears, and partying with a bunch of drag queens on Halloween.

Actually, I'm glad I just sifted those recent memories out of my brain and into a list. I think that I may have just realized that I'm getting out and doing more than I realized. And, in fact, maybe this present phase isn't so bad. 

I admit I'm scared. I'm scared and anxious, and feeling let down by the bodily shell that houses my spirit. (That trip to Cades Cove I mentioned above? I only spent two hours in the cove—but without any restrooms, I literally squatted and peed seven times! Hello, interstitial cystitis. Good grief.) 

I'm a bit stuck, but I'm trying to make the best of what I've got in the ways that I can. The human spirit is strong—stronger than the body. And an ailing spirit can debilitate a person much, much faster than an ailing body.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another Post on the Brain, the Gut, and Hypersensitivity!


All this treatment I've done since diagnosis—it hasn't treated anything. All it's done is stir up a bunch of toxins.

I can see it clearly now, both conceptually and as a symbolic image that I feel represents what I've been doing to my body for almost three years. 

Picture a source for drinking water; it can be a well, or a water tank, or a bottle of water. Now imagine sediment has collected at the bottom of this water source for thirty years. This water tank/well has been kept perfectly still, so when you drink fresh water from the top, you're not ingesting any of the toxins that have built up and hardened along the bottom over time.

Now imagine someone or something (i.e. an earthquake) comes along and shakes it hard, unsettling the sediment. It all gets mixed up. The water is now cloudy and chock full of silt, dirt, and metals. Would you drink that water?

I feel like that's what I've done to my body, especially my brain. Lyme, babesia, parasites, heavy metals, etc. all remained relatively dormant in my body until I was twenty-nine. Of course, I was not healthy. But all that icky, toxic muck had found a home intracellularly and in biofilms. It didn't move around. My body had developed a system around it that worked. 

And then, one day, I exiled all of those little invaders from their cozy hiding places. My attempt at stabilizing an out-of-whack biological state just further destabilized it.

When I was figuratively inducted into the Lyme disease club at the start of 2011, I was warned of many challenges I'd face. I learned to expect to 'Herx" from medication, a temporary worsening of symptoms prior to improvement. I was told this would be the result of microorganisms dying off.

(I was also warned that with such an advanced case, it would probably be impossible to ever get rid of my Lyme or co-infections. And I was warned of the medical establishment's ignorance and the corruption of the CDC and insurance companies.) 

I learned a lot in a short period of time, and felt prepared for the battle ahead. 

But nobody warned me that, somewhere along the way, my immune system could go haywire and toxins would cross my blood-brain barrier, fueling a chronic case of brain swelling. Not one LLMD or LLND or naturopath who had me on a cocktail of vitamins, herbs, antibiotics, hormones, binders, minerals, anti-depressants, blood thinners, cyst busters, enzymes, anti-parasitics, probiotics, or anything else, ever suggested a possibility of my developing new "hyper-immune reactions" or encephalitis.

As someone who is a much stronger creative thinker and writer than biologist, I'm not ashamed to admit most of the literature I've unearthed on this matter is far too technical for my fog-ridden brain. I can remember general ideas pretty well, but facts and details don't stay in my brain. As a result of my scholarly ineptitude, I proceed on this subject with caution. 

From what I understand, the heart of my recent struggles lies either within my immune system or my blood-brain barrier. Like everything in the body, these two are closely related and interdependent. But I can't decipher whether this dramatic intolerance to supplements is an actual immune reaction or a leaky blood-brain barrier.

Since I have neurological Lyme disease, it's already a given that I have a compromised blood-brain barrier. The spirochetes paved the way by boring their way into my brain. This is not news.

What I hadn't considered until my new chiropractor mentioned it to me last week is that I have a chronically leaky blood brain barrier. Spirochetes aren't the only thing crossing into my brain. He explained to me that anything that passes through my leaky gut can cross into my leaky brain. My history of stress, chronic bacterial and viral infections, spirochetes, toxic exposure, allergies, and leaky gut make me the perfect candidate for what is otherwise known as "leaky brain".

Here's some basic info about it, written by someone other than me.

