In which our heroine diagnoses herself & curses the healthcare system in our country

It took me a while – embarrassingly long, actually – to figure out why I haven’t been fired up about writing this blog. Or taking and posting photos on Learning Curve. Or doing much of anything, really. It took me until two days ago to figure out why the last six or seven weeks have been marked with a staggering ennui, requiring energy I simply don’t have just to go through the motions of each day. Weeks of being a ghost presence in my own life, feeling disjointed and disconnected from everyone and everything. A few days ago, I was self-diagnosing online – as you do – examining the side-effects of a corticosteroid I started taking a couple months back. I had noticed sudden weight gain, face puffiness, fatigue and an increase in joint and muscle pain and, sure enough, each of those was on the checklist.

Then, I saw, at the very end of the list, this little gem: depression.

I know it seems obvious looking at it from the outside, but to me it came as a bit of a lightning bolt. A disinterested, dull lightning bolt, but a bolt nonetheless. Here I had been thinking that my life had just reached a point of being patently uninteresting, that I had used up all my enjoyment and would need to hunker down for the next few decades of disinterest.  When what was actually happening seemed to be real, clinical depression.

Now, I am no stranger to depression. I’ve suffered from it on and off since adolescence. Clearly, though, it’s been a long enough time since I’ve experienced it in full force that I had trouble recognizing it. That, I suppose, is the good news.

I also think that I’ve become used to certain cyclical dips in engagement, shall we say, that come from being in chronic pain. It’s a given that if you don’t feel well much of the time, your energy and enthusiasm are going to take a hit. And I think I too easily call those moments depression – we do tend to bandy the term around, don’t we? – so that when the real thing comes a-knocking I didn’t recognize it early enough.

So now I am left with a choice – although it really doesn’t seem much of one. The corticosteroids I was taking were keeping my blood pressure stable; somehow mine became weirdly low, which I discovered because I felt faint all the time, tired, and had no energy. Ironic, then, that the treatment for it created a similar set of symptoms. Similar, but not the same. Because even when I was wandering around the surface of the earth with blood pressure of 70/50, I may have felt woozy and tired, but I didn’t feel despondent.

That’s the trade-off with modern medicine, isn’t it? Do I choose the condition or its treatment? How do you determine which is the lesser of two evils?

And all of it leads me to another place today: some very real anger at and sensitivity about the healthcare debate that is at hand in our country. It is difficult for me to hear people argue theories and abstracts when I am one of the people upon whom the outcome will have a real and serious impact.

My husband and I are both self-employed, each of us bringing a pre-existing condition or two to the table. He’s largely a healthy guy, a marathon runner. On paper, I’m a mess. I have fibromyalgia (a chronic condition with no known cure), hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome and orthostatic hypotension. I’m a recovering alcoholic to boot – which seems to give actuaries the heeby jeebies above all else.

From a health insurance standpoint, it makes life difficult. I can’t tell you how many individual plans we were rejected from before finding one that would accept us – at an exorbitant monthly copay. People like us cannot have it all. Would we choose catastrophic coverage and keep our fingers crossed? Good prescription medicine coverage or copays for doctor visits, because we couldn’t have both?

We wound up with a plan that helps cover prescription meds, procedures at 70/30, but no doctor visits. Before, when we had group insurance through work, I was able to see specialists who could help keep all my ailments in balance. That’s simply not a reality for us anymore, and it has had a very real and significant impact on my health.

That said, I am truly grateful that we have health insurance at all, or else we’d be facing two possibilities: either we’d go bankrupt trying to take care of my many and sundry illnesses or I’d just have to go entirely untreated. It is not lost on me that those are the options many face.

I don’t like to get too political on here, mostly because I’m not particularly good at it and I rarely have any idea what I’m talking about. But at a gathering the other night, some friends debated the question of whether or not healthcare is a basic human right. I understand that some people don’t think so and I can intellectually process their rationale, but it’s awfully hard to hear it and not take it personally.

Because no matter how objective we pretend to be about it, what we’re really talking about, to me, is whether or not I have the right to be well, to have access to a pain free life without it costing us everything we have and jeopardizing our financial security. And it seems to me that those arguing against it always seem to be some combination of young, healthy, or wealthy enough to afford access to private, top-notch care.

I don’t really wish to start a debate, though, and perhaps I’m over-simplifying matters. I often do. I’m a Scorpio, after all. I’m hard-wired to react. And what does all this rambling have to do with the original matter at hand, my depression? I don’t know, but I will say this: despair is a terrible place to be, even temporarily.

Yesterday I was able to email my doctor and get her advice on coming off the corticosteroids. It made me aware, simultaneously, of how lucky I am to have a doctor who consults with me via email to help keep visit costs to a minimum, and how crazy it is that I can’t easily and affordably get help figuring this out, achieving some sort of balance.

So I have been off the corticosteroids for two days. I won’t say it’s been a miracle recovery, but I’m starting to feel better. My spirits are slightly lifted, but now I have to wait and see if my blood pressure plunges. It feels like a tremendous trade-off and I feel a little bit like I’m figuring it out alone.

However, I do notice that I seem to have written a blog entry here, something that has felt entirely too daunting the past few weeks. That’s something, right? It didn’t cost me a penny, either. And I didn’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide on it.