I have to laugh at this. Yet another diagnosis thrown atop my mountain of conditions. And "leaky brain"? I mean, really? This is just too much. If I didn't laugh, I'd cry. And I really don't like to cry. So I'm laughing like a mad woman right now.

At least I finally understand why I can't tolerate anything anymore. It seems to make sense: with such permeability, tiny particles are able to leak through my intestines and blood-brain barrier, creating systemic reactions to the invaders.


When I was a child with undetected Lyme and parasites, I certainly had my share of allergies and immune reactions. But my body could handle a vitamin supplement, or a bag of Skittles, or clothes washed in scented detergent. Then, as a young adult, I could inhale second-hand smoke, stand near a gas stove, and drink a glass of wine — or a martini. Or plain water with a lemon wedge.

But no, I can't do any of those things anymore without triggering sudden, debilitating inflammation in my brain. I'm talking about the extent to where my whole day's plans are ruined and I'm in bed with a migraine. The list of things to which I react is growing. 

My world is shrinking. This is devastating for a person who wants to see the whole world, someone who craves the freedom of no limitations.

And this hyper-immune state/leaky brain/whatever unequivocally developed as a result of all the stuff my practitioners had me taking. Even now, after having stayed off the majority of that stuff for many months, my immune system/brain hasn't calmed down at all. If anything, it's at its worst yet.

I regret taking all that stuff. But how was I to know? Most of what I took was a natural substance already found in the human body, such as taurine, glutamine, magnesium, lithium orotate, B12, and so on. Almost all my Lymie peers were on the same supplements, and each item had a practical, proven purpose: 

"This one will improve digestion; this one will kill microbes; this one will thin your clotty blood." I found myself with a case of everyone-else-is-doing-it and this-is-scientifically-backed confidence. I had every reason to believe this was the way to health.

If I didn't take blood thinners, my blood would remain dangerously and unacceptably clotty, putting me at risk of stroke and continuing to inhibit my poor circulation. But I feel that, while doing its job thinning my blood, Heparin opened the door for toxins to cross my blood-brain barrier.

That's just one example, but you get the idea.

I've definitely learned that I'm the exception to whatever generally works for others. If having chronic Lyme isn't a lonely enough condition, having chronic Lyme and physically rejecting any treatment is an even lonelier existence. One one side I have the Lyme community urging me to continue with immunoglobulin and antibiotics ("Suck it up! You need to do this!"), and on the other side my non-Lymie friends scoff at my protocol for making me sicker. 

I no longer "belong" with the healthy or the sick.

If I ever hope to recover from this insanely limiting life, I have to heal my gut. According to the research I could find on the subject, healing a leaky gut will heal a leaky brain. Umm, okay, but healing a leaky gut is tremendously challenging—that is, if you want to eat normal food. You basically have to eliminate all of the most common food ingredients like wheat, dairy, and sugar, and I've already been down that road with little success in the past. 

Did I mention you have to stick to this for about three years before your gut heals?

I just don't know if I'm able to handle level of discipline again, or at least right now. I've worked so hard at my health over the last three years, and I'm in an emotionally unstable place right now. The very things I'm supposed to avoid are the things that give me the dopamine (joy) and energy I need to get through the day. Otherwise, I'll spend all my days in bed crying the day away. I know; I've been there.

As if all of this wasn't complicated enough, I'm reacting to some the very things that are supposed to help heal the gut and blood-brain barrier. Bone broth and specific herbal teas (such as marshmallow and nettle) are supposed to heal the gut, but I feel sick after consuming them. Go figure!

Detox methods and binders only go so far, but they seem to have lost their effectiveness. If anyone else has this same issue as I do, I'd love to hear about what types of detox have worked for you.


This is just so hard. Life is so hard. I really don't know what to do anymore.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Whole Lot of Unclear Answers

It's been awhile since my last entry, mostly due to an indecisiveness over what to write about—"should I discuss my new antibiotic, my new chirpractor, or more personal matters?" I've had trouble deciding, so I'll just include it all. Warning: this entry is gonna be a long one!

Life - Personal Matters

The perplexing thing about my experience this summer is that it's been so marked by contradiction. Concurrent with so much excitement and adventure have been the yo-yoing emotions of high highs and low lows. Achieving a sense of balance or stability has been a challenge, but I guess a certain level of that is to be expected the first few months in a new city by myself.

Also, ever since Tiggy died in July, I've been in a funk. Something hasn't been right with me on a biochemical level, so I just haven't been motivated to blog. The crisis in Syria isn't helping, since I've got scores of family members living in and around Damascus. We're all on the edge of our seats day in and day out.

And the excitement over moving into my new home has been marred by an unaccounted for delay by my movers in delivering my belongings. For six weeks, Liberty Relocation (whom I hired, who subsequently brokered out my move to Virgin Van Lines) has falsely claimed, each week, that my goods will be delivered "within three days". After expecting the delivery to arrive every week for six weeks, it became clear they were pathologically lying to me—and unable to provide any reason for the absurd delay. So I consulted with a lawyer who sent them a "warning" letter eight days ago which has gone ignored. Also being ignored are phone calls, so now I may have no option but to file suit.

The last thing my low-tolerance-for-stress self needs right now is to deal with a lawsuit. I just need my stuff. I've had to go out and buy a whole bunch of basic necessities that I otherwise already own. All things I have stored in boxes. With the movers. Yeah. I'm reeling.

But on the bright side, I have a quaint new home! And I'm back on long-term antibiotics for Lyme, for the first time in about a year (more on that in a sec). Also encouraging is that I'm getting out and making new friends, and I go for a brisk walk through the Green Belt about four days a week. I still love Knoxville and still feel like this move was the right choice—which is more important than anything. Everything else will fall into place with time.

So I'm just trying to be patient.

Lyme Stuff

I still feel the same as always. I have some great days, some awful days, and a majority of days that fall somewhere in between. 

As most of you know, I stopped treating the Lyme infection last year and opted instead to focus on a more gentle approach—some Cowden herbs, probiotics, and behavioral practices that are proven to boost health: meditation, stretching, staying hydrated, eating more greens and nutritious foods, moving my lymph, sleeping enough, and avoiding stress (easier said than done!).

I'd been down the hardcore treatment route a couple years ago and it had taken my life away from me. I knew that now wasn't the time for that—driving across country and buying a house. I needed all my physiological functions in tact. So I put off an intensive treatment for now, with the anticipation that I'd go down that road again in the future.

So, I wasn't actively pursuing a new antibiotic-based regimen for Lyme until I ended up in urgent care with strep throat about a month ago. The doctor prescribed a new-to-me antibiotic called Cefdinir (a.k.a Omnicef) to treat the strep infection.

Two days into the Cefdinir, I could feel something starting to shift in my brain. By the third or fourth day, I was feeling healthier than I had in months and possibly even years. It was one of the best reactions I've ever had to a medication, as virtually all my Lyme symptoms went away. I had energy, mental clarity, an upbeat mood, no aches or pains, and an overall sense that this is what a normal, healthy person feels like.

Then my supply ran out. The strep throat was long gone, so I couldn't get the doctor to refill it. So I consulted with my old LLMD (Lyme doctor) about my experience, and she confirmed that she regularly prescribes Cefdinir to her Lyme patients, as it kills borrelia. Aha! She felt it would be a good idea for me to continue it, so I've got a three-month (and possibly much longer) prescription for it now.

But here's the thing. When I started taking it the second time (after a week-long hiatus), it just didn't have the same effect on me. In fact, it's been making me herx this time around. The more I take it, the more brain fog I have. 

It's frustrating, but not altogether surprising. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of medications I've taken in the past that had the "Holy Shit, I feel AMAZING!" initial reaction, only to be proceeded by the "I've done a 180 and now I make you super TOXIC" reaction. That pattern should be expected now, I suppose.

Damn medications. They're just like my exes. Ha ha. 

Now I'm facing a familiar conundrum: Do I continue with something that interferes with my life in the short-term in hopes that it will benefit me in the long run, or do I make present functionality my top priority? It's such a tough call, especially since I'm entirely self-sufficient.

It's scary when I have one of my "episodes" where I'm on the floor in a fetal position and can't even make it to the toilet. I still have days like that sometimes. A couple weeks ago I had a night where I crawled into the bathtub and brushed my teeth on my knees because of a toxin-induced migraine that had spread to my nervous system. I know that a more intense protocol integrating methylation supplements and heavy metal chelation and candida cleansing (all things I need!) will render me helpless. I've been down that road before. And then who will feed me and my cats? Who will do my laundry and dishes? Who will clean the litter box?

I'm stuck in this seemingly never-ending battle to fight for my health yet live my life. I don't know what to do other than what I've been doing: continue with small doses of supplements that I can (mostly) tolerate. It's not the holy grail; it's not ideal, but it's getting enough of the job done.

A very common symptom of neurological Lyme disease (almost every late-stage Lymie I've met has it) is depersonalization/desensitization. I suffer from it so badly that I find myself seeking out adrenaline rushes just to feel something. This can be a dangerous behavior. I try to keep myself from doing anything too risky or downright foolish, but without excess adrenal stimulation, I feel like I'm going through life with some very numbed senses—I'm just a big walking blur, a cloud, fog.

Thankfully, every now and then, a day comes along where it feels like someone turned on the light switch to my senses, and I come alive. I don't know if medical science can ever permanently restore this function for me, so I just embrace it when it happens.

Thyroid Stuff 

Also issues (or I should say, "battles") as of late have been my thyroid and my scoliosis. First, the thyroid. I feel like my quest to heal my Hashimoto's has just taken me in some pretty exhausting circles over the last couple of years. One minute I'm hypothyroid, the next minute I'm hyperthyroid. One day my thyroid medication is making me feel sick, and the next day I go through withdrawals if I back off it. 

I've been on Armour, Naturethroid, and Synthroid each at different times in two and a half years, and I react to each of them. Again, brain stuff—mostly inflammation and/or encephalitis about thirty minutes after taking the pill. 

Further complicating the issue is that I have yet to have a "normal" thyroid blood test result. Most aggravating is the fact that I will yield a hypothyroid (low thyroid) lab result while suffering from symptoms of hyperthyroidism (high thyroid), such as high anxiety, insomnia, and inexplicable weight loss. 

My most recent test earlier this month is an example of that. My labs indicated low thyroid, but I could barely sleep at night and I had lost 15 pounds since moving to Tennessee (in spite of consuming at least 1500-2000 calories daily). So I am dumbfounded. In two years I have seen four endocrinologists and none of them have been able to explain this phenomenon to me. 

The closest explanation I got from a friend was, "Some people's 'normal' level is different than the range on the paper." Okay, got it. But what does that mean as far as treatment? Last week, my endocrinologist told me I can self-medicate with my thyroid supplement as I feel I need it, by lowering the dosage if I start feeling too hyper, and increasing it if I get lethargic. Alrighty. Sounds like a plan. Actually, it sounds like Russian roulette, but I guess that still counts as a plan.

Chiropractic Stuff

Finally I have something to talk about that doesn't revolve around the theme, "I don't know what the heck I'm doing."

Lucky for me, I randomly stumbled upon a savvy chiropractor located just a couple miles down the road from me (and insurance covers it!).

A little background: A big problem of mine since I reached puberty has been my scoliosis (as well as my rotated hips). I'm constantly off balance—it doesn't matter if I'm sitting, standing, or laying down; I feel like my whole body is twisted to the left. Furthermore, my right shoulder and hip are higher than my left, creating the illusion that my left leg is longer than my right leg when in reality my right leg just ends before my left leg does.

It can be very uncomfortable, not just on my left leg, but especially behind my right scapula, located in my upper back—where there is almost constant pain. I also cannot stand without spreading my legs wide and cannot sit on backless stools/chairs.

According to my x-rays, I lean approximately 32% to the left:



 


My new chiropractor is confident he can not only relieve my symptoms but also provide preventative care so that I don't end up a twisted up, hunched-back old lady with degenerated discs stacked atop each other like wrecked cars.

I admit, it's a scary thought that my condition has the ability to worsen over time. Where will that leave me in twenty years?

I sincerely, deeply hope that the adjustments (cracking of my back), exercises (meant to build muscle and strength where I'm weak), and massage/inversion tables will be effective.

Thanks for following my blog! Until next time...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tiggy's Death and New Beginnings

I write today with deep sadness.

During a recent road trip from Knoxville to Dallas, the unthinkable happened — I lost one of my kitties. Overwhelmed with disbelief and despair, at 9:53 a.m. CDT on Sunday, July 7th, I watched Tiggy take his last breath in the very place where he started his life twelve years ago.

To understand the depth of my grief requires an understanding of what my cats mean to me. As a single woman without children, a spouse, a roommate, or any stability in my life, my cats are my family, my stability, my life. They're my greatest joy—nothing else even comes close. My decision to RV across country literally revolved around them—for example, which model RV would make them most comfortable? 

We sleep together nightly. In the same bed. We cuddle. We communicate. We support each other. We provide love.

I once callously told a then-boyfriend that I loved my cats more than him. To me, it was obvious, but to him it was offensive. Needless to say, that relationship was over shortly after that.

So.... for as diligent and borderline-hypochondriatic of a cat mama as I am, I still have no idea how my big boy's heart failure got past me. Or how he declined so quickly. Or how any of this happened. I just...... don't know.

Looking back, there were recent signs that something wasn't right with Tiggy—but his heart?

In 2011, he started having "asthma attacks" whereby he would cough repeatedly, as though he were hacking up a hairball—without the hair. However, due to the infrequency of these coughing fits—and his history of developing diabetes when given steroids—I decided against asthma medication. Instead, I removed the carpet from my bedrooms and started him on a homeopathic asthma remedy. His asthma stopped.

Flash forward almost two years. Around when I first arrived in Knoxville two months ago, he started projectile vomiting around the RV with more frequency than what would be considered normal—or tolerable by me, since I had to mop and do laundry every time it happened! 

So I took him to see a veterinarian who did a blood and urine panel and determined he had a UTI and kidney infection. He received a shot of antibiotics and was sent on his way. The vomiting indeed stopped after he got those antibiotics.

I thought he was in the clear, so off we went—the whole gang and I—to Dallas. Tiggy seemed to really enjoy the road tripping. While the other two seemed agitated by the incessant driving, Tiggy hardly left my side up front. He either sat on my lap kneading me while I drove, or on the passenger seat, or on the ground between the front seats. 

Every time we arrived at a new location, he begged to be let outside to explore. He truly was fearless. In the right circumstances, I'd let him step outside the RV with me. He never went far, choosing instead to sniff the immediate area around the RV and bask in the sunlight.

Two nights before he died, while staying at the Sandy Lake RV park in northwest Dallas, he developed a sudden onset of labored breathing. Luckily, the RV park was a five-minute drive from a 24-hour Animal Emergency Hospital. 

The veterinarian (whom I will call Vet No. 1) kept him in an oxygen chamber overnight, gave him a bronchodilator, a diuretic, and a nebulizer. She also took an X-ray, which wasn't clear enough to determine whether he had a lung condition or a heart condition, but she warned me against giving him steroids in case he suffered from heart disease. She said steroids can worsen the heart's condition.

That was the first time any vet he had ever seen mentioned any concern over his heart.

We ended up right back at the ER the following evening when his labored breathing returned. (To be honest, it had never gone back to normal). 


Me and Tiggy on our second trip to the ER

Tiggy wasn't feeling well, I wasn't feeling well, and the vet techs and now Vet No. 2 (not the one I had seen previously) belittled me when I expressed concern over their advice to give him steroids. When I mentioned that the previous night's vet had cautioned against administering prednisone, she insisted it wouldn't damage his heart. The vet techs echoed her sentiment.

I was desperate. We gave Tiggy a prednisone shot. His breathing rate immediately increased. When I expressed to the vet tech that he was breathing more rapidly and suggested that had an adverse reaction to the prednisone, the man dismissed my claim as Tiggy being "nervous" after being "handled". Umm, no. I know my cat. I know my cat better than that vet tech knew (excuse me for saying this) SHIT about ANYTHING.

Not only had Tiggy's breathing become more labored, but his gums turned white. I noticed this because I'd kept an eye on his gums throughout the day—and they had been pink until this point. With his now-white gums and rapid breathing, I insisted he'd had a bad reaction to the prednisone, and went to tell Vet No. 2, but she had very little interest in my cat at this point. In fact, she had very little interest in anything, it seemed.

I took him home. It was 4:30 a.m. I lay with him and the others in a cuddle pile in bed in my RV and just cried. I was losing hope, and he was progressively worsening before my eyes. My heart felt as though it were literally breaking into a million pieces. I prayed for an end to this torture.

In between falling in and out of sleep, I noticed Tiggy trying to sleep but struggling to get comfortable enough to sleep. Finally I gave him another oral bronchodilator. He didn't even fight me to get the pill down. Minutes later, he started gasping for air and opening his mouth wide. Then came the distressed, deep-throated howling.

Seeing his condition so far worsened, it took me a split second to decide we'd be making our third and final trip to the ER vet to have him euthanized.

       How I was able to physically drive us to the ER I do not know.

       How I was able to put one of the loves of my life to sleep I do not know.

       How I gathered the strength to get through the day I do not know.

I had a supernatural force guiding me, driving that car, making that decision for me. I never questioned what I had to do. I never would've thought in a million years I would be putting my twelve-year-old cat to sleep, but we had tried everything else we could do. Nothing more could be done.

The vet who administered the euthanasia drugs was Vet No. 1. I was grateful that the knowledgeable and caring veterinarian would be by our side. She informed me of the moment his heart stopped beating. I cried and cried. I kissed his deceased face repeatedly. The vet also informed me that the fluid that leaked out of the cavity surrounding his heart and lungs upon his death was confirmation that he indeed had had congestive heart failure. We needed no further proof.

I let them keep his remains, since I had no place to bury him. (I also didn't think I could take the additional grief of handling his remains). And then I drove home in complete shock.

Tiggy was the alpha of my three cats. The only extrovert in a group of introverts, he loved attention from anyone who'd give it to him. This earned him the ranking of "favorite of Leila's cats" among my friends.

One thing Tiggy would do was rub his head against everyone's toes. He could rub against toes for five minutes straight. We all determined that Tiggy had a "foot fetish".

When I notified my friends via text message and Facebook that he had passed away, a number of people who'd had the privilege of knowing Tiggy stepped forward to express their grief. Several of them expressed that he was their favorite. Even my non-cat-liking friends, ones who I didn't even realize had bonded with him, grieved that "their Tiggy" was gone.

I don't feel like I just lost a cat. I feel like I lost a piece of myself.

After mourning with loved ones for a couple days, I left Dallas. The drive back to Knoxville was a long and difficult one, but I'm back—and looking forward to moving into my house this week. And starting a new chapter.

One last thing. I don't know much about what happens to animals after they leave their bodies, but about six days after Tiggy's death, while sitting by the swimming pool at the RV park, a brown butterfly practically flew into my face a few times. It then settled at my feet—both on my feet (toes, ankle) and on my sandal—for almost an hour.

Now, I've never seen a brown butterfly that looks quite like this. Its pattern is almost a brown swirl. Nor has a butterfly ever sat by my side for 55 minutes. Even when I held my cell phone up close to it to take a photo, it didn't flinch.

I'm not saying with certainty that anything is anything. But, it sure was interesting how much it loved my feet.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summertime, and the Livin's Easy

Okay, so it's not technically summer yet, but it feels like it in Knoxville. And life is pretty awesome.

I've been living in Knoxville for just under a month, and I've already managed to explore the mountains, find a Chinese doctor, go on a few dates with a guy I met while shopping, rehome a starving but tame cat who was trapped in a shed, attend a few Meetup group events, find a real estate agent, tour a couple dozen homes for sale, and—drumroll please—buy a house!!!!!

And somehow I've accomplished all that while in the throes of a babesia flare.

Hi, I'm Leila, classic overachiever. Restless go-getter. Anti-procrastinator. When I'm not completely laid out with fatigue and encephalitis, I'm trying to conquer the world. 

On the outside it may appear that I'm recovered, even healthy. And while I've reached a moderate level of functionality and stability in my life, I'm still not where I'd like to be. ("It" being "remission" since the Lyme never fully goes away.)

Here's what's going on these days in the cellular mass that is me:

Lots and lots of fatigue, usually remediable in the short-term with coffee or tea; sporadic brain fog; mood swings; nausea; anxiety; bladder spasms; sore kidneys; sore spleen; unstable blood pressure; occasional fevers; headaches.

Hey, it's really not that bad. I have Tennessee to thank for an overall improvement, at least in part, since I'm happier and more at peace than I ever was in California. Mind over matter—it seems to play a big role. More on this geographic area in a moment.

I feel very, very blessed for the way things are turning out in every aspect of my life. I don't want to sound braggy—I just want to share my excitement with the world! I want to shout from the rooftops! 

I wake up every morning happy to be here in Knoxville, happy I have my camper, my kitties, my life. No matter how sick I feel, I'm beyond grateful for every day, every experience. I finally have a good relationship with God, after a long time spent shutting Him out. I feel like my imperfect health isn't gonna stop me from finally living the life I want and deserve.

When you put out positivity, it comes back full circle. One place it can be found is in the people we meet. 

And I've met some truly remarkable people in the short time I've been here so far: Patricia, my sentimental and maternal real estate agent; Sara, a mostly-deaf graduate student with a shaved head whom I befriended at Starbucks; Mark, an empathetic and passionate pre-nursing student who works at the local grocer; and of course, my RV "family" of eccentric, loony, and protective full-time campers.

I expected this transition in my life to be harder. I expected more doubt. More validation-seeking. I thought I'd feel lonely, lost and confused as I tried to find my place and settle in. But things have seemed to transition flawlessly, even with Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekends spent sick in bed. 

I'm really awe-struck, in a state of some level of disbelief, at how everything has fallen into place so quickly and easily. I know this is where I belong. I never had this feeling in Texas or California. Never.

Moving to California in 2003 was especially challenging. I remember it vividly. I spent the whole first year struggling in one way or another and questioning whether to move back to Texas. There was no honeymoon period in California—from the beginning it felt vastly contrary to the "California Dream" I had imagined.

Ten years later, I'm older, wiser, really quite a different person.

Knoxville is everything I thought it would be and so much more. Having lived in Austin, Texas (four years) and the San Francisco area (ten years)—both popular cities among the young and adventurous—I can say that Knoxville ought to rank up there with Austin and SF.  I don't know why it doesn't. 

Knoxville is conveniently located to the Midwest, South, and East Coast. The city is chock full of rivers, lakes, parks, and hiking trails (with a special outdoor focus on water activities) and surrounded by majestic, green Smokey Mountains. 

The west side of the city boasts a wide array of local and chain restaurants, and many grocers carry local farm-produced vegetables. A mid-sized and highly rated university takes up a good portion of downtown Knoxville, with several other colleges in the area. I've heard that the job market is good too with many employment opportunities in the area. 

The winters are generally mild with very little snowfall, and the summers aren't as excruciating as the rest of the Southern states. Tornadoes tend to occur to our West and hurricanes occur to our East. Politically speaking, Knoxville is mostly conservative—and Christian, but not as extremely as the Deep South. And times are changing, so a younger crowd is moving in and shifting the culture. 

My prediction for Knoxville over the next twenty years is lots and lots of growth. Expansion. It's still a small city with farm land taking up much of the surrounding counties. Knoxville is the Austin of the 1980s.

Now I have a house to look forward to moving into at the end of this month—an amazing little house that I searched for all over Knoxville with a very patient realtor until it was found. I can't believe I found it, and it was such a bargain! As long as the mold and other inspections pass next week, it's a go. 

For the rest of this month, you'll find me either chilling in my RV, dipping my toes into the Tennessee river, socializing with the locals, going on a mini-hike, shopping at a home improvement store or shopping at one of the local health food stores.